Site menu:

Subscribe to email updates


Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

At the end of January, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, head of the 12th Army Group, wrote the G-5s of his four Armies (First, Third, Ninth, and Fifteenth) regarding the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) Specialist Officers and their activities.  He noted that as a measure contributing to the eventual restitution of works of art and objects of a scientific or historical importance which may have been looted from United Nations governments or nationals, the MFA&A officers would investigate all information of such nature and inspect all repositories of such works falling within the area of the command to which they were assigned or attached, and report their findings. Of course, in late January, the Monuments Men were not, with the exception of the Aachen area, in a physical position to seek out looted cultural property, nor German cultural treasures that had been evacuated eastward for protection.

But during February 1945, as the Allied forces pushed further east, the MFA&A officers had greater opportunity to seek out information about the location of German and looted cultural treasures.  By that time they already knew, based on information from MFA&A officers who entered Germany in the latter part of 1944 and the first months of 1945, that they had many challenges ahead, given the large, and increasing, number of repositories containing loot and German-owned cultural property, which were being identified. Information was being obtained from German museum personnel, from British and American sources in Paris, and from prisoner of war interrogations.

During February Capt. Walter J. Huchthausen, MFA&A officer with the Ninth U.S. Army obtained a German report, dated December 9, 1943, on a meeting of Rheinprovinz officials, October 22, 1943, the purpose of which was to discuss measures pertaining to disposition of art collections. The report provided information on thirty repositories. One was at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress on the mountain of the same name on the east bank of the Rhine opposite the town of Koblenz, where art treasures from Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Koblenz were kept in tunnels and where the building of another tunnel had been authorized for storing more art objects.  Another place identified was the salt mine at Kochendorf, near Heilbronn, which purportedly held art objects from many places.  In Aachen he found a group of papers that identified 10 repositories, including Kochendorf.  He reported that there was much correspondence regarding Kochendorf being an ideal art repository because of its depth (150 meters) and dry conditions.  From interrogations of Germans Huchthausen also learned about a repository at Siegen, east of Cologne, in south Westphalia.

Based upon the information that the MFA&A officers and other Allied personnel were obtaining about repositories, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) on February 11 issued its first listing of German repositories holding loot and German-owned property. The list included a repository at Siegen, which was reported to contain 104 paintings and 48 pieces of sculpture from Aachen and also the Cathedral Treasure from Metz which had been sent there on August 30, 1944.  The list also included a storage location somewhere in Bad Wildungen (some 35 miles northeast of Marburg) and the salt mines at Heilbronn and Kochendorf.

While Huchthausen and other MFA&A officers attached to the Armies under the 12th Army Group were trying to pinpoint the location of repositories, Capt. Marvin C. Ross, USMCR, with MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, during mid-February visited 12th Army Group and the four armies under it to discuss intelligence on repositories of works of art and to coordinate the information obtained.  This information would be incorporated into the next issue of the SHAEF listing of repositories, issued on March 11.

At the end of February, Lt. George Stout, USNR, MFA&A office at the 12th Army Group produced a listing of additional repositories and had it provided to SHAEF.  In his listings, Stout noted that the Siegen mine and its vicinity were said to be used as repositories for work of art.

The Siegen copper mine, some 60 miles southeast of Cologne, had first come to the attention of the MFA&A officers in late 1944.  Capt. Robert K. Posey, with the Third U. S. Army, had issued a report, dated December 29, 1944, indicating that the Metz Cathedral treasures were at Seigen [Siegen] in Germany.  Upon reading this Ross wrote Stout at 12th Army Group that he could not find any trace of a Seigen [Siegen] in his Gazetteer and asked him to check with Posey about his information. Two days later Ross again wrote Stout, indicating that Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, Adviser, MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, had straightened him out about the place where the repository was—Siegen—Posey had the letters transposed.  It is interesting to note that the Office of Strategic Services reported on January 1 that it was probable that part of the Treasury of Aachen Cathedral had been taken to “Singen in Westphalia, a town not otherwise known.”

It would not be until spring that the MFA&A officers would finally get to Siegen and discover what art works and other cultural property it contained.  In the meantime, during February and March, they would continue gathering information about the location of repositories and their contents.  Of course, they would continue with their mission of protecting cultural property.  As will be noted in future blog postings, two of them would be killed in action trying to save German cultural treasures.


The full-citation version of this post can be found here.


Archival Sources:

Activity Reports, 1945-1951 (Entry A1 496, NAID 2435804), Records of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260 (Roll 54 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947)

Records Relating to Status of Monuments, Museums, and Archives, 1945-1950 (Entry A1 497, NAID 2435815), Records of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260 (Roll 62 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947).

Subject Files, 8/1943-1945 (Entry UD-55B, NAID 612714), Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

In mid-September 1944 General Henry H. ( “Hap”) Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Force, proposed that every available British and American airplane be used on some clear day to swarm all over the German Reich, attacking military objectives in towns that had hitherto been unmolested by the air forces. This type of operation, he felt, would afford the Germans an opportunity to witness at firsthand the might of the Allies and to reflect on their own helplessness.  But clear days that opened up the entire expanse of Germany to such a venture were rarities, especially during the autumn, and during the winter the Allied air forces were tied up, in part, with the German counter-offense in the Ardennes, and, in part, giving first priority to attacking German oil targets.

