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Iconic War Photography & Stories (GRAPHIC)

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The Heavy Gustav, Hitler and generals inspecting the largest caliber rifled weapon ever used in combat, 1941

The Heavy Gustav, Hitler and generals inspecting the largest caliber rifled weapon ever used in combat, 1941
The Heavy Gustav, was completed towards the end of 1940 and the proof rounds were fired early in 1941 at the Rugenwalde Artillery Range. Both Hitler and Albert Speer, his armaments minister, attended the occasion. Named after the head of the Krupp family, the Gustav Gun weighed in at a massive 1344 tons, so heavy that even though it was attached to a rail car, it still had to be disassembled before moving so as to not destroy the twin set of tracks as it passed over. This 4-story (12 meters) behemoth stood 20 feet wide (7 meters) and 140 feet long (47 meters). Its 500 man crew, commanded by a Major-General, needed nearly three full days (54 hours, to be exact) to set it up and prep for firing. With a maximum elevation of 48 degrees, the Gustav shell could fire shells weighing seven tons to a range of 47 kilometers (29 miles). The caliber was 80 cm, and Gustav could fire 1 round every 30 to 45 minutes.

Shell shocked soldier, 1916

Shell shocked soldier, 1916
Shell shocked soldier in a trench during the Battle of Courcelette (France) in September 1916. His eyes express the madness of the war. The soldier looks like he has gone insane from what he has seen. In that moment in time everything he’s been raised to work within, the social constructs which make up every part of his life just exploded and shattered to nothing, and he’s lying there, slumped in a trench, afraid for his life, hearing and seeing death around him, his entire psyche broken. The circumstances of the First World War pushed hundreds of thousands of men beyond the limits of human endurance. They faced weapons that denied any chance for heroism or courage or even military skill because the artillery weapons that caused 60 percent of all casualties were miles away from the battlefield. Symptoms included fatigue, tremor, confusion, nightmares and impaired sight and hearing, an inability to reason, hysterical paralysis, a dazed thousand-yard stare is also typical. It was often diagnosed when a soldier was unable to function and no obvious cause could be identified. “Simply put, after even the most obedient soldier had enough shells rain down on him, without any means of fighting back, he often lost all self control.” Some men suffering from shell shock were put on trial, and even executed, for military crimes including desertion and cowardice. While it was recognized that the stresses of war could cause men to break down, a lasting episode was likely to be seen as symptomatic of an underlying lack of character. For instance, in his testimony to the post-war Royal Commission examining shell-shock, Lord Gort said that shell-shock was a weakness and was not found in “good” units. It’s unclear how many were shell shocked and convicted of cowardice or desertion when they really were insane. Later the British government gave pardon to the soldiers executed for cowardice and desertion, in this way officially recognizing the shell shock effect the war had in its troops.

U-118, a World War One submarine washed ashore on the beach at Hastings, England

U-118, a World War One submarine washed ashore on the beach at Hastings, England
SM U-118 was commissioned on 8 May 1918, following construction at the AG Vulcan Stettin shipyard in Hamburg. It was commanded by Herbert Stohwasser and joined the I Flotilla operating in the eastern Atlantic. After about four months without any ships sunk, on 16 September 1918, SM U-118 scored its first hit on another naval vessel. About 175 miles north-west of Cape Villano, U-118 torpedoed and sank the British steamer Wellington. Early the following month on 2 October 1918, U-118 sank its second and last ship, the British tanker Arca at about 40 miles north-west of Tory Island. With the ending of hostilities on 11 November 1918 came the subsequent surrender of the Imperial German Navy, including SM U-118 to France on 23 February 1919. Following surrender U-118 was to be transferred to France where it would be broken up for scrap. However, in the early hours of 15 April 1919, while it was being towed through the English Channel towards Scapa Flow, its dragging hawser broke off in a storm. The ship ran aground on the beach at Hastings in Sussex at approximately 12:45am, directly in front of the Queens Hotel. When the people of the town of Hastings awoke one morning to see one of the Kaiser’s U-boats on their beach, it caused some shock. Thousands of visitors flocked to see the beached submarine. The Admiralty allowed the town clerk to charge a fee for people to climb on the deck. Two members of the coastguard were tasked with showing important visitors around inside the submarine. The visits were curtailed when both men became severely ill, they both died shortly after. It was a mystery what killed the men at the time and so all trips into the sub were stopped, it was later discovered that chlorine gas which had been escaping from SM U-118′s batteries had caused severe abscesses on the lungs and brains of the unfortunate men.

