Popped you an email with a dropbox file link that may be of interest.
As can be seen from a lot of the threads on this forum, aircraft individual codes seem to be of interest to many on this forum.
However, there doesn't seem to be any systematic way of recording them. Our database for example doesn't have a field for this information.
One thing I will say is that I'm pretty sure there are literally thousands of incorrect records out there. In the 35 years or so since I started, research has come a long way. In the old days, a lot of people will have just hoovered any information that they came across from books/magazine articles etc. Any typos, errors etc contained therein would simply have been perpetuated. I started to find this out when I started keeping slightly more detailed records, eg if aircraft Z9999 was known to be code Z in Feb41, Apr41, Jun41. it is unlikely that it would have been code X in Mar41 and May41 (but not impossible, before anyone chimes in).
In my own records, I keep a specific note of aircraft codes that have been photographically proven. Is this sort of information of interest to anyone else? If it is, then it would not be difficult to share it via this forum, but what would be the best way?
The study of codes is a huge subject of course, and one that will never be completed to any extent. However, it seems a pity not to try to capture any new information that comes to light.
One quick win is to add the code to the notes field in our database, here is AK595 for example:
But there is no way of cross-checking this with other aircraft.
Popped you an email with a dropbox file link that may be of interest.
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I agree with you. I have developed an excel spreadsheet for code letters of all the aircraft operated by 78 Squadron during the war, with the ability to add where the code letter information comes from, be it a crew members log book, a photo, official records e.g. K Reports, Damage Returns etc. in thirty years of research I too have come across anomalies even within log books filled in by the crew themselves when compared to unit maintenance registers completed by the Squadron Engineering Officer, one of them is clearly wrong but which one. Aircraft serial numbers seem to be the preferred method of referring to the aircraft even in official documents, perhaps because of the recoding of aircraft after repairs or overhauls or the move to another unit.
I was also surprised at the number of aircraft which either changed code mid way through its life on the Squadron and the number which appear to have operated without a letter or later in the war with double letters, AA, BB, etc.
Good idea, Andy. Will include in my Fortress project.
Well, this would be quite a complex project.
I understand that such code-serial tie ups are pretty well covered for the Polish Air Force. Here, it was much easier to pick up errors, cross check information, etc. due to extensive photo coverage as well as existence of such records like Authorisation Books for a fair bit of squadrons. The challenge is with training aircraft, which essentially avoided attention of researchers. An exception to the rule is No 307 Sqn, where all records mention serials only, and photos of eg. Defiants are rare to say the least. Thus I think only three aircraft are fully identified, despite records providing a complete list of aircraft including engine serial numbers. Note - two aircraft are not recorded on F.78s.
Typical errors are typo ones or use of already struck serial number for an extended period, ie. the aircraft is not on charge, but the serial is still used for its replacement for several weeks. Apart of that, records are sometimes hard to read and could be interpreted in various ways.Sometimes it is a matter of assessing a record more reliable than the other - eg. ORB of No 43 Sqn provides a different aircraft identity of Spitfire of S/L Horbaczewski than a surviving Sortie Report. Which one is right? I guess the latter, but can I prove it? So sorting it out requires compilation of movement cards, accident cards, ORBs, Authorisation books, log books, photos, etc.
By all means such a project for the RAF or the Commonwealth would be both complex and huge, though interesting. Thus it requires a thorough thinking through on how to create such a database. The thing I find essential is an immediate access to references, scanned documents, log books, photos. It is fairly easy with the stuff held in the archives, but quite a lot is in private hands. Copyright issues might be solved by a limited access via personal account, as long as those are in force, but the necessary disk space would be tremendous.
The other major problem is to have all the data converted into a database. Transcribing log books or ORBs into spreadsheets might be a bit boring and time consuming, especially in case of multicrew aircraft. Then there is a risk of errors in transcribing illegible documents.
