INVADING FORTRESS EUROPE
The invasion of Normandy, the largest amphibious military operation in history, began on June 5, 1944, as 23,000 American and British airborne troops parachuted into German-occupied northern France.
“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force; You are about to embark on the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck and let us all beseech the blessing of almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower
“We were within a quarter mile from the shore when all hell broke loose. Our navy was still firing over our heads, but further inland, beyond the beach. The enemy was firing point blank at us with every thing they had. It was quite dark as we were let out of the assault boat in almost five feet deep water. We were lucky to get in without being hit, many of the assault boats never made it to the beach on D-Day.”
167th ARRIVES IN FRANCE
The 167th Signal Photographic Company landed in France in September, 1944. Assigned to the 12th Army Group, The 167th was split into detachments and ordered to document combat and activity behind the lines. In 1944, half of all photographs published in American newspapers, magazines, and books about the war were shot by Signal Corp photographers.
“We crossed and landed at Utah Beach. We could see the signs of war, but we just very quickly went through the countryside. And it was a first experience seeing Europe for a young guy. Paris had been liberated, and we were able to go two or three times. When we got there, there were no lights. It was starting to come back to life a little bit. The shops were starting to open up. Then we went on to Verdun and joined units, and from there most of my photo action originated.”
—JM Heslop, U.S. Army Signal Corp
The battle through the Hürtgen Forest was one of the bloodiest fought by American troops in Europe. By the time the defenses were breached in late January 1945, approximately 24,000 Americans were dead, wounded, captured, or missing in action.
“The dark of night in the forest was almost beyond description. A man couldn’t even step out of his foxhole to relieve himself with any certainty that he would find his way back. Trees less than five feet away were not visible. It was not possible to throw a grenade at night without fear that it would bounce off a tree and come back into the foxhole. Resourceful GIs overcame this problem by placing stones on the edge of the hole in daylight so they could tell by feel the direction of a safe throwing lane in the dark.”
“Private Conrad Baker of New York, NY, Machine Gunner in Seigfried Line Locale, tries on a new winter overcoat issued him as colder weather reaches the continent.”
—US Army Signal Corps, October 10, 1944
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1944—a symbolic reference to the German defeat in World War I—Winston Churchill, British prime minister, and Charles DeGaulle, leader of the Free French government, received Allied troops in a parade down the Champs-Elysées in newly liberated Paris
“Free French troops march down the Champs–Elysées away from the Arc de Triomphe, built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories and also the resting place of France’s unknown soldier from World War I. November 11, 1944.”
—JM Heslop, US Army Signal Corps
BATTLE OF THE BULGE
DECEMBER 1944-JANUARY 1945
As the Allies continued to batter Germany’s western border in late 1944, the Germans launched a surprise counteroffensive in eastern Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. More than a million men were engaged, the U.S suffering 81,000 casualties, while the Germans lost 120,000 men.
Photo Unit 123 moved to the western end of the Bulge to document the stand of American troops as they blunted the tip of the German juggernaut.
“The unit moved with the cavalry to the bulge, and the holiday season was spent at the beautiful Chateau de Janee, but it wasn’t Christmas. It was just another day with the fighting cavalrymen, living in damp halls, eating out of the zero weather with the tanks and half-tracks as tables.”
—167th Signal Photographic Company, Unit 123
“... German snipers discovered on the outskirts of the newly captured town of Beffe, Belgium. Lt. Thomas was followed by volunteers consisting of members of his squadron, an Infantry headquarters company and an Infantry company. The attack was launched with rifle fire, fragmentation rifle grenades, hand grenades, rifles, and a bazooka company armed with machine guns and light mortars. Twelve Nazis were killed in the engagement. Here can be seen part of the patrol advancing cautiously through the snow.”
—US Army Signal Corp, January, 7, 1945