By the middle of February the several Allied land armies were prepared to resume the offensive toward the Rhine which the Germans had interrupted in December. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) requested the air forces to utilize all available Anglo-American air power in a blow at German rail and water transportation facilities which would result in an immediate disruption of the German lines of communication and transportation system in general, and that the impact would be of direct and immediate benefit to the ground forces.  SHAEF desired British-American bombers and fighters to range over most of Germany simultaneously on a clear day to attack all sorts of transportation targets: grade crossings, stations, barges, docks, signals, tracks, bridges, and marshalling yards. Most of the objectives were located in small towns that had never been bombed before. Hence they would not be well defended and injury to Germany’s economy might, at its best, produce a demoralizing effect on the Germans, and perhaps the precipitation of a crisis among railroad personnel, on the eve of the land offensive. Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, agreed to the concept and the Allied air planners developed a plan to implement SHAEF’s desires.  Each of the Allied air commands which participated was given an area for attack, secondary targets and targets of opportunity to be chosen in the same general area as the primaries if the latter could not be seen.   The operation was code-named “Clarion.”

The opportunity to launch Operation Clarion came on February 22, when most of Germany was expected to be vulnerable to visual-bombing attacks. The tactical air forces received assignments in western and northwestern Germany.  The Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, was to operate over a wide area in southern Germany, Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command retained its semi-monopoly over the Ruhr, and the Eighth Air Force planned to bomb several dozen towns in the middle and north central part of Germany. The Eighth Air Force had to depart from its usual operating procedures in several respects. Most important of all, the heavy bombers were to attack from about 10,000feet or even lower instead of the customary 20,000-25,000-foot altitudes. Also, they were to form small attacking units instead of organizing into the usual large formations.  All the Eighth’s fighters were to go along, mainly for independent strafing and bombing operations.

On February 22 the Eight Air Force effectively sortied 1,372 bombers (B-17s and B-24s) and 677 Fighter escorts.  These bombers would drop 3,895.1 tons on assigned targets and numerous targets of opportunity. Eighty-five of the bombers sustained battle damage from flak, which was not surprising in view of the low bombing altitudes.  Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) opposition to the bombers was very meager, with only one bomber being lost in air action, a straggler shot down by a Me-262.  The escorting fighters engaged more than 25 Fw-190s and a few Me-109s southwest of Bremen; six Me-262s in Stetting area; more than 12 Me-262s in Stendal-Brandenburg area; one Me-262 southeast of Salzwede; four Me-262s in the vicinity of Stendal; 15 Me-262s southwest of Berlin; and two Me-262s south of Helmstedt.  The escorting fighters claimed to have downed two Me-262s and the fighters engaged in fighter sweeps claimed two Me-262s.  The hardest hit targets during the day were Ansbach (420 tons); Ulm (232.5 tons); Wittenberge (216 tons); Stendal (over 214 tons); Ulzen (over 214 tons); Salzwedel (over 197 tons);  and the marshalling yards at Bamberg (187 tons), Hildesheim (over 148 tons), Peine (over 142 tons), Ludwigslust (over 136 tons), Kreinsen (over 131 tons), Northeim (over 124 tons), Luneburg (over 115 tons), and, Halberstadt (over 113 tons). Those targets receiving 20 to 99 tons were marshalling yards at Aalen, Gottingen, Celle, Ottergen, Neustadt, Nordhausen, Singen, Schwenningen, Eschwege, Villingen, Wallhausen;and cities of Donaueschingen, Reutlingen, Freiburg, Hafingen,Wittstock, Grabow, Kobbelitz, Dannenberg, Klotze, Sangerhausen, and, Vienenburg. Those targets bombed with less than 20 tons were the marshalling yards at Kitzingen, Oker, and, Zwickau.  

The escorting fighters attacked targets on the ground, claiming to have destroyed or damaged 44 German aircraft, 104 locomotives, 22 oil tank cars, and 232 railcars.  Meanwhile two groups of P-51s making fighter sweeps claimed to have destroyed or damaged 31 locomotive and 74 railcars.

The Fifteenth Air Force sortied 231 B-17s and 543 B-24s, escorted by 99 P-38s and 201 P-51s, against communication targets in an area 300 miles long and 100 miles wide in southwest Germany.  They would bomb 32 marshalling yards and staffing attacks after the bombing, destroyed or damaged 110 locomotives, 40 oil tank cars, and 300 railroad cars.  Also on February 22 the Ninth Air Force sortied 465 bombers and 1,053 fighters as part of the attack on transportation targets.  The Ninth Bomb Division attacked 44 railroad bridges, rail sidings, rail junctions, and, eleven marshalling yards, dropping 850 tons.  The Ninth Tactical Air Command dropped 136 tons on rail targets, carried out in the Giessen-Freiburg area. The Nineteenth Tactical Air Command dropped 79 tons on numerous rail targets and strafed rail traffic in the Bingen area. And the Twenty Ninth Tactical Air Command dropped 161 tons on rail targets in the Dusseldorf-Cologne area. The Ninth Air Force claimed to have destroyed or damaged 183 motor vehicles, 28 armored vehicles and tanks, 118 locomotives, 1,407 railroad cars; damaged 3 bridges; and, made 185 rail cuts. During the day the Ninth Air Force aircraft claimed shooting down 17 German aircraft in the air, while losing three bombers and 12 fighters.

