~ Shop ~

An Album of 159 Original World War II Aerial Reconnaissance and Bombing Photographs compiled by the Royal Air Force

14,500.00

 

Unique and highly important – by far and away the finest and most comprehensive collection of World War II bombing and reconnaissance photographs we have ever encountered, an expensively custom bound album of 159 photographs, each with detailed pastedown typescript captions, as well as a location map and index, clearly made by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) for presentation to an unnamed VIP (ex. cabinet minister or senior general); the highly classified, unusually high quality images were all taken between May and December 1941, the critical period when the RAF was turning the tide against the Luftwaffe, mounting sorties deep into Axis territory for the first time; the photographs cover a wide variety of subjects in various places in the Western and Central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and include images of RAF attacks upon enemy cities (including a large suite of active bombing images of Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, etc.), factories, military bases, infrastructure and shipping, an image of the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp, as well as oil facilities in Iran.

 

Oblong Folio (30 x 38 cm): [v, incl. indexes and map], 102 pp. on 51 grey album leaves featuring 159 photographs and pastedown typescript descriptive captions, bound in original black roan with gilt lettering (marked ‘Vol. I’) and ruling to spine (Very Good to Excellent, internally very clean and crisp, photographs are high quality, clear with strong contrast, just a few captions with light stains, binding with light shelf-wear).

 

1 in stock

Description

This is by far and away the highest quality and most comprehensive collection of original World War II aerial reconnaissance and bombing photography we have ever encountered.  It was clearly made by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to be presented to an anonymous VIP official (perhaps a cabinet minister or senior general), as the then ‘highly classified’ photographs are displayed in expensive custom bound album, with and index, a map of the locations of the photographs, followed by the 159 photographs neatly affixed to grey album leaves, each acclaimed by (often detailed) pastedown typescript captions.  Moreover, the photos are all of high technical quality, with sharp focus and contrast, unlike the ‘foggy’ nature of many such images.

 

The album features what was highly sensitive military information that would be classified exclusively for the eyes of individuals with ‘top security’ clearance.  The spine of the album is gilt labelled ‘Vol. I’, and was presumably followed by another album; however, the present work is complete in and of itself, and is surely unique.  The album seems to have been assembled early in 1942, as the photographs are all dated between May and December 1941.  The purpose of the album seems to be to comprehensively showcase the diverse and impressive reconnaissance and bombing abilities that the RAF had developed to date.

 

Significantly, the images cover a critical period of the WWII air war, when the RAF and their Imperial allies (ex. Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc.) were left virtually alone to fight Germany’s Luftwaffe, prior to the United States entering the war at the end of 1941.  During this period, the RAF battled to turn the tables against the Germans.  The Luftwaffe, which once possessed overwhelming air superiority, had by this time become worn down by their loss at the Battle of Britain and mass effort of The Blitz, which failed in its objective of denting British morale.  From June 1941, the Germans became increasingly distracted by their invasion of the Soviet Union, while the British ‘upped their game’ and their numbers of aircraft and trained crew, so allowing them to execute large strikes against targets deep within Axis territory of the first time, as well as to mount reconnaissance flights far into Luftwaffe-controlled airspace.

 

The album features 159 photographs, taken between May 1 and December 27, 1941, and are of various sizes (some full page, maximum 30.5 x 23 cm, but most are smaller).  The locations of the photographs are shown on the custom map (page v), the ‘Sketch-Map showing Locations of Places covered by Photographs’.  These locations include approximately 55 from Germany; 39 from France; 23 from the Netherlands; 9 each from Norway and Iceland; 6 from Belgium; 5 from Italy; 2 from Iran; and 1 photograph each of Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey (off the coast thereof); while 4 photographs are of events at unspecified locations.

According to the ‘Subject Index’ (pages ii and iii), of the photographs, 13 are categorized as ‘outstanding examples’ of aerial photography; 13 are of aerodromes or seaplane bases; 5 are of aircraft works; 23 concern camouflage (of all types); 17 depict bombing damage; 18 are of  daytime attacks; 2 show decoys; 10 are of defenses (arms, flack); 34 depict industrial facilities and communications; 4 concern invasion preparations and related equipment; 5 are of night photos; 42 show ports and shipyards; 27 show shipping (both naval and merchant); 1 concerns wireless and telecommunications; and 20 concern miscellaneous subjects (ex. aircraft in flight, a concentration camp, an infrared photo, submarine pens, etc.).

The captions that accompany the photographs are often quite detailed, explaining the precise context of the mission involved.  Some images are for reconnaissance, and do not show any battle action, while other show the active bombing or strafing Axis targets (whether they be cities, warships, or infrastructure, etc.) by RAF planes.  Some of the photographs are even marked up with potential bombing target details, granting a sophisticated view of places such as enemy submarine pens and factories.  In sum, they lend an unparalleled ‘for a general’s eyes only’ insight into the nature of the air war during 1941, a pivotal year of conflict, as the RAF sough to turn the tables on the Luftwaffe.

The quality, diversity, and fascinating nature of the subjects of the photographs ensures that so many of them deserve special mention beyond the scope of this catalogue entry.  However, highlights include, 62. Dachau taken 18.9.41., an early and daring reconnaissance photograph of the infamous Nazi Dachau Concentration Camp, near Munich (est. 1933), which features annotations that chillingly detail its facilities.

 

There are numerous active bombing photos of major German cities, such as Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Bremerhaven, etc.  Particularly amazing images are 31. Berlin (Night Photograph) taken on 2/3.9.41. and 41. and 43. Kassel taken 8/9.9.41., as they possess amazing visual effects that show bright streaks of ordnance flying through the night sky, photographed from the cockpits of RAF bombers.

Intriguing images include 23. Abadan Mosaic taken on 5.8.41. and 47. Ahwaz (Mosaic) compiled 8.9.41. depicting the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’s petroleum facilities in southwestern Iran that were critical to the Allied war effort.  The Abadan refinery (est. 1912) was the oldest in the Middle East and one of the largest in the world, while Ahwaz was the city nearest the region’s oldest commercial oilfield.  While these assets were inevitably spared from being attacked, at the time that these photos were taken their positions were far from secure, for in October 1940 the Italian Airforce had successfully attacked the major British Gulf base of Bahrain.  Visually stunning are the images of Iceland taken 29.5.41 to 5.8.41. (nos. 96 to 104 inclusive).

Indeed, we have never encountered a collection of WWII aerial photographs remotely comparable, in term of its quality, quantity and breadth.

Historical Context: The RAF Starts to Turn the Tide on the Luftwaffe

At the beginning of World War II, Germany had huge inherent advantages over Britain in the air war.  The Luftwaffe employed 208,000 personnel with 4,201 operative aircraft, while the Royal Air Force (RAF) could only muster 3,700 aircraft and 167,000 personnel.  However, the Germans practical lead was even greater, as they were generally better equipped, while their pilots were more highly trained and prepared.

The Luftwaffe proved awesomely effective during the ‘Blitzkrieg’ invasion of France (May 10 to June 25, 1940), vitally supporting the ground operations that rolled over the country in only 46 days.  Upon the conquest of France and Belgium, the German air advantage was greatly augmented as the Luftwaffe controlled airfields in close range of England.  Conversely, RAF bombers had to fly over hundreds of kilometres of heavily defended enemy airspace to strike German targets, while many of the key objectives (such as Munich and Berlin) were virtually out of range.

However, the Luftwaffe made strategic errors that surrendered their advantage, allowing the Allies to buy time to catch up and gain the upper hand.  The German attempt to gain permanent air superiority over England failed during the Battle of Britain (July 10 – October 31, 1940), the world’s first full-scale air war, while the ‘Blitz’ (September 7, 1940 to May 11, 1941), the intensive German bombing of London and other key British cities, failed to dent British resolve.  These undertakings came with a heavy price in men and planes and, leaving the Luftwaffe much diminished.

