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.

Photographs

United States Eighth Air Force in Britain

Lieutenant Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group fliying his P-51 Mustang (B7-R, serial number 44-13357) nicknamed "Tika IV".
© IWM (FRE 6210)

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

Photographs

Sew for victory

Women’s Auxiliary Air Force: WAAF personnel on an RAF glider station in Britain repair and pack coloured parachutes for use by airborne troops during the Normandy invasion.
© IWM (TR 1783)

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

Photographs

Keep watching the skies

An ATS spotter with binoculars at the anti-aircraft command post. A 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun can be seen in the background.
© IWM (TR 453)

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

Photographs

The British Army drive on Tunis

Sergeant Elms of 16/5 Lancers and his tank crew at El Aroussa; Trooper Bates, Royal Armoured Corps, Signalman Bower, Royal Corps of Signals, and Trooper Goddard, Royal Armoured Corps, clean the 6-pounder gun of their Crusader tank while preparing for the drive on Tunis.
© IWM (TR 939)

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.

Photographs

Nurses and soldiers

Nursing: Two nurses with convalescent servicemen in the garden at Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital at Halton, Buckinghamshire.
© IWM (TR 1169)

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

Photographs

Build for Britain

Avro Lancaster bombers nearing completion at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory, Woodford, Cheshire.
© IWM (TR 1386)
Avro Lancaster bombers nearing completion at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory, Woodford, Cheshire.

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

Photographs

The British Army in Italy

British gunners of the Shropshire Yeomanry in action with a 5.5 inch Howitzer under camouflage netting.
© IWM (TR 1402)

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

Photographs

Meeting of the Supreme Command

Lt General Omar Bradley, Commander in Chief, 1st US Army; Admiral Sir Bertram H Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander in Chief, Expeditionary Force; Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander, Expeditionary Force; General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Expeditionary Force; General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Commander in Chief 21st Army Group; Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Allied Air Commander, Expeditionary Force; and Lt General Walter Bedell-Smith.
© IWM (TR 1541)

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

Photographs

Training day

Private A Campin with fixed bayonet, practises assault.
© IWM (TR 1596)

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

Photographs

Glider-Borne Paratroopers exercise

British paratroopers sitting in the fuselage of an aircraft while awaiting their order to jump.
© IWM (TR 1662)

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

Photographs

The Home Front

A Civil Defence Warden inspects bomb damaged buildings in Holborn, London.
© IWM (TR 1928)

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

Photographs

A pilot's best friend

The RAF's top scoring fighter pilot flying in north west Europe, Wing Commander Johnny Johnson, seen with his pet Labrador dog 'Sally'. He recorded 38 victories, though at the time of the photograph his total was 35. He commanded No 127 Wing composed of three Canadian Spitfire squadrons. The decorations on his tunic are a DSO with two Bars and a DFC with one Bar.
© IWM (TR 2145)

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.

Photographs

The Liberation of Eindhoven

Civilians dancing in the square of Eindhoven, the first major town in Holland to be liberated. Eindhoven was later bombed by the German Air Force.
© IWM (TR 2369)
Civilians dancing in the square of Eindhoven, the first major town in Holland to be liberated.

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

Photographs

A caravan fit for a King

During a tour of the 2nd Army area, HM King George VI visited the headquarters of the Commander of the 21st Army Group, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery. Field Marshal Montgomery is shown explaining his future plans to the King in his map lorry.
© IWM (TR 2393)

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

Photographs

The British Army in Athens

Sergeant R Gregory and Driver A Hardman admire the Caryatids during a tour of the Acropolis in Athens.
© IWM (TR 2516)

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

Explore more: The Second World War in Colour

Discover more colour photographs from IWM's archives, brought to life in The Second World War in Colour and War in the Air:

The Second World War in Colour illustrates the most destructive war in history through rare colour photographs from IWM's archive. 

War in the Air: The Second World War in Colour  focuses on an aspect of the war that was unquestionably key to the Allied victory: the war in the air. Alongside rarely seen images of aircraft and pilots from several Allied nations brought to life again in vibrant colour, Ian Carter, Senior Curator at IWM, examines how crucial aviation was to winning the war. 

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