Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War

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Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War. By Terrence J. Firmegan. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Spellmount, 2011. Maps. Tables. Diagrams. Illustrations. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp.408. 30.00 [pounds sterling] ISBN: 9780-7524-6052-9

Some readers may remember a review I did in the Spring 2010 issue of Air Power History on a book with a very similar title. This is Terry Finnegan's revised and updated version of that book--and it is even better than his first version. This edition can now be considered as "The" sourcebook for anyone wanting to understand the origins of modern air power and overhead reconnaissance.

Finnegan is a retired USAF Reserve colonel who spent his career in the intelligence business. So, he certainly understands the subject matter and has the needed appreciation for what is important in the story of exploiting the new airplane technology to provide intelligence information to ground commanders. And that's what this book is about--selling the idea of looking at the ground from the air and, more importantly, photographing it to provide proof of what was seen and a durable record of the results of the reconnaissance efforts.

The format of this book is, in some regards, different from that of the first edition. Finnegan has retained the West Point Atlas maps--in my view, one of the most valuable features. One cannot follow war stories without maps--too many books these days try to describe battles without maps and generally fail miserably. However, the book's only weak point also involves the maps. The original book was 8-1/2 x 11 inches. The West Point maps were bigger than the new book's 9-1/2 x 61/2 inch format allows. They are, therefore, more difficult to read, but squinting a little bit can get a reader through!

As with the first edition, this book begins with a history of the war on the western front. Finnegan has beautifully interwoven the battle history with the development of the aerial reconnaissance tool that became so important in the war's execution. …