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Reviews for Shooting the Front

"Truly a pathbreaking book."  

—Ernest R. May, Charles Warren Professor of American History,

Harvard University



"This is a benchmark in World War I aviation history."

—Walter J. Boyne, former director of the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

"A massive, expertly written and richly illustrated history . . . based on meticulous archival research . . . Finnegan's prose is precise and clear, and he provides the necessary historical context to make his work accessible to expert and layman alike."

—Thomas Boghardt, historian at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., for


"Fascinating, well-researched . . . A significant work." —Choice

Book of the Month Selection
Amazon Reviews 

The birth of aerial photographic reconnaissance and interpretation in the Great War
By George A. Webster on November 21, 2011
This is a superb book - ground breaking, definitive, and indispensable.

This is a second and revised edition of the now much sought after 2006 first edition published by the Center for Strategic Intelligence Research. Read this book in the new edition published by the Spellmount imprint and you begin to understand, amongst other things, why Haig refers so often to aerial reconnaissance photographs in planning operations. And it wasn't just Haig who appreciated what the main function of military aviation in the Great War rapidly evolved into - Finnegan quotes Manfred von Richthofen: "Often a photographic plate is more important than shooting down an enemy machine." And as the January 1918 French Army of the North and Northeast General Staff report on the 'Study and Exploitation of Aerial Photographs', which is one of the documents Finnegan reproduces in his Appendixes, puts it in its opening paragraph: "Aerial photography originated with trench warfare. It made rapid progress and has become one of the most important sources of information at the commander's disposal. In fact, it alone makes possible the exact location of the enemy's defensive works and their detailed study." Finnegan's excellently illustrated book, in meticulous detail based on new archival research, describes the evolution of this process between 1914 - 1918. The far reaching consequences of these groundbreaking Great War developments are emphasised in the Foreword to this edition, written by Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the current Chief of Joint Operations in the RAF: "The book shows not just how important aerial reconnaissance was to the war effort but also how effort in the First World War laid the foundation for the exploitation of imagery and geospatial intelligence to this day."

Highly recommended.

—George A. Webster, Editor of 'Records', the Journal of The Douglas Haig Fellowship

Not many World War I aviation books find their way to a second edition. That Col. Terry Finnegan's Shooting the Front has done so says something important about this book. Aerial reconnaissance, photography, and observation made vital contributions to the development of ground and naval operations during the Great War. The intelligence revealed in reports and photographs produced daily revisions to the maps without which the armies could not fight. Without observation reports and photos from balloon and airplane observers artillery fire would have been far less effective. In short, aerial reconnaissance is what made the airplane important during World War I and materially altered the war. Yet we still spend most of our time studying fighter aces.

The National Defense Intelligence College's issue of the first edition of this landmark work in 2006 (reviewed in the Autumn 2008 Over the Front) marked the first significant coverage of the aerial photography and reconnaissance component of the World War I air effort since the publication of the official service manuals that appeared during the war itself. Finnegan, a retired USAF Reserve intelligence officer and US Department of Defense senior civil servant, has used the intervening years to continue his research, adding new appendices, extending the scope of his coverage to include references to Russian and Belgian sources, and generally updating the goldmine of material jammed into the first edition. In this reviewer's opinion, Shooting the Front is one of the most significant World War I aviation books ever published; so, even if you already have a copy of the first edition, you will want to pick up the second edition, as well. Or, if you missed it the first time, you can still add it to your collection. It is very highly recommended. (This review appears in the Winter 2011 issue of Over the Front, the quarterly journal of the non-profit League of World War I Aviation Historians.)

—James Streckfuss, Contributing Editor
Over the Front

Without question, this book can be considered THE sourcebook for anyone wanting to understand the origins of modern airpower and overhead reconnaissance. Finnegan is a retired Air Force Reserve colonel who spent his career in the intelligence business. He knows the subject matter and can appreciate what is important as the new airplane was exploited to provide intelligence information to ground commanders. That's what this book is about: selling the idea of looking at the ground from the air and, more importantly, photographing it to provide proof of what was seen and a durable record of the reconnaissance results.
Finnegan's use of West Point Atlas maps is one of the book's most valuable features. One cannot follow war stories without maps. These are especially valuable at the beginning where he writes a superb history of the war on the western front, beautifully interweaving the battle history with the development of the aerial reconnaissance tool that became so important in the war's execution. Readers will understand the difficult task faced by the apostles of this new technology--ground generals did not universally buy into the potential of the airplane. Finnegan shows how aerial photographic reconnaissance became the mainstay of artillery spotting; knowledge of infantry contact as battles unfolded; and deep looks at enemy preparations, logistics, and communications networks.
To understand how photos and personal reports impacted the armies, one must understand the people, organizations, communications, and tools involved, and how these evolved during the war. Finnegan's vast research lays this out beautifully and details the contributions to the intelligence and reconnaissance business by Steichen, Moore-Brabazon, Campbell, Laws, Bellenger, MacDonough, Trenchard, Pépin, Duval, Foch, Henderson, and many others. The appendices are excellent, and over 1800 notes and a marvelous 15-page bibliography (mostly original sources) prove the depth of Finnegan's research.
To understand how the military airplane got its start, buy this book!

