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 D-Day - Invasion of Normandy Artwork

D-Day - Invasion of Normandy Artwork (1944-1945)

WWII D-Day Artwork  SQUARE resize186 paintings, drawings and sketches created by U.S. Navy combat artists before, during, and after the D-Day invasion.


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The D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944 was the culmination of three years of planning and preparation by Allied forces in Britain. Landing in the face of determined German resistance, units of the British Commonwealth and U.S. armies established a beachhead, defeated German counter-attacks, and eventually broke out into a fast-moving campaign in France. By September 1944, Allied forces had liberated most of France and were poised to cross the Rhine river into Germany itself. In conjunction with Allied forces in northern Italy, and Soviet armies moving into Poland and the Balkans, the defeat of Nazi Germany was in sight.

Through all phases of the operation Navy combat artists Dwight Shepler, Mitchell Jamieson and Alexander Russo observed and recorded different aspects of this vast and complicated campaign. Though it was also filmed and photographed, the artwork they created helps convey a sense of the feelings and emotions behind the events. This collection presents all known artwork produced before, during, and after the D-Day invasion of Normandy by these three men, whose duties at Normandy required them to carry a gun and a sketch book.

For the young artists, the challenge was unique. During their training period, they lived with the crews of the vessels destined to take part in the invasion; they rode the ships across the channel, and accompanied the troops as they landed. Their paintings, including descriptions of their work, were subject to strict censorship. It was not until well after the events occurred that their works were allowed to become part of the accessible historic records.

Mitchell Jamieson's combat paintings, from the North African campaigns to the final surrender at Tokyo Bay were reproduced extensively in Life, Fortune and other national publications. Twice awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Award of Merit by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Lieutenant Jamieson crossed the channel on D-Day on the deck of an LST and went ashore with one of the first demolition units at Normandy.

Specialist First Class Alexander Russo followed the African and Sicilian campaigns of World War II before accompanying the naval forces on a landing craft on D-Day. His pre-war art training and magazine staff work qualified him for selection by the U.S. Navy to depict the invasion preparations, D-Day, and later the drive across France.

Dwight Shepler, a member of the American Artist's Group and the American Artist's Professional League, was chosen by the U.S. Navy to record the Navy's war in both the Pacific and European theaters. From the mud of Guadalcanal through the long period of material build- up in Great Britian prior to D-Dday, Commander Shepler found a wealth of subjects. He painted activities in and around the naval bases and coastal areas of England and Londonderry, Northern Ireland prior to D-Day, and was on an American destroyer during the invasion. Ashore, he recorded the holocaust that was the first American beachhead in France

Subject matters captured in the art includes:

Pre-invasion, Planning and Preparation: Preparations for the Allied invasion of Normandy were unprecedented in scale and complexity. In addition to accumulating hundreds of thousands of soldiers and millions of tons of material in Britain, the Allies gathered hundreds of specialized landing craft in ports across southern England.

Crossing the Channel: The training was finished, although the invasion troops did not know that until they were on their ships headed across the English Channel on the night of June 5-6, 1944. Once on board, they received their first briefings as to what their missions would be. After that they were left to make such preparations as were needed or to be alone with their inner thoughts.

D-Day, 6 June 1944: A fleet of transports carried the invasion troops across the channels, while squadrons of landing craft, skippered by Navy coxswains took them the final distance to the beaches. Divisions of battleships, cruisers and destroyers fired pre-landing bombardments to destroy German beach fortifications and "soften up" the enemy. And naval beach battalions went ashore under fire to take charge of logistical traffic on the beaches and to care for and evacuate the wounded

The Wounded and The Dead: The German defenses on the Normandy beaches were formidable and well designed, while the troops manning them were efficient and well-disciplined veterans. They imposed a terrible toll on the Allies. Unlike later wars, where combat fatalities were airlifted back to the United States for burial in family or national military cemeteries, the Allied dead of the Normandy invasion were buried close to where they fell. The decomposing bodies represented a health risk to the living, so it was important to bury them as soon as it could be done safely. Rather than use Allied troops for this purpose, the Allies put German prisoners of war to work laying out the cemeteries, digging graves, and interring the combat slain. This simultaneously freed Allied soldiers for more vital tasks elsewhere in the combat zone, while preventing the Germans from sitting idle. The cemetery contains both German and Allied casualties.

The Prisoners: The advancing allied troops took numerous German prisoners of war during their advance from the beach into the hinterland. After being segregated into groups of officers and enlisted men and assembled on the beach, the captured Germans would be transported to prisoner of war camps in Britain.

Invasion of Normandy Wreckage: The flotsam and jetsam of battle lay strewed about the battlefield. During the Normandy landings, German beach obstacles and defenses destroyed numerous Allied landing craft and vehicles in the approaches or on the beaches themselves. These twisted hulks were prominent reminders of the price paid for the successful invasion.

Beach Activity: As the fighting moved inland from the invasion beaches, they became hives of activity. Reinforcements arrived across the English Channel from Britain and thousands of tons of supplies came over on transport ships to increase the Allies' might. All was not quiet for the troops on the beaches or the ships awaiting their turns to unload, German warplanes swooped in to bomb and strafe, while German artillery continued to shell the beaches, making them places of continued danger.

The Mulberry: One of the singular logistical achievements associated with the Normandy invasion was the gigantic artificial harbors, or "mulberries," that were designed, built, and transported to the landing beaches, which lacked the natural harbor facilities that would be vital to continued support of the invasion. Prefabricated in English ports, these "mulberries" and the artificial breakwaters, designed to prevent pounding by the sea, were laboriously towed across the Channel immediately after the invasion and assembled. They allowed deep-water Allied cargo ships to unload their cargoes quickly and efficiently. Also the LST's could do a quick turn around because they did not have to wait 12 hours for the tide to come in.

The Storm of 19-20 June 1944: The weather was always an unknown factor. Storms in the English Channel have always been violent, with the wind whipping the waves in the confined area between Normandy and England. The great storm of June 19-20 succeeded in doing what the Germans had not been able to do, destroy the great "mulberry" artificial harbors

The Taking of Cherbourg: One of the Allied objectives after landing in Normandy was the capture of the port city of Cherbourg, with its facilities that could be used for landing reinforcements and materiel. Cherbourg was also a target because it was a great base for Nazi U-boats, protected from Allied bombing and gunnery by massive concrete "pens." Although war's destruction was evident, the Allies captured Cherbourg with its port relatively intact.


Early Morning; Invasion-Bound Jeep With Waterproofing
by Mitchell Jamieson,  June 1944

A light General Purpose ("jeep") vehicle was on the main deck of a transport. Soldiers used the seats of the jeep as a place of repose while their comrades lined the rail on the opposite side of the ship. The hose coming out from under the jeep''s hood was a breather, to allow air intake into the engine if the jeep was temporarily submerged while driving from the LST to the shore. Also visible is the stern of a landing craft supported by davits.


Naval Demolition Units Reaching Beach
By Mitchell Jamieson, June 1944

The naval demolition unit on board is one of several which is to hit the beach with the first assault troops and clear the beach of obstacles to make unloading possible. There are two units on board the ship, one officer and 11 men to each unit, and 11 units in all are to hit the beach. These men go in LCVPs and work on the beach carrying their explosives in a pack that fits over their back and chest. Additional explosives are carried in the rubber boat, which can be moved around easily in shallow water.


"Low Tide," American Beach Sector
By Mitchell Jamieson, June 1944

As the tide went out the price of the invasion was revealed


To the Burial Ground
By Alexander P. Russo, 1944

The Allies buried many of their dead on the slope of a hill directly behind the beach after the landing on D-Day


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