Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the category “Military History”

Searches I Get: public domain images first world war military

British cavalry passing the ruins of Albert cathedral, France, during World War I
British cavalry passing the ruins of Albert cathedral, France, during World War I

Peering through the list of searches that bring people to this website, I find that the second most popular search in the past 30 days has been “public domain images first world war military”

Generally speaking, any image published before 1923 is in the public domain. Additionally, any photographs taken by US government employees, including soldiers and sailors, in the course of their work is also public domain.

As a result, any images you find my entries tagged World War I ought to have some public domain photos.  Some of the resources here most useful for getting images are:

Another approach would be to go to the Flickr Commons and search “World War I.” That’s what I did to get the picture at the top of this blog entry.

1968 M16 Comic Book Maintenance Manual

1968 M16 comic book maintenance manual – http://www.ep.tc/problems/25/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is the correct way to disassemble, then reassemble your character’s M16?
  • What should your character do if her M16 jams?
  • What does LSA stand for, and how does it help your character’s M16?
  • What are some ways to keep your character’s ammo magazines dry?


This particular maintenance guide was put together by Will Eisner. It does offer very specific and seemingly easy to follow guidance on maintaining a weapon and will familiarize you and your character with M16 parts and common problems.

Be cautioned that it is a product of its times and plays on racial (Vietnamese) and gender stereotypes to drum up interest for the army guys that were reading it.

Navy Online Journals

Navy Online Journals – http://www.navy.mil/navydata/infoIndex.asp?id=M

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What can you learn from a crashed plane?
  • How is the US Navy using unmanned helicopters?
  • Where can I find examples of Navy art?


This URL actually points to part of the Navy Information Index, which could be worth an entry of its own. The top part of this page points to the following online Navy magazines:

  • All Hands (August 1922 – Present) – The Magazine of the U.S. Navy
  • Chips (July 2004 – Present) – The Navy’s technical journal. Focus on IT
  • Naval Aviation News (Jan 1943 – Present) – the magazine of U.S. Navy aviation
  • Naval War College Review (June 1950 – Present)
  • Navy Reservist (2003 – Present) – the monthly publication of the Reserve Component
  • Shift Colors (January 2000 – Present) – The newsletter for Navy retirees
  • Undersea Warfare Magazine (Fall 1998 – Spring 2010) – the official magazine of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force

For the most part, these journals will be most helpful in establishing background and mood. All Hands, Naval Aviation News and Naval War College journals will probably be helpful for historical based stories or “How did they do it?” type questions. 

Here are a couple of example articles:

  • Technical Aviation Intelligence: Captured Equipment Reveals Enemy’s Secrets to Buaer’s Air Information Branch. Naval Aviation News. June 1943, page 1. – Provides information on the value of captured enemy equipment to Allied forces and describes in some detail how that value is extracted.
  • Bureau of Navigation News Bulletin No.1 (Now All Hands) August 30, 1922. A litany of complaints to Navy field personnel including a scolding for not turning in ships logs in the time and manner directed.
  • On 2d Anniversary… Waves Pass 70,000 All Hands, August 1944, page 8. Article on the Navy Women’s Reserve. Commended or freeing “enough officers and men to man a fleet of 10 battleships, 10 aircraft carriers, 28 cruisers and 50 destroyers.” Details on different types of positions that employed waves including but not limited to radio operators, navigation instructors, dentists, yeomans, chauffeur and film projectionists. Article notes that as of August 1944, Waves were limited to the continental United States

If you don’t have a high-speed internet connection, be aware that some of these magazines, especially the ones digitized from paper, may have large file sizes. For example, the August 1944 issue of “All hands” was 34 MB. Paper copies of most of these magazines ought to be available through Federal Depository Libraries or through interlibrary loan through your local library.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships  – http://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/danfs.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What Navy ships were destroyed in World War II?
  • How many Navy ships were named Experiment?
  • How is a large auxiliary floating dry dock abbreviated?


This multivolume work is available online and in paper. From the website:

The Histories Branch researches and writes the multi-volume Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, available in many libraries in the United States and abroad. Compiled like an encyclopedia, each volume includes summary histories of U.S. Navy ships from certain sections of the alphabet. The volumes also include an assortment of appendices on small craft, dictionary entries for Confederate Navy ships and various essays related to naval ships.

Each entry starts with the background on the name of the ship, then a brief physical description, followed by a ship history from keel laying to final disposition (final decommissioning/destruction/sale). In cases where multiple ships have had the same name (I.e Mosquito), ship histories will be separated by roman numerals.

If you station characters on real ships, this book will avoid placing ships in wrong place and time.

Search Tips / Story Ideas

The primary access to this resource is by browsing. There is no official dedicated search to the Dictionary. But you can use Google if you format your search like [keyword/phrase inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil]

This opens up some good possibilities for a writer. Try some of these searches and see if you’re touched with a story idea:

destroyed inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil
sunk inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil
burned inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil
sold inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil

Interrogation World War II, Vietnam and Iraq [Interrogator Role Models]

Interrogation World War II, Vietnam and Iraq – http://www.ni-u.edu/ni_press/pdf/12010.pdf

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What interrogation techniques have historically produced the best results?
  • Why is a knowledge of language and culture helpful in interrogations?
  • What are a few techniques you might use to get information from from someone without making them aware they’re giving something away?


