MCARA War Stories

Quackenbush's Gypsies
South Pacific 1942-1943

PROLOGUE: The following story is an extract from a manuscript drafted by Lcdr. George Carroll in the 1980s timeframe and edited by Cdr. Ficken in November, 1991.
The relevance to the Marine Corps photographic history will be evident to the reader, however there are some minor inaccuracies and additions worth mentioning. First, the USMC fighter squadron mentioned as being discovered on New Caledonia was VMO-251 which also just arrived and was in process of putting their F4F-3P aircraft back together at Tontouta airfield. They had about 15 photographers or photo technicians with them who were readily available and willing to fly photo missions in the USAAF B-17s stationed at Tontouta and later Espiritu Santo. After the critical Guadalcanal mission on 23 July, they continued to fly with the B-17s including a mission on 2 August over nearby Tulagi island , the site of a raider battalion landing on 7 August in conjunction with the main event on Guadalcanal. From August until November, the photographers flew daily missions with the USAAF 11th Bombardment Group’s B-17s from Espiritu Santo up the Solomon chain in support of Navy & Marine Corps operations. Several of VMO-251’s trained photo troops moved up to Guadalcanal and worked closely with the 1stMARDIV and Quackenbush’s Navy photo interpretation unit. At least 2 USMC F4F-7P long range photo aircraft began operating from Henderson Field during October 1942. VMD-154 arrived in November with their B-24D/PBY4-1 aircraft to provide dedicated photo reconnaissance support for the Solomon Island campaign, and it was their CO Lt. Col Bard that flew the mission on 4 December revealing the new Japanese airfield at Munda only 175 miles from Guadalcanal. They did not fly bombing or strafing missions in B-25 or P-38 aircraft as reported below.
(Col H. Wayne Whitten, USMC (ret) Jun 2008)


Robert S. QuackenbushIn June 1942, LCDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN was ordered to the South Pacific Ocean area where he was to establish and operate the first U.S. Naval Photographic Aerial Reconnaissance--Photographic Interpretation operations in the Solomon Islands area.

Prior to LCDR. Quackenbush's departure from Washington, D.C., he personally went to the office of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, where he explained his problems to a vice admiral regarding establishing a photographic reconnaissance-interpretation unit in the South Pacific.

The admiral, after listening to Quackenbush's statements for several minutes, asked "Commander, how many photo interpreters will you need?" Quackenbush replied "fifty." The admiral didn't really hit the ceiling, but he came close, remarking that fifty was ridiculous and further stating that Quackenbush could have four or five interpreters.

CDR. Quackenbush replied to the admiral, "if that is all of the photo interpreters that I can have, I want my orders changed into some other business."

Quackenbush was able to convince the admiral by a simple example, such as how long it takes for one person to read a book, versus 30 people reading it simultaneously, then sharing the knowledge and comparing the photo interpreters to firemen who don't do anything when there is no fire except keep the firehouse clean, and when there is a fire, they want everybody to help them. The admiral turned around and gave Quackenbush his approval for fifty photo interpreters, that is--on paper.

So in June 1942 LCDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN, by himself, minus the 50 photo interpreters, departed from San Francisco, California on board the Dutch merchant ship Fontaine bound for the South Pacific Islands and New Zealand.

On July 16, 1942, the Fontaine tied up at a dock at Auckland, New Zealand at about 6pm. The ship had only been tied up a few minutes when a messenger came aboard with a message that Vice Admiral Ghormley wanted to see LCDR. Quackenbush. VADM Robert L. Ghormley, USN then being the Commander South Pacific force.

Quackenbush left the ship Fontaine and proceeded to officially report into the staff headquarters of the admiral, and then proceeded to report to Admiral Ghormley where he got chewed out as to why he wasn't there sooner, and why he didn't fly down rather than take a long voyage via ship. Quackenbush's answer was that the reason for his passage via ship was that he didn't know where he was going.

Admiral Ghormley escorted LCDR. Quackenbush to a meeting of officers headed by RADM. Richmond Kelley Turner, USN, where he was briefed. They said they had been waiting for him, Quackenbush was very much flattered, but didn't know what for.

They informed Quackenbush that they were going to make an assault on Guadalcanal. At that point Quackenbush didn't know where Guadalcanal was, in fact he had never even heard of it. Admiral Turner a little later informed Quackenbush where Guadalcanal was located and how they were going to capture it.

