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The Historical Branch: Second Year


On 3 August 1944 the Historical Branch had its first birthday, though the records do not indicate any formal celebration of the occasion. During the early months of the second year, activities continued along the same lines as before. Work on the AFA pamphlets was still the major concern. One new project acquired by the Branch was the preparation of The Pentagon booklet, an illustrated pamphlet describing the Pentagon building and its facilities. This was a popular work having no direct relation to the Branch's primary mission. But Brig. Gen. O. L. Nelson and other influential members of the War Department staff were interested in such a booklet and they apparently considered the Branch a convenient and appropriate agency for preparing

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it. The Chief Historian did much of the final drafting and Major Lamson in November 1944 made a special trip to New York to complete arrangements for publication. The booklet was published early in December.1

Late in 1944 and early in 1945 the Branch undertook to intensify supervision of historical programs for which it was responsible. In September 1944, a War Department memorandum was issued requiring historical sections of principal commands in the United States and overseas to submit bi-monthly reports of their activities. Compliance was by no means complete, but follow-up communications addressed to delinquent agencies during the next year indicate an increasing effort to make supervision more effective.2

In November 1944, Colonel Kemper went to Europe to correct deficiencies in the historical program of the European Theater

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of Operations.3 In a personal letter written early in December he reported: "The lack of supervision is appalling. Coupled with a lack of any plan, it is a wonder anything has been done. Fortunately here and there good men have done good work."4

Further investigation confirmed Kemper in the impression that more efficient direction of historical activities in the ETO was mandatory. In December 1944 he made arrangements to have Colonel Marshall appointed deputy theater historian and received assurance from the theater G-1 that Marshall would be given a free hand in bringing the theater's historical program up to desirable standards. Before departing for the United States on 29 December, he worked out with Colonel Marshall a general plan for corrective action.5

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In March 1945, in response to a request of Colonel Marshall for assistance with editorial problems, the Historical Branch sent Major Lamson to Headquarters, ETO. During his four-month tour of duty in Europe, Major Lamson kept Colonel Marshall and his associates informed of Branch objectives and policies, helped edit operational monographs, and drew up plans for an editorial organization in the Historical Division, Headquarters, ETO. Just before leaving fore Washington Lamson wrote Col. Charles Taylor of the Historical Branch, G-2: "I … fell that our critical outposts in this theater have now been established, even though on a small scale."6

While Lamson was in Europe, another member of the Historical Branch, Lt. Col. Jesse Douglas, was touring Pacific areas with a view to promoting historical activities there. That personal visitation was needed was evidenced by a letter of Lt. Louis Morton, then in the Philippines, to Douglas on 13 July 1945 which stated: "I asked about the submission of progress reports required by War Department Memo [345-44, 1 Sep 44]. No one seemed to know about them and they have never been submitted."7 Correspondence of Douglas

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with the Historical Branch and letters of Lt. Col. Fred Todd and other historical officers in the Pacific indicated that Douglas' tour promised to be of much benefit to the historical program.8 The most impressive of his accomplishments was to inspire requests by General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area, for Information and Historical Services for the Sixth and Eighth Armies, and the initiation of plans for the attachment of a historical officer to each division in that theater.9 These auspicious beginnings did not lead to as full returns as Colonel Douglas and his superiors anticipated. But changes that he was able to effect did represent substantial progress.10

In August 1945, shortly after his return form the Pacific, Colonel Douglas began a tour of the Caribbean area. On this trip, as on visits to other areas, he sought to acquaint commanding generals and their staffs with the objectives of the Historical Branch and to

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influence them to appoint such qualified personnel as was needed to accomplish the historical mission. He also conferred with historical officers about the performance of their duties.11

In spite of the diligent effort of the Historical Branch to improve its supervisory functions, historical activities in some of the agencies both in the United States and abroad tended to lag. In July 1945 the outlook in the ETO was so discouraging that Col. Allen F. Clark, who in February 1945 had succeeded Colonel Kemper as Chief of the Historical Branch, explored the possibility of obtaining Kemper's assignment as theater historical officer. But Kemper proved unavailable for the position.12