This National Intelligence University Press publication is well documented with over 450 footnotes. The sources consulted by the three authors included military files from the National Archives, other government documents, memoirs of former interrogators, newspapers and academic journals, and interviews with military officials, former interrogators and Special Forces officers.

Based on a review of documentation concerning fanatical Japanese and VC soldiers, the authors conclude that the most important factors in gaining useful intelligence were deep knowledge of the language and culture of the adversary. Torture and other harsh methods used by the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese tended to elicit false confessions and information.

For writers, it would be very interesting to read the accounts of German interrogator Hanns Scharf and US interrogator Sergeant Grant Hirabayashi. By all accounts they got great results with similar methods. Here’s how Sgt Hirabayshi got his intelligence:

Throughout the campaign, Hirabayashi interrogated dozens of enemy prisoners. His approach was simple; he always treated POWs with kindness and dignity. First, he made sure prisoners received proper medical care. He frequently offered them cigarettes and asked if they had heard from their families and been able to communicate with them. Many wept because of this unexpected treatment. Hirabayashi explained that prisoners truly believed that U.S. soldiers were going to kill them and noted that the POWs were completely unaware of the rights afforded to them under the rules of international law, codified in the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 27 July 1929 (the Geneva Convention of 1929).

If you want create an interrogator who is both sympathetic and effective, study this book.

Office of Medical History (Army)

Office of Medical History (Army) – http://history.amedd.army.mil

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were some preventative measures taken by the US Army in the American Revolution?
  • When were US soldiers first vaccinated for smallpox?
  • What was considered typical care during the Civil War?
  • What were World War I base camp hospitals like?


This site is divided into a number of sections, but the most helpful will be:

Books and Documents – materials from Revolutionary times to the the Iraq War. Some representative titles are:

  • The Evolution of Preventive Medicine in the United States Army, 1607-1939
  • Medical Men in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 by Louis C. Duncun
  • Thesis: A Study of the Medical Support to the Union and Confederate Armies During the Battle of Chickamauga: Lessons and Implications for Today’s U.S. Army Medical Department Leaders by David A. Rubenstein
  • The U.S. Army Medical Department in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
  • Women in the Army Medical Department in World War II
  • Battle Casualties in Korea: Studies of the Surgical Research Team, Volume II, Tools for Resuscitation
  • In Their Own Words: The 498th Air Ambulance Company in Iraq, 2003

Historical Art Work – Captioned images and photographs from WWI through the Iraq War. The Office of Medical History discourages the use of this imagery for commercial or partisan publications, but does not disclose their authority for prohibiting these uses.

Medal of Honor recipients – Short citations of medical personnel awarded the Medal of Honor.

AMEDD Unit Patches and Lineage – Patches and organization histories from Army Medical units.

As you might gather from the title of this resource, it will be most helpful in determining what level of field medicine is available to your military characters in a given period of time.

Marines in Iraq 2004-2008: An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography

Marines in Iraq 2004-2008: An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography

(Paper – http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/670246464)


Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What challenges did US Marines find in Iraq?
  • What Marines units participated in the early occupation of Iraq?
  • When did Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani negotiate a truce in Najaf?


From the introduction:

This anthology presents a collection of 21 articles describing the full range of U.S. Marine Corps operations in Iraq from 2004 to 2008. During this period, the Marines conducted a wide variety of kinetic and non-kinetic operations as they fought to defeat the Iraq insurgency, build stability, and lay the groundwork for democratic governance.

The selections in this collection include journalistic accounts, scholarly essays, and Marine Corps summaries of action. Our intent is to provide a general overview to educate Marines and the general public about this critical period in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps, the United States, and Iraq. Many of the conclusions are provisional and are being updated and revised as new information and archival resources become available.

The accompanying annotated bibliography provides a detailed overview of where current scholarship on this period currently stands.

The annotated bibliography runs from page 269 through page 294 and includes primary and secondary sources. The articles and bibliographies offer many differing viewpoints. Between the essays and the bibliography, you ought to be reasonably informed about many aspects of the Iraq War from 2004-2008.

In addition to the articles and annotated bibliography there is a useful “Chronology of Events” starting at page 261.

The web version of the book is presented in seven PDF files. If you’d like a paper copy try interlibrary loan through your local public library.

Iraq And Vietnam: Differences, Similarities, And Insights

Iraq And Vietnam: Differences, Similarities, And Insights (2004) – http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/00367.pdf

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How did the scale of the Vietnam War compare to that of the Occupation of Iraq?
  • What tactics did the US use under the pacification of Vietnam?
  • Who were allies of North and South Vietnam?


This 76 page study from the Strategic Studies Institute is a compare and contrast to the wars in Iraq and Vietnam and provides a useful background to each conflict. From the introduction:

The authors conclude that the military dimensions of the two conflicts bear little comparison. Among other things, the sheer scale of the Vietnam War in terms of forces committed and losses incurred dwarfs that of the Iraq War. They also conclude, however, that failed U.S. state-building in Vietnam and the impact of declining domestic political support for U.S. war aims in Vietnam are issues pertinent to current U.S. policy in Iraq.

Pages 64-76 of this volume consists of endnotes and references to other works.

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