The Army Pictorial Service's films as information-operations tool in World War II

by MAJ Jeff Souder

The bottom line in information operations is to gain a knowledge advantage over one�s enemy and then use that knowledge in such a way as to provide real advantage on the battlefield. One of the activities supporting information operations is public affairs. The commander can use PA to speed the flow of accurate and timely information to both his force and to the public in general, to create an awareness of his goals and to keep the force and the public informed of the situation.

The Signal Corps in World War II was responsible for producing and distributing thousands of motion-picture films as a part of the War Department�s PA mission. The films, which directly influenced the war�s outcome, covered topics ranging from training and indoctrination films targeted at military audiences; to newsreel footage and informative films designed to keep the American public informed and to boost its morale; to motivational films written and produced specifically to increase and maintain a high production level by factory workers supporting the war effort. Weekly combat footage was distributed throughout theaters of war so operational "lessons learned" could be shared with other commanders.

The films were effective. War-materiel-production rates rose as a result of the films, and the films strengthened the national resolve.

By creating and disseminating these films, the War Department exploited an information differential and effectively employed it on a national scale to provide the United States with an advantage. This exploitation of information closely resembles our current doctrine, with one small difference � current doctrine doesn�t allow PA to be used to sway public opinion or to gain publicity for the armed forces. So although operating under different doctrine during World War II, the War Department�s goals in producing these movies were much like our current IO doctrine�s goals: to gain a knowledge advantage and use it to win wars.

My intent here is to:

Examine the basis for the Signal Corps� movie-making mission during the war;
Summarize PA as defined by current doctrine;
Detail some of the types of films the Army Pictorial Service created; and
Discuss the War Department�s intent in creating those films, and how the films developed a "knowledge advantage" that provided a real advantage on World War II�s battlefields.

Army Pictorial Service

Before 1942, the Signal Corps was primarily responsible for providing communications equipment, soldiers, training and doctrine to the U.S. Army. The Signal Corps also provided some photographic support to the Army, but that was limited to still photography and a small number of simple training films produced on rudimentary equipment. The Army widely regarded photography as a luxury of little military value that was nice to have but not a necessity.

Film crew at Wright Field A Signal Corps training-film field unit at work at Wright Field on a training film for the Air Corps, circa 1939.

That belief changed when the United States entered World War II and the Army was faced with the daunting task of quickly and effectively training millions of civilians to be soldiers. Army Chief of Staff GEN George C. Marshall and other high-ranking officers recognized that the use of training films could speed the indoctrination and training process, so they gave the mission to produce the films to the Signal Corps. Along with that Army-training-film mission, the Signal Corps was also tasked to produce other types of films for the entire War Department in language flexible enough to cover new requirements as they arose. By the war�s end, the Signal Corps had produced more than 2,500 films of many different types, 1,000 of which were rescored into foreign languages and shared with the Allies.

Upon receiving its new mission to produce films, the Signal Corps formed APS and soon thereafter purchased a motion-picture studio in Astoria, N.Y., on Long Island. During the course of the war, APS also had studios in Washington, D.C., Fort Monmouth, N.J., and other locations on Long Island, and it had photographers located throughout the world.

Making a film at Astoria studios Signal Corps soldiers produce a film at the Astoria studios.
Signal Corps Photographic Center Signal Corps' Photographic Center at Astoria, Long Island, N.Y.

The Army recognized its lack of trained film crews, directors and producers early in the war and contracted with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for assistance. The Army also recognized the quality of its early training films left much to be desired, so it drafted and commissioned many of Hollywood�s leading directors, writers and producers to ensure the films were effective. Marshall himself ordered the commissioning of Frank Capra, who later made "It�s a Wonderful Life." Other talent commissioned directly out of Hollywood included producer Darryl Zanuck, John Huston and Theodor Seuss Geisel, later known as children�s book writer Dr. Seuss.

Frank Capra cuts Army film Hollywood director Frank Capra cuts Army film as a Signal Corps Reserve major during World War II. (This photo taken circa 1943.) Capra's production staff included two writers who later became well-known to the American public: William Shirer and John Gunther.

The training films these talented people produced in the new facilities cut training time by an average of 30 percent. To promulgate this training advantage to our allies, APS rescored many training films into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, French and Turkish. Marshall, excited by the training films� effectiveness, expanded APS� mission to include other types of PA products that, like the training films, would disseminate knowledge quickly and efficiently in ways that would give the United States a knowledge advantage.

