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. nomus

    Hey, that's my house under that white line.

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

    why not we won, didn't we

    July 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tim W.

    So run this program on the bombs dropped by Russia, Germany and Japan........wonder what is hid in the mud at Pearl Harbor !

    July 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ronvan

    IMPORTANT? I don't really think so. Some of you are right though. The ordinance of the past does not compare to what we have today. Just drop bombs everywhere to using 1 "smart bomb" missile IS much more leathal and accurate.
    HOWEVER, my question is: You know where they were dropped from this study, SO, does that mean you are going to put "feet" on the ground looking for them? Are you going to dig them up? Just because they have been laying around for 40+ years doesn't mean they might not go off! And this study, as I understand it, ONLY considers bombs dropped from aircraft. What about other unexploded munitions? Hand Grenades, Gas Grenades, Arty rounds, M79, 20mm, 50cal, and on and on. ALL capable of killing or wounding someone if found and played with!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      HOWEVER, my question is: You know where they were dropped from this study, SO, does that mean you are going to put "feet" on the ground looking for them? Are you going to dig them up? Just because they have been laying around for 40+ years doesn't mean they might not go off!
      –I think it'd be great if an agency undertook to track down and properly disarm any unexploded ordnance.


      July 31, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      You're angry with this study because it doesn't show the location of every explosive ever deployed and because they're not sending in people to clean it all up? You're asking the impossible. Ever heard of the Nirvana fallacy? How about the perfect-solution fallacy?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Oi

    Now we need one for all Axis bombs.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • angrybabykitty

      I agree.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thunder

      Did they bomb themselves.....

      July 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. huxley

    It'll be interesting to see how well the map lines up with historical documentaries of the bombings. For example, WWII historians have estimated that upto half the bombs intended for Germany were actually dropped on Belgium, because air crews that turned back from their targets early for one reason or another, often dumped their load on Belgium while making the return trip. Belgium – a neutral country that surrendered to Germany early in the war – had no armaments, and it was therefore very safe to bomb them. Much like Laos during the Vietnam War, Belgium's lack of defensive armament meant that they received a disproportionately high amount of the strategic bombing attention from the US Air Force.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sgt. York

    Another waste of taxpayer dollers. There are millions of unexploded munitions laying around from friend and foe. Utterly impossible to track. How stupid.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      @Sgt. York: "Another waste of taxpayer dollers."

      I'm guessing you didn't read in the 2nd paragraph where he did it in his spare time? I applaud his initiative.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve harnack

      I guess that you should have read the article first. They've already done it so that puts a hole in your "utterly impossible", and I'd rather they spent the money finding the old ones rather than making and dropping new ones.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. prophit

    We'll see if the US Air Force is honest abut how heavily they bombed neutral, unarmed nations like Laos and Belgium.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      Considering there were tons of German soldiers in Belgium, I'd say those bombings were pretty necessary.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    "To Afford An Attitude" – We don't care what they cost, just drop em.
    Now you can't have an administration unless you can spend $4 Billion *A DAY*, and thier worried about what we expended in bombs since 1942, 1968, 1991-2012? Is this possibly a ploy to let the communists have thier way with us? Hmmmm?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Air Force officer’s database shows U.S. bombs since WWI
    The same database will tell you how many chicks the Air Force officer had in the last month, and also spits out a detailed report of how much Bud Light he drank last weekend.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Portland tony

    This effort put into project is by any measure astonishing .....While a majority of unexploded ordinance surrounding major population centers today is accounted new areas especially in South east Asia are gradually developed, this information will prove invaluable to governments and developers. We don't need civilians dieing from bombs dropped in anger from long forgotten wars!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bill

    They were Nazis, they had it coming.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chrissy

    It might be *able* to show how many bombs have been dropped, bettin it will show only how many the government wants us to know about!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Hope

    @ Chrissy:

    Like, where?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chrissy

    @ hopes troll, you are not going to bait me tonite, sorry to disappoint you.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
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