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Some more WWII Contrails

Here’s a newly discovered photo of contrail in WWII, this was taken by William Anderson, and uploaded by a grandchild of his, here. ( Creative Commons, Some rights reserved)



Update: The photo album has been updated with a much better scan:


You can see it’s taken from a photo album. I cropped, sharpened, and contrasted it a bit to bring out the details of the contrails. The text “Note Little Friends” probably refers to the fighter escorts making curved contrail in the background.


It looks similar to this more famous photo:


That’s know as “Top Cover for the J Group”, and is detailed here. This photo was also taken over Emden, on September 27th, 1943, by Stanley M. Smith. Given the weather, and the planes involved, it might well have been taken on the same mission, within a few minutes of the first photo.

[UPDATE] Jerry Cole writes to me to inform me that he was the actual author of the photo. See his comment here. And his account of the photo in the Ventura County Reporter:

“I know I took the picture,” Cole said. “It was my first mission, and I thought they were German fighters, but they are P-47s getting ready to go back to England. They had a few extra gallons, and they were feeling frisky, so they shot up and then went back to England.”

This particular photo was almost delegated to obscurity because it had what Cole believed to be a fatal flaw in the picture. Cole said he walked past the clerk’s office where the photos were being sorted. The clerk was holding the photo of the contrails in his hands and gazing at it. However, it had a large streak of light across it, and Cole thought the photo was ruined. But the clerk did not agree that the photo was worthless.

“What I didn’t know was that he sent it to the wire services,” Clerk said. “The first place it actually showed up was in Time magazine in 1943. [The streak] was airbrushed out. That’s how it got published.”

35 thoughts on “Some more WWII Contrails

  1. scott says:

    I thought contrails were only left by jet propelled airplanes not propeller ones? Am I missing something here?

  2. Contrails can be left by any hydrocarbon fueled engine. If you could take your car up to 30,000 feet it would make contrails. (Actually, in Alaska, cars make a kind of contrail on the ground when it gets to -40).

    You see a lot more from jets as prop planes usually don’t have a reason to go that high. The wartime contrails are generally from planes that are flying high to avoid anti-aircraft fire.

    Burning hydrocarbons (Gasoline, Kerosene, diesel, Jet fuel, etc) makes mostly water and carbon dioxide. The water is what creates the contrail.

  3. scott says:

    Well maybe but a lot of those contrails look like planes which have made pretty spectacular (impossible for old time planes imo) maneuvers, especially at such high altitudes, and the authenticity of these photos don’t look at all convincing to me, particularly the third one.

  4. The third photos is very famous, and is certainly genuine. See:


    The “spectacular” maneuvers you see are from the fighter escorts, specifically P-47 Thunderbolts, quite capable of doing all kinds of acrobatics, and with a service ceiling of 43,000 feet. See:


    Here’s a video of some similar P-51 planes at high altitude creating contrails:


  5. Shorack says:

    I have a question which I’d like to pose you.

    You say it is the water that creates the contrail.
    But I’ve read that you can also get artificial cirrus clouds as an effect.

    Now, clouds can only form when there are small particles to stick to.
    Is it safe to assume they can stick to the other particles in the exhaust of the engine?

  6. Contrails ARE artificial clouds – they form with basically the same mechanism as cirrus clouds. They “create” cirrus clouds simply by spreading out, being blown by the wind, and sometimes by growing larger (as clouds sometimes do, quite normally).

    When water vapor condenses into the tiny drops and ice crystals that form clouds, the process is called nucleation. For liquid clouds to form there needs to be the small particles you mention, these are called Cloud condensation nuclei. They are found everywhere in the atmosphere, but if there are more of them, then clouds can form quicker and easier.

    Contrails are ice clouds (like cirrus), and form via an Ice nucleus this can be the same kind of thing as the cloud condensation nucleus, but if the air is cold and humid enough, then the water can directly sublime into an ice crystal without a nucleus (homogeneous nucleation). But that’s not generally a large part of the ice in a contrail.

    Aircraft exhaust does contain a lot of particles that can act as nuclei, most in the form of soot, and that, together with the particles already in the atmosphere, is what the contrail cloud forms upon.

