Page One: Detective work

Colditz CastlePicture: Colditz [prisoner of war camp], Saxony, Germany on 10 April 1945, three days before US forces entered the area. The reconnaissance photo mission was flown by the RAF’s 541 Squadron. Image copyright RCAHMS

The mission to analyse thousands of never-before-seen aerial reconnaissance photos that were used to help Britain’s military during wartime may yet turn up more amazing discoveries, say researchers.

Images from The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives, which had been kept secret for decades, were yesterday unveiled for the first time as part of plans to digitise the photos for publication online.

The pictures, now declassified, were captured by reconnaissance planes during and since the Second World War.

Stored on thousands of rolls of microfilm they include prisoners in the courtyard of Colditz prison and images taken during the D-Day battle.

The online archive will allow the public to view the images in fine detail.

‘We are uncovering new images every day, but to locate photographs with such powerful links to major events is incredibly exciting,’ said Allan Williams, manager of the National Collection of Aerial Photography which is based in Edinburgh. ‘Without doubt, we?ll continue to make amazing discoveries.’

Among those who took part in daring reconnaissance missions – on board planes that carried no weapons – was Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Taylor who told BBC News at Ten: ‘They would send a request saying they wanted such and such a target to be photographed and we knew this was part of their planning for the advance into Holland and Germany? they wouldn’t have asked unless it was important.’

The researchers’ painstaking detective work included the analysis of squadron records to link reconnaissance flights to major events at the time.

They used geographic references to match the pictures to locations in the modern landscape.

The public can browse the aerial archive for free.

However, ‘in-depth viewing’ requires a subscription, currently £15 for two years.

More photos

Reconnaissance photosPicture: Zwangsarbeiter slave labour camp, at Gustavsburg near Mainz, Hessen, Germany. This image was captured by the US military on 2 June 1945 just days after allied forces liberated the area. Image copyright RCAHMS

River KwaiPicture: Bridges over the River Mae Klong (renamed Kwa Yai in 1960), recorded on 2 January 1945. Image copyright RCAHMS

More photos

More photosPicture: Captured by the RAF on 2 October 1944 this image shows Caen, Normandy, France after the ‘Battle for Caen’. Image copyright RCAHMS

Aerial photosPicture: In September 1944 thousands landed behind enemy lines – descending by parachute or glider – as part of Operation Market Garden. This was a daring bid to capture eight bridges spanning the canals and rivers on the Dutch/German border. Image copyright RCAHMS

For details and to view some more of the photos click here.