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Monuments Man Charles H. Sawyer, part I: Member of the U.S Army, the Office of Strategic Services, and the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas

by on July 21, 2014


Today’s post, written by  Dr. Greg Bradsher, is the next installment in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men.

The movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so it focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Beginning in December 2013, Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals, and thus started a series of blog posts. This is Part I of the blog post on Charles H. Sawyer, and is the fourteenth in this series.

Charles Henry Sawyer, “Charlie” to his friends, was born in Andover, Massachusetts on October 20, 1906. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover and then in 1924 took a four-month trip to Italy, Algiers, Greece, and Egypt.  Then it was off to Yale University where he studied History and Government and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929. That year he enrolled in the Harvard Law School.  In 1930 he took a three-month trip to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France.  Back at Harvard his career path changed when he enrolled in legendary teacher and museum director Paul Sachs’ renowned museum studies class.  He then attended the Harvard School of Fine Arts (1930-1932) and was asked to become the first curator of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy.  There he was made director and distinguished himself as a specialist in art education while building an important collection of American art. He was also an art instructor and chairman of the Art Department at Phillips Academy.  In 1935 the Carnegie Corporation funded a four-month trip for Sawyer to visit England, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.   In 1940, Sawyer was hired to serve as director of the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.

He then took a leave of absence to serve in the U.S. Army, beginning on June 21, 1943.  From August 1943 until March 30, 1944, Private Sawyer was basically unassigned, awaiting a call for work with the Army’s Civil Affairs program.  That call came from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) which was looking for enlisted personnel to be assigned for Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) work.  Among those in the United States they desired and would get were John D. Skilton, Jr., John M. Phillips, Lincoln Kirstein, Lamont Moore, and Sawyer. Sawyer left the United States for London on April 5, 1944.  From April 17 to May 11 he was assigned to the European Civil Affairs Division for training.[1]

On May 12, Sawyer was assigned to the MFA&A Branch of the Interior Division of the German Country Unit under the Civil Affairs Staff of SHAEF.[2]  That same day the commanding officer, Maj. Theodore Sizer, departed England for the United States because of illness. The other members of the branch were Capt. Mason Hammond, 2nd Lt. Calvin S. Hathaway, and Corporal John M. Phillips.  At the time he entered military service Phillips was Acting Director of the Yale University Art Gallery.  He had traveled and studied extensively in England and on the Continent and was fluent in French, Italian, German and Spanish.  Sawyer was fluent in French and German.  The MFA&A Branch during April and May was primarily engaged in the submission of estimates of personnel and other requirements; preparation and revision of a chapter of the Civil Affairs Handbook for Germany which provided instructions for Civil Affairs Officers in the Field with respect to MFA&A activities; and, a compilation of an Official List of Monuments, including sites of religious, artistic, and historic importance to be exempt from military use without special permission and preparation of a handbook chapter and other directives for the Austrian County Section .  The unit has also drafted various directives and commented on material prepared by other sections and other similar work.[3]

Towards the end of May Colonel Henry Newton, with G-5 SHAEF, reported that “The work of the German MFA&A Unit has been satisfactorily accomplished in the initial stage of general planning and the defining of objectives. There remains much to be done with respect to specific information and the detailed planning for operations.” This work, he noted, was then being carried on under the general direction of Hammond until such time as a new chief of the section was assigned.[4]

Hammond wrote the head of SHAEF’s MFA&A program, on May 23 indicating the feeling was same for Hathaway, Phillips and Sawyer, all of whom should be Captains and Majors, for they were experts of note, “among whom a mere Roman historian feels like a duck among swans.”  Hammond added that he had discussed with a Col. Cox the question of promotion for 2nd Lt. Hathaway and at least S/Sgt grade for Phillips and Sawyer, both of whom should be commissioned; “It is a crazy world, when I outrank men of their competence.”[5]

