Maginot Line at War 1939-1940

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Research Tools
"War is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military." 
Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), French Minister of War & Prime Minister 

Fortress Hochwald: one of the largest Maginot fortifications (NARA)

Here are links to various materials and web sites with information useful to researchers and amateur historians:

Internet Research Techniques.  Searching the Internet is as much art as it is science.  To sharpen your skills try these websites:

Search tips from Google:

Web Sites with Primary Source Material

The U.S. Army Military History Institute (USAMHI) has books, manuscripts, photos, and maps about the U.S. Army.  Many are available for download in the online Military Heritage Collection.  Particularly useful to the WWII historian are the Foreign Military Studies and the Military Intelligence Special Series.


Nearly fifty monographs were written for the U.S. Air Force as part of the U.S. Army Europe Foreign Military Studies program.  Each was a compilation work of a committee of former Luftwaffe officers.  Over the years some of the monographs were reprinted by commercial publishing companies.  The original manuscripts are located at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.  Most of the monographs can be downloaded as PDF files from this web site.

The Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) supports the US Army Command and General Staff College.  Its website has several electronic collections with digital versions of paper documents from the library's collections.  Particularly useful are the Obsolete Military Manuals, WWII Operational Documents, and Military History collections.


After World War II, the Infantry School at Fort Benning and the Armor School at Fort Knox had many company commanders record their personal combat experiences.  The reports include lessons learned, analysis, and criticisms from all theaters of operations.  The Donovan Research Library has digitized these monographs for easy download.  Note:  The library's webpage has a peculiar Internet security certificate system that you will have to "click through" to get to the monograph collections. 

Archive Finding Aids 

This web site has many of the finding aids for the captured German records on microfilm at NARA.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA) still photograph section has "photographs taken by propaganda units of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) and the Waffen-SS, ca 1939-1945."  This finding aid is the guide to that collection.  For more information: WWII Photographs at the US National Archives
A catalog and index to manuscripts produced under the Foreign Military Studies Program of the Historical Division, US Army Europe, from 1945 to 1954.  The manuscripts were prepared by former high-ranking officers of the German Armed Forces and cover a broad range of topics concerning the war against Germany.  Locations where the studies can be found in either microfilm or hard copy include the US National Archives and Records Administration in Green Belt, Maryland; US Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks; Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth; and the US Military Academy at West PointFor additional information:  US Army Foreign Military Studies, 1945-1961
This supplement to the 1945-1954 guide lists additional studies completed from 1954 to 1959.


Research Services.  If you need the services of a professional researcher at the US National Archives and Record Administration, we can recommend Westmoreland Research who has done exceptional work for us:


Researching Members of WWII Armed Forces.  To get started use an Internet search engine such as Google ( to querie the World Wide Web. You may be pleasantly surprised at what is available. Try searching with the service member’s name in various forms: first and last name, with and without middle name, or last name and first name, etc. Finally, try putting the various forms of the name in quotation " " marks.


Finding Hard to Find Books.  One of the wisest university professors I knew, once said: ”If you want a good book, then go to a used bookstore.” What he meant, of course, is that not all new books are worth reading and that we should not dismiss older books simply because of their age. Three useful sites for finding used and out of print books are:


Web-based Language Translators.  All Internet translation sites often have difficulty translating technical military terms or special characters such as German vowels with umlauts (for example ""), accents, and particularly the German eszet or ess-tset – the letter “” that looks like an uppercase “B.”  Two tips for translating German words arew: 1) When umlauts are not available, "ae", "oe", and "ue" can sometimes be substituted for "", "", and "", 2) When an ess-tset is not available try substituting a double “s” – i.e., “ss”.


Websites with standard features:
Websites with special or unusual features:

LEO (An extensive German-English online dictionary)

Website with TTD technology to pronounce words or sentences in several languages to include French and German:

Foreign Language Special Characters.  The problem of typing non-standard characters used by German, French, and other world languages confronts English-speakers who want to write in a language other than English.  Here are a few solutions (which vary by operating system) to this problem:

German.  Two websites that have alt codes and other information about special German characters:


A simple method is to type the German characters and then cut and paste them into your own document.  This website allows you to do that for German as well as other languages:


French.  Corresponding web sites for French special characters:


Other Languages.  These websites include information on how to view foreign language web pages and tips for typing special characters:

Military Dictionaries

Click here for information about translating Sütterlin and Fraktur German Scripts

British Military Terminology (War Department: May 1943) (7 MB)

Acronym and Abbreviation Finders.  Although most of terms on these websites are from the modern era, many of today’s acronyms and abbreviations have their origins in the World Wars.

