Baseball and britain: Aerial reconnaissance of the USAAF

Between 1943 and 1944, reconnaissance units from the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) trained for combat deployment over the skies of England.

They flew over airfields, radar installations, and ancient monuments, as well as major settlements, in order to learn the English radio procedures and flying regulations – and, more importantly, to gain experience ahead of later missions over enemy territory.

Now a collection of images taken by these units has been released to the public for the first time. More than 3,600 black-and-white photographs have been made available by Historic England via a searchable map on their website.

The USAAF’s Photographic Reconnaissance (PR) units were made up of specialist teams who, from sites such as RAF Mount Farm in Oxfordshire and RAF Watton in Norfolk, maintained aircraft cameras, processed photography, and interpreted what pictures revealed.

Aircraft were specifically adapted to be flown for reconnaissance operations, with their guns and weapons removed to accommodate cameras. A range of lenses and focal lengths could capture cities in a single frame, as well as specific targets such as key ports or supply depots.

The central image here was taken in December 1943 by a USAAF PR aircraft and captures the flight of MM247, a Mosquito Mk IX that was part of the RAF’s own PR fleet. Just months later, MM247 was lost during a mission to Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast, where the Nazi V-weapons were being developed.

V-weapons were to strike the town of Stockport, pictured here at the centre left, killing one person in the Adswood area in late 1944. Nearby Manchester had been the target.

At the top left, there is an aerial view of Mount Farm, the main airfield in England used by the American PR squadrons. On the day this photograph was taken, seven combat sorties were flown by the 7th PR Group, including on a mission to photograph the Berlin area.

The image at bottom left, meanwhile, shows troops in a lighter moment. This is of the US camp at Devizes in Wiltshire, on 30 April 1944. In the foreground are firing ranges, but between the trees troops can be seen playing a game of baseball on a sports ground.

‘We are making these images available to the public for the first time online, giving people access to this remarkable collection of historic photographs,’ explained Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England.

‘They help to highlight the vital role aerial reconnaissance played in the Second World War,’ he added.

To find out more about the Historic England Archive’s USAAF Collection, visit
Text: Calum Henderson / Image: Historic England Archive (USAAF Photography)