Medmenham: Spying from the Sky

Taylor Downing tells the story of the Central Interpretation Unit at Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, where the RAF’s aerial photo interpreters played a critical role in Britain’s wartime struggle.

One of the most famous aerial photographs of the Second World War was taken from 30,000 feet on May 17th, 1943, only hours after the Dam Busters raid. The water from the reservoir is stil gushing through the 200-foot breech in the Mohne Dam. Mudflats appear as the water level drops above the dam. Photo / Trustees of the Medmenham CollectionOn April 1st, 1941 an entirely new component of British wartime intelligence opened for business. The Central Interpretation Unit (CIU) brought most of the RAF’s aerial photo interpreters (PIs) for the first time under a single roof  in a rambling country house on the banks of the Thames between Marlow and Henley. As was the custom for RAF bases, it was named after the nearest village and so was called RAF Medmenham. It would be a vital part of the intelligence war until peace came in 1945. It was often claimed that 80 per cent of all intelligence  came from the analysis of aerial photos.

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