The Anonymous Widower

Operation Crossbow

I’m just watching this fascinating program on BBC 2, about how we used photographic intelligence during the Second World War.

It is a program, that points to not only what we got right in fighting the Germans  and the Japanese but what we got wrong.

We certainly got photographic interpretation correct, as we were able to unlock the secrets of Pennemunde and the V-1. This led to Operation Crossbow itself, which helped to neutralise the weapons. As I said in an earlier post is our photographic interpretation as good today?

Most of the aerial photography was done by Spitfires, stripped of guns and painted blue, so they couldn’t be seen. But what surprised me that some were flown by American pilots and carried USAAF markings. I hasdn’t realised that Spitfires actually served in the USAAF.

Search the Internet and you’ll find two pages; Uncle Sam’s Spitfires and Spitfire 944.

The first describes how the USAAF had to use Spitfires in Europe because Lightnings and Airacobras were not suitable to be used as fighter escorts.

This is an except.

Uncle Sam’s Spitfires had written a little-known chapter in US fighter history. Though the USAAF used over 600 Spitfires during the war, the aircraft was never given a US designation, and little publicity was given to the exploits of the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups – nothing like what they would get in the summer of 1944 during the wild air battles over Ploesti when they flew Mustangs. This is most likely a good example of the US military’s overall dislike of having to admit to using “NIH” (Not Invented Here) equipment.

In the end the Spitfires were replaced with Mustangs, which although they were an American aircraft, they were designed to an RAF specification and had a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine like the Spitfire. But did the Packard-built Merlins have Tilly Shillings Orifice?

The second is a film made about John S. Blyth, who was a USAAF pilot who flew the photo-reconnaissance Spitfires.  He appeared in the program.

There was also rare footage of the Mosquito being used as an airliner to bring equipment out of Sweden for the photo interpreters to use. There is very little about this use of de Havilland’s amazing aircraft, where it used nothing more than its speed to ferry important war materials and people to the UK from places like Sweden and Northern Russia.  In one case Marshall Zhukov was the passenger and as he had only two words of English, “Betty Grable”, these were to be used if he wanted anything in his cramped seat in the bomb bay.

Up until I saw the program tonight, I thought that the Mosquito had been the only British aircraft to wear USAAF markings, where it was used for weather research, as it could fly higher than any other aircraft.

They also showed pictures of Barnes Wallis’s Tallboy bomb, which was used with great effect against the sites.

I sometimes wonder if had the Americans used Tallboys and the later Grand Slams against Japan, then they might not have needed to resort to nuclear weapons.  After all in the B-29 Superfortress they had a bigger delivery aircraft than the Avro Lancaster.  They also modified the Tallboy to create the Tarzon, which was used in the Korean War, so they couldn’t have been totally against the technology.

May 15, 2011 - Posted by | World | ,


  1. Brilliant programme.Could only remeber some of this from my parents. The programme on channel 4 was good showing how they tried to recreate the bouncing bomb of Dambusters fame

    Comment by Linda Dale | May 15, 2011 | Reply

    • I didn’t see the Channel 4 program.

      Comment by AnonW | May 15, 2011 | Reply

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