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Invasion Stripes

Invasion stripes were black and white markings painted onto the wings and fuselages of Allied aircraft for D-Day. The stripes were meant to make recognition by friendly forces easier during and after the invasion, and reduce losses from friendly fire. All aircraft except for readily identifiable heavy bombers and seaplanes were required to have invasion stripes.

P-38 Lightning near the time of D-Day, as indicated by the invasion stripes
P-38 Lightning near the time of D-Day, as indicated by the invasion stripes.

Today in WW II: 24 Sep 1944 US releases Morgenthau Plan, a plan for occupation of post-war Germany and conversion of that country to an agrarian economy, with no industry that could be used to wage war.   

Aircraft Invasion Stripes for D-Day in Normandy 6 June 1944

Formation of B-26G Marauders with D-Day invasion stripes
Formation of B-26G Marauders with D-Day invasion stripes.

The invasion of France on D-Day, 6 June 1944, was one of the largest air operations in history. According to the D-Day Museum, Portsmouth UK, 11,590 aircraft were available to support the landings. On D-Day, Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties, and 127 were lost.

The use of invasion stripes was deemed essential after a study of the effects of thousands of aircraft using IFF concluded that communications systems could not handle the traffic load. Further, during Operation Torch, the British-American invasion of North Africa in November 1942, aircraft such as the SBD Dauntless bore yellow surround markings on their national insignia. So a simple method for quick visual identification was already proven. Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, in charge of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, approved the plan for D-Day invasion stripes on 17 May 1944.

Because of security concerns, orders to start painting the stripes went out on the evening of 3 June 1944 ahead of the planned invasion date of 5 June. But bad weather delayed the invasion by one day, giving ground crews extra time to accomplish the Herculean task of preparing fighters, light bombers, and other aircraft with the stripes.

P-51 Mustangs, with invasion stripes, on an airfield at the time of D-Day
P-51 Mustangs, with invasion stripes, on an airfield at the time of D-Day.

According to the official specification for invasion stripes, three white and two black stripes in an alternating pattern were to be painted on the main wings and fuselage. The stripes were to be 18 inches wide on single-seat aircraft, including fighters such as the P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, and P-51 Mustang, and gliders; 24 inches wide on multi-seat aircraft including light bombers such as the B-26 Marauder; 8 inches wide on reconnaissance aircraft. National markings and other insignia were to be kept visible.

The last-minute orders to add the stripes made completion difficult, with some ground crews awake all night to finish painting before D-Day operations began. The limited time also meant some invasion stripes had irregular lines, and those on landing gear covers often did not match those on wings. Limited supplies of black paint led to some creative mixing of other dark colors in a last-ditch effort to have aircraft ready.

Invasion Stripes After D-Day

Following D-Day, invasion stripes made Allied aircraft easy targets for the enemy. In late June 1944, some crews started removing the stripes on the upper surfaces of their aircraft. Stripes on wings were, per orders, to be removed between 25 August and 10 September 1944. On 6 December an order was issued to remove all invasion stripes by the end of the year.

The method of removing invasion stripes depended on the aircraft. On unpainted aircraft, the stripes were stripped off or covered with aluminum paint. Painted aircraft had the stripes covered with olive drab paint or other suitable colors. Aircraft with camouflage paint schemes often had visible contrasts between their old, faded markings and the newly applied paint that covered the invasion stripes. However, some aircraft did retain their invasion stripes because of their value for identifying friendlies.

Recommended Books about D-Day Invasion Stripes

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