Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Right to the Source

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Right to the Source

Article excerpt

Exploring Science and History With the Library of Congress

Aerial Photos Change the Face of War

At first it looks like a moonscape: barren, pocked with craters, crisscrossed with deep grooves, with no apparent signs of life. On closer scrutiny, however, details emerge. The ghostly lines at the top become a stand of bare trees, the specks across the bottom, men on the move.

This picture of soldiers moving through trenches and shell craters on a French battlefield hints at the massive scale of World War I. But it also shows how aviation and photography came together during that war in unprecedented ways, changing how war was waged forever.

Changes in military reconnaissance were among the many technological hallmarks of the war. In earlier wars, armies spied on their enemies with cavalry patrols, balloons, and even kites. Soon after hostilities broke out in 1914, though, it became clear this was a new kind of war. The Allies and Central Powers both built intricate trench systems that stretched for miles, far out of sight of any enemy on the ground. Even observers in airplanes couldn't communicate enough details quickly enough to be of use.

By employing the rapidly changing field of photography, however, military leaders found they could overcome the limits of both distance and naked-eye observation. Airplanes mounted with special cameras could fly deep behind enemy lines to photograph not only trench layouts but also railroads, airfields, manufacturing facilities, and troops in motion. …

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