Color WWII film footage: Was it really "lost"? How? Why?

As I type this I am watching a WWII documentary on PBS that features all color footage. It inspired the following question.

I grew up in the 1960s, '70s and '80s watching only black and white WWII footage in historical documentaries. Then sometime in the 1990’s (IIRC) a trove of unseen color footage that had been shot during the war was unearthed. Now, when you see WWII historical documentaries, large portions will feature moving color images.

Where did this new footage come from? How could such prime footage have been lost or forgotten? What gives here?

Thanks all, in advance.

No specific facts here, I’m afraid.

Having said that, about the 1990s audiences seemed to me to demand color, even in historical footage, if it were available. My understanding was that there was a percentage of footage shot during WWII using color film, but because the film was more sensitive and expensive it wasn’t as common as black and white.

I’m not going to claim to have seen all color combat footage from WWII, but the impression I’ve had is that it’s mostly the same three or four very dramatic loops of film, just being used endlessly, in part because modern audiences don’t want to see b&w footage.

No cite for it, just my impression.

The funny thing was that lots of war footage was shot in color, I particularly remember that color was preferred as the film used in bombers and fighters at the beginning of 1943 as it was very important for damage assessment, information and training.

When the footage came to the news producers of the day, any color film was reproduced in B&W for the Newsreels and it was the newsreels and the still prevalent B&W movies of the day that everybody remembers.

The Perilous Fight.

America’s World War II in Color.

Yeah, you know that final scene in Raiders? It isn’t so very far from the truth.

A quibble about that “1,000” television reference: About 7,000-8,000 electronic sets were made in the U.S. before the War Production Board halted manufacture in April 1942.

Some wartime documentary features that were released in color:

The Battle of Midway (1942)
Report from the Aleutians (1943)
The Fighting Lady (1944)
The Last Bomb (1945)

Most were shot on 16mm Kodachrome and enlarged to 35mm Technicolor.

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress

Lots more World War II in color.

I seem to recall that during one invasion a bunch of color film was shot, but then almost all of it was inadvertently destroyed (during processing maybe?).
My Google-fu is weak this morning. Does anyone else remember this?

Says the guy opposed to whooshes in GQ

Doctor, are you seriously claiming that the government is holding the Ark in storage somewhere? And what does that have to do with the topic anyway?

I took it to be a very on point comment about how the Germans had set up lighting, and cameras, to record the revealing of the Ark of the Covenant. Visual records were made of all sorts of things during WWII. By both sides.

I took his comment as a serious observation on the archiving abilities of the US Government. It has nothing to do with a fictional ark, a lot to do with large warehouses of documents and artifacts lost in long aisles. Just ask NASA. They are still looking for the original video of the first moon landing.

That wasn’t the final scene.

You’re right - I conflated “final” with “climactic” in my mind. Sorry.

Exactly. My Dad did some of that after WWII, when he was still in the Army for a short time, after he got back home but before he was discharged. He said no one really knew what was being stored away, and he said “Yes, yes, that’s not so far from the truth” when we saw the film together.

My answer was in no way a whoosh. Of course the Ark isn’t stored away in some WWII period warehouse, but there is still stuff coming out of storage and classification.

A couple of years ago the Discovery channel or the History Channel ran one of their Pearl Harbor specials. There’s a standard black and white film of the Arizona exploding that has this enormous dark smoke cloud rising from the ship, followed pretty closely by it’s sinking. That clip has appeared in dozens if not hundreds of movies.

They had found the original film, it was in color and they ran that. The “enormous dark smoke cloud” is in fact one hellacious ball of fire from the exploding magazine. The film clip carries so much more of an impact in color. You know immediately that anyone on board is pretty much doomed.

Sort of related, but I recently came across some pics of troops in trenches in WWI - in color. Being the internet-savvy fellow I am, I immediately presumed “Photoshop”. Am I mistaken? Could they be real color pics from WWI?

Yes, the photos were taken in color for the French government, using the Autochrome process introduced in 1907. More on Autochrome.

World War I color photos.

I don’t know that there are color photos from WWI. Having said that some early photographic processes in the 1800s were color. Cite. It’s interesting to me that one of the images in that Wikipedia article is a color photograph from 1915, presumably from other than the Autochrome process mentioned above.
On preview: Not quite the same information that Walloon posted, so I’m going to add it anyways.

Pre-World War I Czarist Russia in color.

Sure you’re not half-remembering the story of Robert Capa on D-Day; as far as I know, all his film was black and white.

Despite the actual amount of surviving colour film and photographs being widely unappreciated, that’s not to say that TV producers won’t stoop to “enhancing” monochrome material. In the UK, Five recently screened an otherwise okay documentary Italian Fascism: Revealed in which all the footage had been colourised without saying so. Watching the programme, it was obvious to me that that was what had been done, but others were fooled. As for the justification, from The Times’s review: