Condolence Letters – Lieutenant John W. Irvine, 4th Infantry Division (1944)

The Battle of Hurtgen Forest took place between September 19th and December 16th, 1944 in the Hurtgen Forest (German: Hürtgenwald), which is situated close to the western border of Germany. A number of notable army divisions took part in the battle, in particular the 1st Division (‘Big Red One’), the 4th Division (‘Ivy League’; which Lt. Irvine served in), the 8th Division (‘Golden Arrow’), and the 28th Division (‘Keystone’). As Caddick-Adams (2014, p. 173) points out, the 4th Infantry Division was “one of the most experienced in the US Army, having hit Utah Beach at H-Hour on 6 June.” The 4th Division subsequently pushed inland for 21 consecutive days after D-Day to Cherbourg, France, which it captured “at heavy cost,” and then continued on to help liberate Paris and eventually make its way into the Hurtgen Forest in November 1944 (Caddick-Adams, 2014, p. 173).

In light of the significant losses the 28th Infantry Division had sustained in and around the Hurtgen Forest, General Norman Cota (commander of the 28th Infantry Division) became concerned that if the Germans captured the town of Vossenack and moved west towards the town of Germeter, the 28th Infantry Division could become divided (Bradbeer, 2010, p. 33). As a result of this concern, General Leonard Gerow (commander of V Corps), on November 6th, 1944, ordered the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Ranger Battalion and the 12th Infantry Regiment to attach to General Cota’s 28th Infantry Division, in order to assume responsibility for the sector held by the 109th Infantry Regiment (Astor, 2000, p. 153). The 12th Infantry Regiment’s 2nd and 3rd Battalion moved to the Wilde Sau minefield, along the Weisser Wehe Valley (Astor, 2000, p. 153), a minefield which was, in retrospect, left out of maps (Astor, 2000, p. 178). The replacement process began the night of November 6th and continued for several days (Astor, 2000, p. 153). The 109th Infantry Regiment would subsequently move to Vossenack, to take over the positions abandoned by the 112th Infantry Regiment (Zaloga, 2011, p. 60). The 109th Infantry Regiment had been, for five days prior to being relieved, unable to advance any further than their positions south and west of the town of Hurtgen (Bradbeer, 2010, p. 27).

A day after their arrival, the 4th Infantry Division initiated an attack intended to eliminate a German salient (i.e. bulge) located in the Weisser Wehe Valley (Astor, 2000, p. 155). Pfc. Marcus Dillard, a mortar gunner with the 12th Infantry Regiment’s Company M, recalls: “as we started through a firebreak there was a minefield and barbed wire. The company commander stepped on a mine. […] We had never encountered terrain like this to fight in. We had done no prior recon of the Huertgen” (as quoted in Astor, 2000, p. 155). Bradbeer (2010, p. 25) argues that General Cota made three decisions “that would have far-reaching effects on his division’s assault into the Hürtgen,” in particular the decision that “neither he nor his staff would direct the division’s units to patrol into the forest.” As the 2nd Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Sibert, later wrote: “God, it was cold. We were hungry and thirsty. […] The supply line was littered with dead. The men that came out with me were so damned tired that they stepped on the bodies – they were too tired to step over them” (as quoted in Astor, 2000, p. 156). It was on this day, November 12th, 1944, in the process of withdrawing to a new line west of Germeter, that Lt. Irvine died (Johnson, 1948, p. 215). A week later, the Company H commander, Captain Earl W. Enroughty was killed (Johnson, 1948, p. 219). The weakened 12th Infantry Regiment had been reverted to the 4th Infantry Division on November 11th at 7:00PM (Miller, 2003, p. 156).

