Friday, October 7, 2011

British Aerial Photography and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front - Pt 10

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Artillery Driven Synergy of Ground Survey, Cartography and Aerial Photography

Although a resounding success the Neuve Chapelle battle map was not the trigger that moved aerial photography from the status of novelty to indispensability.  From late 1914 through all of 1915, the British Army experienced a critical shortage of artillery ammunition.  This shortage drove the introduction of artillery survey; battery positions and targets needed to be fixed to a survey grid so that rounds used for target ranging and registration could be kept to a minimum.  From early 1915 an artillery driven synergy of ground survey, cartography and aerial photography which resulted in the production of maps on which German positions and activity could be accurately plotted and subsequently targeted was begun.

The first use of a squared map prepared by Lieutenant D. S. Lewis of the RFC was noted in September 1914 during the initial attempts to control artillery fire from the air using wireless (Jones, TheWar in the Air Volume 2, p. 85.).  By the end of 1914 the squared map system had been accepted and adapted and covered the whole of the British front.  The co-ordinate system used allowed positional locating accuracy down to approximately five yards, assuming that the base mapping was accurate.  It was soon recognised however that the Army Intelligence Sections lacked the necessary skills to produce mapping to the required levels of detail or accuracy so between July and September 1915 Topographical Sections were created at Army level.  These sections were responsible for all survey work, map supply and reproduction in their Army area.  This included the production of trench mapping from aerial photographs.

The transfer of ‘maps and printing’ from Army Intelligence to the Topographical sections was not seamless.  According to Capt Carrol Romer, the officer in charge of First Army’s Maps and Printing Section in early 1915, who has been credited as the first British photographic interpreter whilst serving under Charteris (Charteris, At G. H. Q.. p. 82.):

‘Masses of information of all sorts is collected at great labour and expense and it all goes onto a file and there it is comfortably and peacefully disposed of.’  Romer diary, quoted in: (Chasseaud, Artillery’s Astrologers,p. 86.)

Romer was referring to perceived shortfalls in the effective compilation and dissemination of counter-battery intelligence during the transfer.  Whilst the Army Intelligence Sections remained the authority on the strength and dispositions of the enemy the topographical evidence supporting that intelligence, much of it derived from the ever increasing numbers of aerial photographs, had to be plotted accurately onto the map.  As a result the bulk of the photographic interpretation work shifted to these new Army Topographical Sections with any ambiguities being referred to ‘Army Intelligence’ for clarification.  By the end of 1915 Third Army’s Topographical Section, at the request of the Army Staff, had begun to include the German trench system, including barbed wire, and known German artillery battery positions as overlays on the newly created 1:10,000 map sheets.

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