WWII's 16th Photo Tech: A Project. By Theresa Everline.

October 28, 2009

“Blue Train” defined

Filed under: Uncategorized — Theresa Everline @ 12:26 pm

Rich Faulkner of the 34th Photo Recon Squadron site was particularly intrigued that my father’s book was called “Blue Train in Europe.” He wrote to me:

“Blue Train is a name that resonates for many in the photo recon community who served in the ETO and a bit of a mystery to many.”

So the book’s name itself is worthy of investigation. A website devoted to the 33rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron provides an answer:

A “Blue Train” was an automated photographic processing unit designed to help the US 9th Air Force provide “rapid photo intelligence” to the armies of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe. An automated Photo Tech Unit was officially described as follows:

Each of the automatic teams were equipped with a Multi-printer trailer, a continuous processing trailer and an office trailer; these three units comprised a British Blue Train. The term Blue Train was give [sic] these trailers because they were originally painted blue; but the terminology also was used by the British to designate field operations and means “out of the blue”; this contributed much to the confusion which was to follow.

My “Blue Train” book includes a photograph captioned “The Blue Train alongside a hedgerow near Le Molay, France. The foxholes are on the other side.” Sadly, (1) the photo is (of course) in black and white, and (2) there’s no corresponding photo of those foxholes.

First connection: “a never-ending task”!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Theresa Everline @ 12:13 pm

When I began thinking about this attempt to track down a WWII unit’s history, I figured there would be WWII enthusiasts out there who could give me some guidance. Well, I shot my first little e-mail arrow out into the cyberspace dark, and I managed to hit an amazing target: Richard Faulkner, who maintains a website devoted to the 34th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron.

The website has a section that helped military-illiterate me better understand some of the basic background and terminology (like a reminder that during WWII there was no Dept. of Defense and no U.S. Air Force; a definition of a squandron; all sorts of stuff).

Rich himself responded right away to my email, and we talked on the phone for about an hour and have exchanged several more emails. I feel a bit of vertigo, like I’m falling down a rabbit hole of military research (not a subject I thought I’d be paying much attention to). Rich called it “a never-ending task.” That sounds like it could be either very fun or very intimidating.

It’s a big puzzle. Full of military acronyms.

October 23, 2009

The Puzzles of “Blue Train”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Theresa Everline @ 12:51 pm

While the author of “Blue Train in Europe,” the commemorative book that launched this project, can be painstakingly detailed about the numbers of photographs developed during several periods of 1944-45, he’s also maddeningly vague about the unit’s itinerary, place names, and so forth. For example, the “history” section notes when the group left Belgium. But he forgot to mention going to Belgium in the first place. (Also, are there really two men with the name “Willian” — with an N at the end — as are listed? Seems unlikely. What else in the book is marred by small mistakes?)

Here’s a terrific photo from the book:


What exactly were theĀ  “early days,” as mentioned in the hand-written caption? Where was this photo taken? The book’s author chooses some facts as important (the output worthy of a finely honed assembly line) and others as unnecessary.

October 5, 2009

About this project

Filed under: Military reconnaissance, The squadron — Theresa Everline @ 2:41 pm

See the man circled in the photo below? I want to learn about him. In World War II he toiled away alongside 84 other soldiers performing a lowly but utterly vital task. As the members of the 16th Photographic Technical Unit, they developed aerial reconnaissance photographs using mobile processing labs in the battlefield, thus contributing to one of the primary sources of intelligence for winning the war. An army was nearly helpless without photos and maps of enemy territory, but we often don’t think of how those aids are created.

This man pictured here is part of a unit whose history has been forgotten. He was also my father.

I remember from my childhood seeing the unofficial commemorative book my father Robert received from the 16th Photo Tech. Titled “Blue Train in Europe,” the book tells the history of and facts about the unit, such as how many photos they developed: a total of nearly 4.5 million between July 1944 and April 1945.

With my father’s passing on Jan. 20, 2009, I now have “Blue Train,” and it has set me on a journey to learn more. I want to see what I can discover about the 16th Photo Tech Unit and what it tells me about (1) an overlooked aspect of WWII (what it took to develop photos in the battlefield), (2) the interplay between technology and warfare, and (3) my dad’s relationship to all this.

A list of the members of the 16th Photo Tech is here. If you knew any of these men, please contact me.

On this page I’m trying to piece together the unit’s 1944-45 journey, as they moved all their equipment through war-torn Western Europe as part of the invasion force.

Some highlights of my research about military reconnaissance are here. Cool stuff.

You can learn about more aspects of this project by clicking on the other pages listed at the top right.

Pictured in the “Blue Train” book are men my father possibly considered friends when he was in his early 20s. Possibly. He was a remote and uncommunicative man, and spent most of the time I knew him (I was born in 1966, when he was 45) talking to as few people as he could generally manage. How did this man with an anxious temperament, who sharply clung to routine and never traveled anywhere once my sisters and I left home, deal with being in a war in several European countries? And how did he raise a daughter (me) who once said to an airline agent, “I’d like a one-way ticket to Jordan”?

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