RAF Medmenham
RAF Medmenham was a Royal Air Force station based at Danesfield House
Danesfield House
Danesfield House in Medmenham, near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, in the Chiltern Hills is a former country house now used as a hotel and spa...

 near Medmenham
Medmenham is a village and civil parish in the Wycombe district of Buckinghamshire, England. It is on the River Thames, about three and a half miles southwest of Marlow and three miles east of Henley-on-Thames....

, in Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

Activities there specialized in photographic intelligence
Aerial reconnaissance
Aerial reconnaissance is reconnaissance that is conducted using unmanned aerial vehicles or reconnaissance aircraft. Their roles are to collect imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence...

, and it was once the home of the RAF Intelligence Branch
RAF Intelligence
Intelligence services in the Royal Air Force is delivered by Officers of the Royal Air Force Operations Support Intelligence Branch and Airmen from the Intelligence Analyst Trade and Intelligence Analyst Trade...

. RAF Medmenham, a sister organisation to Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park is an estate located in the town of Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, England, which currently houses the National Museum of Computing...

, was the interpretation centre for one of the largest photographic reconnaissance operations ever undertaken.

Second World War

In April 1941 an RAF photographic interpretation unit (PIU) moved to Danesfield House, Medmenham, as its previous location at Wembley
Wembley is an area of northwest London, England, and part of the London Borough of Brent. It is home to the famous Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena...

 was short of space, and was renamed the Central Interpretation Unit (CIU).
Later that year the Bomber Command Damage Assessment Section was absorbed, and amalgamation was completed when the Night Photographic Interpretation Section of No 3 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, RAF Oakington
RAF Oakington
RAF Oakington was an RAF base situated in Cambridgeshire, England.Construction was started in 1939, but was affected by the outbreak of war, the original plan called for Type C hangars two type J were erected instead. It was used by No. 2 Group in July 1940 for No. 218 Squadron which had recently...

, was integrated with CIU in February 1942.

During 1942 and 1943 the CIU gradually expanded and was involved in the planning stages of practically every operation of the war, and in every aspect of intelligence. In 1945 daily intake of material averaged 25,000 negatives and 60,000 prints. By VE-day the print library, which documented and stored worldwide cover, held 5,000,000 prints from which 40,000 reports had been produced.

American personnel had for some time formed an increasing part of the CIU and on 1 May 1944 this was finally recognised by changing the title of the unit to the Allied Central Interpretation Unit (ACIU). There were then over 1,700 personnel on the unit's strength. The title of the unit reverted to Central Interpretation Unit when the Americans returned home in August 1945.

Early in 1945 a number of photographic interpreters (PIs) were sent to join the British Bombing Research Mission in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 to explore the degree of damage and production interruption caused by Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 bombing in the Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

 areas of the Central Massif
Massif Central
The Massif Central is an elevated region in south-central France, consisting of mountains and plateaux....

 and in the ports. They were also tasked with checking PI reports which would eventually be related to assessment reports of attacks on German industry. Several PIs were also seconded to The Pentagon
The Pentagon
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 to join a detachment of RAF and British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...


The Spitfire, without any guns, but with a cruising speed of 360 mph at 30,000 feet, was used for photo-reconnaissance missions. The aircraft was fitted with five cameras which were heated to ensure good results (while the cockpit was not). Thirty-six million prints were made during the war, of which some 10 million, many in 3-D, still survive and are today kept in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

. A large number of Photographic Interpreters were recruited from the Hollywood Film Studios
Cinema of the United States
The cinema of the United States, also known as Hollywood, has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early 20th century. Its history is sometimes separated into four main periods: the silent film era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period...

 including Xavier Atencio. Dirk Bogarde
Dirk Bogarde
Sir Dirk Bogarde was an English actor and novelist. Initially a matinee idol in such films as Doctor in the House and other Rank Organisation pictures, Bogarde later acted in art-house films such as Death in Venice...

 was employed in the Army reconnaissance section as a visual inspector. Two renowned archaeologists also worked there as interpreters, viz. Dorothy Garrod
Dorothy Garrod
Dorothy Annie Elizabeth Garrod CBE was a British archaeologist who was the first woman to hold an Oxbridge chair, partly through her pioneering work on the Palaeolithic period. Her father was Sir Archibald Garrod, the physician.-Life:Born in Oxford, she attended Newnham College, Cambridge...

, the first woman to hold an Oxbridge Chair, and Glyn Daniel
Glyn Daniel
Glyn Edmund Daniel was a Welsh scientist and archaeologist whose academic career at Cambridge University specialised in the European Neolithic period. He edited the academic journal Antiquity from 1958–1985...

 who went on to gain popular acclaim as the host of the television game show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? Up to 150 women were also employed as PIs.

