Monday, October 31, 2011

British Aerial Photography and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front - Pt 16

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Expansion of Photographic Interpretation Expertise

With the increase in demand for and wider distribution of aerial photography came a corresponding need for more specialist intelligence staff in subordinate units to carry out the photographic interpretation.  From late 1916 Intelligence Corps officers, trained to interpret aerial photographs, began to be attached to Divisional Intelligence sections (F M Cutlack, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume VIII – The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914–1918 (11th edition, 1941), pp. 206 - 207.).  These officers were supported by an office staff of an aeroplane photo man, three draughtsmen and two clerks (Hahn, The Intelligence Service within the Canadian Corps 1914-1918. pp.113 & 119.).  By the end of 1916 photographic interpretation skills had permeated down to divisional level.  Structured training was required to push the skill down further.

Photographic Interpretation Guides

The first photographic interpretation practitioners, who included Romer (First Army’s Maps and Printing Section early 1915), Lloyd (First Corps Intelligence Officer 1915) and Goldsmith (Third Army’s Compilation Section 1916), all learnt their skills on the job.  Photographic interpretation was so new that no training formal or informal was available.  Slowly a body of experience was built up and was translated into guides and training courses.  The first guides developed in an ad-hoc fashion and were genuine attempts by the early pioneers to share their new found knowledge.  As already mentioned, Lloyd probably produced the first British photographic interpretation manual that was published in November 1916.  Although early in July 1916 Moore-Brabazon, dissatisfied with the use being made of the RFC photography by the BEF’s intelligence elements, produced and circulated six copies of a photographic interpretation guide called Photographs taken by the Royal Flying Corps: (Moore-Brabazon, The Brabazon Story, (London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1956), p.96.  Medmenham Collection DFG 1471, J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon, Letter to Squadron Leader Mayle, School of Photography RAF, 25 November 1959.).  The covering note to the guide stated:

‘These photographs taken by the R.F.C. are put together in book form, in the hope that they may be of use in furthering the closer study of aerial photographs as an aid to reconnaissance.
I am indebted to the 3rd Brigade for most of the Photographs, and to Lieut St B Goldsmith of the 3rd Field Survey Company in including his observations of points of interest in them.  J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon, Major R.F.C., R.F.C. G.H.Q., 8/9/16’.  (Copy owned by Mr Barry Jobling)

In early 1917 Rory Macleod, who had been the liaison officer between Fourth Brigade RFC and Fourth Army’s Counter Battery Intelligence Staff in 1916, produced a book on the interpretation of aerial photographs for Fourth Army’s Artillery School.  (Chasseaud, Artillery’s Astrologers. p. 195.).  By March 1917 the Intelligence Staff at GHQ had taken ownership of the photographic interpretation manuals and had issued S.S. 550 Notes on the Interpretation of Aeroplane Photographs which was distributed down to Battalion, Machine Gun Company and Trench Mortar Battery level (Finnegan, Shooting the Front. p.150.).  This manual was updated in February 1918 S.S. 631 Notes on the Interpretation of Aeroplane Photographs (The National Archives, Notes on the Interpretation of Aeroplane Photographs, AIR 10/320.).

Photographic Interpretation Training

Photographic interpretation training developed in parallel with the interpretation guides.  From early 1915, the RE’s were being trained to use aerial photography to support cartography.  Also during 1915, Lloyd probably provided the first photographic intelligence related training classes, although they were arguably more capability awareness lectures rather than specialist practitioner training.  Not until late 1916 was photographic interpretation incorporated into the syllabus of the 10 week Intelligence Corps Officer training course run in London near Wellington Barracks (Anthony Clayton, Forearmed – A History of the Intelligence Corps, (London, Brassey’s, 1993). p. 54.).  By 1918 the photographic interpretation element of the Intelligence Corps Officer training course had matured significantly and focused on the uses of aeroplane photographs within intelligence sections at Division, Corps, and Army level.  Exercises on the course required students, using aerial photographs, to make maps to plot onto and record information on machine-gun emplacements, artillery batteries, trench-mortars, and airfields, in a way that replicated what the BIO’s were doing in the field (Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing Vol. 74, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 81-82).  For most of 1916 therefore photographic interpretation skills continued to be learnt on the job.  As Francis Law (IXth Corps artillery intelligence officer) stated:

‘At first I found interpretation of aeial photographs difficult but did better with practice.’Law, A Man at Arms. p. 74.

From late 1916 the newly appointed Intelligence Corps officers at both Division and the BIS’s had either been trained at the Intelligence Corps training school in London or in the case of reassigned officers, had attended the newly established eight day course on aerial photography run at Army level in France.  Whenever possible post training familiarisation visits were provided to intelligence officers prior to them taking up their posts:

‘Saturday 24 February 1917 - Captains Bruce G.S.O. 3 of the 36th Division and one Barker who is Intelligence Officer to No 46 Squadron have been sent to spend the day with me as the culminating treat after an 8 day course of aerial photography.’.  Hughes, ‘Diary’ of T McK Hughes.

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