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December 11, 2012

Rare and Stunning Color Photographs of Before and After the D-Day, 1944

It’s no mystery why images of unremitting violence spring to mind when one hears the deceptively simple term, “D-Day.” We’ve all seen — in photos, movies, old news reels — what happened on the beaches of Normandy (codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword) as the Allies unleashed an historic assault against German defenses on June 6, 1944.

But in color photos taken before and after the invasion, LIFE magazine’s Frank Scherschel captured countless other, lesser-known scenes from the run-up to the onslaught and the heady weeks after: American troops training in small English towns; the French countryside, implausibly lush after the spectral landscape of the beachheads; the reception GIs enjoyed en route to the capital; the jubilant liberation of Paris itself.

As presented here, in masterfully restored color, Scherschel’s pictures — most of which were never published in LIFE — feel at-once profoundly familiar and somehow utterly, vividly new.

Troops and civilians pass the time on the River Thames in the spring of 1944

There were flowers blooming everywhere, and everywhere the people waited for the news from England. It was as though the whole nation stood on tiptoe, straining to hear the thunder of guns.

American combat engineers eat a meal atop boxes of ammunition stockpiled for the impending D-Day invasion, May 1944

An American corporal stacks cans of gasoline in preparation for the upcoming invasion of France, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, May 1944

A small town in England in the spring of 1944, shortly before D-Day

An American Army chaplain kneels next to a wounded soldier in order to administer the Eucharist and Last Rites, France, 1944

An abandoned German machine gun, France, June 1944

Magazines scattered among the rubble of the heavily bombed town of Saint-Lô, Normandy, France, summer 1944

An American tank crew takes a breather on the way through the town of Avranches, Normandy, summer 1944

“We thought it was going to be murder but it wasn't. To show you how easy it was, I ate my bar of chocolate. In every other operational trip, I sweated so much the chocolate they gave us melted in my breast pocket.” — Frank Scherschel describing his experiences photographing the Normandy invasion from the air, before he joined Allied troops heading inland. Above: GIs search ruined homes in western France after D-Day.

View of the ruins of the Palais de Justice in the town of St. Lo, France, summer 1944. The red metal frame in the foreground is what’s left of an obliterated fire engine

“All the civilized world loves France and Paris. Americans share this love with a special intimacy born in the kinship of our revolutions, our ideas and our alliances in two great wars.” — LIFE on the relationship between the U.S. and its longtime European ally.

Along the coast of France, June 1944

From D-Day until Christmas 1944, German prisoners of war were shipped off to American detention facilities at a rate of 30,000 per month. Above: Captured German troops, June 1944

Maintenance work on an American P-47 Thunderbolt in a makeshift airfield in the French countryside, summer 1944

A French couple shares cognac with an American tank crew, northern France, summer 1944

A P-38 fighter plane sits in the background as the pilot arrives in a captured German vehicle, France, 1944

Church services in dappled sunlight, France, 1944

American Army trucks (note cyclist hitching a ride) parade down the Champs-Elysées the day after the liberation of Paris by French and Allied troops, August 1944

Frenchmen transport painted British and American flags for use in a parade, summer 1944

Tanks under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during liberation celebrations, August 1944

"Paris is like a magic sword in a fairy tale — a shining power in those hands to which it rightly belongs, in other hands tinsel and lead. Whenever the City of Light changes hands, Western Civilization shifts its political balance. So it has been for seven centuries; so it was in 1940; so it was last week." — LIFE after the French capital was liberated in August 1944.

Free French General and military governor of the French capital Pierre Koenig, left, pictured during ceremonies held the day after the liberation of Paris, August 1944

Celebrations in Paris after the liberation of the city, August 1944

American troops stand beside a World War 1 monument bedecked with French flags after the town (exact location unknown) was liberated from German occupying forces, summer 1944

(Frank Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)



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