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Captain of Aircraft armband

Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
20:39:02 Thursday, December 5, 2002
Post:
Hi,

Had an interesting discussion with a fellow researcher today regarding the Captain of Aircraft armbands worn by Sgt pilots.

In Chaz Bowyers book, "Bomber Group at War", there's am image on page 92 showing an RAAF Flying Officer (463 Sqdn) wearing what appears to be the Captain of Aircraft armband.

I had always assumed (yes, a very dangerous thing to do!) that the armbands were used by NCO pilots when there were high ranking members of the crew. I hadn't given any thought to them being worn by junior officers, should higher ups also be present onboard.

Any ideas/opinions?

Regards,

Chris

Apologies if this has already been discussed here. I wasn't able to find it when I looked through the old threads.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Jack Powers (Guest)
Time Stamp:
05:34:56 Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Post:
I was an RAAF member serving on both RAF and RAAF squadrons during WW2 and I never saw or heard of these armbands.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
11:21:35 Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Post:
Hi Jack,

Thanks for your comments. I think these were a very short-lived item. Here's an image of the armband:

http://www.stby.com/CoA.jpg

I've only seen them being worn in 2 or 3 photos. My guess is that they were used between 1942/43 -- purely speculation, though.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: floyd williston (Guest)
Time Stamp:
14:48:36 Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Post:
It may seem just a bit of WW11 trivia but I'm intrigued with this question of:Why an armband-designated captain? Surely the crew didn't need to be convinced that their skipper was, well, their skipper, despite being outranked by someone on board.



Maybe it was used on official parades? I always took it forgranted that the few references I'd seen to armbands was an expression of sympathy for colleagues who "bought it."



Surely there are surviving aircrew who can set the story straight. What does the IWM say about it?



(Floyd)


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Edcooke
Time Stamp:
17:01:46 Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Post:
This is the first time that I have heard of such a thing and I flew in the RAF from'40 to;46,must be something someone dreamed up when reading about the war,reading some of the things written I often wonder if it was that war that I was in.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
21:08:05 Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Post:
Here's what I've heard/read about the armbands:

At some point (unknown timeframe) there must have existed a debate as to whether the ranking aircrew member or the pilot was in charge of the aircraft. Common sense would seem to indicate that the man with the aircraft controls in his hands probably had the final say on where it went. The story goes on to say that the debate was over operational control of the mission and not, particularly, the aircraft. During WW2, the navigator/bomb aimer was the captain of French Air Force aircraft.

Whatever the rationale, these things were definitely worn by Sgt pilots serving in frontline Bomber Command squadrons. There are only a few images that I'm aware of but they do seem to indicate that this wasn't just an RAF or specific Commonwealth AF thing. Images that I'm aware of show them being worn by an RCAF Sgt pilot, an RAF F/Sergeant pilot, and an RAAF Flying Officer. Images are from different squadrons.

I've not heard personally from someone who actually wore one of these but there are enough of them around to rule out this being some oddball one-off thing.

I'll attach a scan of one of the images I have. In this case, the front/face of the armband is hidden but it's readily apparent what it is.

http://www.stby.com/CoA2.jpg


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
21:42:30 Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Post:
Sorry for the terrible image. It's much clearer in the book.

One thing I only recently noticed was that a few of the crew in the images are wearing the Escape-style flying boots -- the 4 gents on the left. From research, these tended to come on issue in 1943 - making the appearance of the armband quite a bit later than I originally theorized.

The images are credited to L. Cottroll and the others on the page show the crew of ED611 (JO-U) -- also of 463 Sqdn at Waddington. Last image on the page shows RF141 -- also apparently coded JO-U -- not sure if the first reference is in error, the image quotes the aircraft but code letters are not visible. The ED611 caption mentions Milton "Pete" Wickes as skipper.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Jim Howey (Guest)
Time Stamp:
00:43:36 Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Post:
There is an interesting reference to these items in "Canadian Flying Services Emblems & Insignia 1914-1984" by Bill Hampson. This reference was actually brought to my attention by Chris whose postings are elsewhere in this thread. Mr Hampson states that he was given his armband at an RCAF reunion in Winnipeg in 1970. He also states that he received it from a former Sergeant/ Pilot who flew bombers, and that he wore it to identify him as the Captain of Aircraft, despite the presence of officers as part of the crew of the aircraft.

