Photo story

15 Rare Colour Photographs from The Second World War

Colour film was a scarce commodity during the Second World War, making the reproduction of printed works both difficult and expensive. Between 1942 and 1945 some 3,000 colour photographs were taken by The Ministry of Information for official records, which subsequently became part of the IWM archives in 1949.

Here are 15 of the images that survived and reveal for the first time and in great detail the world as the people in them would have seen it.

  • United States Eighth Air Force in Britain

    Image shows Lieutenant Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed ‘Tika IV’, during a bomber escort mission in 1944.

    Lieutenant Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed ‘Tika IV’, during a bomber escort mission in 1944.

  • Sew for victory

    Image shows Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) preparing parachutes for use by British airborne forces during the invasion of Europe, May 1944.

    Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) preparing parachutes for use by British airborne forces during the invasion of Europe, May 1944.

  • Keep watching the skies

    Image shows An Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) ‘spotter’ at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site, December 1942.

    An Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) ‘spotter’ at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site, December 1942.

  • The British Army drive on Tunis

    Image shows A crew from the 16th/5th Lancers, 6th Armoured Division, clean the gun barrel of their Crusader tank at El Aroussa in Tunisia, May 1943.

    A crew from the 16th/5th Lancers, 6th Armoured Division, clean the gun barrel of their Crusader tank at El Aroussa in Tunisia, May 1943.

  • Nurses and soldiers

    Image shows Nurses and convalescent aircrew at Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital at Halton in Buckinghamshire, August 1943.

    Nurses and convalescent aircrew at Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital at Halton in Buckinghamshire, August 1943.

  • Build for Britain

    Image shows Lancaster Bombers Nearing Completion In Avro’s Assembly Plant At Woodford Near Manchester, 1943.

    Lancaster Bombers nearing completion in Avro’s Assembly Plant at Woodford near Manchester, 1943.

  • The British Army in Italy

    Image shows A 5.5-inch gun crew from 75th (Shropshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, in action in Italy, September 1943.

    A 5.5-inch gun crew from 75th (Shropshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, in action in Italy, September 1943.

  • Meeting of the Supreme Command

    Image shows General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at Supreme Allied Headquarters in London, February 1944.

    General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at Supreme Allied Headquarters in London, February 1944.

  • Training day

    Image shows Private Alfred Campin of the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry during battle training in Britain, March 1944.

    Private Alfred Campin of the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry during training in Britain, March 1944.

  • Glider-Borne Paratroopers exercise

    Image shows British paratroopers prepare for a practice jump from an RAF Dakota based at Down Ampney in Wiltshire, 22 April 1944.

    British paratroopers prepare for a practice jump from an RAF Dakota based at Down Ampney in Wiltshire, 22 April 1944.

  • The Home Front

    Image shows An Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden inspects damaged buildings in Holborn, London.

    An Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden inspects damaged buildings in Holborn, London.

  • A pilot's best friend

    Image shows Wing Commander James E 'Johnny' Johnson At Bazenville Landing Ground, Normandy, 31 July 1944.

    The RAF’s top-scoring fighter pilot, Wing Commander James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, with his Spitfire and pet Labrador ‘Sally’ at Bazenville landing ground, Normandy, July 1944.

  • The Liberation of Eindhoven

    Image shows The Liberation Of Eindhoven, Holland, 20 September 1944.

    Dutch civilians dance in the streets after the liberation of Eindhoven by Allied forces, September 1944.

  • A caravan fit for a King

    Image shows Hm King George Vi With The British Liberation Army In Holland, 13 October 1944.

    Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery explains Allied strategy to King George VI in his command caravan in Holland, October 1944.

  • The British Army in Athens

    Image shows The British Army In Athens, Greece, October 1944.

    British soldiers admire the Caryatids on the Acropolis while sight-seeing in Athens, October 1944.

     

    You can see more original colour photographs from the IWM archives, many published for the first time in 70 years, in our new book The Second World War in Colour.