Panama, Ron Haviv

Panama, Ron Haviv
Ron Haviv: “This was my first foreign story. I was 23 and had gone, off my own back, to cover the 1989 election in Panama. Manuel Noriega’s man lost and so Noriega annulled the results. The next day, the rightful winners took to the streets of Panama City to try to start a revolution. I followed Guillermo Ford, who had been a candidate for vice-president, as he drove around. There was a lot of shooting and tear gas. At the end of a rally, a group of about 40 paramilitary guys came running over a hill towards Ford. They shot his bodyguard, then stabbed him in the arms. He stumbled around and I photographed him. I barely recognised him, in his blood-soaked white shirt. Then, in Spanish, I heard someone say: “Excuse me.” I stepped aside and a man in a blue shirt jumped in and started hitting him with a lead pipe. They fought for a few moments, then some soldiers stepped in. Ford was arrested and taken away, but he survived. In fact, when the US invaded and installed a new government, he became vice-president. This was the first time I’d felt bullets shoot past me, the first time I’d seen so much violence. Weirdly, I didn’t feel at risk. In fact, when the paramilitary said, “Excuse me”, it alleviated any fears I had that they didn’t want to be photographed. Fear only set in after Ford was arrested: we were afraid someone might come after us. I rushed the pictures to the news agency AFP. The next day they were on front pages of papers all over the world. Six months later, I found out just how big an impact this shot was going to have – when President Bush used it in his TV speech to the nation to justify the US invasion. For me, it was a monumental moment: I suddenly understood the power of photojournalism. I realised this wasn’t about me, it was about the people I was photographing. From then on, that’s what I dedicated my career to: enabling people who don’t have a voice to get their stories told.”

Vietnam Inc., Philip Jones Griffiths

Vietnam Inc., Philip Jones Griffiths
GI’s often show a compassion for the enemy that springs from admiration of their dedication and bravery. This VC had a three-day-old stomach wound. He’d picked up his intestines and put them in an enamel cooking bowl (borrowed from a surprised farmer’s wife) and strapped it around his middle. As he was being carried to the headquarters company for interrogation, he indicated he was thirsty. “OK, him VC, him drink dirty water,” said the Vietnamese interpreter, pointing to the brown paddy-field. With real anger a GI told him to keep quiet, then mumbled, “Any soldier who can fight for three days with his insides out can drink from my canteen any time!”

