Home ยป Visiting Imperial War Museum Duxford (IWM Duxford)

Visiting Imperial War Museum Duxford (IWM Duxford)

by Marina Fiorenti
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Old airplaine at IWM Duxford

The Imperial War Museum’s Duxford location is situated approximately 6 miles outside of Cambridge. It is definitely worth the journey from the city. Duxford, a former RAF airfield, played a crucial role in defending Britain during the Battle of Britain. Today, the hangars which date back to WWII, now house one of the world’s most significant aviation museums. The IWM Duxford showcases an extensive range of aircraft, from biplanes used in WWI to modern aircrafts such as Concorde and Tornado.

IWM Duxford: a bit of history

During WWI, aviation was increasingly recognized as a vital component of the war effort. In response, the War Office established new training sites for pilots. The small village of Duxford was selected as a location to create an airfield for training new pilots. By the end of the war, 850 individuals were employed at this camp, and 126 men who received training here went on to join the Royal Air Force.

During the interwar period, Duxford served as the home base for the 19th and 66th squadrons. These squadrons were the first to receive Supermarine Spitfires single-seat fighters in 1938. In 1943, Duxford was designated Station 357 of the 8th US Air Force. Sadly, 113 American pilots lost their lives while flying from this base.

On June 6, 1944, P-47 Thunderbolts left from Duxford to support the Normandy landings during World War II. After the war, Duxford was returned to the ownership of the Royal Air Force (RAF), but it gradually fell into disrepair during the 1960s. Later, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) proposed the idea of converting it into a museum, which eventually opened in 1976.

A Lancaster airplaine displayed at the Imperial War Museum Duxford
A Lancaster airplaine displayed at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

What to see at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford

The Imperial War Museum in London is undoubtedly an incredible museum, but if you’re looking for an even more impressive experience, look no further than the Duxford branch. This museum is truly massive, with so much to see and explore that even a full day’s visit may not be enough to take it all in. The main pavilions are particularly noteworthy, offering an array of fascinating displays and exhibits that are sure to capture the attention of history buffs and casual visitors alike. If you’re looking for a truly unforgettable museum experience, Duxford is a must-visit destination.


The large modern hangar situated on the left side of the visitor center is dedicated to the history of British civil and military aviation, as well as the Commonwealth. The Royal Flying Corps, which was established in 1912 as part of the British Army, was the UK’s first air force. In 1918, it became the RAF, the world’s first military aviation independent from other armed forces.

At the beginning of World War I, Britain only owned fewer than 150 aircraft, but eventually produced 22,000. You can also see a de Havilland DH9 on display, which was one of the first planes to take off from Duxford and one of the oldest pieces in the museum.

During World War II, more than 130,000 aircraft were built in the UK and Commonwealth, including the Avro Lancasters that were crucial to victory. For this reason, the Lancaster aircraft has a special tour to discover its history and technical features.

The Lancaster on display at the IWM Duxford was built in Canada in December 1944 and was damaged during a training flight. It then did rescue and maritime control duty for years. Saved from being scrapped, it was purchased by a private individual and transported back to the UK in 1986, where it was sold to the museum.

But the AirSpace area does not end with the Lancaster. Next door stands a specimen of the legendary Concorde, which is also open for tours. This model was only used for flight and endurance tests. You’ll be surprised to discover how small it is – the interior is only 6 feet tall.

You can also climb aboard a BOAC airplane from the 1950s to see how flights were comfortable in the past, before the advent of low-cost airlines and narrow seats. Upstairs, in the AirSpace area, there is a large interactive space where you can find out how airplanes are made and why they fly. Just visiting this huge pavilion could take hours.


The Imperial War Museum Duxford not only houses an impressive collection of historical artifacts but also boasts an adjoining airfield that offers a unique opportunity to witness vintage airplanes soaring through the skies. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even take to the skies yourself in a Spitfire or Harvard and experience the adrenaline rush of flight firsthand.

A Spitfire airplane displayed on the airfield of the Imperial War Museum Duxford
A Spitfire airplane displayed on the airfield of the Imperial War Museum Duxford

Battle of Britain

This hangar, which dates back to the 1940s, provides a detailed account of the events that occurred during the Battle of Britain. After the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, Hitler occupied France and began preparing to invade Britain by heavily bombing southern England. On July 10, 1941, the Luftwaffe started attacking British convoys in the English Channel, followed by bombing RAF airfields in August. This was followed by raids that left significant parts of London in ruins.

Despite the enemy attacks, Britain was able to resist thanks to an excellent warning system that provided early alerts of incoming German aircraft. Duxford also played a role in defending the capital. This hangar displays an observation post, a small family air raid shelter, and a Messerschmitt that crashed in an Essex field. Visitors can learn about the entire story of this period of WWII in detail.

1940 Operations Room

At IWM Duxford, the Operations Room has been meticulously reconstructed, complete with audio reporting communications between the base and the pilots, allowing visitors to experience the tension during missions.

American Air Museum

The pavilion, designed by Norman Foster, appears to rise from the surrounding lawn and holds the largest collection of U.S. aviation outside of the United States. The U.S. played a crucial role in the Allied victory, sending around 500,000 soldiers to Britain.

The pavilion has 52 glass panels with engravings of planes, exactly 7,031, which is the same number of U.S. planes that left the United Kingdom and were lost in action, resulting in the deaths of about 30,000 men. You can see a B-17, also known as the Flying Fortress, on display here.

Land Warfare

This pavilion, which is located farthest away, is the largest and richest in exhibits. It displays land vehicles such as trucks, tanks, jeeps, and artillery pieces ranging from WWI to the present. There is a section dedicated to bringing the experience of the Normandy landings to life, as well as another section dedicated to the forgotten war in the Far East.

In the section about General Montgomery, you can see the three caravans that were used by the Field Marshal as a bedroom, office, and map room. This allowed him to be close to the battle line at all times, yet separate from the rest of the headquarters. This solitude was necessary for him to plan the war campaign effectively.

An old tank exhibited at the Imperial War Museum Duxford
An old tank exhibited at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

Imperial War Museum Duxford
IWM Duxford Airfield
Cambridge CB22 4QR

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth visiting, IWM Duxford offers not only a vast exhibit of historical pieces, but also a collection of personal stories of the people who lived through this part of history. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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