The RAF took advantage of the Luftwaffe’s shortcomings and were further advantaged by the fact that from June 1941 onwards, much German air power was directed away from the Western Front and towards their invasion of the Soviet Union (which proved a disaster, leading to the loss of thousands of planes and pilots).  The British and their imperial Allies (Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.), although left to fight the Allied air war largely singlehandedly, were able to increase their production of aircraft (with improved technology), while training thousands more pilots, so quickly closing the gap on Germany’s numerical superiority.  As such, during the period that the present photographs were taken, British and Allied sorties were, for the first time, able to occasionally strike deep into Germany, bombing cities, factories, and infrastructure for the first time, as well as taking out German shipping far out to sea.  They also had the ability to fly reconnaissance flights far into Axis domains, boldly taking high quality images of valuable future targets, while gaining vital intelligence on enemy operations.  While the RAF could not yet equal the devastating force that the Luftwaffe showed during The Blitz of the levelling of Rotterdam, they were gradually turning the tables.

The entry of the United States into WWII was the gamechanger in the air war, as it provided the Allies with an almost unlimited source of equipment and manpower.  The Allies also improved their planes, as well as their dogfighting and bombing tactics.  The RAF’s bombing of Lübeck, on March 28, 1942, hailed the start of frequent devastating Allied airstrikes deep into German territory.  While the Luftwaffe retaliated with the ‘Baedeker Bombings’ of England’s prettiest cities, in April-May 1942, this proved unsuccessful, as it served only to galvanize British resolve.  As 1942 ended, the Allies assumed air superiority over the entire Western Front, while Germany started to run low on supplies of jet fuel, as it failed to conquer the Baku Oilfields, for their invasion of the Soviet Union had been stopped cold at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 23, 1942 – February 2, 1943).

 

In 1943, the Luftwaffe’s offensive capabilities started to fall apart, as it suffered from debilitating shortages of planes, trained pilots, and fuel.  Meanwhile, the Allies were receiving massive re-enforcements from North America.  The Germans were increasingly losing their ability to defend their own cities from massive raids.  By 1944, the Luftwaffe was so depleted that, in many areas, it could be described as more of a nuisance than a threat, as the Allies (which now had airfields in Italy) could carpet and firebomb cities and destroy large industrial facilities anywhere in Germany.  The Allied air raids (sometimes featuring over 1,000 planes at a time) were so devastating that they gradually shut down entire sectors of German war production, while severely sapping civilian morale, as entire cities were reduced to rubble.  During the remainder of the war, the Allies’ total air superiority was a key factor in their successful land invasion of Germany, precipitating the fall of the Third Reich in May 1945.

 

LIST OF CONTENTS (159 Photographs):

 

‘Sketch-Map showing Locations of Places covered by Photographs’

 

  1. 1. Decoy Point (Nr. Lorient [France]) taken on 6.8.41. <p. 1>
  2. Lorient taken on 13.6.41.
  3. Cologne taken on 12.8.41.
  4. Cologne taken on 12.8.41.
  5. Cologne taken on 12.8.41.
  6. Cologne taken on 12.8.41.
  7. Horten (Norway) taken on 9.8.41.
  8. Le Trait [France] taken on 12.8.41.
  9. Destroyers in Line Ahead taken on 7.7.41. (off Seven Capes, Turkey)
  10. Attack on Enemy Merchant Vessel [in North Sea], taken on 30.7.41. <p. 5>
  11. Attack on Enemy Merchant Vessel [in North Sea], taken on 30.7.41. (same as before).
  12. Ijmuiden Harbor [Netherlands] taken on 21.8.41.
  13. Attack on Iron and Steel Works at Ijmuiden. Taken on 21.8.41.
  14. Cognac Chateaubernard [France] taken on 7.8.41.
  15. Bergen Alkmaar Aerodrome (Holland) taken on 20.8.41.
  16. Hamburg Docks: taken on 17.8.41.
  17. Hamburg taken on 17.8.41.
  18. Camouflaged Blenheim Mark IV [near Lille, France] taken on 18.8.41.
  19. Hazebrouk [France] taken on 19.8.41. <p. 10>
  20. Bomb Damage at Cologne taken on 21.8.41.
  21. Toulon (Mosaic) taken on 27.8.41.
  22. Pocket Battleship [in Samso Belt, Denmark] taken on 4.9.41.
  23. Abadan [Iran] Mosaic taken on 5.8.41.
  24. Rotterdam (The Maashaven)… on 1.9.41.
  25. Ludwigshafen (Badische Anilin and Soda Fabrik)… taken on 2.9.41.
  26. Mannheim (and district)…
  27. Mannheim (Waldhof) Daimler-Benz Works… taken on 2.9.41.
  28. Lannion [France] Aerodrome taken 31.8.41. <p.15>
  29. Kiel taken on 4.9.41.
  30. Rotterdam… 1.9.41.
  31. Berlin (Night Photograph) taken on 2/3.9.41.
  32. Rotterdam taken on 28.8.41.
  33. Caen / Capriquet Aerodrome taken on 4.9.41.
  34. Caen / Capriquet Aerodrome taken on 4.9.41.
  35. A. Rotterdam taken 28.8.41.
  36. B. Rotterdam taken 1.9.41.
  37. Rotterdam taken 28.8.41.
  38. Stettin taken 8.9.41.
  39. Strander Bucht [Germany] taken 12.9.41.
  40. Malmo: Mosaic taken on 4.9.41. <p.20>
  41. Kassel taken 8/9.9.41.
  42. Kassel taken 8/9.9.41.
  43. Attack on Flakship [off of The Hague] taken 7.9.41.
  44. Attack on Flakship [off of The Hague] taken 7.9.41.
  45. Damage to the Industrial Plant at Mazingarb [France] taken on 10.7.41.
  46. Mazingarb taken on 8.7.41.