During February 22 the First Tactical Air Command sortied 171 bombers and 782 fighters and fighter bombers to attack rail targets in northwest and western Germany.  During the day, while losing 8 bombers and 2 fighters, they claimed to have destroyed at least 9 German aircraft in the air and destroyed or damaged 38 locomotives, 536 railroad cars, ten bridges, as well as making 170 rail cuts.  Also during the day the RAF Second Tactical Air Command sortied nearly 1,700 aircraft to attack marshalling yards, railroad stations, and rail traffic in northwest Germany. They would lose 21 Mosquitoes (de Havilland DH.98) and 12 fighters, while claiming to have shot down six German aircraft, and destroying or damaging 252 motor vehicles, 166 locomotives, 877 railroad cars, 94 barges, as well as making 110 rail cuts.

On February 22, thirty-four RAF Lancasters, escorted by 115 P-51s, bombed the railway viaducts at Altenbeken and Bielefeld, without losing any aircraft.  Also during the day, 85 Lancasters, escorted by 49 Spitfires, while losing one aircraft, dropped over 383 tons on the town area and a Benzol plant at Gelsenkirchen. Seventy-five RAF Lancasters, escorted by 48 Spitfires and P-51s, suffered no losses and dropped over 333 tons on the Benzol plant at Osterfeld.

This first Clarion operation was judged so successful that a repeat was ordered for February 23, though on a smaller scale.  On that date the Eight Air Force effectively sortied 1,211 bombers and 492 Fighter escorts to attack rail centers in central Germany. While encountering almost no Luftwaffe opposition, they dropped 3,316.4 tons on assigned targets and numerous targets of opportunity.  More than 110 tons were dropped on each of eight marshalling yards (Treuchtlin, Crailsheim, Neumarkt, Ansback, Kitzingen, Weimar, Gera, and Plauen. Also heavily bombed were Nordlingem, Schwabisch Hall, Winterhausen, Meiningen, Adelsberg, Hildburghausen, Lichtenfels, Schweinfurt, Ellingen, Ottingen, Wurzburg, Crailsheim, Jena, Osnabruck, Schluchter, Fritzler, Reichenbach, Steinau, and Paderborn, and the marshalling yards at Fulda and the railroad bridge at Kitzingen.  Only two bombers failed to return to base, one ditching in the North Sea and the other having its crew parachuted safely in friendly territory.  During the day the escorting P-51s claimed to have shot down seven German planes with the loss of one plane to Flak.  The Fighter escorts also claimed to have destroyed or damaged 31 locomotives, 141 railroad cars, and 17 oil tank cars.  Also during the day, three groups of fighters made sweeps, strafing airfields at Neuburg, Landsburg and Leipheim, rail and road traffic near Augsburg and near Frankfort.  While losing one P-51 while strafing they claimed to have destroyed or damaged 23 German aircraft on the ground, 17 locomotives, 58 railroad cars, and 16 oil tank cars.  And in a special operation, twenty-four B-24s dropped nearly 60 tons on the marshalling yards at Neuss.  

On February 23 the Ninth Air Force sortied over 2,300 medium bombers, fighters and fighter bombers.  The Ninth Bomb Division dropped nearly 600 ton on communication centers in western Germany. The Ninth Tactical Air Command conducted armed reconnaissance north and south of Stockheim and north of Duren and provided air cooperation to ground forces. The Nineteenth Tactical Air Command provided armed reconnaissance in Cologne, Trier, Bonn, Mannheim, and Homburg areas. The Twenty-Ninth Tactical Air Command provided armed reconnaissance in Venlo area and provided air cooperation to ground forces.  They claimed to have destroyed or damaged six German aircraft in the air, 123 locomotives, 3,027 railroad cars, 1,317 motor vehicles, 305 armored fighting vehicles, 9 bridges, 20 barges, as well as making 115 rail cuts.  During the day the First Tactical Air Command sortied over 905 aircraft to make fighter sweeps, armed reconnaissance, rail interdiction, and to attack bridges, fuel dumps, and gun positions in western Germany.  During the day they claimed to have destroyed or damaged 17 German aircraft in the air, as well as destroying or damaging 7 locomotives, 323 railroad cars, as well as making 67 rail cuts.  The RAF Second Tactical Air Command sortied 179 aircraft to make armed reconnaissance in Dulmen, Paderborn, Cologne, Duren, Munster areas and to attack railroad bridges and ammunition depots.

