The Application of First World War Aerial Photography to Archaeology: The Belgian Images

By Stichelbaut, Birger | Antiquity, March 2006 | Go to article overview

The Application of First World War Aerial Photography to Archaeology: The Belgian Images


Stichelbaut, Birger, Antiquity


Introduction

The material remains of the First World War are fragile, and under continual threat from modern land use. This study describes how a specific, non-destructive methodology can offer new materials for archaeological and historical research into warfare and provide the means of effective resource management. The method applies new cartographic technology to photographs that were taken between 1914 and 1918. During the conflict, thousands of aerial photographs were taken by both sides; they give accurate insights into the density, distribution and location of military remains, and offer a fuller picture than the trench maps made on the ground. The research described in this paper focuses on a small sector of the Belgian Western Front, using aerial photographs mostly taken by the Aviation Militaire Beige (AvMB), the Belgian air force, and largely covers the Belgian sector of the West Flanders front line, between Nieuwpoort and Steenstraat (Figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The research programme had three stages. First, the origin, context and developments of Belgian military aerial reconnaissance during 1914-1918 were traced. Then over a thousand photographs were studied, digitised and loaded into a GIS. Finally, an inventory was made of sites relevant to the Great War, as well as of more traditional archaeological features. The methodology described below can be extrapolated to the whole Western and Eastern Front since the primary sources, the photographs, are similar. The only requirements are access to First World War aerial photographs, the use of GIS and accurate digital topographical maps or cadastres, and red/green stereoscopic viewers and software.

Historical background

After the First Battle of the Marne on 5-11 September 1914, the First World War became static. Both sides started to entrench their armies in the 800km long stretch of land between the North Sea and the French--Swiss border. The armies soon realised the strength and possibilities of a new weapon, military aviation carrying out aerial reconnaissance. Pilots and observers became the eyes of the army, a role up until then only filled by the cavalry. From the first weeks of the war, aeroplanes of the AvMB, the Belgian air force, were sent out to scrutinise the German military movements. During 1914, reconnaissance reports were mainly made 'at sight', using the observers' eyes and without cameras. The first British and Belgian photographs were taken on 15 and 23 September 1914 (Lampaert 1997: 35-6; Delve 1997: 128). During the first months of the war, aerial photography was considered to be a bobby of a few enthusiastic airmen. From 1915 onwards the new discipline developed and became widely used by the military air services.

The infantry command used the photographs of the front-line trenches to get information for the preparation of raids on enemy trenches and patrols into no-man's land, to detect preparations for an offensive (troop movements, ammunition storage, trains, etc.), or to monitor their own preparation of attacks (looking for weak spots, locating strong defensive positions, etc.). A second category of photographs was taken during artillery missions. Photographic interpreters used these for tracing camouflaged artillery positions and locating other possible targets. Photographs were also useful for verifying the accuracy and results of the bombardments (Desmet 1921: 40). Other regions were photographed regularly, for instance, the flooding of the Ijzer river and the enemy's defences and trench fortifications. The Allies' own trenches and positions were also photographed, for checking levels of damage and verifying camouflaged positions. Most images were also used for the production of trench maps at different scales.

Method

The Belgian First World War photographs have a number of formats depending on the camera used (13 x 18cm camera with a focal length of 26cm; 18 x 24cm camera with focal lengths of 52 and 120cm; Anon 1925: 7) but are all panchromatic.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Application of First World War Aerial Photography to Archaeology: The Belgian Images
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.