Source: Bell I. Wiley, Historical Program of the U.S. Army 1939 to Present , Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army. Historical Manuscripts Collection (HMC) file number 2-3.7 AB.A. The full text can be found online at the Center of Military History’s website. The Center’s site is at www. army.mil.
Bell Irvin Wiley was professor emeritus of history at Emory University. He is well-regarded as a Civil War historian for works such as The Life of Billy Yank. In the World War II official history series, he was co-author of The Organization of Ground Combat Troops
From Chapter II: Establishment of Historical Branch, War Department G-2
Colonel Kemper’s appointment [as military chief of the organization] was followed in a little over two weeks by the War Department memorandum of 3 August 1943, which officially announced to major commands in the United States and overseas the establishment of the Historical Branch, G-2, and defined its organization, functions, and objectives. The responsibilities of the Branch were specified as the preparation of operational monographs, theater and campaign histories, administrative histories, a general popular history, an official history, and documentary works. The Branch was also charged with formulating methods for accumulating essential documents, establishing in the various theaters the necessary personnel and organization for collecting and forwarding historical data, coordinating and supervising the agencies engaged in writing the administrative history of world War II, determining the functions and responsibilities of the Historical Section, Army War College, consulting with the Advisory Committee (whose membership and responsibilities were included in the memorandum), and editing and approving all historical manuscripts prepared for publication by all War Department agencies. The memorandum also outlined in general terms the duties of the Chief Historian.
From Chapter III: Activities and Problems of the Historical Branch: 1944-45
When the Chief Historian assumed his duties in Room 5B733 of the Pentagon, he found that substantial progress had already been made in the all-important activity of building up an adequate staff. Personnel had increased from three to about ten. While this was still a woefully small staff, it included some who were to be long associated with the Historical Branch and were to contribute greatly to its achievements. Maj. Charles Taylor, who had been a key figure in planning the historical program, came from the Dissemination Unit of G-2 to the Branch at its inception.
….Lt. Col. S. L. A. Marshall was transferred to the Branch from the Special Services Division, Army Service Forces. His addition to the historical organization apparently grew out of a project with which he had been associated in Army Service Forces, that of writing campaign narratives for the use of wounded soldiers. The project failed to materialize in the Army Service Forces, and was entrusted to the Historical Branch. Marshall, who came along shortly afterward, was a combat veteran of World War I and had been a military analyst on the editorial staff of the Detroit News. He was a man of enormous energy, unusual initiative, and exceptional talent as a writer. His interest in action and his firm belief that the combat historian should get a close-up view of the operations he proposed to describe caused him to prefer roaming assignments to desk duties in Washington. In the fall of 1943, after reporting the Tokyo Raid of 18 April 1942 in a manner highly pleasing to the Historical Branch, he was sent to the Pacific to cover island campaigns of the Seventh Infantry Division. In gathering material on the Makin and Kwajalein operations, he developed a system of interviewing participants en masse during rest periods immediately following battle.
Enthusiastic reports that he made to the Historical Branch concerning mass interviews in the Pacific promoted the interviewing of individuals and small groups by historical officers everywhere. This technique was not as adaptable to mainland campaigns where action was continuous as to island fighting, though Marshall later used it to some extent in Europe. Nevertheless, Marshall’s contribution was a valuable one, for interviews, properly used, enrich the historian’s knowledge and help clarify the written record; indeed, it is hardly too much to state that they add another dimension to historical documentation. In general, interviews of key personnel in high positions proved of most value in writing the history of World War II, but the questioning of soldiers and company officers added not only human interest but battle realism to accounts of small unit actions.
Whether in the Pacific or in Europe, Marshall (known as “Slam” by his associates), through his wide acquaintance extending to officers of high rank, his dynamic personality, his articulateness, and his matchless salesmanship, did much to publicize the historical program and to win acceptance for it among responsible military leaders. Marshall’s distaste for routine impaired his effectiveness as an administrator when, later, he was placed in a supervisory position in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), but his splendid achievement in spreading the historical gospel among unbelievers and the cold of heart (who were many) at a time when history was fighting an uneven battle for a place in the sun far more than offset this deficiency.
. . . .
The newly appointed Chief Historian also found that some progress had been made in determining specific duties of the Branch and getting them under way. Of initial projects the most important by fare in the light of subsequent developments was the American Forces in Action (AFA) series. This series had its inception in a desire expressed by General Marshall, in April 1943, that simple accounts be made available to wounded soldiers explaining the actions in which they had participated. It was his thought that the reading of such narratives would not only provide needed diversion during convalescence but, by informing the men of what they had helped to accomplish, would contribute to their morale.
The first pamphlet to go through the Branch mill was To Bizerte with the II Corps. Work on this narrative was begun in August 1943. It was written hurriedly and largely from high-level reports that gave little insight into human interest details. *1* Most, if not all, of the writing was done in the Historical Branch. The Historical Section, Army War College, prepared the maps and the Signal Corps and the Engineer Board provided photographs and terrain models.
