Saturday, November 23, 2013

Aerial Photography and WWI Camouflage

The following text is a news article issued by the US Signal Corps, published as "War News" in American Photography Vol 12 (1918)—

Plans have been completed for the great enlargement of facilities for training and equipping the aerial photographic force for photographing the German trenches from the skies and keeping up to the last minute the large composite picture of the whole German front…

The bulk of the training [of the aerial photographic staff] will be for the developing and printing work which must be done on a standardized plan under process specially developed during the war, often in great haste on special motor lorries close to the front and to the staff. After a month's course, the men will be given a short advanced training and immediately sent overseas for operation in the American sector.

Aerial photography has greatly developed during the war. During the single month of September, British official reports state that 15,837 aerial photographs wee taken by the British alone. No new trench can be dug, no new communication system opened up, no new batteries placed but the ever-present and infallible camera above records it for the examination of the staff below. So piercing has been this work that camouflage has been developed as a protection, thus forcing aerial photography to even greater ingenuity.

Every sector of the front is divided into plots about half a mile square, each one numbered and entrusted to a squad of photographer who become fully familiar with it. As fast as the photographs are made, they are developed, printed, reduced or enlarged to a standard scale, and then fitted into their proper place on the large composite photograph of the sector. This work requires a large force of experts in developing, printing and enlarging, as well as in map reading interpretation.

Cases are on record where only twenty minutes have elapsed from the time a photographer snapped his camera over the German trenches until his batteries were playing upon the spot shown. In that time the airman had returned to his lines, the photograph had been developed and printed, the discovery made, and the batteries given the range and ordered to fire.