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TCPED Incoherence and Duplication
From July to November 1916 the RFC took over 19,000 aerial photographs from which approximately 430,000 prints were made (Eaton, APIS Soldiers with Stereo, p. 6. In general terms this equated to approximately 22 copies of each photograph being produced and distributed.). The ever increasing volume of aerial photography exposed incoherence and duplication in the BEF’s aerial photography TCPED processes.
Intelligence Specialists at Squadron Level
Early in 1916 the RFC had realised that it was not making full use of the intelligence collected or assimilated by its aircrew. From mid 1916 Recording Officers (RO’s), of Captain/Lieutenant rank, began to be appointed in RFC squadrons. The RO’s acted as intelligence officers and the squadron Adjutant and were tasked with debriefing aircrew collating the information gathered and forwarding anything of value to headquarters. In addition the RO’s in the Corps squadrons took on the artillery and infantry liaison role to reduce the burden on the Squadron Commanders (Hughes, ‘Diary’ of T McK Hughes.). The appointment of RO’s was recognition of the need for an intelligence function at squadron level. Despite this initiative the sheer volume of information generated during 1916 coupled with a parochial view taken by many squadrons RO’s, largely caused by a lack of formal intelligence training, (The RFC had wanted to call its RO’s ‘Intelligence Officers’ but GHQ Intelligence had refused to sanction the name or the role.), meant that a wealth of intelligence information was just carefully filed. A British study of the French intelligence system published in September 1916 highlighted the advantages of integrating an intelligence specialist at squadron level (The National Archives, WO 158/983, Notes on the French system of intelligence during the battle of the Somme (September 1916).). With this study in mind in October 1916 Trenchard, now the Major General in command of the RFC in France, proposed that intelligence sections be established at squadrons and wings with reconnaissance and photographic responsibilities ‘where the Intelligence Officer could be in intimate touch with the flying and photographic personnel’ (H. A. Jones, TheWar in the Air Volume 3 (Oxford, Clarenden Press, 1931) p.315.). From late October an experimental intelligence section commanded by Captain G. T. Tait, an attached Intelligence Corps officer, was established at 3 Squadron RFC, the squadron subordinated to First ANZAC Corps during the latter stages of the Somme (Australian War Memorial, Honors and Awards - Gerald Trevredyn Tait, (25 Dec 1917)). The experiment was deemed a success, and during December 1916 instructions were issued to form Branch Intelligence Sections (BIS’s) at the headquarters of each corps squadron and each army wing. The BIS’s, commanded by an Intelligence Corps Officer called a Branch Intelligence Officer (BIO), comprised; two draughtsmen, one clerk and an orderly. The sections role was clearly defined:
‘To interrogate every observer and ensure that full advantage be taken of such information as he might possess.
To disseminate to all concerned with the least possible delay information obtained by the Royal Flying Corps which required immediate action.
To examine and, where necessary, to mark all photographs and to issue both photographs and sketch maps illustrating the photographs.’. Jones, The War in the Air Volume 3. p.315.
The Official History states that:
‘Although the sections formed part of the Army or Corps Intelligence they were placed under the direct orders of the officer commanding the wing or squadron . . .’. Jones, The War in theAir Volume 3. p.316.
The reality may have been different. Lieutenant Thomas Hughes, the BIO attached to 53 Squadron in 1917, shows clear animosity towards his squadron commander in his diary. His refusal to comply with his squadron commander’s order relating to situation maps and his deference to Corps Intelligence guidance would suggest that the BIS’s came under the purview of GS Intelligence (Hughes, ‘Diary’ of T McK Hughes.). During 1917 there was a trend in some Corps to publish a daily situation map as part of their daily INTSUM. The situation maps were an RFC driven initiative and in the participating corps were produced by the BIS. Hughes an experienced photographic interpreter was sceptical about the value of these maps, his scepticism centred on accuracy and production time. Produced at 1:20,000 scale and annotated with activity derived from aerial observation and photography they presented a quick visual update unsuitable for determining accurate positional data. In Hughes’ opinion the intelligence content also suffered. A review of the II ANZAC Corps INTSUMS during 1917 supports this view, INTSUMS issued with a situation map contained limited aerial photograph derived textual updates.
Next: Part 15 ‘Corps Topographical Sections’