My guess is that these were never taken very seriously by the pilots, and that they were not widely issued, and hardly ever worn. Most pilots probably considered them to be a silly idea and a waste of time. Nevertheless, there are photographs in existence that show that these armbands did see some service.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Edcooke
Time Stamp:
01:28:57 Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Post:
I find it hard to understand why the chap with the armband does not sport a brevet on his battledress or even the dinghy whistle



RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
02:05:52 Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Post:
Ed,

The scan of the book image is pretty poor. In the original image, F/O Graham H. Farrow's (3rd from right) dingy whistle can be seen (partially concealed under the left side of the collar) and his pilot brevet can just barely be made out above the opened pocket flap (looks like pens or pencils propping the flap open/up)

I do know of 2 other images showing this thing being worn. As soon as I find them, I'll post them.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: floyd williston (Guest)
Time Stamp:
00:14:15 Thursday, May 16, 2002
Post:
I e-mailed Hugh Halliday about the armbands. He'd already seen the initial discussion on this website. Most posters on this board are familiar with Hugh's research, particularly the Honours and Awards website. His other credits are too long to list here.



Hugh replied that he had never heard of the "skipper armbands."



So, again, "what about officialdom?" Someone from above had to give the order to begin such a practice. Who and when?


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris_Pointon
Time Stamp:
19:50:16 Monday, May 20, 2002
Post:
I have spoken to an NCO aircrew member of 467 Sqdn who was at Waddington from Jan to June 44 and he never saw a Pilot wearing an armband - either from 467 or 463 Sqdn.

He did tell me about the flying boots which up to early 44 had been of the brown felt type but these were changed to the black shoe and fleece lined calf boot - contained in it was a small knife to cut the upper part from the lower if you landed in enemy territory. A crew of men who were evading tended to stand out on the platform of a railway station wearing the brown felt boot so now they looked as though they were ordinary shoes.

Many readers probably know all this but I did not and it was not fully explained in one of the earlier messages.

Chris



RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Edcooke
Time Stamp:
21:46:16 Monday, May 20, 2002
Post:
Chris:-with regard to the flying boots,at the beginning of the war we were issued with the Sidcot suit and flying boots which were green canvas,in later '41 we were issued with the Irving flying suit,which was sheepskin and the black escape flying boots,the brown ones were issued later.should you need anything else,let me know your address.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
22:09:57 Monday, May 20, 2002
Post:
Found the same image of F/O Graham Farrow & crew in "Lancaster at War: 3" by Garbett & Goulding on page 109. Caption dates the image as Dec 8, 1944. From the caption, sounds like aircraft was diverted to Ford following a daylight to Urft Dam.

Still plodding through my books trying to locate the additional images of folks wearing the armbands.

I've e-mailed IWM -- no idea if they'll respond or not.



RAF Museum Response
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
10:21:21 Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Post:
Here's what i received from Mr. Andrew Cormack at RAF Museum, Hendon:

Captain of Aircraft armbands were introduced by Air Ministry Order N 861 of 24th August 1944. No explanation of why this insignia was thought necessary is given, but it is assumed that it was to emphasize the status of the pilot of a large aircraft in relation to his crew. This emphasis was presumably thought to be required because, by this stage of the war, many pilots were NCOs whilst members of their crew could be Commissioned Officers

who therefore out-ranked them and theoretically could order them to act against their own inclinations. It had always been accepted that the pilot, whatever his rank, was the leader of the team and everyone usually understood that, but presumably there had been incidents in which the conduct of an NCO pilot had been questioned by his officer crew members and a reassertion of the pilot's primacy of status was thought necessary.

I have chatted to Veterans about this from time to time. Very few remember them and those who did said that their crew never used them; they all knew that 'Ginger', 'Chalky White' or 'Biffo' was the Captain of their aircraft and they did what he said. Rank had no significance once you were inside the aircraft. But obviously there must have been some incidents or else the Air Ministry would not have bothered to invent these things. I

have never, in 23 years at the Museum, seen a photo of anyone wearing one and I regret that I could not open up your pictures. We have several examples of these bands in the collection and none give the appearance of ever having been worn.

I hope these notes are of service.

