A nation liberated at last: Astonishing online archive of pictures taken in the days after D-Day reveals the carnage and courage of WWII
By Hugo Gye
These extraordinary photographs provide a unique on-the-ground view of the immediate aftermath of the 1944 D-Day invasion.
The campaign heralded the beginning of the end of the Second World War, as 160,000 Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of France to liberate it from the occupying Nazi forces.
The iconic operation - the largest sea invasion in history - has been chronicled in numerous films, books and TV series, but as these images show, there is still an enormous amount of previously unseen material captured by the troops who took part in the heroic mission.
Historic: A nurse from the Army Nurse Corps preparing dressings in a tent at the 13th Field Hospital Saint Laurent sur Mer near Omaha Beach near Omaha Beach on June 15, 1944. Nurses arrived in the combat zone after the 12th of June
Poverty: The picture on the left shows a group of French people in Normandy in July 1944, devastated by years of German occupation. Right, a group of soldiers from the 317th Infantry Regiment of the 80th U.S. Infantry Division posing in the street of a conquered town. The soldier playing the accordion has been identified as H.C. Medley
Destruction: Some of the pictures, such as this incredible view of the bombed-out town of Agneaux, show the extreme damage wreaked on the French countryside. The two boys are watching an American Jeep drive past the rubble-strewn landscape
Intriguingly, they record the often-overlooked contribution of women to the success of the operation. The photos show the nurses who arrived after the initial landings to treat wounded soldiers in field hospitals. The conditions would have been harrowing - an estimated 12,000 Allied troops died in the fighting.
One of the images shows Lt Col Anna 'Tony' Wilson, the U.S. Women's Army Corps staff director for the European theatre. She was 34 and commanded 6,500 UK-based female troops.
There are 3,000 photographs in the project, most in black and white but some in colour, including a starkly beautiful image of two boys watching an American Jeep drive past the rubble-strewn landscape.
Another shows the Oscar-winning actor Edward G Robinson entertaining troops. A popular star during Hollywood's Golden Age, the Romanian-born Jew is best remembered for his roles as gangsters, such as Rico in his star-making film Little Caesar and as Rocco in Key Largo.
They also show British and American troops preparing for battle, relaxing between skirmishes and just occasionally enjoying the northern French summer.
D-day: Part of the flotilla which invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944 in order to wrest control from the Germans. Online historians have helped identify the ships as Group 30, Series 11, flotilla 9, convoy U1-F
Poignant: A soldier from the 1st U.S. Infantry Division stares at the camera as he is surrounded by injured comrades near Omaha Beach. He has been identified as Nicholas Fina, who lived in Brooklyn, New York
Bystanders: (Left) Refugees stand along a wall in the Mortain region as the Allied troops fight to regain Normandy. (Right) A surreal image of a doll posed against the concrete post as an enormous American M5A1 tank from the 3rd Armored Division drives past
Party: A gathering of GIs in a building, watching actor Edward G. Robinson brandish a rocket pistol taken from defeated German troops. He has given his trademark cigar to a soldier directly behind him
Grim: Under the baking sun, German prisoners dig tombs for the casualties of battle at a temporary cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer
This haul is part of PhotosNormandie, a French project aiming to publish and classify thousands more photographs taken on the Normandy front line from June to August 1944.
They were originally published by the 'Archives Normandie', but Michel Le Querrec and Patrick Peccatte were dissatisfied by the gaps in the captions of the historically groundbreaking images.
In 2007 they started re-posting the photographs to Flickr, and inviting web surfers to add their own additional information to the digital files.
Anyone can comment on the pictures and correct errors, allowing the collection to harness the collective skills of internet users to build up a valuable historical archive.
Socialising: This picture from August 1, 1944, shows a sergeant with members of the U.S. Women's Army Corps. The woman in the centre is Lt Col Anna 'Tony' Wilson, the WAC staff director for the Europe. She was 34 and commanded 6,500 female troops
Welcome: Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley stand on the steps of Château des Mares, left; a policeman salutes the liberation of Cherbourg, right
Embarkation: D-day, or Operation Overlord, saw troops setting off from Weymouth for the invasion of Normandy
Contemplation: Colonel William D. Bridges of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade pauses in front of a temporary cemetery
Festival spirit: American GIs are mobbed by locals in the main street of the town of Granville
Hard at work: Private Alfonton Ortega, from Los Angeles, sets up wooden crosses which will be used as grave markers
Logistics: A Dodge WC 51 crosses a pneumatic pontoon bridge, capable of supporting weights of up to four tonnes
The pictures also lay bare the terrible toll the war took on those caught up in it - the countryside is carpeted in ruined buildings, while soldiers are shown making wooden crosses to mark the graves of those who fell fighting.
There are also striking photographs of local residents, reduced to grinding poverty during the German occupation.
The project is ongoing, and the curators of PhotosNormandie welcome contributions from those willing to lend their skills to the annals of military history.
Wish us luck: Sailors prepare to set off from Weymouth carrying thousands of troops over the Channel to Normandy
Helping hand: Four civilians carry baskets full of flowers around a temporary cemetery, placing one on each grave
Surrender: A Canadian soldier helps a German officer out of his half-track vehicle from the 2nd Panzer Division outside a U.S. aid station near Chambois
Examination: Soldiers from the 2nd Armored Division handle a submachine gun they have taken from a captured German soldier at Notre-Dame de Cenilly
Shade: Two women wearing sunglasses relax in the shadow of a Waco glider, surrounded by American military policemen
Bombed out: The church in Roncey, which was largely destroyed as a result of conflict between the Allies and the Nazis
Supervision: African-American soldiers watch German prisoners unloading casualties' corpses from a wagon near Colleville-sur-Mer
Engineering: Three GIs inspect a launch ramp north of Brix on June 20, 1944 - two weeks after the D-day landing
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Day After D-Day
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