(10) P-38 Lightning at War


At the time when Lockheed P-38 was introduced to the service, the specification 24114 was in force and determined the aircraft to carry American insignia only on the left wing, looking in the flight direction, and on both sides of the fuselage. The old system of painting the insignia in six positions, together with 13 horizontal red and white stripes on the rudder, completed with the letters “US” and “ARMY” painted on the port and starboard wing undersides respectively (this system was still present on the pre-production YP-38), was discontinued. The insignia was painted in the distance of one and a half of its diameter from the tip of the wing so that it would not reach the aileron. On the fuselage, or the twin-booms to be more precise, (due to the unique construction Lockheed did not comply with the standard specifications which stated that the star should be placed in the middle of the distance between the horizontal stabilizer and the trailing edge of the wing, and placed the star in the middle of the distance between the cooler covers and the trailing edge of the wing) a white five-pointed star (Insignia White no. 46) inscribed in a navy blue (Insignia Blue no. 47) circle with an additional red (Insignia Red no. 45) circle inscribed in the star. After the first months of the war in the Pacific theatre, considering pilots requests, the red circle inscribed in the star was resigned from since in the heat of a battle the red sign was often mistaken for the Japanese Hinomaru. Another modification of the insignia was introduced in Africa during the operation “Torch” that was the debut of the Americans in that theatre of war. To make the insignia look similar to the RAF insignia and to make it easily recognizable a yellow, two inch wide outline was added to the circle with the star. The ongoing confusion in the system of painting the insignia caused by its frequent changes and by the lack of basic unity in the three national colors used in the insignia caused the enforcement of the document AN-1-9a from March 1943. The document cancelled all of the previous orders concerning the insignia and introduced a new design of the insignia in which a white, horizontal bar was added to the white star inscribed in the navy blue circle. The stripe was to have the width of a half of the navy blue circle’s diameter and the length one diameter of the circle. The whole insignia was to be outlined with a red line 1/8 diameter wide. Also the location of painting the insignia was slightly changed and unified. However, some protest were again raised by the pilots fighting in the Pacific region who kept pointing at the same problem as in case of the red circles. This led to a new directive AN-1-9b, from the 14th of August, in which the red rim was replaced by a navy blue rim of the same size. Another marking painted on American aircraft was their Radio Call Number, which was placed on the vertical stabilizer and in fact was the machine’s serial number without the first two digits and the dash after the year of production. It was painted in yellow (Insignia Yellow no. 48) and since 1942, Orange Yellow no. 5, black, red or blue. In March, 1944 it was decided that on the light surface it was to be painted in black (Jet no. 604), while on dark surface in International Orange no. 508. A very important element of aircraft’s painting was also the aircraft’s data plate, placed on the left side of the cockpit nacelle, below and forward from the cockpit. It included such information as a number of the model, aircraft’s serial number and the crew’s weight. In the case of Lightnings it also included the name of the pilot and the names of the servicing crew, most often with white letters on a black rectangle. It was also ordered to repaint all of the factory stencils after the aircraft was repaired, however under field conditions it was not always done. Also important were the identification markings and the unit markings of the aircraft. In Europe the unit markings were adjusted to the RAF standards by introducing a three character code where the first two characters stood for the squadron while the third one identified a particular aircraft. Additionally the Lightnings relegated to escort duties were also marked with a system of geometrical figures that were placed on the outer surface of the rudder together with letters that were placed on its inner surface. In the Pacific theatre, tactical number placed on the rudder and nose sufficed throughout the war. Moreover the system of identification was widely based on the colors used on the characteristic elements of the aircraft like: spinners, tips of the rudder, nose caps or coolers which were common for all aircraft of a group and squadron. The extremely rich material concerning the discussed issues exceeds the boundaries of this publication. This also applies to the individual aircraft marking in the form of nose-arts, which were often placed on the sides of the cockpit nacelle, ahead of the cockpit or on the engine cowlings, as well as the scoreboards of victories and combat missions of individual machines. However, some of them are shown in the published color profiles

P-38F-15 (s/n 42-7781) coded UN-G and named Bat Out of Hell, flown by Lt. James J. Hagenback of 94th FS/1st FG (15th AF); Italy, late 1943. The aircraft in standard OD camouflage. Promoted to the rank of Captain, Hagenback served as the CO of 94th FS from September 1943 to January 1944.