Then and now - aerial pictures of the D-Day beaches taken by a Marham Tornado and 1940s Mustang. Picture: MOD

RAF Marham Tornado jets recreate aerial images of D-Day Normandy landing beaches

Thursday, June 5, 2014
2.37 PM

Seventy years after their forbears swooped low over the invasion beaches to photograph the D-Day landings, modern day air crews have followed in their footsteps.

A Tornado in the air over Normandy. Picture: MODA Tornado in the air over Normandy. Picture: MOD

Two Tornado jets from RAF Marham-based II(AC) Squadron replicated the 1944 images flying at 400mph above Gold, Juno, Utah and Sword beaches.

Back in 1944, Air Commodore Andrew Geddes of II (AC) Sqn brought back the first pictures of the landings, taken on a giant film camera in the belly of his single-engined Mustang fighter.

Two other II(AC) Mustangs - piloted by Flight Lieut Weighill and Flying Officer Shute - were also in the air as the first landing craft beached.

Wing Commander Jez Holmes, commander of the present day II(AC), flew one of the Tornadoes.

A Mustang painted with the D-Day landing 'stripes' in the air over France.A Mustang painted with the D-Day landing 'stripes' in the air over France.

“After imaging the D-Day beaches from 20,000ft using the same type of reconnaissance pod that we were flying with in Afghanistan only a fortnight ago, we flow down the beaches at 1,000ft replcating Air Commodore Geddes’s flight,” he 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 he was faced with.”

Geddes and his counterparts had to fly 30 sorties to build up a panoramic view of the beaches. Today’s aircraft need just one sweep, with equipment which can sake pictuyres of such high resolution crews can tell the time on Big Ben whilst flying over the Isle of Wight.

Images are processed by Marham’s Tactical Imaging Wing, which provides intelligence reports for military operations around the globe and civilian emergencies such as the recent Thames flooding.

Wing Commander Mark Smith, commanding officer of the imaging wing, said: “Whilst the technology involved has changed, the basic principles and skills that our imagery analists employ today on operations in Afghanistan would be instantly recognisable to the veterans off D-Day.”