When you hear “Cartographic Records”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most likely, you would be inclined to think of maps – topographic maps, geopolitical maps, navigation charts, township plats, and any of a hundred other, different sorts of maps. But did you know that maps aren’t the only type of records in the holdings of the Cartographic Branch?
In addition to maps, there are a vast number of record types other than maps, including ship and aircraft drawings, aerial photography, architectural plans, patents of all types, at least one illustration of woodpeckers, and drawings of memorials and memorial prototypes just to name a few. And, every so often, there is the random sketch illustrating an important or interesting point in history.
This last type of record, a sketch illustrating an important or interesting point in history, is what we are here to explore today! Found within RG 407: World War II Records, ca. 1905-1981, is one such illustration, entitled “General Pays Off, 1945” (NAID 12007749). While the title is intriguing, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything going on in this single illustration.
Exactly who is the general “paying off”? And for what purpose? And, how? Let’s dive in a bit deeper, and find out!
Drawn in 1945, by Lt. Benjamin “Stookie” Allen, who would later in life be employed as an illustrator for several companies, including DC Comics, “General Pays Off, 1945” illustrated a challenge given to, and won by, the men of the 1106th Engineering Combat Group, by General Lawton J. Collins . According to both Collins’ biography, Taking Command: General Lawton J. Collins, from Guadalcanal to Utah Beach and Victory in Europe (1), and The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany (2), Collins was in desperate need of a way to cross the Rhine River at Bonn. From past experience, Gen. Collins knew that pontoon bridges could be built quickly so, he challenged the group to build a bridge spanning the Rhine in 10 hours, which would break the previous record of 25 hours set in 1918. The prize if they were successful, Gen. Collins told their commanding officer, Col. Mason Young, would be a round of beer for the entire group!
In the end, it took the men, just over 600 of them, 10 hours and 11 minutes to build a bridge spanning 1,308 feet, across 107 floats. The general generously overlooked the slight overage and bought the promised round!
Now that we know the brief background story of the bridge, let’s hone our focus in on the drawing itself. At first glance, you will notice how remarkably detailed this drawing is, even going so far as to put names to faces of the key players in the story. In the upper left, there is Gen. Collins and Col. Mason, whom we have already met, along with Col. Black. Almost directly below these three men, we come to Lt. Col. Herschel Linn, whom we discover was a basketball player at Oklahoma A & M (which later became Oklahoma State University), and Sgt. Giansanti is pictured in the lower right hand corner of the illustration.
When compared to photographs taken of the bridge, like the one above (3), the only thing that this illustration is lacking are a few signs with posted speed warnings and a sign proclaiming “DO NOT SHIFT GEARS ON THE BRIDGE”. The buildings that are drawn far off in the distance are there in the photo as is the sign that reads, “The Beer Bridge, Shortest Route to C.B.I.” with a small, painted mug of beer.
Cheers to a job well done!
- Taking Command: General Lawton J. Collins, from Guadalcanal to Utah Beach and Victory in Europe. Ch. 13, Beer Bridge and Homecoming, pp. 189-191.
- The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany, Volume 6, Issue 6, Part 4. Center of Military History, United States Army, 1985 – World War, 1939-1945. Pp. 515
- File:1945 ww2 Rhine River pontoon bridge Bonn to Beuel beer-bridge.jpg. (2021, September 6). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 19:49, September 19, 2022 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:1945_ww2_rhine_river_ponton_bridge_Bonn_to_Beuel_beer-bridge.jpg&oldid=589076526.