Bosnia, 1992, Ron Haviv

Bosnia, 1992, Ron Haviv
Ron Haviv: “During the Balkans conflict, I took a photograph of the Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan holding up a baby tiger. He liked it very much, so when I met him, in March 1992, I asked if I could photograph his troops as they fought. “Sure,” he said. Later on, I was following some of his men when I heard screaming. Across the street, they were bringing out a middle-aged couple. The soldiers were telling me not to take any photographs when, suddenly, some shots rang out and the man went down. The woman crouched down, holding his hand and trying to stop the blood. Then her sister was brought out: more shots rang out and both women were killed. As I stood there, I realised that it would be my word against the soldiers’ unless I could get a photograph of Arkan’s men in the same frame as these three people. So as the soldiers set off back to headquarters, I waited behind for a moment. As they moved past the bodies, I lifted my camera. I was in the middle of the street and I was shaking. When people are in the throes of killing it’s like they are on drugs: their adrenaline is so high. It would have been very easy for any of those guys to just shoot me and say the Muslims did it. Then, just as I was about to take the picture, one of the soldiers, a brash young kid in sunglasses who was smoking a cigarette, brought his foot back to kick the bodies as they lay there dead, or dying. As he did it, I took a couple of pictures, then put my camera down. All the soldiers turned and looked at me, so I smiled at them and said: “Great. Let’s go.” I was really nervous. I wanted to leave town before Arkan found out what I had photographed, but I couldn’t leave without his permission, so I hid a couple of rolls of film in my car, and a couple down my pants. Then Arkan arrived. After he heard what had happened, he came up to me and said: “Look, I need your film.” We proceeded to have this whole conversation about whether or not I should give him the film. I made a really big push to protect the film in my camera so he wouldn’t think there was anything else. In the end, I had to give him the film. Then he let me go and I immediately drove to the airport and sent my film to Paris. That night, I was very emotional about what I had witnessed, and how these people had died. But at least I knew I was able to document it. I truly believed that my pictures could have a real effect in preventing a Bosnian war. When my photos were published in magazines around the world they caused a bit of an uproar, but not as much as I had hoped. Instead I think they made a difference on an individual level. One general specifically attributed his decision to fight for the Bosnian side to this photograph, and he was one of the people largely responsible for saving Sarajevo. I’ve been back to Bijeljina and met people in the town who have told me how important it was. The pictures from that day were also used by the war crimes tribunal to indict Arkan, and as evidence in other indictments. A few weeks after the pictures were published, I heard that Arkan had put me on a death list, and publicly stated that he looked forward to the day when he could drink my blood. After that, I spent the rest of the war, right through to the end of Kosovo, narrowly missing him in different places. Though during the Nato bombing of Belgrade, a friend of mine actually spent time with the kid in this picture. The kid said he was very proud of it. It made him famous.”

SS prison guards forced to load victims of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp into trucks for burial, 1945

SS prison guards forced to load victims of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp into trucks for burial, 1945
After the liberation of the camp the dead bodies were buried in mass graves. The SS prison guards were forced by British soldiers to load the bodies into the trucks. Note British troops in background with Sten submachine gun and Lee-Enfield rifles. Photo taken on April 17, 1945, Germany. The prison guards were part of SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), an independent unit within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. The whole of the SS-Totenkopfverbände training was based on elitism, toughness and comradeship, together with a regime of ruthless discipline. While the Totenkopf (English: Death’s Head) was the universal cap badge of the SS, the SS-TV also wore the insignia on the right collar to distinguish itself from other SS units. Bergen-Belsen was a relatively small concentration camp. Originally established as a prisoner of war camp, in 1943, parts of it became a concentration camp. Before the advance of Red Army the number of prisoners at Belsen was small. In July 1944 there were just 7,300, by December 1944 the number had increased to 15,000 and by February 1945 it had risen to 22,000. However, it then soared to around 60,000 by April 15, 1945. This overcrowding led to a vast increase in deaths from disease: particularly typhus, as well as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery and malnutrition in a camp originally designed to hold about 10,000 inmates. All inmates were subject to starvation and epidemics. Some 50,000 people are estimated to have died in this camp. The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division. The soldiers discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners inside, most of them half-starved and seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lying around the camp unburied. The average weight of prisoners was 50-60 pounds.The prisoners had been without food or water for days before the Allied arrival partially due to the allied bombing. In the period immediately preceding and following liberation, prisoners were dying at a rate of around 500 per day mostly from typhus.

