National Archives

Material in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration

NARA has posted the following description of materials in its collection, at

For more information about the motion pictures and sound recordings described here, contact the Special Media Archives Services Division, Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Unit, National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. Telephone: 301-713-7060 Email:

For more information about the records identified here as 'still pictures', contact the Special Media Archives Services Division, Still Picture Unit, National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. Telephone: 301-837-0555 Email:


RG 111 Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer
111.1 Still Pictures. The records include approximately 200,000 photographs taken by the Signal Corps relating to World War II. The photographs record every aspect of U.S. Army activities, from fighting battles to mundane functions abroad and in the United States. Among the subjects pictured are battles, U.S. civilians and the war effort, and Allied and Axis military personnel and civilians. Photographs of important personages of the period, such as Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Emperor Hirohito, and Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, Charles de Gaulle, and Erwin Rommel, are also in the records. Additional photographs show Army training programs, maneuvers, weapons, vehicles, military bases and support facilities, medical care, and various ceremonies. Also in the records are 17 scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings of photographs taken or transmitted by the Signal Corps and released to news agencies for publicity purposes, and 412 filmstrips used to train military and War Department personnel. (SC, C, MP, NC, FS, SCA, T, O, P, PC)

111.2 Motion Pictures. One of the most valuable sources of motion picture records for the study of the physical reality of the war is the Signal Corps series of 35mm black and white unedited film known as the Army Depository Copy file. Most of the 10,000 reels in this series are from the war period. The footage, which covers both Pacific and European war theaters, has been a valuable source for many compilation films and documentaries. The emphasis is on ground operations, but the series also includes extensive naval activities. Personalities, equipment, concentration camps, proceedings of war crimes trials, ceremonies and reviews, army units, and geographic locations are only a few of the larger general subjects. This footage has been well cataloged, on a shot-by-shot basis, and adequately indexed and cross-referenced.

111.3 The War Department made extensive use of newsreel-type reports for officers and enlisted men. Combat developments were reported from all battlefronts in Staff Film Reports, originally designated for the information of commanding generals and their immediate staffs. One issue, for example, reports on the Battle of France, the Allied fleet in the Indian Ocean, and operations in Guam. Many issues use captured enemy footage. NARA has 46 issues, each running an average of 25 minutes. Combat Bulletins were given general distribution in the Army; NARA has 34 issues, each running about 20 minutes. In many cases, footage from Staff Film Reports, with restricted material deleted, was used in Combat Bulletins. A typical issue shows the invasion of France, operations in northern France and in Burma, and a Japanese attack on a U.S. task force.

111.4 Among the film records of the Signal Corps are 50 issues of the Army-Navy Screen Magazine released during the war years. Averaging about 20 minutes each, the issues reported general news to the troops, news from battlefronts, and news from home on such subjects as sports, human interest, and award ceremonies. Film Bulletins reported new military developments for the information of officers and enlisted men. The approximately 200 issues held by NARA show ordnance testing, gun carriers, wire testing, barrage balloons, procedures for landing operations, and tests conducted during the war at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Belvoir, and Fort Bragg. Some issues describe German tactics and weapons.

111.5 The War Department used the documentary-film method for detailed treatment of specific subjects. The small series of Combat Reports contains two of the best World War II documentary films, "San Pietro" and "The Stilwell Road." "San Pietro," directed by Capt. John Huston, shows combat from close range, revealing the heavy toll in lives resulting from American efforts to capture the Italian town from the Germans. "The Stilwell Road" was planned as a filmed record of the construction of the Ledo Road, later known as the Stilwell Road, linking Allied forces in Burma and China. It is also the story of retreat through Burmese jungles and of efforts to supply China by air and at the same time recapture Burma in order to set up airbases and proceed with road construction. The other films in this series are "Liberation of Rome" and "Appointment in Tokyo," the latter on General MacArthur's operations from the fall of Corregidor to the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay.