— Col Scott A. Willey, USAF (Ret)


Comprehensive, Pathbreaking, and Definitive!
Most of us are aware, at least superficially, of the brave knights of the air of the First World War, chivalrously dueling thousands of feet above the muddy, bloody, and horrible trenches - men such as von Richthofen, Fonck, Mannock, and Rickenbacker. But, most of us - even modern military intelligence professionals such as I have been -- are fundamentally unaware of the incredibly important roles of the aerial observer and the photographic interpreter in that great conflict almost one hundred years ago. That war's ace-of-aces, the legendary "Red Baron," von Richthofen, understood this very well, remarking "often a photographic plate is more important than shooting down an enemy machine."
In "Shooting the Front," Colonel Terry Finnegan has produced a spectacular book to enlighten us on the remarkable contributions of Great War intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination and how these things in turn spurred aviation's development and application. Finnegan, with clear and precise language, proves that these intelligence methods, processes, and products markedly influenced the thinking of all combatants - particularly at the command level. The text is richly illustrated with a huge number of high-quality photographs, line drawings, maps and other images, including a stunning 14-page color section.
Moreover, this isn't just a magnificent historical piece; it also makes very clear that much of what was established in World War I became the foundation for intelligence throughout the 20th Century, and indeed up to the present day.
Anyone at all interested in the Great War, or in military intelligence, needs to own this invaluable book. In the strongest possible terms, I give it my highest recommendation.

—Dr. Maturin

Shooting without guns
A useful demonstration of how fast technology changes in wartime is abundantly evident here. Years of archival research (and some fascinating photos) make clear how aerial photo reconnaissance developed during World War I from simple box cameras to specially designed devices for high altitude work. Both sides developed aerial photography to a high art, though this volume focuses on British and American efforts. In the 1939-45 war to follow, all sides built on the growing success of World War I photo efforts. Detailed box features and appendices provide all anyone could want on both equipment and procedures used to obtain the photos which helped to refine both artillery barrages and early aerial bombing. And one also gains a feeling for what the crews faced flying such missions—often unarmed at first—well over enemy lines on the stalled Western Front. In all, this is a definitive treatment of the topic.

—Chris Sterling "Castle maven"

Terry Finnegan's book is a carefully researched and well-written piece of scholarship. I recommend it for both serious historians and the general public. As an airpower historian, I found myself curious about his source material...each time I checked a footnote I was pleased to see evidence of his research at all of the key archival collections in the US, UK, and France. Most impressive!

Shooting the Front takes the reader through the evolution of aerial reconnaissance and photography from its earliest beginnings to its vital contributions in the closing campaigns of the Great War. Finnegan confines his study--admittedly so--to the British, French, and American air services on the western front, but this focus enables him to explain every required detail regarding the journey from amateur airborne photographers and scouts to a completely synchronized professional intelligence system. It's a great story of evolving doctrine, new technology, and fascinating personalities. The book is very fairly priced and beautifully presented. But don't rely on me...see for yourself!

— John Abbatiello

Col. Terry Finnegan's Shooting the Front is a ground-breaking book in the literatures of intelligence and World War I aviation. Almost all WWI aviation publications over the last 95 years have been about fighter aces and fighter planes, ignoring the real reasons countries expended vast resources to field air forces. Nations created air arms in the Great War for reconnaissance - to increase the range and accuracy of their artillery and to provide intelligence on their enemies' capabilities and intentions. Finnegan's work is the first definitive history on the latter purpose for aircraft in WWI.

Shooting the Front is a detailed history of American, French, and British photoreconnaissance in World War I. It is not the product of an ivory tower; Finnegan is a retired USAF reservist with experience in imagery analysis, intelligence, and policy support. His deep understanding of how militaries function enhances his writing of history with otherwise-unattainable insights. The result is a book that is not a light or casual read but is indispensable for the serious student of intelligence or WWI aviation.

