Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Germany's Official World War I Film Squads

From November 1916 the German government took control of all film activities, culminating in the incorporation of the Universum Film AG (UFA) as authorized by General Ludendorff. As descibed in our latest book, the German military leaders from the start of the war were reluctant to allow cinematographers to go to the front. But now finally film was recognized as an important medium for publicity. As a result eight so-called Film Truppen were established. These film squads consisted of official military cameramen who were attached to various German army groups.

German cinema team. Western front, June 1917. From the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Hans Barkhausen in his book on German film propaganda during World War I and II calculated that these military cameramen in 1917-1918 produced over 10.000 photographs. The list of motion pictures that they made also is impressive. Most of these pictures have been lost, but the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) still have about 1.000 photographs made in the last two years of the Great War by these military cameramen. Never properly researched before a selection of these pictures was recently copied and turned over to the Imperial War Museum in London, as part of an exchange program.

Flying Circus

The German military film squads were organized along the lines of the Imperial airforce. Like the "Red Baron" von Richthoven's flying circus, these cameramen moved around from one front sector to another. Take for instance Film Squad No. 1 which started covering the war on the Mediterranean shore, found itself on the western front in March 1917, went to Romania five months later and from the beginning of 1918 filmed in Tiflis, the new capital of Georgia that had been set up by the Germans as a separate state after Russia had withdrawn from the war at the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

As the war expanded and Germany conquered large chunks of territory on the eastern front the German film squads went to the Caucasus mountains, the interior of Turkey, the Black Sea coast and even as far as the deserts of Palestine to film the German side of the war. A regular film squad was commanded by a lieutenant and consisted of two still photographers, a cinematographer and an assistant film camera operator.

We have uploaded a collection of pictures, showing these official German cameramen at work on our Flickr photo account. 

Also, here is a video showing these photographers at work recording military history with their camera. Contemporary German music has been added to the clip.



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