The MFA&A Branch up till near the end of August consisted of Hammond, F/Lt. A.W. Douglas Cooper, S/Ldr. J.D. Goodison, 1st Lt. Calvin Hathaway, Cpl. John M. Phillips, and, PFC Charles H Sawyer. On August 18 instructions were issued that effective August 21 the British Element of the German Planning Unit would come under control of HQ Control Commission for Germany (British Element).  On that date Cooper and Goodison were separated from the unit. On August 25, the MFA&A Branch was informed verbally that it had been transferred from the Interior Division, which was dissolved, and would form a subsection of a Property Section under Lt. Col. C. S. Reid, Acting Chief of the other subsection, Property Control, who became also Acting Chief of the Property Section.  Under this arrangement Hammond would serve as Acting Chief and Hathaway as Acting Deputy; with Phillips and Sawyer serving as research specialists. This four-member team would basically stay together until late in 1944.  Capt. Walter J. Huchthausen, attached on Temporary Duty from the European Civil Affairs Division to MFA&A, G-5 Operations, SHAEF, worked in the Subsection beginning in late September.  Hammond requested, without success, that he be regularly assigned to it because of his particular familiarity with Germany and German.[6]

In August Hammond recommended that Sawyer be commissioned. He wrote that Sawyer had “shown not only exceptional professional knowledge but also outstanding qualities of industry, intelligence, initiative, and leadership. His usefulness for the work for which the WD [War Department] selected him and sent him overseas will be much enhanced if he is commissioned since he is better qualified to serve as a MG [Military Government] Specialist Officer dealing with problems of Fine Arts than as a clerk. For such service the prestige of the United States demands commissioned rank.”[7]

During August Sawyer, and nine other enlisted men from the German Country were detailed to the German Staff Section, G-5, SHAEF to work on the Handbook for Military Government of Germany.  Their work was commended by the officer overseeing the project.[8]

Phillips and Sawyer were transferred from Hammond’s Branch to the London Office of the Office of Strategic Services on December 13, 1944, to be part of its Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU).[9] Once Donovan agreed to the creation of an art looting investigation unit it was decided to place it under the control of the OSS X-2 (counterintelligence) Branch.  “Our unit,” ALIU director James S. Plaut wrote, “was given the code name, appropriately, of Project Orion, because we truly were hunters.”[10]

Roberts Commission member Francis Henry Taylor, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, discussed with the X-2 Branch Chief, James R. Murphy, on September 30, the proposed unit and personnel for it.  Subsequently he proposed for the unit fine arts professionals in whom he had confidence and who would be most adaptable to the required work.  He recommended that the unit be composed James S. Plaut (who had served in the Office of Naval Intelligence since 1942), Lt. Theodore Rousseau, Jr., USNR (on staff at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, prior to the war and serving as United States naval attaché in Spain and Portugal during the hostilities), and Lt., S. Lane Faison, Jr., USNR (former professor of fine arts at Williams College), as well as Sawyer, Phillips, T-5 Sheldon Keck, Pvt. Lamont Moore, Pvt. John Skilton, and two others.

During the first three weeks of November Plaut and Rousseau held discussions with Roberts Commission members, X-2 Branch representatives, and the Executive Officer of the Civil Affairs Division of the War Department regarding the unit and its personnel.  Plaut and Rousseau on November 21 submitted to Murphy a tentative plan for the organization and field operations of the Orion Project and initial assignments to the unit.  They proposed that Plaut be the Director; Rousseau the Operations Officer; Phillips the Reporting Officer in London; Sawyer to head Orion-Washington, assisted by analyst Mrs. Elizabeth [Liz] Lambie. They also suggested obtaining the services of T-5 Sheldon Keck, Pvt. Lamont Moore, and Pvt. John Baur.[11]

On November 24, the Chief of the X-2 Branch approved a draft directive for the establishment in the X-2 Branch of a special project.  An excerpt from the directive is quoted:

