The Photographic Services Group ("Photo Lab"), headed by Aerial Photo Officer Captain Francis J. Cachat, provided a critical role and was an integral part of the 416th Bomb Group.
Photo Lab personnel were responsible for documenting day-to-day operations via photographs, preparing equipment used during missions to photograph mission results, developing and analyzing strike photos, and providing evaluations of each mission's success.
Much of the history of the 416th has been preserved through photographs, and Captain Cachat has been instrumental in this preservation and making these images available. Many of Captain Cachat's photos have been scanned by his son-in-law Ron Papajcik and provided to the 416th BG Archive. See Links below.
Cachat's "9th Bomb. Division Strikes" yearbook
Cachat's 416th Photo Collection
(over 900 images)
(Images below courtesy of Captain Francis J. Cachat via Ron Papajcik)
World War II 416th Photo Group Operations
Captain Francis J. Cachat
Aerial Photo Officer
as told to Ron Papajcik in January, 2014
In the morning, I would go to headquarters with all the flyers of the group that were going to fly that day's mission. At headquarters, we had rows of chairs and we had a big board. They would post a big map and then the officer would get up and explain the map. I went and sat in on the briefing to find out where the target was and how they wanted to approach it and get out.
Whichever group was going, all the enlisted men and the officers that were going to fly, would come and have their suits on. They would sit down and the officer would be up there with the pointer saying, "OK gentlemen, this is the target. We're going to fly at this altitude, and we're going to go in this direction. After we drop, we're going to follow the lead bombardier, in the lead plane.” The planes always flew in a V formation. The lead plane had a bombardier in it, and he sat in a bubble. There were cameras mounted in several of the planes. They may have four or five flights, depending on how important of a target. That lead guy was the one that had the Norden bombsight.
For a target, they may approach from one side, and they may want to drop, and go off another way to go home and go back over the Channel. It made a difference which plane you put the camera in. You wouldn't put it in the plane on the far right of the flight V, if over here on the left, is where the target was.
The lead plane had a camera in it. The camera was wired right into the plane. Once they press the bomb release, the camera just kept rolling, until all the film was used up. So depending on where the target would be and how they were approaching and then returning to come home, then you would have to put a camera in another plane, and maybe even a third plane.
This is why I had to go and sit in the briefing. I was the one that decided and listened to how they were going in, and how they were going to return, so I could tell what planes I wanted cameras in. So we could get the stripes to see how well we did when we bombed. Did we hit the target or didn't we?
There were four squads around the field. A Lieutenant Colonel was in charge of a squad and there are a hundred men in a squad plus other officers. We were at the headquarters group at the airfield. We had the intelligence officers there, because once the flights came in and landed, the trucks would go and pick up the flight personnel. As soon as the planes came back the Jeeps went to each squad. They would bring the whole camera back from the plane and return to our photo lab trailer. The trailer was set up to develop the film. It had a darkroom in there.
Photo Lab trailer
Then the intelligence officers, who were assigned to headquarters, they were the ones who would go sit in there and they would talk to some of the lead guys, and they talked to some of the enlisted men. They didn't know about the pictures until we got the cameras and took them in and processed and printed. So if a flight went out at 0800, the CO never saw the results until about 10 o'clock. Over and back in two or three hours.
When we first got over there, we just had to fly across the Channel. We were bombing just behind the fortification that the Germans had. We weren't flying way in. We would bomb to get ready for the invasion. So planes would take off, and they'd be back in sometimes 45 minutes, 50 minutes. It was just a jump across.
Then as we began to beat the Germans after the invasion and as they kept progressing it took longer and longer to fly, because we were still flying from here. The further the United States Army went into France determined the length of time we had to go to a target. We didn't move over into France until quite a while afterwards.
Depending on how far we had to go, how far the bomb strike was, because at first it was just along the coast. We were just taking out the enemy coastal guns that they had shooting up the B 17's, we just had to take those out. We took those out real fast, but then they had the invasion.
We were busy all the time. After we got the camera back and we developed and made prints, I would take the print over to the photo interpreter, who was Captain Zesiger. He knew where the target was. Then he would sit down and would put the prints under a magnifier to look at them and see which ones he wanted. He picked the prints out to show how much damage was done to the target. He'd look and say,"OK, Fran, I want this one printed and I want that one printed." He'd tell me which ones he wanted printed. Then, as soon as he told me, I'd take them back and the guys were waiting in the lab, raising hell. They'd print those up those. I'd come and look at them and if the prints looked real good, then fine. I'd take the prints to him and he'd sit down and pick out the prints that he wanted, showing what the target was before the bombs hit and then he'd write a little story so the old man, the commanding officer, would know what it was and what we did.
Cachat, Zesiger, Lytle and Lt. Koch
They'd take off with the intentions of hitting a certain target, but they always had a secondary. If they came and the target was overcast, there were clouds over it, the major leading the squad might decide, "We're not going to drop them at random, let's go to the secondary."
Now on D Day, with everyone in the air...
Everyone was in the air. Were the cameras rolling then?
Sure they were rolling. You could look across the sky. There were all kinds of planes. Everything was flying that day. It was as though you could step out on a wing and walk from plane to plane.
I’d say I probably flew at least a dozen or more missions. Back in the states, they had to justify the war effort and wanted pictures not only of the invasion and what have you, but they wanted public relation pictures. We got pictures of the general in charge of all Ninth Air Force. I would go, and one of my men would have the hand camera. I'd tell him what I wanted shot.
We had a civilian there who wore a regular Army uniform, but he was nothing other than the representative of the company that made our plane. He'd sit in. He'd go around and talk to the men and then report back to Douglas Aircraft. Yeah. Do this to the plane, or do that, or what have you.
Mr. Hensley, Douglas Aircraft Company Representative
We took photos of every flying person for them to use with the Resistance in case they were shot down. Since each country had a different size photo for identity papers, we would take 3 different photos. I took clothes from local townspeople around the base – jackets and hats. Then we took photos of our men in various combinations of the clothes. We would put the finished prints in plastic bags. The pilot and bombardier of one plane that was shot down had help from the Resistance and used these photos to make their way back to base.