Historical Work in the United States Army

Part Two

Source: Stetson Conn, Historical Work in the United States Army 1862-1954 (U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C., 1980).

Stetson Conn (formerly of Amherst College) served as a Chief Historian, General Editor of the United States Army in World War II official history. He was co-author of The Western Hemisphere: Guarding the United States and its Outposts.  For the Center of Military History, Conn co-authored The  War of the American Revolution: Narrative, Chronology, and Bibliography

Bookmarks Battle participation credits Responsibilities of new Historical Branch World War I work continues First narrative: TOKYO RAID/ First publication: T0 BIZERTE WITH II CORPS /THE PAPUAN CAMPAIGN Historical personnel go overseas S.L.A. Marshall in the Pacific CAPTURE OF ATTU and ISLAND VICTORY SALERNO, VOLTURNO, AND THE FIFTH ARMY / EIGHT DAYS IN BASTOGNE  /OMAHA BEACHHEAD PERSIAN CORRIDOR AND AID TO RUSSIA CHRONOLOGY THE WAR IN OUTLINE 1939-1944 EMPLOYMENT OF NEGRO TROOPS / Victory: historical analysis begins /Plan for THE U.S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR II Establishing the new Historical Division Douglas S. Freeman, a critic Dr. Hugh M. Cole OKINAWA: THE LAST BATTLE Dr. Greenfield and General Eisenhower Keys to success of Historical Division / Historical Advisory Committee  /Access to Army records / Author’s notes

Go to Part One: Part One: 1862 to 1940  /Part Three: 1947 to 1954 Bibliography

From Chapter 4: Historical Work During World War II

On 11 December 1941, the day that the United States and Germany exchanged declarations of war, General Spaulding recommended redefining the duties of the Historical Section, Army War College. “For the period of the present war” he wanted the section to become the depository for all Army records of historical value that had ceased to be live files, these files to be arranged to insure “ready accessibility, ultimate publication, and final transfer to the Adjutant General as permanent custodian.” He added that no historical writing of any kind on World War II was contemplated, and that except for the new responsibility for acquiring records the function of the Historical Section should remain unchanged.  *1*

[The plan regarding documents was revised but it was “purely theoretical until the establishment in 1943 of a new Army historical office dealing with World War II.”]

…Meanwhile the section itself, without specific authorization, undertook a new function when it began the compilation of a World War II chronology for reference purposes. The chronology, dated from 7 December 1941, consisted primarily of clippings from the New York Times, with an index. It continued to be compiled until 1 March 1946, and was used extensively in answering official and public queries. *2*

A more challenging function for the section began in early 1942, in response to requests from War Department agencies for information about the handling of particular matters in past wars, and especially in World War I, that might throw useful light on solving similar current problems. These requests resulted in a series of special studies. The first of them, on “Deficiencies in Transportation, 1917-1918,” was completed on 6 March 1942. Four of the first seven requests came from the office of Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy. Exchanges between General Spaulding and the Chief of Staff’s office in June and July formalized this special studies program, and by early August the Historical Section had received forty-six requests for studies on various subjects. The studies were prepared by one or more senior officers diverted from their other duties and normally took two weeks or longer to complete. Based as much as possible on readily available secondary materials, they were intended to be strictly factual in content. The bulk of the sixty-two such studies undertaken during the war were completed during 1942 and 1943.  *3*

As the war progressed, an increasing number of inquiries on military matters of all kinds poured into the Historical Section. A total of 10,520 requests from War Department agencies were received during the first ten months of 1943; in contrast only 713 had come in for the corresponding months of the preceding year. Most of them could be handled quickly by telephone, but others generated official communications (about 500 annually by 1943). The Historical Section continued during World War II to be the arbiter on all unit history matters, and inquiries from troop units about their history increased in volume from 506 in 1941 to 18,133 in 1944. Until April 1943 the section exercised its assigned responsibility for determining battle participation credits for World War II actions indirectly through a Battle Participation Board. At that time the General Staff’s Personnel Division (G-1) took this function away from the section and vested it in the Adjutant General’s Office. Later, it was exercised directly by G-1 itself.  *4*

Summary (Pages 79-90):

On 4 March 1942, President Roosevelt proposed establishing a scholarly committee to oversee production by federal agencies of “an accurate and objective account of our present war experience.” In July 1942, a War Department directive called for the appointment of historical officers and staffs within the Army Ground Forces (AGF), Army Air Forces (AAF), and the Services of Supply (SOS).

Some historical activity took shape before the July directive. The Medical Department established an historical office in August 1941 (whose activities resulted in the multi-volume History of the United States Medical Department in World War II. In May 1942 the Quartermaster General established an SOS historical section under Maj. John D. Millett (in peacetime, a Columbia University Professor of Public Administration).

Responding to the July directive, the Army Air Forces appointed Col. Clarence B. Lober as Historical Officer in September 1942. The next month, Major Kent Roberts Greenfield (Chairman of the History Department at Johns Hopkins University) was appointed Historical Officer of the Army Ground Forces.

But what were these historians supposed to do? Major Greenfield, for one, found himself at odds with General Spaulding. Spaulding (still the chief of the increasingly marginalized Historical Section) believed no combat history should be written before official battle credits had been issued and all relevant records, including those of the enemy, had been secured and unclassified. Greenfield and others agreed that no definitive, official histories of operations could be written before the war was won. However, they believed, first narratives should be written as groundwork for a future definitive history.

The dispute was settled, and a bold direction was set, when a new Historical Branch was formally established by G-2 [Military Intelligence] on 20 July 1943. Lt. Col. John M. Kemper, a 30-year-old graduated of the Military Academy and holder of a Master’s Degree in history from Columbia, was appointed as its chief. The branch set up shop on the 5th floor of the Pentagon.

