Reconnaissance aircrafts have been in use in as early as World War I, but they relied solely on the air crews’ vision and ability to recall details. By attaching cameras to planes, warring sides were provided an unbiased view of the battlefield, helping commanders make more sound decisions. With that, information became as deadly as firearms.
One Aussie, however, gave aerial recon a sharper set of fangs: Sidney Cotton. Before World War II, he was a photography dealer with friends in high places, both among the Allies and the Axis. He was personally asked by the British intelligence service, MI6, to undertake a clandestine spy mission. They modified Cotton’s Lockheed 12A civilian aircraft to house hidden cameras.
Under the pretence of searching for possible movie locations, Cotton and his assistant Patricia Martin flew over German territory, close to military installations. Perhaps his most daring feat involved taking Luftwaffe commander Albert Kesselring to fly along the Rhine with him. When Kesselring assumed control, unknown to him, the aircraft began taking pictures.
Shortly before the start of World War II, Cotton was ordered to leave Germany for Britain along a prescribed flight path. It was the last civilian aircraft to leave the country before the war, a fitting title for Jeff Watson’s documentary on Cotton and his historical audacity. You can simply watch free movies online to know how his influence changed aerial reconnaissance today.