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Historical WWII imagery now available in Google Earth

Google has announced a new set of historical aerial images, taken over European cities during World War II, which have been made available via Google Earth. They can now be compared directly to images from the present day.

Images taken in 1943, show the effect of wartime bombing on more than 35 European towns and cities. Imagery for Warsaw, which was heavily destroyed at the time, is available from both years 1935 and 1945.

The Historical Imagery feature gives people a unique perspective on the events of the past using today’s mapping technology. It’s hoped that this World War II imagery will enable all of us to understand our shared history in a new way and to learn more about the impact of the war on the development of our cities.

Imagery from 1935 and 1945 for Warsaw in Poland is particularly compelling. The city was amongst those most badly damaged in the war and comparisons with today are striking.

Contrast can be seen for example by comparing the imagery of the Historic Centre of Warsaw, a UNESCO World Heritage site, described as an ‘outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century’. The Royal Castle of Warsaw for example was completely burned to the ground and subsequently reconstructed, between 1971-1988.

Dramatic too is the imagery of the location of the Warsaw Ghetto, supposedly the largest ghetto in Europe between 1940 and 1943.

To access this imagery, and compare to the present day cityscape, download Google Earth and click the clock icon in the status bar (the top-level toolbar) to activate a time-line in the Google Earth display. Move back in forth in time by dragging the time slider from left to right or by clicking the back/forwards arrows.

Jan Ołdakowski, Director of Warsaw Rising Museum (www.1944.pl) commented, “This is a brilliant tool which lets everyone compare what Warsaw looked like then and now. It allows us to observe the complex processes which took place throughout the whole of Europe and to realise how far we have come since those days. In my opinion, tools like Google Earth should be used during lessons in primary and secondary schools to increase students’ interest in history.”

Ed Parsons, Google’s Geospatial Technologist said, “Many of us have heard stories, read books and watched films which show the many impacts of WWII across the world. By enabling people to compare then with now, in such a simple way, it reminds us all of the devastating impact of war on the people in those cities and also the remarkable way in which urban environments are reconstructed and regenerated over time.”

The 1935 and 1945 imagery was obtained from the City of Warsaw, prepared by Warszawskie Przedsiębiorstwo Geodezyjne (Warsaw Geodetic Company). The images from 1935 were originally taken by Fotolot, part of LOT Polish Airlines at the time. The images from 1945 were taken by the Soviet air force in order to estimate the areas and level of damages in Poland after WWI.

Images of the 39 other cities, obtained from The GeoInformation Group, were taken by both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Air Force (USAF) during WWII. A large number of the original photographs were taken and then stitched together by hand by the photo teams for the respective air forces. Many of the original photos have been destroyed and these hand-stitched mosaics are some of the only remaining images of these cities from this period. They were used primarily for photo reconnaissance but also for post-bombing damage assessment.

Full list of cities where imagery is available:

  1. Aachen
  2. Augsburg
  3. Bamberg
  4. Berlin
  5. Bologna
  6. Bonn
  7. Bordeaux
  8. Breslau/ Wroclaw
  9. Brest
  10. Cologne
  11. Danzig/Gdańsk
  12. Dessau
  13. Dortmund
  14. Dresden
  15. Dusseldorf
  16. Florence
  17. Frankfurt
  18. Freiburg
  19. Genoa,
  20. Gottingen
  21. Hamburg
  22. Hannover
  23. Kiel
  24. Koblenz
  25. Leipzig
  26. Lyon
  27. Magdeburg
  28. Mainz
  29. Naples
  30. Nurnberg
  31. Regensburg
  32. Rome
  33. Split
  34. Strasburg
  35. Stuttgart
  36. Trieste
  37. Turin
  38. Venice
  39. Weisbaden
  40. Warsaw