In August, a War Department directive made the branch responsible for supervising or undertaking all Army historical work relating to World War II:

“first narrative” histories of operations

coordination and supervision of administrative histories in the War Department

determining methods to used in collecting documentation

final editing and approval of all historical manuscripts prepared for publication by Army agencies

establishing and overseeing historical offices in overseas theaters

disseminating information on current operations as an aid to training

determining functions, duties, and responsibilities for the Historical Section, Army War College

Spaulding and his Historical Section staff, as it transpired, largely concentrated on World War I documentary work and the order of battle projects. These, as Conn notes, “were far from complete when the fighting ended in 1945. Only about a quarter of the operational documents and maps were nearing readiness for printing, only token work had been done on the overseas supply documents, and the domestic order of battle volume (which became two thick books when printed in 1949) was a year or more away from completion.”

New recruits joined Col. Kemper at Historical Branch in August. These included Maj. Charles H. Taylor, peacetime medieval history professor at Harvard; former news reporter, Lt.Col. S.L.A Marshall; Maj. Jesse S. Douglas, previously with the National Archives; Capt. Roy Lamson, peacetime teacher of English at Williams College; and Dr. George S. Auxier, previously head of the Engineers’ historical office.

In September, Dr. Walter Livingston Wright (formerly President of Roberts College and the American College for Women in Istanbul, currently consultant for the Library of Congress) was chosen as the Army’s first Chief Historian.

Stetson Conn’s narrative continues below.

[In 1943 and 1944] the branch aimed to make itself primarily a supervisory and editorial office by encouraging a maximum of decentralization of research and writing; it was, as Colonel Kemper put it in early 1944, “less concerned with writing history itself than with assuring that such history as is written is of high quality.” For many months the office concentrated on promoting work in operational history, the area previously neglected. Rather than issuing formal directives, it depended on helpful assistance and informal liaison visits to guide the development of theater historical programs. It tried to limit research and writing within the branch to those subjects and areas that was not practical for any other Army historical office to cover. Both in and outside the branch it urged the importance of writing preliminary narratives as soon as possible both for current use and as groundwork for the official history to come. Finally, as the Chief Historian pointed out in March 1944, while “the Historical Branch was created in order to insure the writing of a definitive history of the Army in World War II,” that history could not be written or even planned in detail until the fighting was over. In the meantime the branch’s principal objective was to facilitate production by other Army historical offices of the maximum amount of sound historical work, to encourage and increase rather than to limit their work, and to disturb as little as possible writing and publication programs already in existence.  *5*

 The Historical Branch received its first specific assignment on 1 August 1943. It was to prepare relatively brief studies of particular military operations to be written and published as quickly as possible. Chief of Staff George C. Marshall had asked for such studies the preceding April. He wanted them published for internal Army circulation only, and particularly for distribution to hospitalized soldiers who had been wounded in the actions described….Lt. Col. S.L.A. Marshall and others were made available to work on the studies….After six weeks or so of work in collaboration with Air Force and Navy historians, in October 1943 Col. Marshall completed a draft manuscript on The Tokyo Raid of April 1942, the first historical narrative produced by the branch. That work never saw the light of day, but a less worthy item, To Bizerte with the II Corps, written principally by Lt. Harris Warren, was approved for publication on 4 November 1943. With mapping assistance from the Historical Section, Army War College, the following February it became the first publication of the World War II historical office, and the first of fourteen paperback volumes to appear in The American Forces in Action (AFA) series. The second title in this series, on the Buna-Gona action in the far Pacific was published in July 1944 as The Papuan Campaign *6*

Colonel Kemper doubted that units in combat operations were keeping useful and accurate records. To check on the matter, he left his new office on 6 August 1943 for the Aleutians, where on and after 15 August he participated in the operations against Kiska. His experiences there, coupled with the evident inadequacy of the records available in Washington for preparing a study on the campaign in North Africa, convinced him that if good combat history was to be written trained men must be sent from Washington to the active theaters to help correct defects in record keeping and to obtain additional information through interviews with participants. Information from interviews would fill in gaps and correct inaccuracies in such records as had been and were being compiled. Since the theaters were retaining their most important records, it also seemed necessary to do most of the preliminary research and writing overseas, with drafts returned to Washington for editing and publication. With high-level backing, Kemper obtained permission to send nine three-man teams overseas to work on combat studies, hoping at the time to keep the work of these teams under of the control of his branch. In late October, even before approval of the plan for teams, Colonel Marshall left for the Pacific. And early in December Kemper himself accompanied the first two teams to the Mediterranean, spending two months visiting there and in England. In the Mediterranean he helped establish a separate Army historical office in what was about to become a theater under overall British command, and he drafted a directive to guide its work. The directive was issued internally rather than as orders from across the Atlantic that might have been resented or ignored. In the Pacific, where he stayed until April 1944, Marshall was a participant in the Makin and Kwajalein operations and developed a new technique for group combat interviews that became a model for historical work dealing with restricted or smaller unit actions.  *7*

NOTE:  Two proposed projects came to nothing in the fall of 1943. It was proposed that Bernard DeVoto, Pulitzer Prize winning historian, write a combat history of North Africa. As it happened, the Navy was beginning its history of Guadalcanal. The idea for a joint Army, Navy, and Marine history, with DeVoto as the author, got presidential backing but the services would not cooperate. Other commitments prevented DeVoto from returning to the North Africa project.]

