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37 beautiful, interesting & sorrowful colourised images of WWII

Sam Dickson

Many thanks go to Doug Banks and his team – the masters of colourisation.  The beauty of these colourised images is that colour, allows you to pick out and study the smallest detail. This makes these 100 year old images ‘alive’. Do not click on their page – you will become addicted to their work  It is the research that they do on each image that makes the captions themselves a history lesson.


Sherman Firefly Vc T212680 ‘Belvedere’ of “B” Squadron, Staffordshire Yeomanry, 27th Armoured Brigade, along with other armour and infantry prior to the commencement of ‘Operation Goodwood’ on the morning of 18th July, 1944.

On 16th July the Staffordshire Yeomanry moved across the River Orne and on the 18th the attack went in. It was preceded by a heavy air raid on the enemy gun positions by 450 aircraft of the Tactical Air Force. “C” Squadron was attached for the first phase of the operation to 13th/18th Hussars and given the task of passing through them as soon as they had reached and consolidated their objective, the village of Butte de la Hogue. Shortly after the finish of the air raid the barrage was begun, and fifteen minutes later, as it lifted, 3rd Infantry Division, supported by 27th Armoured Brigade, began their advance. The armour of 13th/18th Hussars quickly reached Butte de la Hogue and “C” Squadron passed through, making a dash across the plain as far as the lateral railway line in the south, which was their objective. They lost two tanks during the process, knocked out by an anti-tank gun at Lirose.
“A” and “B” Squadrons advanced on the left of the main axis, mopping up pockets of resistance and engaging tanks and anti-tank guns. They finally reached Lirose, where they engaged a number of enemy strong-points in a concentrated shoot. Two Shermans of “B” Squadron were lost when hit by anti-tank fire. Major Turner and Lieutenant Elks being wounded. Corporal Steer was killed during the advance and fourteen other ranks were wounded.

Although Falaise was not reached, because of the stiffening opposition in the closely wooded country beyond the railway line, the operation had been partially successful. The whole area of the break-through was consolidated and formed a solid base for further British and Canadian attacks on Falaise, which was finally to fall on 16th August, almost simultaneously with the reaching of Argentan by the Americans.
The Staffordshire Yeomanry spent a number of days in this area, concentrated in the neighbourhood of Butte de la Hogue. Their task was to hold the two villages of Le Preaux and Cagny in the south of the salient, and their time was spent in mopping-up and carrying out a number of patrols to assist the infantry in clearing the extensive woods on the left flank. During most of the time they were subjected to fairly heavy artillery and mortar fire, but escaped without further casualties.

(Source – IWM B 7513 – Sgt. Laing No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit) (Colourised by Joshua Barrett from the UK)

En route to England, the men of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry found and rescued this pup, Smokey, seen here in Iceland.

The troops brought him to England, and he’s seen here with one of the 503rd’s members as he chats with Lt. John Timothy, the British liaison officer to the 2/503. The 503rd was the first American ground unit to reach England after Pearl Harbor. There is some confusion over 2/503rd’s history these days. The battalion took part in Operation Torch and executed the U.S. Army’s first combat jump. During the African campaign, however, the Army re-designated 2/503rd to the 509th Parachute Infantry. Apparently, the members of the battalion didn’t get that memo until after the war. Meanwhile, a new 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was formed and sent to the Pacific, where it joined the 11th Airborne Division and took part in the New Guinea and Philippines Campaign. That 503rd made the jump on Corregidor in February 1945.

(Colourised by Allan White from Australia)


Panzerkampfwagen Pz. IV Ausf. J, tactical number 6×5, from 6./SS-Pz.Rgt.2, knocked out by the 2nd Battalion/US 117th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division on the outskirts of St. Fromond, Normandy, 9th July 1944.

At the time the 117th was supported by the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion (M10).  The Pz. IV is being hauled away by an M1A1 Heavy Wrecker of an unknown unit. (Nb. The Pz. IV had the Fahrgestellnummer (chassis number) 89689.)

(Researched material supplied by John Winner) (Colourised by Allan White from Australia)


Soviet Fighter pilot Lt. Antonina Lebedeva (1916-1943)

Before the war, she studied at the Moscow State University and had been an instructor of one of the capital’s flying clubs. Her military career began in the women’s 586th Fighter Regiment, protecting the sky of Saratov. Later she was transfered to the 65th Guards Fighter Regiment.