On-Line Conversion Calculators and Tools

Military Map Symbols

WWII-era field manual of the US Army.
US Army manual with the NATO symbology commonly used in modern military history maps.
German and Air Force Map Symbols from World War II Armed Forces – Orders of Battle and Organizations:
Good reference for reading Soviet WWII maps.
Two-part article published in the US Army Field Artillery Journal in 1942-43 that explains the basics of foreign maps and map terms, and includes many examples of foreign maps:

Geography and Terrain Analysis

A good primer on the impact of geographic features on military operations.
Terrain has a significant effect on military planning and operations. Analysis of a battle is incomplete without examination of the terrain. This manual has some useful techniques in chapters 5 and 6.
An interesting pamphlet published by the US Army in 1917 about making topographic maps.  Officers were expected to draw their own maps for planning operations.  Contains many helpful techniques for making maps.
If you are looking for aerials views of sites in France try the French version of Google Earth.  While limited to imagery over France and its territories, Goportail's resolution is better than Google Earth, and it has some interesting features to include overlaying the aerial imagery with topographic maps.
Gazetteers.  A gazetteer is a dictionary or directory of place-names and geographical features.  Because national boundaries and place names change over the centuries, gazetteers can be used to locate places now only found in historical documents or period correspondence and histories.  Here is a selection of useful web-based gazetteers that can help find those lost place names:
The official repository for the spelling of all foreign place names.
Current population figures for cities, towns and places of all countries.  Provides information about current population of countries, their administrative divisions, cities and towns as well as images of the current national flags.
This webpage has current and historical place names and physical features.
This webpage is a directory of cities and towns organized by country.
Has place names in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The site uses a specialized soundex system to find places if your spelling is not quite accurate.
Lists both Polish and Germans names of cities and towns in Poland.
Genealogy research website with links to various German gazetteers.
Cross reference between Polish and German place names in present day Poland.
Index and maps of Central Europe (1:200 000) produced around 1910 by the Austro-Hungarian Army.
Polish and German Topographical Maps 1919-1939.
List of German and alternate names for cities often seen in WWII German documents.

Basic Aerial Photo Techniques

Aerial photo interpretation requires a few basic skills. This maunual discusses the various types of aerial photographs, how to read marginal data, explains fiducial error, how to substitute aerial photos for topographic maps, and more.
Here is the US Army WWI manual of aerial photograph interpretation. Although it is almost a century old, it has good basic information on examining aerial photos and descriptions of how to identify various battlefield structures such as weapons emplacements, earthworks, buried cables.
Referencing Historical Sources
Miscellaneous Material
This web site's collection of maps is a great overview of World War II in Europe.
Research involves the critical evaluation of historical sources. Here is a succinct guide that presents ideas and techniques that can be applied to evaluating books, documents, articles, and other materials.

Tutorial to Primary and Secondary Sources from the University of Illinois

Articles for Publishers and Writers about Contracts, Copyrights, and other Related Matters

US Army Guide to Oral History (Center of Military History: 2006)

This site has an online version of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, And Presenting the Past on the Web by Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig. It is an essential guide for anyone who wants to know about the presentation of history on the web. While the text can get a bit academic at times, it includes useful discussions on building a history website; copyright, fair use, intellectual property issues; and maintaining historical materials in digital formats.

To transfer large files to someone, try this service.  It has both a free and paid service.  The free service and works well.

A short guide to understanding and selecting appropriate storage medium from the US National Archives and Records Administration.

Everything you ever wanted to know about CDs and DVDs.
A short guide from the US National Archives and Records Administration.
Collecting and Preserving Photographs
An experienced collector's advice on collecting original German photographs. 
Good information and advice from the Library of Congress.
Information from the experts at the US National Archives and Records Administration:
To protect photo images before uploading them on the Internet, try this simple to use freeware program.

Simple to use software for resizing images to upload onto forums and webpages.