Rare Aerial Photo of Gliders Taken After Operation Varsity, March 1945

Taken on March 25th, 1945, this image was snapped by a low-flying P-38 or P-51 of the 363rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron.  I acquired a large set of these original 12×12 inch prints (complete with pencil notes on the back) on eBay a few years ago directly from the estate of a 9th Air Force photo tech who apparently saved hundreds of original flyovers like this.  He saved duplicates as well!  This is one of those duplicates.

This large format photo, taken a day after the strategic landing of two airborne divisions on the eastern bank of the Rhine River near the village of Hamminkeln and the Town of Wesel, Germany.  Know as Operation Varsity, the landing is regarded by many historians as the most successful airborne landing carried out during WWII.  Although I tend to argue such facts, the point is that the landing led to the quickening of the end of the war.

This series of photos provides an incredibly detailed view of the aftermath of the glider landings and a general layout of trenches, hedgerows and landscape features that may be obfuscated today.  These images can be found in many books and through government archives but may be of lesser quality due to multiple reproductions.  Enjoy!



Large Format Aerial Photo Showing Airborne Gliders, March 25th, 1945



WWII Artist Profile of B.R. “Woody” Woodill WPA Artist – Rare WPA Color Kodachrome Slides Surface on eBay!

Blanchard Robert “Woody” Woodill was born in 1916 in Glendale, California to Arthur and Maude Woodill.  His father was a successful car dealer in Los Angeles at the time, and likely planted the seeds that would eventually help design one of the most popular post-war American sports cars.  During WWII, Woody became a professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the the University of Southern California.  In 1948 he bought his father’s Dodge dealership in Downey, California and started down the path that would take him from car salesman to car designer.  Using his engineering and artistic skills (more on this later) he was able begin design on the car that would make him famous.  He purchased two Glasspar fiberglass body kits from Bill Tritt in Santa Ana, CA and eventually found a chassis designer to sign on board.  The Woody Wildfire was born.  The original sale price on the factory built Woodill Wildfire was roughly $3,000.  They now sell at classic auto auctions for over $100,000.  Very cool!

Interested in American Fiberglass Cars?

Check out this site: http://www.forgottenfiberglass.com/?p=12232

What does a car designer have to do with PortraitsofWar?  I was recently able to pick up an interesting set of 35mm color Kodachrome slides on eBay for a decent price.  I knew the photos were taken with an artist’s eye given the subject matter, poses, and setting of the shots.  After researching the address listed on the Kodachrome box, I realized that the photographer was actually working for the Southern California WPA as a photographer of Southern California life.  This fits in nicely with his profession as a professor of aeronautics at USC and makes sense given the quality of the images he took in the Southern California Desert.   His capturing of the emerging role of women on the homefront highlights the social realism that plays an important role in the WPA art of the period.

Kodachrome Box and Address

Original eBay Listing

Model Climbs into Biplane

Flight over the Desert

More Airplane Fun

Clearing Rocks

Sidney Kotler: A WWII Artist in the China Burma India Theater – Ilustrator of the Stilwell Road Booklet

WWII Booklets are one of my favorite avenues of military ephemera collecting.  The small print runs, unique artwork, and theater-made feel make them a fun and easy collectible.  I picked up a copy of Stilwell Road: Story of the Ledo Lifeline this past week on eBay and was excited to leaf through the pages looking for possible research/blogpost material.  Immediately impressed by the artwork and layout, I decided to do a little sleuthing into the identity of the artist. Luckily, his name was printed in the back of the booklet.  Corporal Sidney Kotler obviously had an eye for illustration and technical art.  In my typical fashion, I plowed ahead with some research!

After searching around google and ancestry.com I was able to find that Mr. Kotler passed away in 1999.  This is sadly becoming the norm when researching viable identified WWII material.  Luckily, I was able to track down the daughter of Mr. Kotler and uncover a wealth of material about his life and war service.

The following is from Mr. Kotlers daughter:

Sidney Kotler was born in Berdichev, Ukraine in the winter of 1912 into dire poverty.  His brother Shlomo died of dysentery in bed next to him at the age of ten.  His uncle was abducted by the Czar’s army.  His family decided to take no chances in the politically embroiled Ukraine.  Every time a militia came into town, his mother  would hide the children under the floorboards of her house.  One of Sidney’s brothers, Dave, told the story about a Cossack who found the boys hiding.  He told them to keep quiet and put the floor boards back in place.  They were saved!
After several attempts, Sidney, his mother and 3 brother made it across the Polish border and managed to slip into England and eventually “over the pond” to the USA.  In 1927 the family came to St. Louis Missouri where his father Isaac had preceded them.  “Sid” attended art school at Washington University in the early 1930s and did some apprenticing on the side to help bolster his portfolio.  He found a job after his WU classes as a commercial artist working with the St. Louis Dispatch and Globe Democrat Newspapers, where he worked on advertising for newspapers, magazines, and other illustrative ventures.  After the war, he worked with the Ford Motor Company art department in the Dearborn, Michigan headquarters.

