Historic England opens 'fascinating' collection of World War Two aerial photographs to public

Credit: Historic England

US Air Force bombers over Norfolk.
One of the aerial photographs looks down through a break in the clouds as bombers fly over The Brecks area of Norfolk. Credit: Historic England

A "fascinating" collection of photographs taken over the skies of England during the Second World War have been revealed to the public for the first time.

The black and white images were taken by the US Army Air Forces Photographic Reconnaissance units, which were at bases across England in 1943 and 1944, after the US joined the war.

Historic England's archive has released over 3,600 of the black and white images via a free searchable map.

The pictures show bomb damage to towns and cities such as Old Trafford football stadium in Salford in 1941, bomber planes flying over the fields of Norfolk, and an aerodrome at Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

Old Trafford football stadium (top left) was damaged during a bombing raid in March 1941 and was not used again for football until 1949. Credit: Historic England

Also in Wiltshire, a low-level photograph shows a firing range at a US Army Camp, while troops play a game of baseball.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “Our USAAF Collection records changes taking place in England as a result of the Second World War, as well as capturing fascinating incidental detail, like American troops playing baseball.

“Our collection of USAAF wartime photographs were taken in England by the pilots and aircraft of squadrons that provided intelligence for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. This came at a cost, with many pilots killed in the line of duty.

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

The pictures include USAAF airfields, with radar equipment installed in the middle of quiet fields in Suffolk.

Another vertical aerial photograph looks down through a break in the clouds on Eighth Air Force B-17 bombers flying over The Brecks area of Norfolk.

Sunlit clouds over Cambridgeshire or Lincolnshire. Credit: Historic England

A photo taken over the skies of Cambridgeshire or Lincolnshire shows a picturesque view of sunlit clouds.

Meanwhile, pictures show a USAAF base at RAF Polebrook in Northamptonshire in May 1944.

Hollywood actor Clark Gable was stationed at the base in 1943, as he flew several combat missions while making the documentary 'Combat America'.

Troops playing baseball at a military camp in Devizes. Credit: Historic England

After the US joined the war, the USAAF and Britain’s Royal Air Force bombed enemy infrastructure targets from the air.

Britain’s proximity to occupied Europe made it an ideal base for operations.

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