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Group Assignments of the 33rd PRS

10th Photo Group unit crest
Designed by Private Louis Stapp in 1942, the unit crest of the 10th PG shows the Greek mythical figure Argus watching over the world. The group's motto became Argus ("Ceaseless Watch").
Courtesy of Tom Ivie

Captain Glenn R. Doughty
Glenn Doughty was the 33rd PRS Operations Officer when the unit arrived at Chalgrove in April 1944. He was transferred at the end of May to the 10th PG staff. He was the first of many members of the 33rd who would eventually find themselves working for group staffs.
Photo courtesy of Patricia Pitcher Upshaw

Honors for a "Bad Boy"
While the 33rd PRS was part of the 67th RG, Lieutenant George Coffey of the 33rd PRS received his Air Medal from the group's commander, Colonel George Peck. Though the 33rd was officially part of "Peck's Bad Boys" for almost five months, the squadron flew missions under the direct command of the 67th RG for only 10 weeks.
Photo courtesy of George L. Coffey

Living Large with the 363rd
(Above) While stationed at Landing Ground Y-10, Le Culot-East, Belgium, the 363rd TRG maintained its headquarters in Chateau de Meldert, a 17th century estate home located a mile and a half to the east of the airfield. Pilots and officers of the 33rd PRS were also billeted here.
(Below) In March 1945, the 363rd TRG set up its group headquarters in Schloss Krickenbeck, a 14th century castle southeast of Landing Ground Y-55, Venlo, Holland.

Photo of Chateau de Meldert courtesy of Howard T. Keddie via Fred Miller; photo of Schloss Krickenbeck courtesy of Elwood E. Davis

Chief of the "Ramblin' Recces"
When the 363rd Fighter Group was reorganized as a reconnaissance outfit and rechristened the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Lieutenant Colonel James Mason Smelley took command. He had graduated from West Point in 1940 and first served in the Quartermaster Corps. In 1942, he transferred to the Air Corps and took flight training. As Executive Officer of the 10th Photo Group, Smelley flew a couple of missions with the 33rd PRS from Chalgrove in June 1944. As commander of the 363rd TRG, he would lead a dozen 33rd PRS pilots in the winter of 1945 on one of the great mass recon missions of the war. Colonel Smelley commanded the 363rd a second time after the war from 1947 to 1949.
Photo courtesy of Elwood E. Davis

"Smelley's Stinkers from Buzz Bomb Alley"
While the 10th PG had a unit crest featuring a figure from Greek mythology, Sergeant Andy Dolan of the 33rd's Photo Interpretation section came up with a less classical idea for an insignia for Colonel James Smelley's 363rd TRG. "I wrote to Len Warren, assistant political cartoonist at the Philadelphia Record where I worked before the war," Andy recalled. "I asked him to draw an eager beaver with a brown nose and red rear end riding a buzz bomb and holding a gold brick. I showed Len's artwork to Colonel Smelley during a visit he made to the 33rd. It went over like a lead balloon." A more dignified group insignia for the 363rd was officially approved in 1952. Colonel Smelley officially changed his last name to "Shelley" in 1959.
Collection of Andrew M. Dolan
Army Air Force squadrons were assigned to operate as part of air groups. The organization and work of a group are described as follows:
It is both tactical, in that it provides a grouping of aircraft to perform combat missions together, and administrative, in that it forms a nucleus for administrative services for all its squadrons. All squadrons in a particular group fly the same type of planes; groups, like squadrons, are referred to by type of plane -- heavy bomber group, light bomber group, fighter group, etc.

Group headquarters for fighter-bomber and reconnaissance groups generally consisted of 27 commissioned officers, a warrant officer, and 70 enlisted men.

Stateside Group and Command Assignments of the 33rd PRS

What would become the 33rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was activated in 1942 originally as the 24th Observation Squadron and spent its first 18 months of existence as part of the 76th Observation Group. During this time, the 76th was commanded first by Lieutenant Colonel H. N. Burkhalter, then by Major James E. Ilgenfritz. Once the 24th Observation Squadron was redesignated "33rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron," it was transferred to Colonel Clarence D. Wheeler's 74th Tactical Reconnaissance Group of the III Reconnaissance Command.

Though assigned in October 1943 to Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Zartman's 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Group/III Reconnaissance Command, the 33rd PRS took its reconnaissance training from January through March 1944 under the auspices of Lieutenant Colonel Frank L. Dunn's 2nd Photographic Reconnaissance Group. (This group had formerly been commanded by photo recon legend Karl "Pop" Polifka.)

All four of these groups were assigned to the 3rd Air Force.

Overseas Group and Command Assignments of the 33rd PRS

While serving as part of the 9th Air Force in the European Theater of Operations, the 33rd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron was at various times part of three groups:

  • 10th Photographic Group (Reconnaissance)
  • 67th Reconnaissance Group
  • 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group

Each group was part of a different tactical air command (TAC): IX TAC, XIX TAC, and XXIX TAC. The periodic reorganizations of these groups reflected both the growing responsibility of the 9th Air Force as well as evolving military doctrines of how best to coordinate the resources of unarmed photo reconnaissance squadrons, armed tactical reconnaissance squadrons, and night photo recon squadrons.

