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WWII in color

On June 24, 1944 USAAF Sergeant James Weldon Mellody bailed out of a distressed B-26 bomber that was shot down over occupied France and he was arrested by the Nazis shortly after touching ground. An amazing photo was taken while he was escorted by 6 Wehrmacht soldiers. The photo was taken at the very moment a daring French civilian, Robert Mourand, was saluting the American POW and simultaneously teasing the German soldiers. Click here to find out more about this extraordinary story.

Colorization expert David Guihur decided to colorize the photo. A rather daunting task given the poor quality of the grainy original black and white photo. The colorization process required hours and hours of tedious work, patiently adding color to each and every detail of the photo. The result: a fascinating color photo that gives a more accurate idea of the real life event.

Before David could get started with the colorization process, we first had to do a little research to figure out the most likely colors for each and every element of the photo. We tried to accurately figure out every detail we could down to the color of the bicycle registration plate.



Click here to view full size colorized photo


My father remembers June 24, 1944 as being a beautiful cloudless summer day. This is confirmed by 2Lt Ossian Seipel memoirs: “As we approached the target area we could see that it really was defended with an awful lot of flak, hanging like a bunch of small dark puffy looking clouds in an otherwise cloudless sky.”  We therefore assumed that the sky was perfectly blue with no clouds.


On this early summer day, the leaves were obviously green.


Photos taken in April 2011 of the same place were used as reference for the colorization of the houses.

German Military Uniforms

The color of the Wehrmacht uniforms is no mystery and color photos could easily be found on the internet


The German soldier to the right of the American POW, has a Gefreiter (caporal) insignia on his arm. The color of the insignia could be found on Wikipedia.

USAAF uniform

A search on the internet revealed fascinating WWII color photos showing USAAF airmen in uniforms:

The gun

Although not easy to see on the B&W photo, the German soldier standing to the left of the POW holds a gun. Charles des MOULINS de FALAISE identified the gun as being a K98. We could then easily find photos of K98 guns on the internet and these photos were used as a reference to reconstruct the gun.

The road

When watching the black and white original, it is very difficult to figure out whether the road is paved or unpaved. When asked, some senior citizens said it was paved, others said it was unpaved, others admitted they couldn’t remember whether the road was paved before or after the war… Finally, Didier Masfrand could find a color aerial photo of Elisabethville taken in the 1950’s clearly showing that the roads were not paved. The color of the dirt as it appears on the aerial photo was used as reference for the colorization of the road.

Civilian clothing

There is obviously no way to figure out the exact color of the civilian clothing and this is in fact the main items on the photo along with the color of the hair that were colorized randomly. However, by looking at Life Magazine color photos that were taken a few weeks later during the liberation of Paris, we could choose “plausible” colors and the overall colors of the crowd are relatively realistic.


The above mentioned Life magazine color photos also provided hints of what the color of the bicycles might have been.

The bicycle registration plate

A thread on forum tonvelo indicates that during the German occupation, the French bicycle registration plates were yellow.




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