7th Reconnaissance Group

Constituted as 7th Photographic Group on 5 Feb 1943. Activated on 1 May 1943. Redesignated 7th Photographic Reconnaissance and Mapping Group in May 1943, 7th Photographic Group (Reconnaissance) in Nov 1943, and 7th Reconnaissance Group in Jun 1945. Transferred, without personnel and equipment, to England on 7 Jul 1943 and assigned to Eighth AF. Used Spitfires and L-5's to obtain information about bombardment targets and damage inflicted by bombardment operations; provide mapping service for air and ground units; observe and report on enemy transportation, installations, and positions; and obtain data on weather conditions. Prior to Jun 1944, photographed airfields, cities, industrial establishments, and ports in France, the Low Countries, and Germany. Received a DUC for operations during the period, 31 May-30 Jun 1944, when its coverage of bridges, marshalling yards, canals, highways, rivers, and other targets contributed much to the success of the Normandy campaign. Covered missile sites in France during Jul, and in Aug carried out photographic mapping missions for ground forces advancing across France. Provided reconnaissance support for the airborne attack on Holland in Sep and for the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945. Used P-51's to escort its own reconnaissance planes during the last months of the war as the group supported the Allied drive across the Rhine and into Germany. Took part in the final bomb-damage assessment following V-E Day. Inactivated in England on 21 Nov 1945. Disbanded on 6 Mar 1947.

The group consisted of the following:
13th Photographic Squadron (red rudder)
14th Photographic Squadron (green rudder)
22nd Photographic Squadron (white rudder)
27th Photographic Squadron (blue rudder)

Squadrons. 13th: 1943-1945. 14th: 1943-1945. 22d: 1943-1945. 27th: 1943-1945. 28th: 1943. 29th: 1943. 30th: 1943.

Stations. Peterson Field, Colo, 1 May-7 Jul 1943; Mount Farm, England, 7 Jul 1943; Chalgrove, England, Mar 1945; Hitcham, England, Oct-21 Nov 1945.

Commanders. Col James G Hall, 7 Jul 1943; Col Homer L Saunders, Sep 1943; Col Paul T Cullen, 1 Jan 1944; Lt Col George A Lawson, 17 Feb 1944; Lt Col Norris E Hartwell, 7 May 1944; Lt Col Clarence A Shoap, 9 Aug 1944; Col George W Humbrecht, Oct 1944; Maj Hubert M Childress, 18 Jun 1945-unkn.

Campaigns. Air Offensive, Europe; Normandy; Northern France; Rhineland; Ardennes-Alsace; Central Europe.

Decorations. Distinguished Unit Citation: France, 31 May-30 Jun 1944. French Croix de Guerre With Palm: 1944.

Insigne. None.

Going to war with the 7th photo group

ALONE, UNARMED

October 29, 1944, really wasn't a great day for a photorecon airplane to fly alone over western Germany. At 32,000 feet, sunlight flashed off the lone Lockheed F-5B Lightning's silver wings as thick contrails issued from turbocharger exhausts and nearly blanketed the tail assembly. The mission had been bad from the beginning: the fog was so thick at Mount Farm in Oxfordshire, England, that the Lightning had had to be towed to the runway, and it was IFR conditions from wheels up to 30,000 feet. To top it off, the weather meant no fighter escort, and the sky over Germany was becoming more dangerous by the day for photorecon pilots.

In the cockpit, 2nd Lt. Willie Williams fidgeted in the cold. He had been briefed to overfly the Minden canals at this altitude, but he knew that his contrails made him a sitting duck. The nose dipped as he pushed the yoke forward to get below contrail level. It was not to be. 'I got down to 22,000 feet and still pulled contrails, so I decided that if I went back up to altitude, I'd at least be able to see them coming after me and get a head start.'

The Minden canals were visible in the distance, and Williams aimed the Lightning's nose toward them. To bring back the needed photos, his flying now had to be precise-straight and level; no evasive maneuvers allowed. After three passes, he noted that he still had film in the cameras, so he headed toward nearby Hannover.

Not until February 1943 did the 13th Photo Squadron, equipped with F-4s and F-5As, move into Mount Farm airfield-a satellite field of Benson, which was the base of the RAF's Photo-Recon Unit. The 13th Photo Squadron's first commander was a 45-year old WW I 'retread,' Maj. James G. Hall.

Operating out of England, the photorecon Lightnings suffered from all the problems faced by their fighter brethren. High-altitude missions were generally limited to a maximum of 25,000 feet, as the Lightning had engine trouble at higher altitude. Even flying at 400mph at this altitude instead of at the expected 35,000 feet meant that the Lightnings were vulnerable to interception by the Luftwaffe. The Germans were well aware of the purpose of a single aircraft at high altitude, and their radar could easily track it. If the intercepting Bf 109s or Fw 190s were in position and given a sufficient altitude advantage, they could overtake the Lightning in a dive more easily than they could the British Mosquito. A photo ship's only real defense was to fly an erratic course to avoid interception by not allowing the German controller to position his fighters successfully. Additionally, the hope was that an erratic flight course would conceal the target objective.

