Created in September 1942 from the U.S. Army Air Force’s 3rd Photo Group, South African Air Force, and the Royal Air Force, the NWAPRW was commanded by Colonel Elliott Roosevelt and undertook missions in anticipation of Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa.
To support the campaign, the Eighth Air Force transferred several reconnaissance units from England to the operation; while others arrived directly from the United States. The 12th Air Force supported the Center Task Force assault on Oran supported by the 3d Photo Reconnaissance Group, hereafter referred to as 3d Group. The XII Ground Air-Support Command, later the XII Air Support Command (ASC), supported the Western Task Force landings at Casablanca. The XII ASC contained the 68th Observation Group with the 16th, 111th, 122d, and 154th Observation Squadrons. None of these units directly supported the landings, and at least some 68th elements went ashore on D-day.
It took time for the various units to consolidate their equipment and personnel. As late as 26 November 1942, neither the 12th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron nor the 68th Observation Group had its aircraft. Eventually the observation units united at Oujda, Algeria, with their P-39s and A-20s. From there the 16th and 122d spent the next three months conducting anti-submarine patrols, and thus provided nothing to ground force units. The 111th helped defend Oran so that only the 154th supported ground combat operations. Meanwhile, the 3d Group sent its squadrons overseas in parts to prevent the group‘s destruction if the Germans sank one or two ships. Given this staggered movement plan, Lieutenant Robert Boyle selected the older men in his unit to deploy first to have the greatest possible experience available. The group‘s personnel and equipment arrived in phases at different locations and started only limited operations in late November. Compounding this problem, the reconnaissance units lacked organic transportation to move and regroup. Ultimately, the unit reformed at Algiers, Algeria, in late December where it remained until Tunisia fell. Over its first few months of operations, 3d Group faced a number of organizational changes.
In October 1942, before the 3d Group even reached North Africa, its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Elliot Roosevelt, reorganized to accommodate personnel shortfalls. He centralized laboratory and interpretation resources to meet the anticipated photo requests and overcame the personnel shortage by effectively disbanding the squadrons, except for accountability purposes, because of their inability to operate independently. All personnel worked for the group in one of five sections, Mission Planning, Field Operations, Photographic, Photo Mapping, and Administration. This organization remained in place for the entire North African campaign partly because the group had at least ninety empty positions until late summer 1943.
The second major modification mirrored the merger of the 12th Air Force and British RAF Eastern Air Command into the Northwest African Air Force (NAAF). This marriage brought together the 3d Group and the No. 4 Photo Reconnaissance Unit into the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing (NAPRW) on 18 February 1943 under Colonel Roosevelt with Wing Commander Eric Fuller, RAF, as his deputy. This reorganization aimed to correct reporting inaccuracies and to reduce duplication problems through greater coordination of taskings. This truly became a coalition operation, with one French group, and one RAF, one South African, and four U.S. squadrons by September 1943. Since no provision had been made for the NAPRW, personnel came from the 3d Group until April 1943 when personnel from other units became available. Only in October 1943 did the wing ‘assume its full functions.’ Until that time, the wing handled policy, but pushed many responsibilities to the group.
In contrast to the idea of centralization, a third organizational change started in January 1943 with self-contained detachments to work for supported air and ground units ‘for more immediate demand-control and to expedite delivery of first phase interpretation reports.’ These advance units served in addition to the wing and group headquarters at Algiers, and contained a flight of four to six aircraft, a first phase interpretation section, and a laboratory. The first detachment supported the strategic air force headquarters at Telergma, Algeria, but based on its success, a second forward unit stood up in March at Souk El Khemis, Algeria, with the British First Army, another on Malta with the RAF, and a fourth at Oujda, Algeria. The 3d Group selected the most experienced men for this duty and rotated them through on a periodic basis. This technique provided a good first impression representing the unit, improved support to combat units, and helped the interpreters better understand what supported units needed.