The Second World War in Colour, published by Imperial War Museums (IWM), presents rarely seen original colour photographs from the IWM archives, many published for the first time in 70 years. During the Second World War, colour film was a scarce commodity. The difficulty and high cost of reproducing printed works means that the majority of people today are accustomed to viewing the conflict in black and white.
Author and Senior Curator at IWM, Ian Carter said: ‘The images in this book show the vivid hues of the flames and fabrics, the intense blue skies, the sun-tanned faces and the myriad of colours of military camouflage. Black and white photography puts a barrier between the subject and the viewer, colour photography restores that missing clarity and impact. As the most destructive war in history gradually fades from living memory, it becomes more important to take away the remoteness and bring the Second World War to life.’
The Second World War in Colour is divided into seven chapters, including an introduction to Second World War photography, Germany Triumphant, Britain at War, Striking Back: The Bomber Offensive, War at Sea, Forces Overseas and the Second Front. The publication explores life on the home front through striking images of women working as Auxiliary Territorial Service spotters and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force preparing parachutes for D-Day. The photographs of women at work accompany photographs demonstrating the destructive force of the war in Britain, the remains of bombed out buildings, evacuee children and airmen in hospital blues.
The publication also includes a series of photographs revealing the war on the fighting fronts, including rare photography of flamethrower tanks in action, Mustangs and Spitfires in flight, and the RAF’s top-scoring fighter pilot, Wing Commander ‘Johnnie’ Johnson with his pet dog Sally. Powerful images show the anxious faces of men preparing to take part in practise jumps from an RAF Dakota and the jubilant celebrations of Dutch civilians after the liberation of Eindhoven in September 1944.
During the Second World War, the Ministry of Information controlled the output of material to press, which included colour images which were obtained for record purposes. Between 1942 and 1945 some 3,000 photographs were taken, those which survived became part of the IWM archives in 1949. The photographs reproduced in The Second World War in Colour reveal in great detail, and for the first time, the world as the people in them would have seen it.
All the photographs in the book have been selected from IWM’s extensive collection. One hundred years on from its establishment in 1917, IWM is now home to over 11 million unique images documenting conflict from the First World War to the present day.
Similar articles you might also enjoy: