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Military Photographs: Finding Images in the Prints & Photographs Division at the Library of Congress

World War II

The World War II photos in the Prints & Photographs Division include a large number of photos from the US government agency called the Office of War Information as well as press photos in the New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Many photos can also be found in the personal papers received from such leaders as US air force generals Carl Spaatz, Hap Arnold, Ira Eaker, Curtis LeMay, Donald Wilson, and Nathan F. Twining, and US Marine Corps general Merritt Edson. The division has, in smaller numbers, photos from Nazi Germany and other combatants. We have more photos from the European theater than the Pacific. There is very strong coverage of activities within the United States, such as civilian war work, the Japanese-American concentration camps, training of soldiers, and changes in civilian life—the home front during wartime.

The division has many more items and collections than can be listed in this guide. Search the online catalog for your specific interests. The formal subject heading for World War II is "World War, 1939-1945." Searching for that phrase will bring up many collections and scanned items, but not all World War II collections and items include that subject heading. If a search brings up too many results, try adding more specific terms or adding a specific year. Keep in mind that photos from other countries many be in the language of that country rather than in English.

Office of War Information (OWI) Collection

Marine facing away from camera with hands on his hips, looking toward a glider.
Alfred T. Palmer or Pat Terry, photographer. Parris Island, South Carolina. Student ready for flight in glider plane. 1942. FSA/OWI Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Much of the Office of War Information (OWI) Collection consists of photos taken in the United States showing how the country was mobilizing for the war. This includes photos of women working in factories; the construction of airplanes, ships, and tanks; factories converted to war work; Civil Defense work; and civilians altering their lives to help the war effort. Some photos show soldiers training in the United States, and a smaller number of photos show US soldiers in combat, soldiers from allied countries, and war efforts in their countries which were transferred to the OWI from other sources.

Many photos from the OWI collection are digitized including black-and-white and color images. Photos from several other government agencies are housed with the OWI collection, so unrelated pre-war images may also turn up in search results. Adding a single year to the search string will limit those searches to the year searched. When you are looking for photos taken during the entire war, do the search five times to cover each of the years 1941 through 1945.

Photographic prints from the OWI collection are in two places. The first is the browsing file in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room. The photos are arranged by region of the country and then by subject matter. In some cases, starting with a broad subject, like "aircraft" or "planes," and looking through the relevant sections of prints will be more productive than looking for a specific term, like a type of aircraft. The other part of the collection is grouped in LOTs that you can request in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room. Descriptions of these LOTs are in catalog records. Search for "Office of War Information" along with other terms or a year to limit your results to wartime photos.

New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

The New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection (NYWT&S) has a large number of World War II photos that come from a variety of sources. Most of the collection is not scanned, but a finding aid can be searched online. Most of the WWII photos are in the Subject/Geographic (SUBJ/GEOG) section of the collection. The official heading for World War II in the NYWT&S collection is "War--European II." Under that heading are many sub-headings relating to different aspects of the war. Other photos are filed in folders under the headings for individual countries involved in the war. Many have sub-headings for individual branches of the military as well as other topics. Some subjects have their own headings. For example, when searching for a specific type of plane, it may be in a folder with the heading "Aeronautics—Airplanes." The Biographical (BIOG) section has photos of people related to the war. World leaders and notable military officers are included as well as some enlisted soldiers who appeared in newspaper stories. A guide on how to search the New York World-Telegram & Sun is at The collection is stored off site, so you should contact the Prints & Photographs Reading Room to request a folder in advance of your visit.

A row of women in uniform standing on the the steps of a building.
Bill Schiff, photographer. American Women's Voluntary Services members posed on steps, wearing various AWVS uniforms. 1942. New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Tuskegee Airmen

Photojournalist Toni Frissell documented the 332nd Fighter Group at air base in southern Italy in March 1945. She photographed the African-American squadron officers, pilots, and ground crew preparing for active duty; runway conditions and on-base radio broadcaster at work. Commanding Officer Colonel Benjamin O. Davis briefing pilots, also known as Tuskegee Airmen.

Visual Material from the Carl Spaatz Papers

Carl Spaatz held several leadership positions in the US Army Air Forces during the Second World War. The photos from his collection span his entire career in the military but the majority are from World War II or the period shortly after. Many of the photos are related to aerial bombing raids and show photos of targets before, during, or after bombing. Other photos show aerial bomb damage taken from the ground and photos of the planes under his command. The collection also includes photos of Spaatz and other military leaders at events concerning the war. The unprocessed portion of the collection has more aerial bombing photos, including a series of very large, chronological albums documenting the operations of the 8th Air Force. Unprocessed material must be requested in advance because most of this material is stored off site.

Japanese-American Concentration Camps

The Prints & Photographs Division has several groups of photos showing Japanese-Americans reporting to what were called assembly centers and glimpses of their lives while incarcerated in the camps. The three largest sets of photographs are described below, and other images are also in the collections. Searching for such terms as Japanese along with the words evacuation, relocation, or internment will show you many of these collections and photos.

The most well-known images are the 244 photos taken by Ansel Adams at the Manzanar camp in California. The majority of these photos are portraits of the incarcerated men and women. Other people are shown working at their jobs in the camp. All of these photos have been scanned, and Ansel Adams dedicated the rights to these photos to the public. There are no copyright restrictions on their use.

LOT 1801 is a set of over 260 photos from the US War Relocation Authority showing Japanese-Americans before, during, and after being forcibly moved into government-built camps. Since they were taken by the federal government, the photos minimize the harmful impact of relocation on the lives of Japanese Americans. But some photos represent the homes and businesses people had to give up along with their lives inside the camps. Most of the photo have been scanned. The federal government created the photos, which means that there are no copyright restrictions.

LOT 10617 has over 1,000 photos from various sources showing Japanese-Americans reporting to what were called assembly centers, their activities inside the camps, and camp facilities. Over 150 photos have been scanned, but looking at the majority of the collection requires a visit to the reading room to view them. The photos come from various creators including some government sources and some private sources. Some photos may still be under copyright.