Part Five: Overseas
Many documentary shorts and features made during World War II used actual combat footage shot on the front lines. Highly trained combat cameramen recorded images of field troops in ground battles, American war planes dropping bombs, and gunners on aircraft carriers shooting down enemy planes, while other footage was captured by motion picture cameras mounted on bombers and ships. When combat footage was authorized for use in documentaries, it advanced the U.S. government’s campaign to keep the American public engaged and supportive of the war, no matter how long it took to attain victory.
After the United States entered the war in December 1941, combat documentaries showing American soldiers fighting the enemy, such as John Ford’s “The Battle of Midway,” validated the necessity of entering the war and stirred patriotism. The strategy changed after V-E Day on May 8, 1945, when war shorts such as “Two Down and One to Go” were made to encourage the war-weary public to continue supporting the military as it battled to defeat Japan.
The exceptional motion picture record of World War II would not exist without the contributions of hundreds of film industry professionals who set aside their Hollywood careers and joined the government filmmaking effort. One of the first directors to offer his services was John Ford, who was commissioned by the U.S. Navy and reported for duty in September 1941. Frank Capra, another of Hollywood’s most successful directors, headed up a documentary unit for the government, while filmmakers like John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler captured indelible images of active combat and its aftermath.