How to Research: Photographs Relating to WWII Air Force Units

Previously the Still Pictures Branch introduced the initial blog in a four part series on various methods of researching World War II unit records. The first part of the series discussed methods of researching photographs of U.S. Army units during the war. This installment of the series will cover helpful techniques in U.S. Air Force unit research. Our hope is that this information is useful for the future projects of interested researchers.

As with any military unit research, historical knowledge of a U.S. Air Force unit is extremely valuable. The more we know about a unit, such as locations, personalities, decorations, types of aircraft/equipment or the unit’s place in the organizational hierarchy of the military, the more likely we are to find our photograph/s.

To illustrate our search techniques, we have chosen the 91st Bomber Group as an example. The 91st Bombardment Group, also known as “The Ragged Irregulars”, consisted of the 322nd, 323rd, 324th and 401st Bombardment Squadrons during the war.

The largest collection of Air Force photographs relating to WWII in the Still Pictures branch is 342-FH, Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies Activities, Facilities and Personnel – World War II and Korean War, ca. 1940 – ca. 1980 . To begin our search within this series, we first consult the index/caption cards located in the Still Pictures research room in College Park, MD. If We consult the index/captions under the 91st Bombardment Group, we find many cards containing a variety of captions describing the relative photographs:

342-FH-3A-09111 Caption Card

The index/caption cards provide us with the identifying information needed to retrieve the photograph. Note: Index cards will provide the original negative number (in this case – 56448 A.C.). Research room staff will then aid the researcher in converting the negative number into the corresponding print number (342-FH-3A-09111):

342-FH-3A-09111 “Major Willis Taylor, (Left) command pilot, of Salt Lake City, Utah congratulated Major Charles Hudson, lead bombardier of the U.S. 8th AF 91st Bomb Group, from Bakersfield, California on the results of his group’s bombing of the railway center ant Stendal, Germany, Feb. 22, 1945, when more than 1,400 B-17 “Flying Fortresses” and B-24 Liberators escorted by 800 fighters attacked communication lines at key points throughout central Germany.”

We know that the 91st Bombardment Group consisted of the 322nd, 323rd, 324th and 401st Bombardment Squadrons. So, we can also search under those specific units:

342-FH-3A-10533 “Lt. W.D. Beasley and crew of the 322nd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, study a map of the target just before takeoff. 9th March 1943, England.”
342-FH-3A-10606 “Lt. E.J. Harvey and crew of the 323rd bomb sq., 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, beside the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Out House Mouse”. England.

If we are interested in an individual member of the unit, we can search under their name:

342-FH-3A-110679 “Capt. Parker, pilot of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Black Swan”, poses beside the plane. 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, England. 25 August 1943.”

If we know the locations of the unit during the war, then we can perform a search under the theater of war, country or city:

342-FH-3A-16390 “Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress”, of the 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, flying low over the town of Croisette, France. 14 January 1944.
342-FH-3A-19630 “Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” of the 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, wing their way over enemy territory enroute to target in Brunswick, Germany. 30 January 1944″

An interested researcher could even search under the subject “mascot” to find important photographs:

342-FH-3A-10619 “Lt. Charles E. Cliburn and crew of the 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, pose with their mascot “Skippy” beside a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. England, 24 March 1943.”

When researching military unit records its important to come prepared with as much knowledge about the subject as possible and to attack the research from many different angles. We shouldn’t rely solely on a search of the specific unit by unit name/number, but also by the personalities, locations, vehicles, triumphs and tragedies that give the military unit its historical character.

6 thoughts on “How to Research: Photographs Relating to WWII Air Force Units

  1. Can “amateurs” search remotely in those archives? I’m a student of the my Dad’s (SSgt. Jack H Botts) experiences in the Air Force’s 47th Bombardment (Light) Group, 84th Bombardment Squadron. He served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

    1. Hi, there! A number of our US Air Force (formerly Air Corps) photos from WWII have been made available on a “partner” website named Fold3. You can view and search those images here:

      If you do not find what you are looking for on Fold3, and you cannot visit our research room, Still Picture staff will conduct limited research for off-site researchers. You can send your reference request to

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