Behind the Scenes at IHRA

From Warpath Across the Pacific to the first volume of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, our books have become the standard for World War II unit histories as well as a go-to for the history of the air war in the Pacific Theater. How did we get here? We’ll take you through part of the process of how we turn piles of photos and information into the next great installment of the Eagles Over the Pacific series.

It starts with gathering as much primary source material as possible: photos, personal diaries, letters, interviews, squadron and unit reports, medal citations, missing aircraft crew reports, and so on. Material borrowed from individual veterans was processed first, so it could be returned in a somewhat timely fashion. Before the days of scanners, photos of the photos were taken, printed out, and organized into reference binders by month. The original photos were then returned to the veterans who graciously loaned them to us. Several copies were printed so they could be added to designated binders such as: date binders, bases and targets, squadron, appendix and color photos, general unit information, and miscellaneous. These days, any new photos we receive are scanned at a high resolution, digitally repaired to get rid of scratches or stains, and added to our database. We are also in the midst of a mass digitization of the reference binders—although keeping the digital database organized is a difficult task unto itself!

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Diaries were also scanned and usually transcribed to make it easier for later referencing, and then returned, if we had received the original copy. Squadron and unit reports are also transcribed. These reports were obtained on trips to the National Archives, Maxwell Air Force Base, and other places. All the paper material is copied, then organized into monthly folders, which we call date files. The size of these files depends on how much happened in a given month. Any new information we receive, which happens often, is immediately added to a chapter or filed for adding later.

43BG date files at IHRA

Here are some of our 43rd Bomb Group date files.

Everything in these file folders has been typed up into documents divided by month, which we call our research drafts. These files are incredibly important to our co-authors as they begin the process of writing each chapter. Over the years, we have also built up a large reference library, which is also available to our co-authors looking for additional information to fill out a unit’s history. While writing the chapter, the co-author always has an eye on the photo binders. Photos are selected and added to the draft in tandem with the manuscript itself, as the two are tied so close together. This is also when the captions are written—and sometimes, they’re the trickiest part of the chapter.

After the photos and text have been (mostly) finalized, it’s time for the first layout that brings them together on the page. This process is similar to scrapbooking, except that it’s on a computer and not as colorful. Each chapter is laid out, later followed by the front matter, appendices, color section, and end matter. Chapters always go through at least five rounds of editing. Beyond editing the text for factual and grammatical errors, photos are resized, added, moved, or deleted. Chapters might be combined or broken up for better flow.

IHRA screen shot of work in progress

This image is taken from the layout file of Appendix IV in our next book. This appendix focuses on markings and insignia of the 43rd Bomb Group during the B-24 era.

The process is repeated for the appendices and the color section, but with a few differences. Come back next week as we tackle the rest of the process from layout to printing. Questions or comments so far? We’d love to answer them below.

29 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes at IHRA

  1. Interesting and goes part way to explaining why it takes so long to produce a quality monograph. No doubt maintaining consistency in how the documents are stored and retrived is a vital backstage process, as is the several rounds of editing.


  2. That’s a lot of work! Do you set a dealing for ‘no more additions’ or do you continually add new information as it comes? I presume you had publication deadlines to work to – or maybe not?


  3. Pingback: From a Layout to a Book: Behind the Scenes at IHRA | IHRA

  4. Based on the boxes and gigabytes of material I’ve generated over twenty-plus years of research on a single crew, my mind reels at what must have been generated for each of the group histories. I think IHRA has done them the only way it could have, and the end results are remarkable for their detail yet readability. It’s fine line between being comprehensive and yet telling a story. The IHRA histories have always done a remarkable job of covering the details without becoming mind-numbing recitations of facts. People want Genesis, not Numbers. Hats off to Larry Hickey and all the trials he’s been through in seeing these projects to their respective ends, and a huge thanks to those who saw the vision well enough to give him the invaluable assistance it required.


    • Thank you very much! You have certainly done your fair share of research as well. Dispelling the myths of Zeamer’s Medal of Honor mission and finding out as much as you can about that crew shows persistence and dedication to a job well done. You have also written up your findings in a way that’s easy to read. We look forward to following your progress towards a finished novel…and beyond.


  5. What an informative article! I found you through GP Cox and his Pacific Paratrooper blog as he has been assisting me with my research into my paternal grandfather. He was on the Prince of Wales when sunk in the South China Sea on Dec 10, 1941.
    I really need to come back and delve through your past posts to see if I can find any material that helps in my research.
    As an author, I am astounded by the meticulous methodology used by IHRA. Hats off!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There is one particular area I need to clear up if at all possible. I know that something like 2000 survivors from the Prince of Wales and Repulse, including my grandfather, were rescued from the water and taken back to Singapore on or about Dec 10/11 1941.
    That’s where the records I have (his Admiralty Naval Record) are quite frankly not credible.
    They show him as part of the ship’s company of the Prince of Wales on the date of the sinking and the same day as a rating belonging to HMS Lucia.
    I accept that he served on the latter named ship but find it hard to believe he “skipped” from one ship to another on the same day when the whole scenario was one of utter chaos.
    No doubt the entry I refer to was born out of administrative convenience but for the purpose of writing my book, I am seeking more information as to the most likely scenario.
    I already know that some of the Prince of Wales crew were sent to Penang as reinforcements and yet more of them were taken to Colombo in various ships.
    I rather think it was the latter that happened to my grandfather who was a 42-year-old long service Able Seaman in 1941..He was probably drafted to a relatively “cushy” ship (the Lucia was a submarine depot ship) owing to his age. I read one account that said the Lucia was not fired upon or fired its own guns from 1941 until the end of the war in Europe in 1945.
    I have used the UK Freedom of Information Act to request his MOD Pay and Victualling records so that may shed some light on the situation.
    So, to sum up I am looking for contemporaneous accounts that may shed light on his movements between the date of the sinking and becoming part of the crew of the Lucia, his last ship in his almost unbroken 30 years of Royal Navy service from 1916. I say almost because he was pensioned off in 1939 to be called up again in the same year at the outbreak of WW2.
    Best Wishes


  7. Excellent work by all concerned, fantastic to see that all detail is kept and recorded in chronological order, a massive enterprise that will be available to future generations.
    Well done guys, your not only recording history, but paying a tribute to all those who made that history.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Looking Back at Our Top Posts of 2016 | IHRA

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