The Death of an Iraqi soldier, Highway of Death, 1991

The Death of an Iraqi soldier, Highway of Death, 1991
This photo at first was regarded by many editors as too disturbing to print, but later became one of the most famous images of the first Gulf War. The death of an incinerated Iraqi soldier on the Highway of Death, 1991. The Highway of Death refers to a six-lane highway between Kuwait and Iraq, officially known as Highway 80. It runs from Kuwait City to the border town of Safwan in Iraq and then on to the Iraqi city of Basra. The road had been used by Iraqi armed divisions for the 1990 Invasion of Kuwait. That soldier was an Iraqi who was the victim of a fuel-air bomb. An article on Color Magazine described and had a photo of a device that looked like a big yellow garbage bin. Apparently it has high explosive as will as zirconium to provide incineration for a large radius. The US were able to destroy much of the opposition before the Iraqi could even target them. It was a bloodbath. Postwar studies found that most of the wrecks on the Basra roadway had been abandoned by Iraqis before being strafed and that actual enemy casualties were low. After the war, correspondents did find some cars and trucks with burned bodies, but also many vehicles that had been abandoned. Their occupants had fled on foot, and the American planes often did not fire at them. The photographer, Ken Jarecke: “The image shows a burned-beyond-recognition Iraqi soldier in the front window of a destroyed truck. The sun is coming in through the back of the truck and most of the surfaces in the image are burned and just torn up, so it’s almost a black and white image although it was made on color film. It was early in the morning, we had been up most of the night. There was supposed to be a ceasefire in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. We had traveled east from Nasiriya towards Basra, hooked up with Highway 8 and we started travelling south towards Kuwait City. And we came across this… just a single lorry, kind of in the middle of a double-lane highway. I was with a public affairs officer with the US Army and he said: “I don’t really get my jollies out of making pictures of dead people.” And I said… I just thought of the first thing I could think of, and I said: “If I don’t make pictures like this, people like my mother will think what they see in war is what they see in movies.” He didn’t try to stop me, he let me go and I just went over there. And he might have been the driver of the truck, he might have been the passenger, but he had been burned alive and it appears as though he’s trying to lift himself up and out of the truck. I don’t know who he was or what he did. I don’t know if he was a good man, a family man or a bad guy or a terrible soldier or anything like that. But I do know that he fought for his life and thought it was worth fighting for. And he’s frozen, he’s burned in place just kind of frozen in time in this last ditch effort to save his life. At the time it was just something… well, I better make a picture of this. I thought there might have been better pictures. I literally shot two frames and moved on to other things and I didn’t really think a whole lot about it.”

A Japanese boy standing at attention after having brought his dead younger brother to a cremation pyre, 1945

A Japanese boy standing at attention after having brought his dead younger brother to a cremation pyre, 1945
Joe O’Donnell, the man who took this photo at Nagasaki, was sent by the U.S. military to document the damage inflicted on the Japanese homeland caused by air raids of fire bombs and atomic bombs. Over the next seven months starting September 1945, he traveled across Western Japan chronicling the devastation, revealing the plight of the bomb victims including the dead, the wounded, the homeless and orphaned. Images of the human suffering was etched both on his negatives and his heart. In the photo, the boy stands erect, having done his duty by bringing his dead brother to a cremation ground. Standing at attention was an obvious military influence. Looking at the boy who carries his younger sibling on his back, keeps a stiff upper lip, tries so hard to be brave is heart-breaking. He has epitomized the spirit of a defeated nation. Sometimes later Joe O’Donnell spoke to a Japanese interviewer about this picture: “I saw a boy about ten years old walking by. He was carrying a baby on his back. In those days in Japan, we often saw children playing with their little brothers or sisters on their backs, but this boy was clearly different. I could see that he had come to this place for a serious reason. He was wearing no shoes. His face was hard. The little head was tipped back as if the baby were fast asleep. The boy stood there for five or ten minutes.” “The men in white masks walked over to him and quietly began to take off the rope that was holding the baby. That is when I saw that the baby was already dead. The men held the body by the hands and feet and placed it on the fire. The boy stood there straight without moving, watching the flames. He was biting his lower lip so hard that it shone with blood. The flame burned low like the sun going down. The boy turned around and walked silently away.”

Portrait of Corporal Adolf Hitler during his stay in a military hospital, 1918

Portrait of Corporal Adolf Hitler during his stay in a military hospital, 1918
In October 1918, he was temporarily blinded by a British chlorine gas attack near Ypres. He was sent to the military hospital, Pasewalk, Pomerania, where the news of the November 11, 1918, armistice reached him as he was convalescing. To his right you can see his his beloved “Doggie”, Fuchsl. He only wore two medals, both earned. Most dictators of his time, as well as high ranking officers wore medals like it was fashion. Also notice in every war photo he’s always off to the side as if he was an outcast. Hitler never made it past corporal, which is unusual due to his service length, and noted in German archives as not “officers material”. (This concept is mentioned in Ernst Junger’s book Storm of Steel that really to be officer material in WW1 you’ve got to have been born into the right family).