Admiral Turner told Quackenbush, "all I wish from you young man, is complete photo coverage in order to drop pictures at sea to my forces who are now enroute in the Pacific to Guadalcanal."

Quackenbush told Admiral Turner that he appreciated his confidence in him, and that he didn't want to alibi his first assignment in the war, but that he was all by himself, had no airplanes, no photographers, no photographic equipment and no photo interpreters. The admirals only reply was "don't bother me with minor details."

The next morning, July 17, 1942, at the crack of dawn, Quackenbush was in a PBY Catalina Flying Boat, which was flown to New Caledonia where he reported aboard the USS CURTIS, a seaplane tender, the flagship and headquarters of Rear Admiral McCain, USN who was then Commander Aircraft Squadrons South Pacific.

Admiral McCain was surprised to see LCDR. Quackenbush, and asked what he was doing there. When Quackenbush advised the admiral that he was on his staff, the admiral said that was news to him, and wanted to know what Quackenbush was going to do. Quackenbush replied that they were supposed to obtain pictures of Guadalcaanal and drop them on the command ship of the assaualt forces of the fleet that was then enroute to the Solomon Island area, the position of the assault force being unknown at that time.

Quackenbush told the admiral that the aerial photographs and the photo interpretation information on what, where and how much the Japanese had on Guadalcanal was needed by the commander of the assault forces prior to their landing at Guadalcanal.

Admiral McCain remarked "what are you going to use for aircraft?" with Quackenbush answering, "that is not my problem, that is yours, admiral" Quackenbush reminding the admiral that he had some PBY-Catalinas. Admiral McCain remarked "I wouldn't sent you up to Guaadalcanal in a PBY, even if Ernie King himself said so." Admiral King was then the Commander Pacific Fleet Aircraft with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, T. H. directly under the Commander in Chief of the Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN.

LCDR. Quackenbush waited until July 23, 1942 when two U.S. Army Air Force B-17 airplanes arrived from Australia, which were assigned to CDR. Quackenbush for aerial photographic reconnaissance of Guadalcanal.

The week between July 17 and July 23, 1942 CDR. Quackenbush discovered a U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron at New Caledonia, and believe it or not, even though they were a fighter squadron, they had two marine photographers in their ground crew pumping gasoline.

The commanding officer of the U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron was a Marine officer by the name of Johnny Hart, who in 1932 was a classmate of Quackenbush in the U.S. Naval Photography School at Pensacola, FL.

CDR. Quackenbush asked Johnny Hart for the services of the two Marine Corps photographers to fly with him in U.S. Army Air Force B-17 airplanes to make aerial photographic reconnaissance photos of the Japanese held positions on Guadalcanal.

The seaplance tender USS CURTIS had two Fairchild K3B 12" focal length aerial cameras, which were fitted for the small hole in the belly of the B-17 airplanes.

The two B-17 airplanes need full tanks of gasoline in the bomb bays in order to make the flight from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal and back, a distance of some 1000 miles one, making the flight about 2000 miles.

On July 23, 1942 the two U.S. Army Air Force B-17 airplanes, with CDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN, in the nose of the lead airplane as mission director and navigator, with U.S. Army Air Force pilots and crew, and a U.S. Marine Corps aerial photographer in each of the two B-17 airplanes with Navy cameras departed from their base at New Caledonia bound for Guadalcanal knowing nothing about the weather, and very little about the many islands between New Caledonia and Guadalcanal. About the only thing they did know was where New Caledonia and Guadalcanal were located.

During their flight up from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal, they flew through two or three batches of real bad weather, which Quackenbush thought were weather fronts. When they arrived in the Guadalcanal area, the weather was clear as a bell, the two B-17 airplanes flying abreast of each other for parallel photo flight line coverage at an altitude of 12,000 feet. The two B-17 airplanes approached the island of Guadalcanal from Taiwai, which was to the east of Guadalcanal.

When the two B-17 airplanes were over their assigned target areas, CDR. Quackenbush gave the order via the aircrafts intercom system "start cameras," which his two U.S. Marine Corps photographers promptly did, taking vertical 60% overlap aerial photographs with the Fairchild K3B 12 inch focal length lens. The two B-17 airplanes were flying abreast of each other on parallel course with a distance between the two B-17s to give approximately a 40% photo flight line coverage.

