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Following the advice of UK and Scottish Governments, NCAP has returned to limited operations. Orders for not-yet-digitised aerial imagery are subject to revised delivery timescales.

Historic Military Events

The images within the National Collection of Aerial Photography can be used to identify and interpret key historical moments and to see events unfolding as they happened. Below are just a few examples of the types of images that are held in the archive and show how you can identify key features within the photographs themselves to learn about or re-examine history.


The Second World War


Normandy Landings 1944

During the early hours of June 6th 1944, British airborne troops stormed the German defences at several locations in Normandy, France, paving the way for the Allied invasion of Europe. Pegasus Bridge was the first engagement of D-Day, the turning point of World War II. Within this photograph you can see the allied gliders used during the assault lying east of Pegasus Bridge, where they came to rest. More information and images on the D-Day landings are available in another feature pack on our website (please see the link at the bottom of this page).


The Holocaust: Auschwitz

The image to the right shows the Auschwitz II Concentration Camp (Birkenau) in August 1944: thick smoke is visible rising from the east of the camp. At this point in the closing months of the war, the number of people being killed at Auschwitz was so high that the crematoria were unable to burn all of the corpses. Instead, bodies were burnt in open pits. This image shows burning taking place in these mass funeral pits. The camp commandant, Rudolf Höß, testified at the Nuremberg Trials that up to 3 million people had died at Auschwitz.


Operation Clarion 1945

Operation Clarion ('War Trumpet') was part of the Allied bombing campaign which targeted 200 German communication network targets in the spring of 1945. The B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and B-26 Marauder were the main Allied aircraft involved. The image to the right shows one such bombing raid as it happens; it clearly shows the bomb explosions and one of several waves of B-26 Marauder bombers over the town of Staubing in Lower Bavaria, Germany. Their targets were the military barracks and the railway junction just to the north. In the event, this was one of the last bombing operations that this group undertook in the closing stages of the war.


Colditz Prisoner of War Camp 1945

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Colditz castle was converted into a high-security prisoner of war (POW) camp, known as Oflag IV-C. With its location on a rocky outcrop above the Mulde river, the Germans believed it to be an ideal location for a high-security prison. The aerial photograph to the right shows Colditz just three days before US forces over-ran the area. This aerial reconnaissance mission, flown by 541 Squadron, Royal Air Force, on 10 April 1945, shows people in the inner, or prisoners, courtyard when viewed at higher resolution. In May 1945, the Soviet occupation of Colditz began and it remained a prison. Following the Yalta Conference Colditz became part of East Germany.


Liberation celebrations: Copenhagen 1945

In the image to the right showing the centre of Copenhagen, crowds of people can be seen gathering in the town square towards the lower left corner of the photograph. On the day this photograph was taken (12th May 1945) Field Marshal Montgomery had arrived on a visit to Copenhagen and was driven through the streets of the city in triumph to meet King Christian X.



Logistics in The Second World War were key to either the success or the failure of operations. As a result of this, many transport links such as railway lines, junctions and bridges were targeted by allied and enemy bombers alike. The image to the right is a perfect example how various types of heavy vehicles, such as tanks and troop carriers, were transported across Europe. In front of the long white building at left of centre is a freight train mounted with several Panzer V Panther tanks and other military vehicles.


The Suez Crisis 1956

The oblique photograph to the right was taken by the French Air Force during Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt to capture the Suez Canal. When viewed at high resolution, French armoured vehicles can be seen disembarking from amphibious landing ships. Anglo-French forces withdrew from Egypt before the end of 1956, however Israeli forces stayed until March 1957. By April 1957, the Suez Canal was once again fully reopened to shipping.


This Feature was prepared by a Skills for the Future trainee.