WWII's 16th Photo Tech: A Project. By Theresa Everline.

Military Reconnaissance


In the “Blue Train in Europe” book, the author, writing with exceptional flair, notes: “Long before our armies ground the master race myth of the Hitler-heilers into the same dust from which it rose, a Nazi general of high repute said: ‘The army with the best photographic reconnaissance will win the next war.’ Allied air forces proved him an excellent prophet.”

According to an excerpt from The Oxford Companion to World War II, that “Nazi general of high repute” was General von Fritsch, the commander-in-chief of the German Army. They render the 1938 quote as: “The country with the best reconnaissance will win the next war.”


The National Air and Space Museum’s website has a section on the history of aerial reconnaissance. The practice has its origins in WWI, with quickly developing technology that, for example, added lenses for more coverage. The site briefly mentions the use of portable photo labs in the field. Utterly fascinating is the brief bio of George W. Goddard, a pioneer in aerial photography. Get this: His first test for nighttime aerial photography was such a curious choice.

“His work greatly advanced the technology in many fields of aerial photographic science including night reconnaissance photography, in-flight processing, high altitude and long-range lenses, and the use of infrared film for distinguishing camouflage. Goddard pioneered the development of nighttime reconnaissance photography. One night in 1925, he stunned Rochester, N.Y., by igniting an 80-pound flash powder bomb to light up the whole city. The result was the first aerial night photograph.”

Everyone look up and say cheese! Here’s the photo:

Rochester aerial photo



I’ve started reading Unarmed and Unafraid: The First Complete History of the Men, Missions, Training and Techniques of Aerial Reconnaissance, a 1970 book by Glenn B. Infield:

The second chapter deals with the attempts to use balloon reconnaissance during the Civil War, and there’s an unintentional Wile E. Coyote aspect to it all. Balloonists kept offering their services to the Union Army and then flubbing the mission. One guy’s balloon was torn by a telegraph pole; another, while being pulled by overexcited horses, was ripped by a tree; finally a guy named John Wise succeeds in ascending high enough to report about Confederate detachments and artillery positions, but the next time some telegraph wires but his lines, and he floated toward enemy territory and the balloon had to be shot down.

True success was achieved by Thaddeus Lowe. He sent the first telegraph message from a balloon, devised a calcium light that couldn’t be spotted, and used a camera from a balloon for the first time, among other things. All right, Thaddeus!

1 Comment »

  1. […] Training and Techniques of Aerial Reconnaissance, a 1970 book by Glenn Infield. Check out my Military Reconnaissance page to read about the Wile E. Coyote-esque attempts by balloonists to to useful during the Civil War. […]

    Pingback by Aerial reconnaissance history: A good find « WWII's 16th Photo Tech: A Project. By Theresa Everline. — November 30, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

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