New archive of RAF aerial reconnaissance photos launched online

By Culture24 Staff | 23 November 2009
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A black and white overhead photo of land

(Above) El-Qantara el-Sharqiya, Al Isma'iliyah, Egypt, taken during the Suez Crisis in 1956. The shadow of the French Thunderflash reconaissance aircaft can be seen on the ground as it flies over a military training area during Operation Muskateer. © RCAHMS

Millions of aerial photographs chronicling military operations and intelligence efforts since the 1920s have gone online for the first time.

The National Collection of Aerial Photography website discovered the vast archive of snapshots, including POWs in the central courtyard of Colditz prison and working on the famous bridge over the River Kwai, while cataloguing imagery from The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives.

A black and white overhead photo of fields

Tens of millions of snapshots have gone online in the project. © RCAHMS

The organisation said the "painstaking" process was part of a bid to find out the truth behind Allied and German spy photographs from the Second World War onwards, many of which require "in-depth detective work."

"We are uncovering new images every day, but to locate photographs with such powerful links to major events is incredibly exciting," said Collection Manager Allan Williams.

A black and white overhead photo of a coastal town

Les Ponts, Pays de la Loire, France (1944). © RCAHMS

"Without doubt, we'll continue to make amazing discoveries. The amount of reconnaissance photography taken during and since the Second World War is astonishing. It provides us quite literally with a new perspective on historical events."

Images from battles such as the D-Day battle for Normandy and the 1956 Suez Crisis feature in the free-to-browse archive, although intense snoopers will have to pay £15 for a two-year subscription.

A black and white overhead photo of a naval port

Oblique French Air Force aerial imagery of Port Said in Egypt during the Suez Crisis. © RCAHMS

The pictures are available to buy and an accompanying search room has been set up at the organisation’s Edinburgh headquarters.

The new website also contains more than 1.6 million overhead shots of Scotland in a dedicated section, featuring RAF surveillance taken as part of Operation Revue, a post-war survey between 1945 and 1951 which shaped the building of numerous "new towns" in the Highlands.

See the National Collection of Aerial Photography website for more details.

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