22 Aug 2019 – Military Intelligence Museum Visit

The introduction

Members of the club congregated in the arrivals area of JIC ready to book in and get parked up for a 10.30 start.

Bill Steadman gave us an overview of the site and museum before going in to meet our two guides David and Tim.

We were split into two groups due to the numbers. The first group went off with Tim to visit the Photographic reconnaissance part of the museum, whilst David explained to the other group what intelligence was all about.

He went through the sources used to gather intelligence and the product that came from the sources. These included methods of gathering information such as observation, interrogation, signals, communications and satellites.These inputs would be used to assess a situation, which could be operational, tactical, strategic or technological. All combining to support a military or a diplomatic situation.

From here we went on to view the Barnard Display, which gives an insight to the operations undertaken by the SOE during World War 2. It illustrated the type of equipment that would have been dropped behind enemy lines to help set up intelligence gathering and set up or help espionage teams to disrupt the enemy. The display shows some of the equipment that would have been dropped in, including weapons, radio equipment and other important equipment to help the underground effort.

From here we moved onto a display on how intelligence was gathered at the end of the war within Germany, mainly on the Russians. The unit was called BRIXMIS and went undercover in the Eastern block to monitor what the Russians were doing. This would include the movement of men, machine and vehicles. This went on into the cold war and was used to help make intelligence decisions.

Many of the men and women who were part of the SOE did not make it through the war and there is a list on personnel who served and fell in the SOE.

From here David took us into the next room, which had many displays on the types of work carried out by intelligence groups. These displays cover the period from the Second World War right up to the Iraq invasion. It shows the type of equipment that would have been use and the uniforms of the time.

There are displays on PsyOps and the products they produce as well as the use of forensics to gather intelligence. An example being the ‘Four ☐‘ (square) Laundry, where houses of suspect IRA members were offered a laundry service, which was run by the intelligence service, who would check the laundry for explosive residue. This was used to identify locations where bombs were being manufactured.

Other displays include a Y service station, an Enigma machine and a model of the old Elephant cage antenna array used by the US Military to monitor over the horizon communications.

As we worked our way round the room we were shown the type of weapons used by the IRA to attack Downing Street. A very crude device but one that showed that sophisticated weapons were not getting into the IRA’s hands.

The next display shows how intelligence is used to give tactical information on the locations of men and weaponry in the cold war, using codes to define the strength and location of various military units, both enemy and friendly.

As we went round the displays several of them had special equipment used in various theatres of war to help gather intelligence, such things as hollow bullets to carry secret messages as well as many displays of brave soldiers who went that little bit further.

The first part of the visit took about an hour, at this point the groups swapped guides and we went with Tim to be told all about gathering pictorial intelligence.

The stereo photographical displays show how various types of photography have been used from as early as the First World War right up to present times. From the use of glass pate cameras through to charged coupled devices (CCD).

While cameras were used for capturing images in the Great War the technology was in its infancy and it was not until some pioneering officers invented new equipment, such as Captain Laws in WW1 using stereo photography did things start to improve.

Other men also improved the methods used, these include Captain Hamshaw-Thomas and in particular Sidney Cotton.

Sidney Cotton was a businessman who dealt in photography and also held a pilots licence. When the threat of war (WW2) began he was doing business with the Germans, which continued through the war. However his business at Wembley was processing pictures taken while he was flying on business over Germany.

His business was aerial land surveying and he had special equipment made in Switzerland to look at the photos. The system was the Wild A5 photographic reader, which enabled the terrain of the land to be calculated, as well as having very accurate and clear imagery.

Much of the display shows the various images taken over specific operations during the Second World War. Many of these images were processed at RAF Medmenham and can be seen on the walls of the museum along with the men who took them and in many cases the women who helped identify the targets.

As we moved on to the second room we were shown some of the more up-to-date equipment used in jet fighters and drones. On display are the cameras with examples of the images they would take. From monochrome to colour and onto infrared, as well colour separation imagery.

More recent images are collected using RADAR and video, some of which are processed while being taken.

The visit lasted a good two hours and there were seats for those who wanted to take the weight off. The visit ended with the club’s usual thank you given by Martin, M0XMP the Vice Chairman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Report by David, G8UOD
(L) Martin, M0XMP and (R) Ian, G3ORG inspect a Wild A5 Stereoautograph. – Photos by Alan G4PSO