American World War II Association Historians Consortium
A United Voice for World War II Records
Morning Report Preservation and Access
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Last updated: November 16, 2011
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The first current objective of the American World War II Association Historians Consortium is:
- the recognition of the great historical value of World War II Morning Reports
- digital publication on the Internet of the Morning Reports
Background and Current Situation
Until recently, the greatest tragedy in U. S. World War II research was the government's failure to recognize the extraordinary value of Morning Reports as historical records and not just as personnel records. Untile recently, the official position on the web site of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO, was explicitly clear in this highly erroneous statement: "Neither morning reports nor unit rosters contain historical information concerning battles or engagements." -- a statement that the Army still repeats verbatim on its own "Master Index of Army Records". Fortunately this situation has changed and the on the NPRC web site now has a better understanding of the Morning Reports.
In fact, as will be discussed below, the reality is that the World War II Morning Reports are an absolute gold mine of information about battles that simply does not exist in any other records. This fact has become more and more apparent to historians, both in published works (such as Keith E. Bonn's "When the Odds were Even") and by association historians (such as the 7th Armored Division and 80th Infantry Division projects to digitize and publish the complete WWII MRs of their divisions).
The NPRC (which is now an agency under the National Archives and Records Administration or NARA) has moved into a new state-of-the-art building, in which the proper storage conditions of the silver master microfilm reels -- which were damaged by improper storage at some earlier date -- are now assured and where researchers can view the films. There are more than just Morning Reports that must be moved into the new building, and staff budgeting and the sheer volume of paper to be moved and organized make for a very difficult time until the move is finally completed in Fall 2012.
At the suggestion of Timothy Nenninger, Chief of Modern Military Records at National Archives II (College Park, MD), in 2009, AWAHC contacted Footnote.com (now Fold3, a military-record-focused subsidiary of Ancestry.com) about digitizing the Morning Reports and making them available as part of their subscription service, providing that Footnote/Fold3 also gives free research access to anyone researching at any National Archives location. This method seemed to be an acceptable tradeoff of all of the factors involved, and there is now general agreement by NARA that Fold3 will eventually be allowed to digitize and publish the Morning Reports on the Internet. But the specifics of this will not even begin to be worked out until after the move into the new building is completed, thus probably in 2013. This is very good news, even if it is still years before the project will be done.
Historical Value of WWII Morning Reports
What the Morning Reports Contain
As the name states, the Morning Reports were to be turned in every morning. They are the only surviving records that go down to the Company level. All other surviving World War II records are at the Battlaion level or higher. While they do contain personnel information, they contain additional information that is of great historical value, particularly when trying to understand the details of a battle. The Morning Reports contain the following information. (The word "Company" is used, since that is the most common source, but the Morning Report reporing elements could be a Battalion HQ, a Battalion Medical Detachment, a troop, a battery, a Division HQ, a Corps HQ, etc.)
- Station (Location) of the Company
The Morning Report was dated as of 2400 on a specific date, and it was turned in the following morning. The location that was to be entered at the top of each MR was the very precise location of just that company as of 2400 on the date of the MR. The locations usually gave the exact map coordinates of the location as well. For example, the Morning Report of Company A of the 48th Armored Infantry Battalion (7th Armored Division) for 28 October 1944 shows their location as "8 miles SE of Asten [Holland] QE 6907 Nord de Guerre".
This is very important because a company was not always in the same location as the headquarters of its battalion and sometimes not even under the control of its battalion. This is especially true for cavalry reconnaissance and engineer and tank destroyer units, who were routinely sent out as support units for differents parts of a division. But almost every company was at some time removed from their battalion's control on a mission, so that the Battalion HQ had no idea what the company was doing and thus could not include that information in the Battalion's After Action Report. And the units to which the company was attached often did not include the company in their After Action Reports either. So the only record that exists in many cases of where the company was and what the company was doing is the Morning Report. The Morning Report is absolutely critical to the understanding of the company and their role in battles -- not just as a personnel record but as a historical record.
- Personnel Status Changes
This is the only aspect of the Morning Reports that the National Personnel Record Center's narrow clerical non-historian view sees. It is an important aspect, but not just for reasons of proving a veterans service when their discharge papers are lost. From a historical perspective, the names and ranks of the men who appear on any given day can be of great significance. Putting together WWII events is akin to doing an enormously complex jigsaw puzzle, in which the pieces are scattered into a thousand different places scattered all across the U. S. and Europe. Even what appears to be something of no relevance at first look can later turn out to be a crucial link to some other fragmentary memory or record.
