The official film and photographic record of the D-Day landings was taken by No. 5 AFPU (Army Film and Photographic Unit) under the command of Major Hugh Stewart. Members of the unit were ‘embedded’ with formations preparing for the invasion. Ten of them went in with the assault troops.
Cameraman Sgt George Laws, accompanying No. 4 Commando, was the first AFPU man ashore, landing on Sword Beach at 07.45am. He was followed shortly after by photographer Sgt Jimmy Mapham with the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, Sgt Desmond O’Neill with the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment and Sgt Billy Greenhalgh with the 1st South Lancashire Regiment.
Other photographers and cameramen landed on Juno and Gold beaches. Sergeant Jim Christie was the only member of the AFPU to go in with 6th Airborne Division, and although parachute trained, he landed by glider.
The men of the AFPU were exposed to the same risks as the fighting troops. Sgt Greenhalgh was wounded by a mortar explosion. Sgt O’Neill was wounded by machine gun fire. In the days and weeks that followed, No. 5 AFPU suffered further casualties, with some killed, including Sgt Norman Clague.
Their legacy – the film and images they took – is preserved in the IWM Collection.
Men of the Army Film and Photographic Unit training at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, June 1943. Two AFPU sergeants give an introductory lecture to trainee cameramen.
During the Second World War Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire was requisitioned for use as headquarters for the Crown Film Unit, the Army Film and Photographic Unit and the RAF Film Production Unit.
The AFPU set up a training school for its cameramen there.
Sgt W A Greenhalgh of No. 5 AFPU uses a daylight changing bag to load his camera during Exercise FABIUS, a major rehearsal of the D-Day landings, May 1944.
AFPU Cameraman Sgt W A Greenhalgh with his jeep and camera equipment during Exercise 'Fabius', 6 May 1944.
The grave of Sgt Norman Clague, a cameraman serving with No 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit who was killed in action at Amfreville on 12 June 1944.
Sgt Clague covered the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 and was the first AFPU official photographer to be killed in North West Europe.
AFPU photographer Sgt Norman Midgley in his jeep, with his official issue Super Ikonta camera at the ready, during the assault on Caen, 24 July 1944.
Sgt Midgley was a staff photographer with the Daily Express newspaper in Manchester before joining the AFPU.
AFPU cameraman Sergeant J H Goddard uses a turret-lensed Eyemo camera to film a German military direction sign attached to the only part of the Hotel Moderne left standing amidst the ruins of Caen, 10 July 1944.
Captain Edward G Malindine and his younger brother, L/Sgt William T Malindine, both serving with No 5 Section, AFPU in the ruins of Aunay-sur-Odon, July 1944.
The Malindines are the only brothers known to have served together in the Army Film and Photographic Unit during the Second World War. Both were professional press photographers, but carried out very different roles in the AFPU. Captain Malindine was OC Stills, while L/Sgt Malindine worked in the Section's mobile darkrooms.
Sgt Richard Leatherbarrow with former women camp inmates at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, April 1945.
Sgt Leatherbarrow worked primarily as a film cameraman. On D-Day, he landed with Canadian troops on Juno Beach.
Sgt George Laws, cine cameraman and photographer with No 5 AFPU, poses with his cine camera for a final picture before leaving the NW Europe theatre in June 1945.
George Laws served with the Royal Corps of Signals from 1939 until transferring to the AFPU in 1942. Equally at home using a cine or still photography camera, he was posted to No 5 Section during the preparations for the Normandy landings. On D-Day, he landed at 07.45am at Sword Beach with No. 4 Commando.
His cine camera failed early on in the landings, so he concentrated on still photography for the rest of the day. He continued to cover the Allied advance across Europe to Berlin until 2 June 1945. After the war, Laws worked for the Daily Mirror newspaper.
Filming the landings on Sword Beach
Sergeant Ian Grant was among the thousands of men landing on Sword Beach in Normandy on D Day, armed only with a revolver and a cine camera.
He captured this incredible silent footage of the landings.
Film curator Michelle Kirby introduces us to this film.
Michelle Kirby, Film Curator, IWM: "This combat footage is from a group of films of British and Canadian troops landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. These films only exist because a small number of cameraman risked their lives to film them. The only hint of the man behind the camera is the quick flash of a name chalked up on a slate board Sergeant Ian Grant. But it's thanks to him that we have this particular footage of a group of Lord Lovat's Royal Marine Commandos steaming through the very choppy channel towards Sword Beach on June 6th 1944.
Sergeant Grant was part of the Army Film and Photographic Unit set up in the Second World War by the War Office for propaganda training and the historic record. They were a team of serving British Army soldiers armed with a cine camera and a revolver. They were trained at Pinewood Studios before embedding themselves among Allied troops in order to film and take photos right on the front line.
Sergeant Grant had served years before at Dunkirk with the Royal Scots so would have recognised the danger on D-Day was very real. Fewer than a dozen men of the number 5 section of the AFPU, including Sergeant Grant, filmed troops going ashore at Normandy on D-Day, some going in with the very first wave. They filmed and photographed events unfolding on Sword, Gold and Juno Beaches and the array of images that they captured as a team are an extraordinary record.
Sergeant Grant later recalled the massive noise of battle as the commandos landed: the sound of rockets guns firing from allied ships, machine gun fire from the enemy. He even heard Lord Lovat's personal piper, Bill Millin, playing his bagpipes. And yet the film is mute.
Cameramen simply couldn't carry any more bulky equipment. One of the cameramen on the same beach as Sergeant Grant filmed four minutes of striking footage before being seriously injured from a mortar shell, while another of his AFPU colleagues was wounded in the elbow by machine-gun fire.
In total, 25 members of the Army Film and Photographic Unit were killed in action across the whole of the Second World War. The legacy of that unit's footage still lives on and now the stories behind the names on the chalkboards which started each wheel of film are beginning to be told. Thank you for watching, I hope you enjoyed seeing our archive footage. Just a reminder, please do subscribe to IWM's YouTube channel for more archive films and lots more."