Vivid WWII Pictures from the Air Bring War to Life; the Tara Archive Has 10 Million Images. Paula Fentiman Reports as 400 of Them Go Online

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 23, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Vivid WWII Pictures from the Air Bring War to Life; the Tara Archive Has 10 Million Images. Paula Fentiman Reports as 400 of Them Go Online


Byline: Paula Fentiman

VIVID wartime scenes of prison camps and bombing raids were revealed to the public for the first time today with the launch of an online archive of aerial photographs.

The pictures, taken during secret reconnaissance flights by pilots in unarmed planes, show details such as prisoners in the yard at Colditz, vehicles leaving landing craft on D-Day and craters left in the ground from bombing raids on a German weapons testing site.

During World War II, skilled photographic interpreters studied the pictures using 3D equipment to provide crucial intelligence.

Until now the images, which were declassified by the Ministry of Defence and include photos taken by Allied aircraft and the Luftwaffe, have been kept behind closed doors.

The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (Tara) contain more than 10 million declassified photographs, including pictures taken by the RAF up to the 1990s, many of which were originally analysed by MI4 intelligence teams based at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit at RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire during World War II.

They were stored for more than 50 years at Keele University before Tara was moved to Edinburgh last year to join The National Collection of Aerial Photography - part of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Specialist staff are continuing the lengthy task of researching, cataloguing and digitising the images, which is expected to take many years.

Around 4,000 images from the archive will go online initially with more to be added.

Taken both before, during and after battles and bombing raids, the photos feature key places and moments of significance including Dunkirk as well as cityscapes of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Rome.

As well as key strategic sites, such as the Nazi V Weapon design and testing base at Peenemunde depicted in a September 1944 photo, the images convey some of the human suffering experienced amid the fighting.

A photo of a slave labour camp near Mainz in Germany taken on June 2, 1945, is one of only a handful of images that remain of the factory site because it was dismantled quickly after the war.

Camps and people on the ground can be seen in images of the so-called bridge over the River Kwai, part of the Thai-Burma railway project that cost the lives of thousands of prisoners of war.

The pictures, taken in January 1945 by the RAF, show the two bridges built by the Japanese - using labour from Tamarkan camp - which spanned the Mae Klong river (later renamed Kwa Yai).

Prisoners can be seen in the courtyard in a photo of Colditz taken by a secret RAF reconnaissance mission on April 10 1945, just days before US forces took over the area.

The castle in Germany became home to Allied prisoners deemed to pose a risk of escaping between 1939 and 1945.

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