Aerial Recon on the Western Front

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by silence, Sep 4, 2013.

  1. silence

    silence Active Member

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    Disclaimer: about the only thing I know about this topic is that the allies used P-38s and Spitfires.

    Basically, I'm quite curious about how each side did their recon and how the other countered (or tried to), typical mission profiles, and so on.

    For example: were standing patrols used, or a sort-of "intercept-on-call" method, or something else?

    And/Or: What planes were used for recon and for counter-recon?

    Etc.

    Just curious for any info and opinions the community might like to share.
     
  2. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    The main contributor in NW Europe was the RAF's PRU - Photographic Reconnaisance Unit, employing mainly Spitfires and Mosquitos. The USAAF used Spitfires, Mosquitos, P-38 (F5) and P-51 (F 5/F6). Tactical recce was carried out using the above also, but chiefly the earlier, Allison engined Mustangs, and other types.
    It wasn't really possible for the Luftwaffe to mount standing patrols as such, as there were so many sorties by the recce aircraft, all over Europe, and they flew singly, high, and fast.
    Of course, the details are much more involved than this brief overview, and there are a number of books covering various aspects of this often overlooked, but very vital, area of aerial operations.
     
  3. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    The Luftwaffe used a lot of Ju 88s and Do 217s in this role around the coast of Britain. Dealing with them was one role found for the Whirlwind.
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  4. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Something like 15% of Luftwaffe aircraft were devoted to recon. A higher percentage then anyone else at the beginning of WWII. Having an information advantage was part of the reason German army fought so well even when outnumbered.

    Germany used a system of recon aircraft with over lapping capabilities.
    .....Fi-156 (Storch) STOL at division and corps level.
    .....Fw-189 at corps and army level.
    .....Me-110, Ju-86, Ju-88, Fw-200 and several other large aircraft were employed for strategic recon.
     
  5. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    To add Dave's list
    early war at panzer division and corps level Hs 126
    late war when Fw 189 was shown to be too vulnerable the recon versions of Bf 109 became the main a/c in tactical/short range recon, there was even a LR recon version of Bf 109G, the G4/R3.
    And one important plane used in strategic recon during the late war was Me 410A-3. Do 217 was later used specially as night recon plane, its very early versions were used earlier as LR day recon as was its predecessors Do 215Bs and Do 17s, some Ar 240s were also employed as recon planes against well protected targets.

    Juha
     
  6. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Me-109 is an odd choice for aerial recon as visibility from cockpit was rather poor.

    fw190s8jd_3.jpg

    IMO twin seat Fw-190 would make a better high speed recon aircraft. However rear cockpit (for observer) should be stepped up a bit to make visibility as good as possible.
     
  7. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Visibility from the cockpit is not as important, in recce work, as visibility from the camera ports. It's the ability to mount the required number and type of cameras which counts, along with the required altitude/performance and stability, to get the job done, no matter how many crew, or the visibility from the crew positions.
     
  8. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    That's fine for strategic recon. For tactical recon the forward observer requires good visibility of the target he's adjusting artillery fire onto.
     
  9. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    In tactical recce, a pilot or observer would not be adjusting any fire, from any artillery - that's the job of AOP aircraft.
    Tactical recce aircraft, such as the Allison-engined P-51, were/are used to obtain the latest photos of an area or specific target, for use (normally) by ground forces.
    Observation of, and guidance of artillery or strike aircraft, is a totally different role, employing totally different aircraft, and reliant on radio communication with a FAC on the ground. It is not classed as recce, tactical or otherwise.
     
  10. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    I don't think so.
    Fw-189 carried a camera but also called in artillery fire. So did the somewhat similar 1960s era OV-10.
     
  11. silence

    silence Active Member

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    What altitudes would these planes fly at, and were they typically alone?
     
  12. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Altitude depended on what was being photoed, and the weather. Typically RAF PR aircraft would fly high - 25,000ft +.

    RAF PR aircraft usually flew alone, unescorted.
     
  13. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #13 nuuumannn, Sep 6, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2013
    Silence, for a good history of British photographic reconnaissance, look up Frederick Sidney Cotton, a rather enterprising Australian who was responsible for setting up the British PR unit that became No.1 PRU. In typical British fashion, Cotton was outsted from his position as head of the PRU in favour of a serving RAF officer, even though it was his show; he had problems with authority (!). His concepts changed the face of photo recon during the war; it was Cotton's idea to use single engined single seat fighters for recon, requesting a Spitfire from Fighter Command, which initially refused.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Cotton

    Like Terry said there are a number of good books on the subject, including Eyes of the RAF; a history of photo reconnaissance by Roy Conyers Nesbit, who was a former PI (Photographic Interpreter) and also Eyes for the Phoenix by Geoffrey Thomas. A good personal account of the PR war is Evidence in camera by Constance Babington-Smith, who was a PI and first identified German jet and rocket fighters and brought them to the attention of the British.

    One thing that is often overlooked regarding photo recon is that it is a form of intelligence collecting and ties in with the work of the different branches of intelligence departments. In WW2 the British intelligence community had direct contact with the RAF's No.1 PRU to the extent that the head of Scientific Intelligence could turn up unannounced at RAF Heston, and then Benson and request that he wanted a particular object or place photographed and without question the available pilot would do the job, often at great peril to himself. As for altitudes ops were flown, it depends on what was being photographed. For an example of a pertinent use of photographic recon, take a look here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Biting

    The image of the Wurzburg radar on this page was taken by a certain Australian PR pilot Tony Hill, a relation of whom is a member of this forum.

    Thanks to its photo recon assets, the British Intelligence community had a better picture of what the Germans were up to than many of us realise here on this forum, being able to identify and become fully aware of the build up of jet and rocket fighters and the V weapons long before these things entered service, whereas German photographic coverage of the United Kingdom during the war was almost non-existent (note the almost - it was certainly nowhere near as extensive as Britain's coverage of Germany and Axis held territories).
     
  14. silence

    silence Active Member

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    Heh, I just bought a semester's worth of books for my MA classes - I was hoping to avoid spending more for a while!!!!

    But you all are giving me some nice general info, which is all I wanted. Thanks.

    I am actually familiar with modern US recon: I live only a few miles from Beale AFB, which was the home base for the Blackbird and still is for the Dragon Lady. I even got on the simulator for the Blackbird years ago!
     
  15. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Hello
    Edward Leaf's Above All Unseen is another good book on RAF's PR Units in 1939-45. In Kahn's book on Third Reich's intelligence there is a chapter on German aerial recon.
    On heights flown, very high and very low were typical to British and USAAF, unarmed PR planes tended to fly very high and armed FR planes at low level. On LW same systems. In addition at least some TacRec Bf 109Gs carried Army radio, so they while flying low level tac rec used "running commentry" reporting what they saw directly to the ground forces unit HQ which had asked for the recon flight.

    And the book Fooling the Looking Glass tells the story of camoflage, tricks to try to fool other side's recon.

    Juha
     
  16. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #16 nuuumannn, Sep 7, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2013
    Very cool Silence, I'd love to go to Beale. They've got an SR-71 and U-2 on display, havent they?

    I've never read this, it would be an interesting book to read. English Heritage have released a good book on dummy airfield Q sites around the UK and dummy aircraft constructed out of wood and fabric.

    With the exception of the Ar 234 and Me 262 in the very late stages of the war, the Germans didn't use unarmed single-seaters in the same manner that the Brits did. Until the jets, the use of high speed recon platforms by the LW was restricted to tactical and battlefield recon only.
     
  17. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    The title was a little off, its Col. Roy M. Stanley II's To Fool Glass Eye. Camouflage versus Photoreconnaissance in World War II Airlife 1998

    Messerschmitt built 80 LR Recon Bf 109G-4/R3s in 1943, they were able to carry 2 x 300ltr dts.

    Juha
     
  18. silence

    silence Active Member

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    Yep - Blackbird #17963 is there and the U2 still flies from there. There are also WWII German POW cells with the graffiti still on the walls.

    Sadly, the base is slowly switching over to a site for piloting drones.
     
  19. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Just to go slightly off topic, a lot of public buildings on the south coast of Britain during 1940 were camouflaged from the Germans by not being camouflaged, what I mean by this is that if a German recon or any other plane had spotted a building that had been camouflaged the Germans would have assumed it was of importance and would have bombed it.
     
  20. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Strategic recon typically flies high and fast. Tactical recon flies low and slow.

    WWII era naval recon typically flew at a few thousand feet. Staying low allowed observers to spot a ship silhouette against the horizon. "Shattered Sword" discusses naval aerial recon methods.
     
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