Throughout the second year the Historical Branch devoted much time and attention to the training of historical teams for service in theaters of operations. This training was refined and made more realistic as members of the Branch, through visits to overseas commands and correspondence with historians in the field, acquired a more intimate knowledge of the problems involved in writing combat narratives. The utilization for training purposes of experience gained overseas is

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illustrated in the instance of Colonel Taylor. In February 1945 Taylor resumed his duties in the Historical Branch after eleven months' duty in the ETO. Soon afterward he began to speak informally to successive groups of men being trained in the Historical Branch for assignments overseas. He briefed his audiences in great detail concerning the problems they would encounter and gave them valuable advice on meeting specific situations. Notes on these conferences show that the training program had progressed remarkably since the early days of 1943, when limited experience required that instruction be given in the most general terms.13

Processing of personnel selected for assignment to theater historical teams seems to have reached a peak in the summer of 1945. A glimpse of the orientation activity, which at that time was under the direction of Captain John M. Baker, is afforded by a letter from the Branch executive to a historical officer in the South Pacific Area on 26 July 1945. "We have really been turning out historians at a great rate the past two months," he wrote. "No less than four enlisted men, some of whom spent only about four days with us, the longest 28 days, have gone through. We have had up to 22 officers at one time, none over 30 days' the quickest time was one who reported

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in at 9:00 A.M. and signed out at 4:00 P.M. the same day." He added, "in two cases we were not even able to have our enlisted men come in; the time was too short and they reported to the ports."14

Despite occasional instances of men being rushed through with "a lick and a promise," the Branch's recruiting and training efforts appear to have produced results that were generally gratifying. On 19 June 1945 Lt. Louis Morton wrote Colonel Douglas from New Caledonia concerning a team of five historians that had recently arrived in the Pacific: "They are all good men and a catch for any historical section. They are intelligent, mature, experienced writers, adaptable, and have good backgrounds. I think the Historical Branch made a wise selection."15

The end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945 had little discernible effect on the routine of the Historical Branch. But the German surrender gave rise to a new project. This was the planning of the Shuster Mission.

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The dispatch of a group of experts to Europe to interrogate for historical purposes German prisoners of war that had held key positions in the Nazi regime was first suggested by Dr. Troyer Anderson, historian in the Office of the Under Secretary of War.16 The Historical Branch on 31 May 1945 was charged with the responsibility of recommending personnel for the mission and of drafting a general directive for their guidance.17

Action was immediately initiated by the Historical Branch which resulted in the departure for Europe in July of a mission headed by Dr. George W. Shuster, President of Hunter College, and including Dr. John Brown Mason of Stanford University, Dr. Frank D. Graham of Princeton University, Lt. Col. Oron J. Hale, of the Historical Branch, and Lt. Col. J. J. Scanlon of the Army Service Forces. The Historical Branch nominated as the sixth member of the group Col. John Kemper, its former chief, but he was not available; Maj. Kenneth Hechler, who previously had served in the Army Ground Forces historical section, and who was then in Europe, was selected for the position. The

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mission was instructed to question "such personnel as are capable of supplying information not generally known to be a matter of record" on all aspects of the Nazi regime.18

The Shuster group remained in Europe for three months and, while the information that it brought back did not prove as valuable as the Branch had hoped, the mission helped to point up the importance of enemy sources of information in preparing the history of the war.19 Later, a more comprehensive program of interrogation of German high commanders was carried out under the auspices of the Historical Section, ETO.20 Information obtained from interviews was supplemented by facts gleaned from enemy documents. These materials provided historians with a thorough knowledge of "what happened on the other side of the hill" and enabled them to give to their narratives a balance and degree of finality that could not have been achieved had they confined themselves to Allied sources. The prompt exploitation of enemy sources

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provided the historians with an effective rejoinder to those who belittled contemporary history on the ground that it was based on inadequate records.21

V-E Day joined with intensification of the Branch's supervisory functions to increase the volume of manuscripts coming in for review from historians in the field. Dr. Wright wrote Kemper on 3 July 1945 that "an immense flood of manuscript histories is now coming in from the Service and Air Forces," and a month later Colonel Clark wrote Kemper that the review section was "growing by leaps and bounds."22

Increase of the reviewing staff was accomplished mainly by transferring personnel from other duties in the Branch. Even so, the backlog of manuscripts continued to grow. Shortage of typists was a serious handicap. In December 1945, Lt. Col. Hale, chief of the Review Section, reported that he had on hand fifty-five manuscripts that could not be sent forward because typists were not available to prepare final copies of reviews.23

