BEHIND THE IMAGE: D-Day in colour

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Image: Marina Amaral/Head of Zeus
Image: Marina Amaral/Head of Zeus

Colourising history is a risky business. As well as looking shoddy and garish, artificially altered images can often distort the event depicted and further tint the lens of hindsight.

This image, Into the Jaws of Death, is one of the most famous of the Second World War. It was taken by US Coast Guard photographer Robert F. Sargent early in the morning of 6 June 1944, as Allied soldiers at Omaha Beach began their attack on Nazi-occupied Europe.

Here, it has been subtly colourised for inclusion in the book The World Aflame, which is a collaboration between historian Dan Jones and artist Marina Amaral.

Amaral has raised the game in terms of colourising historical images, carefully researching each of the book’s 200 pictures before adding the colour digitally.

This process involves establishing the exact shades of green and grey that made up the uniforms of the men from the 16th Infantry, US 1st Infantry Division, as well as the dark blue of the landing craft from which they disembarked.

In the distance, the beach has also been deftly retouched. It was on these sands, laden with fog, that the troops faced intense fire from enemy machine-gun emplacements.

While other beaches, such as Utah, were secured with relatively low Allied casualties, Omaha was heavily defended, and several thousand men were killed or wounded in the many hours it took to secure it.

Stormy winds and high tides further jeopardised the landing, with many soldiers barely escaping from their craft before they were cut down by German guns and mines.

But, despite the hardship, the campaign was a success – the landings opened a second front in Western Europe from which the Allies could push towards Germany.

While in their first book, 2018’s hugely successful The Colour of Time, Jones and Amaral explored events from a period spanning a hundred years, The World Aflame focuses on the first half of the last century, during which the world was engulfed in two wars that caused unparalleled chaos and upheaval.

As a result, the book is frequently stark and sometimes bleak. But this is a testament to the quality of Amaral’s work, and its effect on the human eye. ‘Colourisation at its best is an emotional enhancing agent’, say the authors. ‘It magnifies empathy and horror, pity and disgust.’

The World Aflame: The Long War, 1914-1945 by Dan Jones and Marina Amaral, with Mark Hawkins-Dady, is published by Head of Zeus (£25).

This article was published in the August/September 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

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