It will be the mission of this project to collect and disseminate such information bearing on the looting, confiscation and transfer by the enemy of art properties in Europe, on individuals or organizations involved in such operations and transactions as will be of direct aid to the United States agencies empowered to effect restitution of such properties and prosecution of war criminals.[12]

A month later, the Acting Chief, X-2 Branch, London, Norman H. Pearson, a former Yale English professor, assigned Sawyer and Phillips to write a report on the organization of the “Art Project” within the X-2 Branch, London, and a summary of sources of information on German Art personnel available in London.  Responding to this request, they provided a six-page report to Pearson on January 4, 1945.[13]

Report on the Organization of the Art Project within X-2 Branch, p52

Report on the Organization of the Art Project within X-2 Branch, p52 (available on Fold3)

The ALIU Field headquarters was established in London that January.  But before it began fully functioning, with responsibility for the planning of all field operations, the reception and collation of material submitted by field representatives and the transmission of such material, and the maintenance of the operational files of the project, Sawyer would be reassigned.  On January 10, he was ordered to OSS headquarters in Washington, D.C., to oversee the ALIU office there.  He arrived back in the United States on January 19 and was authorized to wear civilian clothes.[14]

Sawyer reported to work on January 20, and undoubtedly was briefed by Plaut regarding his duties for being in charge of the Washington office.  This office had primary responsibility for the administration of the ALIU; maintenance of its permanent records; procurement and training of personnel; and, collection, evaluation and appropriate dissemination of Orion intelligence. Its operational function, Plaut instructed, would be to serve and maintain close contact with Orion field personnel, particularly with respect to the flow of essential information from Washington to the field  “It is essential to the integration of the unit’s activities,” Plaut wrote “that ORION, Washington, establish and maintain close contact with ORION, London.”  An important activity was that of establishing liaison with agencies that would be able to provide the Orion Project with information.  As Plaut noted, “The liaison duties of the Washington offices constitute perhaps its most important function.”[15]

By the time Sawyer reported to work, liaison had already been established with the Roberts Commission, the Civil Affairs Division of the War Department, and the State Department’s Division of Public and Cultural Relations.[16]

Immediately Sawyer threw himself at the major task of liaison.  On January 27, he and the X-2 Branch Liaison Officer met with a representative of the Captured Material and Personnel Branch G-2, War Department, regarding Prisoner of War (POW) interrogations that would be of concern to the Orion Project.  Three days later Sawyer submitted to the liaison officer a list of POW interrogation reports he desired.  In doing so he indicated that other such reports would undoubtedly come to his attention and would be requested. Indeed, Sawyer would make requests for specific Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre POW reports from G-2.[17]

Feeling he would be more effective as a civilian, it was arranged for Sawyer to be transferred from active duty to the Enlisted Reserve Corps, U.S. Army on March 8.  He remained in OSS position in a civilian capacity.[18]

This post continues in Part II: Double Duty for the OSS and the Roberts Commission


[1] Charles H. Sawyer Personnel File (NAID 2185148), Personnel Files, 1941-1945, Entry 224, Records of the Office of Services, Record Group 226 [hereafter shortened to RG 226]; Memo, Mason Hammond, Major, Chief of MFA&A Branch, Interior Division, German Country Unit, Country Units, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force to CO, 6 Civil Affairs Unit, Attn: Personnel Division, Subject: Recommendation for Commission of Pfc. Charles H. Sawyer, 31388171, August 22, 1944, ibid.; List of Essential EM for A&M, n.d., File: AMG 272 (PERS) /3 MFA&A: Personnel: OR/EM, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, 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, Record Group 331 [hereafter shortened to RG 331]; Memorandum, Capt. Mason Hammond, MFA&A Branch, Interior Division, German, Country Units, SHAEF to Col. Newton, G-5, SHAEF, Subject: Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch, Interior Division, German Country Unit, SHAEF, June 3, 1944, File: AMG 262 (ORG) MFA&A: Organization: General, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, ibid.

