Reconnaissance during Battle of Britain

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by greybeard, Sep 26, 2016.

  1. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    Good day,

    rivers of ink have been poured about fighters and bombers that fought over the Channel (and their units) in that Summer of 1940, but what about reconnaissance?

    I was unable to positively identify a typical reconnaissance aircraft in that theatre of operation neither for British nor for German, as well as the relevant squadrons.

    Thanks for any help,
    GB
     
  2. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    #2 greybeard, Sep 26, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2016
    Sorry, I was hasty!

    A thorough search gave following results for British(*):
    • No. 2 Squadron, flying Westland Lysander I and Lysander II; based at Hatfield from 8 June to 24 October 1940
    • No. 16 Squadron, flying Westland Lysander II; various bases in England
    • No. 26 Squadron, flying Westland Lysander I, II and III; based at West Malling from 8 June to 3 September 1940
    • No. 53 Squadron, flying Bristol Blenheim IV; based at Detling from July to November 1940
    • No. 59 Squadron, flying Bristol Blenheim IV; based at Thorney Island from July 1940 to February 1941
    (*)Source: Military History Encyclopedia on the Web

    whilst, for German(**):
    • 3.(F)/10 from Aufklärungsgruppe 10 "Tannenberg", Calais area, 7.40 - 5.41, flying Do 17 and Bf 110 (not all sources concur on Bf 110 - subtype unknown - , while Do 17 could be IMHO Do-215B)
    • 1.(F)/22 from Aufklärungsgruppe 22, St. Omer, 7.40 - 3.41 (Do 17/Bf 110 - same comments of mine as above)
    (**)Source: The Luftwaffe, 1933-45

    Thanks anyway and sorry again!

    Cheers,
    GB
     
  3. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    The Lysander was an army recon type, I doubt it was used for cross channel recon.

    I found this on wiki concerning PR spitfires

    Before the Second World War, the conventional wisdom was to use converted bomber types for airborne photo reconnaissance. These bombers retained their defensive armament, which was vital since they were unable to avoid interception. It was soon found that modified Blenheims and Lysanders were easy targets for German fighters and heavy losses were being incurred whenever these aircraft ventured over German territory.[54]

    In August 1939, Flying Officer Maurice Longbottom, inspired by Sidney Cotton, filed a memorandum Photographic Reconnaissance of Enemy Territory in War with RAF Headquarters. In the memorandum Longbottom advocated that airborne reconnaissance would be a task better suited to fast, small aircraft which would use their speed and high service ceiling to avoid detection and interception. He proposed the use of Spitfires with the armament and radios removed and replaced with extra fuel and cameras.[55] As a result of a meeting with Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding RAF Fighter Command, two Spitfires N3069 and N3071 were released by RAF Fighter Command and sent to the "Heston Flight", a highly secret reconnaissance unit under the command of Acting Wing Commander Cotton.[54]

    These two Spitfires were "Cottonised" by stripping out the armament and radio-transmitter, then, after filling the empty gun ports and all panel lines, the airframe was rubbed down to remove any imperfections. Coats of a special very pale blue-green called Camoutint were applied and polished.[nb 7] Two F24 cameras with five inch (127 mm) focal length lenses, which could photograph a rectangular area below the aircraft, were installed in the wing space vacated by the inboard guns and their ammunition containers as a stop-gap measure. Heating equipment was installed on all PR Spitfires to stop the cameras from freezing and the lenses from frosting over at altitude. These Spitfires, which later officially became the Spitfire Mk I PR Type A, had a maximum speed of 390 mph.[54] Several of the sub-types which followed were conversions of existing fighter airframes, carried out by the Heston Aircraft Company. The Type D, which was the first specialised ultra long-range version, was the first to require that the work be carried out by Supermarine.[57]

    In the Mk I PR Type B (also known as Medium Range (MR)) conversions which followed, the F24 camera lenses were upgraded to an eight-inch (203 mm) focal length, giving images up to a third larger in scale. An extra 29 gal (132 l) fuel tank was installed in the rear fuselage. It had been envisaged that much larger cameras would be installed in the fuselage immediately behind the pilot, but at the time RAF engineers believed this would upset the Spitfire's centre of gravity. Cotton was able to demonstrate that by removing lead weights, which had been installed in the extreme rear fuselage to balance the weight of the constant speed propeller units, it was possible to install cameras with longer focal-length lens in the fuselage. The Type B was the first to dispense with the heavy bullet resistant windscreen. Many of these early PR Spitfires were fitted with the Merlin XII engine and Rotol constant-speed propeller with the early, blunt spinner of the Spitfire Mk II.[58]

