GX (Luftwaffe) Reconnaissance Imagery

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Luftwaffe (German Air Force) vertical and oblique aerial reconnaissance images of locations mostly in Eastern Europe and Russia during the Second World War (1939-1945) - and associated paper sortie plots.

Administrative / Biographical History

At the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) the British and Americans discovered a mass of German aerial reconnaissance imagery, hidden by the Germans across multiple locations. The story of its discovery and exploitation is fascinating and complex.

Project TURBAN was the codename for the handling of all the material found. Much material came from Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany, and was condenamed DICK TRACY. An Americam team secured this only within a matter of hours of Russian forces arriving. Other collections include material found in: Vienna (codenamed ORWELL), Oslo (codenamed MONTHLY) and from Berlin (codenamed TENANT). In mid June 1945 the material was packaged in crates and flown to Britain. Upon its arrival at RAF Medmenham a British-American exploitation project began. As the project developed all the imagery became known as 'GX'.

GX is such a large quantity of imagery that preliminary sorting work went on until 1949. The intelligence discovery provided mass aerial imagery of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on a scale unachievable at the time and remained a key intelligence resource for more than two decades. Even by 1960 much of the British and American target data consisted of predicted radar imagery of targets which were derived from the GX images. Althought the British and Americans made a number of clandestine flights over the Soviet Union in the 1950s, the coverage obtained was small and GX was only replaced with the arrival of satellite reconnaissance imagery in the 1960s.

The joint British-American project to exploit GX during the Cold War cemented the existing British-American air intelligence relationship that had been developed during the Second World War.

Conditions Governing Access

Closed. No finding aids available. Imagery can only currently be located with knowledge of exact sortie references - no searches for a geographical location currently possible.

Other Finding Aids

None.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Diapositive aerial film, aerial prints, paper sortie plots. Aerial imagery is mostly 9 x 9 inch (230 x 230mm).

Conditions Governing Use

Standard licence terms for use apply.

Custodial History

Following capture the imagery was transferred for cataloguing to RAF Medmenham. The imagery was subsequently relocated to RAF Brampton, Cambridgeshire, following the relocation of the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC). The imagery was a NATO secret until the fall of the Soviet Union. The aerial imagery was declassified and released in the early 1990s, by the UK Ministry of Defence, to Keele University in its capacity as an official Place of Deposit under the Public Records Acts. In 2008 it was transferred under a joint initiative between the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), The National Archives and Keele University to RCAHMS.

Related Material

Second World War (1939-1945) Luftwaffe aerial imagery is also held by:

  • The National Archives and Records Administration - Record Group 243, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001, USA

Corporate Names