164th SIGNAL PHOTO COMPANY



Ex-CBI Roundup
July 1952 Issue

By Lee Barker

Click Wallahs of CBI


Don B. Pringle, left, and Tommy Amer, combat cameramen
with the 164th Signal Photo Co., pause in the ruins of Myitkyina.
U.S. Army photo.

When a CBI photo appears in Roundup or elsewhere, the reader probably glances at it without realizing the danger and rough times the photographer went thru to get the_ picture Almost all the pictures labeled Signal Corps or U.S. Army Photo can be attributed to the click of a camera belonging to the 164th Signal Photo Company of the CBI Theater. Of course, the other arms had their share of picture-taking, some of which will be covered within these pages.

The 164th attempted to tell the story of the CBI, both social and fighting. The story of the 164th is an important part of that historic theater.

The first echelons of this group reached the CBI in December, 1943. Since then their detachments were in almost every station from Calcutta to Chungking. They had a difficult road to cover as they progressed with the other units from the early Ledo Road to the opening of the Stilweil Highway into Kunming. Some of their roughest times were when they weren't able to take a single exposure. The Japanese, sad to say, were camera shy, and didn't make their showing too often. Bashful to Yank rifle fire, they stayed in their caves, and the camera man could only get a few shots of the unfortunate dead Japs.

Very active in the photo field was T/3 Victor D. Solow, of New York. He was one of the top men in the motion picture branch of the 164th. In fact, he was one of the few Americans who accompanied the Chinese in their drive from the Salween in southwestern Yunnan to the juncture with the forces moving up to the Burma Road from the west. Most of the stories he had to tell have to do with the pictures he didn't get. One time he was very disappointed that he missed some splendid opportunities, but he evidently wasn't there at the right place at the right time. This was particularly true when he was along during operations against the Japs on the Sungshan, which was later dynamited in a destructive mission. Solow sweated out his wait on a neighboring mountain top for four days, trying to get a panoramic film of 14th Air Force P-40's strafing the hidden enemy. This raid would have taken only a few minutes to complete, but each day some circumstances arose to prevent the scheduled mission. On the fourth day he gave up the idea, and as fate would have it, the fighters made their passes on the Japs on the fifth day.

On another photo hunt, Solow eluded his two Chinese companions who had been assigned to keep Solow out of trouble. During this time the Chungking radio was relating the fall of Lungling to the Chinese. Actually the streets were echoing with gunfire, and Solow dived into the middle of it. Result, some of the best pictures of this battle. Alone yet, Solow hit the sack for the night. However, the morning brought a warning that the Jap patrol was somewhere in the neighborhood. He loaded his equipment on his horse, attempting to hurry toward the American camp. He departed just in time, for a machine gun started spraying its bullets uncomfortably close by. He excused his not getting any pictures at that time by stating, "The Allies were making their Normandy invasion at the time, and I couldn't see the advantage of competing with that kind of news."


CAMERAMAN OF the 164th washes in helmet outside his quarters
while recording on film the Battle of Myitkyina. U.S. Army Photo.

While Solow was with T/4 George Kocourek of Los Angeles, he was billeted by the Chinese at Tengchung. The weather had been so bad that there were no recent food drops. Their only subsistence had been the Chinese rice ration for five long days. Solow said the change from K-rations was delightfully appetizing at that time.


SHOWN ABOVE is the rebuilding of the Mogaung River bridge by
504th Engineers. On the ledge in background is photographer
T/4 Richard H. Spencer of the 164th Signal Photo Co.

T/3 Dan Novak, from Minneapolis, had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for a performance under great stress. He was with the Chinese from Myitkyina to Lashio, making a full photo record of the entire campaign. He landed with the Airborne Engineers, the first unit to hit Myitkyina strip with gliders. Novak filmed the story of the landing while the Japs were on one end of the strip and the Americans were unloading equipment on the other. But Novak's greatest movies were not those he received the medal for. At Bhamo, with the enemy entrenched 125 yards away, he photographed the dive-bombing tactics of a flight of P-47's as they repeatedly attacked a target. T/4 Frank W. Shearer of New Kensington, Pa., was along with Novak during the Bhamo photo tour. Shearer clicked the stills, but came out second best. He decided that he was going to attempt picturing some artillery bursts on the same target that Novak was taking of the dive-bombing, but while maneuvering to get his best angle shot, a .70 mm. "whiz-bang" shell nicked him. Luckily it just grazed him. For this he received a Purple Heart, but he wasn't discouraged. He was soon out of the hospital snapping his shutter right and left. Shearer was with Lt. Gen. Dan I. Sultan at Lashio at the time a Jap artillery shell landed only 30 yards away from their jeep. No pictures were taken here, for they decided that this was not safe territory in which to linger.

