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15 October 2014
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by CSV Action Desk Leicester

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03 August 2005

My great uncle Eric served as a photographer in the R.A.F. Although he served mainly as a Spitfire Pilot and he combined the two skills in Reconnaissance operations over enemy held territory.
He must have been quite an adventurous and sturdy person because I believe that he go shot down at least 9 times. I remember that he served with the famous Dam Busters, because of course they would need accurate recce intelligence for this precision bombing run.
The RAF personnel mainly started off at Cossington, and then went up to Lake Windermere to practice their bombing runs.

Recce Spitfires very often were fitted to fly fast and light, many did not carry weapons or armaments of any kind. They generally had to swoop in low and quickly take the pictures before the enemy could react. Some would fly low at sea wave level in order to avoid radar fixing and most operation aircrew had to change course several times to attempt to confuse the enemy. Of course if the recce aircraft were intercepted, especially on the return journey, the only defence they would have would be agility and speed. Not much comfort if you have to dodge large calibre cannon fire.

Unfortunately that is all I know, in 2005 I am a teenage film student, so it is just another example of disappearing information of our heritage.

This story was submitted to the “Peoples War Site by Rod Aldwinckle of the CSV Action Desk on behalf of Henry James and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the terms and conditions of the site

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Posted on: 03 August 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Henry

I read your story with great interest. You indeed have an uncle to be proud of. However, you say that you "remember that he served with the famous Dam Busters, because of course they would need accurate recce intelligence for this precision bombing run". They did indeed need accurate intelligence, but no Spitfires were part of No. 617 Squadron (The Dambusters); they operated quite separately.

The history of the Photographic Unit is quite complex, but to give it briefly, in October 1939 the RAF Photographic Unite was renamed No.2 Camouflage Unit, and operated in France, up to Dunkirk, as No. 212 Squadron, part of 11 Group, but controlled by the Directorate of Intelligence, Air Ministry. In January 1940 (still in France) it became the Photographic Development Unit and in early July (post Dunkirk) it was renamed the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, known for the rest of the war as the PRU.

The next PRU to be set up was No. 3 (No.2 being reserved) at RAF Oaklington on 16 November 1940. No.2 PRU was formed on 1 June 1941 at Heliopolis in Egypt, but they didn't get Spitfires until 1942.

The question did arise of putting all PRUs under direct Bomber Command, indeed Air Marshal Portal pressed very hard for this, but the Navy objected. In the end, PRU HQ was located at Benson (a Bomber Command station), but as a common service for the Army, Royal Navy, and RAF with control resting with the Air Ministry Directorate of Intelligence. PRU expanded a great deal during WW2 and several squadrons were formed from the original PRUs, for example No 681 Squadron serving in the Far East.

Kind Regards,


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