During the day 324 RAF bombers, escorted by 119 Spitfires and P-51s, while suffering the lost of one Halifax bomber, dropped over 1,170 tons on Essen and 130 Lancasters, escorted by 33 Spitfires, while suffering no losses, dropped nearly 580 tons on the Benzol plant at Gelsenkirchen.  The Fifteenth Air Force sent 455 heavy bombers to attack eight transportation targets in southern Germany.

Two days of Operation Clarion, which saw bombing accuracy unexpectedly high and losses slight, resulted in the Allied air forces demonstrating for the Germans ample evidence of Allied air power and its control of the skies.  The German transportation system was dealt a heavy blow.  Yet, it appears the rail traffic throughout the area affected had been radically reduced for only three days and that the attacks had not prevented the Germans from continuing the movement of high priority traffic.  The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) concluded that the Clarion Operation had not seriously affected Germany’s capacity to resist, and Air Marshal Charles Portal, RAF Chief of Staff, in indorsing this opinion, advised against any further attempts with this type of operation. Spaatz; Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, the Deputy Supreme Commander at SHAEF; and Lt. Gen. James Doolittle, commander of the Eight Air Force, were inclined to disagree with the JIC conclusion, but they launched no further Clarion operations.



Transportation Division, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Transportation, November 20, 1945, pp. 15, 16, File: 200 The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Transportation (Final Report), European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Military Analysis Division, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, The Impact of the Allied Air Effort on German Logistics, Second Edition, January 1947, p. 60, File: 64A The Impact of the Allied Air Effort on German Logistics (Final Report), European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Headquarters, Eight Air Force, INTOPS Summary No. 298 and INTOPS Summary No. 299, February 22 and 23, 1945, File: 2A(5)(g), VIII AAF INTOPS Summaries, 1 Feb. 1945-31 Mar. 1945, Vol. 7, Narrative and Statistical Operational Reports of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, 1942-1945 (Entry I-10 25, NAID 561306), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Statistical Section, Air Ministry War Room, War Room Monthly Summary of Bomber Command Operations, Month of January 1945, n.d., pp. 9, 11,14, 15, 20, File: 2N(2) (e) Bomber Command Operations 1 Jan 45-1 May45, Statistical Operational Reports of the Royal Air Force Bomber and Fighter Commands in Europe, 1941-1945 (Entry I-10 26, NAID 561308), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Eight Air Force Monthly Summary of Operations, February, 1945, March 11, 1945, pp. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 43, 69, 70, 77, File: 2A(4)(l) Eight Air Force Monthly Summary of Operations, February 1945, Narrative and Statistical Operational Reports of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, 1942-1945 (Entry I-10 25, NAID 561306), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Memorandum, Military Analysis Division, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey to All Division Directors and all Division Chiefs, USSBS, Subject: Milestones of Strategic Bombing, August 3, 1945, File: 64AC Milestones of Strategic Bombing, European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Maj. Gen. K.W.D. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, SHAEF, Transport Intelligence Bulletin No. 2, May 31, 1945, File: Transport Intelligence Bulletins, Compilations of Intelligence Reports 1942-1945 (Entry NM-8 13, NAID 572508), Records of the Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Gate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II; Volume Three, Europe: Argument to V-E Day January 1944 to May 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History), pp. 639, 732-735, 761-762.


Baby, It’s Cold Inside!

by on February 20, 2015

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

As most of the eastern seaboard is experiencing record setting low temperatures this week, it is timely to look back at a letter written by then-Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to the Office of the Sergeant At Arms of the United States Senate.

In the letter, dated November 30, 1983, the Delaware Senator gives precise details about the uncomfortably low temperatures inside the Boggs Federal Building, where he and his staff perform their duties.   He goes on to diagnose the problem and request a solution.  A follow up letter from the General Services Administration explains the temperature settings and action taken in response to the Senator’s letter, including correcting a drafty window.





This letter struck a chord with me as I came across it while working in the temperature-controlled stacks at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) building in College Park, MD.  Controlling temperature and humidity is very important for preserving records and extending their lifetime, something that is given a lot of attention at NARA.  It can also lead to energy savings as detailed in this paper by our Preservation Staff.

While this might be of little comfort to Senate office workers from 1983, I am warmed by the thought that every effort is made to protect our nation’s records, even if it means that I wear an extra layer of clothing when I’m processing them.

This correspondence and other congressional correspondence can be found in Reading Files Pertaining to Congressional Correspondence of the Office of Congressional Affairs, 1979-1983 (Entry A1 28), RG 269: General Records of the General Services Administration (GSA), 1922-1989, 1994.

 Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor, archivists at the National Archives in College Park. This post is also featured on our Rediscovering Black History blog.

