Operation Overlord was launched 76 years ago on June 6, 1944. Commonly known as D-Day – the military term for the first day of combat operation – it was the largest naval invasion in history and began the Battle of Normandy, which successfully opened a second, western front in occupied Nazi Europe.
Aware that the Normandy campaign would be a crucial step in the war, the Allies were ready to document it in detail with film and photography.
The ship’s landing column continues to Utah Beach on D-Day. Credit: © IWM (HU 102348)
“Everything in the previous year was a buildup of resources, manpower and planning, so the Allies knew it was going to be a huge deal … or a breach of contract,” said Anthony Richards, document and sound manager at the Imperial War Museum (IWM). ), it was said in a telephone conversation.
“With that in mind, it was very important for them to document it photographically and on film, as a historical event, but also for propaganda reasons.”
“They were very much on the front line. They got troops. They accepted the action as it happened. They would be under fire, so they were obviously very brave individuals who didn’t hold back,” Richards said.
Commanders of the 1st Special Service Brigade disembarked at Queen Red Beach, Sector Sword, at approximately 8:40 a.m. on June 6, 1944. Credit: © IWM (B 5103)
At around 6.30 am on 6 June, 160,000 soldiers who had crossed the English Channel overnight began to come ashore. The beaches were heavily fortified and full of obstacles.
Some images, such as the one above, show the exact landing moment of individual units.
“You can roughly see the soldier in front of him carrying bagpipes. That’s because he’s the pepper of that unit and he was supposed to start playing as they went through the water to maintain morale. In a way, it perfectly depicts the dangers and everything they’ve come up with faced, ”Richards said.
Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) repaired and packed the parachute in May 1944. Credit: © IWM (TR 1783)
On top of all that, the cameras the photographers worked with were very bulky.
There really was a risk that they would throw away their gear, especially when they were in the water, which would most likely ruin the film.
“We know for a fact that a lot of movies are damaged by seawater, while today you can throw cameras on the ocean floor and they would probably be fine,” Richards said.
After the battle, the film was returned to England, along with the drug dealer – a pattern that describes each image in the roll and the unit from which it arose.
Although most of the photos from the campaign are in black and white, towards the end of the war several thousand images were taken using a newly developed color film that reveals details that would otherwise be lost.
German prisoners were escorted along one of the Gold area beaches on D-Day. Credit: © IWM (B 5257)
These images offer a rare glimpse into this decisive victory. “This visual record brings it all to life and really puts it in perspective,” Richards said.
“That’s the greatest value of images like these: They help us deal with history and put ourselves in the place of those soldiers.”
Picture above: General Montgomery depicts Winston Churchill, the Battle of Normandy on July 22, 1944.
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