Air Spy

Title:                      Air Spy

Author:                 Constance Babington-Smith

Babington-Smith, Constance (1957). Air Spy: The Story of Photo Intelligence In World War II. New York: Harper and Bros.

LCCN:    57008194

D810.P4 B3


Date Updated:  April 29, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Considering the importance of photographic intelligence to total isntelligence in World War II, there have been, comparatively speaking, few books published on this aspect of intelligence. Babington-Smith’s is to be prized for this reason and also for being one of the earliest postwar works on the subject. With access to official records, she has produced a mixture of personal experiences and observations and a wider treatment.

The work is not exactly what the subtitle implies, but rather the history of Allied photo reconnaissance and interpretation in Europe and the Mediterranean, largely from the British vantage point. A skilled photo interpreter, Babington-Smith takes great pride in the accomplishments of British and later Allied photo interpreting. Her claim that the war was won by the side with the best photo reconnaissance (as the German General von Fritsch predicted in the 1930s) will be contested, especially with the revelation of the Ultra successes.

In her judgment, the role of photo intelligence in dealing with German V weapons was more modest; according to her, kept secret, except for a few allusions, until the appearance of this book. There are only glimpses of certain areas, such as the shortcomings of German photo reconnaissance and interpretation. Her version of the early collaboration of Sidney Cotton and Winterbotham needs to be supplemented with the latter’s version in his The Nazi Connection[2] and Barker’s Aviator Extraordinary[3]. Jones’ The Wizard War[4] needs to be referred to for the role of photo intelligence and interpretation against German V weapons, as well as other contributions not fully addressed here. See also Brookes’ Photo Reconnaissance.[5]

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[6]

Personal narrative by a skilled photo interpreter of British photo reconnaissance and interpretation in WWII. Discusses development of photo intelligence techniques and role of aerial photographs in the conduct of the war. Valuable for readers interested in this subject and period.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[7]

The author, a Royal Air Force photo interpreter, describes the developnent of photo-identification keys for Germann V-1 and V-2 missiles. This photo intelligence provided much needed solid evidence on characteristics and capabilities, led to the location of Peenemunde as the missile research and development center and proving ground, led to the first targeting of a weapon test center with its irreplaceable personnel by the strategic Bomber Command, and made possible the detection of V-1 and V-2 operational launch sites in Western Europe.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 68

[2] Winterbotham, F. W. (1978). The Nazi Connection. New York: Harper & Row

[3] Cotton, Sidney (1969). Aviator Extraordinary: The Sidney Cotton Story as told to Ralph Barker. London, Chatto & Windus

[4] Jones, R. V. (1978). The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence, 1939-1945. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan

[5] Brookes, Andrew J. (1975). Photo Reconnaissance. London: I. Allan

[6] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature (7th ed Rev.). Washington, DD: Defense Intelligence School, p. 5

[7] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 107



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4 Responses to Air Spy

  1. Pingback: Aviator Extraordinary | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Spies In The Sky The Secret Battle | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Scientific and Technical Intelligence, Chapter 10 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  4. Pingback: Operation Crossbow | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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