    If you would like to learn more, then there is a discussion of the process here:


  7. Shorack says:

    Thank you for confirming and giving that link. 🙂

  8. Shorack says:

    Something else.
    I recently saw a short clip of a plane.
    But only the tail wings (i don’t know if that’s the correct name, but i suppose it is clear what i’m referring to) left a contrail.

    Found that quite odd, hard to imagine that the difference between two layers would be that radical.
    So what’s the mechanism in this case? (or is it really that radical? :s)

  9. I assume you mean the horizontal stabilizer – which looks like two small wings at the tail of the plane:


    Contrails are usually generated by the engine exhaust (which is basically steam and carbon dioxide). Probably what you saw was the engine contrails just starting to become visible at the tail of the plane, so it looks like they are coming from the tips of the stabilizer. You see this a lot, and it’s one of the common. See question #10 in this post:


  10. Jim S. says:

    I saw a program on global dimming that had pictures of contrails the day prior to 911 and the study of the pictures for the three days after 911 when there were no planes flying over the US. Where can I find these so that I may show one of my friends that is interested.

  11. Jerry Cole says:

    Please understand that the caption under the photograph “Top Cover” is incorrect, and has been for over 40 years…..How do I know? Simply, I took that photograph in 1943……I was a Combat Aerial Photograper with the 390th Bomb Group and I took that photograph that I have always called “Contrails”….Three Pilots of the 390th B.G. decided that they were in the lead plane of the photograph named “Skippy”……This is where they made their mistake…..I photographed “Skippy” twice, once in the USA and the second tme in England….The name is prominent on the nose of the plane and it does not show up in the photograph….How do I know?….I have an origional contact print from the origional negative and the there is no name on the nose of that plane in the foreground, so ( It’s NOT “Skippy”) This print has been examined many times by professional photographers ( I happen to be a Commercial Photographer )myself and the conclusion is always the same, the officers that made that claim as to who took the photograph is not true, nor were they in that lead plane….I recently have come back from England and was invited to speak to the Veterans and their familys at a Banquet of the 95th BG (Square B) and the 390th BG (Square J)as to the conditions that I took the photograph….If anyone is interested i will provide that information….My phone # 805-983-4887 I live in Oxnard CA

  12. Jerry, that’s really fascinating. I was basing the caption on the article on 390th.org, where they claim that the name “Skippy” would be in shadow, but even in their article there is some doubt about the identification.

    I see the photo in the Ventura County observer, has the white streak in it, with a very different background to the airbrushed version.

    Do you have a high resolution scan of this that I might publish? I would greatly prefer to be using as close to the original as possible, and would love to help you set this matter straight.

    Could you comment on the other photo (Contrails over Emden)? Do you think this was on the same mission? It’s interesting that there are two similar photos, and probably many more. Once can certainly see how confusion could arise, especially after several years. If you have any other photos of contrails, I would be delighted to post them here.

  13. Albert A. says:

    Why is this guy calling a contrail a cloud. WTF
    Why would you call a contrail a cloud. So you insist that it is man made. So man is making clouds. WOW

  14. Albert A. says:


    So tell me… do these companies use water to supress rain?
    LOL please

  15. SR1419 says:


    I guess I do not understand your point- can you clarify?

    The companies you mentioned use silver iodide to try and enhance precipitation- the ice flares are launched either from the ground or from a plane into pre-existing clouds. This has been practiced for over 50 years around the World.

    They have nothing to do with persistent contrails which can spread out into a haze of cirrus like clouds and do indeed amount to man-made cirrus clouds. Their properties are quite similar.

    What is it you are trying to say?

  16. SR1419 says:


    You could hire one of Weather Mod Inc.’s atmospheric testing planes to go up and sample a contrail or 2 of your choice.

    Willing to put your money where your mouth is?

  17. GregOrca says:

    Hi folks.
    There is some great formation contrail footage of B24 liberators here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ub9vM3juds

    And a long persistent contrail in an american tourist’s footage within Nazi Germany from 1938

  18. MikeC says:

    “Why would you call a contrail a cloud.”

    Because that is essentially what they are – a visible form of water in the atmosphere.

  19. JFDee says:

    GregOrca said:

    “And a long persistent contrail in an american tourist’s footage within Nazi Germany from 1938”.

