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Rare Color Photos from World War II


Due to costs and scarcity, the vast majority of photos captured during World War II were shot on black-and-white film. Some images were captured in color, however, and those rare shots reveal what scenes from the Second World War looked like to people in them.

The Second World War in Colour is a new book published by Imperial War Museums (IWM) that contains many color photos of WWII published for the first time in 70 years.

During the war, the Ministry of Information in the UK controlled the flow of photos to the press. Between 1942 and 1945, the ministry got its hands on 3,000 color photos for record purposes. In 1949, photos from that collection became part of the IWM archives, which has amassed over 11 million conflict photos from World War I to the present day.

Here are some of the color WWII photos that can be found in The Second World War in Colour:

An Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) ‘spotter’ at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site, December 1942. Photo courtesy IWM.
A crew from the 16th/5th Lancers, 6th Armoured Division, clean the gun barrel of their Crusader tank at El Aroussa in Tunisia, May 1943. Photo courtesy IWM.
Nurses and convalescent aircrew at Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital at Halton in Buckinghamshire, August 1943. Photo courtesy IWM.
Lancaster Bombers nearing completion in Avro’s Assembly Plant at Woodford near Manchester, 1943. Photo courtesy IWM.
A 5.5-inch gun crew from 75th (Shropshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, in action in Italy, September 1943. Photo courtesy IWM.
General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at Supreme Allied Headquarters in London, February 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
Private Alfred Campin of the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry during training in Britain, March 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
British paratroopers prepare for a practice jump from an RAF Dakota based at Down Ampney in Wiltshire, 22 April 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
An Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden inspects damaged buildings in Holborn, London. Photo courtesy IWM.
The RAF’s top-scoring fighter pilot, Wing Commander James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, with his Spitfire and pet Labrador ‘Sally’ at Bazenville landing ground, Normandy, July 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
Dutch civilians dance in the streets after the liberation of Eindhoven by Allied forces, September 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery explains Allied strategy to King George VI in his command caravan in Holland, October 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
British soldiers admire the Caryatids on the Acropolis while sight-seeing in Athens, October 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.
Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) preparing parachutes for use by British airborne forces during the invasion of Europe, May 1944. Photo courtesy IWM.

“The images in this book show the vivid hues of the flames and fabrics, the intense blue skies, the sun-tanned faces and the myriad of colours of military camouflage,” says book author Ian Carter. “Black and white photography puts a barrier between the subject and the viewer, colour photography restores that missing clarity and impact.”

“As the most destructive war in history gradually fades from living memory, it becomes more important to take away the remoteness and bring the Second World War to life.”

The Second World War in Colour can be purchased from the Imperial War Museums online store for £14.99.

Image credits: All photographs from The Second World War in Colour and courtesy Imperial War Museums