In the spring of 1944 the fruits of overseas historical work began pouring into the Historical Branch. The number of historical teams was substantially increased, and the practice of sending or stationing branch representatives overseas for extended periods was expanded. At the beginning of June the historical office was working on six studies that its chief hoped to see ready for the printer during the month. By special arrangement, two were being readied for publication by the Infantry Journal’s press as small books: The Capture of Attu, on which the branch then had Mr. Sewell T. Tyng working as an expert consultant; and Island Victory, the principal literary fruit of Colonel Marshall’s visit to the Pacific. Both went to press in June and were published in October. Marshall had also written a half dozen other pieces for the Infantry Journal, and the branch hoped in due course to reprint all of Marshall’s Pacific writings in a single larger volume that it believed could have great value as a training vehicle. As for the historical teams, while the members henceforth would clearly come under the jurisdiction of overseas commanders after they arrived in the theaters, their preliminary indoctrination in the branch, the almost continuous presence (at least in the European area) of branch representatives, and voluminous unofficial correspondence with them and with theater historians everywhere, tended to give the program a good deal of unity. Following Colonel Kemper’s tour the principal overseas tours of branch representatives in 1944 in the Atlantic area were those of Major Lamson in the Mediterranean from January to June, of Colonel Taylor in the European Theater from April 1944 to January 1945, of Colonel Stamps (under branch auspices) [Thomas D. Stamps who formerly handled military history at West Point as head of the Department of Military Art and Engineering] and Colonel Marshall to the European Theater shortly after D-Day, and of Colonel Kemper to that theater again in November. Before departing Marshall was formerly designated as “Popular Historian,” and his trip was designed primarily to complete his orientation for the task of writing the Army’s popular history of its military operations. Actually he remained in Europe to become deputy to the Army’s theater historian, Col. William A. Ganoe, and to succeed Ganoe when the latter returned to the United States. *8* 

EDITORIAL NOTE: While Island Victory has far overshadowed Attu, the latter is a fascinating collection of interview-narratives. Both works have recently been reissued by the University of Nebraska Press.

The Historical Branch had hoped to send four more combat studies to the printer in June 1944 but these hopes were shattered by personnel changes, by underestimation of the time required for editing and mapping, and by the discovery that at least two of the studies need basic rewriting. In analyzing the problem, Dr. Wright pointed out that the academic professionals (in and out of uniform) in Army combat history work, both in Washington and overseas, were not the types to produce the sort of short, journalistic narratives, quickly written and printed, that General Marshall had had in mind for hospitalized soldiers. If that were still the goal, he thought the task ought to be turned over to journalists. The branch opted instead for improving the historical and literary quality of its combat histories, and rewriting or discarding those that did not measure up to acceptable historical standards. The basic manuscripts of the accepted histories were fully documented, although they were printed without footnotes. Fortunately, three manuscripts on late 1943 operations in southern Italy, written by members of the first historical teams sent overseas, showed marked improvement over the first two AFA pamphlets and could be published in the series in late 1944 and early 1945.  *9*

EDITORIAL NOTE: Conn is wobbly on details regarding the three AFA pamphlets. The three include winter 1944 operations: Salerno: American Operations from the Beaches to the Volturno, From the Volturno to the Winter Line, and Fifth Army at the Winter Line.]

Colonel Taylor returned from Europe in early 1945 to take charge of the branch’s editorial section and complete his own study on the invasion of Normandy. At the time he surmised that two to three dozen more studies for the AFA series might be forthcoming in the following two years, but far fewer were actually to appear in print as official histories [if they can be considered official histories, at any rate fourteen AFA pamphlets were published]. Colonel Marshall’s work on Bastogne was diverted to the Infantry Journal’s press in order to get a quicker printing and broader circulation. Several other works (as one on Sicily) were discontinued, judged not redeemable after being worked on extensively in the branch. Planning was beginning on a definitive official history to include combat operations, a project that would eclipse the AFA series in 1946. And Taylor himself charted a new course fore the series and for all Army combat history productions with his work on Omaha Beachhead. Much longer than the preceding combat histories, it required a larger format which in turn allowed better and more elaborate mapping. Taylor’s access to German records captured in France made Omaha a pioneer work in covering the enemy’s side of the story authoritatively. And it was the first volume in the AFA series to be openly published, as all the others would be presently. Aside from their intrinsic merit, Omaha and the other AFA volumes published during and immediately after the war went a long way toward arousing both Army and public interest in further Army historical work on World War II and in establishing standards for the Army’s official history series launched in 1946.  *10* 

In May 1944 the Branch undertook a different sort of theater history when Dr. T.H. Vail Motter began work on recording the story of the United States Army Forces in the Middle East. Enough of the records of this noncombat theater had been returned to the United States to permit Dr. Motter to do his first year’s work in Washington and New York. Then the branch sent him as a civilian historian to the theater’s headquarters in Cairo, and beyond, “to function there with authority” in getting at the records necessary for his work. A somewhat thorny character, Motter asserted his rights to the records so assiduously that he almost landed in jail. In due course, strong messages from Washington clarified his status and secured for him the access to classified material that he needed. This project was another step in the transition from war time monographs to the official history. After the theater’s responsibility broadened to include the Persian Gulf Command Motter turned his interest in that direction, and his volume on The Persian Corridor and Aid to Russia became one of the earliest titles in the post war series.  *11*

A request from a G-2 committee of which Colonel Kemper was a member led to one of the first monographs produced by the Historical Branch, “Materials on the History of Military Intelligence in the United States 1885-1944,” a short narrative with voluminous appendices completed by Dr. George Auxier in January 1944….

At the time the Historical Branch was established at least Army offices were compiling chronologies of World War II: General Spaulding’s Historical Section, the Special Services Division, and G-2’s Dissemination Unit. G-2 directed the transfer of its unit’s chronology effort to the Historical Branch in December 1943. Based on all accessible operational records as well as more readily available published material, the task became increasingly complex for the branch as the fighting spread and grew in intensity. Within a year the staff working on the chronology grew from two to five people; nevertheless it fell progressively behind in its production schedule. Continued after the war, the project provided the basis for the Chronology volume of the official series published in 1960.  *12*