The battle was one of the costliest in American history, resulting in the forest being referred to as “the Death Factory” by US troops (Caddick-Adams, 2014, p. 173). Whiting (2000, p. xii) argues that “division after division was thrown into the perfectly useless battle, which served no tactical or strategic purpose” resulting in “nearly thirty thousand young American soldiers [who] died or were wounded there” (p. xi). Following the first fourteen days of the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, where most rifle companies had nearly 50% casualties, the 9th Infantry Division’s 60th Regiment and the 4th Division’s 22nd Regiment had experienced 100% casualties (Whiting, 2000, p. xi). Between November 7th and 16th, the 12th Infantry Regiment suffered 562 casualties in its rifle battalions, of its initial complement of 2,300 (Miller, 2003, p. 87). Miller (2003, p. 87) points out that “the attack failed to accomplish its intended goal, and the regiment lost about twice as much ground as it took in its furthest advance.” General James Gavin (1992, p. 298), of the 82nd Airborne, would later write: “the Huertgen was over, and I think it is fair to say that little was learned from it and less understood. It had been our Passchendaele.”

Below are letters of condolence, written by family friends in December 1944, to the parents of First Lieutenant John W. Irvine (O1289736), Harry and Myrtle Irvine, of Denver, Colorado, USA. Lt. Irvine was born on July 25th, 1915 in Finlayson, Minnesota, USA. He served as a platoon leader, and later company commander, in Company H, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, V Corps. Lt. Irvine was assigned to his regiment less than two weeks before D-Day. He served as a platoon leader in the assault landings at Utah Beach, and during the early stages of the Normandy campaign as both a platoon leader and as company executive officer. In early July 1944 he was appointed commander of Company H, 12th Infantry. In August 1944, Lt. Irvine was wounded in action, suffering a broken jaw and a piece of shrapnel through his hand during a German attack near Avranches. In October 1944, after a period of hospitalization, he returned to his regiment, which was stationed on the Siegfried Line. He did not immediately resume command of his company, but rather was initially assigned to Regimental Headquarters. A short time later the 4th Infantry Division moved into the Hurtgen Forest. At the age of 28, Lt. Irvine was killed in action by a German artillery shell on November 12th, 1944, during the Hurtgen Forest battle, while organizing a defence against a heavy German attack. Lt. Irvine was married shortly before he went overseas on leave in 1943, while still assigned to the 94th Infantry Division. In September 1944, his wife, Shirley, gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Sherry, while he was in a French hospital recovering from his Normandy wounds. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valour in action. Lt. Irvine had also previously been awarded the Bronze Star, for valour in Normandy, and the Purple Heart, for wounds sustained near Cherbourg, France.

Lt. Irvine wrote home frequently, providing details on his health (given his combat injuries), his state of mind and perspective on the war, and the environment and locale he found himself in. For example, Lt. Irvine provided details in a September 6th, 1944 letter about how he was in hospital recovering from his Normandy wounds:

“They rewired my teeth this morning so I could eat soft food, but I can’t chew anything yet. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here, but probably not too long.”

He explains in a letter later in September 1944 that he had been re-admitted to hospital with an infection of the shrapnel wound on his hand (and that he preferred being in hospitals to living on the ground in the field):

“Well, I’m back in France again, and it’s a lot different than last time. At the moment I’m back in hospital for a few days with an infected hand. It’s nothing serious, but they have it bandaged, which accounts for poor penmanship. […] Seems like I’ve always got something wrong with me these days, but I will say I manage to keep more comfortable in hospitals than on the ground.”

And, on September 11th, 1944, he wrote:

“Well, I think I’m going to get out of this morgue tomorrow, but it will still be a while before I go back to France. My jaw is quite well now and I also had a small piece of shrapnel in the back of my hand, which has healed up.”

Lt. Irvine wrote a letter on October 24th 1944, detailing his living conditions and the desire that the current offensive would end the war:

“It has cleared up a little today but the mud is still pretty bad. I have made a stove for my tent and manage to keep fairly warm. […] Hope this new drive will end the war and we can get home soon.”

In a letter dated a week later, October 30th, 1944, Lt. Irvine states that he wished a battle would start so that they could feel that they were making some progress:

“Another day and not much accomplished – I wish somebody would start a battle around here so it would seem like we were getting some place.”

Macdonald (1963) has an anecdote about such a view, writing:

General Barton issued his orders. His subordinates passed them down the line. ‘Well, men,’ a sergeant said, ‘we can’t do a [*******] thing sitting still.’ He got out of his hole, took a few steps, and started shooting. His men went with him. That was how this weary division resumed the attack. (p. 471)

In the same letter of October 30th, Lt. Irvine also states that the German civilians he encounters are hostile, and that he never went out in the towns unless he was well-armed:

“The people are very hostile – many of them cross the street when they see us coming. I’m afraid it’s going to take a long time to get them in line. Personally I carry a tommy gun and two pistols – not that I don’t trust them or anything like that.”

