The Normandy Invasion Captured on 16 mm Kodachrome Film (1944)

The Normandy Invasion, otherwise known as “Operation Overlord,” was launched by the Allies on June 6, 1944. On that day — D-Day — American, British and Canadian troops landed on five separate beachheads in Normandy, on the western shores of France. By the end of August 1944, the Allies had liberated all of northern France and started marching towards Nazi Germany.

At the time, the filmmaker George Stevens (1904-1975) was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps. Dwight D. Eisenhower, tasked with planning and carrying out the Allied invasion of Normandy, wanted film crews present at the invasion to provide footage for a documentary film. Stevens took charge of the Special Motion Pictures Unit and gathered a group of cameramen and writers dubbed the “Stevens Irregulars”. They used the standard Army motion picture stock, 35 mm black and white newsreel film. But they also brought along a hand-held camera and some 16 mm Kodachrome color film. Stevens shot several hours’ worth of color footage from France, Belgium and Germany. The scenes from the liberation of Dachau concentration camp are particularly shocking and left their mark on the lives of the cameramen. In 1994, Stevens’ son used this film footage to assemble the documentary George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Early Experiments in Color Film (1895-1935)

Hollywood didn’t start producing color feature films until the mid 1930s. (Becky Sharp, the first Technicolor film from 1935, appears in our collection of Free Movies Online.) But experiments with color filmmaking started long before that. Earlier this year, Kodak unearthed a test of Kodachrome color film from 1922 (above). But then you can travel back to 1912, when a filmmaker tested out a Chronochrome process on the beaches of Normandy. Or how about moving all the way back to 1895? Here we have footage from Thomas Edison’s hand-painted film Anabelle’s Dance, which was made for his Kinetoscope viewers. For more on the history of color film, visit here.

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Related Content:

How Technicolor Revolutionized Cinema with Surreal, Electric Colors & Changed How We See Our World

Color Film Was Designed to Take Pictures of White People, Not People of Color: The Unfortunate History of Racial Bias in Photography (1940-1990)

Tsarist Russia Comes to Life in Vivid Color Photographs Taken Circa 1905-1915

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