The Army Film and Photographic Unit was a subdivision of the British armed forces set up on 24 October 1941, to record military events in which the British and Commonwealth armies was engaged.

AFPU photographers and cameramen were recruited from all over the Army, with many of them having been press photographers or cameramen in peacetime. Regardless of their background, all AFPU recruits underwent compulsory training in battle photography at Pinewood Film Studios.

Once trained, AFPU cameramen and photographers accompanied various army units in all theatres of action – armed only with a camera and a pistol. Almost 23 percent of all AFPU soldiers were killed in action, and they have been honored with a memorial at Pinewood Studios that preserves their names. The memorial also includes members of the AFUU’s sister unit, RAF No. 1 Film Production Unit.

The three Army Film and Photographic Unit photographers who recorded the 1st Airborne Division’s epic fight at Arnhem, 28 September 1944. Left to right: Sgt D M Smith, Sgt G Walker and Sgt C M Lewis. Photo credit: Barker, Jack E. (Lieutenant)
Army Film and Photographic Unit, from the collections of the Imperial War Museum. © IWM BU 1169


On D-Day, 6 June 1944, ten AFPU men from newly formed No. 5 section accompanied the first wave of troops ashore, while others landed with airborne troops by parachute or glider. In the following months, the AFPU accompanied the British Army as it fought its way across Europe. Thanks to three brave men of the AFPU who recorded the ferocious battle for the bridge at Arnhem, the desperate last stand of the British 1st Airborne Division was also remarkably well documented.

In the following photo set, the UK-based living history group Poor Bloody Infantry present an excellent up-close study the men of the British Army’s Film and Photography Unit (AFPU) at Arnhem, and the specialist photographic equipment used to capture their historic imagery.


‘Jock’ Walker re-created here with camera in hand in similar pose to the last photograph. He has forgone anklets and any webbing aside from his belt and tank crew holster which was standard issue for members of the Army Film and Photographic Unit. The pistol is the ubiquitous Enfield No.2 revolver.


A re-enactment of Sgt. Dennis Smith, complete with his arm in a sling, carrying a German-made Super Ikonta 532/16 camera dating from just before the war.


Shooting some scenes with an Eyemo motion-picture camera. When handheld the camera is carried with a plastic grip and leather strap that attaches to the camera’s base.


The ‘Eyemo’ cine camera – a 35mm motion picture camera manufactured by the Bell & Howell Co. of Chicago. First manufactured in 1925, the Eyemo was for many years the most compact 35 mm motion picture camera its small size and ruggedness made it a favourite choice for newsreel and combat cameramen in many countries across the globe. The Eyemo is still in use today and is often used when a rugged camera is needed as a ‘crash-cam’ for filming stunts.


This Eyemo is a turreted ‘spider’ model capable of mounting 3 lenses at once, in this instance, a 1 inch lens, 2 inch lens and a 6 inch lens for distance work. The lenses on this camera are not Bell & Howell made but supplied by the British firm Taylor Hobson and are marked ‘War Finish’. At the rear of the camera you can just make out the shutter speed control (set at 24 frames per second for standard newsreel work) and the footage indicator which acted as a reminder how much film had been shot.
The full daylight loading spool is fitted into the camera, the leader is threaded through the film gate and fitted to the empty take up spool. While suitable for ‘daylight loading’ this process would usually be carried out in subdued light to avoid exposing the shot filmstock to damage from bright light. The door is then refitted and locked closed.


The Eyemo could be powered by a 12v motor but when hand held it was more usually powered by a spring motor that required winding about every 30 seconds.


Here the cameraman uses the auxiliary eyepiece to focus the lens for a shot. Because the user could not see through the lens being used critical focusing would be accomplished using the eyepiece and then the lens rotated over to the shutter position ready for filming. In most instances however the cameraman would judge the distance to the subject using a practiced eye and adjust the lens accordingly which was far quicker and more suitable for the quick action of the day.


Having no cap badge of their own AFPU members wore the badge of their parent unit, in this instance it is that of the Parachute Regiment. Round his neck he is wearing a scarf made from camouflage material cut from a discarded parachute on the drop zone.


The Army Film and Photography Unit found that the Super Ikonta fitted the role of frontline stills as when folded it fitted nicely into a pocket, had a built in rangefinder which made focusing and composition easy and came with a high quality Carl Zeiss lens & used 120 type roll film giving a 6x6cm negative which could be easily blown up for reproduction in publications. As such the Super Ikonta was the standard AFPU stills camera for the duration of the war with examples quietly purchased via neutral Portugal. It is with a camera such as this that Sgt. Smith took some of the most iconic stills photos of the battle for Arnhem and would later go on to photograph the final stages of the war including the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp.


A close up look at the types of film used in the cameras. In the case of the Eyemo 35mm 4 perforation Eastman Kodak Super-XX black and white film stock of 100ft lengths on daylight loading spools in metal cans. Each spool would give about 1 minute of usable silent film. The colourful rolls are 120 format stills film from Kodak and Ilford which would usually give 12 shots per roll but due to the peculiarities of the 532/16 only yielded 11 when used with the Ikonta. Almost all film used by the AFPU was black and white.