Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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January 20, 1942


Enemy air raids upon Illinois proper were viewed as very real possibilities in the early months of the war. It was speculated that German bombers could cross the North Atlantic and Greenland to a point toward the center of Hudson's Bay in Canada. From there they would fly due south to Chicago, the war industrial center of the Midwest. Presumably the bombers would refuel along the way at camouflaged air fields which would have been provisioned by Nazi submarines. As far fetched as this scheme may seem today, it should be remembered that American bombers delivered a totally unexpected attack on Tokyo in April of 1942.

Having checked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Hawaii, Japan swiftly was subduing most of Southeast Asia, including the American Philippines. In order to gain some initiative and to boost domestic morale, attacks on the Japanese capital and three other prominent cities were launched on the morning of April 18, 1942. Colonel James H. Doolittle led a force of sixteen army bombers which took off from the flight deck of the USS Hornet, from a position 670 miles east of Tokyo. Because these long-range planes were incapable of landing on aircraft carriers they proceeded on to Allied China once their mission had been accomplished.

Colonel Gowenlock wrote in a January 22 confidential reply to this inquiry that although almost anything could happen, he personally did not think that Chicago would be effectively bombed. He did advise cultural agencies however, to make detailed emergency plans whereby collections were cataloged and shipping containers, transportation means, and secure off-site storage locations were anticipated. And in an ominous note he stated, "In my opinion, we are facing dark days when the present world war ends. We will go through great adjustments (not readjustments), and it is quite possible that valuable treasures must be guarded for some time to come."

Points to Consider

Which kinds of treasures did the Museum of Science and Industry house?

Why was evacuation being considered and why was it hoped to be avoided?

Explain Chicago's strategic significance during World War Two.

Why was Lenox R. Lohr concerned about air raids on Chicago on January 20, 1942?

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