    Actually, it’s not quite clear if that contrail was filmed in Germany. The first third of that footage shows Paris, and I’m not sure if the scenes immediately after the contrail are from Paris or not.
    But I’d be prepared to bet that this contrail was filmed from the Eiffel tower.

  20. JFDee says:

    The scene after the contrail where the camera follows the car going by has the Louvre in the back. The building with the four chimneys marks the end of the southern wing.
    The preceding scene – static view of the Seine – shows a building closely resembling the Musèe D’Orsay.

    It’s very unlikely that this contrail was not filmed in Paris.

  21. GregOrca says:

    Yes, that film is of Paris and the section of building seen in the right hand corner of the contrail shot has been identified as the Eiffel tower.

    I was reading a youtube comment thread and noted a link to a number of old films from the Pathe website showing Ike and the British Monarch with multiple large spreading contrails directly overhead in the 1940s
    Typing “vapor” into their search engine reveals a number of interesting old films featuring large contrails.

  22. Jay Reynolds says:

    These newsreels are great examples.
    More Pathe newsreels, showing persistent contrail formation and subsequent spreading over time.
    See first 5 minutes of 9 minute’s footage.
    “Operation Bulldog”:

    “Vapor trails over London During The Blitz”:

  23. tryblinking says:

    This stuff is so easy to find; do the ‘chemtrail’ people just pretend it doesn’t exist, or do they simply misinterpret ‘history is written by the winners’?

  24. MikeC says:

    Tankerenemy says the “contrails” have been added in afterwards – http://metabunk.org/threads/108-WW2-contrails-are-a-hoax

  25. shane says:

    I have noticed that you seem to use military aircraft for you debunking. Why don’t you show some old photos of commercial aircraft puffing out contrails, oh you wont find any. The aircraft that you use to debunk chemtrails are in fact puffing out more than water vapor. I think you find all military testing whether biological or not is photographed, documented and classified. That is why you only show military aircraft from the past.

  26. This post was about WWII contrails, so naturally there will be a lot of military aircraft.

    But civillian aircraft leave them too. See:


  27. Joe Denver says:

    We need to remember one important fact about these pictures. They are taken from other planes at the same altitude not from the ground. Could you snap a photo of a normal jet contrail in Houston Texas if its 6 to 8 miles high? Would you even notice it? The fact is when using a standard lens the contrail is just too high to photograph. Also, due to the Houston temperatures, they only last about 60 seconds. Third, on average there are only between 3 to 4 high altitude jets at any one time in your airspace. They certainly wouldn’t look like an alien invasion force getting ready to land on earth nor would they look like jets in a WWII picture. You’d hardly notice them. But today is different. Were in the middle of some kind of aerosol spray program by the DOD reminiscence of the 50’s when they sprayed 32 cities with zinc cadmium oxide.

  28. captfitch says:

    First- what IS the temp above Houston at 40000 feet? How about Alaska?

    Second 3 to 4 high altitude jets? Try again

  29. SR1419 says:


    the persistence (or not) of any contrail is not because of the temp…if its cold enough for a contrail to form it will either persist or dissipate depending on the level of humidity in the surrounding air.

  30. There are plenty of WWII contrail photos taken from the ground. See here for a few good ones.


    And yes, you can clearly see and photograph planes six miles overhead leaving vapor trails. I see it all the time.

  31. Jay Reynolds says:

    I’ve seen contrails over Houston. You might not realize that even several daily flights from Chicago to Mexico pass over Houston..

  32. Sarah says:

    Hundreds of planes in the sky, clear for days, then chemtrails that not only persist but spread and cover to block the sky resulting in lethargy and illness. This site is bullshit and you’re trying much too hard to convince us, right down to the photoshopped “Life” images which I’ve seen in their original printed format. You disgust me.

  33. Jay Reynolds says:

    If you have original photos which differ from any here, let’s see them for a comparison.
    Just sayin isn’t enough.

    You can’t make thousands of contrail photos just go away by saying so.
    The issue really isn’t that these photos are somebody nowadays “trying too hard”, though.

    The issue really is that you are “trying too hard” to deny that photos like this exist.
    here are many many more:

    Guess what? They look exactly like what you call chemtrails……
    How can this be denied?

  34. Strawman says:

    Sarah, I’m sure you can prove the allegations against this site and also show where the information presented is wrong. You can, right?

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