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Thread: RAF dog tags

  1. #1
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    Default RAF dog tags

    Hello all,

    I'm a historian from The Netherlands, engaged in MIA research. I would like to know more about ID tags or dog tags issued by the R.A.F. in World War 2.

    Questions:

    1. RAF & RNZAF dog tags have been seen, two separate disks per person, brown round & green octagonal, bakelite-like material, worn on a rope or cord. Letters & numbers apparently punched in by hand, not via a machine. Was this type of dog tag issued to all Commonwealth aviators, at all time during WW2?

    2. One RAF dog tag has been seen, oval metal with embossed edge, neatly engraved, worn on a metal chain. One plate only. Was this dog tag standard issue or a private venture?

    3. Non-Commonwealth RAF aviators, such as the Poles, had their own designs. Dutch RAF aviators had none, only the RAF Form 1250 identity card that would become unreadable after a few days in water, and that certainly could not withstand fire. Is it known if the RAF had a dog tag issuing policy for the non-Commonwealth aviators?

    4. Is it known why the RAF issued dog tags in this bakelite-like material rather than in durable stainless steel? USAAF dog tags turn up in pristine condition after 60 years in the ground. RAF dog tags could become unreadable after a few years in the ground only.

    5. Can any-one point to specialized literature on the subject? Searching the Web, the presence of US dog tags seems to be a fact of life, whilst data about RAF dog tags can hardly be found.

    Answers to these questions have relevance for the process of MIA case reporting, in preparation of requests to the MoD to study & hopefully recognize identity claims regarding RAF airmen buried as unknowns.

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    From what I know about RAF Identity Disks (the RAF have never used the term dog tag) they had two disks, a brass one designed to survived water and the bakelite tag which I think was intended to survive fire, which it does reasonably well, though I have never seen brass destroyed by aircraft fires. They had the persons initial and service numbers stamped onto them.
    Alan Clark

    Peak District Air Accident Research

    http://www.peakdistrictaircrashes.co.uk/

  3. #3
    LXXIV Guest

    Default 'Dog tags'

    After many, many years serving in the RAF, both aircrew and ground crew, never did I see an issue brass identity disc. Any metal ones were, I imagine, privately done. The standard discs, at least between 1947 and 1989, were the brown and green fibre discs referred to in Rob's post. The folklore had it that one was to resist fire, the other water - can't remember which was which, though. I have the impression that this type was issued as far back as WW1. They were definitely hand stamped with number and letter punches. One of mine has 'Qs' instead of '0s', just to show the human touch.

    Regards to all
    LXXIV

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    Default RAF ID disks

    Thanks, Alan. Next to name & service number, an abbreviation for religion could be present on the ID disk, such as CE (Church of England) or RC (Roman Catholic). In fact the MoD has used that to reject an identity claim, if the casualty was registered with no or another religion.

    I have not yet seen the combination of a bakelite disk with a brass one. I would not be overly optimistic about the chances of survival of bakelite in fire. If not burnt to ashes, then the engraving could be blurred out by the heat. In any case, the material is brittle, leading to fracture or fragmentation under violent forces, such as in an aircraft crash. I find it puzzling that this material was used, rather than stainless steel, that can survive almost anything except the direct application of explosives. But the military must have had reasons, and I'm curious to know which.

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    Hi Rob,

    1. RAF & RNZAF dog tags have been seen, two separate disks per person, brown round & green octagonal, bakelite-like material, worn on a rope or cord. Letters & numbers apparently punched in by hand, not via a machine. Was this type of dog tag issued to all Commonwealth aviators, at all time during WW2?

    YES, IT WAS WORN ALSO BY CZECHOSLOVAK AIRMEN.

    2. One RAF dog tag has been seen, oval metal with embossed edge, neatly engraved, worn on a metal chain. One plate only. Was this dog tag standard issue or a private venture?

    ONLY PRIVATE ONES. ALSO SOME CZECHS HAD THEIR OLD DOG TAG FROM FRANCE WITH ENGRAVED RAF NUMBER.