*47. Ahwaz [Iran] (Mosaic) compiled 8.9.41.

  1. Berlin taken 16.9.41. <p.25>
  2. Berlin taken 16.9.41.
  3. Bremen taken 21.9.41.
  4. Rostock taken 21.9.41.
  5. Augsburg taken 18.9.41.
  6. Farge (near Vegesak) [Germany] taken 21.9.41.
  7. Le Grand-Quevilly [France] taken 18.9.41.
  8. St. Nazaire taken 20.9.41.
  9. Battleship „Tirpitz“ [in Kiel Fiord, Germany] taken 13.9.41. <p.30>
  10. Light Cruiser Emden (Oslo) taken 15.9.41.
  11. Bethune [France] taken 21.9.41.
  12. Neuburg [Germany] taken 22.9.41.
  13. Heligoland & Dune [Germany] taken 21.9.41.
  14. Wilhelmshaven taken 21.9.41.
  15. Dachau taken 18.9.41.
  16. Hallendorf [Germany] taken 16.9.41.
  17. Le Havre taken 17.9.41. <p.35>
  18. Swinemunde [Germany] taken 19.9.41.
  19. Daylight Attack on Shipping taken 18.9.41.
  20. Wilhelmshaven taken 21.9.41.
  21. Synthetic Oil Plant at Politz near Stettin taken on 30.9.41.
  22. Bremen. taken 28.9-41.
  23. Kiel Taken 27.9.41.
  24. Gydnia [Poland]. Taken 29.9.41.
  25. Hamburg. Taken 5.10.41. <p.40>
  26. Hamburg. Taken 28.9.41.
  27. Ostend: Taken 3.10.41.
  28. Zeesen [Germany]. Taken 29.9.41.
  29. Misburg [Germany]: Taken 3.10.41. (Gewerkschaft Deutsche Erdol Raffinerie).
  30. Knock-sur-Mer [Belgium] – taken 12.10.41. <p.45>
  31. Dordrecht – taken 12.10.41.
  32. Flushing [Vlissingen, Netherlands] – taken 15.10.41.
  33. Bremerhaven. taken on 28.9.41.
  34. Bremerhaven – taken on 5.10.41.
  35. Bremerhaven – taken on 20.10.41.
  36. Bergen Aanzee [Netherlands]. Taken on 10.10.41.
  37. Casablanca [Morocco] Taken 15.10.41. <p.50>
  38. Brandenburg taken 29.9.41.
  39. Heroya (Norway) taken on 20.5.41
  40. Heroya (Norway) taken on 5.10.41.
  41. Toulon taken 23.10.41.
  42. Toulon taken 23.10.41. <p.55>
  43. Mers-el-Kebir [Algeria] taken 3.10.41.
  44. Rotterdam taken night of 3/4.10.41.
  45. Stettin taken night of 30.9./1.10.41.
  46. Genoa: taken 28.9.41.
  47. Petten (near Ijmuiden) taken 10.10.41.
  48. Le Havre. Taken 15.10.41.
  49. Oslo Fjord. taken 13.10.41. <p.60>
  50. Akreyri [Iceland] taken 5.8.41.
  51. Looking South from Herades Floi [Iceland] taken 5.8.41.
  52. Sigludfjordur [Iceland] taken 5.8.41.
  53. Seydisfjordur [Iceland] taken 5.8.41.
  54. Vatneyri [Iceland] taken 12.7.41.
  55. Raufarhofn [Iceland] taken 29.5.41.
  56. Schydhis Fiord [Iceland] taken 29.5.41.