111.6 The Signal Corps Miscellaneous series, as described in a Signal Corps catalog, contains "subjects which do not fit into any other series and the doctrine does not completely conform to approved Department of the Army doctrine." These films generally provide a lengthy, detailed treatment of their subjects. Included are a newsreel compilation of the bombing of the U.S.S. Panay; short subjects showing Army activities between World Wars I and II; and incentive films encouraging soldiers to buy war bonds. "Sky Blitz," using captured German film, shows the Nazi attack on Holland; "Report From the Aleutians," directed by Capt. John Huston, shows Army life and Army Air Forces activities in the Aleutians and includes a filmed record of an attack on Japanese-held Kiska; and "War Department Report" is a general report as of 1944 to warworkers on the logistics of a two-front war. One of the most successful films in the Miscellaneous series is "The True Glory." This Anglo-American production on the Allied invasion and conquest of Western Europe used some of the more sophisticated techniques in making documentary films, such as fast editing and multivoiced commentary. Films in this series contain cartoons featuring Private Snafu; discussions about Japanese Government, geography, military, and education; reports of the first and second Quebec conferences; and footage on the campaigns in North Africa.

111.7 The Miscellaneous series also includes "Nuremberg," a documentary produced by the Office of Military Government (U.S.), which reviews the Nazi rise to power, and highlights the proceedings of the International Military Tribunal. Set against a montage of Nazi atrocities, it shows excerpts from arguments by Allied prosecutors and from testimony by the accused Nazi leadership.

111.8 One of the most interesting among the Signal Corps motion picture records is the series Orientation Films, consisting of 32 documentaries on the war. The first seven constitute the well-known Why We Fight series, produced by the War Department under the general supervision of Lt. Col. Frank Capra. "Prelude to War," "The Nazis Strike," "Divide and Conquer," "Battle of Britain," "Battle of Russia," "Battle of China," and "War Comes to America," together represent one of the most comprehensive efforts to teach history through film. Designed for new recruits, these films were eventually shown to civilian warworkers and the general public. Capra's staff used the compilation method in these films. Footage was selected from the resources of the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the Army Pictorial Center, and the newsreel libraries in New York City. Films from Allied Governments and those captured from the Axis were also used in the productions. These films were arranged and rearranged to explain official U.S. policy on the causes of the war and toward the Allied and Axis powers. "Prelude to War" reviews events leading to the war and contrasts American democracy with fascism. "The Nazis Strike" and "Divide and Conquer" detail German expansion toward the east and west. "Battle of Britain" concentrates on the fight against the attacking Luftwaffe and the resilience and courage of British civilians. "Battle of Russia," running almost two hours, quickly reviews centuries of Russian history, emphasizing the theme that the Russian people would ultimately defeat and drive out all foreign invaders. This film shows in grim detail the bitter conditions of fighting on the Eastern front. "Battle of China," quickly withdrawn from circulation after its release, is the least historically accurate of the series. Its footage, obtained from many documentaries on China, shows the magnitude of the struggle between China and Japan and builds sympathy for the Chinese people. "War Comes to America" is the summation of the work done by Colonel Capra's film staff; it is a fast-paced, rhythmical film on the values of American culture and U.S. composition, achievements, failures, and ideals. Although the Why We Fight films generally employ footage of historical events, they are more important for the study of ideas, attitudes, and interpretations than for the facts they present. Other films in the Orientation Films series are "Know Your Ally-Britain" and the controversial anti-Japanese film "Know Your Enemy-Japan." "The Negro Soldier," also included, reviews the contribution of African-Americans to U.S.history, with special emphasis on their participation in the war. "Death Mills" shows Nazi concentration camps as they were found upon liberation.

111.9 The War Films series consists of incentive films for war industries, many with good combat footage. These films demonstrate the relationship of industrial warworkers to fighting men and include footage of actual and staged events. All have a similar theme, showing the necessity for high production and for all kinds of supplies, from lumber, cotton, and gasoline to B-29 bombers. NARA has 56 issues, ranging from 6 to 27 minutes each.

111.10 The Signal Corps motion picture records also include educational and training films. The educational films were used for vocational, industrial, and educational guidance and for rehabilitation. Those relating to the war are about various countries, American industry, racial and religious prejudice, and regions of the United States, and they incorporate orientation lectures on servicemen's return to civilian life. The Training Films series includes approximately 1,400 titles relating to Army functions, equipment, job operations, tactics, machinery, gliders, armored-vehicle training, tank tactics, ordnance, barrage balloons, camouflage, map reading, and construction, and to venereal disease. The American film "Baptism of Fire" is also included.

Updated June 10, 2019.



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