Medmenham also prepared thousands of intelligence reports and millions of photographs to support D-Day. They monitored the railways around Normandy daily in the build-up to D-Day and afterwards to ensure that the Allies were keeping the region inaccessible by rail, and thereby delaying vital German reinforcements.
Some of the most secret and successful, work done by Medmenham was L Section’s identification of the German V Weapons programme. This section studied aircraft industries and new types of aircraft, and was commanded by Flight Officer Constance Babington Smith. A journalist on The Aeroplane magazine before the war, Babington Smith’s knowledge of aircraft led her to volunteer for the WAAF. While studying photographs in 1943 she spotted scorch marks on the runway grass at Peenemünde in Germany, showing that the Germans had developed a twin-engine jet. Later that year she also noticed a rocket-like object at the same site – making her the first person to identify a V1 ‘Doodlebug’. This discovery resulted in a special team being created to further study the V Weapons programme. Between late 1943 and early 1944 this team, known as Crossbow, successfully identified all V1 heavy launch sites.
In addition to Constance Babington Smith, many other women served at RAF Medmenham, often in roles vital to the Allied intelligence effort. Sarah Oliver, the daughter of Winston Churchill, was posted to Medmenham where she worked as a plotter of photographic reconnaissance sorties. Her hard work soon saw her commissioned and trained as a Photographic Interpreter. She was well-liked among her colleagues due to her diligence and the fact that she never pulled rank, despite her father being Prime Minister. Another example of the exceptional talent Medmenham boasted during the war was Dorothy Garrod. Having read history at Newnham College Cambridge before training as an archaeologist, Garrod became the first female professor at either Oxford or Cambridge when she was appointed Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge in 1939 – nine years before Cambridge awarded degrees to women. Garrod volunteered for the WAAF and was posted to RAF Medmenham as a PI because of her archaeological knowledge. She proved to be exceptionally talented, using her analytical mind and eye for detail in the secret Combined Operations Section. Garrod would often be found at her stereoscope, scouring desert landscapes for signs of Axis activity in the run up to Operation Torch, the Allied campaign in North Africa.
RAF Medmenham continued to provide strategic photographic intelligence support to the end of the war and beyond. Indeed, at the close of hostilities Douglas Kendall even travelled to Germany to rescue German reconnaissance photography. This included substantial coverage of the Soviet Union, which proved vital to the UK and USA until the arrival of U2 and satellite reconnaissance in the late 1950s and early 1960.