Squadron Identification Letter Codes
During World War II the United States Army Air Force adopted the Royal Air Force system of identifying their air combat units by applying two large letters or single numeral and letter codes to each aircraft. Each combat unit was assigned a two letter (example: GQ), or single numeral and letter code (example: 5Y), to identify the squadron to which the aircraft was assigned, a third letter was painted to indicate assignment of the individual aircraft to a pilot. The squadron code letters were always painted slightly behind the cockpit area and the individual aircraft letter painted between the national insignia and tail. When there was more than one aircraft in a squadron with the same individual aircraft letter the second aircraft was indentified by placing a bar (-) above, below or even behind the letter. Some groups painted their individual aircraft letter on the vertical fin. In addition, there was a unique serial number painted on the vertical fin by aircraft manufacturers to identify what year the aircraft was funded for construction, followed by airframe production number.
|Squadron Identification Letters|
Mustangs Mistaken for Messerschmitt 109s
Mustang pilots entering combat found themselves accidentally being shot at by bomber crews and even attacked by P-47 Thunderbolt pilots.
Early American single seat fighter aircraft painted their spinners white, and applied 12" white identification bands around the nose cowling, upper and lower surfaces of each wing, 12" from the wing root and horizontally across the fin and rudder. After a number of such encounters VIII Fighter Command put out a bulletin to its pilots advising close study of the recognition silhouettes (see Aircraft Silhouettes at right) of the two different aircraft in question. Recognition posters were quickly prepared and sent out to all stations. However Mustang pilots were plagued by identification problems till the end of the war.
Capt. Richard E. Turner, 356th FS: Kiel raid, bomber escort, 13 Dec 1943, 356th FS: There were around 500 hundred bombers with only 48 mustangs over the target area. Calls of contact with enemy fighters were heard over the RT, but the Germans had made a half-hearted attempt to reach the bombers. Everyone accompanied the bombers longer then scheduled hoping the Germans would show up again. Thirty minutes after the P-47s arrived for withdrawal support we finally give up hope, the P-47s kept mistaking us for Me-109s, so were ordered by the group commander to return to base.
As the 356th Fighter Squadron historian put it: "The P-47 pilots were out for blood and forced the squadron to break continually in order to avoid the possibility of being shot down by these “hot rocks”. Relationships toward P-47 pilots were becoming somewhat strained around the Boxted airdrome, and it was generally considered that perhaps Thunderbolts should be marked with German crosses or at least award their pilots with the Iron Cross for the work they were doing in disrupting the bomber escorts."
Lt. Glen Eagleston, 353rd FS: "I was leading a three-ship flight on the Brunswick raid (February 10th, 1944). In the vicinity of Steinhuder Lake, I turned south to investigate a bogey (enemy aircraft). I then saw six Me-109s about 5,000 feet above us and into the sun and as I started a climbing turn for position for attack my flight was tapped by about eight P-47s. I saw a P-47 go by with an Me-109 on his tail and I went after the enemy aircraft, my wingman following me. "As I maneuvered into position to fire I was attacked by a P-47 from astern, talking strikes through one wing and along the fuselage. I broke away and watched the P-47 for a minute and convinced that the P-47 had satisfied himself as to proper recognition dived to attack two Me-109s which were about 1,000 feet below and closing on the tail of my wingman. "I closed rapidly on the one nearest and fired a long burst from 100 yards astern. I observed strikes on the fuselage. As I cleared my tail and circled, I saw my wingman firing at an Me-109 which seemed to explode and go out of control. "My wingman rejoined me and I started for home as the engine was heating up. The oil pressure dropped to zero as I crossed the enemy coast and the engine froze as I crossed the English coast. I glided to 12,000 feet and went over the side at 11,500 feet, landing safely."
As noted in Richard E. Turners book, "Big Friend, Little Friend - Memoirs of a World War II Fighter Pilot": Eagleston parachuted down over a division of English Homeguard on maneuvers in an open field. They hadn't noticed Eagleston floating down above them. When he got about twenty feet above them he yelled, "HEY!", he thought their startled reaction was funny until he saw they all spontaneously trained their rifles on him. . . then he began yelling, "AMERICAN, AMERICAN, AMERICAN", at the top of his lungs, at the same time trying to get his body ready for the landing shock.
However, this problem of identity worked two ways as Lt. Jack T Bradley, of the 353rd FS found out one day.
"We were flying in a rather loose formation on a search party one day. "I couldn't see the rest of my party, but I knew about where they were and it was no trouble for me to locate them with the radio. I called for one of my squadron to give me his location, which he readily did. Following his instructions, I came upon my squadron (I thought) and my place in the formation for a full three or four minutes. "I casually took a glance out the side window and discovered I was flying in a formation of Messerschmitt 109s. They recognized me about the same time I found out who they were. I never saw so many black crosses in all of my life. I was surrounded. "The Germans started after me, but I dropped my wing tanks and dived out of the formation. They soon saw that the Mustang was too fast for them so they returned to their formation".
D-Day recognition markings were
added to the wing and fuselage surfaces on June 5,
1944 to all USAAF aircraft. Called "Invasion
Stripes", they consisted of five alternate white
(three) and black (two) stripes applied completely
around the rear fuselage. Wing strips were 18 inches
wide, starting 12 inches from outboard of the wing
root extending outboard with alternate white (three)
and black (two).
The 353rd FS Mustang pictured above clearly shows the five alternate white and black stripes around the rear fuselage. You can imagine the immense task ground crews had painting on these invasion stripes in a short period of time. Lack of spraying equipment left ground crews to simply brush on stripes resulting in crude straight lines. Two to three weeks after D-Day stripes were removed by some USAAF groups however some groups carried them until the end of the war especially on the fuselage undersurfaces.
Modelers' Society Journal - Special Limited Edition: The 354th Fighter Group In World War Two; Doug Gifford, Jim Pierce and Walt Fink; IPMS/USA.
P-51 Bomber Escort; Ballantine's Illustrated History of the Violent Century; William Hess