The first 100 pages, a chronological overview of the effect of aerial reconnaissance on the ground war, is worth the price of the entire book. This section's topic seems like an obvious subject for research on WWI aviation, but nobody has attempted to cover this on such a comprehensive scale since John R. Cuneo's 1947 masterwork, The Air Weapon: 1914-1916. Subsequent sections describe the process of deriving and using intelligence from aerial photos, challenges including camouflage and deception, and the technical and professional legacy of WWI equipment and photointerpretation methods.

In this second (2011) edition of Finnegan's book, he describes his recent research that underscores the importance of David Henderson and Frederick Sykes to the development of British aerial reconnaissance. The early contributions of these two pioneers are often overshadowed by the more famous Maj. Gen. Hugh Trenchard, considered the Father of the Royal Air Force for his postwar successes in keeping the RAF independent of the British army and Royal Navy.

—Steve Suddaby,

President of the World War One Historical Association and a retired CIA analyst with imagery analysis experience.

Superb history and an entertaining read!
Understanding the legacy of aviation is fundamental to capitalizing on current and future technologies. "Shooting the Front" offers a rare look at what aerial photoreconnaissance was during World War I. Many are familiar with modern unmanned aerial photoreconnaissance; the media reports on it regularly. But, Finnegan's scholarly research and early photographs bring rare insight into a reasonably old military technology. An interesting twist to this book is how it illuminates relationships among allied counterparts that groomed the reconnaissance mission to the standards that are still maintained today. If you are looking for the glamor book on World War I, this is not your book. But, if your focus is on military innovation, this book will become the "standard" on an amazing technology from almost 100 years ago. Unequaled for the military historian, but enjoyable for the young military or photography buff, this book is a must-read and will be a basic source for libraries.

—Ed Scott, Library Director

Shooting The Front... A New Perspective
With the thousands of books, articles and publications devoted to the history, technology, and memory of the First World War, it is hard to imagine that there is an area as of yet that has not been thoroughly examined and even re-examined but that is not necessarily the case.

With archival material becoming far more accessible and searchable with digitization initiatives, what was once obscure, if for no other reason than the shear volume of material to wade through, is now becoming far easier to peruse and material hitherto forgotten and in cases unknown have been emerging.

Yet even with this access there remain certain topics that require an individual with expertise or specialization to fully comprehend and disseminate. Such a person is able to synthesize, write and provide interpretive views for the research historian, enthusiast, as well as for the general public to understand. The author of this work Terrence J. Finnegan, who served in the Air Force Reserve with the rank of Colonel and in the Department of Defense as a senior level civil servant with NORAD, Space Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency has that experience and talent, and after reading this significant book it becomes quite clear just how comprehensible and relevant he has made the subject matter, aerial reconnaissance in the First World War available to us all.

The famed aces of the war were in fact a tactical response to both the need for and dealing with the overflights of reconnaissance aircraft. Initially aircraft were subject to the vagaries of engine and airframe as well as climate and pilot training, but it did not take long for the combatants to begin arming their aircraft both as a deterrent and provide offensive capabilities. Perhaps more importantly the realization for aerial reconnaissance, as a means to an end, propelled the establishment of large air forces. What the author brings to the reader is the mechanism, technology, tactical as well as strategic operations involved in the development of aerial reconnaissance and photography. Col. Finnegan provides comprehensive insight and the complex interrelationship that existed from pilots and observers flying at the front through the hierarchical channels to the top of the military command.

The book is as one would suppose given the background of the author systematically organized, with the relationship of technology and military necessities chronologically structured. It then moves on to deal with the importance of photographic interpretation and how the French, British and American's came to create and develop their individual programs. This leads the reader into the more complex aspects of aerial reconnaissance and photography including camouflage and deception, battlefield operations, select technologies and of course in the conclusion with the long shadow and lessons learned. The well-developed and quite comprehensible text is as to be expected accompanied with numerous maps, line drawn photo interpretations, and of course related photographs.

How then does the subject matter of this book enhance our historical as well as technological understanding of the First World War? It brings into clear focus not only the technical aspects but also the overall importance that aerial reconnaissance played in this the first war of the modern age. Secondly, it while examining the foundations of aerial intelligence gathering it provides us with a clear understanding of current reconnaissance applications whether drone, satellite or aircraft.

The one missing piece in this impressive work is the efforts carried out by the rest of the warring nations particularly Germany/Austro-Hungary as well as Imperial Russia, but doing so has provided an opening for a worthy study one that we can only hope Terry undertakes.

