Wartime images of Tripoli have just been discovered in the vast archives of the National Collection of Aerial Photography.
The photographs were taken by a British photo reconnaissance aircraft flying from Malta on 22 November 1942. They show the Libyan capital in Axis hands, one month before its capture by the British 8th Army – which was at this time advancing rapidly westwards along the coast road from Benghazi. After covering 600 miles in 14 days, British troops under the command of Lieutenant-General Montgomery paused to regroup before fighting their way into Tripoli on 23 January 1943.
As the main supply port for German and Italian forces in North Africa, Tripoli was a regular target for British reconnaissance aircraft during the Second World War. Once the aircraft had returned to their bases in Malta and Egypt, British photographic interpreters were able to calculate the amount and type of supplies arriving from Italy and could monitor any build-up or deficiency which might influence enemy intentions.
In this sequence of images, numerous merchant ships can be seen in the port, bringing supplies and equipment to the beleaguered German Afrika Korps and their Italian allies. Several escort ships and reconnaissance seaplanes are also visible moored within the harbour. The aerial view provides a fascinating illustration of the contrasting architectural styles of the city; from the tightly-packed and covered alleyways of the walled Old City, to the carefully-planned colonial streets, royal palace and gardens to the south.
It is now possible to view all of the aerial photographs on our website in detail using a zoom feature available with our website subscription.