Photo recon squadrons like the 33rd PRS flew the F-4/F-5 adaptation of Lockheed's P-38 Lightning fighter. Tactical recon squadrons flew the F-6 adaptation of North American Aviation's P-51 Mustang fighter. Night photo recon used the F-3 adaptation of Douglas Aircraft's A-20 Havoc light bomber.

While serving with these groups, the 33rd PRS officially participated in the following campaigns:

  • Air Offensive, Europe, July 4, 1942 to June 5, 1944
  • Normandy, June 6, 1944 to July 24, 1944
  • Northern France, July 25, 1944 to September 14, 1944
  • Rhineland, September 15, 1944 to March 21, 1945
  • Ardennes-Alsace, December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945
  • Central Europe, March 22, 1945 to May 11, 1945

10th Photographic Group (Reconnaissance), XIX Tactical Air Command

Originally constituted as the 73rd Observation Group in August 1941, this unit was redesignated as the 10th Photographic Group (Reconnaissance) in December 1943. It was commanded by Colonel William B. Reed, who had developed the first manual for recon training in advanced fighter aircraft. The group completed preparation for overseas movement (POM) training in Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma in January 1944 and left for England about the time the 33rd PRS arrived at Will Rogers to begin POM training.

Once in the United Kingdom, the 10th PG joined the 9th Air Force and began combat operations in February from Station 465 at Chalgrove in support of the buildup for the Allied invasion of Normandy. In late April, arriving from Will Rogers Field as a mixed F-5 daylight and F-3 night time photo unit, the 33rd PRS was assigned to the 10th PG. Other units in the group at that time were:

  • 30th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 31st Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 34th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 155th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron (Night)

The 33rd's F-3 night photo recon flight ("D") was immediately put on detached duty with the 423rd Night Fighter Squadron. Flight D was soon permanently transferred to the 423rd NFS which had been redesignated as the 155th PRS (Night). The 155th flew the first four combat missions of D-Day. Two of the sorties were flown by former 33rd PRS pilots Thomas Starmont and Clifford Mackie.

The 10th PG performed such valuable services in May 1944 in preparation for D-Day, that the unit was later awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. To read the full text of the award, click here.

Meanwhile, the 33rd was reorganized as a fully daylight photo recon squadron, acquired an inventory of Lockheed F-5 Photo Lightnings, and went operational in late May. The squadron flew over 390 combat missions as part of the Normandy campaign during its 12 weeks of combat ops from Chalgrove. Though the 33rd was officially transferred to the 67th Reconnaissance Group during the second week in June, the squadron continued to report through the 10th PG until it moved to the Continent in August.

During the reorganization, the 33rd's Operations Officer Captain Glenn R. Doughty was transferred to the 10th group staff to serve as an administrative officer.

The 10th PG provided photo recon support to the XIX Tactical Air Command. To read a history of the XIX TAC, click here.

67th Reconnaissance Group, IX Tactical Air Command

Originally constituted as the 67th Observation Group in August 1941, this unit moved to England a year later as part of the 8th Air Force. Resdesignated the 67th Reconnaissance Group, it was transferred in October 1943 to the 9th Air Force. Colonel George W. Peck took command in December. The group won the Distinguished Unit Citation for operations it conducted in February and March 1944 in preparation for the Allied invasion of Europe.

The 33rd PRS was transferred to the 67th RG (by then nicknamed "Peck's Bad Boys") on June 13, 1944. Other units in the 67th RG at that time were:

  • 30th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 107th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 109th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron

The 67th RG, minus the 33rd PRS, moved to France during the first week of July 1944. Though organizationally part of the 67th RG, the 33rd PRS remained under the administrative control of the 10th PG until the squadron moved to Normandy in mid August 1944 and joined the 30th at Landing Ground A-9 at Le Molay. As part of the 67th group, the 33rd PRS would also operate from Landing Ground A-46 at Toussus-le-Noble, France and Landing Ground A-87 near Charleroi, Belgium.

In September 1944, the 33rd PRS and its sister squadron, the 30th, took part in a mission that photographed the Siegfried Line and Rhine River, a dangerous operation that brought great credit to the 67th Group. To read the full text of the 9th Air Force's press release about his mission, click here.

At the end of October, the 33rd PRS was transferred to the the 363rd Tactical Recon Group of the newly organized XXIX Tactical Air Command.

The 67th RG provided photo recon support to the IX Tactical Air Command. To read a history of the IX TAC, click here.

363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group, XXIX Tactical Air Command

As the Western front expanded in early Fall 1944, the US Ninth Army was activated and required its own tactical air command. With no additional reconnaissance groups available for the newly activated XXIX TAC, one had to be created from an existing fighter group. The 363rd Fighter Group was selected.