Two other members of the 164th received Purple Hearts. These were T/5 Milt Koff of Hawthorne, Calif., who was with Merrill's Marauders at Nhpum Ga, and Pvt. Tommy Amer of Los Angeles. Amer, a Chinese-American, former writer for Yank and CBI Roundup, was a favorite of the top brass.


ROY CREVELING, cameraman with the 164th, poses beside a
Burmese idol at Kamaing, Burma. U.S. Army photo.

Bronze Stars were awarded to T/4 Charles Zimmerman of Los Angeles and Pfc. Don Pringle of Eyerett, Wash. (He has re-entered the service, and is now in Japan.) Pringle, in addition to his other duties, killed three Japanese by knocking out a machine gun nest at Bhamo. Zimmerman had made an early survey trip on foot over The Hump into China. For his action artillery pictures at Bhamo, T/4 Louis Raczkowski of Syracuse, N. Y., received a Bronze Star. Also an Air Medal had been awarded to a 164th man. He was William Safran, receiving it for his work in the glider operation at Myitkyina.

Long with the 164th was T/3 William Brown also of Los Angeles. He had been up in the woods so long he had become a fixture there. It was Brown's job to make the first photos of a tank operation in Burma at Shaduzup in 1944. When the tank in which he was riding got into trouble, it fell over on its side in the full fire of the enemy. However, the crew slipped out the escape hatch, making their way back to the lines without injury.

A favorite story of the 164th was told by Pfc. Tom Fanning of Wichita, Kans. In 1944 he had received considerable IB Roundup publicity for capturing three Japs in Burma. The Roundup story said that Fanning had been in a tree taking pictures of a road, when he found out he had left his carbine at the foot of the tree. Before he made the discovery, however, he saw three ragged characters on the road below, and thinking they were Chinese, he yelled at them to get out of the way, that they were within camera range. The Roundup said further that he soon discovered that they were Japs who wished to give themselves up, and thus he had captured the three Japanese with his camera. That's the way the newspaper put it, but actually, the photo wallah was sound asleep in his hammock one night. He awoke from a tap on his shoulder. There standing beside him were three sick-looking Japs who claimed they were following instructions in the American propaganda leaflets, wanting to give themselves up in exchange for food and medicine. After handing the three over to the MP's, Fanning rolled over to take up better things like sleeping.

The top brass of the 164th were Capt. Herbert Reed of Atlanta, Ga., and Capt. Dave Burman of Cleveland, Ohio.

Signal Corps photographers were also responsible for several sequences in the wartime movie, "Objective Burma." Theater personalities, terrain, glider landings at Myitkyina, and food dropping were all shot by the CBI photo boys. The Chinese training at Ramgarh Training Center were photographed. The episodes in which the food droppers were seen inside the planes in flight were taken by S/Sgt. Victor F. Kayfetz, N. Y., and T/5 John G. Valence of Philadelphia. S/Sgt. David L. Quaid, also in on this photography, was injured while taking one of these scenes, suffering a fractured leg as he was hit by a free-falling mule feed bag before it hit the ground.


DEVELOPING AND printing room of the 164th at Kunming.
Unidentified GI is enlarging a photograph. U.S. Army photo.


WILLIAM C. BROWN photographs explosion of dud bomb at Sahmaw, Burma.
It was exploded by the 36th Division Ordnance Section. U.S. Army photo.

The Army Air Forces, too, had an outstanding photography set-up in the CBI. One Sgt. Robert A. Ferrier, aerial photographer with the Third Tactical Air Force in Burma, boasts that he got what probably is the closest close-up picture of an exploding mine. He got his close-up while flying with a B-25 squadron, riding Burmese railroads, flying at extremely low altitudes. As his plane made a low run down a badly shot-up track, a Jap land mine suddenly exploded directly below the photo-wallah's rear hatch viewpoint, hitting the bomber's fuselage and wings with huge chunks of earth and metal, throwing the plane about wildly. Returning to their home base, the crew found that their escape had been narrower than expected. Both wings had been ripped open, engine cowlings shattered, one oil line broken and many dents and holes in the fuselage. Ferrier, who had first learned his combat photography in the Mediterranean Theater, had recorded it all on film.

