Aerial photographs showing Britain during World War II - including RAF Bassingbourn - have been made available to the public for the first time.

The photos were taken by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Photographic Reconnaissance units stationed at bases around the country in 1943 and 1944.

RAF Bassingbourn was listed as 'USAAF Station 121', and the photo above was taken on May 31, 1944.

B-17s of the 91st Bomb Group - known as the 'Ragged Irregulars' - arrived at Bassingbourn in October 1942, and the famous 'Memphis Belle' plane was stationed at the site.

The bomber inspired the documentary film 'The Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress' in 1944, as well as a 1990 war film named after the aircraft.

The plane was the third USAAF heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe. 

Bassingbourn's B-17s suffered the highest casualties of the US Eighth Air Force, with 197 bombers failing to return.

After VE Day the group helped evacuated prisoners of war from German camps.

Now the area is included in the 3,600 images of England from the air, which Historic England has made available to the public for the first time via an online, searchable map.

The pictures show USAAF airfields, American bombers and troops, army hospital tents, the impact of bombing on urban areas and more.

American Photographic Reconnaissance squads who arrived in England had to learn British radio procedures and flying regulations.

Pilots took photographs during flights over areas near their bases while gaining experience to qualify for operations over enemy territory.

Flights were also made to test new and repaired aircraft and camera equipment, as well as to carry out photographic assignments.

Along with the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance units, the USAAF units provided vital intelligence by photographing cities, factories, shipyards, military facilities and infrastrucutre in Nazi-occupied Europe.


The units often used specially-adapted aircraft with guns and weapons removed to accommodate fixed cameras and additional fuel tanks for long-range missions.

Cameras had a range of lenses and focal lengths, so they could capture whole towns and cities in single frames.

They were operated by the pilot with a push-button control and had magazines with rolls of plastic film, with the capacity to take scores of frames.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: "Our USAAF collection records changes taking place in England as a result of the Second World War, as well as capturing fascinating incidental detail, like American troops playing baseball.

"Our collection of USAAF wartime photographs were taken in England by the pilots and aircraft of squadrons that provided intelligence for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. This came at a cost, with many pilots killed in the line of duty.

"We are making these images available to the public for the first time online, giving people access to this remarkable collection of historic photographs.

"They help to highlight the vital role aerial reconnaissance played in the Second World War."

To explore the Historic England Archive's USAAF collection visit