PA as IO

According to Field Manual 100-6, the Army�s field manual for IO, PA is one of the IO tools the commander uses to influence a critical audience�s understanding and perception of an operation. The commander can use PA to speed the flow of accurate and timely information to both his force and to the public in general, to create an awareness of his goals and to keep the force and the public informed of the situation. He can also use PA to communicate to his forces the details of the conflict in which they are involved and the part they play in their unit�s mission. The commander can use PA as a counter-propaganda tool to protect his force from enemy misinformation campaigns. Finally, he can use PA to establish conditions that lead to public confidence in U.S. forces and their ability to accomplish the mission. In all these cases, the commander is communicating information in an attempt to gain an information advantage among his forces and the public that will give him a battlefield advantage.

Joint Publication 3-61, the joint PA doctrine publication, differs slightly in its definition of PA in that it doesn�t allow propaganda or publicity designed to sway or direct public opinion.

During World War II, the War Department executed a portion of its PA mission by using APS films. Here I discuss three categories of APS films and relate them to the tenets of today�s PA/IO doctrine.

Morale and orientation films

Morale and orientation films were designed in part to explain the war to the new servicemember. Not necessarily "training" films, they helped the United States meet the challenge of building its newly acquired force into a lethal fighting machine.

The inductees needed to understand just why they were being sent to war � leaving their families and risking their lives. The War Department believed a force that understood why it was fighting � and understood the consequences if it lost � made for a motivated and effective one. At the start of the war, the War Department had speakers traveling the country giving speeches designed solely for this purpose, but they were failing. Although maybe fascinating to a historian, the troops found the speeches to be confusing and boring after a challenging day in basic training.

Again, Marshall recommended that APS be tasked to fix the problem. Already enthusiastic about the increase in training effectiveness brought about by APS� training films, he was eager to extend its purview to include orientation and morale-building films. He wanted to save the troops from the "deadly effects of prepared lectures indifferently read." Marshall chose Capra to "make a series of documented, factual information films � the first in our history � that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting."

Within a month of the tasking, Capra and some Hollywood screenwriters had completed scripts for a number of films based on the War Department lectures. This was the start of the 17-film "Why We Fight" series, one of the most famous of the wartime morale and orientation films. These films were considered, without a doubt, to be the films that contributed most to American understanding of the issues involved in World War II.

The films were very successful in getting their intended message across to the viewer. They helped the soldier, sailor or airman understand why he was in uniform, how he fit into the global conflict and how his job related to the jobs of other servicemen. They defined the enemy for him, taught him about his allies, and even entertained him. The films were shown not just to servicemembers but also to civilians. The films were so effective that Winston Churchill had them shown in British theaters as well.

GEN Douglas MacArthur also understood the effectiveness of delivering a vital message to his troops through the medium of film. In late summer 1944, he commissioned APS to produce a film that would help prepare his forces for the Philippine invasion. Just before Leyte Gulf, MacArthur sent an urgent request to the APS for a film depicting the history, manners, religion and politics of Philippine people. Within six weeks, "This is the Philippines," followed closely by "Westward is Bataan," was created, produced and delivered to MacArthur in the Philippines.

Industrial-incentive films

The industrial-incentive films were a category of APS-produced film intended to stimulate war production. They were also used to establish conditions that led to public confidence in U.S. forces and their ability to accomplish the mission.

As early as February 1942, the War Department saw a need for a film that would dramatize the country�s need for equipment and supplies. It needed a way to bring the war home to the factory worker, the farmer and the miner � to anyone within the U.S. manufacturing base who directly or indirectly supported the war. By the end of June 1942, "The Arm Behind the Army" had been shown in more than 700 theaters across the nation to more than one million people.

When the War Department surveyed the opinions of more than 200 war manufacturers regarding the films� effectiveness in motivating their employees and giving them an incentive to work harder, it received almost unanimous encouragement to continue the series. Film production was ordered to proceed at the rate of two per month. On average, the films were shown at more than 1,300 factories per month, covering more than 70 percent of all war workers. The undersecretary of war said the films counteracted any tendency on workers� part "to take things easy" when it appeared the United States was winning later in the war.

The films were also used to get workers back on the job late in the war when deterioration in war production in the Detroit area caught the War Department�s attention. A series of graphic, candid films showing the horrors of the war in a "brutal" and "jolting" manner were created to get workers producing again. The films were so effective they were later used to support the war-bond drive and for recruiting purposes.

APS countered a general slowdown in war production seen across the nation in the summer of 1944 with a film entitled "This War Speeds Up." Many of these industrial-incentive films were specifically tailored to motivate certain sectors of the labor force and to bring a sense of participation in the war to the workers. "Timber to Tokyo" was produced for the lumber industry, "Life Line" for the medical-supply industry and "Attack Signal" for electronics workers, for instance.

