Looking Down on War, The Normandy Invasion, June 1944

B1845

This is a photo essay covering the greatest amphibious operation to take place in Europe. The title suggests that this is a collection of aerial photographs and there are many outstanding aerial photographs, but there are also clear maps and photographs taken from the ground.

Historically, authors have depended on D-Day images that were shot from the ground, with maps that include information from often several different sources. Aerial photographs are rarely used and this book is a very valuable addition to available photographic information already published. It provides a new perspective on the landings and subsequent actions in Normandy. As never before, the reader can gain a view of the scale of this amazing military information, both of the German defences and the Allied forces landing, being resupplied and breaking out from the beach heads.

This is a book not to be missed.

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NAME: Looking Down on War, The Normandy Invasion, June 1944
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
FILE: R1844
DATE: 280613
AUTHOR: Col Roy M Stanley II, USAF (Ret)
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 271
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Aerial reconnaissance, photo reconnaissance, oblique photography, photo analysis, Normandy, D-Day, June 1944, 1939-1945, Second World War, WWII, World War Two, USAF, RAF
ISBN: 1-78159-056-7
IMAGE: B1844.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/p45du6v
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: This is a photo essay covering the greatest amphibious operation to take place in Europe. The title suggests that this is a collection of aerial photographs and there are many outstanding aerial photographs, but there are also clear maps and photographs taken from the ground.

The images are in monochrone throughout. To have introduced the rare colour photographs of the time would have taken away some of the impact of the impressive aerial photographs taken by reconnaissance aircraft.

The author became a USAF Aerial Photo interpreter in 1959, working on missions in Asia. To produce this book, he has used USAF and RAF imagery that is almost entirely sourced from long dormant US Department of Defense Intelligence files.

One interesting aspect of this book is that it highlights two challenges of photo reconnaissance. Firstly, even during 1944, when aerial photography was carried out by manned aircraft, an enormous volume of images was produced and one of the greatest challenges was in working though the mass of information to locate the nuggets that commanders and intelligence analysts needed to view. Secondly, a reconnaissance photograph contains information that will only be identified by a trained pair of eyes.

There is a third challenge that has been largely addressed today but had no effective remedy in 1944. What is as important as what is in a photograph is what has been removed from an area, since the previous photo reconnaissance photographs. In 1944, some photographs would be shot from bombers during a bombing mission and these could be shot at medium or high altitude. Bombardment of a town, such as Caen, would normally involve large numbers of heavy bombers, sometimes flying in a series of missions through a 24 hour period and bombing from high altitude. In this type of mission, the USAF typically flew the missions in daylight with fighter escort and the RAF flew at night without fighter aircraft. This produced two sets of photographs that were initially processed by the service in which each group of bombers operated. The resulting photographs had to be compared with each other and with photographs from reconnaissance missions. The photographic interpreter had to use his or her skills to fairly compare photographs shot from different altitudes and tracks. This could easily mean that some key information was missed even by a skilled interpreter. More recently, computer programs have taken the task of comparing photo reconnaissance missions. Even if a single aircraft flies every day at exactly the same time, deliberately attempting to fly exactly the same track, conditions will be different and the track will vary from mission to mission. The computer corrects the tracks so that each set of images overlays the earlier sets. The computer and/or the interpreter can then accurately identify what has changed each day. If armour is missing on the second day, it has gone somewhere. It can be searched for on neighbouring missions. That identifies where the armour is heading and can identify an attack forming before all the elements are brought together at the start line and launched.

Handling images has become progressively more challenging now that images are delivered from a variety of vehicles, many now unmanned. The weight of material can swamp the interpreters and one US intelligence agency considered that it had so much material current resources would take 8 years to work through all of it if no more material was added. As military information has a timed value, much of the material would be outdated long before anyone tried to analyse it. It is vital to take the images and get them to the interpreters as fast as possible so that important information is recognised while it still has value and before the enemy can make a surprise attack.

The author has done an effective job of interpreting the many images in this book so that they have meaning for the average reader.

Historically, authors have depended on D-Day images that were shot from the ground, with maps that include information from often several different sources. Aerial photographs are rarely used and this book is a very valuable addition to available photographic information already published. It provides a new perspective on the landings and subsequent actions in Normandy. As never before, the reader can gain a view of the scale of this amazing military information, both of the German defences and the Allied forces landing, being resupplied and breaking out from the beach heads.

This is a book not to be missed.

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