[2] Memo, Mason Hammond, Major, Chief of MFA&A Branch, Interior Division, German Country Unit, Country Units, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force to CO, 6 Civil Affairs Unit, Attn: Personnel Division, Subject: Recommendation for Commission of Pfc. Charles H. Sawyer, 31388171, August 22, 1944, Charles H. Sawyer Personnel File (NAID 2185148).  This MFA&A Branch had been activated (as the MFA&A Unit) early in March 1944 as a part of the Interior Sub-section of the German Section of the Special Staff, Civil Affairs, SHAEF. With the general re-organization of Civil Affairs the MFA&A Unit became the MFA&A Branch of the Interior Division of the German Country unit. The country units were placed under G-5 Operations, SHAEF. Report prepared by Colonel Newton, inclosure to Memo, Frank J. McSherry, Brig. Gen., Chief, Operations, G-5, SHAEF to the War Office, Attn: Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Wooley (sic), Subject: MFA&A Report, June 13, 1944, File: London File – MFA&A: Planning Documents, London Files, 1943-1945 (NAID 1518815), RG 239, National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1944, Roll 32.

[3] “The General Board, United States Forces, European Theater, Civil Affairs and Military Government Activities in Connection with Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives”, G-5 Section, Study No. 36, prepared by Brig. Gen. C. E. Ryan, Chief, Col. Walker R. Goodrich, Capt. Everett P. Lesley, Jr., G-5, Section, n.d., ca. January 1946, pp. 9-10, File: AGAR-S 3019 AGAR-S Materials Accumulated for a Conference on Captured German and Related Records at the National Archives, 1968, RG 242; Letter, Col. Henry C. Newton, MFA&A, G-5 Division, SHAEF to Maj. Gen. John H. Hilldring, Director, Civil Affairs, Office of the Chief of Staff, May 23, 1944, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 3, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949 (NAID 3376702), RG 165; Report prepared by Colonel Newton, inclosure to Memo, Frank J. McSherry, Brig. Gen., Chief, Operations, G-5, SHAEF to the War Office, Attn: Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Wooley (sic), Subject: MFA&A Report, June 13, 1944, File: London File – MFA&A: Planning Documents, London Files, 1943-1945 (NAID 1518815), M-1944, Roll 32.

[4] Report prepared by Colonel Newton, inclosure to Memo, Frank J. McSherry, Brig. Gen., Chief, Operations, G-5, SHAEF to the War Office, Attn: Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Wooley (sic), Subject: MFA&A Report, June 13, 1944, File: London File – MFA&A: Planning Documents, London Files, 1943-1945 (NAID 1518815), M-1944, Roll 32.

[5] Letter, Mason Hammond, MFA&A, Interior Subsection, German Section, SHAEF to Professor Webb, May 23, 1944, File: AMG 267 (PERS) MFA&A: Personnel: General, Subject File Aug 1943-1945 (NAID 612714), RG 331.

[6] Memorandum, Brigadier, H. Price-Williams, Executive, G-5 Division, SHAEF to German Planning Unit, Subject: German planning Unit, August 18, 1944, File: AMG 262 (ORG) MFA&A: Organization: General, Subject File Aug 1943-1945 (NAID 612714); Report, Col. Henry C. Newton, MFA&A, G-5 Division, SHAEF, Preliminary Report on Status of Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives in the Northern European Theater of Operations, September 6, 1944, Inclosure to Memorandum, Col. Henry Co. Newton, MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF to The Director, Civil Affairs Division, War Department, Subject: Report on MFA&A in ETO, September 7, 1944, File: AMG 216 (Col Newton) MFA&A: Correspondence-Col. H.C. Newton, ibid.; Memorandum, Maj. Mason Hammond, Acting Chief, MFA&A Subsection, Property Section, Military Government Division “A,” USGCC to Historical Section, USGCC, Subject: Report for the period 22 August-25 November, 1944, on the activities of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Subsection, Property Section, Division A”, US Group CC, November 25, 1944, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 5, Bulky Package, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949 (NAID 3376702)

