Friday, October 14, 2011

British Aerial Photography and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front - Pt 11


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Uneven Development of Photographic Interpretation Skills

Despite this cartographically driven shift, the ever increasing number of aerial photograph recipients in the army’s subordinate formations continued an ad-hoc and uneven development of their photographic interpretation skills.  During the summer of 1915 Alan Lloyd was appointed as an intelligence officer on the staff of First Corps where he was made responsible for the Corps aerial photographs ‘. . . which at the time, were merely regarded as very accurate maps.’ (Medmenham Collection DFG3412, Letter Lloyd to Babingdon-Smith, 3 Dec 1957.).  In November 1915 Lloyd gave a lecture on aerial photographs to his Corps Commander which proved such a success that he was ‘sent round troops at rest to teach them how to read their photographs.’ (Letter Lloyd to Babingdon-Smith, 3 Dec 1957.).  Lloyd went on to produce a series of notes to support his photographic interpretation lessons that were ultimately sent to GHQ, via Corps and Army, and were reproduced as the first British photographic interpretation guide ‘S.S. 445 Some Notes on the Interpretation of Aeroplane Photographs’ in November 1916 (The National Archives, AIR 34/735, Some Notes on the Interpretation of Aeroplane Photographs (December 1916).  Referenced in ‘S.S. 550 Notes on the Interpretation of Aeroplane Photographs’, March 1917.). In contrast the Canadians appeared to have a far greater awareness of the utility of aerial photographs during 1915:

‘A German aeroplane has been hovering over our positions looking for my gun, so we have stopped firing and all movement. I know just how the chicken feels when the hawk hovers over it. Few people realize how much aeroplanes figure in this war, for war would be much different without them. They do the work of Cavalry only in the sky. Whenever they come over, the sentries blow three blasts on their whistles and everybody runs for cover or freezes; guns stop firing and are covered up with branches made on frames. If men are caught in the open they stand perfectly still and do not look up, for on the aeroplane photographs faces at certain heights show light; dugouts are covered over with trees, straw or grass. We use aeroplane photographs a great deal; they show trenches distinctly and look very like the canals on Mars.’  Louis Keene, “Crumps” The Plain Story of a Canadian Who Went, (Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917) pp. 83-84.

When the Canadian Corps formed in September 1915 they established a new GSO, Second Grade, to command the intelligence service within the Corps.  This officer had under his command:

‘. . . a small force of draughtsmen and assistants working on aeroplane photographs, which were then beginning to be used extensively . . .’  J.E. Hahn, The Intelligence Service within the Canadian Corps 1914-1918,(Toronto, Macmillan, 1930) p. xviii.

By the end of 1915 aerial photography had polarised into three separate but operationally interrelated areas.  The RFC had shifted its focus onto the engineering element; camera development and operation, photograph processing, printing, dissemination and archiving.  Laws now a Second Lieutenant had returned to Britain in September 1915 to establish the RFC’s School of Photography at Farnborough.  The RE’s under the guise of Topographical Sections were combining survey and photographic interpretation to support cartography.  Intelligence sections at all levels, whilst largely dependant on the RE’s maps for context, had continued to develop their own indigenous photographic interpretation skills.

Next: Part 12 'Aerial Photography comes of age'

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