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Constance Babington Smith (1912–2000)

Author of Air Spy

Includes the names: Constance Babington Smith, Constance Babington Smith, Constance Babington - Smity

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Constance Babington Smith was one of nine children born to a wealthy, aristocratic English family. Her parents were Sir Henry Babington Smith, a senior government official, and his wife Lady Elizabeth (née Bruce), daughter of the 9th Earl of Elgin, Viceroy of India, and a descendant of the Lord Elgin who acquired the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon. She was raised at the family estate of Chinthurst, near Guildford, and educated by tutors and in France. As a young woman in the 1930s, she worked for the fashionable hatmaker Aage Thaarup and Vogue magazine in London, but was drawn to aviation. She wrote articles for Aeroplane magazine between 1937 and 1939, and when World War II broke out, she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force or WAAF. She was assigned to the Allied Photographic Intelligence Unit at RAF Medmenham, where she interpreted aerial reconnaissance photos. By 1943, she was in charge of an 11-member department that analyzed high-altitude photos taken by Mosquitoes and Spitfires and looked for new developments in German technology. In 1943, she identified from photos the V1 flying bomb being built by the Germans at their secret research plant at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. As a result, the RAF launched air raids against the plant and launch sites in France. She was then sent to the USA to work with U.S. air force intelligence in Washington, D.C., on photo interpretation for the Pacific theater. At the end of the war,  Constance was awarded the MBE and the U.S. Legion of Merit. From 1946 to 1950, she worked as a researcher for Life Magazine. She returned to England in 1951 and settled in Cambridge. In 1957, she published Evidence in Camera: The Story of Photographic Intelligence in the Second World War (published as Air Spy in the USA), followed by Testing Time: The Story of British Test Pilots and Their Aircraft (1961). She also wrote several biographies, including one of writer Rose Macaulay, her cousin, and of poet John Masefield. She appeared in several episodes of the 1977 BBC-TV series "The Secret War," discussing her photo intelligence work. She was a character in the 1965 film Operation Crossbow.
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