During the war, a principal use of the chronology was in providing information to the writers of a concise history of the war’s combat operations published by the Infantry Journal’s press in 1945 and 1946. In 1943 Special Services had elaborated its chronology into a periodically produced outline of the war’s developments. The whole was compiled by Maj. Harvey A. DeWeerd and published as The War in Outline 1939-1944 by the Infantry Journal’s press. Both this press and Special Services wanted a more sophisticated narrative version, and the Historical Branch reluctantly agreed to assume responsibility for its preparation, though not for its publication. As author, it employed Dr. Roger Shugg, who had entered government service from teaching at Indiana University. Working rapidly in 1944, using information supplied by the branch’s Chronology Section to the extent possible, and getting a good deal of assistance from other branch members, Dr. Shugg turned out a book-length narrative published as The World at War 1939-1944, covering operations through October 1944. When the manuscript was ready for printing at the end of that year, the branch sent it to the Information and Educational Division, which had inherited Special Service’s responsibility for using this material. In turn, that division sent the manuscript to the Infantry Journal. The Journal copyrighted it and printed 100,000 copies before the end of April 1945, the largest circulation of any Army-produced historical work for many years to come. After Dr. Shugg left the Historical Branch in the spring of 1945, Major DeWeerd, who by then was with the Infantry Journal, produced a new edition of the volume that covered the fighting to the end of the war in 1945. This version became World War II: A Concise History, published by the Infantry Journal in 1946.  *13*


It was apparently a young Negro historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin, who stirred the Army toward recording the World War II military experience of America’s largest racial minority. On 23 February 1944 Assistant Secretary of War McCloy recommended that the Historical Branch prepare a “factual study and history of Negro participation in current conflict.” He believed such a history would be of great value to the future Army planners. Although acknowledging its potential importance, Kemper and Wright were reluctant to tackle such a study because of its sensitivity. They soon discovered they had no choice, although Mr. McCloy’s executive (a personal friend of Kemper’s) did point out that the branch “could move as slowly as desirable to lessen the risk” of stirring up antagonism among either Whites or Negroes until the fighting was over. In 1944 and 1945 the Chief Historian assumed responsibility for collecting materials on the subject, working in friendly cooperation with the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War. Dr. Wright discovered that among Negroes themselves there was a sharp conflict of opinion over the desirability of a separate treatment of their role in the Army. Initially it was hoped to feed the material relating to Negro participation into other branch projects to obtain a balanced and impartial picture. It was with this objective in view that, at the end of 1945, the branch sought the services of another young Negro scholar, Capt. Ulysses Grant Lee, Jr., to guide the work. *14*

The Employment of Negro Troops was published in 1966 as part of the Special Studies subseries of United States Army in World War II. The volume was published with a preface by its editor, and then Chief Historian, Stetson Conn.]

Summary (Pages 101-115)

Not every project undertaken or planned by the Historical Branch was a success. In 1944. the Secretary of War directed the branch to prepare an overall “elaborate study of the Army’s training program and methods.” The work was complete in 1947 but was not considered acceptable for publication.

Another project begun but, in this case never finished, was a popular history of the war. The task should have fallen to S.L.A. Marshall as he was officially designated the “Popular Historian.” Marshall’s transfer to the ETO, however, left the project the unassigned. It was envisioned as a two-volume on strategy and operations in the Pacific and in Europe. In a break with tradition, and significantly for the future, the author would receive credit for authorship (though not ownership of copyright or compensation beyond expenses).

Douglas S. Freeman (later a vocal critic of the official history project while still being an advisor to it) turned the project down. The Historical Branch’s new chief (Lt. Col. Allen F. Clark who took over Kemper’s duties when that officer was rotated to overseas duty in Italy) then arranged for Sewell Tyng be the author. Sadly, Tyng died in May 1946. The whole project was then cancelled as the branch was concentrating on the official history.

With Germany’s surrender, the Historical Branch sent a team (headed by Dr. George N. Shuster, President of Hunter College) to interrogate high ranking German officials in Europe. Little came of this mission, but Conn states that “later use of senior German officer prisoners of war in the Army’s post war historical work in occupied Germany” would be of “prime importance.”

Regarding the war’s last days, Conn writes:

With world-wide victory in sight in July 1945, President Harry S. Truman urged all Federal agencies to bring their administrative histories “to a current basis during 1945” in order to complete them as soon as possible after the war was over. After Japan surrendered, the Historical Branch suddenly found itself required to send directives to all military elements of Army headquarters and to overseas commands instructing them to begin or expedite narrative accounts of their administrative experiences during the war and otherwise prescribing what they should do to bring their wartime historical work to a fruitful termination. The implication of these directives of course was that the Army as well as other Federal agencies would be sharply reduced in strength as soon as wartime tasks were completed. But it had been intended from the beginning that the Historical Branch should perform its major role after the fighting was over. As its chief later put it, VJ Day marked the transition from the branch “as an agency primarily concerned with the preservation of records and other historical material to an agency charged with the responsibility of reducing those records of the war to a more usable form and disseminating them to the Army, to the schools, and to the general public.” To accomplish that mission the branch would need a large staff and a stronger position in Army headquarters.

In July of 1945, just as the Army made plans for a reduced peacetime establishment, the Historical Branch needed to expand. Victory meant the beginning of its labor on the official history. As part of G-2, the Historical Branch was in a precarious position. It was recognized by the War Department that G-2 was most likely to start staff cuts with historians.

To fulfil its mission, the Historical Branch needed a permanent, supportive, home for the long work ahead. And to give the branch real standing, it was proposed that the branch absorb the old Historical Section.  

This was not a universal view. The old Section, in the person of its new director (Col. Clarence C. Benson, who took over from Gen. Spaulding upon his retirement), sought to bring the branch under its control and to stop the official history project entirely.

Conn writes:

[Col. Benson] mounted a counterattack against the proposed absorption of his section by the Historical Branch. He proposed enactment of legislation to establish an “American Battle Monuments and History Commission” to coordinate the entire armed forces historical program. Pending that action he urged consolidating all Army historical work under the Chief, Historical Section, Army War College. He also recommended publishing the World War II records before undertaking an official narrative history, and he made no effort to conceal his desire to kill the latter project. The War Department rejected his proposals…. Benson then turned to General Eisenhower, still in Europe but slated to become Chief of Staff, to enlist his support; Eisenhower gave it, agreeing in a letter of 12 October that the War Department’s World War II historical office should be confined to the collection, arrangement, and publication of records, and that “by no means should it attempt now to write the history.” Colonel Benson, of course, was delighted and proceeded to circulate copies of the pertinent passages of Eisenhower’s letter.  *15*

But the fate of the Historical Branch and the official history was out of the military’s hands. On 9 November 1945, Secretary of War Robert Patterson approved the establishment of a new Special Staff agency to perform all historical functions. The agency would report directly to the Deputy Chief of Staff and supervise all Army historical work. On 17 November, the formal announcement of the Historical Division, Special Staff, and the transfer to it of the “functions, records, personnel, office space, and equipment” of the Historical Branch. The physical integration with the old Historical Section would, to avoid embarrassments, by postponed until 1947. 

