Air Force officer’s database shows U.S. bombs since WWI
THOR data plotted on Google Earth show British (red) and U.S. (blue) bombings in Germany from 1941 to 1945.
July 31st, 2012
06:30 PM ET

Air Force officer’s database shows U.S. bombs since WWI

A U.S. Air Force officer hopes to soon release a database of bombs dropped from American military aircraft since World War I - a tool he says can be used to shed new light on old conflicts and perhaps even help locate unexploded ordnance.

Lt. Col. Jenns Robertson says he began working on THOR, or Theater History of Operations Reports, in his spare time in 2006. It combines information from numerous sources - thousands of paper reports, punch cards and magnetic tape records for older conflicts, and digital databases for others - across nearly 100 years.

The database, already being used by the Defense Department and other government agencies, for the first time allows users to search and find on a map nine decades of U.S. bombings. THOR was first reported on this week by The Boston Globe.

Robertson started the database when he was part of a briefing team for the Air Force’s chief of staff at the Pentagon.

“What drove the development of THOR was ... the data may have been out there, but it was a pain in the rear end to find it and make it useful,” Robertson said by phone Tuesday.

Robertson, a former operations director for a space launch squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, took THOR as his primary project last year, when he was assigned to the Air Force Research Institute at Alabama’s Maxwell Air Force Base.

THOR, which has bombing data from U.S. armed forces and U.S. allies across eight conflicts, is thorough but probably won’t ever be complete. Robertson still is trying to get certain World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam records, and he says he’ll never sure about the percentage he’s covered, because no one knows the total number of sorties.

Still, he said the database has numerous potential uses, including determining why certain bombings did or didn’t work. It also can add depth to historians’ understanding of battles, he said.

“If you’re an Army professional and you’re writing about (German Gen. Erwin) Rommel in the desert, you didn’t see (all of) the air power” miles ahead, Robertson said. “How are you supposed to know all of what’s going on?

“(With the database), we can look at it from multiple perspectives and see how air and land, and air and sea, worked together at the time.”

Certain government groups, such as the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, which helps other nations remove mines and unexploded munitions, already have used THOR for other purposes. Officials received early versions of THOR so they could easily determine what types of bombs were dropped in Vietnam, and where.

This information was previously available in two databases, but now it can be viewed at once, Robertson said. This helps weapons-removal experts know what precautions to take in areas where they’re already looking, and they might identify areas where they didn’t previously know to look, he said.

Maj. Gen. Walter Givhan, deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told The Boston Globe that “this type of information is critical to our efforts.”

“I was in Vietnam last week looking at old sites and talking with Vietnamese officials on how we can expedite this work,” Givhan told the newspaper for a story published Monday. “It will really help us to be able to refine what we know about where the strikes were made, where we might find unexploded ordnance, so we can focus our efforts there.”

Robertson said he anticipates THOR will be released publicly on the Internet but doesn’t know exactly when. When it is released, the more recent years - currently from 1991’s Desert Storm to today - still will be classified and therefore not searchable by the public.

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Filed under: Marines • Military • U.S. Air Force • U.S. Army • U.S. Navy • War
soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    "Nine decades of US bombing"" and continuing. A different texture though to history now being written with Cruise Missiles, precision guided ordinance, nuclear tipped artillery shells,drones, cluster bombs, 30,000 pound Bunker busters so on.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      It is not really any difference. Unexploded cluster bombs kill children and other innocent civilians years after they are deployed at a rate that is even higher than more traditional munitions.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigGuy

      I know. Ain't it just great!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dave836

    I wonder what the different altitudes of those marks in the picture mean...

    July 31, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. yaa

    Now build another database and calculate how many were "necessary" how many were "pre-emptive" and while you are at it, also calculate how much the unnecessary ones cost

    July 31, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sodomite

      Yeah, 'cause blasting civillian women and children to bits is always "necessary and pre-emptive".

      July 31, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Yeah why don't you get on that? If one hit you I think it would be well spent.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Spurious argument. The majority of ordnance dropped was done so during large scale conflicts, rather than during the more constrained combats of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. When you're dropping unguided bombs from a piston driven aircraft trying to knock out a ballistic missile factory that's building weapons that are actively trying to level one of your ally's cities, you're in a very different setting than trying to take out a single terrorist with a "smart bomb."

      I'm not saying it was "right." But I am saying that different periods have different standards of warfare, and different opponents. You can't apply the same standards to yesterday's conflicts that you apply to today's.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    Now everyone will be able to see just how proficient the US is with bombs.
    Fabulous.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. saywhat

    Not only proficient @banasy but 'large hearted' too.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Our largess is well known, certainly, @saywhat.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Purplemate

    Freak! Those "cluster bombs" are like Tasmanian Devil on speed ! DUCK !

    July 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MIke

    If it were not for those wonderful bombs, most Americans would be speaking in German or Japanese today and America would not exist. Thank you to the brave souls that dropped bombs to protect America

    July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Purplemate

    Not ONE bomb fell for our freedom; more like, profiteering off of war.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. s kel

    well Pop.not enough bombs fell.......I see your still on here!

    July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robert Shaperio

    population,,your one of the idiots who are still looking for WMD in Irag. Our goverment loves fools like you who are fed a line of bs and blindly follow.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Purplemate

    @ 401k , "Defense is a good investment."
    Against what? Other than 911 who has invaded us?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • nomus

      The British in 1812, the Japs on Dec 7, '41; again the Brits in the '60s. But seriously, you possibly are an overweight, overspoiled, overindulged do nothing coward. Never served in the armed forces, let everyone do the dirty work for you; go over to Syira for a month, or one of those other countries where freedom is just a dream,then come back-not really, stay there, we really don't need you-and tell me about what you just wrote.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I don't think 9/11 counts as an invasion but don't let the language barrier stand in your way. During WW2 Japanese did invade and occupy Guam, Wake Island, and two Aleutian Islands, all US territories at the time. They obviously attacked Pearl Harbor and their submarines did shell the west coast a few times. A Japanese balloon bomb killed six civilians in Oregon while several hundred are believed to have landed in North America, one as far east as Michigan.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jonathan

    If this was in anyway accurate there'd hardly be anything else on the map but bombing locations.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mullahjoe

    Let's hope that we can soon add most of the Middle East to this database.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    @Mike,

    more ordinance was dropped on Cambodia by the US during the Vietnam war than all of the ordinance dropped by the US in WWII, unless you are not considering Vietnam as part of late 20th century conflicts?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elliot

      Actually it's Laos, not Cambodia.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Purplemate

    When it comes right down to it, they worship the TV myth of "america" , but know nothing of our true history of inflicting genocide on many nations.
    They don't know and don't want to know.
    They are deeply offended at such knowledge.
    They prefer darkness to light.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • nomus

      Talk about genocide, do you happen to know what the Germans, and Japanese plans were for a conquered West?
      That's right, you would be drinking green tea, or Hail Hitering right now.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
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