Imperial War Museum London

Aircraft Collection

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"a pair of fifteen inch naval guns from the battlecruisers Rodney and Ramilles"The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917 and was intended to commemorate those who died in the First World War. It was originally located in the Crystal Palace - built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 - and remained there until that building was destoyed by fire in 1936. The present location in Lambeth Road was originally the site of Bethlem Royal Hospital - a psychiatric hospital infamously known as "Bedlam". In spite this the building, with its spacious gardens dominated by a pair of fifteen inch naval guns from the battlecruisers Rodney and Ramilles, makes a fitting home for what is probably the most impressive military museum in the UK.

The Imperial War museums concentrates of the history of conflict from the First World War onwards and does this in a number of ways; with the numerous exhibits in the main hall (ranging from aircraft, missiles tanks and even submarines!), exhibits of uniforms and arms from a variety of conflicts, recreations and tableaux (the trench warfare scenario is particulary impressive) to exhibitions depicting various areas of warfare. Recent exhibitions include the impressive but harrowing "Holocaust Exhibition", Women in War, and a new exhibition for 2004 marking the 40th Anniversary of D-Day. Entrance to the museum is free, but there are often charges made for access to the exhibitions, so it is wise to be aware of this before planning your visit.

"... the smallest vessel to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation." The museum is dominated by the main hall, where all the aircraft and armour are displayed. The aircraft are all suspended at various levels and there are well-planned walkways which make it easy to view them all from different angles. There are a number of tanks and other armoured vehicles available to view - one dating from World War One has part of the side armour cut away so that you can view the inside. Also on display is a London bus dating from World War One which did sterling service as a troop carrier on the Western Front. Naval exhibits include armament from different periods, a couple of miget submarines, and Tamzine, which is on record as the smallest vessel to have taken part in the Dunkirk evacuation.

However, it is the aviation exhibits which are the prime interest for this site and there is a great deal for the visitor to see - in itself quite surprising when you consider the Imperial War Museum's extensive aviation resources at Duxford. In addition to the aircraft themselves (see below), there are many other exhibits worth viewing - in particular the Oberusel engine salvaged from the wreck of Manfred von Richthoven's Fokker Dr.1 and the wreckage of the Messerschmitt 110 which Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland in 1941. "....and the wreckage of the Messerschmitt 110 which Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland in 1941"

There are two aircraft on display at the Imperial War Museum which date from World War One, the Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2c, a rare surviving example of the type and the Sopwith Camel 2F1 - a Naval version with 2 Lewis guns mounted above the top wings. On 11th August 1918, Sub-Lieutenant S D Culley took off from a lighter towed by the destroyer HMS Redoubt and shot down Zeppelin L53 - the last German airship to be shot down. After this feat, Culley landed in the water by the lighter and the aircraft was recovered with very little damage sustained.

Unsurprisingly there are many more aircraft exhibits which date from from World War Two. Pride of place goes to the Supermarine Spitfire Ia. This aircraft flew with 609 Squadron in the Battle of Britain and is credited with the destruction of a number of German aircraft. Two fighters which were active in the later stages of the war include the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, an A8 variant used as a fighter-bomber, and the North American P-51D Mustang. This aircraft is painted to represent "Big Beautiful Doll", the aircraft flown by Col. John Landers, Commanding Officer of the 78th Fighter Group. The last German Aircraft represented is a late war model, the Heinkel He 162, one of a series of jet fighter aircraft to see service before the end of World War Two.

In addition, incomplete sections of aircraft are on display. In addition to Rudolf Hess' Bf110, there are complete nose sections of an Avro Lancaster I, a Handley Page Halifax, which has been modified to act as a walk through exhibit and which shows just how cramped these aircraft really were, and the cockpit section from a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, an aircraft captured by allied forces and used for evaluation purposes.

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