Two days later, General “By No Means” Eisenhower succeeded General Marshall as Chief of Staff. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy sent Eisenhower a note expressing his own great interest in the Army’s historical work. McCloy added that “we haven’t many results to show after the last war, and I think, after the effort made in this war, the country deserves good material.”

Eisenhower apparently reversed his earlier opinion and, according to Conn, “became one of the strongest supporters of the Army’s historical series on World War II that was about to be launched.” 

Stetson Conn’s narrative continues below.

From Chapter 5:
Launching “The United States Army in World War II”

The establishment by the War Department of the Historical Division, Special Staff, in November 1945, and the assignment of a general officer to head it [Major General Edwin F. Harding, commander of the 32nd Division in New Guinea and late Chief of the Historical Office of the Joint Chief of Staffs], were essential foundations for launching the largest undertaking in narrative historical work the American nation had ever known. The basic objective behind establishing a new Army historical office in 1943 had been the ultimate production of an official history of the United States Army’s participation in World War II. By “official”, Army planners of this period meant a history as nearly comprehensive and factually correct as possible, not one that would present an official point of view….

In the spring and summer of 1945, as the fighting neared its end, Colonel Clark spent many hours with his senior colleagues, Dr. Wright and Col. Taylor, drafting and discussing plans for the official history. At first they favored a work of relatively modest length that might be published in ten to fifteen volumes and become widely known and read. But such a work, however comprehensive it might appear to the public, would have to leave out a great deal of detail that the Army itself needed for educational purposes. Material for those purposes would have to be printed if it was to survive and not be forgotten. Thus a more detailed series would have to be prepared and published, also, probably before the more condensed series. There was no argument with Dr. Wright’s projection for the scope of the work:

Military history as conceived by the modern historian is not merely an account of battles and campaigns, but of a whole national society organized for war, using all of its resources both human and material. Within the larger picture of American society at war, the mission of the Historical Branch is to record that part of the war effort under the direct or effective control of the War Department.

Wright recognized that the scope thus defined was “enormous,” and held that the product “must be well done or another generation may be left the repeat the same mistakes.”

NOTE: Dr. Wright returned to teaching in 1946 and Dr. Kent Roberts Greenfield became his successor.] [Colonel Clark] confided somewhat prophetically to this diary that “this particular project gives me a sense of cobwebs and old millstones turning over…it will grind on and on for years.” [Nonetheless] Clark rewrote the plan for the official history in a manner which gave it a much broader coverage and a goal of about 125 volumes. In refining the revised plan, Clark was aided in suggestions from Dr. Wright and Colonels Taylor and [Jesse] Douglas. When the Advisory Committee met on 24 October it approved the new plan. Within a fortnight all of the major command and technical service historical chiefs had added their enthusiastic endorsements….

In the plan formally submitted on 18 December 1945, General Harding estimated that the full series would contain about 120 volumes, although only 101 of them were specified in an accompanying list. The stated objective of the series was to present to the Army and the American people a comprehensive account of the administration and operations of the War Department and the Army during World War II. The history was to be basically a reference work and not a popular summarization. It was not the aim to make it a final and definitive history, but rather a “broad and factual foundation for further specialized research and study.” Since the sheer bulk of the records involved made it impossible to publish them in a series similar to the Civil War Official Records, the decision for such a detailed history had been made especially so that the Army’s schools could use the finished products as texts for study….The plan called for the use of civilian historians to write the history….All volumes were to be published by the Government Printing Office, at an estimated cost of $8,000 per volume for 5,000 copies, and were to be as nearly uniform as possible in size, binding, and format. The plan admitted that “some of the work will take years to complete,” but it did not try to estimate how many.  *16*

NOTE:  The estimated cost of $8,000 was substantially too low. See bookmark, “Costs and sales” in Part Three.]

 ….Not everyone either within or outside of the Army was happy over the decision to undertake under official auspices a massive narrative history of the Army’s part in the war. In December 1945 the chief of the War College Historical Section, Colonel Benson, minced no words in writing to his new technical supervisor, General Harding. He voiced his opposition to the official history proposal and expressed his strong preference for collecting and publishing the source materials in order to make them available to historians generally. The following April Douglas S. Freeman, the dean of American military historians, wrote editorials and a letter to the Secretary of War that were even more adamant in their opposition. He held that “no adequate unrestricted history of America’s participation in the Second World War can be written during the lifetime of the principal leaders in that struggle,” and that “historians will not be grateful for our attempt to write an official history before we publish the basic documents.” A conciliatory reply drafted by the Chief Historian-elect, Dr. Greenfield, does not seem to have changed Freeman’s mind.  *17*

NOTE:  Freeman was a member of the project’s Advisory Committee though, as Conn notes later, he “never really became a convert.” It’s unclear, given his hostility, what positive contribution Freeman made as a committee member.]

….[Colonel Clark moved to persuade the best of the overseas historians to return to Washington.] The ablest of the Army’s professional historians in Europe was Dr. Hugh M. Cole, then the deputy theater historian. [Later author of The Lorraine Campaign (1950) and The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge (1965)] Cole expressed willingness to consider civilian employment with the Historical Division only when he learned that Dr. Wright was leaving and would probably be succeeded by Dr. Greenfield, whom Cole admired. Cole’s apparent willingness promised to win over several of his more able colleagues, if satisfactory salaries could be offered to them…..Colonel Clark managed to persuade the Civil Service Commission to approve salaries high enough to attract top-notch people, salaries substantially higher than America’s colleges and universities were then paying scholars of comparable ability and experience. To complete the Army’s best historical work then underway in the Pacific, on the battle for Okinawa, the team of five men in uniform then working on it in Hawaii were brought to Washington and made a temporary part of the Historical Division’s staff. Because only one of them would remain as a civilian historian and he only for a short while, writers for the other Pacific volumes had to be recruited for outside this highly qualified group.  *18*

NOTE:  United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: Okinawa: The Last Battle was published in 1948. Four, not five, authors are listed. In other details, the authors’ preface to Okinawa is somewhat at variance with the brief account above.]

