As the world marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day
, RFE/RL has delved into the extensive British Pathé archive of newsreels to see how the Allied invasion of Western Europe, which began on June 6, 1944, was reported at that time.
1) Greatest Ever Combined Operation
"The mind recoils from the dimensions of it all...," says the commentator in this 10-minute clip recounting that huge amount of planning and logistics that went into organizing the biggest seaborne invasion in world history.
2) The Fall Of Caen
The town of Caen had been identified as a point of strategic importance
for the invaders and they set about taking it immediately upon landing in Normandy. German resistance was fierce, however, and it took the Allies some two months to take it. This video summarizes the battle and also clearly shows the devastation it caused. (As an added bonus, the very end of this video [3:15] offers an insight into some of the lengths that British Pathé cameramen would go to in order to get the right shot.)
3) Normandy Conquest
The rather triumphalist voiceover describing the vanquishing of "German parasites" is very much of its time, but this clip still offers a good overview of some of the mop-up operations that occurred after Allied forces had established a foothold in Normandy. Moments of particular interest include the "atmosphere of intense fervor" that accompanied General Charles De Gaulle's return to France after four years in exile (6:55) as well as George VI's subsequent arrival in France (8:30) to cries of "Long live the King of England" from French locals.
4) Behind The Lines In Normandy
This footage records a number of incidents that occurred in Normandy once Allied forces began exerting control over the region, including the unseemly sight of French women who had "associated with German soldiers" being subjected to public ridicule as their heads are forcibly shaved (0:35). The film also offers a fascinating account of the surrender of two battalions of Russian prisoners who had been "press-ganged" into fighting for the Germans (1:20).
5) Triumph In France (the fall of St. Malo)
After Allied forces began getting a firm grip on Normandy, a number of divisions were dispatched to clear the Brittany peninsula. Despite the claims of "fanatical German resistance" in this contemporaneous news clip, some historians maintain that the state of German defenses under Colonel Andreas von Aulock did not justify the massive firepower
that was unleashed to take the citadel of St. Malo.
In any event, the Allied victory is put to good propaganda use in this film, particularly when the camera lingers to record the arrest of a German soldier, who appears to be very drunk (1:05). "We will fight to the last drop of blood [Von Aulock] had declared," says the gleeful commentator. "But judging by the state of his orderly, they had fought to the last drop of something else!"
6) 'Invasion' -- German Newsreel
Sadly, there is no voiceover to add proper context to this soundless British Pathé newsreel that was never issued
, but it still gives one a good idea of how the D-Day invasion looked from the German perspective. There's also some decent footage of the formidable Axis coastline defenses around the four-minute mark.
You can also find a decent short historical account of D-Day using old British Pathé footage here
-- Coilin O'Connor