— Carl J. Bobrow

A 'must have' book for WW1 aviation historians

When WW1 aviation is concerned, the romance of the fighter pilot is what most people remember and is still by far the aspect most written about. This despite the fact that historians acknowledge the most important contribution of aviation in the Great War was reconnaissance, especially photographic reconnaissance. Regardless, there has been no general history of this most important aspect of the first air war - until now. "Shooting the Front" is the first comprehensive history of aerial reconnaissance in the first air war, and illuminates the most important contribution of Great War aviation in great detail. This makes the book especially important and a true breakthrough in WW1 aviation history. As such, it is indispensable for anyone interested in aviation in the Great War. Furthermore, it is well illustrated with hundreds of rare photographs, including a 16-page color section, and is very well produced.

The book's subtitle is "Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War". Hopefully the author will undertake a companion book on German and Austro-Hungarian Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War.

—Jack Herris
Contributing Editor, "Over the Front"

A major contribution to Aviation History
Today aerial reconnaissance is as vital and important as it ever has been. From a military perspective the concepts, theory and methodology demonstrated their genius during the early days World War I.
Terrence J. Finnegan's book "Shooting The Front" is a comprehensive, well organized, yet easy to read, complete history of the importance and technology of aerial reconnaissance and photography during the Great War. This detailed study has excellent foot notes. Shooting the Front contains numerous visual aids in the form of aerial photos, maps, charts, and explanations of cameras and processing equipment. The personnel that were developing and evolving this new form of intelligence gathering are also covered extensively.
Those who read this book will gain a new perspective of the Great War from the air and will quickly realize why protecting reconnaissance aircraft led to air combat and fighter development.
The book's format makes for an easy to read interactive experience throughout the entire 26 chapters. Finnegan has filled a gap in the military aviation history. Anyone interested in military history would find this work a desired reference and it is a "must have" for any military aviation historian.

—Mike Lavelle, Seattle WA

An essential source on World War One aviation
The main function of aviation in the First World War was not aerial combat, strategic bombing, or ground attack. In actuality, the most important contribution of air power was to provide ground commanders with details concerning the location of enemy troops and to provide early warning of preparations for planned German attacks. Terry Finnegan's book provides the first detailed look at how the Allied forces gathered, processed and utilized information gathered by aerial reconnaissance. Extensive research in French, British, and American archives has resulted in an important work which, unlike many other books on the subject, is based on material drawn from primary sources. Highly recommended.

—James Davilla

Shooting the Front - second edtion
This second edition of "Shooting the Front" is a great improvement over the first edition, that was originally published in 2006. The revision of the first edition content and text, combined with additional material, has produced a book in the second edition, that may well be considered as the principal work on the initial development of air photo based intelligence. For any student of the First World War, or the development of modern intelligence, this is an essential book.

—N. C. Watkis

WWI Aviation History at Its Finest
Mr. Finnegan has done it again! Just when I thought I have read all there was on WWI aerial reconnaissance in the first edition, he manages to cram even more excellent data into this updated volume. I could not have been more delighted. There's not much else I could add to the already detailed reviews below. But if you will humor me, I will include my initial review to the first volume here:

"Mr Finnegan has authored THE book for anyone interested in studying the early development of military aerial photography. His research is flawless. He's culled the archives of various nations (both governmental sources & private diaries) to extract data from these primary accounts on the Great War. He supports his research with interviews from leading military minds of that burgeoning branch of service. Mr Finnegan not only tells the story of aerial photography's humble beginnings, he manages to weave an all-encompassing history of WWI that should appeal to the novice & professional historian alike. Furthermore, the book is a treasure trove of rare photographs (some never before published) that has left me speechless on more than one occasion."

—Blue Skies

The Western Front as observed and interpreted from above the clouds
History is remembered for glorious, exciting moments of adventure. Such events are simplified, and so they are swiftly transformed into popular myths. Flying aces of the Great War, whether the German Manfred von Richtofen, the "Red Baron" (80 kills), the Frenchman René Fonck (75), the British "Mick" Mannock (61), and the US Eddie Rickenbacker (26), or Biggles, Capt WE Johns' fictional hero, rekindled an image of honest, chivalry of medieval knights in a century of industrial warfare, a very unclear reference to mass butchery. Colonel Terrence Finnegan stresses that the memorable dogfights were a minimal section of the war in the air; the lion share was focused from the early days on aerial reconnaissance and intelligence which the German military machine estimated had increased the fighting efficiency of the French forces by as much as 20 per cent.

