Spitfire AA810 Project

National PRU monument

When the Spitfire AA810 Project launched in November 2018, one of the missions we set out to achieve was recognition of the efforts and sacrifices made by the Photo Reconnaissance Unit during the Second World War. The sole purpose of Photographic Reconnaissance was to provide the most up-to-date critical intelligence to the Admiralty who used this information to strategically plan the Allied actions in the war. Alongside the information gathered by the Special Operations Executive on the ground, and the Bletchley Park Code-breakers through the airwaves, the Photo Reconnaissance Unit physically captured 20 million images of enemy operations and installations during six years of war. Without this vital information, the success of operations and ultimately the outcome of the Second World War could have been very different.

From its inception in 1939 through to the end of hostilities in the far East in 1945, this highly effective unit suffered horrendous losses, indeed records now show that the survival rate was proportionally the second lowest of any Allied aerial unit during the entire war. Yet these crews have never been officially recognised, their sacrifices largely unknown. Nearly 500 men would become casualties flying with the PRU, five of those men who died flew AA810. Due to the solitary nature of their work 144 of those lost have no known grave including two of our AA810 pilots.

In 2019 the Spitfire AA810 Project began to spearhead a national monument to the Photo Reconnaissance Unit, to directly challenge the UK government to at last recognise the role this unit played in securing an Allied victory. Meetings began in April of 2019 and by the end of June the question of a National monument was raised in the House of Commons where it was met with approval. In July the formal application for debate was submitted and accepted and Westminster Hall was set aside for the 12th September to hear the case and formalise a Government position on such a memorial. Sadly changes in Government circumstances meant this hearing had to be postponed and with COVID 19 then halting non-pandemic related debates, through much of 2020 and 2021 we had to put plans on hold.

In late summer 2021, Andrew Bowie MP resubmitted our formal application for a debate and support was received from across the four main political parties. On those grounds our application was accepted and we were subsequently allocated a Westminster Hall debate set for the 9th November 2021.

A National Monument remains a major goal and potentially on the 36 month anniversary of operations we may well have gained formal Government approval for one. If successful the journey will not stop there, as the Spitfire AA810 project will continue to lead this project forward until a design is accepted, funded, and built.

Backbench Business Committee Representations: Backbench Debates

Tuesday 7 September 2021


Andrew Bowie

The reason I am applying for the debate is because it is on an important issue. The Photographic Reconnaissance Unit of the RAF suffered more casualties than any other unit throughout the period of the war between 1939 and 1945, primarily as a result of the fact that the Spitfires that these men flew were completely unarmed. The weapons and armaments had been removed, to be replaced by photographic equipment. These men were sent beyond enemy lines to take photographs and to scout strategic places of importance for their allies. As yet, sadly, there is no national memorial to these men in this country.

I have support for this application from 19 Members of Parliament from nearly all parties in the House, who would like to contribute. These men were obviously drawn from all corners of the United Kingdom. They and I think it is about time that their unit and their contribution was debated on the Floor of the House, and that the charity that is championing the idea of a national memorial has its arguments heard on the Floor of the House. That is why I am putting that forward for consideration.


Parliamentary Question

Business of the House

27 Jun 2019 | 662 cc799-816

Asked by: Luke Graham

This year marked the 75th anniversary of D-day. It also marked another anniversary — that of the Great Escape, during which 50 prisoners of war were murdered by the Gestapo. One of those 50 was Sandy Gunn, from Auchterarder in my constituency, whose Spitfire has recently been discovered in Norway as a result of the ongoing AA810 project. Sandy served as part of the photographic reconnaissance unit – a highly skilled and dangerous unit that carried out missions across enemy territory to try to bring valuable information back to allied forces in the UK and elsewhere around the world. Despite that great service, more than 70 of those who died are still without any known graves or national memorial. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate a national memorial for those men who served in the photographic reconnaissance unit and gave so much to our country?

Answered by: Mel Stride | Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend raises the important issues of the Great Escape and Sandy Gunn, and the importance of photo reconnaissance to our efforts in winning the second world war. Sandy Gunn is one of many unsung heroes in that conflict, and the idea of holding a debate on that issue is a good one. Perhaps my hon. Friend might seek a debate in Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate, or he could prevail on the good offices of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns).

Press and media

Auchterarder’s RAF pilot Sandy Gunn remembered

The Daily Record

Melanie Bonn

12 March 2021

‘Great Escape’ pilot’s rare Spitfire discovered intact on Norwegian mountain 76 years after being shot down by Nazis

The Independent

22 Nov 2018

A WWII Veteran Recounts Aerial Reconnaissance Missions

War History Online

Erik Mustermann

26 Oct 2014

Spies in the Skies: How Aerial Surveillance Tipped the Balance of WWII

Jeremy Harwood

18 Jun 2014

Night photo reconnaissance trial and error

BBC Archive: WW2 People’s War

Keith Glanvill

9 Sep 2005

Further reading

Photo Reconnaissance Spitfires

RAF School of Photography (Royal Air Force Photographers Memorial)

National Memorial Arboretum (Website)

National Collection of Aerial Photography (Website)

Aerial Reconnaissance in World War Two gallery (BBC History)

Proceedings of a Royal Air Force Historical Society (Seminar from 1991 on Photographic Reconnaissance in WW2)

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