Monday, June 19, 2017

The Cameramen of the 35th A.E.F Division (1918)

When the United States entered World War I photographic field units were assigned to each division of the American Expeditionary Force. The authors recently came across more information on these military cameramen. We even recognized some familiar faces of two American "star" photographers who went over there to cover the Great War and get the picture.

Official photographers

The pictures that we found are from the website of the National World War I Museum and Memorial. These pictures were taken between August 1918 and January 1919 and show the official photographers of the 35th Division, American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.). Built around a nucleus of Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri National Guard units, the 35th Division trained for World War I in the vicinity of the old Sante Fe trail, and therefore adopted the insignia which represents the Sante Fe Cross.



Cameramen of the 35th A.E.F Division, Alsace, August 1918


The 35th Division landed in France on May 10, 1918. After training a few miles from the hard-pressed British line near Amiens the Division was sent to a quiet sector in the Alsace. It was in this area near the German border that this picture above was taken.

Motion picture cameraman Thomas J. Calligan - his name was misspelled in the caption - is also in a picture from October 1918. This photograph was taken shortly after the 35th Division had to be taken from the line at the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. Because of a combination of incompetent leadership, inexperienced soldiers and having to fight superior troops of the Prussian Guards the 35th Division collapsed, suffering 7,300 casualties. We will return to this sad episode in an upcoming blog.


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Filming General Traub

On October 18, 1918, Private Thomas Calligan cranked a Bell & Howell 2709 movie camera at Sommedieu near the Verdun frontline. His photographic officer directing this scene was Lt. Edwin F. Weigle. Together they filmed their divisional commander, Major-General Peter Traub. Weigle's film adventures during World War I have been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. Edwin Weigle was a news photographer who worked for the Chicago Tribune. After the outbreak of war he filmed in Belgium, Germany as well as on the western and the eastern front. Until January 1919, Weigle was the photographic officer of the 35th Division and in command of his team of camera operators. Weigle was also one of the first cameramen assigned to set up the photographic division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1917.

Here is a picture showing how Weigle and Calligan took Major-General Traub's picture.




On the very same day, Calligan also took this picture of General Traub inspecting their movie camera together with Weigle.






"The Camera Kid"

Weigle stayed in France until February 1919 and arrived back in Chicago as a Signal Corps Captain in June 1919. When he left a new photographic officer was assigned to the 35th Division. And here we have another familiar name. The new lieutenant in charge of Weigle's photographic team was Adrian C. Duff. Nicknamed "The Camera Kid" because of his youth, Duff made national headlines in February 1912 when he got in a plane with aviator Frank T. Coffyn and for the first time in history photographed New York City from above. Like his colleague Weigle he had covered the attack by the U.S. Marines on Vera Cruz in April 1914, as well as the German bombardment of Antwerp later that year. Duff died in a tragic car accident in New York City shortly after the war.




Photographic Unit, 35th Division, A.E.F.  From left to right: Pvt. H.C.T. Sproule, Pvt. Roland C. Price, 2nd Lt. A.C. Duff, U.S. Signal Corps, Pvt. Thomas J. Calligan. Picture taken at Commercy, Meuse (France) on January 22, 1919


Here is a link to a previous weblog on Duff's extraordinary life and work.


We have uploaded all photographs showing these cameramen of the 35th Division on this Flickr picture album.

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