Portraits

[Cross-posted at Airminded.]

Xmas Office Party

An interesting Flickr set of photographs evidently taken in the south of England in the last year of the Second World War was recently posted to a WWII mailing list I’m on. Many show aircraft of various types; others are of people and places. The photographer is unknown but judging from the content was in the US Army Air Forces, stationed at RAF Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire.

I’ve picked out a few interesting aircraft shots: some are aesthetically pleasing, some show unusual types, and one shows something I’d never come across before. But first is one of a person, perhaps the most intriguing. It shows an unidentified, uniformed woman on a bed: the negative is labelled ‘Xmas Office Party 1 75w bulb overhead f2 25th sec 02’ which says much, but not enough: we are drawn into speculation. Perhaps she has something, or someone, on her mind; perhaps she’s just tired and had a bit too much to drink. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know, but then that’s what intrigues.

B-17

A B-17, Nine-O-Nine, on its way to achieving 140 combat missions without losing a crewman. Nine-O-Nine survived the war (though not the peace); in the foreground are the remains of another machine which wasn’t so lucky.

B-26

The B-26 always had a poor reputation, as a dangerous aircraft to fly in. That was largely undeserved by this stage of the war, and it had also proved to be an effective and accurate medium bomber. But surely its most important attribute is its sleek good looks.

P-61

By contrast, the P-61 night fighter was a bit of a brute, though a capable one. This is Wabash Cannonball IV of 425th Night Fighter Squadron.

P-51s

A display of American airpower in the form of at least two squadrons of P-51s with drop tanks. From its tail number, 44-11372, the one at the front is a P-51K of 504th Fighter Squadron.

P-47

Another little friend, this time a P-47. The tail number is 44-19575 so it flew with 84th Fighter Squadron.

Lancaster

The unknown photographer also captured a number of British visitors to Bassingbourn. Like Nine-O-Nine, this Lancaster was a survivor: S-Sugar, which completed 137 missions (most of them with RAAF squadrons) and is today preserved in the RAF Museum London. Judging from the number of missions painted on the side, this was taken after the end of hostilities.

Stirling

Another survivor, but in a different sense. The Stirling was the RAF’s first four-engined bomber, but had largely been phased out of frontline service by 1944 and generally served in more specialised roles. In fact, this one’s role appears to have been quite specialised, and a bit mysterious. from other photographs in this set this machine has the serial number EF403/G. Supposedly the trailing G means it was supposed to be under guard at all times. The squadron markings place it in 1660 Heavy Conversion Unit, but that’s nothing special; nor was the H2S radome underneath the fuselage. It looks like this machine had previously been assigned to the secretive 161 Squadron, which dropped SOE agents into German-occupied Europe; perhaps that explains it.

Horsa

Another job for Stirlings was towing gliders in airborne operations, like this Horsa. It has invasion stripes, so this was taken in June 1944 at the earliest.

York

The York transport aircraft did sterling work in the Berlin Airlift and later had some success as a civilian airliner. It was derived from the Lancaster bomber; fortunately for the passengers the fuselage was completely redesigned and much more spacious.

Piper Cub (with Bazookas)

Finally, this is the one that was new to me. Not the machine itself, which is a common Grasshopper observation aircraft, but the mounting of four total bazooka tubes under the wings, for antitank operations and general harassment of the enemy — not a unique modification. As if flying low and slow over the battlefield wasn’t dangerous enough…

Image sources: B-17; B-26; Grasshopper; Horsa; Lancaster; P-47; P-51s; P-61; Stirling; York; and the woman.

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