The two B-17 airplanes after starting their aerial photo coverage were shot at by Japanese anti-aircraft shore batteries. Quackenbush said, they were lousy shots, he could see black anti-aircraft shell bursts all over the sky, but fortunately, none even close to the two B-17 airplanes.

The two B-17 airplanes were about half way through their assigned Guadalcanal target area, when they were jumped by five Japanese zero fighters on floats, as the Japanese had no air fields at that time on Guadalcanal.

The Japanese pilots of the five zero fighters made the mistake of attacking the two B-17 airplanes by making firing passes on the B-17 airplanes by splitting up and pressing their attack separately. Four of the five Japanese zero fighters were shot down by the machine gunners on the two B-17 airplanes. By the time that the fourth zero was shot down, the two B-17 airplanes had covered their Guadalcanal photo coverage assignment and had entered clouds just south of the island and were then on a course taking them back to New Caledonia.

During the time that the Japanese zero fighters had the B-17 photo planes in their sights, CDR. Quackenbush manned the machine gun in the nose of his airplane when one of the Japanese zero fighters made a firing run by approaching the B-17 from straight ahead,--on a collision course, according to Quackenbush, the Japanese pilot was a lousy shot and so was I, he was approaching us at a very high speed, guns ablazing, I was scared, the zero passed underneath but very close to our plane,--none of his machine gun bullets hit our plane and I don't think I hit him, but it sure was scary for a few moments.

Due to the weather fronts that the two B-17 airplanes had to fly through, and the distance of 1000 miles in each direction, they didn't have enough gas to get back to New Caledonia, so they had to land on an intermediate island. They radioed the USS CURTISS for a PBY Catalina to be sent to the island to pick up CDR. Quackenbush and the exposed aerial film which had to be taken to the USS CURTISS for processing and photo interpretation.

The first PBY Catalina arrived and was taxiing to the beach when it hit a coral reef and sank. Fortunately, Quackenbush and the aerial film were not on the sinking airplane so another PBY Catalina was sent to pick up Quackenbush and the film, which arrived after some delay. This airplane got Quackenbush and the aerial film back to the USS Curtiss at New Caledonia.

While chief photographer Murtha and a seaman helper developed and printed the aerial film, CDR. Quackenbush got a few hours sleep, some food, and proceeded to make the photo interpretations from the aerial photo regarding what, where and how much the Japanese forces had on Guadalcanal.

Within 48 hours after the photo recon flight over Guadalcanal, the photo interpretation information was flown in a PBY Catalina from New Caledonia to where it intercepted the Assault force led by the USS McCAULEY, with Major General Alexander A. Vandergrift, U.S. Marine Corps, who was the commanding general of the First U.S. Marine Division which was assigned the invasion mission on the Japanese held island of Guadalcanal.

The photo recon interpretation information of their target area on Guadalcanal was distributed to the various invasion force commanders prior to the actual landing assault on Guadalcanal.

CDR. Quackenbush, with the two U.S. Army Air Force B-17 airplanes, Air Force flight crews, Navy aerial cameras and U.S. Marine Corps photographers made several photo reconnaissance flights over Guadalcanal during and right after the U.S. forces had landed and were in combat operations with the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.

Shortly after our forces had secured a foothold on Guadalcanal, the Seabees built an airfiled on Espiritos Santos which was some 400 miles closer to Guadalcanal than New Caledonia. So the seaplane tender moved up to Espiritos Santos, where CDR. Quackenbush, with the B-17 airplanes personally made eleven photo reconnaissance flights over Guadalcanal and other islands nearby on which the Japanese had various military facilities, and where we needed to know what, where and how much they had, so aerial photo reconnaissance missions were frequently flown over the Japanese held islands in the Solomons.

Shortly after LCDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN had reported to the Commander Aircraft Squadron South Pacific, he was promoted to the rank of Commander, U.S. Navy.

The seaplane tender USS CURTISS had a small photographic laboratory with one lonely Navy Chief Photographer W. J. "Bill" Murtha, who was in his late fifties and not in the best of health for long flying photo reconnaissance missions.

CDR. Quackenbush was in dire need for aerial photographers in the South Pacific, so he sent out an official dispatch to all commands in the South Pacific, info copies to the top Naval commands at Pearl Harbor, for the services of U.S. Naval photographers that were urgently needed in the South Pacific area.

