WITH preparations in full swing for the world to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-day beach landings this Friday, the Ministry of Defence has released a series of photographs that show the chaos of the Normandy assault in fascinating detail.
The images were captured in a series of around 30 sorties made by planes flying just 1,000ft above the battlefield on 6 June, 1944, and provided vital information about how the meticulously-planned operation was progressing.
In a bid to bring life to the historic photographs seven decades on, the MoD has sent two RAF Tornados to recreate those reconnaissance missions - though with today's technology they managed it in a fraction of the time.
On D-Day itself a II (AC) Squadron Mustang, piloted by Air Commodore Andrew Geddes, brought back the first pictures of the Normandy landings.
Two other aircraft were also over the beaches when the first landing craft touched down, and together they used bulky cameras loaded to the bottom of the aircraft to build up a series of panoramic images.
Wing Commander Mark Smith, from RAF Marham's Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing, said: "It's a real honour for our imagery analysts to be able to follow in their predecessors' footsteps, who as part of Operation Crossbow were involved in the planning and execution of D-Day 70 years ago."
The archive images show scores of small landing craft filled with troops dotted along the shoreline, with larger vessels - some billowing smoke - sitting further out to sea.
The tiny figures of individual soldiers can be seen along the beach, and above the cliffs the landscape, far less developed than it is today, is pockmarked with craters from shelling.
Wing Commander Jez Holmes said: "Whilst the fortifications at Pont Du Hoc and the remains of the Mulberry Harbour are visual reminders of the events of 70 years ago, it is difficult to imagine the apocalyptic vision that he was faced with.
"After imaging the D-Day beaches from 20,000 ft using the same type of reconnaissance pod that we were flying with in Afghanistan only a fortnight ago, we flew down the beaches at 1,000 ft replicating the original flight.
"Today, the technology that we use has changed, allowing us to fulfil the same missions further, faster and with stand-off and precision."
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