Luftwaffe: Aerial Reconnaissance (Scotland)

Scope and Content

Luftwaffe (German Air Force) vertical aerial images of locations in Scotland taken before and during the early part of the Second World War (1939-1945), and associated distribution maps.

Administrative / Biographical History

The prints are a copy of Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photographs of Scotland held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the United States of America. The images in the collection range in date from 23 September 1939 to 10 March 1943 according to the annotations but it is believed a number of the images pre-date the Second World War (1939-1945).

German aerial reconnaissance of Scotland, for military use during the Second World War, was first carried out by Theodore Rowehl in 1938-9. Under the guise of checking out new air routes for the German airline, Lufthansa, he used a civilian Heinkel He-111 fitted with concealed cameras to clandestinely photograph the North Sea coast of Scotland and England, the Channel coastlines of both England and France and the Baltic coast as far as Leningrad. Once the Second World War had commenced, Luftwaffe Dornier Do-17, Do-215, Do-217, Junkers Ju-86, Ju-88, Ju-188 and Arado Ar-234 aircraft were all used to take photographs of parts of Scotland, usually flying at altitudes of up to 30,000 feet (10,000m) to evade interception by British fighters, but occasionally flying at low level to obtain oblique images.

Master photographic prints were stored in the central intelligence library of German Army HQ at Zossen, near Berlin. Millions of photographs of targets in western and eastern Europe, taking up 3,000 cubic feet (85 cubic m) of space, were moved from Luftwaffe vaults near the end of the war and hidden, only to be later found by British and American troops. The original negatives, which were stored on barges on lakes north-west of Berlin, were sunk by Allied fighter-bombers.

The photographs held in this collection are centred on a particular target, which is usually outlined and has its constituent parts index-numbered. These parts are then identified and have their purpose, construction, dimensions and area described, in German, in the accompanying text. The critical point of the target is occasionally identified, for bomber crews. Neighbouring targets are treated in the same manner, while smaller targets of value are labelled with their code number only. Defensive positions, such as anti-aircraft batteries and barrage balloons, are also outlined on the photographs. For orientation, north is marked on all of the vertical photographs and the direction and distance to the nearest settlement is indicated. Appearing alongside the title of the photograph and the type of target depicted is the following information: date of photography or date at which intelligence information has been added; the unique classifying code number of the principal target; the scale of the photograph; the longitude and latitude of the target; the magnetic variation and date of recording; the height of the target above sea-level; and the photograph number. The photographs are also generally labelled as 'Secret' or for 'Official Use Only'.

Access Information

Open. Accessible via NCAP search room and Paid Search Service.

Other Finding Aids

Copies of imagery, arranged by geographical location, accessible in search room.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Aerial photographs.

Conditions Governing Use

Standard licence terms for use apply.

Custodial History

The original imagery in this collection is held by the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States of America. RCAHMS obtained copies in 1996.

Related Material

GB 551 19 - Luftwaffe: Aerial Reconnaissance (Worldwide)

Location of Originals

The National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001, United States of America. Tel: +00 1-866-272-6272


RCAHMS (1999), Catalogue of the Luftwaffe photographs in the National Monuments Record of Scotland,Scotland from the Air 1939-1949, volume 1, ISBN 1-902419-05-7.

Corporate Names

Geographical Names