The result of this urgent call for Naval photographers was some 14 enlisted Naval photographers' arrival in a few weeks reporting to CDR. Quackenbush on the USS CURTISS for duty as directed by him.

CDR. Quackenbush sent out an urgent call for aerial cameras which were also arriving from various sources, so by the end of August or early September 1942, CDR. Quackenbush had some six to eight U.S. Army Air Force B-17 airplanes which were mainly assigned for aerial bombing purposes, however, on each of the bombing mission assignments, they carried a Navy photographer who made aerial photographs of the Japanese held areas during their bombing raids.

By early September 1942 Quackenbush's aerial photographic unit became known as "Quackenbush's Gypsies" camping out near the B-17 airplanes in pup tents, eating out of a box of "K" rations, awaiting orders to get aboard one of the B-17 airplanes for a combat flight over the Japanese held islands in the Solomons.

RADM. Quackenbush, during my taped interview with him in 1971, recalled that a few Navy photographers, (probably eight to ten) had reported for duty, and as Quackenbush had been on all of the first dozen or so missions over the Japanese held island, and got shot at by the Japanese anti-aircraft guns on each flight which was no fun.

So as each photographer reported for duty, he was given orders for flight duty. One day, shortly after a first class Navy photographer had reported for duty, Quackenbush designated this fellow for an aerial photo recon flight in one of the B-17 airplanes. This first class photographer remarked to CDR. Quackenbush, "Hell, I can't make this flight, I don't know anything about aerial cameras, I am a lithographer." CDR. Quackenbush retorted, "By God, you have a crow on your arm that tells me you are a first class petty officer Navy photographer, and you are going to make this photo flight, or you will be a seaman by sunset tomorrow evening."

CDR. Quackenbush told this man that he had made some ten or twelve photo missions over the Japanese held islands and was tired of being shot at and that he was not going to fly combat photo missions when he had a Naval photographer sitting on his ass back at home base.

The first class Navy photographer (who really was a photo lithographer) saluted CDR. Quackenbush and said: "Sir, I'll make the flight." This Naval photographer spent most of that night prior to his assigned photo flight, with Chief Photographer Bill Murtha, who demonstrated and taught him how to operate an aerial camera on a photo reconnaissance mission.

RADM. Quackenbush remarked during out taped interview in 1971, that this first class Navy photographer became one of his best aerial photographers in the South Pacific during the 18 months that CDR. Quackenbush and his Gypsies flew the photographic reconnaissance missions over the Japanese held islands during the Solomon Island campaign, 1942-1943.

Quackenbush's Gypsies

W. J. "Bill" Murtha Chief Photo Mate, USN
E.P. Brown " " " "
W.W. Collier " " " "
J.R. Olsen Photo Mate First Class
R.E. McCracken " " " "
H.E. Davis " " " "
E.L. Ennis " " " "
W.F. Hansen " " " "
W. A. Blodgett " " " "
J. T. Crofton " " " "
W. L. Kirch " " " "
W. J. Kolozy " " Second Class
F. W. Smith " " " "
F. E. Rice " " Third Class

Navy photographer F. E. Rice was lost in action while on a photographic reconnaissance mission on 2 February, 1943.

In October 1942, Chief Photographer John L. Highfill, USN, with some twenty Naval photographers from the Naval Patrol Wing One was sent from the Hawaiian Islands to the South Pacific where they reported to CDR. Quackenbush.

This group of Naval photographers under Chief Highfill increased the original Quackenbush's Gypsies from one officer and 14 enlisted photographers to four officers and 83 enlisted photographers, one civilian Fairchild Camera Corp. representative and four officers who became known as the Pioneer Band.

During the 18 month that Quackenbush's Gypsies were engaged in photo reconnaissance operations in the South Pacific area, three Naval aerial photographers were lost in combat action with the enemy. They were: F. E. Rice, W. H. Hickey, H.D. Hogan.

Late in 1942, after Guadalcanal had been fairly well secured by our fighting forces, CDR. Quackenbush had about six officer photographic interpreters operating at Guadalcanal in pyramidal tents where the aerial photographs were put through photographic interpretation phast #1 night and day on a 24 hour basis.

