The Royal Air Force in Rome, Italy. 1944. Courtesy of: http://www.iwm.org.uk/
My paternal grandfather, Rudolph Wittmann, (not pictured to the left, but he looked similar to this) was gone long before I arrived, having survived WWII only to meet his fate on an icy Nebraska highway in the 1960s. While I don’t know much about him, I’ve always imagined him in a military setting and wearing a shade of olive-green. I suppose this is because we are mostly acquainted via left-behind memorabilia from his service as a Navigator-Bombardier in the Army Air Forces (461st Bombardment Group) during World War II. The tokens of a solider: faded photographs, dog tags, medals in a cedar box, and a German pistol have been the tangible memories connecting me to my grandfather. Stationed in Italy, he navigated the hefty B-24 Liberator through the Alps, typically at night, to drop both explosives and men behind enemy lines. This post contains many Royal Air Force images, none are my relations but evoke my visual empathy. The 16mm film [above] is comprised of 17 sequences taken from a camera-gun, resulting in a dreamy stream of areal, disorienting vantage points, mixed with heavy artillery. The film was created in 1944 by the United States Bureau of Aeronautics, audio of Grouper’s Moon Is Sharp was added in August, 2012 (ahem, my tampering).
Through my familial affiliation, along with a cataclysmic period of history, I’ve always had an interest in the Second World War. This intrigue lured me to visit a museum dedicated largely to WWII while visiting England: the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Don’t be mislead, the IWM is not just a massive building in south London full of tanks, airplanes, and weaponry of every variety. Aside from documenting Britain’s involvement in warfare, starting with the First World War through present conflicts, IWM conveys the personal side of life during wartime through its thoughtfully curated exhibits and onsite research facilities. A trip to London isn’t necessary, the IWM online catalog contains 600,000 items; 90,000 are digitized material , including: photographs (the Ministry of Information Second World War Colour Transparency Collection is a personal favorite), film, art (for a quick panning of high-caliber artwork the IMW collection on Google Art Project is a good introduction), posters (including many poignantly beautiful to bizarre WWII posters), and private correspondence. The selected WWII material displayed here will in no way reflect the countless viewing hours I spent getting lost in the IWM’s digital collections, my only wish is for advanced search query capabilities.
Not only were aircrafts and bombardiers used in WWII warfare, another heroic flying team was employed: carrier pigeons. If these photographs of the feathered messengers don’t pique your interest enough, listen to the Radiolab episode Birds-Eye-View. Although the birds’ infamous homing abilities are still researched and disputed today, there is a theory that their intense desire and ability to fly home might have been to fend off suitors from their monogamous, lady pigeon partners. Perhaps these guys had more in common with their fowl cohorts than they ever imagined.
The Royal Air Force Britain, 1942. (Photograph). Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, retrieved from: img.org.uk
The Eight Army Carrier Pigeon Service in Italy. 1944, November. (Photograph). Courtesy of IWM, retrieved from: http://www.iwm.org.uk/
Not to worry, no dandies were harmed in the RAF.
At a Royal Air Force Fighter station in Britain, November 1942. (Photograph) Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, retrieved from: http://www.iwm.org.uk/