WWII, Sidney Kotler in the middle with a moustache

Sid was proud of his army service. It made him feel like the true American that he fought hard to become.  By pulling himself up from the bootstraps, he was able to attain the American Dream.   His service in the China/Burma/India theater was not easy; he was on the first convoy over the Burma Road with the 18th Battalion.  The construction of the road was an arduous job, and Sid played his part without an utterance of frustration.  Besides his field duty, he was the unit artist, sketching hundreds of illustrations for the unit publications as well as the Stars and Stripes CBI newsletter.  He kept in touch with his army buddies most of his life.   Sid’s children fondly remember visiting one family in particular:  the Buchanans.

WWII, Sidney Kotler and buddy

In 1946 Sid married Elsie Fleishman.  The had four children two girls and two boys.  In 1952 the moved to Detroit where Sid began working as a graphic artist for Ford Motor Company.  He inspired me to study painting. After his retirement from Ford he continued painting.  His incredible artwork festoons his family’s homes;  magnificent landscapes and portraits dot the walls of his daughter Shira’s walls.   Sidney’s descendants include 9 bright and beautiful grandchildren.  Sid lived his life like a true patriot; he served his country, raised a stellar family, and left a legacy that will live for generations to come.
A special thanks goes out to Shira Chai and Mark Kotler for sharing the preceding passages as well as all the wonderful photos and illustrations.  Your father was a wonderful artist, and helped play an important part in American history!

WWII, Sidney Kotler and art work

WWII, Sidney Kotler, Easter Card

WWII, Sidney Kotler, Christmas card

WWII, Sidney Kotler, pin up girl

First Convoy on the Ledo Road

First Convoy Illustration

WWII 388th Bomb Group Post – Radio Mechanic Cpl. Roland Downs Fixing a B-17 in Knettishall, England


My obsession with the 388th Bomb Group stems from a chance encounter with a collection of negatives and photographs taken by an artist attached to the 388th in Knettishall, England.  Followers of PortraitsofWar already know the story, so I won’t go into great detail, but anyone interested should search for Alva Alegre in the search bar.
Anyway, I recently purchased a small group of photos that providentially yielded a handful of identified photos of members of the 388th BG.  In my typical fashion, I’ve fleshed out historical details and hopefully will give Mr. Downs a proper place on the internet.

I found the following info penciled on the back of the photo: “Roland Downs, Cpl. Alabama”

ALABAMA Inked on Cap

Judging by the inked info on his upturned mechanics hat, I felt that this was a likely identification of Mr.Downs.  With this info in hand I visited the 388th Bomb Group website: http://www.388bg.info/


Darn!  They already had his photo, but at least I was able to learn that he was a radio mechanic, something obvious after inspecting what he’s doing in the photo.  My next stop brought me to ancestry.com, where I do most of my genealogical research on mystery photos.  From a little bit of searching I was able to discover that he was indeed born and raised in Alabama and born on July 8th, 1923 and passed away on April 19th, 1980.  He served in the Airforce (USAAF) from 1942 until 1971.


1940 Census Record

World War II Veterans Gather at Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler – 2012 388th Bomb Group Reunion


World War II veterans gather at Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler

Posted: August 30, 2012 – 11:33pm  |  Updated: August 31, 2012 – 9:19am

<p node="media-caption">James Zographos, 93, left, who was a bombardier on a B-17 with the 388th Bomb Group during World War II, talks with Alvin Lewis, 88, who was a tailgunner on the B-17 Jamaica Ginger, on Thursday during a visit to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.</p>  Savannah Morning News

James Zographos, 93, left, who was a bombardier on a B-17 with the 388th Bomb Group during World War II, talks with Alvin Lewis, 88, who was a tailgunner on the B-17 Jamaica Ginger, on Thursday during a visit to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.

Inside the combat gallery at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, Alvin Lewis and James Zographos sat and admired the exhibit’s

centerpiece — a massive, almost fully restored World War II-era bomber.

Memories nearly 7 decades old flew through their minds Thursday afternoon as the 88-year-old Lewis and 93-year-old Zographos shared some of their experiences flying missions over Germany and France in B-17 Flying Fortresses nearly identical to the museum’s plane.

With 28 other World War II veterans who served with the 388th Bombardment Group — part of the 8th Air Force — the men gathered in Savannah this week as part of the unit’s 63rd annual reunion.

“It’s always the best,” said Zographos, who lives in Westborough, Mass. “It’s great to get together and see these guys and their friends and family every year.”

This year, the group chose Savannah for the reunion specifically to see the Mighty 8th’s B-17, dubbed the City of Savannah in honor of the 5,000th plane to be processed through what is now Hunter Army Airfield during World War II, said Henry Curvat, the 388th Bombardment Group Association’s president.

“For us to be able to come here and see this, it’s a great honor,” Curvat said. “For so many of the original members to see this B-17 and for this museum to honor them by placing the high bar H (the 388th’s unit symbol) on the plane is wonderful.”

The original City of Savannah, like Zographos and Lewis, was assigned to the 388th Bomb Group and flew missions out of Station 136 in Knettishall, England, during the war.

Zographos, who is the oldest remaining member of the group, flew more than 50 missions as a bombardier between March 1944 and March 1945.