Andrew Cormack FSA

Keeper of Medals, Uniforms and Visual Arts

Royal Air Force Museum


RE: Less than meets the eye
Author: HughAHalliday
Time Stamp:
11:57:29 Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Post:
[font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 22-May-02 AT 12:01 PM (GMT)[/font][p]"But obviously there must have been some incidents or else the Air Ministry would not have bothered to invent these things."

I somehow suspect that there is less here than meets the eye. Anyone who has worked in a bureaucracy (and I have worked in three - military, educational and museum) knows that rules and practices sometimes spring from petty reasons, incredibly foolish reasons, and even no good reason at all. Three anecdotes spring to mind. The first may be apocryphal; the second, I am assured, is quite true; the third I know from personal experience.

It was noted, in the late 19th Century, in Russia, that at one of the Czar's palaces a sentry was posted in the middle of a lawn. He did not seem to be guarding anything, yet daily, winter and summer, a sentry was posted at that spot, rotated throughout the day. Somebody finally asked why he was there. Nobody seemed to know, and inquiries were made. Finally, a old servant was found who remembered. Some 50 years before, the first snowdrop of spring had bloomed at the spot, and the Czarina instructed that a sentry be posted to ensure it would not be picked. Fifty years on, a sentry was still there.

The second story comes from the South Pacific, Second World War, where a bored staff officer drew a map of his office, noting the location of every fly-coil and numbering them. He then composed a ficticious form on which was entered the number of flies caught on each. The map and "form" were then forwarded to his superiors whith a memo, "In conformity to Staff Instruction 112459A, here is Form 59-82F, weekly Fly-Coil Report".

There was no response, so the following week he sent in another "Fly-Coil Report", and repeated this several times. Still no reaction. Then, one day, a brother officer dropped by from another section. In the course of conversation, the visiting officer said, "I have been getting complaints from Headquarters that I am not sending in my 59-82F Fly-Coil Reports. What are they ?" The perpetrator of the hoax feigned surprise. "You never heard of it ! Why, I have been sending in mine for weeks !" He pulled out a copy of his fictitious form, gave it to his friend, and duly expected that henceforth Headquarters would receive an ever-increasing flow of Fly-Coil Reports.

British museums routinely call a certain position "Keeper" (Keeper of Arms, Keeper of Art); the North Americam equivalent is "Curator". In 1986, the Director of the Canadian War Museum, after visiting some British museums, decided on a whim that it would be more classy to rename "Curators" as "Keepers". The trouble, of course, was that the Canadian and American museum community with whom we dealt was more accustomed to the term "Curator" and reacted with mixed amusement and confusion. As one of my colleagues (formerly Curator, now Keeper of Military Dress and Insignia) complained, "When I use the new title, people think I am a high-paid caretaker or janitor.") The museum reverted to "Curators" within three months.

Fortunately, nobody had changed their business cards - but if someone had (and a sample were found in an archeological site decades hence) people might well have speculated on the "Keepers" at the Canadian War Museum.



Pilot armbands and other initiatives
Author: floyd williston (Guest)
Time Stamp:
23:26:26 Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Post:
Some years ago when I was the director of job creation (employment opportunities) for one of Canada's provincial government, I was asked to develop several new ideas.


Since there was already a program called: PEP(provincial employment program) I helped set up a program in the North which we titled SNNEP(Special Northern Native Employment Program). We now had PEP AND SNNEP and as a bit of joke, one of the people in the office wrote up a CRACKLE program so that we could complete the rice krispies circle with "SNNEP, CRACKLE and PEP."


The memo somehow was leaked and within a couple of weeks we began receiving applications for the CRACKLE program. Of course it never existed but I'm sure there are copies of the memo (and the application letters) still on file somewhere.





RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Jack Powers (Guest)
Time Stamp:
06:31:47 Thursday, May 23, 2002
Post:
Congratulations Chris. You finally received an authoritive explanation of the armband. I wonder who was the idiot responsible for the idea.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris Kanca (Guest)
Time Stamp:
16:00:23 Thursday, May 23, 2002
Post:
The armbands actually caught me somewhat by surprise. I've had one in my possession for years and never really gave it much thought -- thinking it was a very common item.