Of particular significance in the success of the work of Medmenham was the use of stereoscopic images, using a between plate overlap of exactly 60%. Having overcome the initial scepticism of Lord Cherwell
Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell
Frederick Alexander Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell FRS PC CH was an English physicist who was an influential scientific adviser to the British government, particularly Winston Churchill...

 to the possibility of the new rocket technology, major operations made possible by the work at Medmanham included, on 17 and 18 August 1943, an offensive against the V-2 rocket development plant at Peenemünde
The Peenemünde Army Research Center was founded in 1937 as one of five military proving grounds under the Army Weapons Office ....

. Later offensives were also made against potential launch sites at Wizernes
Wizernes is a northern French commune southwest of Saint-Omer on the banks of the river Aa at the D928 and D211 road junction. The commune is subdivided into townships. and is twinned with Ensdorf, Saarland, Germany.-History:...

 and 96 other launch sites in Northern France. It is claimed that Medmanham's greatest operational success was "Operation Crossbow
Operation Crossbow
Crossbow was the code name of the World War II campaign of Anglo-American "operations against all phases of the German long-range weapons programme—operations against research and development of the weapons, their manufacture, transportation and their launching sites, and against missiles in flight"...

" which, from 23 December 1943, destroyed the V-1 infrastructure in Northern France.


With the cessation of hostilities in Europe in May 1945 some sections closed almost immediately, whilst others worked on tasks for the Control Commission in Germany. The several Army sections of CIU were incorporated in September 1946 to become the Army Photographic Interpretation Centre (UK) (APIC (UK)).

The CIU was placed under the control of the newly established Central Photographic Establishment of RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command was a formation within the Royal Air Force . Founded in 1936, it was the RAF's premier maritime arm, after the Royal Navy's secondment of the Fleet Air Arm in 1937. Naval aviation was neglected in the inter-war period, 1919–1939, and as a consequence the service did not receive...

 which had replaced the disbanded 106 Group and the Joint Photographic Reconnaissance Committee (JPRC). In August 1947 the unit's name was changed yet again, this time to the Joint Air Photographic Intelligence Centre (UK) (JAPIC (UK)). In October 1947, APIC (UK) was renamed the Army Photographic Interpretation Unit (UK), (APIU (UK)) and, although it continued to operate within JAPIC (UK), had special responsibilities to the Director of Military Intelligence
Directorate of Military Intelligence
The Directorate of Military Intelligence was a department of the British War Office.Over its lifetime the Directorate underwent a number of organisational changes, absorbing and shedding sections over time.- History :...

. The Officer Commanding APIU (UK) was also deputy commandant of JAPIC (UK).

In December 1953, the unit was given the title of the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre
JARIC - The National Imagery Exploitation Centre, part of the Intelligence Collection Group within United Kingdom Defence Intelligence, is an imagery analysis and intelligence centre based at RAF Brampton near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, and historically known as MI4, by which name it is still...

 (United Kingdom), (JARIC (UK)). The personnel of APIU (UK) were absorbed into the establishment of the joint service unit and the Army has continued to provide a number of PIs and supporting staffs in the JARIC establishment. JARIC moved in 1957 from its base at RAF Nuneham Park, near Oxford, to RAF Brampton
RAF Brampton
RAF Brampton is a Royal Air Force station near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Formerly the home of RAF Support Command, it now houses several elements of Defence Equipment & Support , which itself was a result of a merger between the Defence Logistics Organisation and the Defence Procurement Agency...

, where it still exists.

The Joint School of Photographic Interpretation (JSPI) at RAF Chicksands
RAF Chicksands
RAF Chicksands was a Royal Air Force station in Bedfordshire, England, which closed in 1997 when responsibility for the camp was taken over by the British Army Intelligence Corps...

 - where PIs for all 3 British services
British Armed Forces
The British Armed Forces are the armed forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.Also known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces and sometimes legally the Armed Forces of the Crown, the British Armed Forces encompasses three professional uniformed services, the Royal Navy, the...

 are now trained - has recently been renamed 'Medmenham Training Wing' in honour of unit's heritage with Medmenham.

In 1952, 591 Signals Unit moved to RAF Medmenham from RAF Wythall and stayed until 1955 when it moved to RAF Digby
RAF Digby
RAF Digby is a Royal Air Force station which, since March 2005, has been operated by the Ministry of Defence's Joint Service Signals Organisation, part of the Intelligence Collection Group. Formerly a training and fighter airfield, it is currently a tri-service military signals installation located...

, its current location. It was during its stay at Medmenham that the unit's crest was conceived; a kingfisher
Kingfishers are a group of small to medium sized brightly coloured birds in the order Coraciiformes. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species being found in the Old World and Australia...

 watching over the river (Thames), representing the unit's watch over the integrity and security of RAF communications.

On 3 November 1958, RAF Signals Command
RAF Signals Command
Signals Command was the RAF's command responsible for control of signals units from 1958 to 1969. It was based at RAF Medmenham near Marlow, Buckinghamshire.-History:The Command was formed on 3 November 1958 by raising No. 90 Group to Command status...