Since operations began the previous April, the 7th PG had averaged 50 sorties a month. Despite the winter weather, the unit completed 111 sorties in January as the 8th Air Force achieved its initial buildup and began major raids over Germany. In February, the month of the 'Big Week' (actually, three weeks), the Lightnings flew over Germany on 161 missions-more than three times as many flown less than a year earlier. The addition of a second Lightning unit-the 27th Photo Squadron-and the fact that the 'bugs' were at last being ironed out of the F-5 helped to make this possible.

Because of the continued unreliability of the Allison engines at high altitude, the Lightning was replaced by reverse-LendLease Spitfire P.R.XIs for the most dangerous target-assessment missions. The Lightnings were returned to the job of photographically mapping northwest Europe for the planned invasion. To avoid alerting the Germans to the real invasion site, they flew missions from Blankenberge to Dunkerque, and from Le Touquet to St. Vaast de la Hague-virtually the entire coast of the English Channel-and they flew three missions elsewhere for every one flown over Normandy and the Cherbourg Peninsula.

Though the pilots had been trained for high-altitude work, to meet photographic needs immediately before D-day, they also had to fly at extremely low altitudes. Starting on May 31, the Lightnings flew along the French coast at wave-top height to get last-minute detailed photos of obstacles and defenses on the invasion beaches. That first day saw one of the most hairraising missions flown by the 7th PG's Maj. Hubert 'Chili' Childress, the 27th Photo Squadron's CO. He was handed orders for a mission that was completely unlike anything he had flown in his six months of operations in the ETO.

A total of 64 Loire bridges had to be photographed. Childress felt he would be able to make the first few, but after that, '... the Germans at the last bridge would phone ahead, and they'd be waiting for us.' By staying low, the Lightnings were exposed to enemy flak only during the times that they were directly over the bridges. By varying their approach direction, they maintained the element of surprise as they photographed the first 50 bridges.

'We took hits but nothing serious, though every time I went past a bridge and saw all that flak come up, I figured I was taking a year off my life. At Tours, there were four bridges in the town, and we had to circle and head back and forth between them while staying directly over the city; this meant they could aim directly at us throughout the run. The second and third bridges were so close together that when I shot one, I was already directly over the other. I was hit over the third bridge. I felt a thump, but everything seemed to continue to work, so I got pictures of the last bridge and then we were out of there. As I flew along the river to the next target, the escort leader radioed that I was trailing smoke from the left engine. I looked out and, sure enough, the cowl had a few holes in it and smoke was pouring out of the turbo. I feathered the prop and called to Maj. Smith that he'd have to get the rest of the bridges. I started to climb for altitude to get above the light flak, and I managed to get up to 10,000 feet by the time we got to the Channel.'

Childress arrived over Poltava on the day after a German raid had destroyed 43 of the B-17s that had been on the shuttle mission. 'I spent an extra day there while they took sheet aluminum from the burned-out B-17s and made a patch for my tail. When it was fixed, I took off and flew over Czechoslovakia and southern Germany, bringing back the photos of those Eastern Front airfields I'd taken on the way over to Russia.'

Though the 7th had some losses during the first half of 1944, August saw an alarming upward spike in the number of aircraft that failed to return. The unarmed F-5s and Spitfires, now joined by Mosquitos, were easy targets for the new German Me 262 jet fighter. By September, it was necessary to escort a photo mission into Germany with a flight of P-51 Mustangs, and even these could not prevent the jets from downing the photorecon aircraft if they attacked. Lt. Willie Williams' October 29 mission was supposed to have been flown with fighter escort, but bad weather over England had prevented the escorts from taking off.

By V-E Day [May 8], the 7th Photo Group had flown 4,247 'credit' sorties over enemy territory and lost 53 aircraft. A loss rate of one aircraft for every 80 sorties made photorecon flying one of the most dangerous assignments in the 8th Air Force. Known as the 'Focus Cats,' the pilots of the 7th Photo-Recon Group were given little publicity owing to the dangerous nature of the work and the sensitivity of the intelligence that was gathered. But the Allies could never have landed in Europe without the work of the pilots who flew 'alone, unarmed and unafraid.'

Copyright Air Age Publishing Summer 2003

Web reference: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3897/is_200307/ai_n9283641/?tag=content;col1

RAF Mount Farm

RAF Mount Farm is a former World War II airfield in England. The field is located three miles north of Dorchester, Oxfordshire.

USAAF use
Mount Farm was originally a satellite base For the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson. The airfield was originally a grass field, but concrete was laid for runway and aircraft parking purposes and for taxiways. All hangars were the blister type. The airfield became associated with the United States Army Air Force when, in February 1943 it was used by the Eighth Air Force as a photo recon base. Mount Farm was given USAAF designation Station 234 (MF).