After flying his first 30 missions, Zographos was sent home. About 30 days later he was back at Station 136.

“I went home then I volunteered and went back and did 20 more (missions),” he said. “I can’t explain that. I can’t explain a lot of things. People ask why I went back, they ask, ‘Were you ever afraid?’ I can’t answer that.”

Like Zographos, Lewis, of Dayton, Ohio, doesn’t articulate what led him to the war.

The day after he turned 18 in 1942, Lewis enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces, the next year he began flying in B-17s and by February 1945 he’d been sent to Knettishall with the 388th to serve as a waistgunner during missions in Germany.

By the end of that year Lewis had flown 13 missions and been discharged from the military.

“I was 20 years old when they sent me home,” he said. “I got home on July 4 and I turned 21 on the 21st. They discharged me in October and that was it.”

Although they didn’t fly any missions together 67 years ago, they’ve become easy friends as they’ve aged.

“He and I, like any of us, we can just sit here and talk and talk,” Zographos said.

The 30 remaining members of the 388th share a similar bond only those who fought with them can understand, Zographos said.

It may not always be easy to share their experiences, he added, but it’s important.

“We talk about the things that happened because once our group is gone — not only the 388th but all the World War II survivors — it’s going to be past history. There’s going to be nothing in the history books directly from our generation.”

Preserving and sharing the history of the members of the 388th, Curvat said, is what encouraged him to become so involved with the group.

“Through my adopted father — a close family friend, really — who flew with the 388th in World War II, I became part of this group,” Curvat said. “I’ve found spending time with these men to be infectious.

“It’s just incredible to look at what these people have done and what they went through; it’s important that we record and share that with people as less and less of these (World War II veterans) are around.”

WWII Marine SBD Dive Bomber Pilot Color Photo Identified – Lt. Francis. A Watrous

I recently started researching my collection of 100+ images from a Marine SBD Dive Bomber unit and came across an awesome database that helped clear up a  lot of questions regarding identification of some of the pilots who posed for the camera.  Luckily, the men were wearing leather name tags which allowed for a partial identification.  Recently I discovered the Marine Corps Muster Role section of ancestry.com.  This allowed for a full identification of all the men that served with Lt. Walter Huff, the original owner of the collection.  With this in hand I was able to track down the names of a few pilots who served with Walter.

Lt. Francis Allen Watrous

I always knew that the last name of the man in the slide was Watrous, but had nothing else to work from.  Having discovered the muster role of the 332nd, I easily scrolled to the last section of the Lieutenants and found Mr. Francis A. Watrous listed.

Marine Muster Role – National Archives

From there I did a quick google search and found an obituary with a reference to Mr. Watrous.  The obituary was for his wife, who passed away in 2010, but referred to her first husband:

“……….. was predeceased by two husbands, Francis Allen Watrous, who was a U.S. Marine dive bomber pilot in World War II and was killed in a plane crash in 1947″

After a search through 1947 newspapers I was able to come up with an article explaining the sad death of Mr. Watrous.

Francis and his brother Arthur worked for Fleetwing Air Cargo Co. as deliverymen of baby chicks.  The brothers crashed on an overcast morning in July of 1947 while delivering 7,000 baby chicks from Wallingford, CT to Newmarket, VA.

And a recent addition to the post from the relative of Mr. Watrous (Thanks to Chris S.):

Francis Poses for the Camera

Francis Poses for the Camera

Fran and Lareine Pose in a Photobooth

Fran and Lareine Pose in a Photobooth

Francis and his Dive Bomber

Francis and his Dive Bomber

VMSB 332 on Midway

VMSB 332 on Midway

VSMB back 001

WWII 542nd Marine Night Fighter Photo Album – Newly Identified Marine Cpl. Anthony Reviello of Rutherford, NJ

After a spat of recent interest in the 542nd Marine Night Fighter album in my collection, I’ve decided to do some additional research into the various servicemen identified within.  After spending a few minutes this morning, I was able to track down a muster role from the unit, and tracked down Mr. Anthony Reviello.  Mr. Reviello passed away in 2010 at the age of 97!  It sounds like he led a great life.  I hope his family finds this posting!

Anyway, I was able to find another photo him here: http://www.ww2gyrene.org/photoalbum18.htm

(left) Cpl Anthony Reviello of Rutherford, NJ. Tony served in the Marine Corps from 1944–46 as an aircraft mechanic with VMF(N)–542. His squadron took part in the campaign for Okinawa, flying from Yontan airfield, and was credited with 18 kills.

WWII Color Photo – USMC Marine SBD Bilot Walter A. Huff Poses in Hawaii – Vibrant Color


A member of VSMB-332, Walter A. Huff poses for the camera.  Luckily a roll of 35mm color Kodachrome was ready for shooting!

From a  continuation of a series of 60+ slids/color photos from this collection, this image captures the virginal quality of the Marine (USMC) aviator.  Prepped for war on the SBD/ Marine Douglas SBD Douglas Fighter/Bomber, the Dauntless was a key implement of many Pacific battles.

Looking towards an uncertain future, Walter  Huff grins and bares the inevitable future as a Marine dive bomber pilot!