Skip main navigation

RAF Reconnaissance

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan consider exactly how good the RAF were at photographing things from the air during the Cold War.

Photography from the air.

In this video we cover the following:

  1. The RAF proved rather good at photo reconnaissance over the USSR and its European satellites in the 1950s
  2. We were also happy to help out our American cousins
  3. While the picture starts to change in the late 1950s, the Canberra proved its worth repeatedly in the field of photo reconnaissance.

We would also like to hear your thoughts as well. Please comment below.

This section shall consider the RAF’s role in photo reconnaissance and the importance that such intelligence had during the Cold War, and in assessing the threat the RAF had to defend against.

What were the reconnaissance missions trying to achieve? Firstly, the Americans were trying to prevent another surprise attack like that of Pearl Harbour in 1941, and so regarded reconnaissance and intelligence extremely highly. Locations of ICBM sites and the movements of forces across Eastern Europe was information highly sought after. Obtaining reliable information however about the enemy or its military capabilities was difficult. Throughout the 1950s, the RAF aided the United States with their reconnaissance missions.


English Electric Canberra

  • Throughout the 1950s, the Canberra was the highest flying bomber and was relatively fast enough to theoretically avoid all close contact combat.
  • Although later aircraft, such as the Vickers Valiant, replaced its role as a strategic bomber, the Canberra remained a crucial aircraft in reconnaissance missions.

Nimrod R1

  • The Nimrod R1 had a highly sophisticated and sensitive suite of systems used for reconnaissance and gathering electronic intelligence.
  • Emphasis was placed on real-time intelligence sharing between allies.
This article is from the free online

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now