Though treating exclusively Britain, France and the US (from 1918) on the Western Front, Finnegan's main message is appropriate to all their allies and foes in different theatres during the 1914-18 War: the conflict was effectively a land war employed by the infantry and the artillery, with the young air forces operating in a secondary accompanying role to effect a quicker victory.

The author covers the organization of the flying forces: aeroplanes and balloons; the pioneering observers: including the French MME Grout, CME Pépin, and PL Weiller, the British CDM Campbell, FCV Laws and JTC Moore-Brabazon, and the Americans J Barnes and EJ Steichen; the equipment on board: cameras, glass plates, and filters, the techniques to provide immediate new data with the ground troops and the guns: wireless, morse, drops in bags, flares and coloured flag signals; the tasks and devices: stereograph, of photo interpreters; and the growing counter measures: camouflage netting, and paint, dummies, the movement of guns, and the use of flashless propellant. Commanders had to integrate such details to the material acquired through other intelligence sources: the traditional approaches: spies, local civilians, prisoner's interrogations, and documents, and the new technologies: radio interception - first recognised in the battle of Tannenberg on the Eastern Front in 1914, Flash spotting, and Sound ranging.

The air intelligence for artillery spotting caused major developments in trench map making: the sectors were each divided into squares with coordinates; this in turn brought changes in the method of locating guns: the use of pin-pointing of known observed hostile batteries on a "square map", followed by "shooting by map" at Cambrai in 1917 of "unregistered" or "predicted" fire, with the bearing being calculated in advance; the squadrons were repeatedly ordered back into action after the artillery had fired in order to verify the damage inflicted; moreover, in time it encouraged the production of specialist maps for particular units - for tanks, indicating hazardous boggy terrain and gun emplacements to avoid.

Such coverage on cartography is an excellent introduction and accompaniment to Peter Chasseaud's pioneering, scholarly, but heavy volumes Artillery's Astrologers: A History of British Survey and Mapping on the Western Front, 1914-18 Topography of Armageddon: British Trench Map Atlas of the Western Front, 1914-18. But such a field, compromising the science of photography, may sound too highbrow, abstract and scholarly for the general reader to work through, and the author and Air Marshal Sir Stuart Pearch, who penned the foreword, could not deny that such an original book is not primarily aimed at the specialists of air history, military intelligence, artillery survey as well as counter-battery. However, the book does contain sufficient new material and presented in a particular manner to allow general readers in contemporary history have a better understanding of the period, and may stimulate them to go back to the well written technical parts to learn much more.

The conclusion does not simply paraphrase Finnegan's thesis as a specialist study of technology in a particular period, he wisely shows the lessons which the three allies learnt (or did not learn) from this experience during 1914-18, and where the current world of military intelligence is situated almost a century later. Firstly, the French defeat in June 1940, for instance, did not result from defeatism spread by enemies of the state: Communists and Jews, as the ideologues of Vichy and the victor of Verdun, Pétain, sustained; it was more because the French were unable to adapt aerial reconnaissance originally operating in conditions of static positional warfare between the end of 1914 and June 1918 to mobile warfare. For Finnegan the battle in France was already lost during the "Phoney War"/ Sitzkrieg, until May 1940, even before Blitzkrieg campaign was actually declared. The aerial reconnaissance's performance conducted over seven months represented the defensive warfare codified with the construction of the Maginot Line, which was much approved by Pétain himself.

Secondly, the First World War was the first information and intelligence war, and it established principles and expectations that underlie all successive intelligence operations. Tactical reconnaissance by today's drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) abide many of standards employed by aerial reconnaissance in 1914-18; strategic reconnaissance also continues the Great War's strategic goal of examining defence and industrial infrastructure within enemy borders, and the modern space-borne imagery obtained from satellites first during the first Gulf War in 1991 is directly linked to the courageous efforts of the early pilots, observers, interpreters, and all their skilled colleagues.

General readers will cherish uncovering the evolving technical and technological improvements produced in the book's first six chapters which focus on the different phases of the war. Aerial reconnaissance moved from being distrusted as strange to being over-trusted and overused by commanders as one battle success followed another. They will discover that individual air combat took place as a direct reaction to greater information obtained from air photography, and with the improvements in aeroplane design and the production of Albatros DIII and the Pfalz pursuit planes in "Bloody April" 1917, so helping Germany regain air superiority, led to the allies responding with triangle-shaped squadron formations of a minimum of five planes to protect their observers and photographers.


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