Tuesday, October 18, 2011

British Aerial Photography and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front - Pt 13


Back to Part 12

Aerial photography over the Somme

Aerial photography over the Somme area had begun well before July.  By the end of May 1916 the German first, second and third line defensive system had been photographed to a depth of more than 20 miles, and during the preliminary bombardment the first and second German lines were photographed again to determine how effective the British bombardment was.  Throughout the Somme aerial photography was continuously asked for.  The GSO 2 Intelligence of the First ANZAC Corps stated in his diary that he:

‘. . . was kept very busy [along with his other intelligence officers] interrogating prisoners, studying air photo’s, map making, issuing daily Intelligence Reports and so on.’.  S. S. Butler, Private Papers of S S Butler, IWM Catalogue Number 9793 PP/MCR/107.

Photographic Intelligence Reporting

The increase in availability of aerial photography can be clearly discerned in the First ANZAC Corps intelligence summaries (INTSUMS) written during 1916.

Figure 7.  Numbers of aerial photographs available to First ANZAC Corps 1916.
Figure 7 provides a monthly summary of the number of aerial photographs listed as available to the Corps in the Corps daily INTSUMS.  The obvious peak in photograph numbers, August 1916, correlates to the battle of Pozières (23 Jul - 3 Sep 1916) in which First ANZAC Corps were heavily engaged whilst the second peak in November correlates with the First ANZAC Corps attacks at the close of the Somme battle in the area near Gueudecourt and Flers.  In addition to the quantitative increase in the availability of aerial photography during the Somme campaign, what could also be discerned from the INTSUMS was a qualitative increase in the extraction of the photographic intelligence.  During April and May 1916 the INTSUMS provided little more than ‘shopping lists’ of available photographs that could be ordered by subordinate units from First ANZAC Corps intelligence.  From June onwards every two or three days the INTUMS started to contain textual summaries outlining the activity observed on the photographs taken in the intervening period.  Between June and early November the fidelity of the reporting also changed, simple trench construction updates changed to include summaries of track usage, resupply choke points worthy of artillery attention, and the location of possible German headquarters elements.  From late November the textual summaries were provided alongside the list of photographs they related to, usually in the INTSUM the day after the photograph was taken.



By the close of the Somme intelligence updates based on aerial photography were provided down to Brigade level in First ANZAC Corps.  At the top of each INTSUM it stated ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN FURTHER FORWARD THAN BRIGADE HEADQUARTERS’.  Further downward dissemination relied on the developing intelligence structures at Brigade and Battalion level.  In comparison the daily INTSUMS issued by Second ANZAC Corps during the Somme period contained ‘shopping lists’ of available photographs and at the end of each month a textual summary of the German trench construction noted on aerial photography during the preceding month.  Second ANZAC had arrived in France during July 1916 and held a quiet section of the line near Armentières north of the Somme area by the Belgian border.  The lack of detail in their intelligence reporting is more likely a reflection of the operational tempo being experience by the Corps rather than an indictment on the skills of the Corps photographic interpretation specialist.




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