At night the photo interpreters had a 200 watt lamp shaded with a no. 10 can shining down on the photograph, and the tent flap closed to hide the light from Japanese night aircraft operations. So between the perspiration, and the glaring hot light, and the native bugs, it was anything but ideal accomodations.

By late December 1942, CDR. Quackenbush had arranged what turned out to be the first quonset hut that came ashore on Guadalcanal, and as it was being unloaded onto the beach, armed officer guards took turns guarding the entire operation from the unloading to its completed assemby, as things can disappear awfully fast in a war zone when there are no armed guards in sight.

To make the erection job easy, Quackenbush had the quonset hut erected in the edge of the jungle next to the beach were it was unloaded.

Quackenbush's officers, enlisted men, plus some seabee help, got the photo interpretation and photo lab quonset huts quickly assembled and into operation on Guadalcanal, and also a cold storage meat reefer which they converted into a water cooler that was needed to cool down the 90 degree fahrenheit water for the processing of aerial roll film.

Also early in 1943 Mr. Herb Meade, a civilian representative of the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation joined Quackenbush's Gypsies for the purpose of maintenance of the large number of Fairchild aerial Cameras that were then getting into action in the Solomon Island area.

LCDR. D. F. Fraser, USN, Assistant Director of the Naval Photography Division of the Naval Bureau of Aeronautics made the necessary arrangements with the management of the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation for the services of Mr. Meade, who did an outstanding job of keeping the aerial cameras in a number one readiness condition for their intended use for aerial photo reconnaissance operations in a war zone under hot, humid conditions in the tropics.

One of the most difficult problems in the tropics was the mildew and fungus that formed on camera lenses, so Herb Meade worked out a method with the combination of his limited resources and perseverance in doing a good job, he made some big wooden cabinets out of plywood, loaded them with electric light bulbs, and hooked them into a power generator to dry the camera. After a complete cleaning, he would store the ready camera in the heated boxes until they were called for.

Quackenbush and Charley Cox reported that after Herb Meade had his camera repair-reconditioning set-up in operation, there was never any shortage of aerial cameras when called for.

Herb Meade did have some help from some of the Naval photographers who were not on call for photo recon missions, some of these men he trained, and they passed their knowledge on to other Naval photographic reconnaissance units who set up a similar system for aerial camera recondition maintenance operations from Guadalcanal to Okinawa during World War II.

CDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN from the time he reported to Rear Admiral McCain on the USS Curtiss, and as each change of the top command admiral in the South Pacific took place, over a period of about 18 months, Quackenbush was the boss officer in charge of all photographic reconnaissance/photographic interpretation operations in the South Pacific.

All officers and enlisted men, who had anything to do with photography belonged to Quackenbush, who got no bucking from top Admiral Halsy and on down through the chain of command, primarily because none of the top officers in the South Pacific had any knowledge as to what aerial photo reconnaissance/photo interpretation service information could do in the war engagements with the Japanese forces on the various South Pacific islands.

The business of photography-photo interpretation was pretty much in the hands of Quackenbush and his aerial photographers and his photo interpreters, so it was left up to Quackenbush and his Gypsies to get the dope on the Japanese held islands in the Solomon group and from all reports, they did a damn good job in getting the photo information on the enemy as to what, where and how much.

When Admiral Halsy, USN took over the South Pacific Command, Quackenbush was an officer on his staff and directed all photo reconnaissance/photo interpretation operations in the Solomon Island area.

Occasionally Quackenbush would encounter some minor problems with some of the Naval commanders or Marine Generals who really didn't understand what it took to get aerial photographic reconnaissance pictures, and the photo interpretation results, however as long as he got what they wanted, it was OK, but if Quackenbush for reason of his knowledge and training in the use of aerial photography-photographic interpretation wanted something else, then he got into some arguments, such as the time that Quackenbush wanted to put a photographer in every bomber that went out on a mission, to which Admiral McCain remarked that was just wasting talent, more people getting killed, we don't need it.