Some of the job has been done by some researchers, but obviously not everyone is willing to make it available for all and for free, especially if it is a part of running project. The other problem is converting those data to uniform format.
Essentially I see such a database as a set of databases of movement cards, accident cards, orbs, log books, photo index, that could be linked together. It might turn inevitable to make a database of the RAF personnel as well. Complicated enough?
Thus I would suggest to try a small project with a fair amount of information available freely on the web, that may serve as a test bed. The topic - whatever you like, could be operational Gladiators, Blenheims, Lysanders, Tomahawks or Airacobras. I think that they are not attractive and nobody is really researching them to any extent.
How do you think?
Thanks for all the useful comments.
I’m well aware that this would be an enormous undertaking, but at least making some sort of start might assist future researchers.
Jagan and I have had a small discussion off-line. One “quick-win” could be to add an aircraft code box to the incident records in our serial database, which would at least enable lost or damaged aircraft to have their codes available.
Some points (totally random rambling):
a) Recording of sources. This is essential.
There are loads of threads on this forum with people looking for codes for particular aircraft types/squadrons/etc etc. People have often added their own thoughts, but without any sources it is difficult to know what is correct and what is not. This is in no way denigrating those who have contributed by the way.
Let’s take Whirlwind P6974 as an example. It usually considered as having worn codes HE-Z (1941) and HE-X (1943) during two spells with 263 Sqn. That may well be correct, but the only thing I can say is that it was definitely coded HE-M at some point:
By the way, the caption is in itself a problem as P6974 was in two different MUs from Mar42-Feb43….
b) Deciding how to structure any database. In my dreams you would just input a code, eg HE-M, and it would spit out all known info. That might be step too far for now. It would be difficult to structure it for single letter codes I think.
c) Maybe it might be better just to record only photographically-proven codes? As Franek has pointed out, using documentary sources (ORBs, sortie reports etc) can be fraught with problems. Photos, on the other hand, are clear cut.
d) Perhaps the Westland Whirlwind might make a good starter – only 114 built of course.
As individual crews and aircraft are not part of my research, I can only male a comment based on incidental finds.
1) Many aircraft were borrowed from other squadrons on the base to make up the numbers for a mission. This may have caused serial/code anomalies as they would have been listed under the squadron borrowing them for that mission.
2) Many aircraft were sent to other squadrons or training units when they upgraded to a later mark or re-equipped with a new type. Those transferred would have retained the original markings for some time until repainted. This is also the source of some incorrect captions.
3) Something I thought I had read but cannot confirm, is that a particular code letter was reused when the original was lost. Perhaps there was an attachment to that code letter? Or I had not remembered correctly.
I used to have a copy of the squadron codes from the old Airfix Magazine, expertly cut out and stuck on paper and put in a folder. Just when I finished it was all published in a book! I used it to identify airfields by code/date but the points above caused may problems along with another issue of visiting aircraft either planned or emergency.
Those focussing on a particular squadron or type will have a much easier time than anybody trying to record all aircraft codes individually.
Anyone remember the photo of Battle of Britain pilots longing near their Hurricanes at Biggin Hill, except it was actually their forward base at Hawkinge! I think my long lost 1960s copy of Narrow Margin showed it as Biggin Hill (my local airfield).
Well, there could have been several reasons behind code change, sometimes CO liked to have a new aircraft, so he passed the old one. That was the case of Zumbach's Spit BM144 RF-D, which was retained in the squadron but recoded RF-H. Sometimes the letter was considered unlucky. Sometimes aircraft was send for repairs, and its letter allocated. There were borrowed aircraft, of course. Now the art is to build a database which would be able to pick up such inconsistencies.
I think Tornado could be even more interesting due to much smaller number of pieces built, but may not serve the purpose. But of course could be Whirlwind. Then there should be a multicrew type, again for testing databases. Manchester? Whatever, there could be a poll.
Once the standard of data exchange is set up, any type could be put into database.