The entire concept of it always struck me as very silly -- probably as result of my own military service. In the US, the pilot has always been the captain/aircraft commander.

I was truly amazed when this thread started and nobody had heard of these things.

More mind-boggling was the fact that these were introduced so late in the war. I would have thought that NCO pilots were very common by this stage -- especially in light the ratio of officers:NCO's being graduated from the training programs.

I'd really thought that these armbands would have been used about 1-2 years earlier -- at the point when Bomber Command really started increasing in size.

I'm still at a loss as to why the RAAF officer is wearing one? I hate to think his crew had controversy regarding who was in command. Does anyone know if this crew survived their tour?


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Warren Carroll (Guest)
Time Stamp:
15:51:35 Saturday, May 25, 2002
Post:
Captain of the Aircraft

The British government had meetings with the Canadian Prime Minister, McKenzie King in 1939. During those talks the RAF insisted that new pilots be given the rank of Flight Sergeant because they did not want their officer corps overrun. King at one time threatened to cancel the training bases in Canada but concesssions had to be made.

Thus many Flight Sergeants who were qualified pilots found themselves in command over commissioned officers who were assigned to the crew. In some cases this was not always acceptable especially on the ground.

Issues of the arm band came after some serious complaints in certain squadrons. Some RAF Commissioned officers treated the pilots as they would with any NCO whether they were pilots or not. It appeared that it affected the Colonials from Canada, Australia and New Zealand more that regular RAF personnel. This is not to say the bias was in all the squadrons because many air crews got along just fine. One F/S said to me that it did bother him because here he was the leader of the crew in the air but on the ground he could not even be invited to the officers mess and was treated poorly. In many cases the armband identified the wearer to ground officers to a better effect than in the air because very few would wear them in the air. They would be too obvious if shot down.

Simply put, the arm band was issued because of politics and some ways the result of the RAF officer's class system. This was not a new attitude, it prevailed in the first war.

Warren Carroll carrol.A T.pathcom.com


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: floyd williston (Guest)
Time Stamp:
18:10:23 Saturday, May 25, 2002
Post:
Difficult to believe that elitism was still playing it's part as late as 1944. But it was certainly politics, once again, rather than common sense, that influenced events leading to the terrible losses on the Nuremberg Raid of March 30/31, 1944.



An armband wouldn't have help that night. A stand down would have saved countless lives.



(Floyd)


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Chris_Pointon
Time Stamp:
18:37:05 Saturday, May 25, 2002
Post:
For everyones interest who has contributed to this thread F/O Farrow did not arrive at 463 Sqdn until November 1944 flying his first Op on the 26th November. The Operations he flew including an evasion after being shot down on the 21/22 February 1945 can be seen on the 463/467 Web Site. http://www.467463raafsquadrons.com/Archive/Pdat463/farrowgh.htm

Chris


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Jack Powers (Guest)
Time Stamp:
11:14:05 Sunday, May 26, 2002
Post:
Warren, you have made the same mistake as some RAF types made during WW2. As an RAAF member serving with Canadian and New Zealand airmen, we were very quick to take offence and to correct any reference to " colonials ". It was regarded as a gross insult and would not be tolerated. I'm sure you used the expression in good faith but, believe me, it is not on.


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: HughAHalliday
Time Stamp:
14:24:35 Sunday, May 26, 2002
Post:
A number of points.

1. The armband would have been unnecessary from the start. Flying regulations from the year dot said that the pilot is in charge of the aircraft, regardless of rank.

2. "Elitism" was not just British. In the interwar period the RCAF trained about 70 NCO pilots, chiefly recruited from the mechanics. I have not located documents explaining this policy but the career patterns of these NCO pilots provides some pretty significant clues. One reason was that training facilities, used to train Provisional Pilot Officers in summer, were lying idle in winter when the PPOs were back at university. The NCO pilots were thus trained in winter. Once they had their wings, they were employed exclusively on Civil Government Operations (i.e. forestry patrols, aerial surveys, etc.). Officers did this too, but officers also got to fly some "service" aircraft (Siskin fighters, Atlas and Wapiti bombers), took Army-Cooperation courses, and occasionally were posted to the UK for College, Staff School, Armament Courses, etc. NCO pilots had no courses abroad (they might be sent to the US for a parachute course). Obviously, from the start, their career paths were intened to differ from that of their RCAF officers. When the war broke out, just about every NCO pilot was commissioned and several ended up as Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders. But then, a lot of prewar RAF NCO pilots were also commissioned.



RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Jim Howey (Guest)
Time Stamp:
15:06:49 Sunday, May 26, 2002
Post:
It seems to be beside the point to debate whether or not these things were a necessary innovation, clearly they were not. The supposed need for these items may have originated in the mind of an individual who had more administrative influence than common sense. Or they may have been intended so serve as a solution to a problem, genuine or perceived.

There may have been incidents where, in the heat of crisis and possibly panic, officers attempted to exercise the authority of their rank by issuing orders to the pilot. I don't have any difficulty imagining that there could be crisis situations in which a commissioned aircrew member might try to usurp control if he disagreed with the actions of a sergeant. I'm not suggesting that such incidents would have been commonplace. I am suggesting that,considering the diversity of human reaction to crisis, such panicky incidents quite possibly occurred.

Or maybe somebody simply decided that pilots needed an emblem of their authority. I consider this explanation to be equally plausable.

In any event, the following apears to be true:

1) These things existed.

2) They were very seldom worn.

3) Most people then, as well as now, considered them to be a silly idea.

Everybody knows the story of the entrenching tools, produced by Canada early in the First World War, which had a hole in the middle that the soldier was supposed to look through while using the spade as a shield. Never issued, completely imbecilic, and I sure wish I had one.

All the best, Jim


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: floyd williston (Guest)
Time Stamp:
20:11:07 Sunday, May 26, 2002
Post:
Their existance has surely been confirmed. But after that is said and done, can you really imagone that a Sgt. pilot who refused to knuckle under to a forceful officer on board a Lanc being attacked by a Luftwaffe night fighter would whip out his armband and say:


"See, I'm #1, so balls off, Mac, or I'll have you up on charge."


RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: Warren Carroll (Guest)
Time Stamp:
14:44:51 Sunday, May 26, 2002
Post:
Jack: I should have put it in quotation marks. You are quite correct. I am glad you spotted it as I was trying to be low key.

Having interviewed many air crew members in the RCAF, and some in the RAAF the subject came up in more than a few instances.


A Canadian twist RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: floyd williston (Guest)
Time Stamp:
04:58:34 Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Post:
On page 80 of the Fletcher/MacPhail book:Harvard, the North American Trainers in Canada, I note that a photograph shows three


NCO pilots (sporting pilot wings) but no rank insignia(stripes) on their sleeves. Instead, white armbands(unexplained) on the left sleeve.


The caption suggests that the pic may have been taken in Aylmer, Ontario. No year given.



(Floyd)


RE: A Canadian twist RE: Captain of Aircraft armband
Author: e (Guest)
Time Stamp:
12:01:51 Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Post:
The following footnote from p189 of 'Jeff' Jefford's recent volume 'Observers & Navigators' provides some further specifics about the RAF Armband:-

"Sir Edgar (Ludlow-Hewitt, Inspector General of the RAF - em) was very concerned that the failure to recognise the need for captaincy, which was widespread throughout the Service, obscured the potential value of the function of the captain and resulted in the majority of them having little idea of their responsibilities and thus exerting little authority. With the aim of raising the status of captains he convened a meeting of very senior officers, including a number of operational AOCinCs, on 25 August 1943. ALthough it took almost a year to materialise, one of the more obvious consequences of this meeting was the introduction of a brassard to be worn by captains of aircraft in Bomber and Coastal Commands. Authorised by Air Ministry letter S.100641/P.1 of 30 June 1944, the armlet was to be of 'Blue-Grey Serge, with a centre section of Light Blue Cloth bearing the letter C in Red surmounted by an Eagle and Crown of gilded metal.' The brassard proved to be unpopular with air crews, many of whom declined to wear it, and by November both operational commands were already requesting that it be withdrawn. This was not formally approved until as late as 5 November 1945 (by Air Ministry letter S.94096/E.13D) by which time the armlet had already virtually disappeared."

For further background see pp187-189 of Jefford. Better still read the complete book. By far the most interesting and comprehensive work published on the subject of RAF Aircrew that I can think of, there is much of value in it for old hands and new alike.

Errol