These Cameramen Risked Their Lives to Film the D-Day Landings

A fascinating documentary looking at the brave cameramen who accompanied Allied troops during the D-Day landings has been shared by the Imperial War Museum of London.

The six-minute short looks at cameramen embedded with British and Canadian troops who landed separately from the Americans.

The astonishing footage is now a valuable historical document but it was not without serious personal danger to the camera operators.

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) looks specifically at a specialized camera unit of the British Army which was created for the purposes of propaganda and historical record.

Formed in October 1941, the Army Film and Photography Unit (AFPU) was, in part, a response to Nazi propaganda which had been in production long before the British began to respond with their own.

As a British voiceover from a World War II propaganda film says, “The cameraman’s job is a highly specialized one. He must operate a complicated camera with hell let loose around him.”

Some of the camera operators went in with the very first waves of troops landing in Normandy on the Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches. The Americans landed in Utah and Omaha.

A camera operator with the number five AFPU, Ernest Walter, described being “very frightened” as “a lot of shell fire and mortar fire” exploded around the commando unit he was with.

The cameramen shot on a mute 35mm film motion picture camera in black and white. The camera they mainly used was the utilitarian DeVry Standard “Lunchbox” Camera.

It was called the Lunchbox because of its boxy, compact design, which resembled a lunchbox. The DeVry Standard was equipped with a spring-wound motor, allowing it to operate without the need for batteries or external power, a significant advantage in field conditions.

However, the camera’s lack of sound recording is somewhat tragic because as Sargent Grant describes in the doc, the cacophony of noise during D-Day as enemy machine gun fire and rockets would have certainly added to the film.

There were even bagpipes playing as the Allies stormed Nazi-occupied Europe but the IWM explains that the cameramen “simply couldn’t carry any more equipment”.

Some of the cameramen were harmed during their duties, one was seriously injured by a mortar shell while another colleague sustained an elbow injury from machine gun fire.

Across World War II more broadly, 25 members of the AFPU lost their lives.

However, the images that the AFPU captured were disseminated to newsreels and are now a valuable historical document.

Last month marked 80 years since D-Day.