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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: 12 photos of ‘World War II: On the home front’

September 7, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

The photos for this week will show home front activities that supported World War II. Needless to say, the war was the dominant reality of life for Americans from before we entered WWII until well past its conclusion. That was nowhere more true than in Brooklyn. According to Thomas J. Campanella, author of last year’s masterpiece of research, writing and originality, “Brooklyn: Once and Future City,”

The war … was arguably Brooklyn’s finest hour. No place in America contributed more blood, sweat, and toil to defeating the Axis powers – nor more lives. Some 325,000 Brooklyn men and women served in the armed forces during the war, 11,500 of whom died; tens of thousands more labored in the borough’s booming defense industry, churning out everything from helmets, searchlights, and bombsights to battleships and ingredients for the atomic bomb.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

From the Navy Yard at the north end of the borough down to the Army Terminal and its Port of Embarkation in the southwest, to Floyd Bennett Field at its southeastern tip, Brooklyn was enclosed by ceaseless wartime activity. Here are some highlights:

  • The Navy Yard employed 70,000 people in 27 trades and professions. Within five years, they produced 17 of the most powerful warships ever built, including five aircraft carriers and three immense battleships.
  • From the N.Y. Port of Embarkation at the Army Terminal, three million soldiers sailed overseas, fully half the American troops who fought in the war. A third of all the material and equipment used in the war was sent from there as well.
  • Floyd Bennett Field was the site of Naval Air Station New York. As such, it was home to continuous training and coastal air patrols guarding against German submarines and protecting merchant ships. But its even greater role was the acceptance, testing, and ferrying of aircraft for delivery to combat theaters – totaling about 46,000 war planes in under four years.

Today’s photos:

We’ll start the week with some images of military activity and preparation in Brooklyn in the years before the U.S. entered the war. My father covered some of these scenes for the Eagle but many have no documentation. Once we entered the war, access to military sites was restricted and my father was no longer engaged in any armed services photography.

The first few pictures here are unidentified, but I think they’re interesting on their own. Then there are many from Floyd Bennett Field in 1940, when the Navy Reserve did extensive training there, but before the Navy actually took ownership of the field.

Check-up, drill, shoot: Undated and unidentified sites and soldiers

Interesting pictures, but with no information. The negatives are glass, which usually indicates the mid-1930s. If anyone can identify anything, please let me know.


Landing safely isn’t the end of the challenge: Floyd Bennett Field, March 13, 1940

I showed a picture of this parachutist way back on May 11. But he seemed to be managing – or trying to – all alone back then. Here we see that his parachute has a mind of its own, and some of his buddies take notice. They form a group, create a tug-of-war like lineup, and finally wrestle the thing into submission.


Leader and trainees: Floyd Bennett Field, March 13, 1940

Lt. Cmdr. Don F. Smith, with Navy Reserve trainees. The first picture shows Smith checking parachute rigging with trainee looking on. In the second photo he’s in the cockpit, in the third he’s starting the propeller and in the fourth he’s standing in the center of his group of students. The airplane is the new Curtiss Navy Dive Bomber, which he considered the best ever supplied to the Navy Reserve, largely because of its retractable fuselage which allowed for much greater speed.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 19: Photos of ‘World War II: On the home front’

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  1. I really love your pieces and your father’s photos. My novels “The El Trilogy” (The El, The Bells of Brooklyn and Brooklyn Roses) take place in these time periods and it gives such a sense of place. Plus, way back when, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was my great-grandfather’s favorite paper. Thank you for the care and insight you put into these pieces!

    • Phil Kaufman

      Thank you both for your comments. Andrew — I appreciate the correction. You say it’s a common error, but it seems like a simple enough situation to understand. Is there some way I should have known, or some source that you recommend? Cathy — Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m so glad the pictures bring you back to the setting for your novels — which I’ll look for. I’ll bet they could add to my appreciation of my father’s work. — Phil

      • Andrew Gustafson

        Phil – just saw your comment above. I think part of the problem is that all the other facilities except BAT closed after WWII, so as many Brooklynites know, BAT became synonymous with the Port of Embarkation after the war. I wish I could point you to an authoritative resource on this, but much of it comes from looking at original documents in the National Archives. I guess you’ll just have to wait for my book on BAT history (someday)!

  2. Andrew Gustafson

    These are wonderful photos, but I have to point out one thing: The New York Port of Embarkation, which encompassed dozens of facilities across the region, from Philadelphia to Upstate New York, sent 3.2 million soldiers overseas. The Brooklyn Army Terminal was just one facility of the NYPE, and only about 600,000 troops were deployed from that facility. This is a common error that elides the history of BAT with that of the entire port.