Portrait of David Scherman. (Photo by Hansel Meith/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Portrait of David Scherman. (Photo by Hansel Meith/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Many LIFE photographers were at the front during World War II, but no one else could claim that one of his photos helped sink a German vessel. In April 1941, David Scherman (1916-1997) was heading for Cape Town on the Egyptian Zamzam, when it was shelled by a German raider. Scherman took a picture of the raider from a lifeboat, then hid the film. When the Germans discovered there had been Americans aboard, they transferred them to a ship. The Americans were repatriated, and the photo ran in LIFE. The British navy, which had been pursuing such a raider, had the picture posted aboard all ships. Eight months later, a British plane spotted the raider and sank her. In 1953, according to Scherman, LIFE’S Managing Editor Ed Thompson said to him, “l want you to become an editor and claw your way to the top.” Scherman went on to be an editor at LIFE for two decades, the only staff photographer ever to achieve such a switch.

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

A view of Adolf Hitler's burning mountain house, "The Eagle's Nest." (Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

A view of Adolf Hitler’s burning mountain house, “The Eagle’s Nest.” (Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

People climbing down a ladder, trying to board an already overfull lifeboat, as the SS Zam Zam sinks. (Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

People climbing down a ladder, trying to board an already overfull lifeboat, as the SS Zam Zam sinks. (Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

A tiger setting out at dusk for night of hunting in Kanha National Park, Central India(Photo by Stan Wayman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Stan Wayman

Watching a high ball during baseball game. (Photo by Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Mark Kauffman

Students from Chiao Tung University during an Anti-American demonstration. (Photo by Jack Birns/ The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation). Photographer

Jack Birns

President Harry S. Truman waving his hat as he holds up a king salmon while fishing with others on Puget Sound. (Photo by George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

George Skadding

Girls of the Children's School of Modern Dancing, rehearsing on the beach. (Photo by Lisa Larsen/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Lisa Larsen

Drawing room at Notre-Dame-de-Vie withPortraits of Picasso and wife Jacqueline taken by David Douglas Duncan (Photo by Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

David Douglas Duncan