A Dataset of all American and British Bombing Missions in WWII

Sometimes you come across a dataset so interesting you just have to stop everything and visualize it. That’s what happened when I saw a tweet from @JulesGrandin  about the THOR database. THOR stands for Theater History of Operations Reports, and it’s a massive database published by the U.S. Defense Digital Service of all releasable U.S. air operations, including WWI, WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The data on WWII, which I downloaded, also includes Royal Air Force missions as well as some from the South Africa, Australian, and New Zealand Air Forces.

Here’s an animation (using CARTO) of all 178,263 WWII bombing missions from the database:

And here is a map of all the bombing missions colored by aircraft type. You can clearly see the prevalence of the B17 in the European theater, the B29 in Japan, and the P51 in China. Zoom in and click on the individual points to view other attributes of the bombing missions.

These maps barely scrape the surface of what is possible with this dataset. In addition to aircraft type there are many other attributes, including air force, unit, target type, bomb type, and tonnage of bombs dropped. This page from the Defense Digital Service provides some more interesting tidbits gleaned from the WWII data.

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4 thoughts on “A Dataset of all American and British Bombing Missions in WWII

  1. Outside the main theatres, there are some listings on here that have really puzzled me. There appears to be a single bomb dropped on Australian soil, it claims to be a submarine wake but it’s about 200m inland(Bay St, Tathra), is this just a slight error in the coordinates or a bad miss? Then the single raid in what is now Bangladesh(Chaugacha), the raid in northern Kazakhstan (which is listed as a raid in France if clicked on?) and the pair of raids in Niger (1 RAF, 1 USAF) are all very curious. Very interesting stuff, thanks for posting!

    • Thanks for the comment! The Kazakhstan point looks like it’s certainly an error – they messed up the longitude. Not sure about Australian or Bangladesh ones. Probably mistakes too. But the Niger one seems legit. I have no idea what they would have been targeting.

      • No worries, I rather enjoyed looking at it.

        The India/Bangladesh one seems to have raids on 3 separate dates, which is interesting. There are other listings for India in the directory that seem actually to be in Micronesia or the Marshall Islands, but I’m not sure how they could have been mixed up on this occasion.

        I suspect the Australian one is the location of the reporting office rather than the actual bombing, the details say they’re bombing “8 miles east of Tathra Head” and it would make sense (to me anyway) to mix up bombing location with reporting location in the records, particularly with so few allied bombing raids down there.

        One of the Niger missions (RAF) looks to be a mistake in the records, Lat is mis-entered so rather than 51N it is recorded 15N, so should really be in Emmerich in northern Germany near the border with the Netherlands, but the other (USAF) looks to be right and therefore is still a mystery! What were they up to…

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