Another condolence letter sent to Lt. Irvine’s parents around December 7th, 1944, contained the following passage:

“Sure was shocked to hear of Jack being killed. So this is just a line to let you know I am thinking of you. There is so little one can say or do at a time like these. Little did we dream when we were trying to raise them and give them their start there would be a war to end it.”


The newspaper clippings about Lt. Irvine’s death:

Jack Irvine's death notice, Denver Post

The newspaper clippings (possibly from the Denver Post) announcing the death of Lt. Irvine (the earlier one is on the left)


A transcript of the newspaper articles (lefthand article is first):


Of Denver, who gave his life to help the Twelfth infantry, Fourth division, to victory in the Huertgen forest. With all but a single, dangerous route cut off, he volunteered to get supplies thru to embattled Twelfth troops. He fell after his second trip, but he had saved the units. The Silver Star was awarded posthumously.

First Lieut. Jack Irvine Is Awarded Silver Star Medal

First Lieut. Jack Irvine, 28, who was killed in action in Germany Nov. 12, 1944, has been awarded the Silver Start posthumously, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Irvine of 233 East Colfax avenue, have learned.

Lieutenant Irvine, a purchasing agent in Denver for the NYA before entering the army in July, 1941, was a platoon leader in the Twelfth infantry regiment in the Fourth division. He held the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for wounds suffered near Cherbourg, France. His wife, Shirley Irvine, and 9-months-old daughter, Sherry, whom he never saw, live in Salina, Kan.

He was killed in the Huertgen forest campaign. The citation presented with the Silver Star read in part: “Lieutenant Irvine volunteered to direct the delivery of desperately needed supplies to assault companies located in practically inaccessible terrain. The enemy, attacking on the flanks, had left only one possible supply route, which they constantly blasted with heavy fire. Reaching the front lines after traveling thru mined area and dense underbrush, Lieutenant Irvine delivered the supplies to each company, despite the fact that two of them were virtually cut off and isolated. Later in the day he again volunteered to organize a new line of defense. He moved from group to group, placing the men in the best possible position, despite murderous enemy fire. While on one of these missions he was fatally wounded by a bursting shell. The defense line and supply route pioneered by Lieutenant Irvine made possible the holding of the battalion’s position in the critical days that followed.”


The condolence letters:

The December 7th, 1944 letter.

The December 7th, 1944 letter.


The cover for the December 7th, 1944 letter.

The cover for the December 7th, 1944 letter.


The December 19th, 1944 letter.

The December 19th, 1944 letter.


The cover for the December 19th, 1944 letter.

The cover for the December 19th, 1944 letter.


Shigawake is a municipality in the Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine region of the province of Quebec in Canada.


Transcript of the December 7th, 1944 letter.

Transcript of the December 7th, 1944 letter.


Transcript of the December 19th, 1944 letter.

Transcript of the December 19th, 1944 letter.


Transcriptions of the letters’ contents:


December 7th letter:

Muriel [?????] just called me. She had letters from home, telling about your Jack. I’m just stunned with grief about the darling And all my heart goes out to you in sympathy. Dear Folks – in this really sad news that has come to you. I had prayed – he could come thru this awful war – and come home to you all again. It’s hard to reconcile our-selves to this awful sacrifice of our men & boys, & we are so helpless to do anything about it. There is so little I can say to comfort you – but I know you know I’m grieving with you about your grand Boy. I do wish I could be near you Dear folks – just to take your hand so you could feel how I long to comfort you in any way I could in your deep sorrow. All I can do is pray – God Bless Jack – let his soul rest in Peace. And please God comfort you all in your Heart-Broken sorrow in this sad loss, of Son, Brother, Husband, & Dad.


