World War II aerial photos of England released for first time


Thousands of aerial photos of England taken by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II have been released publicly for the first time, revealing airfields with American bombers, a damaged Manchester soccer stadium and troops playing baseball at a U.S. military camp.

Photographic reconnaissance units of the USAAF took the 3,600 black-and-white images when they were stationed at bases across England in 1943 and 1944, after the United States joined the war in December 1941. Showing scenes including antitank defenses surrounding ancient monuments and a racecourse covered in military equipment, the pictures offer a view from the sky of how England changed during World World II.

One of the photographs shows the roof of the main stand at the Old Trafford soccer grounds in Greater Manchester, which was damaged during a bombing raid in March 1941. The site, home of the English club Manchester United, was not used again for soccer until 1949, according to Historic England, a government body that protects historic buildings, monuments and parks.

The images, capturing swaths of English towns and cities, are available to view on an online map as part of Historic England’s archive, agency announced Wednesday.

The collection also features radar equipment installed in the middle of fields in the English countryside in Suffolk, army hospital tents set up in Wiltshire in southern England and antitank defenses around Cissbury Ring, an Iron Age hill fort in West Sussex.

Antitank ditches and concrete blocks were laid out to hinder an enemy advance through the Findon Valley, according to Historic England, which is sponsored by the British government’s Culture Ministry.

The organization said U.S. reconnaissance squadrons, created to photograph sites in occupied countries and Germany, had to learn British radio procedures and flying regulations after arriving in England during the war.

These crews often used aircraft that were adapted by removing weaponry to accommodate fixed cameras and fuel tanks for long-range missions. Pilots took photos during flights near their bases “while gaining the necessary experience to qualify for operations over enemy territory,” Historic England said. They also flew to test aircraft or camera equipment.

In the background of firing ranges seen in one photo from 1944, troops play baseball at a U.S. Army camp on the outskirts of the town of Devizes, Wiltshire.

Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said the collection “records changes taking place in England as a result of the Second World War, as well as capturing fascinating incidental detail.”

“We are making these images available to the public for the first time online, giving people access to this remarkable collection of historic photographs,” he said in a statement. “They help to highlight the vital role aerial reconnaissance played in the Second World War.”


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