WW2 Luftwaffe aerial photographs of British towns and cities
Each item listed at our Aerial photographs webpage is an original half-tone aerial photograph, or group of related photographs, of cities and towns in the UK issued in the 1940s by the German Luftwaffe (Der Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe) within the German General Staff (Generalstab des Heeres).
They were prepared For Official Use Only! (Nur für den Dienstgebrauch!) in connection with bombing raids on Britain at the height of the second World War.
These half-tone aerial photographs are of the German Luftwaffe's military and strategic "targets" across Britain - cities and towns and surrounding areas, ports, docks, harbours, airfields and the like. Every image is captioned with its subject to assist in navigation, positioning and target identification purposes during the raids themselves. These photographs are not post-raid photographs showing the results of bombing.
The photographs were issued to Luftwaffe aircrew - pilots, navigators and bomb-aimers - in regional volumes with perforated "tear-out" sections, each containing detail of individual towns or areas. Each volume contained the instruction "Zum Verbrauch! Mitnahme von Ausschnitten des Bildteiles zum Feindflug gestattet" ("To be used! You are permitted to take these photographs with you on raids").
In short, the pages containing the images referring to the target of any particular raid were intended to be extracted from their regional volume and taken by the aircrew on the raid itself. In view of this, it's hardly surprising that so few of these original images have survived, and especially in as nice a condition as those offered here.
The photographs were compiled by the Luftwaffe from a number of different sources, some pre-war taken secretly, in preparation for the war, by German military intelligence from German civilian and commercial aircraft, others during the war itself by Luftwaffe photo-reconnaissance aircraft. In 1938, the chief of the German General Staff, General Werner von Fritsch, is reported as stating “The nation with the best photo-reconnaissance will win the war” and, by 1940, Germany led the world in this field. Details of the different types of aircraft used by the Luftwaffe for this purpose can be seen at www.AirRecce.co.uk.
For a few of the towns in this collection, the Luftwaffe augmented their own reconnaissance material by reprinting any British 1930s commercial aerial photographs they had managed to obtain, annotating them appropriately with strategically important features for Luftwaffe aircrew coming over the target.
These photographs, printed by the Luftwaffe for use in action by German bomber aircrew, have immense historical significance as some of the few surviving remnants of World War Two Luftwaffe activity over Britain and also as exceedingly scarce items of local history for the areas of the UK involved.
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