The brave ones shot bullets; the crazy ones shot film!

The brave ones shot bullets; the crazy ones shot film – Quote from ‘Joseph Longo, founder of the International Combat Camera Association’

The brave ones shot bullets; the crazy ones shot film by Ade Pitman


Why photograph the war – quote from Norman Hatch – “Often a Marine would say ask me why I was there. I simply told them that I had to be there every bit as much as they did, to show the people back home what our guys were doing, so that the public would support our efforts.

The work of my Cameramen was used for training purposes, public affairs and operational use; to learn lessons that could save lives in future landings. Since the first pictures were taken of a battlefield during the American Civil War, Combat Photographers have played an ever greater role in warfare. As General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe once said; “ Correspondents have a job in war as essential as the military personnel because public opinion wins wars”.

Some images proved so iconic that the effect they had on public opinion and morale made them worth many divisions of troops, such as the famous photograph made by Joe Rosenthal, of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi. It is said that this image alone raised millions of dollars in war bonds. Such was the priority given to photographing WW2, that during major operations the availability and placement of Combat Photographers was taken into account during planning. It was though this, that around 100 Allied cameramen were available to cover the D-Day landings.

This planning went awry when fate stepped in to destroy much of the D-Day footage. Towards the end of the day’s fighting Combat Photographers gave their footage and undeveloped films to an officer to take back to England for developing. Unfortunately the bag in which this was being carried was dropped into the sea as the officer was clambering onto one of the offshore landing craft. A similar disaster struck Robert Capa, when a developing error destroyed most of the images he had made on Omaha Beach.

Why reenact a Combat Cameraman?
Many circumstances encourage people to portray Combat Photographers. In my case it was a combination of being a keen photographer, and a feeling that I was a little too old for the combat infantryman look, as ever more grey hairs appeared. Portraying a Combat Photographer allows both the opportunity to get up close and personal with the action, while not spoiling the look of the battle for others.  The grey hair doesn’t matter either; as although most Combat Photographers were younger, the oldest one on the beaches of Tarawa was fifty-four.  The role of photographer or War  Correspondent also offers an interesting theme for female reenactors, as many women served as both Photographers and Correspondents during WWII.

Due to the anonymity of most Combat Photographers, the general public are usually unaware of this important aspect of modern warfare. Reenacting the role helps to pay homage to the (approx.) 24,000 Allied Combat Photographers who lost their lives bringing us the images that today we take for granted in books and on TV. There’s two type of Combat Photographer reenactors; those that reenact and take photos, and those who don`t use their camera.

Why do I portray a Combat Photograper?
Essentially I’m a photographer who reenacts. It started with a simple wish to get closer to the action  without being conspicuous. As Robert Capa said; “If your combat shots aren`t good enough, you`re not close enough”; and I wanted my shots to be among the best. So I had to get closer. On my first outing this theory paid dividends, when I was invited to photograph Veterans of the Band of Brothers at an event.  Seconds before their arrival the ‘normal’ press arrived. Dressed head to toe in US Airborne uniform, I persuade them that they were underdressed and should really stay outside of the roped off area. I was then able to take up close and personal shots of the visit, which were exclusives and not spoilt by having modern clothing in view. The group I was covering loved the shots.

Curiosity

Portraying a specialist field of which there is little written tends to make you curious as to the subject, so I made links with the US Combat Cameraman’s Association and sought their advice on my impression. They seemed genuinely happy that someone was taking the time to reenact their role and bring their work to the public.

One thing as they say led to another, and eventually I received an email from Mr Norman Hatch inviting me to call him for a chat.  This for me was one of those ‘I’m  not worthy moments’, and I sat dumbfounded and speechless looking at the email.Norman Hatch was the chief USMC Combat (movie) Camerman at Tarawa, responsible for filming one of the few pieces of footage of both sides in combat that were taken during WWII. He then went ashore at Iwo Jima
H&S

You have to be aware – as Norman Hatch told me

I asked Norman about his comment on the ‘Unsung Heroes’ DVD, where he said that he felt that he was ‘living in the movie, disassociated with everything that was going on around.

