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On June 24, 1942, the temporary Military Geology Unit of the U.S. Geological Survey was formalized after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested them to prepare terrain intelligence studies to meet wartime priorities. The entire Military Geology Unit wartime roster was 114 professionals, including 88 geologists, 11 soil scientists, and 15 other specialists; 14 were women. Assisting staff (illustrators, typists, photographers, and others) totaled 43. The unit produced 313 studies, including 140 major terrain folios, 42 other major special reports, and 131 minor studies. These reports contain about 5,000 maps, 4,000 photographs and figures, 2,500 large tables, and 140 terrain diagrams. Most products were designed in the beginning for general strategic planning in Washington and later for detailed strategic planning overseas; they utilized graphics and nontechnical, telegraphic-style tabular texts.

The Military Geology Unit's principal effort was the preparation of the terrain folios titled Strategic Engineering Studies. They varied somewhat in content and format, but the key components usually were introduction, terrain appreciation, rivers, road and airfield construction, construction materials, and water resources. The folios, produced at an average rate of about one per week and at an average cost of $2,500, were compiled from scientific journals, books, maps, and photographs available in the Washington area by a team of 3 to 8 scientists; 8 to 12 teams might be working concurrently. MGU personnel took great pride in never having missed a delivery deadline.

In 1944, 5 Military Geology Unit consultants were sent to Europe and 5-man teams were assigned to the Southwest Pacific Area and to the Central Pacific Area. Each team produced large-scale terrain reports, mostly from aerial photographs, and consulted with engineer units and tactical officers in the field. By the end of the war, a consolidated 20-man team worked in Manila at the headquarters of the Armed Forces Pacific.

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