Interest in WW2 reenactment is growing, and with it interest in the role of the Combat Cameraman. Recreating the role of the Combat Cameraman can combine a love of photography with an interest in WW2 history, while ensuring that these brave men and women are remembered.
As a reenactor Combat Cameraman, while other reenactors battle (firing blanks), you can get up-close and personal shots. I recommend sending them these pictures afterwards as a thankyou to the group you are covering.
Many reenactment groups will be happy to have your help, provided you don`t spoil their reenactment.
SAFETY is paramount. Always listen carefuly to your brief. You will often be working with groups other than your own. Listen to THEM, and work by THEIR rules.
The role of the Combat Cameraman in reenactment
Combat Cameramen served in all the services, with differing roles. For a reenactor this helps to provide a variety. The Combat Cameraman Association Gallery is a good source of reference. The oldest Cameraman to go ashore at Tawara with the USMC was 54. This presents opportunities for older people to look correct, rather than being the oldest combat private in the war.
Makeup of a photographic unit
Most photographic units consisted of a ‘stills man’, a ‘movie man’ and a driver. This is ideal for small reenactment groups, as you can form a unit of three, and ‘be attached’ to other combat units.
What to wear?
The Army photographers and cameramen served in the Photographic Branch of the Signals Corps, while Colour photographers came under the (Army) Bureau of Public Relations.
With the HBO series ‘The Pacific’, there is bound to be a growth in interest in this theatre, which opens up the USMC, who were less prominent in the ETO. The USMC had a different system to the Army. Infact it was so efficient, that Army men commented that “…..for every 8 man platoon there’s a Cameraman”. Such was the importance placed on recording the action by the USMC.
When embedded into a unit, the Combat Cameramen would wear similar clothing to that of the parent unit. It seems from pictures that they did, as would be expected, ‘acquire’ clothing and equipment from units. Corcoran jump-boots, much prized by regular troops, seem much in evidence in period photos.
The Signals Corp ‘photographer’ patch is often prominent on uniforms, although insignia is seldom seen. The gold embossed ‘Ranger style patch’ was worn on Class A uniforms.
Embedded civilian Cameramen often wore the blue-triangled ‘non-combatent’ patch, but not always.
Art Schmitz of the 101st Airborne (Bastogne) told me: “Like the rest of us our Company photog wore the standard U.S. Army long winter coat, helmet and liner.”
Combat Cameramen were trained first as regular infantry, and could, when required also do ‘other tasks’, as Art Schmitz of the 101st Airborne told me:”Our company photog at Bastogne was usually too busy as our bazooka man, but one evening during an aerial bombing, he was rushing around taking flash pictures!”
Norman Hatch shot ‘Expert’ with the rifle; although there was some reluctance by his CO for Norman to join him on Iwo Jima. Norman told his CO “….If I need a rifle, there`ll be plenty of them lying round that I can do something useful with”.
Even so; Norman Hatch quickly realised during training in New Zealand that his Cameramen needed a small light weapon; so he requisitioned Colt .45 pistols for them.
M1 carbines seemed a popular weapon, with James R. Stephens with the U.S. Army Signal Corps Combat Special Photo Unit being photographed carrying his M1 Carbine ashore along with his Speed Graphic camera at Ormoc, Leyte,in Dec 1944. Tommy Amer of Merrill’s Mauraders was photographed carrying the folding-stock ‘para’ version of the M1 Carbine behind enemy lines in Burma.
It seems Thompsons were also carried, as photographic evidence shows of a Cameraman near Cherbourg in 1944. However, it could be that he was employed on guard-duty or similar, as no camera is apparent in the photo.
Many Combat Cameramen can be seen carrying sidearms, and knives; which were a useful tool for opening and cutting film.
Combat Cameramen were generally issued two types of camera: The 4×5 Speed Graphic (for stills) and the 35mm Eyemo for movies. Bell & Howell Eyemo cameras were 35mm and the Filmo was 16mm.
My 1940s vintage Bell & Howell 70 series camera as used by the USMC and the US Army Signals Corps in WW2. Other cameras were used, particularly by civilian photographers. For example Robert Capa, who shot the second wave at Omaha Beach used a German 35mm Contax II camera.
Sourcing a Speed Graphic 4×5, or a 16mm Bell & Howell movie camera is relatively easy, thanks to Ebay. However; prices vary wildly, so it is best to decide if you are going to actually use the camera, or just have it as a prop. This will help you set your budget.
My 16mm Bell & Howell 70 D (marked US Property) cost me £50 plus shipping. I have seen Speed Graphics from £80. BOTH can also go for up to £1000, depending on condition.
Old cameras didn`t have through the lens metering, so a light meter is also needed.
Norman Hatch told me that the USMC Cameramen were issued Western light meters, although they also used civilian GE ones. Both types can be sourced on Ebay for about £20.
Junk shops are a good source of old cameras, and bargains can be had. I bought a 1934 Kodak six-20 folding camera for £10. It looks the part, and I`m sure one day I`ll buy some film and try it out….
Repro – IDs
It`s the attention to detail that makes the difference between a ‘wannabe’ impression and a good impression. ID cards are one part of that detail.
Printed on pink card, the reverse of the ‘War Correspondent’ or ‘War Photographer’ ID card read:
“THE BEARER IS A MEMBER OF ARMED SERVICE FORCES PERSONNEL – A NON-COMBATANT CREDITED WAR CORRESPONDENT (rule out one)
TO ALL UNIT COMMANDERS: You are directed to extend all necessary cooperation to this correspondent to enable him to carry out his duties as an official war correspondent. Requests for photographic service will be made through established channels as this correspondent has been assigned specific missions. Since all photographs and correspondence made by him will be censored in accordance with regulations, the photographing by him of military activities is not a violation of security.
THIS CORRESPONDENT’S MISSION IS:
A. To convey information to the War and Navy Departments, Washington, D.C., and to the War Office, Admirality and Air Ministry, London.
B. To provide news correspondence for release to the public. C. To provide official pictorial war records