From the Journal Archive: D-Day

06 June 2019

Society news

The RPS Journal Archive is an important legacy collection which is free for everyone to view. It contains items of photographic as well as social history interest. 

In this issue from May 1946 we receive a valuable insight into the D-Day landings:

D-Day Operations 

"And now, one final story of photography in operation at probably the most important moments of the war,

Shortly before D-Day the Navy photographic section at Tipner received instructions to undertake a very special job, which proved to be both a photographic nightmare and a photographic triumph. 

One hundred feet down, in the coastal headquarters of SHAEF. was situated the nerve centre of the great Combined Operation which would carry our invasion armada to its predetermined destinations and set ashore its human and armament cargoes. Four thousand ships were to be engaged, and the whole of this vast movement was to be observed and controlled from this nerve centre. The room, less than 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, was of tunnel formation. Nearly the whole of the floor space was occupied by a huge table bearing a Perspex-covered chart of our own coast from Land’s End to Dover, the enemy coast to be invaded, and the channel between, with all details of minefields, natural features and other items necessary to the operation. 

This chart was duplicated on one wall of the tunnel, and alongside this and all over the wall at one end were other charts and dials conveying masses of ancillary information. On one side of the tunnel opposite the chart wall was a dais containing apparatus, including many telephones, and above this dais was a balcony to be occupied by the Commander-in-Chief and the other principal officers directly associated with him in the conduct of this great enterprise. 

Throughout the operation, as Information flowed into the room through every possible channel, the highly-trained staff would more about the chart the thousands of tokens used to indicate the various vessels engaged. There would be about 60 persons in that room, each with his or her own clearly defined task to perform. 

The task allotted to the photographic officer was the recording of every detail of this complex mass of visual information at frequent intervals, without interfering with the main activities. 

The room was illuminated with tubular lighting. For photographic purposes this was supplemented with 4 kilowatts of incandescent lighting, reflected from the tunnel roof. 

Twelve Leica cameras. in four groups of three, were fixed to the balcony rail on swivel heads and disposed so that between them they covered the whole field. Antinous releases were made from Bowden bicycle cable, and one man operated the whole of the equipment. At a given word everybody present "froze” the operatives at the chart stepped back to give a clear view of it and the photographer rapidly made his twelve exposures. 

Normal work was resumed and the photographer wound on the film in his twelve cameras. This happened every ten minutes, day and night. for the first three days, the cameramen working in twelve-hour shifts, and for the ensuing three months was continued in gradually diminishing frequency. 

From every one of the negatives so obtained three whole-plate enlargements were prepared, a mass of work which greatly taxed the resources of Tipner, but was successfully completed. The photographs revealed with perfect crispness every required detail. This use of photography made it unnecessary to employ a large body of individual observers making individual notes.

Subject to the hazard of individual error, and from the results obtained the history of the operation was eventually written."


To read more from this issue click here