NARA World War II Films

"The story of World War II and America's part in it is best told through the sights and sounds of history as it happened. This is the real war, documented in priceless strings of pictures and streams of sound, as chosen by our film archivists." --Les Waffen, Chief of the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration

Film #1/"The Rear Gunner"/25 minutes/1943/Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hollywood rushed in turning out films to help with the war effort. The movie features Lieutenants Ronald Reagan and Burgess Meredith attending gunnery training programs as well as FDR signing the conscription law. It is one of the best examples of how Hollywood worked to boost morale as well as recruit men into military service.

Film #2/"The Memphis Belle"/80 minutes/1944/Director William Wyler's documentary of the celebrated flying fortress and her dangerous final mission over Germany.

Film #3/"Combat America"/61 Minutes/1945/A 1945 documentary film, Clark Gable narrated and appeared in this dramatized story  of the 351st Bomber Group. At the time of the film's production in 1943, Gable was a 1st Lieutenant in the Eighth Air Force, part of the United States Army Air Forces. While he was stationed in England, Gable flew five combat missions from May 4th to September 23rd, 1943. During one of them, his boot was struck by an anti-aircraft shell, and he was nearly hit by other flak bursts. 

Film #4/"Expansion to Air Power"/43 Minutes/1944/In this film, the 30 year old Army Air Corps reorganizes to form fifteen global forces strong, General "Hap" Arnold assumes command as a response to Axis aggression. Pearl Harbor is bombed (18:40 in).

Film #5/"Army Air Forces: Pacific"/16 Minutes/1944/These cinematic exploits of the AAF in the North Pacific include missions to Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Featured segments: General "Hap" Arnold urging viewers to buy savings bonds, General Douglas MacArthur returning to the Philippines, and a commemoration of war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

Film #6/"Bomber"/10 Minutes/1941/Carl Sandburg narrates this short documentary chronicling the manufacture, assembly, and flight of one fighting aircraft.

Film #7/Thunderbolt/41 Minutes/1945/Helmed by veteran Hollywood directors William Wyler and John Storges, and featuring voice work by James Stewart and Lloyd Bridges, this spectacular documentary offers a thrilling point of view color sequence of a P-47 bombing raid over Italy.

Film #8/"Air War in Europe"/10 Minutes/1943/Thrilling film of Allied forces on bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Italy, France, and Romania includes on-board footage of Thunderbolts preparing for attack by Focke-Wolf and Messerschmitt aircraft.

Film #9/"AAF Report"/41 Minutes/1944/Archival footage from the Army Signal Corps and Army Air Services provides a cinematic summary of AAF accomplishments in 1943.

Film #10/"The Fight for the Sky"/40 Minutes/1945/General Jimmy Doolittle briefs the 8th Air Force Fighter Command for an escort mission over Germany. Footage includes the downing of several German fighters and U.S. bombers (17:35 in), and a photo montage of U.S. pilots killed in action.

Film #11/"Target for Today/92 Minutes/1944/This documentary depicts a bombing mission over Germany by the American 8th Air Force. It contains combat footage of B-17 and B-24 bombers and is named for the phrase used at briefings before air raids. The film follows the intricate path of the mission, from planning, briefing, and preparation, to its finish.

Film #12/"The Thunderbolts: Ramrod To Emden"/33 Minutes/1943/P-47's of the 8th Air Force serve as an escort ("ramrod") for bombers flying to Emden, Germany. The movie details the planning of the mission, planes being prepared, and pilot briefings. Combat scenes show fighters downing German planes. Emden is bombed and the planes return to England where pilots report on the mission to intelligence officers. Footage includes Thunderbolt take-off and flight formation.

ONE REVIEWER'S OPINION: "The documentary 'The Thunderbolts' not only shows how the Army Air Forces did their jobs in the air war against Germany, it also shows how the Army used movies to instruct their personnel on the realities of operations. It's not as flashy as a newsreel or the more famous color films such as "The Memphis Belle" (which was for civilian consumption); and unfortunately a lot of the sound was dubbed in after the fact. But that also shows how genuine this film is. From orders to planning to briefing to execution, each aspect of the mission is covered in detail. There isn't any focus on individuals--it's all about the overall effort. The main unit the combat photographers worked with was the 56th Fighter Group, better known as the Wolfpack. They had a particularly good mission that day, and some of their gun camera footage shows up here, as well as good footage of their planes."