Robert Dunlop, on 05 January 2012 - 11:01 AM, said:
The full extent of French aerial reconnaissance efforts have yet to be defined IMHO.
Terence J Finnegan's Shooting The Front - Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War
is an excellent place to start. He places aerial military reconnaissance in 1914 into the context of French Intelligence's deployment of other tools, notably radio interception and cryptological analysis. Note, too, the flying time available to a French Bleriot XI. Inter alia, Finnegan notes the following:
"Both the French and British military developed coherent aviation organisational structures. The French promoted homogenity of aircraft types for the various escadrilles
to save on maintenance while promoting a diverse collection of craft primarily used in observation and reconnaissance missions. Along with infrastructure came development of a specific air doctrine for observation and reconnaissance missions. By 1913 Aviation Militaire comprised eight companies for aerostat (ballon/dirigible)
work and ten sections for aviation work. (1) As for the RFC, aviation was organised into squadrons comprised of a mix of aeroplanes to support the British army. The Royal Navy deployed both aeroplanes and a dirigible fleet for naval missions. (2) French armees and aviation assets commenced mobilisation when the war started. 'At the time of mobilisation military aeronautics was still in its earliest infancy. We may say it was as the fighting went on that this science was evolved and developed.' (3) French aeronautic
units were governed under Plan XVII (14 February 1914) comprising both aerostation
and avistion. (4) The French aviation section now comprised 21 flights of six aeroplanes. Two BLC flights of four aeroplanes were added at the start of the war. The mainstay Bleriot XI was capable of flying for two hours at 1,500 feet, providing a mobile aerial platform that manoeuvred over the countryside and acquired vital glimpses of enemy forces. Immediately after mobilisation, new flights were created from aeroplanes delivered or salvaged behind the lines. Aviation personnel numbered about 3,500, including 480 officers and noncommissioned officers. (5) Increased awareness of the value of 'higher ground' reporting resulted in a support element to convey critical information. Each escadrille had a 'fast car' and a motorcyclist assigned to rapidly disseminate airborne acquired reports to the respective ground commander. (6)
French intelligence, known as the Zeme (Deuxieme) Bureau
, actively monitored the advancing German forces with all the resources at its disposal. The fledgling radio intercept function was effective in view of the capabilities of the time. Established in 1909, the French radio intercept specialists were recognised as experts in this field. Zeme Bureau also conducted cryptological analysis that served the highest levels of the government. (7) The French had committed their intercept service in full, even before the begiunning of the war, and were following German Army traffic attentively. After a few days of combat, they possessed a perfectly clear picture of the operational structure of the German Army in the west as it marched through Belgium in the direction of Paris.(8)" *
* Terrence J. Finnegan, Shooting the Front - Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War
, Spellmount, 2011, p. 24.
Jack is absolutely right to highlight the lack of an element of vorsprung durch technik
in German military aviation in general, and reconnaissance work in particular, in August 1914. France and Britain undoubtedly had the edge, even if that was still in a state of on-the-job development which could be a bit of a hit or miss affair. Coincidentally, I have just made a note of the beginnings of the development of aerial reconnaissance by the British in a post on another thread, which may be of related interest in grasping what was, theoretically, possible in 1914: 1912 Manoeuvres
(1) 'Report on Aeronautical Matters, 12, TNA, PRO: AIR 1/7/6/98/20.
(2) Charles Christienne and Pierre Lissarague, A History of French Military Aviation
(Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press), 59.
(3) 'Aeronautics', June 1921, NARA, RG 120, Box 819, 1.
(4) Christienne and Lissarague, 59.
(5) Ibid, 58.
(6) Douglas Porch, The French Secret Services: From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giraux, 1995), 56.
(7) Ibid, 56.
(8) Wilhelm F. Flicke, War Secrets in the Ether
, ed. by Shiela Carlisle (2 vols, Laguna Hills, Ca: Aegean Park Press, 1977), 1, 23.