Originally constituted in February 1943, the 363rd Fighter Group had moved to England in December 1943 and joined the 9th Air Force. Colonel James B. Tipton took command in May 1944. The group supported the bomber and fighter-bomber campaigns of the spring and summer of 1944 before being redesignated in September 1944 as the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group (TRG). Its three fighter squadrons were all converted to tactical recon:

  • 380th Fighter Squadron (FS) became the 160th Tac Recon Squadron (TRS)
  • 381st FS became the 161st TRS
  • 382nd FS became the 162nd TRS

As Tac Recon units, all three flew the F-6 adaptation of the P-51 Mustang. Lieutenant Colonel James M. Smelley replaced Colonel Tipton as commanding officer.

In October, a further reorganization was made to promote balance between armed tactical recon and photo recon for the groups responsible for reconnaissance support in each of the Tactical Air Commands: each group would contain two tac recon squadrons and one photo recon squadron. The 162nd TRS was transferred to the Provisional Reconnaissance Group and the 33rd PRS was sent to the 363rd TRG (now nicknamed the "Ramblin' Recces").

The October 1944 installment of the official 33rd PRS history noted the following:

It is felt that our joining the 363rd Group will be in the nature of a reunion with old friends. While in England, the 33rd Squadron was a member of the 10th Photo Reconnaissance Group. The Executive Officer of this Group was Lieutenant Colonel [James M.] Smelley. Lieutenant Colonel Smelley is now Commanding Officer of the 363rd Group. Major [Edgar A.] Poe, erstwhile Operations Officer of the 10th Group, is now Operations Officer in our new Group. He has as his Assistant Operations Officer, Lieutenant [John E.] Barnby who was, until recently, a pilot with our squadron. The 363rd Group's Intelligence Officer, Captain [James M.] Winterbottom, used to be our Intelligence Officer. Lieutenant [Arthur G.] Lease, now Group Photo Operations Officer, is from the 33rd. Lieutenant [Donald E.] Shopiro, in charge of the 363rd Group's Plotting Section, was originally the Photogrammetric Officer in the 33rd Squadron. Major [William W.] Tolson, Group S-4, was formerly S-4 for the 67th Group. Thus it is apparent that the understanding, so necessary for complete and efficient cooperation, is already well established, and the requisite nucleus of experienced personnel well chosen.

The 33rd PRS remained this group's photo recon squadron for the duration of hostilities in Europe, completing the Rhineland campaign and participating in the Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe campaigns as part of the 363rd TRG. During this time, the group operated from the following airfields:

  • Landing Ground A-87, Charleroi, Belgium
  • Landing Ground Y-10, Le Culot-East, Belgium
  • Landing Ground Y-55, Venlo, Holland
  • Landing Ground Y-99, Gutersloh, Germany
  • Landing Ground R-37, Braunschweig, Germany

Landing Ground Y-55 actually straddled the Dutch-German border, so the 363rd TRG claimed to be the first Allied tactical air unit to launch flights from German soil.

The 363rd TRG provided photo recon support to the XXIX Tactical Air Command. To read a history of the XXIX TAC, click here.

Post V-E Day Group Assignments of the 33rd PRS

A week after Germany's surrender, the 33rd PRS was reassigned to the 67th RG and moved to Landing Ground R-11 near Eschwege, Germany. Two weeks later, the 33rd's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Leon McCurdy was promoted to command the 67th RG.

On July 7, the 33rd was transferred back to the "Ramblin' Recces" which had been redesignated the 363rd Reconnaissance Group and was now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Seth A. Mize, formerly the group's deputy commander. The 33rd PRS stayed a part of the 363rd RG until transferred back to the States to be deactivated.

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The Official World War II Guide to the Army Air Forces: A Directory, Almanac and Chronicle of Achievement, Army Air Forces Aid Society, published 1944, Bonanza Books 1988 reprint, New York, pages 20-21

Patton's Eyes in the Sky: USAAF Combat Reconnaissance Missions, North-West Europe, 1944-1954, Tom Ivie, Classic Publications, 2003, pages 15, 18, 34

The 9th Air Force in World War II, Kenn C. Rust, Aero Publishers, Inc., Fallbrook, California, 1970, pages 221, 234

UK Airfields of the Ninth Then and Now, Roger A. Freeman, After the Battle, Battle of Britain Prints International Limited, London, 1994, pages 12, 154-155, 210

Air Force Combat Units of World War II, Maurer Maurer, USAF, 1986 (http://libraryautomation.com.westserver.net/nymas/usaaf1.html)

Official History 33rd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, United States Air Force Archives, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, AL, microfilm A0888, frames 0246-0247

Hub Groeneveld, Historical Workshop Venlo/Herongen Airfield Foundation, Venlo, Holland

Andrew M. Dolan, 33rd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron Association

"33rd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron," J. B. Woodson, Jr., Aero Album, Volume 6, Summer 1969, page 37

Straight and Level: The Story of the 33rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II, J. B. Woodson, Jr., 33rd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron Association, copyright 1987 by John William Woodson, pages 54, 75, 76, 106, 115

Runways to Victory: Belgian Airfields and Allied Tactical Fighter Operations, 1944-1945, Peter Celis, MARHAV Publications, 2003, pages 134, 140

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