Intense Footage from Fighter Plane Gun Cameras Shows American Raids on Germany in 1945

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 4 2014 9:43 AM

Intense Footage from Fighter Plane Gun Cameras Shows American Raids on Germany in 1945

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 9.29.01 AM

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In this 1945 silent footage, taken by gun cameras mounted on American P-38 fighter planes, you can see the strafing of German targets like trains, bridges, ships, and oil storage tanks from an aerial perspective.

While gun camera footage, triggered when a weapon is fired, was used in the military context to assess effectiveness of targeting, the War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations’ News Division released this film for public consumption, meaning that the footage did double duty as diagnostic and PR tool.

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In this footage, the P-38 skims low to the ground, bombing limited and very specific targets. (In one stretch, it looks like the plane is flying through a line of trees.) Unlike the area bombings of German cities, which caused deaths of many civilians, this bombing looks surgical. This aspect may have enhanced the footage’s publicity value.

The National Archives identifies the ill-fated fighter plane that passes by and harasses one P-38 as a German ME 163B “Komet,” an unusual and unstable rocket-powered defensive aircraft produced near the end of the war.

I found this footage via the Digital Public Library of America’s “Summer of Archives” project on the photo-sharing platform Imgur. Their first post rounds up ten WWII GIFs.