|By Frank R. Seiber of Oneida
Aerial photography, or the taking of photographs from captive balloons,
dirigibles and aeroplanes, is a result of the late war. Introduced by the
French and Germans, it remained for America to perfect this art, an art in
which we excel any of the allied armies. The photographic sections of
the A.E.F. at the end of the war are far better equipped, much better organized
and capable of producing more work than any of the armies of the world.
At first thought it seems a very simple thing to make pictures in the air,
but such is not the case. You may ask why. Consider how valuable these
pictures are, then think of what the enemy will do to destroy those pictures; how far he will go to bring down that photographic plane hovering overhead which
is recording his every movement. Consider that the pictures taken by the winged
photographer is a constant marvel and delight to the headquarters division
likely to be interested. You can see half obliterated footpaths and dug-out
stairs in a print taken from a height of ten thousand feet. A new battery
emplacement can be spotted a few hours after it is established. The print will show clearly the newly-worn paths, the scorched trees, and faint
discoloration which indicates the appearance of camouflage, where none had been when last the place was photographed.
An approaching enemy attack is reflected through the delicate lens of a camera
hovering sixteen thousand feet overhead, which is why the enemy planes attack it
in great numbers.
When our big guns opened up on the distant railway shuttle linking Nezieres with
Longuyon, the flying cameras photographed the target before and after the first
shots and submitted prints to the gunners so they could correct their fire
Stirring are the stories the mechanics tell as they groom the ships at night in
the dim lit hangars, patching them up, oiling them and getting them ready for
the flight at dawn.
They tell of the two planes that were attacked by six enemy ships soon after
crossing the lines. One plane came home with sixty-eight machine gun bullets in
the panels and fusilage, the observer's wind-shield shot away, and the pilot's coat pierced by four bullets. The other plane arrived home, but not
before the machine had fallen twelve thousand feet before the unconscious
pilot came to. He taxied his machine to the hangar with his observer sitting in
the seat behind him dead. The pilot took the afternoon off, his plea being he
wasn't feeling just right, but the following morning was out on another mission.
The negative plates are at once rushed to the photographic laboratory, where
developing and printing of the pictures take place. The laboratory may consist
of a rudely constructed, canvas covered frame, made from limbs of trees. It may
be a specially equipped photographic truck with trailer, a number of which were
successfully operated in the zone of advance and constantly under shell fire,
or an old shell-torn chateau basement, liable to be blown to fragments at any
time. The men in these laboratories were, most of them, expert photographers
before giving their services to our government. Men from California, from Texas,
from Virginia, and nearly every state of the Union. Many of them had completed the special course in photography at the government school at Rochester, N. Y.
Brilliant fellows from our best movie studios voluntarily gave up their positions to serve Uncle Sam. These men had in them the spirit, the perseverance
and courage to work long hours, sometimes all night, in close, stuffy, dark
rooms. An instance is recalled of two photo sections producing sixteen thousand
prints for one day's work.
Every human effort and all the amazing ingenuity employed in digging, blasting
and fighting over all the territory of the war zone is now recorded by the air
photographs. Aerial photography has been a most vital weapon in the waging of
the war, and from now on these photographs will be the chief records of What was
accomplished and How it was accomplished.
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