A female US service member rocks a summer dress and snaps a shot of the photographer; what more can you ask for from a blog dedicated to obscure vernacular snapshots taken during wartime? Originally digitally cropped down from a slightly larger print, this shot exudes the youthful demeanor of downtime during WWII. The taut, braced legs also hint to a slightly posed sexualized snapshot….
Remember having your second grade yearbook photo? Yeah, I don’t either….. The same is true for WWII veterans who had their snapshots taken in front of numbered placards and blinding flashbulbs. Generally, these type of shots were taken of Army Air Corps and Marine Corps officers, but I’ve seen a few Navy portraits pop up on eBay on occasion. In the case of tonight’s post, I’m specifically presenting US Air Corps officer ID photo which were compiled by an enterprising veteran(sadly unnamed) who collected shots of his friends and colleagues who trained with him as pilots in the early years of WWII.
Each photo is unique and captures the airman with his guard down; a true snapshot portrait, these men and women had no idea that these photographs would be preserved for posterity. Each one of these photographs has a story behind it…and each is worthy of an individual blog post. Sadly, I don’t have the time or capacity to identify them all, and I look to the general public to track down shots of their ancestors. I will do my best to post the surnames of the officers in this post, but I need help…
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to acquire a few photographs from the estate of the venerated Lou Varro, the best known WWII pinup calendar artist in the MTO during WWII. Lou is well known for his small-print monthly pinup calendars that would be posted in B-24 and B-17 bombers during missions in Italy. I’ve seen a handful of his calendars during my time collecting WWII photography and am happy to have acquired a few photos of the artist. I also snagged an original Varro December 1944 “topless” calendar page.
Lou’s most popular subject was attractive women from his hometown. Although the subject of the portrait is currently unknown, we do know that this photo made the news in Lou’s hometown of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1944. I would love to track down the article, it apparently featured Lou and his exploits during his service with a B-24 bomb group during WWII. See below for the photo that “made the article.”
The woman featured in the above sketch can clearly be seen in a shot of Lou’s bunk taken shortly thereafter. His calendar obsession can be seen in the image……. what a great glimpse into the everyday life of a bomb group EM.
Lou passed away a few years ago, but had a lot to say about his wartime art career:
“Soon after, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and served in World War II as a non-commissioned officer. While stationed in southern Italy, he worked as a processor for films that came off bomber planes after they were sent for an attack. Here, he found another opportunity to work as an artist.”
“I dabbled in photography, but my specialty then was calendars,” Varro said.
(from the above linked article) Varro would use his spare time in the photography lab — an old barn that had been converted for military use — to make calendars for his fellow servicemen.
“I would find a picture of a pretty girl, make a couple of them and give them away for the guys to put in their planes or their huts,” he said. “A lot of guys knew and liked me for that.”
This is a continual post and will be updated as more material and information is added to the PortraitsofWar collection.
One of Varro’s famous WWII pinup calendars. Most of his models were taken from previously exiting “nudie magazines” and retrofitted into calendars. Please enjoy Miss December, 1944!
Digging through backlogged collections is fun. I always seen to unearth a photo, negative or slide that eluded my initial passover. In this case, I found a poignant negative from 1945-1947 showing two barefoot children who survived the war somewhere near Munich. The photographer (unknown) had quite the eye for detail as evidenced in his 400+ negatives in my collection.
I’ve always noticed the vast difference in quality between the typical ETO snapshot and it’s Pacific counterpart. The European snapshots typically are printed on better paper and of much higher quality. In this case, I was able able to purchase a pair of Pacific theater photos taken by an artist with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron. The first photograph shows a US Jeep painted up with a cartoonesque rendition of the squadron name complete with shadow effects and 8 ball logo. The same artist also designed the unit insignia seen below.
And I was also fortunate to win an Easter card designed by the same artist. The card is folded in four sections and was made from a single cut sheet of photo paper printed with a special design created specifically for the 1945 Easter season. A unique piece! I wasn’t able to win anything else from the auction – many of the sales were in the triple digits and well out of my comfort zone for an obscure topic.
I hope to pick up a copy of a fantastic tome put out a few years back to help my future research in the unit. http://www.adastron.com/lockheed/lightning/8prs.htm
For those interested in some great footage of the 8th Photo Recon Squadron, please check out the links below:
It’s not often that I’m able to link an amateur still photograph with a professional moving film, but I’ve been able to do it here. In this particularly crisp shot, a member of the Anti-Tank Company of the 222nd Infantry Regiment snapped a shot of a group of Munich city officials and policemen surrendering in the main center of Munich. I thoroughly researched this set of images and was able to track down living members of the Company who remember the events in the images. A rare opportunity!
Here’s a video that captures this exact scene. http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675075225_German-officers_United-States-officers_conference_prisoners-marched-along-street
Please skip ahead to 00:44 to view the quick clip of this scene. Trucks of the 222nd Anti-Tank company can be seen escorting thousands of German POW’s in the next scene. I’ve included a screengrab for those of you who can’t view the video. The film was shot by Sgt. Fred Bornet, a well-known combat photographer who made recent news when he gave an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2004. Please check out this: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1914938
An eBay seller recently posted an anomalous grouping of negatives online. The photos were reportedly from the collection of a US ETO fighter pilot, but were clearly taken in a tropical location. My BS radar went off, and I placed a single bid on one of the “better” images. After the negative arrived (2.5 by 3.5 in original glassine envelope), I was able to extract a bit more info; although the man posed in the photo is still a mystery. His name appears to be Jud – and I’ve narrowed down the unit info to place him as a pilot with the VMSB-231 station on Majuro in the Marshall Islands in 1944. I’ve contacted the seller to track down more shots from this historic grouping.
The VMSB-231 stands for Marine Scout Bombing Squadron # 231. They were known as the “Ace of Spades” and can sometimes be seen sporting spade insignia on their planes. The unit was responsible for dive bombing Japanese shipping and freight. The SBD was a radial engined dive-bomber that was extensively used in the early portion of the US involvement in the PTO. Here’s a good site regarding the SBD: http://science.howstuffworks.com/douglas-sbd-dauntless.htm
Some technical data on the SBD:
Douglas SBD Dauntless Specifications
Wingspan: 41 ft. 6-1/2 in.
Length: 33 ft. 1-1/2 in.
Height: 13 ft. 7 in.
Empty Weight: 6,500 lbs
Gross Weight: 10,700 lbs
Top Speed: 252 mph
Service Ceiling: 26,100 ft.
Range: 1,100 miles
Engine/Horsepower: One Wright R-1820/1200
Armament: Two .50-inch Browning machine guns in the nose; two .50-inch Browning machine guns flexibly mounted in the rear cockpit; 1,600 lbs of bombs under fuselage; 650 lbs under the wing