They’re iconic images which capture the brutal reality of the D-Day landings 69 years ago today – but they were nearly lost forever.
War photographer Robert Capa took these remarkable close-up photos – named The Magnificent Eleven – which show Allied troops in the second wave landing on Omaha beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
The Hungarian bravely took 106 photographs while wading through the water just off the French coast but because of a blunder when processing the film in London, all but 11 of the images were lost.
The images were sent to Life magazine’s office in Britain where picture editor John Morris told staff in the dark room to ‘rush!’ as they did the developing.
In their haste, worker Dennis Banks shut the doors on a wooden locker where the film was drying and 95 of the images melted as the negatives were destroyed.
Three whole rolls were lost, and more than half of the fourth.The useless film was tossed in a dustbin that same night and lost forever.
There were no other pictures taken from so close to the frontline landings on D-Day so The Magnificent Eleven provide the only enduring images from Normandy.
D-DAY LANDINGS AT OMAHA BEACH
Around 160,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
There was an initial airbourne assault with 24,000 being parachuted into France before the sea landings began at dawn.
Omaha Beach is five miles long and one of five sections of coastline that troops landed on.
However, they met strong resistance from the German forces who were stationed at strongpoints along the coastline.
The Americans suffered 2,400 casualties on D-Day on Omaha Beach – although around 34,000 troops landed successfully.
The landings were chaotic with boats arriving at the wrong point and others getting into difficulties in the water.
Troops managed only to gain a small foothold on the beach – but they built on their initial breakthrough in the coming days and a harbour was opened at Omaha.
‘The boatswain, who was in an understandable hurry to get the hell out of there, mistook my picture-taking attitude for explicable hesitation, and helped me make up my mind with a well-aimed kick in the rear. The water was cold, and the beach still more than a hundred yards away.’
He dived for cover behind a steel object before heading onward in the water for a disabled American tank as he snapped away furiously.
The photographer held his camera high above his head to stop his precious film being damaged and later ran towards an incoming landing craft. He was hauled aboard and spirited away to England where most of his shots were inadvertently destroyed in the developing room.
Capa, who died in 1954 in Vietnam while working after stepping on a landmine, was wrongly listed as dead in the aftermath of the battle.
But he got away with his pictures – and the remaining 11 were first printed in the US Life magazine on June 19, 1944.
Some of the images are blurred, which the magazine said was because Capa was so excited when he took the photographs he was shaking. It is possible that the damage was instead done in the darkroom.
Steven Spielberg said that when making the D-Day film Saving Private Ryan he ‘did everything’ to make the action scenes look like the stills taken by Capa.
He was famed for the phrase: ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough’. And on D-Day he was the only person to get near enough to the frontline to take decent pictures – and survive.
Robert Capa also took pictures of the Spanish Civil War, in Russia in the aftermath of World War II and of the First Indochina War during the course of a distinguished career.
Back to the frontline: World War II veteran, 88, returns to Normandy 69 years after the D-Day landings
A war hero who fought during the Normandy landings is returning to the battlefields that nearly claimed his life to mark the 69th anniversary today.
Ivor Anderson, 88, from Salford, dropped in at Pegasus Bridge, near the village of Ranville, Normandy, overnight on June 5, 1944.
The grandfather-of-two joined the Royal Engineers as an apprentice in 1938 – aged just 14 – but later became part of the 591 Para Squadron.
He returns to the spot where he fought today under a lottery scheme which is paying for World War II veterans to make emotional trips back almost 70 years on.
Ivor said: ‘We were all in pretty good spirits and there was a good singalong during the first part of the flight. Once over the Channel we all quietened down and made ready for the jump into darkness.
‘Our job was to clear the landing ground for the Allied gliders. We had been told there were broad areas of heavy upright posts all around the bridge region, and it was down to us to wrap explosive charges around these so that gliders could land unobstructed.
‘When I jumped out I had the bren gun strapped to my ankles. We only had 20 minutes and the gliders were coming in at all angles.
‘Our job then was to protect the landing site from anyone who was going to attack it. It was a bit threatening because we were being shelled and mortared the whole time.’
After the mission, Ivor spent five weeks laying mines and helping the infantry, before an incident ended his army involvement.
‘It was a mortar or a shell,’ he said. ‘We were holding a position and we were hit.
‘The next thing I remember is waking up in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. It turned out I had been half buried with shrapnel in my leg, and I was pulled out.’
Ivor, who did his Paratrooper training at Manchester Airport, is having his trip funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Our Heroes Return programme.
The charity scheme allows World War II veterans to make commemorative visits to the places where they fought and served.
Scores of retired soldiers are making the voyage to France today to mark the anniversary of the D-Day landings and pay their respects to fallen comrades.
Ivor added: ‘I go back most years. It’s very poignant, especially at certain places where friends got killed.
‘It’s very sad to see again, but the local people treat us very, very well.’