However, during the battle of Santa Cruz, there were six B-17 airplanes assigned to the bombing mission in which Quackenbush put a photographer in each B-17. They went out and bombed the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku and upon returning from their bombing mission, the pilots informed Admiral McCain that they had sunk the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku, causing Admiral McCain to write a dispatch telling his command chief that his B-17 aircraft had sunk the carrier Zuikaku. Quackenbush, just by chance happened to see the dispatch before it was transmitted to the Commander in Chief Pacific area at Pearl Harbor. Quackenbush said "Admiral, please don't send that dispatch yet, we had photographers in each of the B-17 bombers and as soon as the film has been processed we then will have specific proof as to whether or not the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku was sunk. Admiral McCain replied,"these Army Air Force boys said they sunk it and they sank it."

The processing of the aerial photos took an hour or so before all of the films from the six B-17 bombers were processed, and when they viewed the photos, they were perfect pictures of every bomb dropped from the six B-17 bombers, and the nearest bomb dropped was 500 yards from the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku.

This raised the question as to what gave the B-17 pilots the impression that they had sunk the Japanese carrier Zuikaku. Well! the dropped bombs left a slick in the water which by the time that the bombing airplanes had made their runs and turned to come back, the Japanese carrier Zuikaku had moved into this bomb slick, which left the impression that the Japanese carrier had been plastered. However the aerial photos showed the bombs hitting the water well ahead of the Japanese carrier, and the ship proceeding into the bomb slick.

Admiral McCarin was quite annoyed. However he told CDR. Quackenbush, I don't want you to ever send out another airplane without a photographer in it, which was what CDR. Quackenbush had been trying to do for some time.

In another case CDR. Quackenbush was putting a Naval photographer in every Army Air Force B-17 bomber that was attacking the Japanese held positions at Tulagi on the island of Bouganville in the southern Solomons, when by chance Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher found out that Quackenbush's Navy photographers were going out daily on these bombing missions, to which the Admiral had some objection which he expressed to CDR. Quackenbush, who attempted to explain the reasons for the daily photo coverage of the target areas, but for some unknown reason, Adm. Mitscher couldn't understand the need for daily photos, so he told CDR. Quackenbush to "knock it off."

A few days later, through a chain of operational circumstances, a second Army Air Force B-17 flight was sent out in the late afternoon to bomb Tulagi, in which CDR. Quackenbush had his Naval photographer in the airplanes, and during the very late afternoon bombing raid on the Japanese air field at Tulagi, the naval photographer took aerial photographs which really hit the jackpot. Aerial photos taken during previous bombing attacks on this Japanese air field which had been done on a fairly regulated time of day--between 10am and 3pm, showed an airplane count of an average of 25 Japanese airplanes on the field, but the aerial photo made on this very late afternoon bomber flight showed that there were over 200 airplanes, mostly bombers ready to take off on their mission to bomb the allied armed forces in the south Pacific Ocean islands.

From the information gained from the late afternoon aerial pictures, an early bombing stike was ordered which caught a large number of Japanese airplanes on the Tulagi air field which were destroyed or seriously damaged during our early evening bombing attack.

Admiral Mitscher was so well pleased with the aerial photographic information, which led to the successful early evening bombing strike on the Japanese air field at Tulagi, that he remarked to CDR. Quackenbush, "Is twice a day often enough?"

So those were some of the problems that CDR. Quackenbush had in the early months of World War II in the South Pacific in trying to convince the top command officers that his Naval photographers could do the photography and not kibitzed.

Admiral Halsey was a great believer in what CDR. Quackenbush and his Naval photographer-photo interpreter Gypsies were doing.

CDR. Quackenbush and his South Pacific Gypsy aerial photo recon photographers and photo interpreter unit operated pretty much on their own with no real directives from the top commanders of the South Pacific force, Pacific fleet during the Solomon Island World War II operations.

In the latter part of 1942, Col. Elliott Bard, U.S. Marine Corps in Command of Marine Air Squadron VMB-154 arrived and set up operations with a small photo lab at the Army Air Force base on Espirito Santos. This Marine air squadron furnished some aerial photographic coverage of various Japanese held areas for CDR. Quackenbush and his photo interpretation group.

In Oct. or Nov. 1942 Col. Bard, USMC with his VMD-154 U.S. Marine Corps air squadron, moved up to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal from which, in addition to bombing and strafing missions, they flew photo reconnaissance missions over various Japanese held islands in the SOlomons using B-25 twin engine bombers and P-38 fighters as photo planes.