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The spring and summer of 1945 also witnessed an increase of the work load of the Records Analysis, Editorial, and Administrative Sections. On 31 May, Colonel Clark, who previously had commanded the Engineer Group in Italy wrote to his predecessor, Colonel Kemper: "I am as busy as can be and I sometimes look back with great nostalgia to the clean-cut bridging operation in Italy."24 And in August he observed: "I am now up to my heels in work and unable to pay any attention at all to historical matters."25

The only solution to the problem of multiplying duties was an increase of personnel.

Soon after V-E Day Colonel Clark set himself earnestly to the task of obtaining authorization for a larger staff. But he ran head-on into a movement then under way by the War Department Manpower Board to reduce the size of the War Department organization; instead of obtaining an increase, he was handed an order to cut his personnel allotment from fifty-six to forty-six persons. Though a strenuous effort extending over a period of three months, he was able to get the cut revoked. But during the course of the manpower tussle he became convinced that the historical activity would have to find some home other than G-2 if it was to

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accomplish the mission outlined in the War Department memorandum of 3 August 1943.26



1. Memo, Wright for Jas. C. Cook, Gen O. L. Nelson, Col H. W. Isbell, and Acting Chief Hist Br, 25 Nov 44, and other papers in "Pentagon Booklet" Folder, OCMH files; Statement, Lamson to Wiley, 20 Jun 55.
2. W. D. Memo 345-44, 1 Sep 44; Reports and accompanying papers in HB 319.1 (Progress Reports from other Commands) OCMH files. In 1946 reports were changed to a quarterly basis.
3. Memo, Kemper for DG-2, 29 Dec 44, sub: Report of Visit to ETOUSA, Kemper File.
4. Ltr, Kemper to Douglas [undated, but about 1 Dec 44], Kemper File.
5. Memo, Kemper for DG-2, 29 Dec 44, sub: Report of Visit to ETOUSA, Kemper File.
6. Statement of Lamson to Wiley, 20 Jun 45; Ltr, Lamson to Taylor 2 Jul 45, Taylor Personal File.
7. Morton to Douglas 13 Jul 45; Todd Personal File.
8. Various letters in Kemper, Taylor, and Todd personal files May-July 1945.
9. Ibid., p. 7; Clark Report, pp. 5-6; Comments of Clark attached to Robert R. Smith Study.
10. These comments on the results of Douglas' trip are based on study of the personal files of Kemper, Taylor, and Todd and on a statement of Dr. Louis Morton to the writer, 21 June 1945.
11. Ltr, Douglas to Morton, 1 Aug 45, Todd Personal File.
12. Ltr, Clark to Kemper, 16 Jul 45 and undated reply of Kemper, Kemper Personal File.
13. For example, see "Some Notes on Informal Conference by Col. Taylor on the Work of Combat Historians, 23 May 45" in Folder 12, Work of Combat Historians, OCMH files.
14. Ltr, Maj Raymond G. Goudhart to Lt Wm D. Magnes, 26 Jul 45, Todd Personal File.
15. Ltr, Morton to Douglas, 19 Jul 45, Todd Personal File.
16. Ltr, Wright to Kemper, 3 Jul 45, Kemper Personal File.
17. Memo, Gen Clayton Bissell for Chief, Historical Branch, 31 May 45, and accompanying papers in folder "Interrogation Project—Shuster," OCMH files.
18. Ibid.
19. Clark Report, pp. 14-16.
20. Ibid., p. 29.
21. See below.
22. Ltrs, Wright to Kemper, 3 Jul 45, and Clark to Kemper, 9 Aug 45, Kemper Personal File.
23. Memo, Hale for Dep Dir, Hist Div, 29 Dec 45, sub: Clerical Assistance in Review Section, HD 310 (Methods and Procedures), OCMH files.
24. Ltr, Clark to Kemper, 31 May 45, Kemper Personal Files.
25. Ltr, Clark to Kemper, 9 Aug 45, Kemper Personal Files.
26. Ltr, Clark to Kemper, 31 May 45, Kemper Personal Files; Clark Report, pp. 16-17, 24.

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