Wonderfully Overwhelmed at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

The Imperial War Museum Duxford, Britain’s largest aviation museum is home to over 200 aircraft and military vehicles. The museum itself is set on an old WW1 and WW2 base which played a big role in the Battle of Britain in 1940, after which the American 8th Airforce used it as a base for bombing Germany.

The buildings and hangars used for the exhibitions are the same ones they used when Britain was fighting for it’s very survival. The RAF closed the base in 1969, shortly after the IWM moved in.

So let the tour begin

Armed with my map of the museum and airfield I entered the first exhibition in the Airspace hangar and was immediately struck by the sheer amount of famous aircraft on display. I had only been at the museum five minutes and already I found myself staring up at a Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire, the Euro fighter and just to the right I spotted one of the most famous planes ever built, Concorde, and better still they let us on!

Now let me give you a quick tip, already by this point I realised that it is just not possible to see everything in one day so it is best to prioritise what you wish to see, in my case I was interested mostly in the WW2 history so I scanned the map and planned my route accordingly.

Hangar 4 is home to the Battle of Britain exhibition where you will be greeted by the beautiful sight of a Spitfire, the most famous fighter of WW2.

After what I had just seen in the Airspace hangar, I was in fact a little disappointed by the size of the Battle of Britain exhibition but what was there was very informative and impressive.

Not only is there famous military items on display such as the Spitfire and a crashed Messerschmitt bf 109E pictured below, other highlights included a British anti-aircraft gun, ambulance and fire truck, a reconstruction of a family in their bomb shelter and a German V1 flying bomb that killed and terrified thousands in the city of London in 1944.

The 1940 Operations Room

After sweeping through all of Western Europe, Hitler and the Nazis knew that to win the war they would have to defeat Britain. That summer would see a war rage over the skies of Britain as Germany fought to wipe out the Royal Air Force.

Everything was at stake, if Britain were to lose then Germany would most probably invade and who knows how history would play out. Britain had to win!

Duxford was a fighter base taking part in this historic battle and it was from this small building where the operations room was and still is today.

Stepping into this room is like stepping back in time.

Everything is still there, just how it would of been. It is as though the war ended only yesterday.

This was the heart of Duxford operations, where fighters were scrambled to face the enemy, the map table would keep track of where the enemy were and directed the RAF fighters into place to meet them. I can easily imagine how everybody in this room would of needed strong nerves to stand up to the constant pressure.

The RAF fought hard and bravely, clearly the German Luftwaffe had met it’s match, by September Germany had suffered big losses and was forced to call off any possible invasion plans. The war had many years to go but the Battle of Britain had been won thanks to the brave fighters of the RAF and those at bases like Duxford.

Onwards to the American Air Museum & Land Warfare

With time running out I wanted to try and squeeze in two more exhibitions, one of which being here in this award winning building that houses the American Air Museum. A magnificent display of American aircraft and a must for all visitors from across the pond.

I know I said I was keeping to a WW2 theme but the one plane you must not miss is the cold war spy plane, the Blackbird. It is featured in the picture at the top this page and is one of the most stunning planes I have ever seen.

After a quick cup of tea I found myself in the last exhibition I had time for and that old saying of saving the best till last was well and truly correct as my jaw hit the floor at the sight of all the incredible vehicles in the Land Warfare hangar.  

If you love WW2 history then this is heaven!

This exhibition is full to the brim with all sorts of military vehicles and weapons from WW1 right up to the present day.

I was delighted with the WW2 tanks on display from the likes of this T34 Russian tank and an American Sherman to a German King Tiger replica featured below that appeared in the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

For me this was the best exhibition and if you do have an interest in history or military vehicles then this is an absolute must!

My highlight of the day

Everything I saw at the museum was fantastic but the real highlight of the day for me was getting to see the American B17 bomber ‘Sally B’, she was the star of the film ‘Memphis Belle’, one of my Favorite films.

The Memphis Belle was a very famous bomber from WW2 as in 1943 it was one of the first American bombers to complete all 25 missions and returned home with it’s crew to a hero’s welcome.

In 1990 they made a film about it and Sally B pictured above played a staring role as the Memphis Belle. It is the only B17 left flying in Britain and is an absolute treasure. To find out more about this wonderful plane and it’s history you can visit the website here.

Also here is clip from the film The Memphis Belle.

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford really is one of Britain’s great museums so next time you are in the Cambridgeshire area I would highly recommend spending a day there.

Helpful information

The museum is open daily, summer 10am-6pm and in winter 10am-4pm.

Tickets prices start from £10.45

Located less than 50 miles from London, just south of Cambridge.

IWM Duxford Website

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