    3. Non-Commonwealth RAF aviators, such as the Poles, had their own designs. Dutch RAF aviators had none, only the RAF Form 1250 identity card that would become unreadable after a few days in water, and that certainly could not withstand fire. Is it known if the RAF had a dog tag issuing policy for the non-Commonwealth aviators?

    SEE POINT 1 - CZECHOSLOVAK AIRMEN HAS THE SAME AS THE RAF.

    TO LXXIV - I BELIEVE THE GREEN ONE WAS RESISTENT TO SALT WATER AND THE RED (BROWN) ONE WAS RESISTED TO THE FIRE.

    Hope this little info helps

    Pavel

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    The two I was given a fews ago, I don't know which force is came from, is brass.

    It is about 20mm across with a hole in the centre and a second at 12 o'clock, the initials J. FIRTH are on the front and the number 1531 is on the back.

    I did a search for J. Firth on the CWGC register but there wasn't anyone with a service number containing 1531, so I am assuming the owner survived the war and the person who gave it to me was either given it by the original owner or bought it from a third party.
    Alan Clark

    Peak District Air Accident Research

    http://www.peakdistrictaircrashes.co.uk/

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    They could also be made of aluminium, as evidenced by these RAAF ones:

    http://cas.awm.gov.au/

    Items (just enter these into the above search url)

    REL30709
    REL35499
    REL25307

    A

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    Default RAF ID Disks

    Thanks, LXXIV, Pavel and the others; all this helps.

    I wonder whether the twin disk arrangement really had to do with resistance of one against sea water, and the other against fire. Is this fact or fiction?
    These are the considerations:

    1. Bakelite is most likely to be the RAF ID disk material. Other plastics were not yet available at the time. The two disks are likely to have been made of the same material, but perhaps with a different filler material in it, see below.

    2. Although bakelite is heat resistant, it deteriorates above 200 degrees Celcius. Definitely no chance of survival in an aircraft blaze, where temperatures can rise above 1.000 degrees C. Heat resistance of bakelite could be improved with certain filler materials. An increase of say 140 to 200 degrees C would be a major improvement, very suitable for use in some heat-generating electric equipment, but nowhere near the mark needed to survive an aircraft fire.

    3. Bakelite is chemically resistant, also meaning durable in sea water and human sweat.

    4. Bakelite can be shaped into an object without sharp edges more easily than stainless steel. That's desirable when worn on the human skin. This may have been a major consideration for selecting the material.

    5. Bakelite is brittle, but it could be strengthened with a filler material, such as cotton. Thus it would withstand the forces of punching in letters and numbers, when supported by a solid surface. But chances of survival of a bakelite disk under the forces of impact of an aircraft have to be considered as small. Such forces could shatter each and any bone in the human skeleton, including the very small bones. Bone is much less brittle than bakelite.

    6. The idea of having two identical disks is as follows. Forgetting about the sea and about bodies washing ashore, servicemen die in the field. If a body could not be evacuated to a concentration cemetery once found, the Grave Registration Unit would take one of the disks, for grave identification & administration purposes, and leave the other with the body so as to avoid confusion at a later date. This still applies today.

    So I'm still puzzled by the use of this material.

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    Because it was readily available, especially with the shortage of metals. Don't forget that the vast majority of discs were produced for non-flying personnel, and at a time of need for mass production, it would have been a case of one-size-fits-all.

    A

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    Default RAF ID Disks

    Thanks, Amrit. The need to use aluminium and stainless steel for other purposes in Wartime is acknowledged. On the other hand, LXXIV reported that the use of the bakelite-like material was continued by the RAF until at least 1989. By that time, many more plastics had become available, including types with much better heat resistance. But still nowhere near to what is needed to withstand fire.

    The au.gov website shows a lot of Aussie dog tags, in a variety of shapes and materials:
    - Round & octagonal bakelite ones. The material is called "pressed fibre". I assume that to mean bakelite with a fibre filler, such as cotton. This material was available in WW1 too, although only just.
    - Two aluminium disks
    - One aluminium and one leather disk
    - Apparently privately made disks and ID bracelets. Even coins were used.
    - No brass disks seen. Brass would not respond well to human sweat, and the skin not to corroding brass.

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