On June 6 1944, over 160,000 allied soldiers landed on the beaches Normandy or dropped behind the German coastal defenses. The D-day invasion was the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken. This week’s featured video draws on films of the event from the Fox Movietone News Collection and the C.E. Feltner, JR. Collection.
The first 23 seconds are from Feltner’s collection of Signal Corps films. The opening scene shows U.S. soldiers in a Royal Navy Landing Craft Assault (LCA) approaching what may be “Dog Green” on the western expanse of Omaha Beach, the section of beach depicted in Saving Private Ryan.
The soldiers are likely from the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. The second sequence features the more famous landing craft (the Higgins boat—technically called Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel or LCVP) approaching Omaha at a different sector.
Scenes three through five show the desolation of the early morning at Omaha. Exposed American soldiers struggle step by step forward. One falls alone on the beach after being struck by a German bullet, which can be seen splashing into the surf after passing through the soldier. The final sequence from Omaha was taken from the safety of the chalk cliffs of the Omaha beachhead, looking westward as the Omaha landings founder.
The Feltner collection also contains the famous film of Canadian forces from the Queen’s Own Rifles debarking from an LCA at Juno Beach—this sequence was filmed by Canadian Film Photographic Unit (CFPU) cameraman, Bill Grant. There is also a still unidentified clip of British or Canadian forces landing somewhere along the beachhead.
The films from the Fox Movietone Collection begin one minute into this compilation and feature British forces in action at Sword Beach. Unlike the films of Omaha from the Feltner Collection these films were censored and released to American newsreel companies. Cameramen of the British No.5 Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) shot all of these films. The initial scenes of British forces debarking from the LCA depict elements of Lord Lovat’s 4th Commando coming ashore near Ouistreham. These sequences were filmed by Ian Grant as he is known to have come ashore with the Commandos. Other scenes feature units of what is probably the British 3rdInfantry Division fighting in and around Ouistreham off Sword Beach. We can identify these cameramen by the hand written slates they used to indentify their films.
They are: Sgt. Richard Leatherbarrow, Sgt. George Laws, and Sgt. Norman Clague (who was killed in action six days later). The comparison between the more rapid movement inland of the Canadian and British forces on Juno and Sword and the American struggle to hold onto Omaha is striking.
Why were films of British units distributed to American newsreel companies? There simply wasn’t much motion picture film of the American beaches available to distribute. Much of the film shot by U. S. Army Signal Corps was lost in the English Channel when the ship carrying the undeveloped film back to London for processing was sunk.
The complete film can be seen at http://library.sc.edu/mirc/playVideo.html?i=152