December 19th letter:

Dearest Myrtle, Wouldn’t I love to put my arms around you and tell you how sorry we are for you and yours in the great tragedy that has come to sadden your home and hearts. But Myrtle dear, death is sometimes sweet… As I have just said to your Dad, Jack paid the supreme sacrifice, so all his sufferings are over, better, much better, than a prisoner of war, or in a military hospital for the end of his life, like our dear brother. For 30 years nearly we go to bed with the war of 1914, and we get up in the morning with it. It has saddened our lives, but yet we try to be brave and ‘carry on’. The hospitals (military) all over both our lands are filled with wrecks of the Great War who are going through each day a living death. Would you like your dear boy to be one of the inmates? I do not think so. Try to be brave dear, for the sake of the little wife and dear baby. You will derive much joy in looking and caring for their needs and helping them be brave. When I had my great sorrow years ago a friend of mine sent me a little poem which has been a great comfort to me, I will pass it on to you. “He dropped the shuttle, the loom stood still, The weaver slept in the twilight grey. Dear Heart! he will weave his beautiful web In the golden light of a longer day.” Dear Jack has left the twilight grey for the beautiful dawn and I know you would not wish him back. I wish you were near us Myrtle dear, so we could know each other better. Sorrow has seemed to bridge the thousands of miles between and to draw us closer together. Our deepest sympathy & love to you and all your dear ones.




Astor, G. (2000). The bloody forest: Battle for the Hurtgen: September 1944-January 1945. New York City, NY: Presidio Press.

Bradbeer, T. (2010). General Cota and the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest: A Failure of Battle Command? Army History, 2010(75), 18-41. Retrieved from

Caddick-Adams, P. (2014). Snow and steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-45. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Chapman, C. S. (2017). Battle hardened: An infantry officer’s harrowing journey from D-Day to V-E Day. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Gavin, J. M. (1992). On to Berlin: Battles of an airborne commander. New York, NY: Random House.

Johnson, G. F. (1948). History of the Twelfth Infantry Regiment in World War II. Boston, MA: National Fourth (Ivy) Division Association.

MacDonald, C. B. (1963). United States Army in World War II: Vol. 3. The Siegfried Line campaign. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army.

Miller, E. G. (2003). A dark and bloody ground: The Hürtgen Forest and the Roer River dams, 1944-1945. College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press.

Whiting, C. (2000). The West Wall series: Vol. 4. Battle Of Hurtgen Forest. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

United States War Department. (1946). World War II honor list of dead and missing Army and Army Air Forces personnel from Colorado, 1946. Washington, DC: War Department, Adjutant Generals Office. Retrieved from

Zaloga, S. J. (2011). Siegfried Line 1944–45: Battles on the German frontier. Bloomsbury Publishing.


V-Mail – Sergeant William C. Oden, First Special Service Force (1944)

The first wartime use of microfilm for sending postal messages was during the Franco-Prussian War, where pigeons were used to carry microfilm out of a besieged Paris (Yell & Fletcher, 2011, p. 121). In the 1920s and 1930s, Kodak demonstrated the possibility for combining microphotography and air travel in order to make international letter mail service faster – this was only seriously considered by the British following the onset of World War 2 (Yell & Fletcher, 2011, p. 121). The process, which transformed letters into “airgraphs”, was introduced in 1941 (Yell & Fletcher, 2011, p. 121). The British process produced one roll of film containing 1700 letters, weighing only 142 grams, far less than the 23 kilograms (50.7 pounds) that the original letters weighed (Yell & Fletcher, 2011, p. 121).