When a unit historian is asked by someone in Europe whose town the unit liberated to provide the names of the men who died as their liberators in that action so that the Europeans can erect a monument to permanently carve those men's names into stone, the Morning Reports are the very best source for finding the names of those men. Sadly, many people think that this sort of request is a trivial one and that the Army has the answer readily available for every town in Europe. The reality is that finding the names of the men from all the units involved can take many years -- and still be incomplete if all of the Morning Reports can not be obtained. The Army kept records to enable the war to be fought more effectively -- to supply replacements where needed and to learn important lessons that could bring success elsewhere. Any records that exist were created entirely for those purposes. And any post-war analysis of the records by the Army were primarily for the purpose of fighting the next war more effectively by learning the lessons of the last war. So the burden is on the liberated communities and on the unit historians to spend the thousands of hours to organize the records relevant to them and to provide the answers to the questions in which the Army has no interest.
Monuments are not the only reason that the personnel status changes are valuable as historical records. Knowing that a specific squad was hit hard on one day can be an important fact in understanding an action. Of course, the Morning Reports do not identify squads or even platoons. But other jigsaw puzzle pieces can provide that information so that what appears to be just a bunch of names on an MR can make a lot of sense when seen within the knowledgable historical context.
- "Record of Events" Entries
Many companies included a "Record of Events" entry on the day's Morning Reports. This was not always true, and even when there was such an entry it was not always very informative. For example, an entry might simply say that they moved their bivouac from one place to another and traveled so many miles and that the weather was good and the morale was good. But a great many "Record of Events" entries contain veryimportant information about the action that that specific company saw that day. And there is absolutely no other substitute in any other surviving official record that gives that information. For example, here is the "Record of Events" entry for Company C of 38th Armored Infantry Battalion (7th Armored Division) for 6 September 1944, the day that the US assault upon Metz, France began:
"Moved from bivouac area 3 Mi West of Fromezey as part of task force performing reconnaissance in force. Company hit light German resistance at Verreville and pushed through. Company supported two medium tank platoons in attack to secure high ground south of Gravelotte. Attack jumped off from Malmaison and company received extremely heavy artillery, anti-tank, rifle and machine gun fire. In face of heavy resistance from Gravelotte, company moved with tanks around each flank of town and cleared German resistance from objective and surrounding area. After clearing area, position was untennable due to very heavy enemy artillery concentration Tanks and company withdrew to assembly area 1/4 mile N.W. of Malmaison. Casualties very heavy. Company is almost entirely unable to fight effectively because of combat exhaustion and fatigue. Morale low because of high casualties."
At the time of these events, Company C was not attached to 38th Armored Infantry Battalion but was part of one of four separate task forces, attacking eastward to the Moselle River. The account that you see above simply does not exist in such detail in the After Action Reports of 38 AIB nor of the unit of the commander of the task force to which C/38 was attached. This unique and detailed historical account of C/38's role in this attack only exists in the Morning Report, making the Morning Report the most important official historical record that there is of this action.
- Strength Counts
At the bottom of the Morning Report, above the signature of the responsible officer, there is a numerical breakdown of the strength of the company. Each rank of officer is counted separately, while enlisted men are not differentiated by rank. The counts include those on the roll of the company, including those who were temporarily absent (so indicated) or who were attached unassigned (also so indicated). While this may seem to be of little value, it can provide a highly revealing insight into the life of the company over the course of the war. When these numbers are entered into a spreadsheet and then plotted on a graph, the rises and falls, the peaks and the valleys, tell visually the story of what life was like for the company over the course of the battles and the interludes. When placed into the larger historical context of other records, this can help to explain why a company that performed one way in one battle performed very differently in another battle.
Other Values of the Morning Reports
For the diligent unit historian, the Morning Reports are a gold mine of historical information that can help in completely unanticipated ways. Thus any cataloging of ways that the Morning Reports have helped in the past must never be regarded as the complete list of their values. When interviewing a veteran, there is nothing so valuable as taking the fragment of what he said and then seeing what the Morning Report said. A nickname of a soldier can be nailed down as an accurately spelled surname or full name. A name that he had forgotten that appears on the MR can open the flood gates of the veteran's memories. And there is no other surviving official WWII record that could ever provide that information in the vast majority of cases. This and many, many more uses of the historical information that is contained in the Morning Reports make the MRs an extremely valuable resource, which simply has no subsitute. Their value is highly historical and goes far, far beyond their use as mere individual personnel records.
From a personnel standpoint, the Morning Reports are far and away the best source of information to reconstitute at least part of the individual personnel records of the millions of WWII veterans whose individual personnel records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Other than the General Orders (which provide summary citations of a soldier's awards), the Individual Deceased Personnel File (for soldiers who died in the war) and the soldier's own discharge papers, there simply is no other source than the Morning Reports for reconstituting the destroyed individual WWII record for the vast majority of the troops.
Click here to contact Wesley Johnston, AWAHC President.
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