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

Ballerinas at George Balanchine's American School of Ballet gathered around accompanist during rehearsal. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Alfred Eisenstaedt

African-American student Virginius B. Thornton receiving tolerance training before picketing. (Photo by Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Howard Sochurek

Children in Halloween costumes running together. (Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

George Silk

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

Jack Birns

Columnist Sidney Skolsky (L) catching a ride on Bob Hope's (R) bicycle on his way from his dressing room to the sound stage. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

John Florea

Actor Charlton Heston as Moses with his arms flung wide while appearing in the motion picture, "The Ten Commandments", as it is shown at drive-in movie theater. (Photo by J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

J.R. Eyerman