November 23, 2009 / 2:59 PM / 10 years ago

No longer Top Secret: RAF wartime aerial photos

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Aerial photographs of prisoners in high security Colditz and POWs who worked on the infamous bridge over the River Kwai are among images now available to view online for the first time.

Britain’s National Collection of Aerial Photography — one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of aerial imagery — has posted photographs taken by daring aerial reconnaissance units.

The photographs have been digitized and put online as part of a painstaking process of cataloguing and digitizing The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA) for the newly launched National Collection of Aerial Photography website (

Other never-before seen images include a slave labor camp near Mainz, Germany; a test launch site for the Nazi Vengeance - or V - missiles at Peenemunde; a 1952 shot of a viaduct on the longest national motorway in Europe, the Bundesautobahn 7, in Hessen; and a 1944 RAF photograph of a series of giant bomb craters running through the town of Saumur in Maine-et-Loire, France.

While TARA is made up of thousands of microfilm rolls containing millions of individual images, only a small percentage has so far been catalogued and digitized, the collection said.

Discovering exactly what the films contain is a continuing task requiring in-depth detective work.

The aerial archive team use squadron records to link reconnaissance flights to major events in time, and, by identifying geographic references in archive photography, they can then match historic imagery to locations in the modern landscape — some of which have changed beyond recognition since World War Two.

“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 in a statement on the collection’s website.

Reporting by Paul Casciato, Editing by Steve Addison

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