    The Mk I PR Type C carried a total of 144 gal (655 l) of fuel and was the first photo reconnaissance aircraft to reach as far as Kiel. The extra fuel was carried in the tank behind the pilot and in a 30 gal (136 l) blister tank under the port wing, which was counterbalanced by a camera installation in a fairing under the starboard wing. A larger oil tank was installed, necessitating the reshaping of the nose to the distinctive PR Spitfire "chin". This version was also known as the Long Range or LR Spitfire.[59]

    The Mk I PR Type D (also called the Extra Super Long Range Spitfire) was the first PR variant that was not a conversion of existing fighter airframes. The Type D carried so much fuel that it was nicknamed "the bowser." The D shaped wing leading edges, ahead of the main spar, proved to be an ideal location for an integral tank. Accordingly, in early 1940, work started on converting the leading edges, between rib four through to rib 21, by sealing off the spar, outer ribs and all skin joins allowing 57 gal (259 l) of fuel to be carried in each wing. Because the work was of low priority, and with the urgent need for fighters the first two, hand-built prototypes of the PR Type Ds were not available until October. In addition to the leading edge tanks these prototypes also had a 29 gal (132 l) tank in the rear fuselage. An additional 14 gal (63 l) oil tank was fitted in the port wing. The cameras, two vertically mounted F24s with 8 inch (20.3 cm) or 20 inch (50.8 cm) lens or two vertically mounted F8s with 20-inch (510 mm) lens, were located in the rear fuselage. With the full fuel load the center of gravity was so far back the aircraft was difficult to fly until the rear fuselage tank had been emptied. Despite these difficulties the type quickly proved its worth, photographing such long distance targets as Stettin, Marseilles, Trondheim and Toulon.[60]

    Once the first two Type Ds, P9551 and P9552[61] had proven the concept the production aircraft, which were soon redesignated PR Mk IV, were modified to increase the leading edge tank capacity to 66.5 gal (302 l) and by omitting the rear fuselage tank. These aircraft were better balanced and had the more powerful Merlin 45 engine as used by the Mk V, along with heated cabins, which were a great comfort to pilots on such long flights. A total of 229 Type Ds were built.[62]

    A single Mk I PR Type E N3117 was built to address a requirement for oblique close-ups as opposed to high altitude vertical pictures. This conversion carried an F24 camera in a fairing under each wing. These faced forward, were splayed outwards slightly and aimed downwards at about 15 degrees below the horizontal. A 29 gal (132 l) fuel tank was fitted in the rear fuselage. N3117 proved most useful as it was able to photograph targets under weather conditions that would make high altitude photography impossible and experience with this aircraft resulted in the development of the Type G.[63]

    Mk I PR Type F was an interim "super-long-range" version which entered service in July 1940, pending the Type D. The Type F carried a 30 gal fuel tank under each wing, plus a 29 gal tank in the rear fuselage, as well as having an enlarged oil tank under the nose. It was a useful enough improvement that nearly all existing Type Bs and Type Cs were eventually converted to the Type F standard. Operating from East Anglia it was just able to reach, photograph and return from Berlin. 15 of these were based on the Mk V airframe.[10]

    The Mk I PR Type G was the first fighter-reconnaissance version and performed a similar low-level tactical role to the Type E. One oblique F24 camera, with either an eight-inch or 14 inch lens, was fitted facing to port, between fuselage frames 13 and 14. Two vertical F24 cameras were also installed in the fuselage. The forward camera, installed below the oblique, could be fitted with a five-inch or an eight-inch lens while the rear camera could be fitted with an eight-inch or a 14 inch lens.[64] A 29 gal (132 l) fuel tank was fitted just behind the pilot. The first PR Gs were converted from Mk I airframes and their Merlin II engines replaced with Merlin 45s.[64] Late PR Gs were converted from Mk V airframes. The Type G was fully armed with 8 × .303" Brownings and retained the armoured windscreen and gunsight.[64]

    A feature of most PR Spitfires were the specially modified "Blown" canopies which incorporated large lateral teardrop shaped blisters, allowing the pilots a much clearer view to the rear and below, vital for sighting the cameras. The lateral cameras were aimed by lining up a tiny +, marked on the side of the blister, with a fine black line painted on the port outer aileron. On all unarmed PR conversions the gunsight was replaced by a small camera control box from which the pilot could turn the cameras on, control the time intervals between photos and set the number of exposures.[65]
     
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  4. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    As of 13 August 1940, the list of active Luftwaffe recon units involved in the Battle of Britain were as follows:

    Luftwaffe recon under Luftflotte 2 command:
    (Brussels)
    Wettererkundungstaffel 26 (Weather Recon Unit)
    Do17E-1, He111 and Bf110

