The BBC documentary first broadcast in May 2011 - developed in collaboration with NCAP - is being rebroadcast in the United Kingdom.
Operation Crossbow was the Allies top-secret hunt for the much vaunted Nazi Secret Weapons and the counter-measures taken to destroy them. 1.2 million aerial photographs were taken by unarmed photographic reconnaissance squadrons, during the course of the Operation, that were analysed by the photographic interpreters at R.A.F. Medmenham. Based in a country house in rural Buckinghamshire the interpreters used 3D photographic techniques to identify and monitor installations vital to the revolutionary weapons. Their work allowed the Allied Air Forces to limit the impact of a technology the German Führer - Adolf Hitler - hoped would change the course of the war.
Ski building at Bois de Huit Rues, Pas de Calais, France.
The documentary features the work of NCAP Curator Allan Williams and his team, whose ongoing research represents the legacy of the top-secret intelligence unit based between the towns of Marlow and Henley on Thames. The team continue to catalogue and archive millions of Second World War aerial photographs, part of an internationally significant collection comprising many millions of military intelligence images dating from 1939 to 1989.
Fifteen thousand of the photographs uncovered during this research can be viewed on this website, and with an NCAP Website Subscription can be viewed at higher resolution. Examples include:
A year in the making, Operation Crossbow brings together surviving photographic reconnaissance pilots and photographic interpreters, who had to make sense of the jigsaw of information hidden in the tens of millions of aerial photographs that flooded back to RAF Medmenham.
The reconnaissance photographs – which the wartime interpreters viewed in 3D through stereoscopes – are brought to life in the BBC programme by computer graphics, showing how the intelligence unit hunted the V Weapons by looking for clues among the fine details and contours of the enemy landscape.
Wizernes, Pas de Calais, France
Speaking about the BBC documentary, NCAP Curator Allan Williams said, “Operation Crossbow is a compelling example of how critical the work of the photographic reconnaissance squadrons and the Allied Central Interpretation Unit at RAF Medmenham was to the outcome of the war. The imagery we have found in the archive shows the extent of the search for test and launch sites – which involved taking over 1.2 million aerial photographs – the great efforts made by the Germans to camouflage the sites, and the dramatic response of the Allied air forces when targets were pinpointed.
“Without this photographic intelligence – which was created at remarkable speed – the Germans could have launched potentially devastating attacks on Britain before D-Day that could have easily changed the outcome of the war.”
While NCAP is made up of millions of individual images, only a small percentage have so far been catalogued and digitised. Discovering exactly what each roll of film contains is an ongoing task requiring painstaking detective work. The long term conservation plan for NCAP includes further research and progressive digitisation of the photography for display online, as well as storing, preserving and interpreting the original photography for public accessibility.
News Item Published - 8 September 2011