The ruins of Dresden, 1945

The ruins of Dresden, 1945
At the end of World War Two the city of Dresden was in ruins, all its buildings destroyed and thousands of civilians dead. The order by Allied commanders to heavily bomb Dresden towards the end of the war has become one of the most controversial decisions made in the European theater. Before World War II, Dresden was called “the Florence of the Elbe” and was regarded as one the world’s most beautiful cities for its architecture and museums, it had numerous beautiful baroque and rococo style buildings, palaces and cathedrals. Although no German city remained isolated from Hitler’s war machine, Dresden’s contribution to the war effort was minimal compared with other German cities. As Hitler had thrown much of his surviving forces into a defense of Berlin in the north, city defenses were minimal, and the Russians would have had little trouble capturing Dresden. It seemed an unlikely target for a major Allied air attack. An important aspect of the Allied air war against Germany involved what is known as “area” or “saturation” bombing. In area bombing, all enemy industry–not just war munitions–is targeted, and civilian portions of cities are obliterated along with troop areas. Before the advent of the atomic bomb, cities were most effectively destroyed through the use of incendiary bombs that caused unnaturally fierce fires in the enemy cities. Such attacks, Allied command reasoned, would ravage the German economy, break the morale of the German people and force an early surrender.

The priest and the dying soldier, 1962

The priest and the dying soldier, 1962
Navy chaplain Luis Padillo gives last rites to a soldier wounded by sniper fire during a revolt in Venezuela. Braving the streets amid sniper fire, to offer last rites to the dying, the priest encountered a wounded soldier, who pulled himself up by clinging to the priest’s cassock, as bullets chewed up the concrete around them. The photographer Hector Rondón Lovera, who had to lie flat to avoid getting shot, later said that he was unsure how he managed to take this picture. The Catholic priest, Luis Padillo, would walk the streets, even through sniper fire, offering last rites to the fighters. Besides priest’s bravery, he also knows the enemy will think a lot before shooting him (just imagine the propaganda) and the enemy soldiers are catholic and would refuse that order. Even more intense about this picture is the setting, in the background is a carnicería (a butcher’s shop). In Spanish a carnicería means both a “butcher’s shop” and “slaughter, carnage”. The phrase “fue una carnicería” (English equivalent: “it was carnage”) is so common in the Spanish language. The parallel really catches one’s eye and draws the horror of the scene even further. The photo was taken by Hector Rondón Lovera, photographer of Caracas, for the Venezuelan newspaper, La Republica. It won the World Press Photo of the Year and the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Photography.

Allied soldiers mock Hitler atop his balcony at the Reich Chancellery, 1945

Allied soldiers mock Hitler atop his balcony at the Reich Chancellery, 1945
The final victory over Nazi Germany achieved, soldiers and allies of the British, American and Russian armies mimic and mock Adolf Hitler and his ideas on Hitler’s famous balcony at the Chancellery in conquered Berlin. The photo is taken on 6th July, 1945 (1945 (about 2 months after Germany’s surrender, 1 month before Hiroshima and the day after the Phillipines were liberated). Corporal Russell M. Ochwad, of Chicago, plays the part of Hitler on the famous balcony of the Chancellery, in Berlin, from which the former Nazi leader had proclaimed his 1,000-year empire. A British and Russian soldier stand on each side of Cpl. Ochwad, while American and Russian soldiers cheer at the little get-together. The Russians were coming from the East, the Brits and Americans from the West, all with the objective of taking the Chancellery, knowing that would signal the end. So when they both finally met there, and the Nazis were irrefutably vanquished, they must have felt ecstatic. You can barely imagine what those men have gone through, and how many times they have nearly been killed or had to kill others to get there. Just think of the relief they must feel to be standing there knowing that it is over.

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