    I. Feligerkorps
    Aufklärungsgruppe 122
    Do17P, He111, Ju88

    Luftwaffe recon under Luftflotte 3 command: (Paris)
    Wettererkundungstaffel 51
    5.Staffel: Do17, He111

    IV. Fleigerkorps
    Kampfgeschwader 40
    Stab/KG40: Ju88
    I./KG40: Fw200

    Aufklärungsgruppe 31
    3.Staffel: Do17, Ju88, Bf110

    Kampfgeschwader 55
    Aufklärungsgruppe 121
    3.Staffel: Ju88
    4.Staffel: Do17, Ju88

    Aufklärungsgruppe 14
    4.Staffel: Do17, Bf110

    VIII. Fleigerkorps
    Aufklärungsgruppe 11
    2.Staffel: Do17, Bf110

    Aufklärungsgruppe 123
    2.Staffel: Do17, Ju88

    Luftwaffe recon under Luftflotte 5 command: (Stavanger)
    Wettererkundungkette X
    He111

    Aufklärungsgruppe 22
    2.Staffel: Do17
    3.Staffel: Do17

    Aufklärungsgruppe 120
    1.Staffel: He111, Ju88

    Aufklärungsgruppe 121
    1.Staffel: He111, Ju88

    Aufklärungsgruppe Ob.d.L
    1.Staffel: Do215, He111, Bf110

    Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Berlin)
    Wettererkundungkette Ob.d.L
    1.Staffel: Do17, He111
    2.Staffel: He111

    In addition to the Luftwaffe, Regia Aeronautica employed five CANT Z.1007 aircraft for reconnaissance operations attached to the "Corpo Aereo Italiano" unit, based at Melbroek, Belgium.
     
  5. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    pbehn and GrauGeist,

    thank you so much for the wealth of information!

    So, with the possible exception of type D, all those types of Spitfire Mk. I PR may have participated to Battle of Britain, scouting well farther than Normandie... Would be interesting to know related units, since I couldn't find any showing in its inventory those "Cottonized" aircraft (BTW, astonishing contribute given by that man to aerial reconnaisannce development). Useful info also about earlier Blenheim and Lysander, retaining their defensive armament; I always wondered if it was instead replaced by photographic equipment.

    I guess it was the same for aircraft of the incredibly detailed Luftwaffe OOB.

    Cheers,
    GB
     
  6. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    Normandy was of little interest, the interest of the British at that time was any possible build up of equipment for invasion.
     
  7. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    You're right: I should have said Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Indeed I meant northern regions of Europe close to England.

    I forgot:
    Once again, you're right: actually, I read Lysander was mainly used at that time to patrol British coasts for possible German landings.

    Thanks again,
    GB

    P.S.: handy this feature to insert selected quotes, also from different messages! Compliments to the site builders!
     
  8. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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  9. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    "The Lysander was an army recon type, I doubt it was used for cross channel recon."

    In 1939 I doubt there was much thought being given to cross channel recon. Many nations had short range and long range recon aircraft and by the summer of 1940 would realize that most of them were obsolete or unsuitable for the job as intended. The majority of short range recon types fading out of the picture very quickly unless operating in areas of near total control of their own side.
    The long range recon planes tended to be modified twin engine bombers.

    The Lysander was story of it's own. But in the summer of 1940 it was realized all too well it had no business operating in daylight anywhere enemy fighters might show up.
     
  10. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    SR stricktly speaking we only needed cross channel recon after the fall of France by which time the limits of the lysander and Blenheim were noted. As per my previous post the RAF were experimenting with Spitfires before the war started, apart from the threat of invasion which required cross channel recon the RN needed to know about the German Navy which required very long range.
     
  11. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    The Germans had effectively carried out an aerial survey of Great Britain (and Ireland) starting in 1936 and completed by 1939. The British themselves had not done this.

    Reconnaissance continued throughout the early war period, including the BoB, and was extensive.

    The interpretation of the collected data, and transformation into useful intelligence left a lot to be desired.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  12. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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  13. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    True and perhaps some use was made of Lockheed Hudsons. We do know that use was made of Martin Marylanders for recon purposes. But that was after the BoB and in other theaters.
     
  14. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    There was a book about the Kreigsmarine and later Luftwaffe Unit that were assigned the navalized Ju-87 that I could have sworn they stated they would sometimes use them for Recon.
     
  15. Milosh

    Milosh Well-Known Member

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    Didn't Cotton/Winterbotham have a Lockheed out fitted with cameras prewar to photograph German military installations?
     
  16. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Yes. Cotton toured Europe, and in particular Germany, ostensibly on business, in a pale green Lockheed 18 which had concealed cameras on board, and photographed many military and civilian installations of interest.
     
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