 (Motto: Aetherem Vincere - "To Conquer the Aether") was formed at Medmenham by raising No. 90 Group RAF to Command status under Air Vice Marshal Leslie Dalton-Morris
Leslie Dalton-Morris
Air Marshal Sir Leslie Dalton-Morris KBE CB RAF was a senior Royal Air Force commander in the middle of the twentieth century. He played a leading role in the use of signals in the Air Force both during and after World War II.-Early years:After joining the RAF as a trainee pilot in 1924,...

. It was a relatively short-lived Command, lasting only until 1 January 1969, when it was absorbed by Strike Command
RAF Strike Command
The Royal Air Force's Strike Command was the military formation which controlled the majority of the United Kingdom's bomber and fighter aircraft from 1968 until 2007: it was merged with Personnel and Training Command to form the single Air Command. It latterly consisted of two formations - No. 1...

 and reduced to Group status. It had five Air Officers Commanding in Chief during its existence.

RAF Radio Introduction Branch

During the Second World War an organisation known as the Post Design Services (PDS) was formed at the Telecommunications Research Establishment
Telecommunications Research Establishment
The Telecommunications Research Establishment was the main United Kingdom research and development organization for radio navigation, radar, infra-red detection for heat seeking missiles, and related work for the Royal Air Force during World War II and the years that followed. The name was...

 (TRE), Malvern, Worcestershire
Malvern, Worcestershire
Malvern is a town and civil parish in Worcestershire, England, governed by Malvern Town Council. As of the 2001 census it has a population of 28,749, and includes the historical settlement and commercial centre of Great Malvern on the steep eastern flank of the Malvern Hills, and the former...

 to provide a direct link between the designers of electronic equipment in the laboratories and the service
Military service
Military service, in its simplest sense, is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job or as a result of an involuntary draft . Some nations require a specific amount of military service from every citizen...

 users in the field. The organization was manned by civilian scientists ("Boffin
In the slang of the United Kingdom, boffins are scientists, medical doctors, engineers, and other people engaged in technical or scientific research.-Origin:...

s") and serving officers and worked predominantly in the fields of airborne radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 and ground-controlled interception
Ground-controlled interception
Ground-controlled interception an air defense tactic whereby one or more radar stations are linked to a command communications centre which guides interceptor aircraft to an airborne target. This tactic was pioneered during World War II by the Royal Air Force with the Luftwaffe to follow closely...

 (GCI). In 1946, PDS was disbanded and a successor organisation, the Radio Introduction Branch (RIB), was formed at RAF Medmenham. In 1952, the RIB was renamed as Radio Introduction Unit (RIU) and became responsible for the introduction into service of all airborne and ground radio systems. The unit had a complement of ten officers dealing with airfield approach aids
Ground-controlled approach
In aviation a ground-controlled approach , is a type of service provided by air-traffic controllers whereby they guide aircraft to a safe landing in adverse weather conditions based on radar images...

, airborne tail warning, Doppler
Doppler radar
A Doppler radar is a specialized radar that makes use of the Doppler effect to produce velocity data about objects at a distance. It does this by beaming a microwave signal towards a desired target and listening for its reflection, then analyzing how the frequency of the returned signal has been...

 navigation, weapon aiming and airborne interception for aircraft such as the Javelin
Gloster Javelin
The Gloster Javelin was an "all-weather" interceptor aircraft that served with Britain's Royal Air Force in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s...

, Brigand, Valetta
Vickers Valetta
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Vickers Aircraft since 1908. London: Putnam, 1988. ISBN 0-85177-815-1....

, Venom
De Havilland Venom
The de Havilland DH 112 Venom was a British postwar single-engined jet aircraft developed from the de Havilland Vampire. It served with the Royal Air Force as a single-seat fighter-bomber and two-seat night fighter....

 and Meteor
Gloster Meteor
The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies' first operational jet. It first flew in 1943 and commenced operations on 27 July 1944 with 616 Squadron of the Royal Air Force...

. The unit moved to RAF Benson
RAF Benson
RAF Benson is a Royal Air Force station near Benson in South Oxfordshire, England. It is home to the Royal Air Force's support helicopters, the Aérospatiale Puma and the EH-101 Merlin, known as the Puma HC.Mk 1 and the Merlin HC.Mk 3 and Mk 3a....

 in 1977.

See also

  • Imagery Intelligence
    Imagery Intelligence , is an intelligence gathering discipline which collects information via satellite and aerial photography. As a means of collecting intelligence, IMINT is a subset of intelligence collection management, which, in turn, is a subset of intelligence cycle management...

  • Aerial reconnaissance
    Aerial reconnaissance
    Aerial reconnaissance is reconnaissance that is conducted using unmanned aerial vehicles or reconnaissance aircraft. Their roles are to collect imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence...

  • Telecommunications Research Establishment
    Telecommunications Research Establishment
    The Telecommunications Research Establishment was the main United Kingdom research and development organization for radio navigation, radar, infra-red detection for heat seeking missiles, and related work for the Royal Air Force during World War II and the years that followed. The name was...

External links

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