Not all the Air Force Photo Wallahs took the pictures. Some did other work on the final prints. Pictures of the havoc brought on by the bombers had to be processed quickly for the commanders. A photo interpreter had to make reports before the final prints were presented to the various commanders of the Air Bases. Officers and enlisted men had to hop inside the huge 3-24's and carefully remove cameras placed there before the planes took off on their missions over Jap-held territory. Photographing had been done by members of the combat crews who received photography training. Back to the laboratories the men went to begin their night-long jobs of developing and printing. In China there was nothing elaborate about the lab or equipment. A mud building often served as the lab. A couple of airplane bomb-bay tanks on a platform sometimes provided the 14th Air Force with water storage. Twenty yards of cheese cloth and a couple of boards made up the drying rack. When scales were needed to weigh chemicals, the boys went to the nearest Chinese town and bought a pair of aged, crude ones from the druggist there. Among many of the China Air Force photo-wallahs were such men as Capt. Frank J. Dunn, Liberator Photo Officer; M/Sgt. Charles H. Stoopes as Dunn's chief assistant, supervising the work of other enlisted men; T/Sgts. Joe Martin and Norman S. Turner, the first to work on the newly exposed film; T/Sgt. Edward A. Uebel (who earned the Silver Star for heroism displayed after his plane was shot down), doing the chemical mixing; S/Sgt. William E. Chartowich, doing printing along with Sgts. Walter A. Simpson and Herbert B. Walden, Jr.; Cpl. Ted Brunner in charge of the finishing.


M/Sgt FRED FRIENDLY, IB Roundup Correspondent, shows copy of CBI newspaper
to Russians in Manchuria in 1945. Photo taken by member of 164th while covering
the Japanese surrender. U.S. Army photo.

A lucky break for photographers came to two flying photo-wallahs who happened to be on the scene during the death of Kweilin. These two were T/Sgt. Harold E. Geer and Sgt. Frank W. Tutwiler, attached to a combat camera unit in China with the 14th Air Force. They were assigned to the Kweilin Air Base many months before the tragedy, covering many "Flying Tiger" B-25 raids. News came into Kweilin that the poorly-equipped Chinese armies were retreating before the enemy and that advance columns were approaching. As the American units began withdrawing, they realized they were on the spot for a great photographing possibility. Geer and Tutwiler stowed their extra equipment on an evacuation plane, and began at once photographing the procedings. They used 16mm. and 35mm. motion pictures as well as still camera of the C-3 graphic type. Bombs were buried by Chinese coolies, chalking the spots with huge circles to warn personnel of planes not to land there. At a set time, these bombs were exploded, destroying the field. Gasoline was poured over the barracks and barbershop, mess, and recreation halls, breaking the hearts of GI's watching the flames, remembering how they had worked so hard to make a comfortable base. Geer and Tutwiler filmed it all calmly, catching everything in detail. This was the last days of Kweilin, formerly regarded as the newest and most beautiful city of Free China. Refugees left in many modes of transportation including oxcarts and rickshaws. Railroads took huge masses. The sergeants took many stills of the refugees at the railway station, risking their necks by staying. Upon the destruction of the airfield, Geer and Tutwiler packed up their film and equipment, carrying their records of the last days of Kweilin, a picture story long to be remembered.

Probably the first American photo reconnaissance of the Japanese mainland during the war, and certainly from the China base, were taken by a 24-year-old Virginian, Capt. Winfred A. Sordelett, flying an unarmed P-38 Lightning recon plane. He photographed Japan on Oct. 31, 1943, and returned to his China base with all the film collected on his 2,200 mile round trip flight. For this record mission, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Once while he tried dodging the Japanese radar screen, he succeeded in drawing no enemy fire. He remained in a tight position through the trip, his only nourishment a four ounce bar of D-ration chocolate and a canteen of drinking water which he kept on the floor. He had to remove his oxygen mask to eat or drink. He was unarmed, cameras and film replacing machine guns and ammunition. If the plane should run short of gas (actually he returned with extra gas), the first necessity would have been to destroy his plane with all photo equipment, either crashing it or destroying it after a forced landing. The film magazines were too heavy to carry manually.

With a picture being worth a thousand words, the thousands of photos taken in the CBI cannot be taken for granted. Blood, sweat, and tears were the chief ingredients of the developing fluids. Next time you look at a CBI photo, remember these boys of the Click Corps. -THE END


Please send additions / corrections to