[7] Memo, Mason Hammond, Major, Chief of MFA&A Branch, Interior Division, German Country Unit, Country Units, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force to CO, 6 Civil Affairs Unit, Attn: Personnel Division, Subject: Recommendation for Commission of Pfc. Charles H. Sawyer, 31388171, August 22, 1944, Charles H. Sawyer Personnel File (NAID 2185148)

[8] Memo, Allen M. Schauffler, Major, German Staff Section, G-5 Division, SHAEF to Colonel Elgar Lewis, German Country Unit, Subject: Commendations, September 6, 1944, ibid.

[9] Memorandum, Maj. Mason Hammond, Acting Chief, MFA&A Branch, RD&R Division, USGCC to Acting Director, Reparations, Deliveries and Restitution Division, Subject: Report from the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch for the period 1-14 December 1944, December 15, 1944, File: AMG 227 (CC) MFA&A Correspondence: US Group CC Br Element CC, (OSS 1 March 45), Subject File Aug 1943-1945 (NAID 612714)

[10] James S. Plaut, “Investigation of the Major Nazi Art-Confiscation Agencies,” op. cit., p. 124. David Bruce, the head of the OSS London operations, wrote in his diary on August 31, 1944: “Norman Pearson and Hugh Will [both with the X-2 Branch, London] talked about Francis Taylor’s (Director of the Metropolitan museum) Commission to track down objects d’art stolen by the Germans. They were interested in the possible use of this Commission as cover for X-2.” Nelson Douglas Lankford, ed., OSS against the Reich: The World War II Diaries of Colonel David K. E. Bruce (Kent, Ohio and London, England: The Kent State University Press, 1991), p. 181.

[11] Memo, Lt. J. S. Plaut, USNR and Lt. T. Rousseau, Jr., USNR to Chief, X-2 Branch, Subject: Fine Arts project ORION, November 21, 1945, File: Washington X-2, OP-16, ORION Organization, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226.

[12] Letter, Lt. James S. Plaut, USNR, Office of Strategic Services, Washington, D.C. to Lt. Col. Charles Kades, Executive Officer, Civil Affairs Division, War Department, December 26, 1944, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 5, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949 (NAID 3376702)

[13] Memo, John M. Phillips and Charles H. Sawyer, Art Project, OSS X-2 Branch to Norman Pearson, Acting Chief, X-2 Branch, London, Subject: Report on the organization of the Art Project within X-2 Branch, London, and a Summary of London Sources of Information on German Art Personnel, File: Washington Office, Special Funds Division Finance, Intelligence (WASH-SPDF-INT), Washington Secret Intelligence/Special Funds Records, 1942-1946 (NAID 4504574), RG 226, M-1934, roll 16.

[14] Charles H. Sawyer Personnel File (NAID 2185148)

[15] J. S. Plaut, Lt., USNR, Director, Standing Order No. 1, Subject: Function and Organization of ORION, Washington, January 9, 1945, File: Washington X-2, OP-16, ORION Organization, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226.

[16] Memo, Charles H. Sawyer to Maj. Lee H. Sharrar, Subject: Monthly Report, ORION Project, January, February 7, 1945, File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Progress Reports, ibid.

[17] Memo, Charles H. Sawyer, to Lt. (j.g.) T. Dunn, USNR, Liaison Officer, X-2, Subject: P/W Interrogation Reports from G-2, January 30, 1945, File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Liaison, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226; Memo, Charles H. Sawyer to Lt. Thomas W. Dunn, USNR, Subject CSDIC PW Papers, April 21, 1945, ibid.; Memo, Charles H. Sawyer to Maj. Lee H. Sharrar, Subject: Monthly Report, ORION Project, January, February 7, 1945, File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Progress Reports, ibid.

[18] Charles H. Sawyer Personnel File (NAID 2185148); Progress Report for March, 1945, ORION, Washington, April 4, 1945, File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Progress Reports, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226.


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