The pamphlet was published in February 1944, a paper-bound, attractively illustrated booklet of sixty-four pages. But its limitations were such that it failed to inspire in the Historical Branch the pride that parents usually have in their first offspring. In March 1944, Mr. Goldthwaite Dorr, Office of the Secretary of War, remarked to the Chief Historian that he “had found it dry, lacking in the necessary detail to give it life.” Dr. Wright readily admitted the shortcomings of the work and explained the haste, incomplete information, and other circumstances responsible for them. He predicted that the second booklet, Papuan Campaign, then nearing completion would show considerable improvement.
Papuan Campaign was published in July 1944. It was better work than its predecessor but still fell far short of the desired standards. The Salerno monograph, written in the Mediterranean theater by the Fifth Army Historical Section, began the editorial rounds in August 1944. Published early in November 1944, it was described by the Chief Historian as “a great improvement over Bizerte. It provided vastly more detailed information, specific and not generalized,” he wrote. “The units in action obviously consist of human beings and not vague abstractions.” He found portions of the narrative “overwritten,” in an effort to achieve atmosphere. This Dr. Wright deplored. “To discover or create a fitting style for our pamphlets will perhaps be difficult,” he observed, “but we must … start with a style which is simple and unvarnished, even at the risk of being pedestrian.”
In mid-June 1944, three other AFA pamphlets were in advanced stages of preparation in the theaters: Guadalcanal, Volturno, and The Winter Line. Despite the improvements that had been made the Branch was still far from happy about the project. In a review of the situation dated 17 June 1944, the Chief Historian pointed up the following difficulties:
(1) To serve the purpose envisioned by General Marshall, the pamphlets should be published soon after the action. But experience had shown that under the most favorable conditions at least six months would intervene between the close of an operation and the publication of the pamphlet describing it; if the writing had to be done in Washington more time would be required.
(2) General Marshall’s mission called for a simple popular style. This could hardly be achieved by the academic writers whom the Branch had recruited for its primary responsibility of preparing the history of World War II.
(3) What the Branch was actually doing, and all that it could reasonably expect to do under the circumstances, was preparing operational studies “first narratives.” These were sound studies from the historical standpoint, but they did not fulfill the need expressed by the Chief of Staff.
Lt. Col. Charles Taylor went to Normandy in July 1944 to write up the Omaha Beachhead operation. He and his associates in the Branch had considerable difficulty in trying to tell historians in the theater how to write the pamphlets. Colonel Taylor finally concluded that the most effective mode of instructing others in the desired technique was to provide a model study for them to follow. He spent several months in France gathering material and drafting the narrative and returned to the United States early in 1945 to complete it. This study, when published early in 1946 as the seventh pamphlet in the series, marked the dawn of a new day in this field of activity. It was a considerably larger, fatter, and handsomer publication than its predecessors; its style was dignified but easy; and its thoroughness was such as to meet the highest standards of historical scholarship. Subsequent pamphlets were of the same generous format, and their content was much improved as the result of Colonel Taylor’s splendid example and the application of lessons that he learned from the preparation of the Omaha study. The favorable reception given Omaha Beachhead by both convalescent soldiers and historical scholars indicated that Taylor had fulfilled to an extent deemed impossible by Dr. Wright in 1944 the dual objective of diverting booklet and historical monograph. *2*
Eventually the American Forces in Action series was to reach a total of fourteen pamphlets, with an aggregate sale of nearly 200,000 by 1 February 1956. In addition, thousands of copies were distributed gratis.
The AFA booklets, while in a sense a “side activity,” helped to promote the basic historical mission in many important ways. The requirement of getting them quickly under way brought the Historical Branch to a prompt realization that combat records were inadequate. General Marshall’s mandate gave the branch a powerful lever for correcting this situation and for filling other important needs both at home and overseas….
Another important activity of the Historical Branch in the early days was an effort to revamp the records system to meet the needs of the new history. Study of the problem was initiated by Major Douglas soon after he joined the Branch. On 13 August 1943, he made a report in which he advised against historical organizations becoming record-keeping agencies, other than of their own activities. Rather, he stated, historians should look to The Adjutant General, the Army’s official archivist, for their records. He further suggested that co-ordination be established with The Adjutant General’s Office concerning the collection, organization, and use of records….
….In November, a Records Analysis Section was established in the Historical Branch, with Major Douglas as its head. The duties of this section were to receive and store copies of published and unpublished histories coming in from other agencies, to establish a central reference collection including copies of selected historical source materials, and to service records borrowed for use within the Branch.
One recommendation made by Major Douglas, that of revising AR 345-105, failed of implementation until long after the war. Douglas prepared a memorandum setting forth the need for thoroughly overhauling the regulation so as to provide better coverage of combat operations and administrative activities, and drew up a draft of a proposed revision. This draft was kicked back and forth among interested persons both in and out of the Branch, but not until 1949 was a new regulation promulgated.
Another recommendation of Major Douglas in his 11 August report was that a survey be made of the records situation in theaters of operations. This proposal was approved and Douglas departed for North Africa in December 1943, or January 1944, where he conferred with officers of the Historical Section, Allied forces Headquarters. In the spring of 1944 he made another trip to North Africa and later visited other theaters. While information about his activities on these rounds is scant, indications are that he obtained helpful information about theater records, rendered needed assistance to historical officers concerning their own records problems, and helped expedite the collection and transfer to Washington of the records required by AR 345-105.27 Douglas’ efforts along these lines were effectively supplemented by those of Colonel Kemper, who visited England and North Africa in late 1943 and early 1944. The records procedure in North Africa in April 1944, as developed from the collaboration of the Historical Branch and the theater historical section, was as follows:
Subordinate units (which at first had to be prodded by the theater historical officer) forwarded the required records monthly to theater headquarters; there the records were checked by the historical section and copies or extracts made for use by the historical officer as needed; the records were then sent to the theater adjutant general for transmittal to The Adjutant General in Washington. When the theater historian turned the records over to the theater adjutant general, he forwarded a copy of the letter of transmittal to the Historical Branch, G-2, so that that organization might know what records were coming to Washington and approximately when they would arrive. The value of such a system to the Historical Branch is obvious.
As its responsibilities multiplied and its staff increased the Branch made corresponding adjustments in its organization. On 15 May 1944, the first date for which full information is available, the Branch was organized into a research and writing group whose members, under the supervision of the Chief Historian, were engaged in preparing the chronology, training historical teams, writing the popular narratives for the Infantry Journal series, and performing other current assignments, and five sections with duties specified as follows:
a). The Editorial Section [under the supervision of the Chief Historian] will prepare for publication and handle all matters concerning the printing and distribution of historical manuscripts published by the Branch and will examine and recommend action on historical manuscripts prepared for publication outside the Branch.
b). The Cartographic Section will prepare maps and charts as required by the Research and Writing Group and the Editorial Section and will control and preserve all maps temporarily or permanently in the custody of the Branch except those (forming inseparable parts of records or other material) controlled by the Records Analysis Section.
c). The Records Analysis Section will control and preserve all source material (other than maps and administrative records of the Branch) which is temporarily or permanently in the custody of the Branch, including manuscript records and reports, completed historical studies, publications, and pictorial material, and will collect and make available information concerning the location and content of other source material which may be of use to the Branch.
d). The Chronology Section will compile a detailed factual summary of current events.
e). The Chief of the Liaison and Policy Section is the principal planning assistant to the Chief. As such he is primarily responsible for the formulation and implementation of an over-all historical program for the Military Establishment. He will maintain liaison with other historical units and undertake staff studies toward that end.
Personnel of the Historical Branch, G-2: 15 May 1944
Chief:Lt. Col. J. M. Kemper
Capt. R. J. Goodhard, Exec O
Miss M. F. Hurley, Secy.
Miss M. R. Hunter, Clk.-Steno.
Dr. M. L. Wright, Jr.
Miss G. P. Domino, Secy.
Research & Writing Group
Lt. Col. S. L. A. Marshall, Hist.
Dr. T. S. Anderson, Hist.
Dr. R. W. Shugg, Hist.
Capt. E. Ellis, Hist.
Capt. N. L. Drummond, Hist.
Mr. S. T. Tyng, Exp. Consultant
Liaison & Policy Section
Maj. J. S. Douglas, Chief
Mrs. E. C. Kimball, Asst.
Records Analysis Section
Mr. I. Wice, Chief
Miss K. Lambert, Asst.
Miss M. Procter, Clk.-Steno
Lt. Col. C. H. Taylor, Chief
Capt. R. Lamson, Jr., Asst.
Mrs. M. Cline, Hist. Writer
Miss A. E. Price, Clk.-Steno
Miss M. Mortensen, Sr. Steno
Miss M. McTigue, Clk.-Steno
Lt. H. T. Straw, Chief
Mrs. L. T. Taylor, Eng. Dr.
Mr. W. Aglaimoff, Eng. Dr.
Mrs. M. H. Williams, Chief
Miss B. L. Belt, Asst.
Miss G. A. Kannmacher, Res. Anal.
Miss E. Morris, Clk.-Typist
*1* WAR CHRONICLE footnote:The following quote (from page 18 ofTo Bizerte) is about as richly human as the narrative manages: “In the opinion of the men who finally captured it, Hill 490 was ‘tough.’ ” According to Stetson Conn, the principal author of Bizerte was Lt. Harris Warren.[Return]
*2* Author’s footnote: Statement, Dr. K. R. Greenfield to the writer, 19 Mar 54. Popularity of Omaha Beachhead is evidenced by its sale (20,738 as of 1 February 1956) which was the greatest of any in the series. Sales Report as of 1 February 1956, K. R. Greenfield Files, U.S. Army in World War II: Sales and Dissemination. An ex-rifleman wrote of the booklet: ‘It is the only book of treasure I have of my own experiences, and it is positively an accurate description of events which surprises me.’ OCMH, Promotional Pamphlet, History of the U.S. Army in the World Wars. [Return]