Information and historical films

To keep both the force and the public informed as to the war�s status, APS had film crews deployed throughout the world shooting combat footage. This footage was promptly returned to Washington for dissemination to planning staffs and commanders. Declassified versions were disseminated as newsreels for the general public�s viewing. To ensure classified film got to the right people, a review board comprised of representatives from the major commands was formed to review as many as 12 films each week.

Marshall recognized that motion-picture coverage of combat could provide useful and timely information to his high-level planning staffs. He ordered APS to produce a compilation of films called "The Staff Film Report" which was distributed weekly to war theaters and Washington headquarters. The film showed tactical situations; troop and equipment employments; the details of operations; and information on personnel, materiel and local conditions. Staffs and field commanders used the film, and it was shown at the Pentagon�s highest levels.

SGT Carl Weinke and PFC Ernest Marjoram wade Signal Corps combat cameramen SGT Carl Weinke, left, and PFC Ernest Marjoram  wade through a stream while following infantry troops at Red Beach 2, Tanahmerah, New Guinea, during an Allied invasion April 22, 1944. World War II's information and historical films are part of the venerable combat-camera legacy.
Signal Corps cameraman T/4 Robert Hagelstein filming along Rhine River Signal Corps cameraman T/4 Robert Hagelstein, assigned to Ninth Army, ignores the German warning, "photography forbidden," to shoot movies of activities along the Rhine River March 5, 1945.
SGT Aaron Lubitsch standing in mud, wrapping up scene Signal Corps cameraman SGT Aaron Lubitsch of 166th Signal Photo Company stands in mud above his ankles as he wraps up shooting a scene on the story of "the Yanks" in Belgium at St. Vith, Feb. 10, 1945.

Declassified versions of this footage were distributed for use in newsreels and to complete the historical record of a campaign or theater. In fact, an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of each newsreel shown to the public at commercial motion-picture theaters across the world was comprised of Signal Corps footage. Millions of people in the United States would have had a hazy and uninformed view of why and where the war was being fought had it not been for APS� films.

Perhaps the most calculated use of APS film products as an IO instrument was formulated by Marshall himself. His initiative also resulted in one of the most important films of the war. Many months before the war in Europe was won, Marshall suspected the American people, and their fighting forces, would lose interest in finishing the war in the Pacific. He was afraid the public would raise an "uninformed and unreasoning clamor to �bring the boys back home�" once Europe was won, and this would delay victory in the Pacific. To ensure the American public was informed, and that they remained committed to end the wars on both fronts, he commissioned APS (under strict secrecy) to produce a motivational, informative film that would explain the Army�s plans to redeploy troops from Europe to the Pacific and the Army�s discharge procedures.

LTs filming burning Japanese plane Noemfoor Island LT Williams and LT Gregg go into action with their cameras on a burning Japanese plane on Noemfoor Island in the Southwest Pacific July 2, 1944.

Under the greatest secrecy, APS produced the film and devised a special distribution procedure whereby the film could be transported to the far corners of the war and across the United States for screening. Marshall wanted the film screened simultaneously to as many people around the world as possible for greatest effect.

At noon Eastern war time May 10, 1945, "Two Down, One to Go" was shown to military units around the world and at more than 800 first-run civilian movie theaters. That first day, 95 percent of servicemembers stationed within the continental United States saw the movie. Within two weeks, 97 percent of the U.S. military forces all over the world, and millions of people at home in the United States, had seen the movie explaining there was still a war to be fought in the Pacific.


Although the films� intention to sway public opinion in support of the war effort was more than would be acceptable under today�s PA doctrine, the War Department, Marshall, APS and other influential persons and agencies understood during World War II that a "knowledge advantage" such as one called for in Joint Vision 2020 would translate to an increased lethality on the battlefield. To gain and maintain information superiority, they employed a new and effective means of communication � motion pictures � to execute a PA campaign that would rally servicemembers and U.S. civilian citizens behind the war effort. This type of IO is much in keeping with the spirit of IO doctrine we employ today.

Shooting rubble of World War II A Signal Corps cameraman shoots the rubble of World War II as part of GEN George C. Marshall's IO program. Marshall was adept at using movies to train U.S. soldiers and sway American public opinion.

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MAJ Souder is program manager for the Space Exploitation Demonstration Program at Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab, Colorado Springs, Colo. Previous assignments include the project manager�s office for military satellite communications and chief of the combat-developments directorate�s modeling and simulation branch at the Signal Center, Fort Gordon, Ga. He holds a master�s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College, and another master�s degree in computer science from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Acronym QuickScan
APS � Army Pictorial Service
IO � information operations
PA � public affairs

dividing rule

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