In April 1945 the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion received orders to move to the West Coast for a special assignment.  Members of this all African American unit hoped to finally see combat during World War II in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

The battalion had its origins in a recommendation made in December 1942 by the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, chaired by the Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy. Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall approved the committee’s recommendation for a black parachute battalion.  He decided to start with a company, which resulted in the constitution of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company on February 25, 1943.  Headquarters, Army Ground Forces authorized the activation of the company as an all-black unit with black officers as well as black enlisted men on December 19, 1943. All unit members were to be volunteers from other organizations, with an enlisted cadre to be selected from personnel of the African American 92nd Infantry Division (the Buffalo Division which went on to serve with distinction in Italy in 1944 and 1945) at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The company was officially activated on December 30, 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia. In mid-July 1944, after several months of training, the company departed for Camp Mackall, North Carolina (south of the town of Southern Pines).  It was reorganized and redesignated on November 25, 1944 as Company A of the newly-activated 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. This battalion, under the command of Capt. James H. Porter, consisted of ten officers and 155 enlisted men.

16 Soldiers who recently became paratroopers at Ft Benning

16 Soldiers who recently became paratroopers of the 555th at Ft Benning (NAID 535719)


In December 1944, the organization was instructed to detail to the Parachute School, Fort Benning, Georgia, for parachutist qualification training.  Training took place during December and the early months of 1945.

While battalion members were undergoing training at Fort Benning during the winter of 1944-1945, the War Department was facing a new Japanese threat to the West Coast.  The Japanese military had begun launching incendiary-bearing balloons from Japan, which were carried eastward by high-altitude air currents.  By early December 1944, there had been several discoveries of balloons on American soil, including:

  • the recovery of a rubberized-silk balloon from the ocean near the coast of California on November 4
  • the recovery of a paper balloon from the water near Hawaii on November 14
  • the report of a mysterious bomb explosion in Wyoming on December 6
  • and the finding of a second paper balloon in Montana on December 11

Officials of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an investigation of the source and purpose of the free balloons, which determined that the balloons had come from Japan and carried bombs and incendiaries.  On January 29, 1945, the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 issued “General Report No. 1 on Free Balloons and Related Incidents,” in which it was noted that there had been found in the United States, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii ten balloons believed to be of Japanese origin and that a number of other incidents and sightings possibly related, had been reported.

While the military authorities were trying to figure out how to deal with the balloon threat, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion received orders in March from higher headquarters to have some of the personnel undertake eight weeks of training for a probable combat mission.

By the spring of 1945, there was growing concern regarding the Japanese balloon threat in the American West.  The Military Intelligence Service reported 17 balloon incidents in March and another ten in April.  On April 7, the Commanding General, Army Service Forces (ASF) wrote the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations Division) with proposals for combating forest incendiaries caused by Japanese balloons in the United States.  The Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 wrote the Commanding General, ASF on April 21 that the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion would be assigned to fire-fighting duty.  Thus, after four weeks of a scheduled eight-week combat training program, the battalion was notified that it was being given “a security mission in the western portion of the United States.”  They were not informed of the nature of the mission.

On May 2 the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 informed the Commanding General, ASF that the request of the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service for the use of military personnel for the purpose of combating forest fires from on or about June 1 to October 30 had been approved.  The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion would be utilized in accordance with certain instructions, including continuing combat training when not engaged in fire-fighting.  In May the War Department designated “Firefly Project” as the short title for the military assistance to Federal and State Forest Fire Protective Agencies in the control of forest and grass fires in accordance with current Service Commands Fire Fighting Plans and the Western Defense Command-Fourth Air Force-Ninth Service Command, “Joint Air and Ground Assistance Forest Fire Fighting Plan.”

The 555th was scheduled to leave Camp Mackall for the Pendleton Army Air Field, Oregon, on May 5.  That same day around 5:20pm, ten miles northwest of Bly, Oregon, on Wooded Ridge (in the Quartz Pass area) Mrs. Elaine Mitchell, her husband, five children and two employees came across a balloon while on their way to Fishing Stream.  The bomb attached to the balloon exploded when one person unwittingly kicked or dropped it.  The explosion killed Mrs. Mitchell and the five children.  An investigation determined that the balloon was grounded approximately one month before recovery.

On May 5 the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion departed for Pendleton.  The battalion was assigned the mission of the recovery and destruction of Japanese balloon bombs, with the added mission of the suppression of forest fires started by the bombs, as part of the “Firefly Project.”

Parachuting civilian personnel into areas to fight forest fires was a relatively new fire-suppression technique.  “Smoke jumping” had been first proposed in 1934 by a Forest Service Intermountain Regional Forester, as a means to quickly provide initial attack on forest fires. By parachuting in, self-sufficient firefighters could arrive fresh and ready for the strenuous work of fighting fires in rugged terrain. The smoke jumper program began in 1939 as an experiment in the Pacific Northwest Region, and the first fire jump was made in 1940 on Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest.

On May 7 the Secretary of War wrote the commanding generals of all the major American Commands, the commanding officers of all appropriate posts, camps and stations within the Seventh and Ninth Service Commands, and the Provost Marshal Generals that:

Japanese balloons have been appearing over the western part of the continental United States during the last several months. It is probable that these mechanisms will drop quantities of incendiary bombs in the great forest regions and the watershed areas of Alaska and western Canada and the United States. Unless controlled, the resulting fires will cause great damage to vital natural resources and impede seriously the war effort of the nation.

