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Thread: Methods of the erks - painting squadron code letters

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    Default Methods of the erks - painting squadron code letters

    I am trying to find out precisely how squadron letter codes were painted on by the ground crews for an illustration I am working on. Can anyone tell me if they were brushed on or spray painted and did they use a template or mask to get the letter style consistent or was it done freehand?

    I am also wondering if the letters were white or red and, if both, how the choice was determined. I assume it was some sort of policy handed down at a point in time but can anyone tell me more about it or suggest a good source for this info?

    As an aside, the aircraft in question is actually two Halifaxes from 76 Sqn both marked MP-W. The first aircraft was lost on a raid on June 3 (this is namrondooh's fathers' plane) and its replacement was painted up with the same code in time to be lost as well two days later over Normandy (with F/SGt. Morris Murray on board, my subject).

    Thanks.
    David

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    I can recall seeing several photos of squadron codes and letters being applied with a brush, freehand. Way back before computerized vinyl signs, sign painting like this was a widely practiced trade. At least one photo suggested some pencilled guidelines were applied first.

    Letter fonts, sizes, and colours, were officially prescribed, as part of the overall colour scheme. I'll let those more knowledgable comment on red versus white.

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    The actual AMO documents are on my website beginning at http://www.rafweb.org/sqn_codes.htm

    Code letters were stipulated as being grey initially and later changed to dull red for night bombers

    Malcolm

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    Don't forget that most Squadrons had about 20 to 22 aircraft and more flown in practically each day to replace losses, so there would generally have been some with the 2 letter Squadron codes that would simply need the allocated letter added, so a replacement could be available without undue delay. I think I saw on another forum that they have finally recovered wreckage in the Peak district of a Lancaster and it is still clear to see the paintwork of the codes. It even looks as if the individual code letter had been changed, and that was a Lanc with only 50 or 60 hours on it (mind you, that was probably longer than anticipated, average airframe hours at one time was about 40 before being lost!!! that's about 5 or 6 raids, and 30 was a tour!!).

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    There are a number of books that would give you this information: it may be spread around a number of titles but if you could get the old PSL books Fighting Colours and Bombing Colours I think they would give you what you want.

    Your question implies bombers: fighters being Grey early, and Sky later, but not Red. Bombers began with Grey. I forget the exact stores reference but it is generally assumed to be Medium Sea Grey: I think you can forget any ongoing discussion about whether they were really a rather darker shade. Later on they were Red, but not normally white.

    Perhaps if you could be more precise about what aircraft you are interested in, in what period and theatre, then we could be more directly helpful.

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    Thanks all for the helpful suggestions and references.

    Graham, thanks and you are quite correct, I should have specified those details. The aircraft were both Halifax MkIIIs from 76 Squadron lost in June 1944 over France.

    LW638 was one of 46 Halifax Mk.111s delivered by English Electric Co. between 15 Feb 1944 and 26 Feb 1944.

    MZ604 came from a later batch built between 1 Apr 1944 and 25 Apr 1944.
    David

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    I'm pretty sure that by mid 1944 all Bomber Command code letters would have been red. From "Aircraft Camouflage and Markings 1907-1954" by Robertson, red codes were introduced in Bomber Command at the same time the fuselage roundels had the white band thinned down (Type C replacing Type A roundels). From the same source, this happened sometime in 1942.

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    Thanks Bill, I figured they would have been red by that point and that's an interesting note about the roundels. Did someone figure out that too much white was a no-no on a bomber camouflaged to fly at night?

    I will consult the references cited for the full story but until then it would be nice to hear an answer to that one.

    The comment about pre-painting the squadron code and then adding the single letter later is good and probably explains why some of the letters were spaced oddly the examples I have seen.
    David

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    Dave,

    In a nutshell: Bomber Command started the war thinking they would conduct a mix of daylight and night raids, and had both night and day finishes specified. Heavy daylight losses shifted this to more and more, and eventually almost only, night raids. Camouflage and other markings gradually got darker, for example the division between upper colours and the black bottoms got higher in several stages, codes and serials became darker and smaller. Also, the A Type roundels (full white band) on the fuselage were replaced with C type (narrow white band). Underwing roundels were removed completely on some aircraft types. The day bombers that remained wound up with the Tactical Air Forces, with their own history of markings.

    It is all in Robertson's book, pages 105 to 108.

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    In most cases codes were chalked on aircraft, and then an erk painted them with brush. Some squadrons had templates, and it must be noted that style of codes, while described in regulations and orders, was individual to the unit. All squadron aircraft had codes applied, and there was nothing like reserve aircraft, as they all rotated, in order to keep operational strength. Of course the one can find exceptions, but usually those were replacement aircraft with codes not yet applied. In the same way, it was most unusual, the individual code letter changed, while on Squadron strength. The one can find exceptions, but in most cases it was due to the aircraft being send for overhaul, and the replacement getting its codes.

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