Ex-CBI Roundup
March 2000 Issue

By Ronald V. Armes

The 7th was probably one of the lesser known, 'behind the lines' outfits among the magnitude of resources that helped the Allied Forces make their advancements through Burma. You might say we were the forerunners to the "One Hour Photo Shops" of today. It was mass production at its utmost.

Virtually every battlefield is exposed to the lens of a camera, from the air and ground, keeping an accurate eye on the enemy and recording his whereabouts and progress. This requires millions of prints and mosaics to be made available to the eyes of the plan-makers. Therefore, in WW II squadrons were created that would produce these photographic prints in greater numbers, faster and better than ever before ... an organization complete with a mess section, orderly room, medics, motor pool, communications and a huge lab section, everything . . . loads of lab equipment, lab technicians and photo interpreters, a mass production unit to work in conjunction with photo recon units.

Thus, the 7th Photo Tech Squadron was activated 16 Sept 1943 at Will Rodgers Field, Oklahoma. Approximately 70 officers and 225 enlisted men boarded the SS Mariposa in San Pedro, CA, on 9 March 1944 and arrived in the harbor of Bombay on April 8, 1944. Then came the infamous train ride across India to Calcutta and into the plains of Bengal to a place called Gushkara. On 9 June 1944, the Squadron set up final housekeeping at Bally Seaplane Base just north of Calcutta.

Bally was a British base, formally used for seaplanes, consisting of a taxiway from the Hooghly to revetments inland, with an assortment of buildings and all surrounded by a village, some temples, a Swedish Match Factory and the Hooghly River. The downside for the location of this real estate - it was directly across the river from Hastings Mill, the Headquarters of Eastern Air Command.

There was always wonderment as to where the seaplanes might have gone and what kind of Lend-Lease arrangement our Government might have made with the British for the use of Bally. Their soldiers didn't take very kindly to letting the 'Yanks' have their barracks (two story brick) while they had to move into tents. Another rub was the British played soldier every day, standing reveille and retreat while the 7th put its efforts into production, a "bloody civilian attitude." One redeeming factor that finally brought the 'Yanks & Limeys' together was liquor and cigarettes. They loved American cigarettes and their scotch was a big improvement over "Karuse Booze," so it was an even trade of one carton of American cigarettes for a bottle of Johnny Walker - and the 'Yanks/Limeys' lived together happily thereafter.

Social status was also augmented by the considerable amount of improvements that the 'Yanks' made to the Base. Revetments were converted into large office complexes, water supply for the Base was tripled, an assortment of E2 buildings were erected along with a beautiful brick shower and outhouse facility. This real estate, with all of the enhancements, was handed over to the natives without any monetary compensation when Briton de-colonized in 1948.

The 7th Photo Tech Squadron was assigned to the 8th Photo Recon Group and therein became the Theater's major supplier of photographic prints, filling orders for photo interpretation, map production, bombing missions, etc. The Squadron maintained a central library where all of the aerial and ground negatives for the CBI Theater were cataloged and stored. The Photo Laboratories would draw from this library to fill the orders that came in from throughout the Theater.

With some exceptions, most of the Squadron wasn't put in harms way -unless battling the endless fungi that entered every orifice of the body, or slapping the malaria-laden mosquito that made air strikes on your torso, or possibly dodging the careening taxis of Calcutta would have warranted a battle star. Perhaps maintaining photographic equipment was the biggest battle for the 7th - especially with the automatic processing units. These were semi-trailers that housed equipment into which you could place a roll of negatives, push a button and in a very short period of time finished prints would come rolling out the other end - already dried, trimmed, and stacked. Like I said, a "one hour photo service." These units worked perfectly at Wright Patterson - but in the land of flying carpets they mildewed very fast in the monsoons and became a maintenance nightmare. So, it ended up that 90% of the work was done the 'old fashion way', by hand.

The men of the 7th not being in a fighting unit, were never in a position to receive medals for heroism so their only claim to fame was a letter of commendation from Major General Stratemeyer for the enormous production accomplished in 14 months. Breaking it down into numbers it amounted to: development of 413,417 aerial negatives and making 1,485,990 prints of the same; and developing 32,048 ground negatives from which 794,095 prints were made. Putting today's dollar value to those numbers that 'one hour photo service' would have grossed about $525,000 in one month of operation.

By August of 1945, the Squadron was packed and awaiting orders to hop the Hump to China and become part of the photographic backup to the proposed land invasion of Japan. Just in time, the big boom in Japan ended the War. After that, it was just a matter of adding up points and waiting for rotation back Stateside. The majority of the Squadron left Calcutta 12 December 1945 aboard the Gen. Muir, arriving in New York on 10 January 1946 and then on to Camp Kilmer, NJ. There the Unit was disbanded, the cadre and its personnel were scattered to all the points of the civilian compass. Long Live the Memory!

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