The Secretary of War reported that the Forest Service was fully aware of the hazardous potentialities of the balloon-dropped incendiaries and that it had informed the War Department that the most critical season for forest, brush, and grassland fires could be expected to extend from May 15 to October 30.  Additionally, the various Federal, State and local forest fire protection agencies were normally prepared to cope with such fires, but during the coming fire season of 1945 these agencies would not be able to adequately discharge their responsibility, “particularly in the face of the increased hazard resulting from Japanese incendiaries.”  This was due to several reasons, including the loss of personnel to the war effort and below normal precipitation in the threatened areas, which resulted in an extremely flammable condition.  Thus, the Secretary of War laid out the policies and procedures for the U.S. Army to work with the Forest Service during the forthcoming fire seasons.

The 555th arrived at the Pendleton Army Air Field on May 12 and was assigned to Headquarters Ninth Service Command, Fort Douglas, Utah.  From May 12 to May 22, the battalion was engaged in a minimum of military training, as the battalion’s freight arrived at Pendleton some two weeks later.  In anticipation of carrying out its mission assignment, the battalion placed renewed emphasis on physical conditioning, leadership, first aid, and map reading.

The battalion was located on an army air base, and there was a severe lack of training facilities for any type of ground-troop training, such as firing ranges, training areas, and parade grounds.  During this period, the 555th coordinated with other “Firefly Project” agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Ninth Service Command, and Fourth Air Force, in an effort to establish procedures regarding the use of the battalion in fighting fires.

From May 22 to June 6, personnel were introduced by the Forest Service to the scope of the technique of foreign fire suppression and the use of Forest Service maps.  From June 8 to June 15, bomb disposal personnel from the Ninth Service Command conducted a “bomb disposal school.”  From June 18 onwards the battalion took part in jumps, some of which were in heavy timber.  Emphasis was put on training of six officers and ninety-four enlisted men to be placed on detached service at Chico Army Air Field in California.  This was accomplished and the detachment departed Pendleton via military aircraft, and arrived at Chico on July 7.  The Chico Detachment (as the detachment was designated) was assigned the mission of covering California, western portions of Nevada, Arizona, and the southern portion of Oregon.

“Smoke Jump” training for the remainder of the battalion continued through July 14, by which time, the majority of the battalion was qualified as “Smoke Jumpers.”  This training continued, with improvements made in “Smoke Jumping techniques.”  When eighty percent of the personnel had been thoroughly trained, the members of the 555th working out of Pendleton battalion were assigned the mission of covering Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The first fire call for the Pendleton group came on June 21, 1945.  Fifty men were sent to Deschutes National Forest and they remained there until June 25.  Fifty men were sent to Wenatchee National Forest on July 3 and another fifty to Chelan National Forest on July 8. On July 13, 100 men were sent to Wenatchee National Forest and on July 20 another fifty-five men were sent to Meadow Lake National Forest.  Two days later fifty-four men were sent to Colville National Forest and on July 28, 104 men were sent to Chelan National Forest.  The battalion would respond during August and September to twelve more calls for help, including Bitter Root, Cabinet, Salmon, Fayette, Siskiyou, Whitman, Mt. Baker, Chelan, and Wallowa National Forests.


General Order No. 9, 7/23/1945



General Order No. 9, 7/23/1945

Reports from two August operations should give the reader a sense of the battalion’s activities.  At 5pm on August 21 the battalion received a call for help with a fire at Mt. Baker National Forest.  The next morning, thirty-four enlisted men and two officers, under the command of 2nd Lt. Walter Morris, dropped into a meadow, 1,000 yards from the fire.  Three men were injured.  After evacuating the injured men, one officer and twenty-five men departed for the fire line at noon on August 24, and returned to camp at 5:30pm.  Rations arrived by pack train from the meadows.  Rain that night and the next day was enough to cool the fire down.  A fire line was completed on August 25 and the next day at 6pm they were relieved from their assignment.  At 6:30am on August 27 the group marched out of camp.  By 4pm they had marched twenty-three miles to the end of the trail, where they got on a bus that took them to Paine Field, Everett, Washington, arriving there just before 8pm.  They were assigned quarters and given rations at Paine Field.  They departed via a C-47 from Paine Field the next morning at 9am and arrived back at the Pendleton Army Air Field at 11am.

While the above operation was underway, another began.  At 9pm on August 22, the battalion was alerted about a fire at Chelan National Forest (which then also included the Okanogan National Forest).  At 3pm the next day one officer (2nd Lt. William F. Buford) and twenty-one enlisted men dropped in a drop zone some eight-hours march from the fire.  Several of the men were injured in the drop.  At 6am on the following morning the group marched eight hours up “impossible mountainous terrain” before arriving at a camp site.  They left behind two men injured on the jump and one man suffering from acute indigestion, who were picked up two days later by a pack train.

