The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) flew many photographic reconnaissance missions over the United Kingdom before and during the Battle of Britain. The photographs were analysed, annotated and supplied to bomber crews as target information. Targets were also photographed after they had been bombed and the amount of damage that had been inflicted was assessed.
A German aerial photograph of RAF Duxford shows just how much Luftwaffe reconnaissance imagery could reveal about a target and also how what is visible could easily be misinterpreted.
RAF Duxford was the first station to receive the Supermarine Spitfire. In this photograph, Spitfires of No. 19 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF) are lined up outside their hangar in May 1939. The hangar - (1) first from bottom in the Luftwaffe photo, above - dates from the First World War but new squadron offices (to the left of the photo) and camouflage paint were added before the outbreak of the Second World War.
During the battle, No. 19 Squadron mostly operated out of Duxford’s satellite airfield at nearby Fowlmere but their aircraft continued to be serviced in this hangar. Today it is a listed building within the historic core of IWM Duxford and it houses the Battle of Britain exhibition.
This photograph shows the hangar identified at (2) in the Luftwaffe image, above. During the Battle of Britain it was used as the Station Theatre where regular cinema shows, ENSA performances, dances and boxing tournaments were staged. Duxford and Fowlmere were only heavily attacked once during the battle when, on 31 August 1940, a few bombs fell on Fowlmere causing minimal damage.
The Luftwaffe photograph is possibly a post-raid reconnaissance image. What the Luftwaffe had failed to do to the hangar (2) was achieved in 1968 during the making of the Battle of Britain film. An explosion simulating an air raid on an airfield destroyed the hangar and all that can be seen of it now is an empty expanse of concrete.
The Royal Air Force expanded before and during the Second World War. The construction of four new barrack blocks to house an influx of additional airmen started at RAF Duxford in the summer of 1939. Building work shown at (3) in the Luftwaffe image, above, was still going on at Duxford as late as September 1940 when the German photograph was taken. Accommodation was so tight that men were moved into the buildings even before they were completely finished.
No. 601 Squadron, with their Bell P-39 Airacobras photographed on a press day at Duxford, 17 October 1941. The squadron evaluated the unusual American aircraft for the RAF but it was not a success and they were re-equipped with Spitfires in the spring of 1942.