The volume of mail handled by the American postal system was around 28 billion pieces in 1940 (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 24). Likely as a result of this, the American government began to experiment with sending postal messages via microfilm in 1942 (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 22). The system was developed by Army Postal Director Colonel William Rose (Tapert, 1989, p. xviii). V-Mail (or “Victory Mail”) was based upon an 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper with space for around 700 words (Tapert, 1989, p. xviii). The stationary was specifically designed for the purpose (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 22). Using microphotography, 1600 V-Mail sheets could be transferred to a 90-foot roll of 16mm film (Tapert, 1989, p. xviii). A shipment of letters weighing 2575 pounds could be reduced to 45 pounds via microphotography (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 22). When the film reached its destination it was developed and, from the image of the original V-Mail stationary, a 4 by 5 inch print was produced and mailed in a window envelope (like the one below) (Tapert, 1989, p. xix). The original letters were not immediately destroyed in case the microfilm copies were lost or damaged on the way to their destination, which allowed them to be re-photographed (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 22). Litoff and Smith (1990, pp. 22-23) note an example of this in practice: “early in 1943, a Canadian bound RAF plane carrying 32 rolls of V-Mail, or 50,000 letters, from United States soldiers stationed in England and Ireland crashed in Newfoundland. The original letters were re-photographed and the new film was dispatched on a later plane.” The Army Signal Corps microfilmed the V-Mail letters which were subsequently distributed through the Army and Fleet Post Office Centers, ultimately being delivered via the United States postal system (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 23). Censorship was done to the originals prior to being microfilmed (showing up as the blacked-out portions, like the letter below), and “most officers in the service spent part of every day censoring and reading the mail from their troops” (Litoff & Smith, 1990, p. 23).

This particular V-Mail was written in Italy in January 1944 by Sergeant William C. Oden, who was in the First Special Service Force, a joint Canadian-American commando force referred to as “The Black Devils” by the Germans for the manner in which the unit fought in Italy and more popularly since then as “the Devil’s Brigade.” After Italy, the First Special Service Force served in combat in France before being disbanded in December 1944. According to Werner (2015, p. 4), the US–Anglo Alliance during World War II “recognized the need for specially trained soldiers that could go above and beyond tasks the standard infantryman could be expected to do” – this ultimately gave rise to a “fully integrated special operations force combining both Americans and Canadians – the First Special Service Force.” The soldiers were trained in “airborne, mountain, ski, amphibious, demolition, and hand-to-hand tactics, and would operate in small, multi-skilled combat elements” (Werner, 2012, p. 3). Sergeant Oden served with the First Special Service Force throughout almost it’s entire period of existence, joining during its initial period of training in Montana (and later Vermont) and staying with the unit until it’s disbandment in 1944. Sergeant Oden is listed on the published rosters (Burhans, 1947, p. 360; Morgensen, 2009) of the personnel of the First Special Service Force – it states that he is a resident of Los Angeles, California, which is also the destination for this V-Mail. Sergeant Oden was a participant in the mountain battles in Italy in December 1943, the subject of the 1968 film “The Devil’s Brigade.” Sergeant Oden also served several months at the Anzio beachhead and in the 1944 campaign in southern France. The letter itself is dated January 6th, 1944, the day of the battle for Monte Majo (Nadler, 2007, p. 148) and amongst a series of actions along the Germans’ defensive Bernhard (“B”) Line, which crossed the Italian peninsula at its narrowest point (Blumenson, 1988, p. 182), including also Monte di Difensa and Monte Sammucro. Sergeant Oden was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge in February 1944, received several campaign stars, and appears to have received the Bronze Star medal early in 1945.

The letter sheet was typewritten, presumably on a headquarters typewriter. The book being referenced is impossible to identify based on the contents of the letter – Guest had written several books of poetry by 1944 (Academy of American Poets, 2014).


Image of the entire V-Mail.

Image of the entire V-Mail.


Image of the V-Mail envelope, illustrating the cutout displaying the recipient's address.

Image of the V-Mail envelope, illustrating the window cutout displaying the recipient’s address.


A more legible version of the V-Mail.

A more legible version of the V-Mail.


A corrected transcription of the V-Mail’s content:


Dearest Mother and Dad:

After an absence of six days, am happy to report that your letters of the thirteenth and fifteenth received at this end. Both of them more than welcome, as you both know. Glad to hear that you are well, and that everything is going so well with your work honey, and yours at home, dad. As you can see, I am still able to be up and around. Really feeling well, able to eat three meals a day, and do a days work every day. Including Sundays and holidays. Yes, I have been getting every letter you have written. They come about a week apart regularly, and I have been trying to find things to tell you in between, so that you may hear every two weeks. But by now you should have many letters, Christmas card, gloves, etc. That has been sent during the past month. You must have quite an idea, old man, with those photo books you have been making. Glad they are well thought of. Am a bit surprised about Jack and Lucille going to be married. Not really surprised either, just that they haven’t seen each but very little in a couple of years. Am very happy for him, of course, only wish I could be there for the wedding, when it takes place. Maybe I can, never can tell. Happy to hear that Grandma and bee are sending me another box. Have received only one box, one from Florence and Joe arrived last Saturday. Candy, poker set, and book of poems, by Edgar Guest. Very nicely wrapped in gift boxes, in fact very very nice. No word of Grandma’s box from grand island, though. Maybe soon. Say, dad, maybe you could set up a larger shop to make those books, even if you couldn’t make them up in the quantity that western auto wants them, you could surely have a market for all you could make. How much do they cost to make? Perhaps make them out of something besides plywood. Sorry I can’t tell you where we are, maybe soon. … yes, honey, do think it better, too. If Jack and Lucille wait until he comes back from another trip to be married. Do hope he wrote that letter to me, all about his trip and everything. So he says he had been in some pretty hot water. Ha! Haven’t we all. Glad he came through alright, and that you all thoroughly enjoyed the days he spent with you. Will request a box of cookies, as they do go well over here. Send all you want to, but do not go to any extra work to do it honey. They are good, your cookies, but with your work and all, kind of take it easy when you are not working. Thanks for the buddy letters, they seem to get in all the news of the week, in few words. Have been writing Bob and Evelyn regularly, just late in the mails I suppose. [CENSORED] have written them five letters and one Xmas card. However, they should have them by this time. Heard also from Irma, Joe and Florence, and also Captain Hall today. No letters for five or six days, and then all at once they come in. Joe and Florence say it is very cold in Nebraska. Nice of Ethel to have Jack and Lucille out for dinner during his stay in Lincoln. Thank you for the bond, dears, but you didn’t make it quite clear about the receipt from the gov’t, and the bonds. Have been putting in for bonds every month since I have been in the army, so should be getting some of them. They sent me a new form to fill out, as they had the address wrong. So maybe you shall receive more of them soon. If you haven’t, please send the box from the bank. Didn’t know whether they would send one this year or not. Sent them my [CENSORED] address, our [CENSORED] APO, [CENSORED] as to how long we shall be here, I cannot say. But send it, and will follow us in case we leave [CENSORED] have received several Christmas cards, but on the whole it was as nice a Christmas as one could expect over here. Thought of you all and wishing I could have been with you. Guess that takes care of your questions, requests, and comments on same. Please write soon, and often, and take care of yourselves. Shouldn’t be long now, and we shall be together again. Could sure use some of that California sunshine. Your loving son, Bill. Will write again soon.



Academy of American Poets. (2014, June 13). Edgar Guest. Retrieved from

Blumenson, M. (1988). United states army in World War 2, Mediterranean theater of operations, Salerno to Cassino. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office.

Burhans, R. D. (1947). The first special service force: A war history of the North Americans, 1942-1944. Washington, D.C.: Infantry Journal Press.

Litoff, J. B., & Smith, D. C. (1990). “Will he get my letter?” Popular portrayals of mail and morale during World War II. The Journal of Popular Culture, 23(4), 21–43. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1990.2304_21.x

Morgensen, E. (2009). Personnel roster of former members of the first special service force. Retrieved from

Nadler, J. (2007). A perfect hell: The true story of the Black Devils, the forefathers of the special forces. New York City, NY: Random House.

Tapert, A. (1989). Lines of battle: Letters from American servicemen, 1941-1945. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

Werner, B. (2012). First special service force 1942–44. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing.

Werner, B. (2015). Storming Monte la Difensa: The first special service force at the winter line, Italy 1943. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing.

Yell, S., & Fletcher, M. (2011). Airgraphs and an airman: The role of airgraphs in World War II family correspondence. History Australia, 8(3), 117-138. doi:10.1080/14490854.2011.11668391

Converting Raumbild-Verlag Stereographs To Anaglyphs

These converted stereographs (German: raumbilder “space pictures”) are from an album entitled “Bad Reichenhall – Berchtesgaden” published by Raumbild Verlag between 1945 and 1948. Bad Reichenhall and Berchtesgaden are towns in the Bavarian Alps in Germany. The album consists of 20 stereograph cards, with each card being 6 cm by 13 cm. The album also contains an adjustable stereograph viewer (German: raumbildbetrachter “space image viewer” or raumbildbrille “space image glasses”). In contrast to the ones produced during World War II, these stereographs are focused on the scenery of Bad Reichenhall, Berchtesgaden, and the surrounding areas.