In recruiting people, the enlistment of Dr. Greenfield as the future Chief Historian was of almost equal importance to an attractive salary schedule. Greenfield was widely known and highly regarded in academic circles…..[But Greenfield was reluctant to accept the position] unless he could be assured that the work he would supervise would be well supported and conducted in accordance with the principles of sound historical scholarship….

…Greenfield did not commit himself [before meeting, in March 1946, with the Historical Division’s Advisory Committee and the new Chief of Staff at the Pentagon, General Eisenhower.] The Chief of Staff expressed keen interest in the official history project, promised that those working on it would be given access as necessary to Army records, and agreed to allow Colonels Clark and Kemper to remain on the project until it was on a firm footing….

The Eisenhower interview convinced Greenfield and his prospective senior colleagues of the Historical Division that the auspices for official history work were good. They were assured that as government historians working on the history they would have access to all relevant Army records, individual authorship credit, and the freedom “to call the shots as they saw them.” These assurances were all the more necessary because among academic historians in the United States, military history after World War I had become a neglected and disparaged field, and among them and the American public generally official publications had never acquired a reputation for scholarly objectivity. If the volumes of the official history of the Army in World War II were to be accepted and used both within and outside the service, they would have to be as good as trustworthy as their authors could possibly make them.  *19*

Summary (Pages 126-127):

Major General Edwin F. Harding retired as chief of the Historical Division in 1946. His successor, Major General Harry J. Malony, took office as Chief of Military History on 12 July 1946. Malony had been a Deputy Chief of Staff at General Headquarters before Pearl Harbor and afterwards led the 94th Division in training and in battle.

Malony as Chief and Greenfield as Chief Historian worked closely together. Greenfield’s main responsibility was getting the official history series in shape. Malony provided overall leadership before his tour with the division ended in 1948.

Departing in 1946 were two of Col. Kemper’s key recruits at the establishment of the Historical Branch. Col. Taylor and Maj. Lamson decided to return to teaching. Some new men (enticed by the fabulous salary of $5,900 a year) came on board. These new recruits included Dr. Stetson Conn of Amherst and Dr. Albert K. Weinberg from the United Nations’ relief organization.

Stetson Conn’s narrative continues below.

…Fortunately, the largest writing sections, the European under Dr. Hugh Cole and the Pacific under Dr. Louis Morton, acquired not only strong leadership but also a core of authors who, like their chiefs, had served overseas during the war. New people had to be found for Mediterranean coverage and for many administrative and logistical topics. Getting them in the summer of 1946 was not easy in competition with colleges and universities emerging from their wartime doldrums. Both newly recruited historians and those already aboard met with Chief of Staff Eisenhower for half an hour on 30 July to receive his greetings and assurance of enthusiastic support. 

A most important ingredient in the success of the Army’s Historical Division was what Dr. Pendleton Herring called the “honest cooperation between two professional groups, the professional officers of the Army and the professional historians of the nation, each recognizing and respecting the needs and interests of the Army.” Dr. Greenfield described it more simply as “a happy marriage of the military and historical professions.” There were, of course, occasional instances of misunderstanding and friction, but they were generally overshadowed by a spirit of harmony. In part this harmony reflected the care taken in selecting officers and civilians for the Historical Division. It also flowed, as Colonel Clark emphasized, from the administration of the division’s work as a “consultative operation,” no major being taken without careful preliminary discussion and substantial agreement among military and civilian leaders. *20*

The Historical Advisory Committee provide another pillar of strength as the Army’s World War II series took shape, especially in the winter of 1946-47. Planned since the spring of 1946, this expansion retained the four original “outside” members chosen in 1943, and added seven civilian historians appointed by the Secretary of War to increase total membership to eleven. [Dr. James Phinney Baxter, President of Williams College, wartime Deputy Director of the Office of Strategic Services, and appointed chairman of the Historical Advisory Committee in May 1943] continued as chairman, and all civilian appointments were for an indefinite term. Four of the newcomers were alumni: Dr. Wright, Colonel Taylor, and the ex-chiefs of the overseas European and Mediterranean theater historical offices. Two were professors at the universities of Chicago and California, added to give the committee nation-wide geographical representation. The seventh was Douglas Freeman, who agreed to serve but never really became a convert to the World War II program….[In April 1947 the committee held a two-day meeting and] heard addresses from Chief of Staff Eisenhower and Secretary of War Patterson attesting to their interest in the historical program. After 1946 individual members kept in touch between meetings by receiving copies of the Chief Historian’s progress reports. From time to time they helped in the review of volumes nearing readiness for publication. Naturally, the distinguished members of the expanded committee gave the World War II program a strong tie with the historical profession across the nation.  *21*

In 1946 and 1947 the major problems the division faced were obtaining assured access to the Army’s records, refining the official history plan and establishing its standards and objectives, and substantially enlarging a professional staff at a time of general retrenchment. Until the summer of 1946 the authors of the official history volumes had no formal assurance that they could use the wartime files of the War Department as necessary. Indeed, the only authorized access they had was to after-action reports from overseas sent to the Operations Division during the war, although in practice they managed to see and use a good many other records. Immediately after General Eisenhower promised Dr. Greenfield in March 1946 that Army historians would be able to use all the records they needed, the Historical Division drafted a directive giving its authors blanket access to all files in War Department custody. In the normal staffing of this draft, the Intelligence and Operations Divisions insisted on qualifications that were accepted by the Chief of Staff. The G-2 reservations, which were intended to prevent the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods, did not greatly matter; but those of the Operations Division, if narrowly interpreted would have made true histories of the war’s major plans and operations impracticable.  *22*