Upon arrival, the men discovered that there was no food or bed rolls waiting for them.  This food and equipment was supposed to have been dropped the morning of August 24.  The men were deployed in two groups and immediately set out to curb the fire.  Breakfast and supper were served in the fire camp, once food was brought up by pack train.  For two nights the men were forced to sleep in the driving rain without cover.  Two men were injured the evening of their arrival at the fire camp, and were sent out the following morning by pack train.  The majority of the men were fighting the fire in Canada in an effort to prevent the fire from coming into U.S. territory. The fire was actually under control two days prior to their departure. However, the men were sent out every day in mopping up operations and on August 28 three men were selected to go deep into Canada along some ridges to make a ground reconnaissance of the fire. “This was an extremely hazardous and fatiguing operation.”  At 8:15 on August 29, the men proceeded 15 miles on foot, accompanied by three horses, to Pasayten airport.  They arrived back at Pendleton Army Air Field at 6pm that day.

The Chico Detachment answered its first fire call at Klamath National Forest on July 14 with fifty-four enlisted men and two officers.  This detachment covered seventeen fire calls from July 14 to October 10 in the Klamath (July, August), Trinity (August, September, October), Modoc (August, October), and Mendocino (August, September) National Forests.  Its largest operation was at Trinity National Forest from October 6 to 10, when 75 men participated.

In all the battalion completed 36 missions involving 1,255 jumps. An accident resulted in the death of one of the men, a medic, who died on August 9, while attempting a let-down from a tree at Siskiyou National Forest near Roseburg, Oregon.  More than thirty suffered injuries.

Click here to view a video of the 555th Training Exercises. National Archives Identifier 14605, RG 111.

On September 2, 1945, the Western Defense Command notified the War Department that it was curtailing defensive operations against the Japanese balloons.  Two weeks later, the War Department informed the Western Defense Command that activities against Japanese free balloons in areas of Seventh, Eight, and Ninth Service Commands would be limited.  Future actions would involve the recovery of all balloons or parts thereof which were discovered and the disposal by qualified bomb disposal personnel of Japanese bombs and other explosive elements which had been dropped from, or landed with, the balloons.

The Forest Service greatly appreciated the help of the military in fighting fires during the summer of 1945.  In his fiscal year 1946 annual report, the Chief of Forest Service noted that his agency had been severely handicapped by the fact that national forest-fire organizations were seriously weakened by the shortage of trained men and fire-fighting labor and by deterioration of equipment kept in operation during the war years beyond its normal life.  He added that

Generous assistance from military forces helped to offset some of these difficulties. The ‘firefly’ project, in which the Army cooperated with Forest Service and State protection forces by assignment of parachute troops, was a valuable aid.  The project was set up on the west coast to meet the threat of Japanese incendiary balloons.  The Japanese abandoned their balloon barrage before the season of greatest fire danger, but the ‘firefly’ project proved invaluable in strengthening the fire-fighting forces of the west coast when fire conditions became critical.  The project was disbanded late in the fall of 1945.

In his fiscal year 1945 report, he stated that the Japanese incendiary bombs had “caused no fires of consequence.”  In a press release prepared early in 1946, the Army’s Bureau of Public Relations noted that of some 9,000 balloons had been released by the Japanese, the last being on April 20, 1945.  A total of 191 paper balloons and three rubberized-silk balloons, all of Japanese origin, were found in the United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean area during the period from November 1944 to February 1946.  In addition, there were 89 recoveries of small fragments of paper or other balloon parts, too incomplete to be classed as a balloon.  The press release stated that “negligible damage was caused by the incendiaries’ the only fires resulting being one or two small grass fires,” and stressed the following:

The Japanese expected that information on damage caused by the balloons would be available from normal press channels and radio broadcasts. However, after the first mention of the original balloons found, the press and radio of the United States and Canada maintained a very complete voluntary censorship at the request of the Army and navy through the Office of Censorship, and thus denied the Japanese information as to the numbers of balloons arriving and the landing points.

The press blackout regarding the balloons also had the effect of diminishing the news about the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion’s mission and activities.  Nevertheless, the battalion was proud of its accomplishments on the west coast.  “We didn’t win any wars, but we did contribute,” Former 1st Sergeant Walter Morris recalled in 2000. “What we proved was that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.”

In October 1945, the battalion returned to Camp Mackall, and was assigned to the 27th Headquarters and Headquarters Special Troops, First U. S. Army, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  In December the battalion moved to Fort Bragg and was assigned to the 13th Airborne Division.  The division was inactivated on February 26, 1946.  The combat personnel, including the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, were transferred to the command of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, under Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin, who one former member of the battalion described as “perhaps the most ‘color-blind’ Army officer in the entire service.”

On the morning of December 15, 1947 the battalion was ordered to march to an area designated for the 82nd Airborne Division. There, according to Charles Stevens, a former member of the battalion, they were to participate in one of the most significant milestones in military history. In battalion formation they were informed that they were being inactivated and that most of its personnel would be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment.  “Everybody was crying,” Stevens said. “I think we were crying for two different reasons. We were glad that segregation was leaving the Army and we were sad we were losing our Triple Nickle colors” ["Triple Nickles” was the nickname given the battalion].  It was not until seven months later that President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 (NAID 300009), establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services for people of all races, religions, or national origins.