Raumbild Verlag was founded by Otto Wilhelm Schönstein (1891-1958) in the early 1930s (Hotze, 2015, para. 1). The company was moved to Munich in 1939 (Hotze, 2015, para. 2). Heinrich Hoffmann (1885-1957), Adolf Hitler’s official photographer, had by that point become a partner in the company (Schröter, 2014, p. 191). Continuing from his demand in 1937 that Schönstein “should withdraw to a subordinate, more technical position,” Hoffman moved from being a partner to that of managing director in 1939 (Schröter, 2014, p. 191). Schröter (2014, p. 191) contends that Schönstein “could not do anything against it because of Hoffmann’s prominent position.” In addition to Hoffmann, Hitler himself seemed to take an interest in stereoscopy, along with Albert Speer, the Minister of Armaments and War Production, which Schröter (2012, p. 136) suggests “has something to do with the ideology of space in National Socialism.” Despite this, Martins and Reverseau (2016, p. 171) argue that the propaganda value of the books was undermined by, amongst a few factors, “a break between image and caption that prevented the viewer/reader from experiencing the potentially synergistic reinforcement between image and text that was a cornerstone of Nazi photographic propaganda.” According to Uziel (2008, p. 244), photographers in the Wehrmacht Propaganda Troops (“Propagandakompanien der Wehrmacht”) were equipped with 3D cameras, from at least January 1940. The photos were sent on to Raumbild Verlag, which is considered by Uziel to have “practically monopolized the field of 3D photography in Nazi Germany” (2008, p. 245).

Each set of cards was expensive. Martins and Reverseau (2016, p. 173) note the 35 Reichsmark purchase price of a 1941 stereoscopic photo album, comparing it to the monthly rental cost of four-room apartments in the city of Nuremberg in 1940. Calculating the modern equivalent of 35 Reichsmarks can be difficult, given that the currency no longer exists, along with the amount itself being about 80 years old. Edvinsson (2016) suggests an approximate value ranging from about $200 to $800 Canadian dollars (in 2015), using the CPI and gold and silver values. Marcuse (2013) provides a conversion rate of 2.5 Reichsmarks to one US Dollar in 1940. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) CPI inflation calculator, the amount of $14 USD in 1940 is roughly $245 in 2017. Martins and Reverseau (2016, p. 173) conclude that such stereoscopic photobooks could rightfully be considered luxury items.

Each stereograph was scanned on an Epson V850 Pro at 2400 DPI. The resulting scan was touched up (e.g. removal of scratches, dust, dirt, and other imperfections originating from the creation process or from age and storage) and then sharpened in Photoshop with Smart Sharpen at 65% and a radius of 1 px. The stereograph images themselves are not very sharp (as seen under 10x and 22x loupes), so a smaller radius was not likely to be helpful in producing better sharpness.

While the viewing glasses for these stereographs are not too difficult to acquire, it is still an obstacle to viewing the images as they were intended (i.e. in 3D). The goal here was to see whether these stereographs can be converted to anaglyphs (red-cyan). I have not been able to find any previous attempts at this goal. Overall, I believe the goal was achieved, and the experience with the anaglyphs is similar to that with the intended stereograph viewer.


Overview of the steps of the anaglyph creation process.

Overview of the steps of the anaglyph creation process.


A selection of the stereographs, with their original captions immediately below:


"Sonnige Terrassen-Hotels und Villen in Berchtesgaden"

“Sonnige Terrassen-Hotels und Villen in Berchtesgaden”





"Am Marktplatz in Berchtesgaden"

“Am Marktplatz in Berchtesgaden”


"Der Blick zum Watzmann"

“Der Blick zum Watzmann”


"Wildromantische Landschaft am Obersee"

“Wildromantische Landschaft am Obersee”


"Alter Brunnen am Marktplatz in Berchtesgaden"

“Alter Brunnen am Marktplatz in Berchtesgaden”



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