On January 10, 1943 in an air battle, Lebedev was alone against two enemy fighters. She bravely went into battle with them and destroyed one Bf-109. Her aircraft suffered serious damage but she was able to make a safe, forced landing. During the Orel-Kursk operation, on July 17, 1943 in an unequal battle of four Yak-9 against numerous enemy aircraft, she was shot down and her fate remained unknown.

In 1982 near the village of Betovo, Oryol Region, a plane was excavated, that had crashed in the summer of 1943. The remains of the pilot, a parachute, a pistol, a knife and documents were found. Among the documents were the flight and medical books, where clearly was written the name of the holder: Antonina Lebedeva. In the remains were also found a headset with fragments of a skull and two girlish pigtails.

(Colorised by Olga Shirnina from Russia)

B-17F-25-BO “Harry the Horse” S/Nº 41-24548 Field Nº 167
Tadji Airfield, West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea. May 1944 #B17

On May 4, 1944, this B-17 took off from Nadzab Airfield, Morobe Province in PNG, piloted by Lt. Robert Kennedy (no relation) on a mission to drop supplies over Hollandia. Returning, the bomber ran short of fuel and attempted to land at Tadji Airfield. During the landing at 12:00K, the right wheel collapsed, causing the B-17 to skid off the runway in a “wild run” that ended “within the limits of a bomb dump”. The B-17 sustained damage to the outer wing. Beyond repair, the wreckage was stripped for parts and partially disassembled from the wings and abandoned in a bone yard area.

Wartime History;
Assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron. This B-17 operated from northern Australia and 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby during 1943. Later, assigned to the 63rd Bombardment Squadron and later the 64th Bombardment Squadron. This B-17 had tiger stripes painted on the tail and girl’s names on the outer engine cowling including “Mary” on the number 4 engine.
During 43rd Bombardment Group service, the nose section of a B-17E added, with reinforced mount for a .50 caliber machine gun in the center of the nose.

The last mission this B-17 flew with the 43rd Bombardment Group was on October 10, 1943, piloted by Captain Jack L. Campbell on an early morning weather reconnaissance over Rabaul.
During early November 1943, converted to an armed transport at the 4th Air Depot at Garbutt Field. Afterwards, assigned to the 54th Troop Carrier Wing, 375th Troop Carrier Group, 57th Troop Carrier Squadron as an armed transport and operated from Port Moresby and Nadzab Airfield.
In Troop Carrier service, the B-17 was completely repainted with a new coat of olive drab paint and nicknamed “Harry the Horse”. Assigned field number “167” painted in yellow on both sides of the cockpit, behind the co-pilot’s window. On the outer side of the No. 4 engine cowl was painted “Betty Jo” with a heart. Another name was painted on the No. 3 engine cowl. (

Colourised by Allan White from Australia)

Men of the US 7th Infantry Division using flame throwers to smoke out Japanese from a block house on Kwajalein Island, while others wait with rifles ready in case they come out. February 4, 1944.

Battle of Kwajalein:
Designated ‘Operation Flintlock’, the Allied plan called for Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner’s 5th Amphibious Force to deliver Major General Holland M. Smith’s V Amphibious Corps to the atoll where Major General Harry Schmidt’s 4th Marine Division would assault the linked islands of Roi-Namur while Major General Charles Corlett’s 7th Infantry Division attacked Kwajalein Island. To prepare for the operation, Allied aircraft repeatedly struck Japanese airbases in the Marshalls through December. Moving into position, US carriers began a concerted air offensive against Kwajalein on January 29, 1944.

Two days later, US troops captured the small island of Majuro, 220 miles to the southeast, without a fight. That same day, members of the 7th Infantry Division landed on small islands, dubbed Carlos, Carter, Cecil, and Carlson, near Kwajalein to establish artillery positions for the assault on the island. The next day, the artillery, with additional fire from US warships, opened fire on Kwajalein Island. Pummeling the narrow island, the bombardment allowed the 7th Infantry to land and easily overcome the Japanese resistance. The attack was also aided by the weak nature of the Japanese defenses.

The victory at Kwajalein broke a hole through the Japanese outer defenses and was a key step in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign. Allied losses in the battle numbered 372 killed and 1,592 wounded. Japanese casualties are estimated at 7,870 killed/wounded and 105 captured. In assessing the outcome at Kwajalein, Allied planners were pleased to find that the tactical changes made after the bloody assault on Tarawa had bore fruit and plans were made to attack Eniwetok Atoll on February 17. For the Japanese, the battle demonstrated that beachline defenses were too vulnerable to attack and that defense in-depth was necessary if they hoped to stop Allied assaults.

