UK

Photo of last wartime raid discovered

Last wartime raid Image copyright Brian Emsley
Image caption Edward Emsley, on the far left, had kept this historic picture in an old album found by his son

An historic, previously unpublished picture has been found, showing preparations for the final RAF wartime bombing raid against Nazi Germany.

This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the last Bomber Command raid on Germany during World War Two.

The photograph shows an RAF crew with a Mosquito aircraft and a bomb to be used on a raid against the Kiel canal.

The ground and air crew were photographed on 2 May 1945 at RAF Downham Market in Norfolk.

The photograph, capturing preparations for a final bombing raid, was found by Brian Emsley, from Welwyn Garden City, whose father Edward Emsley is on the far left of the frame.

The date is chalked on the side of a bomb, suggesting someone recognised that this was a moment in history to be recorded.

The Ministry of Defence's Air Historical Branch has confirmed that this was Bomber Command's last raid against Germany.

Last days of war

The raid took place two days after the death of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and as Nazi forces in Berlin were formally surrendering to the advancing Soviet army.

The Air Historical Branch, using the records of The Bomber Command War Diaries, by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt, says there had been no attacks by Bomber Command for several days before this final raid, with Germany's armed forces facing imminent defeat and the expectation that the war was almost over.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Allied troops were advancing in Germany as the final raids were launched

But there were concerns that ships were being gathered at Kiel to take German forces to Norway where they would continue to fight.

In response, Mosquito bombers were sent to attack airfields around Kiel and then to carry out two raids against the port itself - and within 36 hours the town had been occupied by Allied forces.

The photograph shows one of the crews, in an airfield in Norfolk, getting ready for this last raid.

These were the final phases of the war.

On 4 May, Field Marshal Montgomery took the surrender of all German forces, including naval ships, in north-west Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The final unconditional surrender of all forces was delivered on 7 May.

Mr Emsley, who found the picture in an old album, says his father had been in a reserved occupation at the outbreak of the war, at the De Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

But he volunteered to join the RAF in 1941, and Mr Emsley says he suspects his father had joined after many local people were killed at the Hatfield factory when a German bomber made a lone raid that struck the paint shop.

His father, who died in 1979, had never mentioned this historic picture, and the identities of the other people in the photograph, recorded in the closing chapter of the Allied air raids on Nazi Germany, are not known.

Mr Emsley says that his father must have felt "elated and relieved at the prospect of peace about to dawn after six years of war".

"He wouldn't have enjoyed the idea of bombing because he was a peaceable, decent man. But he would have loathed tyranny and, by the courage of RAF aircrew whom he supported, totalitarianism in Europe was avoided."

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