Unseen WWII photos reveal final moments of doomed bomber

On a wing and a prayer: Final moments of doomed Flying Fortress and brutal Allied bombing raid on Nazi refinery are among Flight Lieutenant’s unseen WWII photos heading to auction

  • Images found in personal affairs of the late Flight Lieutenant Eric Cooper who served in North Africa and Italy
  • One startling air-to-air photo shows a B17 Flying Fortress bomber upside down with one of its wings shorn off 
  • Archive of Flt Lt Cooper, born in west London in 1916, due to go under hammer at Plymouth Auction Rooms

Remarkable photographs of aerial combat during WWII have been unveiled – including a harrowing snap of the final moments of a doomed Allied bomber.

The images were discovered in the personal affairs of the late Flight Lieutenant Eric Cooper who served in North Africa and Italy. 

The Reconnaissance Corps airman, who was born in Notting Hill, west London, in 1916, took numerous dramatic snaps during the conflict which he kept hold of after the war.

One startling air-to-air photo shows a B17 Flying Fortress bomber upside down with one of its wings shorn off as it plunges to the ground. The doomed ten man crew were seemingly still onboard and seconds from death.

One startling air-to-air photo shows a B17 Flying Fortress bomber upside down with one of its wings shorn off as it plunges to the ground. The doomed ten man crew were seemingly still onboard and seconds from death. The images were discovered in the personal affairs of the late Flight Lieutenant Eric Cooper who served in North Africa and Italy. The Reconnaissance Corps airman, who was born in Notting Hill, west London, in 1916, took numerous dramatic snaps during the conflict which he kept hold of after the war

Another image shows a bombing raid on a German refinery at Ploesti in Romania – a vast complex of facilities located some 30 miles north of Bucharest. The raid was part of an air attack on nine oil refineries in the area on August 1, 1943. It was a strategic target whose destruction allied planners hoped would deliver a severe blow to Germany’s ability to carry on the war. The bombing was largely carried out by United States Army Air Forces based in Libya and Southern Italy. Fifty-three aircraft, each with a crew of ten, were lost in the attack – which did not drastically affect oil production in the area

An image, captioned ‘a wing and a prayer’, shows another battle-damaged bomber almost sliced in two with a gaping hole in the side, but somehow still airborne. The aircraft eventually landed safely, despite the collision with a Messerschmitt Bf 109 – a German WWII fighter aircraft that was, along with the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, considered to be the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force

There is also an incredible picture of a Hawker Tempest fighter plane chasing after a German V1 flying bomb before attempting to knock it off course and shoot it down. With a top speed of just over 400mph, the plane formed part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force that extensively supported ground operations during the D-Day landings on June 6 1944. The alternating black and white invasion stripes were painted on the fuselages and wings of all RAF and Allied aircraft ahead of the landings to increase recognition by friendly forces

Another of the images shows a B26 bomber flying over Sicily. It may have formed part of the Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major campaign of World War II, in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers of Italy and Nazi Germany. Operation Husky was the first major Allied assault on German occupied Europe. Churchill described Sicily and Italy as the soft underbelly of Europe but the Italy campaign was hard fought and only came to an end in May 1945

Another image shows the results of a mass bombing raid on a German refinery at Ploesti in Romania. But B-24 bombers were confronted with some of the most heavily protected facilities the Germans had. Surrounded by hundreds of anti-aircraft emplacements, heavy-caliber machine guns and defending aircraft – the bombers were not able to make the impact they had hoped for

Smoke billows into the sky after a mass bombing raid at a German refinery in Ploesti, Romania. The images were discovered in the personal affairs of the late Flight Lieutenant Eric Cooper who served in North Africa and Italy. A box found in Flt Lt Cooper’s home in Devon while it was being cleared out following his death also contained his K20 handheld camera he used to take the reconnaissance photos, his plotting instruments and war medals. The archive passed into the hands of his nephew, a retired engineer from Devon, who is now selling it with Plymouth Auction Rooms

Flt Lt Cooper (pictured in Italy) was born in Notting Hill, west London, in 1916 and joined the RAF for cadet training. He was initially assigned with 336 Squadron and was also affiliated with the Mediterrannean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing. After the war, he left the RAF and set up a printing company in Croydon, south London, and moved to Devon following his retirement. He died aged 96 in 2012

An image, captioned ‘a wing and a prayer’, shows another battle-damaged bomber almost sliced in two with a gaping hole in the side, but somehow still airborne.

And there is an incredible picture of a Hawker Tempest fighter plane chasing after a German V1 flying bomb before attempting to knock it off course and shoot it down.

Other snaps show the devastation caused by Allied bombing raids at Monte Cassino and Naples in Italy and there is a dramatic image of Mount Vesuvius during its eruption in March 1944.

Away from the heat of battle, Flt Lt Cooper photographed an amphitheatre, a native belly dancer and a PoW camp in Tunisia.

A box found in Flt Lt Cooper’s home in Devon while it was being cleared out following his death also contained his K20 handheld camera he used to take the reconnaissance photos, his plotting instruments and war medals.

The archive passed into the hands of his nephew, a retired engineer from Devon, who is now selling it with Plymouth Auction Rooms.