“………. it’s impossible to get good footage while down in the dirt. You have to stand up and walk around; so there I was walking around, while the guys shooting were down in the dirt getting as low to the ground as they could. Once the adrenaline starts moving you stop being afraid and get on with your job.
I figured the Japs wouldn’t shoot me as they thought I was a crazy-man; just like the Indians in the old cowboy movies, who never killed the old crazy-man as they believed that to be bad karma……”
Military Combat Photographers were trained as infantrymen, with a specialisation as a photographer; be this stills, movie or developing technician, and were issued the same uniform and equipment as the troops they served alongside.  Even so, as would be expected in the combat zone they were prone to bartering ‘images for goods’, and regularly equipped themselves with a variety of other equipment and uniforms that worked for them. It’s not uncommon to see photographs of Combat Photographers wearing the coveted Corcoran jump boots, and there’s a story of one enterprising US Cameraman serving on the Italian front bartering for a British Infantryman’s uniform, as it was warmer than his issued GI alternative.

When I asked Art Schmitz, one of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne what their Combat Photographer wore, he told me; “Our ‘photog wore the same kit as us; the long winter greatcoat and helmet with liner. Most of the time he was too busy as our bazooka man, but one evening during an aerial bombing, he was rushing around taking flash pictures. This concerned us a great deal!”

It is this variety and individualism that can make portraying the role of a Combat Photographer so interesting for reenactors; but rather than just add a garment of kit and say that it was ‘acquired’, for authenticity always strive to find the reference photo first.

Combat Photographers Weapons

Although having trained on all standard US weapons, military Combat Photographers in the field soon found that carrying all of their film and equipment made it impossible to carry a rifle, let alone use one. Because of this, most can be seen armed with just a pistol and a knife, which was equally useful for opening film cartons.  Some period photos show M1 Carbines being used, with Tommy Amer, a photographer with Merrill’s Mauraders being photographed carrying the folding-stock ‘para’ version of the M1 Carbine behind enemy lines in Burma.

The core role of the Combat Photographer however was to capture the action on film, and all being well there would always be plenty of Infantryman around them using their rifles, so there was no need to carry one.

Cameras

The stock workhorse camera of the US Signals Corp Combat Cameramen was the Speed Graphic 4×5 still camera and the Bell & Howell Eymo 35 mm movie camera. Both of these however were massive cameras and totally unsuited to combat photography.  Civilian cameramen tended to use a wider range of cameras. Robert Capa, for example carried a German made Contax II 35mm camera when he went ashore at Omaha Beach, and Leicas were also popular.

Being primarily a reenacting photographer, I use a digital SLR; as the shots are more important to me than using period equipment.

To protect this from the rigours of ‘combat’ it’s protected in a rubber armour case, with a skylight filter protecting the lens. The tell-tale brand name sling has been discarded, and replaced with a musette bag strap, so as to disguise it as best as possible.

Displays

The Effective Combat Photographers unit

The Combat Photographer or War Correspondent is an ideal look for a small group of like minded reenactors or individuals, as they operated in small units in the field, attached to the combat units.

Typically there would be a driver, a ‘stills’ man and a movie man.

They were issued with their own vehicle and were highly mobile units, attaching themselves to whichever unit they needed, in order to achieve their photographic assignment. This could be on the frontline, or covering a VIP meeting; which made for an interesting life for these specialist GIs, and a varied theme for those reenacting the role.

Combat Photographers were also extensively trained in military etiquette and map reading, and needed to find their way to assignment locations which were often on the frontline. Reading a map wrongly under these circumstances could be extremely hazardous to their health.

Interesting facts

•    At the end of 1944, the Allied Press Bureau in Paris was censuring 35,000 photographs a week.  [Ref: Great photographers of WWII ]

•    By the end of WW2 500,000 still photographs had been supplied to various American press agencies. [Ref: Great photographers of WWII ]

[References]

Armed with cameras:   Peter Maslowski; ISBN 978-0-684-86398-6
Shooting War DvD; ISBN 1-4170-0693-5
How the war was won DVD
Great photographers of WWII; Chris Boot; ISBN1-85422-512-X
US Army Photo Album; Jonathan Gawne; ISBN 2-908-182-408
Minicam Photography magazine, Jan 1944
Personal interview with Norman Hatch, USMC. www.theworldatwar.info

Article by Ade Pitman

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