Berlin: Associated Press, 1940. Photograph. This wartime press photograph of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965) belonged to the Associated Press German Picture Service, an American news agency on German soil that symbolized the imperfect struggle to maintain free press operations in Nazi Germany. The photo measures 5.25 x 7.25 inches (13.4 x 18.5 cm).
Condition is very good, the glossy photo surface clean and bright with no tears or folds and light scratches visible only under raking light. The verso features a typed German caption which translated reads "Here the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a tour of the destruction, the attacks of the German Air Force on the port facilities of Ramsgate". A stamp in pink ink reads “The Associated Press | Berlin SW 68, Zimmerstrasse 68 | Telef. 17 0124-0125” along with four further lines in German which translate to “Publication may only be made with the permission and appointment of Associated Press A. P. Photos along with the delivery of voucher copies”.
Intriguingly, as evident from the white swath at the upper right of the image, it appears that British censors obscured a place name in the photograph. This photo was likely taken on 28 August 1940 when Churchill, concerned by the effect of intensified German air raids on the British population, made “a visit to the South-East coast defences at Dover and Ramsgate”.
Churchill returned to Downing Street ‘much affected…” by the plight of those whose homes had been damaged or destroyed. “The casualty figures from air bombardment for the week… were higher than any previous week: a total of 296 killed and 565 seriously injured.” And on 31 August, Churchill received news a ship taking children to the United States had been sunk, which “disturbed him particularly”. Churchill returned from Ramsgate “determined” to “browbeat the Chancellor of the Exchequer” into compensating “those whose houses had been destroyed or badly damaged.” (Gilbert, Vol. VI, pp. 760-764)
When Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May, 1940, the war for Britain was not so much a struggle for victory as a struggle to survive. Churchill’s first six months in office would see, among other near-calamities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the fall of France, evacuation at Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain. Hitler intended the Battle of Britain as the preparatory effort to gain air superiority prior to an invasion of England. The question was far from settled when this photograph was taken.
The Associated Press (AP) established AP’s German photo service as a subsidiary in 1931. After 1933, the Nazis quickly brought the AP German photo service under the supervision of the Propaganda Ministry. Compromises were inevitable, including re-writing of AP captions and firing of Jewish AP employees in Germany. Nonetheless, “The AP made the difficult decision to comply because it believed it was critical for AP to remain in Germany and gather news and photos during this crucial period”. Berlin-based American AP reporters and German photographers covered the first part of the Second World War from 1939-1941 from the German side of the battle lines.
When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941, AP’s American staff members in Germany were arrested and interned for five months, while the AP German picture service was seized by the Nazi government and put under control of a Waffen SS photographer, Helmut Laux. Nonetheless, AP still wanted to make images of Nazi-controlled areas of Europe available to the American public, so with approval from the U.S. Government a deal was brokered. Through a third party in neutral Portugal and Switzerland Bureau Laux and AP exchanged photos. Of course the captions for AP images that appeared in German publication were rewritten by Nazi propagandists, but the German photos obtained by AP in exchange helped AP to cover the war as comprehensively as possible and thereby give the U.S. public “a much fuller picture of the war than could have been obtained otherwise”. (AP). Item #004852