Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Filming the American Attack on Château-Thierry (Western Front, 1918)

In July 1918, Lieutenant Edwin H. Cooper - photographic officer of the 26th "Yankee" Division - filmed the American attack on the German lines near Château-Thierry. For his extraordinary bravery during this offensive Lt. Cooper received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Edwin Cooper with his movie camera during the attack on Château-Thierry, 20 July 1918. Signal Corps photograph from the National Archives. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

In fact, both Cooper and his movie camera operator Sergeant Eikleberry were awarded with the Distinguished Service Cross. Cooper's report on how his photographic team covered the attack with their cameras is one of the best documented first-hand accounts on World War I battle cinematography. It is extraordinary that after one hundred years Cooper's personal account has never been given proper credits before because his story has all the vivid details and inside information one can hope for. In his memoirs Cooper tells how he set up his photographic work, having arrived in France in October 1917 as one of the first official military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps. Two of his cameramen got wounded in July 1918 while covering the attack on Château-Thierry. Lieutenant Cooper himself also risked his life then while assisting in the evacuation of wounded soldiers and taking in a large group of German prisoners.

War Films Found at the National Archives

We were extremely fortunate in having found footage from the National Archives, that was shot by Lieutenant Cooper shortly after he had gone over the top during this attack in the summer of 1918. These pictures fully match his story and illustrate how Cooper against all odds managed to capture the attack on film. His film - partly retrieved also at the Imperial War Museum - as well as numerous pictures of his photographic work with the 26th U.S. Division all make it possible to reconstruct Cooper's story on how he and his fellow cameramen filmed World War I. It is a truly remarkable story that definitely needs to be preserved for history, so we have edited Cooper's account into a video on the making of his war films.

Scene from Lt. Cooper's war films for the U.S. Signal Corps

The Cameraman: Edwin Cooper

Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1881, Edwin Cooper started working as a photographer at an early age. From 1911 he worked with the celebrated photo artist William Rau in Philadelphia and before the outbreak of World War I he had also taken up the movie camera, making travelogues in South America. Cooper was promoted to Captain in September 1918 when he was assigned to the 5th U.S. Army Corps as photographic officer. During the Meuse-Argonne battle he was in charge of pictorial coverage for this corps. Throughout his life he remained active as a photographic reporter and lecturer, producing three color documentaries during World War II. In November 1948, while fishing out on Silver Lake near Harrisville, NH, Cooper fell from his boat and was drowned. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Cooper's report on his film coverage during World War I was originally printed in the American photographic trade magazines. You can read and download an extended version here. 

Reconstructed with still photographs and moving pictures, here is Cooper's personal story on how he and his fellow cameramen filmed the American attack on Château-Thierry.



  1. OMG! This is my grandfather (born in 1881). Recently visited US National Archives with my son. We were overwhelmed by the amount of material directly attributed to him (even, though USA Signal Corps property). Eager to know more about your work. Maybe more to share. My primary goal in my golden years is to bring this great man's legacy to light. His career as a photo-journalist, war correspondent and lecture continued for another 30 years. Sorry I never met him

    1. We are very glad you have found this information on your esteemed Grandfather! Edwin Cooper also featured in this documentary on the American World War I cameramen, which we produced last year: