Robert Capa

Robert Capa

Photographer Endre Ernö Friedmann, a Hungarian by birth (October 22, 1913) was living in the thirty’s of the last century with a young woman called Gerda Taro. Friedmann took her under his wings and learned her how a camera worked. Gerta Pohorylle later change her name into Gerda Taro. To promote and sell their work, they took together an alias under the name ‘Robert Capa’. When people found out who were behind ‘Robert Capa’, Friedmann took the name Robert Capa for himself. Capa would make name as a photographer during the Spanish civil war where he shot his famous picture, 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death', in September 1936. A picture which later became shrouded in controversy (some claim it was staged). Gerda Taro lost her life on July 26, 1937 after the car, where she was standing on the running board of it, collided with a tank. Robert Capa would become one of the most important war photographers. But controversy was also synonymous with Capa. Even his most famous pictures, taken on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944, during D-Day, are to this day surrounded by controversy.

A Contax II, a type Capa used on Omaha Beach

Capa used two Contax II camera’s (of German making), with 50mm lenses. Capa spent around 90 minutes under enemy fire at Omaha Beach, during this time he shot his pictures. He struggled to change the films in his cameras because of his trembling fingers. Capa shot four rolls of film, a total of 106 pictures, before he left Omaha. Capa was taken on board an LCI(L) [Landing Craft Infantry, Large] and was brought to safety, knowing that his films had to go to England as fast as possible. Once in London, his films were handed to a fifteen year old apprentice lab assistant, Dennis Banks. Banks was anxious to see what was on the films and then all went wrong; the negatives were overheated in the drying cabinet, and the emulsion was affected.

Above are the 10 ‘saved’ pictures, shown in negative. Between frame 36 and 38, frame 37 is missing. For a long time, the world was thinking that frame 37 was from the ‘Man in the Surf’, but this negative is missing. In my opinion, the ‘Man in the Surf’, comes from another roll of film, and shot later during Capa his stay at Omaha Beach. It was just a coincidence that frame 37 was missing, and only one picture would fit here, the ‘Man in the Surf’. More on this, on the next page.

A detail of the contact sheet, the numbering is evident.
This part shows frame 32, 33 and frame 34

Just ten pictures were saved. On the negatives are continues numbering visible, from frame 29 till 38 (as mentioned before, frame 37 is missing). Of the ten pictures just a few were sharp enough, that was the first opinion so it seems, to be publicized,... But when the pictures were published, they had such an impact, that these would become the pictures that would always be associated with D-Day and ‘Bloody Omaha’.


This is the first picture (frame 29) from a saved piece of film

The pictures are shot between EASY-Red and FOX-Green, a short distance west of Widerstandnest Wn 62, opposite the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. The men on these first pictures, have just left their LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personal, or Higgins boat) and struggling through the surf. According to Capa*, these men belong to Easy-Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Infantry Division, the company where Capa traveled with to the beach.

In the picture above (frame 29), the most prominent man in the picture is the last man from the LCVP, it’s the NCO, Assistant Boat Team Leader. Which is recognizable by the white band on his helmet.

* Capa has written in his own book, 'Slightly out of Focus' the whole experience a bit overdone. We know now that Capa did not landed with the first wave. These pictures are the best evidence. There are already quiet a few men beneath the dune, more then a first wave could bring in. Also there are two DD tanks visible, and Sherman tanks with wading trunks (which landed between 06.25 and 06.30 hour, in front of the first assault troops). Taking the above into account, Robert Capa landed at Omaha between 06.45 and 07.00 hours. Some sources claim that Capa landed as late as 07.40 hours on Omaha Beach, that this was not the case, shows the coming evidence.

This is the second picture (frame 30)

It seems that Capa arrived with troops of a so called 'Support Boat Team'. There is no sign of a Bazooka team to be seen which came with 'Assault Boat Team's' to the beach. Also a flamethrower, with his specific backpack, is not visible in these pictures. Before the last man went from board, the A.BT leader, there were also five men of the Demolition Team disembarking from the 'Support Boat Team'. These were trained to blow obstacles on the beach (are these the men with the large parcels?). On the picture above (frame 30) the Ass.BT Leader is visible, and moved to the right. His Garand rifle is still packed in a ‘plastic’ bag (Pliofilm) to protect this against seawater and sand. On the right of the picture, a man is seen running back towards the sea, is he looking for shelter behind a German obstacle?

The third picture (frame 31)

Robert Capa took in quick order some pictures while he was panning his camera to the left. So, we never know what happend further of the running man on the right of frame 30.