Acting as the Army Chief of Staff’s command post during the war, the Operations Division (OPD) had overshadowed all other elements in the military hierarchy of the War Department. It had handled all Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff actions for the Army, acquiring in the process a complete set of JCS and CCS papers interlaced with important material on Army policy. Guardians of the OPD files were reluctant to allow anyone to use them unless they were subject to court martial. Moreover, OPD persuaded General Eisenhower to require the Historical Division to make its own special arrangements with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on access to joint and combined papers. Thus, the access paper signed by Eisenhower at the end July 1946 left a good deal to be desired.  *23*

Initially it appeared that only very limited access to OPD files and no authority to use joint and combined papers would be granted to Army historians. Then in October 1946 Colonel Clark learned that the Joint Chiefs were allowing Army schools to use their records, and he persuaded General Malony to reopen the question. A staff study prepared by Colonel Clark supplied General Eisenhower with the ammunition to carry the day at a JCS meeting in early January 1947. A few days later the Plans and Operations Division, OPD’s successor, capitulated and henceforth allowed Army historians to use its most privy records under appropriate controls. The last barrier fell when the Joint Chiefs, after a masterly presentation by General Malony at a meeting on 21 June 1948, granted service historians the authority to cite JCS and CCS papers in their publications.  *24*

Both military and civilian leaders recognized in 1946 that good public relations, and especially relations with the historical profession, depended in considerable measure on extending to private individuals as much freedom as possible in research in the Army’s World War II records. With rare exceptions  private research had not been allowed before 1946. The first break came in April when representatives of the Historical Division and the Adjutant General’s Office agreed to open unclassified combat analysis files to outside research. Freedom of access to almost all unclassified material soon followed, but the files that scholars were most anxious to use were under security controls that would not be generally removed for decades. Only the sheer bulk of this material prevented the declassification of most of it much earlier. Beginning in April 1947 the Army tried to find ways to give responsible outsiders access to the information in its classified files that could be made public.  *25*

These efforts to gain access to Army World War II records for both Army historians and outside researchers received strong backing from Chief of Staff Eisenhower. In a directive of 20 November 1947, he took the position that the record of the Army’s activities in World War II was public property, that it’s official history then in preparation must tell the whole story without reservation “whether or not the evidence of history places the Army in a favorable light,” that the preparation of this history should not be a barrier to private research in Army records, and that no information in them should be withheld from public release except when such release would “in fact endanger the security of the Nation.” In practice this directive helped official more than it did private research in records. Although it did lead to adoption of procedures that permitted controlled records relating to the war, procedures which the Historical Division helped to publicize, only a limited amount of private research in such records ensued. While the controls imposed on outsiders were similar to those under which the Army’s own historians worked, it was much easier in practice for the latter, working as full-time government employees, to learn how to extract the maximum of information that could be released without endangering the national security. Indeed, perhaps the basic justification for undertaking the Army’s World War II history as a public enterprise was that it could not have been compiled and made public in any other way.  *26*

See Part three for 1947 to 1954


Author’s notes

*1* (1)  Copies of this letter and of many other 1942 and 1943 documents cited hereafter may be found in Vol. II, DOCUMENTATION, of Royce L. Thompson’s “Establishment of the War Department’s Historical Program for World War II,” manuscript in GRB, CMH. Hereafter referred to as Thompson documents.  [Return]

*2*  (1) Ltr, Spaulding to DCofS, 2 Jul 1942, in WDCSA 314.8. 062.1.  (2) Ltr, Ch, HS AWC to AG, 1 Jun 1945, paragraph 6, item 3, in T 333/F-1.  [Return]

*3* (1) Copies of these studies are in T 7200.  (2) Various exchanges between the Historical Section and the Chief of Staff’s office, 18 Jun-7 Aug 1942, in WDCSA.1, cover the establishment of this program.  (3) Ltr, Spaulding to Dr. Pendleton Herring, Bureau of the Budget, 30 Jun 1942, in T 3514/F2-B.  [Return]

*4*  (1) Ltr, Ch HS, AWC to AG, 1 Jun 1945, paragraph 6, items 4 and 6, in T 333/F-1.
(2) “Headquarters Gazette,” Military Affairs 7, no. 2 (Summer 1943): 97-98.  (3) Memo, Ch, Liaison and Policy Sec., to Ch, HB, G-2, 19 Jul 1945, cy in Wright Papers, points out that the Historical Section, AWC, continued to be charged with responsibility for determining battlefield credits, even though in practice it had lost the function in 1943.  [Return]

*5*  (1) Memo for Record, Kemper, 19 Fen 1944, in HB 314.72 War in Outline.  (2) Dr. Wright summarized the final points above in Memos to Kemper of 15 February and 17 March 1944, in Wright papers. [Return]

*6*   (1) Various papers, 28 Apr-1 Aug 1943, in HRC 020, OCMH Hist. Prog.  (2) HB 314.72 G-2 Survey, 1 Jan 1944.  (3) Ltr., Kemper to Spaulding, 20 Oct 1943, in HRC 314.71 OCMH Hist. Prog. (4) Wiley, “Historical Program,” Ch. III, and Smith, “Historical Branch,” pp. 6ff, dealing with the AFA series and overseas history work, had the advantage in the 1950’s of a file on those topics subsequently misplaced. [Return]

*7*  (1)  Kemper File, Combat History No. 3, various papers, 1943-44.  (2) Notes of Conference, Kemper with Lt Gen Walter B. Smith, 16 Oct 1943, in HB 210.31.  (3) Memo for Record, Kemper, 16 Nov 1943, in WDCSA 314.7.  (4) Ltr, Taylor to Dean Paul H. Beech, Harvard Univ., 28 Sep 1945 in Clark Personal File, 1945.  (5) Ltr, Kemper to Lt Col C.D. McFerren, 22 Jun 1954, Wiley Papers.  [Return]

