Operation Overlord began 76 years ago on June 6, 1944. Commonly known as D-Day – a military term for the first day of a combat operation – it was the largest naval invasion in history and began the Battle of Normandy, which opened with success a second, western front in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Knowing that the Normandy campaign would be a critical step in the war, the Allies prepared to document it extensively through films and photographs.
A column of the landing craft is advancing on Utah Beach on day D. Credit: © IWM (HU 102348)
“Everything about last year was a concentration on it, in terms of resources, human resources and planning, so the Allies knew it was going to be a huge deal … or a break in the deal,” said Anthony Richards, chief of The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington bureau. documents and audio at the Imperial War Museum (IWM), he said in a telephone interview.
“With that in mind, it was very important for them to document it photographically and in film, as a historical fact but also for propaganda purposes.”
“They were very much in the front line with the troops going. They were recording the action as it happened. They would be under fire, so they were obviously very brave people who were not holding back,” Richards said.
The commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade landed on the beach “Queen Red”, Sword, at 8.40 am. on June 6, 1944. Credit: © IWM (B 5103)
At 6:30 a.m. on June 6, the 160,000 troops that had crossed the English Channel overnight began to land. The beaches were fortified and full of obstacles.
Some of the images, such as the one above, show the exact time when individual units landed.
“You can almost see the soldier just in front of the gaiters. That’s because he’s the pepper for that unit and he was going to start playing as they went through the water to maintain their morale. In a way, that’s it. Perfection shows the dangers and everything they faced, “Richards said.
Members of the Women’s Air Force (WAAF) parachute repair and packaging in May 1944. Credit: © IWM (TR 1783)
In addition, the cameras with which the photographers collaborated were very bulky.
There was a real risk that they would drop their equipment, especially when it was in the water, which would probably have ruined the film.
“We know that many of the films have been damaged by seawater, and today you can shoot cameras at the bottom of the ocean and it’s probably okay,” Richards said.
After the battle, the film was transferred to England along with a sheet of paper – a form that describes each image on the roll and the unit from which it originated.
Although most of the photos from the campaign are in black and white, a few thousand images were taken at the end of the war using a recently developed color film, revealing details that would otherwise have been lost.
German detainees are escorted along one of the beaches in the Gold area to D-Day. Credit: © IWM (B 5257)
These images offer a rare picture of this decisive victory. “This visual record brings it all to life and really puts it in perspective,” Richards said.
“This is the ultimate value of images like these: They help us deal with history and put ourselves in the shoes of these soldiers.”
Top Picture: General Montgomery shows Winston Churchill the state of war in Normandy on July 22, 1944.