Page last updated at 23:23 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 00:23 UK

War photograph archive moves home

Aerial shot of D-Day
The archive features hundreds of images of the D-Day landings

One of the world's largest collections of aerial photography is being moved to Scotland.

The Aerial Reconnaissance Archive, known as Tara, contains more than 10 million photographs, most taken by surveillance aircraft in World War II.

It is being transferred from Keele University to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh.

It is hoped much of the archive will be made available to the public online.

The majority of the Tara archive comes from the Allied Central Interpretation Unit (ACIU), which was based at Medmenham in Buckinghamshire and was the headquarters of photographic intelligence during World War II.

No attack, whether a bombing raid, the landing of a few men on a beach or a massive landing of an army, was possible without preparation of target material at the ACIU.

Funeral pyres

The images tell the full harrowing story of WWII, from graphic pictures of the D-Day landings to scenes of smoke rising from the funeral pyres at Auschwitz and even a photograph of Amsterdam showing the street where Anne Frank was hiding.

The collection also has Scottish stories, with Luftwaffe images of the bombing of Clydebank, as well as the famous photograph taken by a Spitfire pilot flying from Wick which led to the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck after it was spotted in a Norwegian fjord in May 1941.

Allan Williams, operations manager of Tara, said the Bismarck pictures was one of the most significant in the entire collection.

He said: "It was at the time called The Photograph that Sunk a Battleship. Flying Officer Michael Suckling flew a mission, photographed the Bismarck and returned to Wick.

"The station intelligence officer interpreted the photographs and confirmed that it was an important find, but the High Command wanted to actually see the photograph itself.

"Being the only person left who could fly, Suckling then had to get back into his aeroplane and fly south. He made it as far as Nottingham, where he ran out of fuel, landed and got a lift off a friend the remainder of the way. He handed over the print, and the rest is history."

The Bismarck
The photograph taken of the Bismarck which led to its sinking in 1941

Within a week, the Bismarck had been crippled by a torpedo before being pounded to pieces by British warships.

But Suckling, whose photograph resulted in the destruction of the mythical battleship, was to live for just a few more weeks before being shot down and killed on a reconnaissance mission over France.

For decades, Tara images were used by bomb disposal units to locate unexploded ordnance, while in 2000 the archive was used to research Stephen Spielberg's TV series, Band of Brothers.

The archive also features images from later conflicts, including the Suez crisis, Korean War and the Falklands conflict.

RCAHMS already has the most extensive collection of aerial photography in Scotland, and has a department specialising in preservation and the commission of new aerial photography.

It is hoped that moving the archive to Edinburgh will enable Tara to be preserved, further digitised and made accessible to the general public.

It is expected to take six months for the photographs to be completely transferred to their new home.


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