D-Day, 6th June 1944. Europe woke to a new reality; the Allies had launched the largest invasion onto a hostile shore that the world had ever seen. Nearly 5,000 vessels, and in excess of 160,000 troops crossed the Channel, and hit the Normandy beaches. They were preceded, in many cases by intrepid airborne troops, who either landed by glider, or stepped out into the night, from C-47 or Stirling aircraft.
There are many reasons for the eventual success of the invasion, but one significant component was the application of overwhelming air power. The Luftwaffe in France was reduced to a shadow of its former self, with the demands of Reich Defence and the Eastern Front soaking away the fighter wings of Fw190 and Me109s. On the 3rd June orders were issued to transport, tactical bomber, fighter and support aircraft units which would be overhead the invasion area to apply a series of alternating black and white stripes on upper and lower wing surfaces and around the fuselage. Unfortunately, because of the late notification, many of the units could only paint these bands roughly (unlike the neat stripes you see on this P-51D); they should be 18 inches wide for fighters, 24 inches for bombers). The idea was to prevent ‘friendly fire’ accidents. Although it is said that these stripes did not appear on other than single and twin-engined aircraft, this is incorrect. Both Short Stirling and Handley Page Halifax aircraft, when used as glider tugs, and making supply drops, were seen carrying invasion stripes.
Earlier use of special identification markings had been made, prior to D-Day, in the case of Mustangs of the Royal Air Force, as well as Typhoons. The early Allison-engined Mustangs of the RAF, with their square cut tails and wing tips, resembled the Me109, so a single white stripe, at mid-chord, was painted on each wing. The ‘Tiffies’ had a special problem, as they were being confused with the low-level Fw190 'tip and run' raiders they were supposed to be intercepting; this gave rise to a series of experimental markings, including, at one stage, their whole nose section being painted white! The D-Day markings were, however, the largest recognition scheme to date.
It was acknowledged that the standard of aircraft recognition amongst the gunners on the invasion fleet, and with the land armies, left a lot to be desired, hence the need for ‘invasion stripes’; but even although the Allies used the unique twin-tailed P-38 Lightning, with its distinctive shape, for close escort of the fleet, they were STILL shot at! As the year wore on, some of the aircraft types which had been wearing 'full' stripes, altered them so that they appeared ONLY on the bottom of the wings and fuselage, and sometimes on the lower rear fuselage, only. The need for recognition by Allied anti-aircraft gunners was still there, but Allied air supremacy meant that almost every other aircraft seen in the air would be 'friendly'.
This was not the last use of ‘invasion stripes’; they re-appeared during the Suez Campaign (yellow/black) and in the Korean War (black/white). This beautiful P-51D is out of the North Weald ‘Hangar 11′ collection, and was flown into the Great Vintage Flying Weekend by the owner Peter Teichman.
Oh, and one last thing, it is said that the painting of ALL the aircraft involved took EVERY gallon of white paint available in Great Britain! (Less black paint was needed, of course).