(Source – The US Army – NARA FILE #: iii-SC-212770 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1187)

(Colourised by Royston Leonard UK)


Wing Commander Alfred ‘Ken’ Gatward after his return from leading an anti-shipping operation with 404 “Buffalo” Squadron RCAF.

With coffee and cigarette in hand, hair disheveled and oil stains on his battle trousers.
This photo was reputedly taken after Gatward’s final op with 404. Note that his tie has been clipped in honour of the occasion and that it’s possible the cup does not contain coffee as he seeks a refill. (

‘Dropping a huge French flag on top of the Arc de Triomphe’
RAF pilot Flight Lieutenant Ken Gatward and his navigator, Flight Sergeant George Fern, volunteered for the audacious mission, which was planned following intelligence reports that German troops were parading down the Champs-Elysees every day between 12.15 and 12.45 pm.
On 12 June 1942 Gatward and Fern took off in their Bristol Beaufighter from Thorney Island, West Sussex, flew over the English Channel into occupied France and headed towards Paris at low level. Gatward later recalled, “I’ll never forget the astonishment of the crowd in the Paris streets as we swept low at rooftop level. They had been taken completely by surprise.”

Gatward flew at just 30ft down the Champs-Elysees and Fern dropped the French Tricolour on top of Paris’ famous monument. Gatward then flew on to the Gestapo’s Paris HQ, the former Ministere de la Marine, raked it with 20mm shells – scattering its SS guards in panic – and Fern dropped a second Tricolour on the building. The daring duo’s spectacular raid boosted the morale of oppressed Parisians and, when the news broke at home, lifted the spirits of the beleaguered British too. Gatward was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and both he and Fern were feted as heroes.

London-born Gatward, who had joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1937 and started the war as a sergeant pilot, went on to command No 404 Sqn, Royal Canadian Air Force. In August 1944 he led the Sqn on a raid against enemy shipping in Norwegian waters which earned him a second DFC. He also earned the Distinguished Service Order the same year.

Ken Gatward retired from the regular RAF as a Group Captain in 1967, then immediately rejoined the RAF Volunteer Reserve as an instructor in the rank Flight Lieutenant, enabling his return to his first love – flying. He died in 1998 aged 84. (

(Photo via 404 Squadron site)

(Colourised by Doug)

Men of 12 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, 15th (Scottish) Division, take cover in Saint-Manvieu-Norrey in Calvados, during ‘Operation Epsom’, 26 June 1944.

“The thin rain and fog were to mix with the smoke and dust from the barrage to create a fog bank in places. Aircraft in Britain were kept grounded by poor visibility so British forces were without one of their major advantages. As the barrage fell they moved forward to their start line, ahead of them the Royal Scots Fusiliers had begun the attack …..” (Robert Woollcombe, platoon commander with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (K.O.S.B.).

On 26th June, Montgomery launched ‘Operation Epsom’, a major attack aimed at the town of Caen, the major obstacle to British expansion in the east of the Normandy battlefield. The attack was led by the 44th (Lowland) Infantry Brigade and the 46th (Highland) Infantry Brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division with a number of famous regiments taking part including the Royal Scots, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Cameronians, the Seaforth Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders.

(IWM Non Commercial Licence – B 5967 – No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit)

(Colourised by Royston Leonard UK)

American Journalist and War Correspondent, Ernie Pyle (centre) converses with the crew of a Sherman tank belonging to 191st Tank Battalion at the Anzio Beachhead in 1944.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Ernie Pyle took his journalistic talents to the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific as a War Correspondent. His intimate focus on the common soldier and his reportage of their experiences and perspective stood out for the crowd. Ernie Pyle was writing about the experiences of the ‘everyman’ while others were reporting on the actions of generals and battle plans. It was this approach to War Correspondence that earned Mr.Pyle his Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

A column written by Ernie Pyle in 1944 urging that Soldier’s should earn a fair ‘fight pay’ wage for their service, successfully convinced Congress to pass a law authorizing an additional $10 extra pay for Infantrymen. Due to his pivotal role in securing this wage increase it was dubbed ‘The Ernie Pyle bill’.

Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy machine-gun fire on the island of Iejima, near Okinawa. 18 April, 1945.

(Colourised by Joshua Barrett from the UK)

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