At the end of the second world war, American forces in Germany captured a vast archive of Luftwaffe intelligence photos. These were taken back to the USA and are now housed in the Library of Congress, from where, upon payment of an eye-watering fee, copies can be obtained. The Ickleton Society possesses two of these, covering Duxford and Ickleton in August 1940.
The war in August 1940
On July 2nd 1940, Hitler approved operation Sea Lion – intended to culminate in the invasion and conquest of Britain. The Germans realised that to be successful, air supremacy was essential. Herman Goering promised that he would destroy the RAF – and the Battle of Britain was on!
Germany’s need for intelligence was at fever pitch and in an operation covering much of South East England, the Luftwaffe mounted aerial reconnaissance flights with the twin aims of identifying military obstacles to the invasion and, from a tactical angle, planning and evaluating the war against the RAF and the civilian population.
The aircraft used to take these photos typically flew alone (to avoid attracting attention) and at a great height – perhaps 25,000 feet.
The photo of Ickleton was taken on August 30th at about 9:30 in the morning. It covers an area spanning roughly Little Chesterford in the south to Duxford (Blakelands Hill) at the top. It is likely that the flight plan was to overfly RAF stations including North Weald, Debden and Duxford as well as large population centres (Chelmsford, Cambridge) and the transport infrastructure. As it now turns out, a major raid on fighter command airfields was planned to take place the very next day.
The village certainly doesn’t appear very warlike. The pill box at the Grassy Lane river crossing (possibly Ickleton’s prime military installation at the time) is not obvious, although the one in the Hinxton Road meadow does appear to be. Neither however seem to have been remarked by the German assessors.
At the other end of the village, an obstacle had been installed in the road near the Abbey Street – Coploe Hill – Grange Road junction. This doesn’t appear to have been a permanent fixture, Probably just a foundation into which some form of tank trap could be set should occasion demand. The detail shows roughly where it was, although I have to say that neither I (Nor the Luftwaffe apparently) could actually spot it!
The photo also shows the rec’ in its original state as separate football and cricket meadows, bordered on two sides by allotments. Although the cricket square can be discerned, there is little evidence of recent pitch wear (in August) and it may well be that many players were by now playing for the War Department!
The Duxford picture was taken, (quite possibly by the same aircraft), around teatime on the following day. This followed the raids. It may well be that the route was the same as the preceding day. The purpose being undoubtedly to assess the effects of the raids. En-route photos such as these would have been assessed by German intelligence for evidence of defensive positions. This one covers Duxford, Hinxton, Whittlesford and Sawston and perhaps unsurprisingly given the close proximity of the airfield, does suggest slightly more of a military presence. This snippet of the main picture shows what appear to be anti-aircraft defences at the left hand side – close to the A505 and at the eastern end of the airfield.
The raids of August 31st were met by determined opposition from the RAF and caused only limited damage at Duxford, though rather more at Debden. Just over a fortnight later on September 19th, a Junkers 88a-1 photo reconnaissance aircraft from the Luftwaffe’s 4(F)/121 squadron, based in Northern France was forced to land at Oakington airfield after suffering engine trouble. The crew – Lt. Knab, Corporals Zscheket, Thoring and Leading aircraftman Bresch, were uninjured and promptly taken prisoner. It is easy to believe that this may have been the same aircraft and maybe the same individuals responsible for our two historic pictures. On the same day, Hitler “postponed” operation Sea-Lion.