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Clark Special Collections

World War II

World War II was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis powers. In a total war directly involving more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. Aircraft played a major role in the conflict, enabling the strategic bombing of population centers and the only two uses of nuclear weapons in war. World War II was by far the deadliest conflict in human history; it resulted in 70 to 85 million fatalities, a majority being civilians. Tens of millions of people died due to genocides (including the Holocaust), starvation, massacres, and disease. In the wake of the Axis defeat, Germany and Japan were occupied, and war crimes tribunals were conducted against German and Japanese leaders.

Clark Special Collections maintains thousands of documents, photographs, artifacts, and oral history interviews covering nearly every aspect of the war. Topics of particular interest include Prisoners of War, Escape and Evasion, Eagle Squadrons, and all subjects related to military aviation.

Image note: December 1943 newsletter cover kept by Henry Söderberg after visiting Stalag VIIIC during WWII. Söderberg was a member of the International War Prisoners Aid belonging to the YMCA. Clark Special Collections: MS 25-Soderberg

World War II Topics

I wanted wings patchPrisoners of War (POWs)

German forces during World War II maintained a number prison camps that held captured Western allied air personnel. One of these camps, Stalag Luft III, was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner of war camp established in march 1942 near the town of Sagan, Germany (now Zagan, Poland), 100 miles southeast of Berlin. The site was selected because its sandy soil was thought to make it difficult for POWs to escape by tunneling, though several attempts were made. In January 1945, as Soviet forces closed in on the region, prisoners from this camp were marched more than fifty miles through harsh winter conditions to Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, where they were finally liberated on April 22. The Air Force Academy was designated as the official repository of the records for the "Prisoner of War of Stalag Luft III" organization when it disbanded in 1998, and now hundreds of donations of personal papers and memorabilia are housed in the Clark Special Collections as a result of this designation. Additionally, the department holds resources from Stalag Luft I, Stalag VII-A, and several other German prison camps. 

Eagle Squadrons

Starting in 1940 a small group of Americans volunteered to fly with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II.  Three RAF Fighter Command Squadrons, the 71st, 121st, and 133rd were made up exclusively of Americans and became known as the Eagle Squadrons. These aviators volunteered at great risk because of the prohibition against engagement in the war imposed by the United States when the U.S. was still neutral. After Pearl Harbor, when the United States joined the war, some of these aviators moved to the U.S. Army Air Corps.  These collections include donations from several Eagle Squadron pilots as well as the work of Eagle historian, Brig General Philip D. Caine, USAF (ret.).



Escape and Evasion

Escape and evasion lines in World War II helped Allied airmen escape European countries occupied by Nazi Germany. The focus of most escape lines was assisting British and American airmen shot down over occupied Europe to evade capture and escape to neutral Spain, Switzerland, or Sweden, from where they could return to the United Kingdom. A distinction is sometimes made between "escapers" (soldiers and airmen who had been captured by the Germans and escaped) and "evaders" (soldiers and airmen in enemy territory who evaded capture). Most of those helped by escape lines were evaders.

Some escape and evasion lines were created by the Allies specifically to assist their soldiers and airmen stranded in German-occupied territory. Others were a combination of allied military personnel and local citizens in occupied territory, and some escape lines were created and operated exclusively by civilians. These operations did not restrict themselves to helping military personnel but also compromised spies, resisters, men evading the forced labor drafts, civilians who wanted to join the governments-in-exile in London, and Jews.

About 7,000 airmen and soldiers were helped to evade German capture in Western Europe and successfully returned to the United Kingdom during World War II. Many of the escape lines were financed in whole or part by MI9 of the British Directorate of Military Intelligence and other Allied organizations. Participation in these networks was arguably the most dangerous form of resistance work in occupied Europe. The most perilous jobs were handled mostly by young women, many of them still in their teens, who escorted the servicemen hundreds of miles across enemy territory to Spain.

Research Tools

MS 71-Bolinger, Bruce

MS 54-Patton, Ralph K./Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES)

SMS 576-Shoemaker, Lloyd R. 

MIS-X Reports Index

Air Units

This section identifies collections that contain materials pertaining to individual units that were active in World War II and provides links to the finding aids for those collections. 
Research Tools
MS 53-Carpetbaggers: 492nd and 801st Bombardment Groups
MS 64-Janton, Robin: 578th, 733rd, 788th, 789th, 790th, 791st, 801st, 856th, 857th, 858th, and 859th Bombardment Groups
SMS 425-Audiovisual Services: 8th Bombardment Group (Finding aid not available online-See Special Collections Staff)
SMS 849-Austin, Gordon H.: 17th, 31st, 319th, and 320th Bombardment Groups
SMS 1164-Schmucker, Morton L.: 355th Fighter Group, including the 354th, 357th, and 358th Fighter Squadrons
SMS 1539-Gajeski, Peter: 13th Bombardment Group (Finding aid not available online-See Special Collections Staff)
SMS 1561-Abbot, William: 723rd Bombardment group (Finding aid not available online-See Special Collections Staff)

Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)

The WASP contribution to the military effort in World War II was significant. Besides ferrying aircraft for the Air Transport Command, they flew test flights, performed tow target missions, provided instrument training for male cadets, and participated in a variety of other flying missions. Approximately 1,000 WASP flew 60 million miles on operational assignments in 77 types of aircraft before the unit was inactivated in December 1944. They delivered pursuit planes such as the P-38, P-40, P-51 and P-47. They towed targets in B-26s and flew gunners in B-17s. One woman flew a B-29 as first pilot and another was the first woman to fly a jet fighter plane as a test pilot. 36 women pilots were injured and 38 lost their lives during their service.

Research Tools

MS 31-Pateman, Yvonne C./WASP

China-Burma-India Theater (CBI)

The China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) took a back seat to Europe and the Pacific in terms of manpower, resources and press coverage. But its stories of daring pilots who “flew the hump” of the mighty Himalayas, freewheeling guerrilla fighters known as Merrill’s Marauders, dedicated nurses fending off amorous advances, and crafty intelligence agents cutting deals with natives in three diverse countries were as colorful as those from the more heavily documented areas of World War II. It was also the location of General Clair Chenault’s Flying Tigers, three volunteer fighter squadrons that trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II to defend the Republic of China against Japanese forces. Overall, military officials estimated that over 4,000 Japanese planes were destroyed or damaged in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II. In addition, they estimated that air units in China destroyed 1,100,000 tons of shipping, 1,079 locomotives, 4,836 trucks and 580 bridges. The United States Army Air Corps credits the 14th AF with the destruction of 2,315 Japanese aircraft, 356 bridges, 1,225 locomotives and 712 railroad cars.

Research Tools:

SMS 1244-McComas, Edward O. 

SMS 576-Shoemaker, Lloyd R. 

Additional World War II Topics

Doolittle Raid: 

SMS 46-Doolittle, James H. 

SMS 1078-Greening, Charles R. 

Weather and Forecasting:

SMS 1164-Schmucker, Morton L. 

Henry H. "Hap" Arnold:

MS 33-Green, Murray (Henry Arnold)

SMS 322-Arnold, Henry H. 

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Theater: 

SMS 724-Haven, Malcom D.

Aviation Technology: 

MS 20-Victory, John F.

Black Servicemembers:

SMS 970-Osur, Alan M. 

Nuremberg Trials: 

SMS 1285-Andrus, Burton C.