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. ROCKWOOD

    I think this is very interesting and has merit.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. Greg

    What sort of missions are covered by THOR? I can imagine that there are record of which locations were targeting by strategic bombing during WWII. But what about bombs that were dropped away from the intended target – for example, to lighten an aircraft in distress – there is no way to know now where those bombs went. And what about tatical bombing missions – close air support. You might know the general location of a battle and if close air support was used – but I can not imagine the actual location at which the bombs were dropped is known. Thus, I'd guess THOR is incomplete at best.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
    • BombNotHere

      You're right. The database is imperfectable, so why bother at all? Why brush your teeth when you'll only get some of the plaque?

      August 1, 2012 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This would be closer to brushing your teeth with your finger. No water, one swipe each side.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Agreed I was thinking the same thing myself. Plus the accuracy in WWII was poor at best. What about unenteded drops, crashes and so on. I would like to see the error rate on this.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Sure, it may be incomplete. But what it offers is still probably much more convenient to access than digging up the info elsewhere. THOR is only as good as the source data, which may not be perfect. THOR was not designed to solve the data accuracy problem...it strictly solves the issue of convenient access to the data.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Ok – I agree that THOR is a worthwhile project if it is complete enough to serve enough of a purpose to be worth the expense of its construction. I can imagine that an incomplete THOR – even if seriously incomplete – is better than nothing. However, the article does a poor job of explaining those limitations.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. truthman

    Not accurate enough, and further complicated by the garbage in, garbage out" phrase. think about it for a second, did the bombers record exactly where each and every bomb was dropped? My dad, a navigator, surprised even himself at times if he plotted a course accurately, especially at night. Secondly, look at the resultant map... pretty messy from my perspective.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. DL

    Americans are easily prone to bomb other nations since we've NEVER been carpet bombed by foriegn nations – yet when 9/11 happened – we get hysterical

    August 1, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • WHY?

      You just turned around on your whole arguement...Of course the United States was hysterical after 9/11...Nothing like that had ever happened. Are you honestly trying to argue that the US should not have been hysterical after a mass killing? Even in foreign countries that have continued engagements and conflicts for different reasons, there is still chaos. So your comment brings nothing to the table. Please refrain from saying anything else because your discourse is tiresome and annoying.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      He also leaves out that said countries that were bombed were aggressors in other conflicts. The U.S. went to the aid of other nations. DL is the same kind of scrub that accuses the U.S. of not caring because we haven’t sent in the troop for the Syrian conflict. Then turns around and complains if we do.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      Since when did Pearl Harbor not count?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • blueyeddevil

      you're free to leave

      August 1, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Danno

      Yeah, DL. That's why we do it.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • snowdogg

      DL

      The loss of life and emotional trauma inflicted on the USA was real and significant. You sound like an non-compassionate fool in your post.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tcp

    @Shaperio – The OP simply believes he is correct (as do I). YOU, on the other hand choose to gripe, complain, stomp your feet, and rail against the "sheep" but ultimately you do NOTHING. So, who is wrong?

    August 1, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. ~~~

    i think we have a war problem.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. Portland tony

    I would think such information would be of use in South East Asia ...Vietnam and Cambodia etc... where a lot of bombs were dropped on since abandoned jungle outposts. Overtime these areas may be developed as the population and infrastructure expands. Nice to know before you build a highway on ground that was carpet bombed 50 or 60 years ago.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  8. chunk a chunk

    US is #1 in bomb dropping too...woohoo!

    August 1, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. BobZemko

    How depressing. I'm going out and getting bombed.

    August 1, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. StupidMagnet

    Sure hope they don't count some of mine in Vietnam, .. I know I dropped early to avoid fighters ...

    August 1, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  11. James

    Will this show how many innocent civilian lives were lost in America's wars?

    August 1, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. MICHAEL

    This has nothing to do with drugs, and bringing it up to spam your website seems silly. Not the proper thread for it.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. Frank

    People of the United States of America and DoD,
    OMG, are you all kidding me? Talk about government waste! What is the REAL ADDED Value in doing this?
    Stop it! Just stop it! put the money into urinals on the new generation of Aircraft Carrires!

    August 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      The value is that children playing in a field will come home with all their parts. Eat some fish already!

      August 2, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  14. hacksawviolence

    Just wait till the middleeast view is eligible for release hikes ive been around the region

    August 2, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    To Ted,
    Since I served in the Vietnam War and you probably didn't, the North Vietnamese overran SouthVietnam and we lost 55 thousand plus killed and MIA,to paraphrase and use General Colin Powell's words;If the NorthVietnamese broke it they own the country and the clean up should be their problem.I feel we should have nothing to do with the country for the next 100 years , let the people deal with the glory and wonder of what Communism has to offer!

    August 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
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