*8*  (1) Papers in Kemper File, Combat History No. 3.  (2) Ltrs, Kemper to Taylor, 2 and 30 May and 13 Jun 1944, in HB 314.75.  [Return]

*9*  (1) Dr. Wright’s “Reflections on the Pamphlet Problem,” 17 Jun 1944, in Wright Papers.
(2) The Chief Historian’s weekly progress reports, in HIS 319.1, are a useful source of information on the development of the AFA series in 1944-45.   [Return]

*10*  (1) AFA planning papers, Jan-Mar 1945, Taylor File.  (2) Chief Historian’s progress reports, cited above.  (3) Memo, Chief, HB for Theater Historians, 10 Apr 1945, and Ltr, Taylor to Dean Paul H. Buck, Harvard University, 28 Sep 1945, both in Clark Personal File, 1945.  (4) Charges of favoritism before and after the release of Marshall’s Bastogne led to an investigation and decision that the War Department could no longer turn over manuscripts to the Infantry Journal to copyright and publish as they wished. Lt Col Clark to Kemper, 9 Aug 1945, HB 314.75.  [Return]

*11*  Motter’s progress and his difficulties can be followed in the Chief Historian’s weekly progress reports, 1944-1945, in HS 319.1. [Return]

*12*  (1) Memo, Exec G-2 for Ch, Dissemination Unit, G-2, 8 Dec 1943, in HRC 020, Hist. Prog. (2) Chief Special Services discontinued its chronology work, relying after 1943 on the Historical Branch to feed the short history project described in the following paragraph; and it should also be noted that the chronologies kept by the Army’s two historical agencies from the beginning of 1944 onward were so different in character and purpose that they did not really overlap.  [Return]

*13*  (1) Memo for Record, Kemper, 19 Feb 1944, and other papers in HB 314.732, War in Outline.  (2) Progress reports of Chief Historian, 1944-1945.  (3) Maj Lamson, “Notes on Editorial Work on World at War,” 7 Oct 1944, in Taylor Papers.   [Return]

*14*  (1) “Memo Regarding John Hope Franklin, 22 Feb 1944,” by Dr. Wright, undated attached Memo by Kemper, and Wright’s Memo, “Treatment of the History of Negro Troops in World War II, 22 May 1944,” all in Wright Papers.  (2) Memo, Ch HB for G-2, 2 Oct 1945, in ASW 314.7.  (3) Chief Historian’s Progress Reports, 22 Sep, 10 Dec 1945.   [Return]

*15*  (1) Memo, Col. Benson, Ch, HS, AWC, for CofS, 12 Sep 1945, and other papers in T 3514/F-5 and F-3.  (2) Clark diary, 17-19 Sep 1945.  (3) Cy of Ltr, Gen Eisenhower to Col Benson, 12 Oct 1945, in HRC 020, Hist. Prog.  [Return]

*16*  Memo, Gen Harding for CofS, 14 Dec, and cover sheet, 18 Dec 1945, in WDCSA 314.7. [Return]

*17*  (1) Memo, Col Benson for Gen Harding, 17 Dec 1945, in T 3514/F3-D.  (2) Exchanges between Freeman and Secretary of War Robert P. Paterson, 23 Apr-1 May 1946, in SW File HD (Corres) (15 May 46-10 Apr 47), in National Archives. [Return]

*18*  (1) Clark Report, pp. 28-40.  (2) Memos to and from Col Clark, 20 Nov and 21 Dec 1945, and Ltr, Clark to Col Rodney Smith, 26 Feb 1946, in Clark Personal File, 1946.  (3) Ltr, Gen Harding to Dr. Baxter, 26 Feb 1946, in Wright files.  (4) As an example of the differential in salaries in 1946, the author was lured from a college teaching position that had offered a basic salary of $3,250 for the year following to a position with the Historical Division that paid $5,900. As teaching salaries rose rapidly in the following decade, the differential disappeared.[Return]

*19*  Greenfield, The Historian and the Army, pp. 3-10. See that essay, An Adventure in Contemporary History on this site. [Return]

*20*  (1) CH Prog. Rpt., 1 May 1947.  (2) Clark report, p. 58.  (3) Clark diary, 22 January 1947, contains a good example of the consequences of a failure in communication. [Return]

*21*  (1) Clark diary,  6 Aug, 11 Dec 1946.  (2) Ltr, Greenfield to Wright, 20 Jan 1947, and agenda of HAC meeting on 22-23 Apr 1947, in Greenfield papers.  (3) CH Prog, Rprt., 1 May 1947.[Return]

*22*  (1) Clark Report, pp. 8-9, 34, 51-52.  (2) Clark to Maj. Gen. Albert B. Smith, 19 Mar 1953. (3) Greenfield to Chief, HD, 19 Jul 1946, and copies of other related papers dated 20 Mar-19 Jul, in Greenfield file. [Return]

*23*  (1) WD Memorandum 345-105-1, 31 Jul 1946.  (2) Clark diary, 2 Aug 1946.  (3) Chief Historian’s Report to Advisory Committee, 7 Nov 1946, pp. 7-13, in Greenfield papers.[Return]

*24*  (1) SM-7449, 22 Jan 1947, giving service historians access to JCS and CCS records.
(2)  Clark diary, 14 Oct 1946, 7 and 9 Jan 1947.  (3) CH Prog. Rpts, 17 Jan 1947, 23 Jun 1948. (4) Ltr, Greenfield to Col Kemper, 8 Jul 1948, in Greenfield papers. [Return]

*25*  (1) Clark Report, pp. 52-54.  (2) CH Report to Advisory Committee, 7 Nov 1946, pp. 13-15, and Prog. Rpt, 1 May 1947.  [Return]

*26*  (1) Ch Prog. Rpt., 15 Dec 1948. (2)  AG Ltr, 16 Mar 1948, “Access to Historical Records of World War II,” reproduced in HDSS Administrative Memo 21, 4 Mar 1949. [Return]