Their aerial photo films were flown back to Espirito Santos for processing and printing, where a rush set of prints were made and flown back to Guadalcanal for the forward area photo interpreters to make what was then called first phase interpretation information which was distributed to the immediate ground and ship forces which were then engaged in combat operations with the Japanese forces in the Solomon Island area.

The photo interpreters at espirito Santos also made the second and third phase interpretation of the aerial photo recon pictures, a duplicate negative and a set of prints of the VMD-154 aerial photos were sent to "JIGPA," (Joint Intelligence Group Pacific Area) at Pearl Harbor, an intelligence unit under the immediate staff of Fleet Admiral Nimitz.

Early in December 1942 VMD-154 photo reco PB4Y-1 made aerial photographs of Munda on the Island of New Georgia, which revealed thru photo interpetation that that Japanese were building an air field at Munda. This photo interpretation information was reported to the Commander of the South Pacific who ordered a heavy cruiser division to proceed with a bombardment of the Japanese airfield then under construction at Munda.

VMD-154 Marine Air Squadron operated from Guadalcanal until about April 1943, when Commander Howell J. Dyson, USN arrived at Guadalcanal with his VD-1 photo recon squadron of eight PB4Y-1P four engine, high altitude, long range photo planes which operated from Carney field on Guadalcanal.

Early in December 1942, Major Charles H. Cox, USMCR joined the staff of Commander Aircraft South Pacific on board the USS CURTISS at Espirito Santos as photo intelligence officer under CDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN.

By mid-December 1942, CDR. Quackenbush had several photo interpreters operating at the U.S. Marine command forward area on Guadalcanal, who were furnishing first phase photo intelligence information to the alled combat troop commanders who were engaged in the battle of the Solomon Islands. CDR. Quackenbush at the same time had a number of photo interpreters operating at his headquarters at Espiritos Santos.

The photo interpreters at Guadalcanal did their evaluation studies of the aerial photographs working in a small paramidal (ed. pyramidal?) tent day and night, which was not an easy assignment under the heat of the tropics, plus the heat from the electric lamps, along with the tropical insects that were ever present to make life miserable for the photo interpreters.

The Guadalcanal photo interpreters got a quonset hut around the middle or latter part of December 1942, which greatly improved their operating conditions compared to their tent conditions.

By October 1942, Quackenbush's original Gypsies aerial photographers had grown to some 14 U.S. Navy photographers who flew in the U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bombers, from which they made aerial photo reconnaissance photographs during the various bombing missions on Japanese positions in the Solomons.

USS CurtissLate in October 1942, Chief photographer John Highfill USN in charge of some 20 Naval phtographers reported for duty to CDR. Quackenbush on the seaplane tender USS CURTISS at Espirito Santos where on board the CURTISS they operated a small photo laboratory for the processing, printing and map laying of the aerial photos being made by the Naval photographers flying in the Army Air Force B-17 bombers.

By January 1943, several quonset huts were erected at Espirito Santos which provided much better photo lab-photo interpretation facilities than those on board the USS CURTISS.

The U.S. Naval photo unit under chief photographer Highfill became known as "Quackenbush's Pioneer Band" which grew in a 13 month period Aug. 1942 to Sept. 1943 from one Naval officer, CDR. Quackenbush and two U.S. Marine Corps photographers to four commissioned Naval officers, three warrant photo officers, one civilian (Mr. Herb Meade), and 67 enlisted Naval photographers.

The South Pacific photo interpretation unit started in late July 1942 by CDR. Quackenbush, USN as the one and only qualified photo interpreter, which, in a period of some 13-15 months increased to some 75 qualified photo interpreters operating under the direction of CDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN in the SOuth Pacific Ocean area.

During the Battle of the Solomons, the U.S. Navy had a number of PT boats that were operating in the coral infested ocean areas in the Solomon Islands.

These PT boats operated mostly at night traveling at high speeds through the coral infested waters, therefore it became a very important task for the photo interpreters to furnish information gathered from aerial photos, the location and water depth of the coral formations to the PT boat commanders, providing information to enable them to chart courses clear of the coral formations.

CDR. Quackenbush furnished qualified photo interpreters who operated at the PT boat bases providing daily coral reef informations along with other photo intelligence information to the PT Boat Command, upon which the PT boat crews placed high reliance and were most appreciative and thankful because this information saved PT boats and lives of the crews.

