United States Navy: Aerial Reconnaissance (Scotland)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Vertical and oblique aerial photographs of parts of the coastline of Scotland taken between 26 July 1963 and 11 July 1966 by the US Navy's VAP-62 (Heavy Photographic Squadron). The areas covered are the entire NE Highland coastline, from Inverness to Duncansby Head, and the Solway Firth, from Isle of Whithorn to Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Associated cover traces held.

Administrative / Biographical History

The United States Navy VAP-62 (Heavy Photographic Squadron) was equipped with the Douglas RA-3B Skywarrior, the photographic reconnaissance version of the A-3 bomber from late 1959 until 15 October 1969, when the unit was disbanded. During its decade of service, the unit operated from its home base of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, as well as various aircraft carriers and shore bases around the world. Many of VAP-62s Skywarriors saw combat during the first 5 years of the Vietnam War, while attached to a sister squadron, VAP-61. Tasked with the reconnaissance of roads and tracks in North Vietnam, during night operations the unit used infra-red sensors to locate enemy transport movements, illuminating them with parachute flares for subsequent attacks by other aircraft. The RA-3B was chosen for this role because of its ability to fly at a sustained 360 knots at an altitude of 1500 feet, thereby allowing it to approach targets quickly, retain some element of surprise and increase aircraft survivability. During this time, detachments were also sent to undertake a variety of mapping and survey projects in northern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Central America, Iceland, Canada and the United States. Several special assignments were carried out, including photographing the launch of early manned satellites, a cartographic survey of the Great Lakes region, photographic surveys of flood damage, and tracking and seeding of hurricanes. During the 1963-1966 period, VAP-62 occasionally deployed to Rota, Spain, and then undertook detachments to a number of European bases, including Prestwick.

The RA-3B had a fully pressurised fuselage, housing a flight crew of four (pilot, co-pilot, photo-navigator and photo-technician) and up to 12 oblique and vertical cameras. It was capable of taking photographs by day and night, with a number of photo-flash bombs held in a small bay behind the cabin for target illumination at night.

The authority for the sorties is given as CINCUSNAVEUR (Commander-in-Chief US Naval Forces in Europe) or NAVOCEANO (Naval Oceanographic Office). They are also marked Secret: US/UK Eyes Only. The Secret classification is high for the typical cover obtained, although sorties were always classified in accordance with the highest classification of target covered; a single military installation, dockyard or naval facility could have warranted such a classification. In any case, this has now been downgraded. The caveat US/UK Eyes Only was typical for cover flown by US aircraft over the UK.

It is generally accepted by sources in the imagery intelligence field that the US Navy photography held in NCAP was most probably flown to provide intelligence for beach landing training by US amphibious forces and it is possible that the imagery was collected in order to locate suitable beaches for such training.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Electronic copies accessible via NCAP website, search room and Paid Search Service.

Other Finding Aids

Electronic finding aids available on NCAP website and in search room.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Aerial prints. Prints are 9.5 x 19 inches (236 x 474mm) / 9 x 9 inches (229 x 229mm). Cover traces on OS 1:1" maps.

Conditions Governing Use

Standard licence terms for use apply.

Custodial History

Formerly held by the Scottish Office. Within the Scottish Office it was held by the Scottish Development Department. Within this department it was held by the entity variously known as the Air Photographs Unit. The collection was transferred to RCAHMS in 1993.

Corporate Names