  57. Reykjor Fiord [Iceland] taken 5.8.41.
  58. Coastline near Mjoi Fiord [Iceland] taken 29.5.41.
  59. Rotterdam: taken 24.10.41.
  60. Nore (Norway) taken 13.10.41. <p.65>
  61. Berlin taken 16.9.41.
  62. Berlin taken 16.9.41.
  63. Nieuwpoort-La Panne [Belgium] Area taken 19.10.41.
  64. Nieuwpoort-La Panne Area taken 19.10.41.
  65. Nieuwpoort-La Panne Area taken 19.10.41.
  66. Nieuwpoort-La Panne Area taken 19.10.41.
  67. Naples taken 25.9.41.
  68. Naples taken 20.10.41. <p.70>
  69. Flushing taken 25.10.41.
  70. Flushing taken 25.10.41.
  71. Flushing taken 25.10.41.
  72. Flushing taken 25.10.41.
  73. Flushing taken 25.10.41.
  74. Aasfjord (Norway) taken 28.10.41. <p.75>
  75. Gennevilliers [France] taken 18.8.41.
  76. Gennevilliers taken 20.6.41.
  77. Gennevilliers taken 22.10.41.
  78. Trondheim taken 28.10.41.
  79. Cognac / Chateaubernard Aerodrome taken 21.10.41.
  80. Brunswick-Broitzem [Germany] Aerodrome taken 2.10.41. <p.80>
  81. Munster taken 12.7.41.
  82. Berlin taken 16.9.41.
  83. Keroman (Lorient) taken 4.5.41.
  84. Keroman (Lorient) taken 2.10.41.
  85. Keroman (Lorient) taken 30.10.41.
  86. Gravelines [France] taken 4.11.41.
  87. Brest taken 18.11.41.
  88. Brest taken 18.11.41.
  89. Ile Brehat [France] taken 15.11.41. <p. 85>
  90. New Canal near Ieuna [Germany] taken 15.11.41.
  91. Le Havre taken 18.11.41.
  92. Le Havre taken 18.11.41.
  93. Etaples [France] taken 17.11.41.
  94. Heinkel Factors at Rostock/Marienehe taken 30.11.41.
  95. Brest taken 21.11.41. <p. 90>
  96. Valsen [Netherlands] taken 1.12.41.
  97. Kiel Harbour taken 29.11.41.
  98. Swinemunde taken 30.11.41.
  99. Henkel III. taken 3.11.41.
  100. Hamburg. taken night of 30.11.41. and 1.12.41.
  101. Amsterdam / Schiphol taken 1.12.41.
  102. Keroman (Lorient) taken 7.12.41. <p. 95>
  103. St. Nazaire taken 7.12.41.
  104. Boulogne taken 8.12.41.
  105. Wilhelmshaven taken 28/29.12.41.
  106. Leghorn [Livorno] taken 11.6.41.
  107. Leghorn [Livorno] taken 11.6.41.
  108. Aastveitvaagen [Norway] taken 27.12.41. <p. 100>
  109. Brest taken 18.12.41.
  110. Brest taken 18.12.41.
  111. Bremen taken 1.5.41. <p. 102, final page>
  112. Bremen taken 1.5.41.

 

References: N/A – Album seemingly a unique, unrecorded, highly classified document.

 

 

 

Additional information

Author

Code

Place and Year