In my interview with BGEN. Cox in 1971, quote "We found the waters so clear in the South Pacific that we could photograph the areas of the PT boat operations and by using the stereo comparagraph we could estimate the depth of the coral heads down to 12 feet or more."

"We could show the areas where it was dangerous for the PT boats and those fellows were indebted to us for life, they just thought there was nothing like the photo interpretation, as many others did." unquote.

BGEN. Cox also commented during our 1971 tape recording, quote "It was estimated in the Pacific Ocean areas that photo interpretation photography was responsbible for at least 85% of the total intelligence that was collected on the Japanese held islands." unquote.

The following description is somewhat typical in regard to the daily close look by trained photo interpreters at at aerial photographs made over Japanese held islands in the Pacific.

Early in December 1942, a small group of Naval photo interpreters at Guadalcanal were looking over some aerial photographs made by the U.S. Marine air squadron vmd-154 photo reconnaissance PB4Y-1P airplane that had made a flight over Munda on the island of New Georgeia. In the aerial photos there didn't seem to be any evidence of any new developments of the Japanese held island, however young Ensign Swartz, an architect graduate from Georgia Tech, in his comparison of the aerial photo on the stereo viewer with previously made aerial photos of the same area, observed some changes in the ground cover among the coconut trees, so he brought the photos to the attention of Major Cox who at the time was the senior photo interpreter at Guadalcanal.

Ensign Swartz told Major Cox that in studying the present and previous aerial photos, there seemed to be a lot of coral in the coconut tree areas, which wasn't anything particularly new in the area, however, as Ensign Swartz looked at the area, the coral seemed to form a powder in an area near the water and started out there on the edges of the pattern about the width of an airfield runway, then there was another, and it was right on line, seeming to parallel the others.

Ensign Swartz stated to Major Cox, "I think the Japs are pulling a fast one, trying to build a runway underneath the coconut palms." Ensign Swartz further commented that "You know Major, that the coco palm tree roots are very shallow, and there seems to be little piles of coral all around in between a lot of these coconut trees, right in the area of the extensions of these plots that have been built."

Ensign Swartz said, "I think that what the Japs are planning to do is to go ahead and build their basic airfield runways, and then cut off the coconut trees below the runway level, fill in the holes with the piles of coral and start operating an airfield."

This particular area was rephotographed and a very close evaluation was made by the Guadalcanal photo interpreters who produced evidence that the Japanese were in fact building a new air field at Munda on the Island of New Georgia. This photo interpreters information was immediately passed to the commander of the South Pacific area, who ordered a heavy cruiser division ship bombardment of the area, which was a prime night time target one night during which the shell fire from the cruisers knocked the hell out of the new Japanese air field that was under construction.

However, the Japanese even with their manual labor and very few tractors would just fill in the shell holes about as fast as we could blast the field by our hit and run heavy cruiser night attacks.

The Japanese did finish the new air field at Munda on the Island of New Georgia with a lot of difficulty before our South Pacific forces landed at Munda in 1943, when we captured the island and used this Japanese airfield for our land based aircraft squadron operations in the Solomon Islands in 1943-1944.

This photo interpretation information was typical of the kinds of things that were revealed almost daily and most certainly weekly by the photo interpreters reading the aerial photos made by the U.S. Naval and U.S. Marine Corps photo reconnaissance airplanes through all of the islands in the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Japan during World War II.

During the period from August 1942 to Sept. 1943, CDR. Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., USN with his aerial photo reconnaissance operations in the Pacific and his group of photo interpreters demonstrated the value of aerial photography of the Japanese held islands, which in the hands of, and through the eyes of trained photo interpreters, revealed military intelligence information which the top military commands of the various task forces held in high reliance in the pursuit of the war effort in the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Japan.

Late in 1943 to early 1944, CDR. Quakenbush returned to the states where he was assigned duty in the Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department, Washington, D.C. as Director of the Naval Photography Division.

In February 1943, Charles H. Cox was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, USMCR while on the staff of the Commander, South Pacific Force (Admiral WIlliam F. Halsey, USN) as photographic intelligence officer and officer in charge of the South Pacific combat intelligence center. Col. Cox returned to the states in March 1944 and was assigned duty as officer in charge of the U.S. Naval Photographic Intelligence Center at the U.S. Naval Photographic Science Laboratory, NAS, Anacostia, D.C.