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Signal Corps photographers capture D-day

by Mike Rodgers

Did you know the first photographs of the D-day landing were taken by Signal Corps photographers and delivered by carrier pigeons?

On D-day some of the first men on shore were the 165th Photographic Company's combat photographers, commanded by Capt. Herman Wall. They trained for months at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

Wall took along three boxes of pigeons on D-day to send to England the first film of the invasion.

For nearly an hour after Wall and his men landed, they photographed activities on their section of the landing area. Unfortunately, as Wall started down the beach to another area, he was hit and badly wounded.

Pinned down along with other wounded men, he lay in the field of fire, where rescue was impossible at the time. Finally an amphibious truck maneuvered close enough to allow Wall and some of the other wounded to be rescued under heavy German fire.

Detachment P of 290th Signal Photographic Company, commanded by Lt. George Steck, landed at Omaha Beach. The detachment consisted of Steck, two still photographers and two motion-picture cameramen. They had arrived as part of the first pre-dawn assault wave, but couldn't immediately take photographs because they'd need to use flashbulbs, which would alert the German defenders on shore.

When daylight broke they started snapping their invasion pictures. Some of the most impressionistic photos taken that day came from Steck's detachment. The photographers shot pictures of men checking their equipment and saying goodbye to their friends before battle. They captured on film the first casualties being brought back and the D-day invasion's second wave.

They got shots of the Germans' big guns hitting the water, casting up huge walls of spray; of medical corpsmen working ceaselessly, administering aid to the wounded; of men who had been killed even before they reached shore; and of Germans who were taken prisoners.

Most important, they got forever on film American soldiers methodically working their way forward toward the relentless Germans.

Mr. Rodgers is the exhibits designer at the U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum, Fort Gordon, Ga. A published author on various historical aspects of the Signal Corps, he has attended the University of Georgia as well as the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Last modified on:
April 04, 2012

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