The fourth picture (frame 32)

On the fourth picture (frame 32) of this roll of film, are some interesting points to be seen. The ABT leader has further moved to the right, to pass the men who are sheltering behind ‘hedgehogs’ (the steel obstacles). Left stands a Sherman tank with wading trunks (number ‘10’). A second one is positioned central in the picture, and a third one can be seen far right. What is evident, the men in the water, left of the Sherman tank, seem to be hiding, sheltering from incoming enemy fire from the right (west). This picture is taken near Widerstandsnest 62 (Wn 62), just out of the picture on the left.

In the red squares are men hiding left of the Sherman tank
(in the blue square men can be seen to be hiding below the dune (bluff))

What does stand out is that the men in the water seem to hide left of the tanks. It looks like enemy fire is coming from the (top)right. The picture is taken near Widerstandsnest 62 (Wn 62), just out of frame to the left. When one does observe the picture more close, you may notice that the barrel of the gun of the standard M4 Sherman tank is pointing to the right. It’s target seems to be near Exit-E1, near Les Moulins.

Enemy fire is coming from the right, the Sherman fires in that direction

The angle of the gun seems to point at Wn 65, Les Moulins (Exit E-1)

From Wn 62 came and still come the stories that from that position the most deadly fire was coming towards the American troops that landed in these sectors. The most popular story is that of Heinrich Severloh himself, who claimed to have killed somewhere between ‘ 1000 or 2000 Americans’. If that was the case, the men from 16th Regiment would have taken shelter on the other side of the tanks. Now, it seems, the most enemy fire came from Wn 65, Les Moulins ('de Vallei van Ruquet').

Left Wn 62, right, in the blue square, the sector where the 16th Regiment landed

On the fifth picture (frame 33), below, is a third Sherman to be seen, in the surf, with wading trunks and a lorry behind it. More strange objects can be seen, two Duplex Drive (DD) tanks from the 741st Tank Battalion, in the center of the picture. They have their skirts partly still in the up position. DD tanks had to surprise the enemy by popping up out of the sea. These DD’s were supposed to land a minute or so before the assault troops arrived, and fire at German strongholds. Sad to say, most of the 32 DD tanks for Omaha Beach were dropped too far out in sea, and went down. Just five DD’s reached the shore, which these two are part of. More on these DD tanks, see the next page (at the bottom).

This is the fifth picture (frame 33)

What is evident in this picture, that these men from this boat have to move on in the surf, there is no place left to hide. The Assistant Boat Team Leader has moved to the left, to stay close with his men, but he does not stay with the slow men, or the fallen men, but moves towards the beach.

Sometimes, the question is asked, why took Capa so much pictures from the ramp of the LCVP, before he went after the other men? He even stood as a bullseye in a shooting gallery as a target to get shot? Was he not afraid? I think he was scarred shitless. But men under stress react not the same. Some try to be swallowed by the waves, others move on, in the hope someone else will get wounded (most men think he will not be killed, but the man next to him). This was not Capa his first war he was in. But this was his most dangerous one. Capa looked at the world through a lens, and took shelter behind his camera’s. He was a photographer, one who reported on the situation of the moment. He was armed with a camera, and not with a rifle, why would an enemy soldier fire at him?

In the red square we see the Assistent Boat Team Leader move on,
he walks right around the man in the blue square.
This last man has removed his pliofilm bag from his rifle.
In the yellow squares seem to show to men who are helping each other?
(The man who moves bent over to the right,
has disappeared in the next picture,
and is perhaps gone in the small group moving to the left?)

After the fift picture (frame 33) Capa jumped possibly as last one from the LCVP. When Capa was in the surf, he took a shot (frame 34) to the east at the wooden obstacles, towards FOX-Green.

This is the sixth picture (frame 34) of the famous roll of film

Frame (picture) '34' seems to be shot with a long lens, because the obstacles stand so close to each other, crowded with all those men. Vaguely two LCVP’s can be seen moving in the back ground. When looking close, you see men who are trying to shelter behind every thing they can find, even the waves looks comforting. This picture was very inspirational for the movie, Saving Private Ryan. This picture also shows the mistake made in that movie, the stakes point in the SPR in the wrong direction.

This is the last frame (35) which came reasonably sharp out of the process
(below frame 36,which is much more blurred)

To shoot frame 35 and 36, Capa turned again towards the sea, and saw the Engineers behind the hedgehogs. What is evident when comparing both pictures is the time laps between the two shots. Because the man in the middle of the picture has disappeared.

This is the last shot of the Engineers, frame 38, which is slightly out of focus

After the picture above was made, Capa took turned his focus east again, and made another shot of the wooden obstacles. When compared with the other picture of the obstacles, frame 34, it looks almost the same with frame 38. Even an LCVP is ‘framed’ in the corner of a wooden obstacle. (food for conspiracy theorists)

On the next page I will deconstruct the pictures even further