7th Photographic Group (Reconnaissance)
The first USAAF unit to use the airfield was the 13th Photographic Squadron of Lockheed F-5 (P-38) Lightning photographic aircraft which moved in for tutorage in March 1943 under the experienced RAF establishment. This was the 13th Photographic Squadron. The need for more photographic reconnaissance of targets by the Eighth Air Force led to other American photo/recon squadrons being assigned to the station and on 7 July 1943, the 7th Photographic Group was established at Mount Farm, the group being transferred from Peterson AAF Colorado and absorbing the assets of the 13th photo squadron.

The group consisted of the following:
13th Photographic Squadron (red rudder)
14th Photographic Squadron (green rudder)
22nd Photographic Squadron (white rudder)
27th Photographic Squadron (blue rudder)

The group flew a combination of F-5 (P-38), P-51 and Spitfire IX photo/recon aircraft to obtain information about bombardment targets and damage inflicted by bombardment operations. The group also provided mapping service for air and ground units; observed and reported on enemy transportation, installations, and positions; and obtained data on weather conditions.

Prior to June 1944, the group photographed airfields, cities, industrial establishments, and ports in France, the Low Countries, and Germany. Following the Berlin raid in March 1944, Major Walter L. Weitner flew the first Eighth Spitfire photo sortie to Berlin on 6 March and by 11 April the Group had chalked up its 1,000th sortie.
The 7th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations during the period, 31 May-30 June 1944, when its coverage of bridges, marshalling yards, canals, highways, rivers, and other targets contributed much to the success of the Normandy campaign.

The group covered missile sites in France during July, and in August carried out photographic mapping missions for ground forces advancing across France. Provided reconnaissance support for the airborne attack on Holland in September and for the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945.

The 7th used P-51's to escort its own reconnaissance planes during the last months of the war as the group supported the Allied drive across the Rhine and into Germany. Took part in the final bomb damage assessment following V-E Day.

The 7th Recon Group took over three million photographs during the course of its 4,251 sorties. It was transferred to RAF Chalgrove in March 1945, and was later deactivated at the 4th Strategic Air Depot (Hitcham) on 21 November 1945.

Postwar Governmental use
The airfield was transferred back to the RAF on May 1, 1945, became inactive and, after being used for a time by the Ministry of Supply for ex-War Department vehicle sales, was sold by the Air Ministry in 1957.

Civil Use
After the end of military control the then Bullingdon Rural District Council redeveloped the site of the RAF and USAAF buildings to build the new village of Berinsfield. The rest of the airfield was almost completely restored to agricultural use, with little evidence of its wartime past.

Web Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Mount_Farm

Creator: 7th Photographic Reconnaissance and Mapping Grounp
Title: 7th Photo Group History Photograph Album 1943-1945
Phy. Description: .21 cubic feet (1 flat box)
Bio / His Notes: The 7th Photographic Group (variously known as 7th Photographic Reconnaissance and Mapping Group, 7th Photographic Group ((Reconnaissance)), and 7th Reconnaissance Group) was activated on 1 May 1943 and assigned to the Eighth Air Force on 7 July 1943. Stationed initially at Mount Farm, England, in March 1945 they moved to Chalgrove, England, and then from October 21 through November 1945 were stationed in Hitcham, England; they were inactivated in England on 21 November 1945. The group was tasked to obtain information about bombardment targets and damage inflicted by bombardment operations; provide mapping service for air and ground units; observe and report on enemy transportation, installations, and positions; and obtain data on weather conditions. 7th Photo Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for operations during the Normandy campaign of June 1944; later that year they covered missile sites in France, carried out photographic mapping missions for ground forces advancing across France, and provided reconnaissance support for the airborne attack on Holland and for the Battle of the Bulge.
Summary: This collection consists of a 90 page photo album (unbound); each page is assembled from a montage of photographs, drawings (usually charcoal sketches), and/or typed text labels, with professionally hand-drawn graphic titles. The completed page setup was then photographed and printed as a 9 x 9 inch copy photograph. The first portion of the album presents an overview of the reconnaissance unit’s activities, showing bombardment damage to German industrial targets, airfields, and V-2 rocket launch sites, and reconnaissance support for the US Army advance across France following D-Day. Also depicted are the dangers faced by reconnaissance pilots (shown flying the Lockheed F-5 Lightning) from “Weather, Fighters, and Flak!” Later portions of the album show assorted views of England, including unidentified rural areas as well as noted landmarks in London, Oxford, Windsor, and Stratford-upon-Avon. There are several pages showing visits by celebrities including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. A couple of pages show assorted aircraft in flight, including North American P-51 Mustang, Boeing B-17 Superfortress, and Supermarine Spitfire in USAAF markings.
Cite as: 7th Photo Group History Photograph Album, Accession XXXX-0669, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
Restrictions: No restrictions on access.
Subject-Topical: V-2 rocket
Subject-Name: Crosby, Bing, 1904-1977
Hope, Bob 1903-
Form / Genre: Photograph albums
Repository Loc: National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division, MRC 322, Washington, DC, 20560
Local Number: XXXX-0669

Mount Farm, Dorchester, Oxfordshire Map

 

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This webpage was updated 25th January 2019