Thursday, April 5, 2018

Ship Building in World War I (USA, 1918)

In February 1918, the U.S. Signal Corps produced two remarkable films on the ship building industry in the United States. The footage was taken on the West Coast by Lieutenant Wilbur H. Durborough who had shot film with the German army in 1915. We recently found parts of his film in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Wilbur H. Durborough (1913). Authors collection

On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

Durborough's film work during World War I has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. In 1915 Durborough had gone to Europe and filmed with the German army on the Eastern Front. His film On the Firing Line with the Germans has been restored in 2015 by the Library of Congress, based on our film research.

We recently prepared a new, extended story on Durborough's photographic work during World War I. You can read this Durborough Film Annotation (2nd edition) here.

The production file at the National Archives shows Durborough made two separate movies: Building Our Wooden Ships (814 feet) and Industrious Seattle (695 feet). These short documentary films were shot in the state of Washington around the same time when he filmed a staged attack on Fort Lewis. As mentioned in a previous weblog, this film on Fort Lewis has also been retrieved by the authors in the National Archives.

Our Bridge of Ships (USA, 1918)

Unlike Durborough's film showing the staged attack on Fort Lewis not much of his original report on the shipping industry has survived. When the U.S. Signal Corps used his footage in the 1930s for the Historical Film Series on World War I most of his film didn't make it to the final cut. However, the record does show that some of his footage was used in 1918 by the Commitee on Public Information - America's wartime propaganda agency - for the film Our Bridge of Ships, notably scenes showing the launching of the Ypres at Seattle and one of the first Victory ships - General Pershing - at the shipyard of Olympia, Washington.

The Signal Corps file fortunately still has Durborough's original list of titles for these films. His report strongly emphasized the huge scale of America's war effort in this line of work. As an example, for the opening scene of his film on the American shipping industry he filmed a large saw mill, mentioning it would turn out more than 6,000 feet of lumber a year. Steel contracts also reportedly were booming business, totalling more than 62 million dollars. Such impressive figures clearly were used by Durborough to promote the American war industry.

Here is a download link to the complete production file of Durborough's film.

We have uploaded the final edit from the 1930s of this Signal Corps film on our YouTube channel.


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