By Daniel Lewis, Product Manager, ProQuest
"As we left the boat we spread out in a V formation about 50 yards across. There was soon a noticeable decline of sand beneath our feet and we were soon over our heads, so we tried to swim. Fortunately when I pulled the valve on my life belt it inflated and saved me. I lost my carbine. We lost none of our men, but only because they helped each other or because they got rid of their equipment. There was a strong undercurrent carrying us to the left. … About this time we were able to put down our feet and touch bottom; the water was about up to our mouths at this time. I had swallowed about half of the ocean and felt like was going to choke. We pulled out Sgt. Edwin Piasecki who was about to drown. … Our first casualty came at the water's edge by small arms fire. Pvt. William G. Roper, rifleman, was hit in the foot just as hit the beach. By this time I noticed a number of my men on the beach, all standing up and moving across the sand. They were too waterlogged to run, but they went as fast as they could. It looked as if they were walking in the face of a real strong wind. … As we went inland we heard rifle and machine gun fire to our right. Streczyk and Gallagher volunteered to check on the situation. Our men were spread out over an area 200-300 yards. They located a machine gunner with a rifleman on either side of him. Streczyk shot the gunner in the back and the riflemen surrendered."
These words are the first portion of an interview with Lt. John Spaulding of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Division, in which he describes how he and his men experienced the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944. Spaulding’s interview is just one of hundreds of interviews with U.S. soldiers from a collection of World War II Combat Interviews included in ProQuest History Vault.
[Photo, above: Portion of page showing Sgt. Forrest C. Pogue’s interview of Captain Robert E. Walker on June 13, 1944, 7 days after the D-Day landing.]
Last week, the blog post on the Trench Journals illustrated how those sources can be used to research individual soldiers during World War I. This week, we shift our focus to World War II and ProQuest History Vault World War II - U.S. Documents on Planning, Operations, Intelligence, Axis War Crimes, and Refugees. One of the collections in History Vault’s World War II module that provides illuminating documentation on the individual soldier is World War II Combat Interviews.
In recent years, one of the major trends in military history scholarship has been to focus on the experience of the individual soldier. ProQuest has many resources for this type of study.
In the last year of World War II, as the U.S. and Allied forces prepared to cross the English Channel for the D-Day invasion and the campaign against Germany, the U.S. Army assigned a small group of historians to record information about the campaign. These Army historians were tasked with interviewing military personnel and gathering documents and information in order to create narrative accounts of combat activity. World War II Combat Interviews consists of 375 combat interviews, covering the period from the D-Day invasion in June 1944 to the end of the war in Europe in 1945.
Traveling along with the soldiers, Army historians were not able to carry the bulky and rather crude tape recorders that were available in 1944. They were required to record interviews in long or shorthand and reconstruct the interviews as soon as possible but almost always sometime after the interview. Therefore, while interviewees may be quoted extensively, the interview transcripts are not typically verbatim accounts but rather summaries of what was said in the course of the interview.
During the typical interview, the historians acquired basic information on the identity and rank of the interviewee, the unit, and the place of engagement. Beyond this basic level, however, the interviews were not precisely structured, and the Army historians followed the lead of the interviewee. Interviewees were sometimes asked to annotate maps or draw sketches in the course of the interview to assist in constructing an accurate account of the action. These annotated materials were collected by the historians and are occasionally included in Combat Interviews.
[Photo, right: Caption: An example of a hand-sketched map; maps sometimes accompanied combat interviews.]
After conducting interviews, the Army historians also gathered supplementary official materials. The supplementary materials include field orders, letters of instruction, periodic and operations reports, statistical data on casualties and strengths, sketch maps, and photographs. The Army historians then used this combination of materials to write narrative accounts of battles and operations. World War II Combat Interviews in ProQuest History Vault includes the interviews with soldiers and the narrative accounts as well as the supplementary materials.
For students interested in the final year of the war in Europe that began with the D-Day landing, History Vault’s World War II module also includes other collections that document these events. Records from the top levels of military leadership that cover Operation Overlord and the D-Day invasion can be found in the Papers of George C. Marshall, Map Room Files of President Roosevelt, and the Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Another particularly interesting collection that documents that D-Day invasion is the OSS-London Special Operations Branch and Secret Intelligence Branch War Diaries. The London Special Operations Branch conducted sabotage operations, support and supply of resistance groups, and guerrilla warfare in enemy and enemy-occupied territories of the European Theater.
One section of the OSS War Diaries covers the Jedburghs. The Jedburghs involved the dropping, by parachute, of three-man teams into Europe. Their first mission began on June 5, just one day before D-Day, when they were sent to Chateauroux, France. The next day, another Jedburgh team was sent to Autun, France. By July 10, ten Jedburgh teams had been dispatched to France. The activities of the Jedburghs are also chronicled in the OSS-London records.
Explore world conflicts this month.
Librarians: Sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault as well as other resources such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers™; Documents on British Policy Overseas - The Conference at Potsdam July-August 1945 and The Nordic Countries: From War to Cold War, 1944-1951. Take a look at ProQuest Congressional Serial Set Digital Collection as well, including maps and information about the home front and the defense industries.