The efforts of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion have been recognized by various means over the past two decades.  In 1994, several surviving members of the battalion were honored as guests on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. during a celebration for Smokey Bear’s 50th birthday.  In June 2000, at Redding, California, surviving members took part in the 60th anniversary commemoration of the establishment of the Smoke Jumpers.  In 2005, when General David Petreaus became commander of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, he proposed a tribute to the battalion.  The result was a monument dedicated to the battalion, located by the Buffalo Soldier Monument.  In the dedication ceremony on September 7, 2006, General Petreaus said “These great paratroopers walked point for their race and for our country, facing down discrimination by standing in the door as one and jumping into our nation’s history.”  Along the sculpture’s base is that statement, along with the 17 original members’ names.  In February 2013, the Forest Service honored the 555th by naming a conference room after the Triple Nickles in its newly renovated Yates Building, the agency’s national headquarters office in Washington, D.C.

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion personnel, like most African American soldiers during World War II, faced various forms of prejudice and discrimination.  The unit personnel overcame these hurdles and proved themselves to be excellent paratroopers and soldiers.  This story is covered on numerous websites, including the Center of Military History; the official website of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion; and “How Black Smokejumpers Helped Save the American West,” a National Public Radio blog published January 22, 2015.  An article by Don Thompson in The Seattle Times on June 25, 2000 entitled “First black paratroopers fought racism, fires” and the article “Jumping into History: The Army’s First African American Paratroopers,” in the February 3, 2014, issue of Soldiers: The Official U.S. Army Magazine.


File: Japanese Free Balloons (NAID 1410829), Subject Correspondence File 1942-1945, G-2, Section, General Staff, Records of Army Ground Forces, Record Group 337

File: INBN-555-03, Narrative, Unit Data-555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 25 November 1944-November 1947, World War II Operations Reports, 1941-1948 (Entry 427, NAID 305275), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407

File: INBN-555-(1), General Orders-555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 1944-1947, World War II Operations Reports, 1941-1948 (Entry 427, NAID 305275), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407.

Various files filed under the decimal AG 452.4 in the Classified Decimal File 1943-1945, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407.

“A Report on Japanese Free Balloons,” Joint Army-Navy Release, For Release on February 9, 1946, Press Branch, Bureau of Public Relations, War Department, File: 000.7 Press Releases, Newspaper Clippings, and Releases, Vol. II, Central Correspondence, 1942-1946, Wartime Civil Control Administration and Civil Affairs Division, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Records of U.S. Army Defense Commands (World War II), Record Group 499.

Report of the Chief of the Forest Service 1945 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1945)

Report of the Chief of the Forest Service 1946 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1946)

Today’s post is written by Cody White, an archivist at the National Archives at Denver. 

Strolling the two Western American Art galleries at the Denver Art Museum one can see several examples of famed western artist Charles Marion Russell’s depictions, in both paint and bronze, of the American West, but Russell’s work can also be seen in our collection as evidenced by two recent and otherwise unrelated finds.

In 1941 the Office of Price Administration (OPA) was created to control prices and rents while the country was at war. The OPA had the authority to place ceilings on the prices of goods, except agricultural commodities, and to ration supplies of other items such as tires, cars, nylon, gasoline, and foods such as meat and sugar.  Record Group 188, Records of the Office of Price Administration, is comprised of case files, correspondence, and other administrative documents that helped the field offices ensure compliance with price regulations.  Along with the formal documents, however, is ephemera sent along to the agency as evidence, and it is in one such instance where we see several examples of Charles Russell’s sketches. The Rainbow Hotel in Great Falls, Montana, where Russell’s studio and home were located, used various Russell drawings along with a short biographical note on their lunch and dinner menus. The three examples seen in this blog entry were sent to the OPA on April 5, 1946.

Rainbow Hotel menu I

Rainbow Hotel menu II

Rainbow Hotel menu III


The Park Saddle Horse Company, at one time the sole horse and outfitting concessioner at Glacier National Park, didn’t survive the lean WWII war years and folded shortly after, but their vibrant company letterhead survives in our collection today. With a grand western motif typical for many companies here in our region at the time, the Park Saddle Horse Company adorned their letterhead with not only a western image but one drawn by Charles Russell. This letter can be found in Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was sent to the Flathead Indian Agency concerning payment of leases. According to a 2006 book Russell designed this letterhead himself for the Park Saddle Horse Company and shortly thereafter the company’s president, G.W. Noffsinger, used the very first copy to write a thank you letter to Russell. He opened with “My dear Charley: Well here it is and isn’t it a winner” and went on in his post script to note how he felt the poem went with the drawing so well but didn’t know if Russell had written it.


Park Saddle Horse Company, Kalispell MT
Image Sources:

RG 188 Records of the Office of Price Administration, “Helena District Office Case Files, 1943-1946” Box 66, Series NAID 1104455

RG 75 Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Flathead Indian Agency “Subject Files, 1907-1945,” Box 106, Series NAID 583581