Reconnaissance

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A massive Reihenbild Rb 30 camera is being carried to a Messerschmitt Bf 110 reconnaissance aircraft operating in the desert. (Reihenbild is a shortened version of Reihenbildmesskammer, meaning series-picture.) While the Germans were renowned for the quality of their optics, their cameras were on the heavy side. Loaded with a magazine holding 210 feet of film, the Rb 30 weighed around 120lbs. The Leica company was the main manufacturer of the cameras, while the production of the optics was concentrated at Schneider and Zeiss. As the war progressed the Luftwaffe developed smaller cameras, along the lines of the RAF equipment, for aircraft that could not carry the bulky Rb 30.

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Once the film had been processed the prints were examined in minute detail.

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Fieseler Storch Fi 156

The Storch, or Stork, was used for a variety of purposes including reconnaissance, personnel transportation, casualty evacuation with the 156-D1 ambulance variant, and even rescuing the odd dictator. This high-winged monoplane provided excellent visibility through its extensively glazed cockpit, and powered by a 240hp Argus As 10P air-cooled engine the main production variant, the Fi 156C-0, had a cruising speed of just 90 mph, which was ideal for ground-support reconnaissance. But perhaps this aircraft’s most remarkable characteristic was its incredibly short take-off distance, 65m or 213 feet, and just 20m or 61 feet for landing.

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The view from the cockpit of a Storch looking down upon an advancing German column on the Eastern Front.

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Two Fieseler Storch. The one on the left is the familiar Fi 156, however the slightly bigger aircraft on the right appears to be a Fi 256, the enlarged five-seater ‘Superstorch’ which was built in very limited numbers. Note the higher elevators and more rounded tail.

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Over 2,900 Fieseler Storch were built and it became the most common aircraft type operated by the Luftwaffe. Its nominal range was 240 miles, but variants fitted with drop tanks were capable of more than double that at 630 miles. After the war, production continued in other countries for the private market.

Operation Eiche

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Probably the most famous role of the Storch was in Operation Eiche, the 1943 mission to rescue the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from a mountaintop near the Gran Sasso. Although the mountain was surrounded by Italian forces, German commandos and paratroops under the command of Otto Skorzeny captured the site, which had only a limited landing space for a rescue aircraft to land and take off. A Focke-Wulf Archgelis Fa 223 was dispatched, but when this broke down en route a Storch was sent in its place. Despite being overloaded, with Mussolini and Skorzeny on board, it took off in just 250 feet.

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Ju 86 transport/bomber/reconnaissance aircraft.

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