We’ve all heard the story: On June 6, 1944,  photojournalist Robert Capa embarks on the first boats scheduled to land on Ohama beach, part of Operation Overlord, the famous D- Day. Armed only with two cameras, he lands with the first US troops under heavy Nazi fire and shoots  during at least an hour and half 106 frames of GI’s as they fight their way through waves, sand and deadly bullets. He then returns to England, ships his films to LIFE magazine in London, before returning to Normandy to continue covering the war. A stressed and inexperienced lab technician overheats the processing of  Capa’s films, resulting in only 11 frames surviving, most of which published in the June 19, 1944 edition of LIFE Magazine.

Robert Capa's only remaining frames from D-Day
Robert Capa’s only remaining frames from D-Day

Since June 2014, historian AD Coleman has been publishing a series of articles explaining why most of this story is a lie. Starting from the damaged negatives story, Coleman, inspired by  J. Ross Baughman‘s research, explains that it is not possible they could have been damaged the way it was explained. Suspicious, he proceeded to investigate further Capa’s narrative, with dramatic findings: Capa only shot 11 frames of the landing while staying at the most only 30 minutes on the beach. Coleman’s conclusion is  that he must have panicked under the heavy deadly fire and quickly took shelter in a barge returning to England. The story we have all heard, according to Coleman, was invented by LIFE MAGAZINE’s photo editor at the time, John Morris and kept alive by Magnum and ICP ( International Center of Photography).

The research done by Coleman, Baughman and Patrick Peccatte, French expert on D-DAY photographs, is quite extensive and relies on three major pillars:

~ The timing of Capa’s stay on the beach, based on army boat schedule, witnesses, and the content on Capa’s existing frames.

– Inconsistencies in how/why the films were damaged. Capa, in a letter to his brother, first explained his films were damaged by sea water on his trip back from the beach, before changing to the official “lab damaged” story. Thorough analysis shows there is, however, little chance the film was actually damaged the way it was described

–  John Morris recollection: While the legendary photo editor never changed his recollection of receiving 4 rolls of films on June 7, 1944, he seems to admit that the 11 surviving frames are the only ones Capa took on the beach.

Capa's pictures as it appeared in Life Magazine
Capa’s picture as it appeared in Life Magazine

It is not in the intention of this article to deny or confirm these allegations. Coleman’s work on this project is extensive and he has received many awards for it. It is also not the first time Capa’s work has been challenged  and probably not the last. However, one can only speculate on the reasons behind such a passionate and intensive research. Fact is, Capa did land on the beaches of Ohama beach on D-Day with the first waves of soldiers and he did take those pictures. Whether he stayed 30 minutes or 2 hours is hardly relevant, besides showing that he was not as reckless as he wanted us to believe.  John Morris is 98 years old. He is far from senile or incapacitated but forcing him to recollect in details events that happened 70 years ago and making him accountable for it is borderline abusive. He has a career that needs no explanations or justifications. He should be honored, not challenged.

Finally, there is  saying in Italy that goes like this: “se non è vero, è ben trovato”,  loosely translated to “even if it’s not true, it’s well made up”.

Author: pmelcher


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.