Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan drew great acclaim for its harrowing depiction of “D-Day,” the 1944 Allied landing operation that proved a decisive blow against Nazi Germany. More specifically, Spielberg and his creators recreated the landing on Omaha Beach, one of five code-named stretches of the Normandy coast. The video above depicts the landing on another, Juno Beach. This, its uploader stresses, “is not the famous movie D-day the Sixth of June but actual and real footage.” No wonder it feels more realistic than that 1956 Henry Koster spectacle — and, in another way, more so than Spielberg’s picture, whose use of not just color and widescreen dimensions but advanced visual effects made World War II visceral in a way even those who’d never seen combat could feel.
The taking of Omaha Beach was assigned to the United States Army, with support from the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the U.S., British, Canadian and Free French navies. As such, it made a suitable inclusion indeed for an American war story like Saving Private Ryan. Juno Beach, however, was primarily a Canadian job: that country’s army landed there under support from the Royal Canadian Navy (with additional help from several other Allied navies).
As on Omaha Beach, the troops who first landed on Juno Beach came under heavy German fire and sustained serious casualties. But within two hours the Allied forced managed to overcome these coastal defenses and began making their way inland — a direction in which the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division managed to push farther than any of D-Day’s other landing forces.
These Juno Beach D-Day clips benefit from a technology unavailable even in Saving Private Ryan‘s day: artificial intelligence-based enhancement and colorization processes. Originally shot in black-and-white like most (but not all) Army footage of the 1940s, it’s been “motion-stabilized, contrast- and brightness-enhanced, de-noised, upscaled, restored to full HD and artificially colorized.” The result looks crisp enough that anyone without first-hand memories of the Western Front — a generation, alas, now fast leaving the stage — may well forget that it isn’t a war film but a film of war. None of the participants are re-enactors: not the Allied troops boarding their boats by the hundreds, not General Dwight D. Eisenhower, not the German prisoners of war, and certainly not the wounded and dead. What’s more, none of their actions are rehearsed: as the 77th anniversary of D-Day approaches, we should remember that, whatever the bravery on their faces, not one of these men could have felt assured of victory.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.