Rare and Amazing Color Photographs From World War 1

World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was an international conflict that began on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918. It involved much of Europe, as well as Russia, the United States and Turkey, and was also fought in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. One of the deadliest conflicts in history, an estimated 9 million were killed in combat, while over 5 million civilians died from occupation, bombardment, hunger or disease. The genocides perpetrated by the Ottomans and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic spread by the movement of combatants during the war caused many millions of additional deaths worldwide.

In 1914, the Great Powers were divided into two opposing alliances: the Triple Entente, consisting of France, Russia, and Britain, and the Triple Alliance, made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Tensions in the Balkans came to a head on 28 June 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir, by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia and the interlocking alliances involved the Powers in a series of diplomatic exchanges known as the July Crisis. On 28 July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia; Russia came to Serbia’s defence and by 4 August, the conflict had expanded to include Germany, France and Britain, along with their respective colonial empires. In November, the Ottoman Empire, Germany and Austria formed the Central Powers, while in April 1915, Italy joined Britain, France, Russia and Serbia as the Allied Powers.

Facing a war on two fronts, German strategy in 1914 was to defeat France, then shift its forces to the East and knock out Russia, commonly known as the Schlieffen Plan. This failed when their advance into France was halted at the Marne; by the end of 1914, the two sides faced each other along the Western Front, a continuous series of trench lines stretching from the Channel to Switzerland that changed little until 1917. By contrast, the Eastern Front was far more fluid, with Austria-Hungary and Russia gaining, then losing large swathes of territory. Other significant theatres included the Middle East, the Alpine Front and the Balkans, bringing Bulgaria, Romania and Greece into the war.

Shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade led Germany to initiate unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917, bringing the previously neutral United States into the war on 6 April 1917. In Russia, the Bolsheviks seized power in the 1917 October Revolution and made peace in the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, freeing up large numbers of German troops. By transferring these to the Western Front, the German General Staff hoped to win a decisive victory before American reinforcements could impact the war, and launched the March 1918 German spring offensive. Despite initial success, it was soon halted by heavy casualties and ferocious defence; in August, the Allies launched the Hundred Days Offensive and although the German army continued to fight hard, it could no longer halt their advance.

Towards the end of 1918, the Central Powers began to collapse; Bulgaria signed an Armistice on 29 September, followed by the Ottomans on 31 October, then Austria-Hungary on 3 November. Isolated, facing revolution at home and an army on the verge of mutiny, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on 9 November and the new German government signed the Armistice of 11 November 1918, bringing the fighting to a close. The 1919 Paris Peace Conference imposed various settlements on the defeated powers, the best known being the Treaty of Versailles. The dissolution of the Russian, German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires led to numerous uprisings and the creation of independent states, including Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. For reasons that are still debated, failure to manage the instability that resulted from this upheaval during the interwar period ended with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. (Wikipedia)

The autochrome, more formally known as the Autochrome Lumière, was attributed to two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière — French photographers also credited with the invention of early motion-picture equipment. Although other innovators had discovered ways to bring color to images through tint and screen processing, the autochrome, debuting in 1904, utilized a number of emulsion layers locking in natural color on a permanent glass negative.

We’re always jolted when we encounter vivid color photographs from the decades that we have collectively consigned to monochromatic grays. Sometimes these colors derive from a colorized restoration; at other times, we discover a world of color in the bowels of an old camera, locked in the emulsion of slide film in a machine lost, abandoned or forgotten decades earlier.

And sometimes, with luck, we stumble upon scenes from a “pre-color” era captured with experimental color processes. The vibrant photos from World War I posted in this gallery are examples of this surprisingly variegated, many-hued world.

France: c1915. Autochrome. French Soldier. Photographer Unknown. It has been estimated that France lost approximately 1,397,800 soldiers with another 4,266,000 wounded during World War I. There is, of course, no way of knowing whether this particular soldier survived the fighting since his name has been lost to history. Perhaps this autochrome was taken while on leave to visit his family or photographed by a fellow soldier and sent home as a keepsake.
France: September 1916. View of Verdun after 8 months of bombing. Battle of Verdun. Western Front. World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Photo: Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863 – 1931).
France: 1916. World War One. French Gunners receiving instruction, 1916.
France 1914-1918. The remains of a dead French soldier and his gun are lying under a tree on the Western front during World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Photo: Stéphane Passet (1875 – ?).
Aisne, France: 1917. Battle of the Aisne. French soldiers of the 370th Infantry Regiment are eating soup during the battle of the Aisne, Western Front, World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Fernand Cuville (1887-1927).
France 1914-1918. French Artillery soldiers are shown at the entrance of their shelter on the Western Front. 1. World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Photo: Stéphane Passet (1875 – ?).
France 1914-1918. A French soldier with an acoustic listening device capable of tracking air planes in preparation of anti-aircraft guns on the Western Front. World War I. Autochrome Lumière.
Bucy-le-Long, Aisne, France: 1917. Battle of the Aisne A French section of machine gunners has taken position in the ruins during the battle of the Aisne, Western Front, World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Fernand Cuville (1887-1927).
Messines, Flanders, Belgium: 1917. Autochrome Lumière. A crater (diameter 116 m, depth 45 m) after the explosion of 19 mines placed underneath German positions near Messines in West Flanders by the British on June 7, 1917.A total of about 10,000 soldiers died, amongst them almost all of the 3rd Royal Bavarian Division. The mines consisted of 21 t of explosives (Ammonal). The blast was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions of all times and was audible in Dublin and London. World War I, Western Front. Photo: Fernand Cuville (1887-1927).
Nine French soldiers are investigating a fatally injured horse on the Western front during World War I. France (1914 – 1918). Autochrome Lumière Photo: Stéphane Passet (1875 – ?).
France: April 1. 1918. The corpse of a French soldier of the 99th infantry regiment, who was poisoned during a German gas attack on March 23, 1918 and died eight days later of pneumonia. Western Front. World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Photo: Aubert.
The wreck of a German tank, which was destroyed during a battle on the Western Front (1914 – 1918). World War I. Frankreich. Autochrome Lumière, Charles Adrien (1866-1930).
Reims, Marne, France: 1917. A little girl is playing with her doll. Two guns and a knapsack are next to her on the ground. World War I, Western Front. Autochrome Lumière Photo: Fernand Cuville (1887-1927).
Département Aisne, France: 1917. French officers of the 370th Infantry Regiment are posing in the ruins after the attack of German troops at the Chemin des Dames near Reims during World War I. They have a bicycle and the flag of the 370th Infantry Regiment. The region was one of the worst battle grounds on the Western Front during World War I. Autochrome Lumière. Photo: Fernand Cuville (1887-1927).
France: 1918. A soldier in uniform with three medals is standing next to a cannon in Paris. His left leg has been replaced by an artificial limb. First World War. Autochrome Lumière. Photo: Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863 – 1931).

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