Another photographs shows a Spitfire crash landed in Africa. A revolutionary aircraft that transformed the capability of the RAF, the Spitfire rightly became a symbol of national defiance, turning what could have been Britain’s darkest hour into our finest. When it first entered service in 1938, the Spitfire was not only the first all-metal monoplane but also by far the fastest aircraft in the RAF, able to reach 350mph. The Spitfire was in action from the start of World War II, shooting down its first enemy planes, two JU88 bombers, over the Firth of Forth on October, 16, 1939. As ever more powerful, faster versions were developed, it turned out to be crucial in a host of different theatres, including the successful campaign against General Rommel — the Desert Fox — in North Africa in 1942, the fight against Japan in Burma, the drive through western Europe after D-Day, and the destruction of German V-weapon sites in France

Flt Lt Cooper’s view from a P38 Lightning of a destroyed bridge over the Tiber near Rome. The bombing of Rome in WWII took place on several occasions in 1943 and 1944, primarily by Allied and to a smaller degree by Axis aircraft, before the city was invaded by the Allies on June 4, 1944

A destroyed German train near Rimini on the east coast of Italy. The tides of war turned irrevocably in favor of the Allied forces in July 1943 when 150,000 British and American soldiers swarmed the shores of Sicily at the start of World War II’s bloody Italian Campaign. The Allies marched up the most of famous of Roman roads, the Appian Way, which connected the city of Rome to the southern Italian coast

Not all of Flt Lt Cooper’s images showed devastation. This one shows families inspecting boats in Sorrento, Italy. His nephew is now selling the compelling collection at Plymouth Auction Rooms in Devon next week

Another image shows airmen exploring ancient Carthage – destoyed in a much earlier war. Flight Lieutenant Eric Cooper was initially assigned with 336 Squadron and was also affiliated with the Mediterrannean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing – where he gathered many of his photographs that are now up for sale

Another of his images shows Mount Vesuvius in Italy shortly before it erupted again in 1944. The volcano was active from 1913 through 1944, with lava filling the crater and occasional outflows of small amounts of lava. The eruptive period ended in the major eruption of March 1944, which destroyed the villages of San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, Massa di Somma, and Ottaviano, and part of San Giorgio a Cremano

Flt Lt Cooper was initially assigned with 336 Squadron and was also affiliated with the Mediterrannean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing (pictured, the reconnaissance team at work inspecting photographs taken during the war)

The vendor, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: ‘Eric was a lovely bloke who I would visit often, but like so many of his generation he never really spoke about the war. Looking back, I wish I had asked more questions.

‘I know he served in North Africa and Italy, and there are some amazing photos. You can only marvel at the bravery of these men.

‘A particular favourite of mine is the photo of a Tempest chasing after a German V1 bomb.

‘Word has it they travelled slowly enough that you could catch up with it, knock it off course and then shoot it down.

‘I inherited his affairs following my uncle’s death but they have been tucked away in a cupboard.

‘I feel it would be great if someone with an interest in the RAF could study the photos. I’m sure they would find them fascinating.’

There is an incredible picture of a Hawker Tempest fighter plane chasing after a German V1 flying bomb before attempting to knock it off course and shoot it down. Flt Lt Cooper has marked the bomb on his picture, which shows the fighter plane chasing after it (bottom-left)

Monte Cassino is pictured before it was finally flattened by bombs and shells. The monumental four-month battle saw the Allies launch four assaults against the Gustav Line in Italy held by Axis forces as they sought the breakthrough to clear the path to Rome. However, the route was blocked by the rugged Monte Cassino massif with its hilltop medieval monastery. The Allies were confronted by barren, rocky slopes and inaccessible mountains where German soldiers with machine guns lay in wait

Naples is pictured before Allied bombers arrived. Flt Lt Cooper would take images as part of his reconnaissance work ahead of forces arriving in the area. During the war the Italian city suffered around 200 air raids by the Allies from 1940 to 1944

As part of the campaign in north Africa, war graves were created near Tunis. The campaign took place from from June 10, 1940 to May 13, 1943 and included visits to the Libyan and Egyptian deserts. Fighting in the area started with the Italian declaration of war on June 10, 1940

Other snaps show the devastation caused by Allied bombing raids at Monte Cassino and Naples in Italy (pictured) and there is a dramatic image of Mount Vesuvius during its eruption in March 1944

The Allies and Germans agreed that the city of Rome was too important to bomb. But this image shows a first target chart of Rome – which would have been used if bombing had gone ahead

Another image shows the three stages of an allied landing on the Italian coast. Along with Canadian, French and other Allies, the invasion was the start of a long march to Rome that would forever be noted as some of the most brutal of the entire war. Tens of thousands of soldiers died on each side during the campaign, which saw the ousting of Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in its early days but would stretch into nearly two years

A box found in Flt Lt Cooper’s home in Devon while it was being cleared out following his death also contained his K20 handheld camera (pictured) he used to take the reconnaissance photos, his plotting instruments and war medals

Flt Lt Cooper was born in Notting Hill, west London, in 1916 and joined the RAF for cadet training.

He was initially assigned with 336 Squadron and was also affiliated with the Mediterrannean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing.

After the war, he left the RAF and set up a printing company in Croydon, south London, and moved to Devon following his retirement.

He died aged 96 in 2012.

Sophie Godfrey, of Plymouth Auction Rooms, said: ‘The vendor has had the photos for a while but wants the album to go to someone who will appreciate the history of them.

‘It is a very interesting collection of images and compelling to look through.’

The sale of the archive, which is expected to fetch £500, takes place on August 28.

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