D-Day Stripes (aka Invasion Stripes, aka Allied Expeditionary Air Forces Special Markings
Officially known as Allied Expeditionary Air Forces Special Markings (or Invasion Stripes), these alternating series of black and white stripes were by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) in early 1944 by means of a top secret Operation Memorandum Number 23, entitled “DISTINCTIVE MARKING – AIRCRAFT” (the complete text of this document can be found below).
This order was issue to all USAAF and RAF aircraft units in anticipation that the German Luftwaffe would respond in great strength during Operation Overlord (D-Day landings). There was a profound fear that allied aircraft would be mistaken for the enemy by the Allied ground troups, Navy and Air Force. Experience during the landings in Sicily learned that this kind of distinctive markings greatly reduced the number of so-called “friendly-fire accidents”.
The order was effective 11am. Sunday, June 4th , 1944, and stated that no aircraft were to fly without the new markings.
The markings consisted of five alternating 18-inch wide stripes (white/black/white/black/white) around the rear fuselage and around each wing. The stripes on the wings were to be 15 inches wide.
On the wing, the outer white stripe was to be 6 inches from the national insignia. On the fuselage, the edge of the rearmost stripe was to be 18 inches from the leading edge of the tailplane, but the stripes should in no case obscure the national marking.
After invasion, the stripes were found to compromise camouflage .On July 6th, 1944 The U.S. 8th Air Force started removing upper stripes followed by many other units though no order from SHAEF has been found.
In December, the remaining portion of the markings on the underside was to be deleted by the last day of the year.
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force issues Top Secret memo whose subject was "Distinctive Marking. Aircraft", dated April 18th, 1944 (the "Invasion Stripes").
On April 13th, 1944, the newly formed Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force issued a draft of a major Operation Memorandum, Number 23, entitled "DISTINCTIVE MARKING - AIRCRAFT". This was approved very quickly and issued on April 18th, 1944.
Only 100 copies of the Top Secret document were made; 55 were issued to the necessary commands, each bearing its own number. The other 45 copies were held as spares. The following information comes from copy number 36, issued to the Chief Administrative Officer.
DISTINCTIVE MARKING – AIRCRAFT
The object of this memorandum is to prescribe the distinctive markings which will be applied to US and BRITISH aircraft in order to make them more easily identified as friendly by ground and naval forces and by other friendly aircraft.
a. The instructions contained herein will apply to the following types of US and BRITISH aircraft: (I) Fighters and fighter bombers. (2) Tactical and photographic reconnaissance aircraft. (3) Aircraft employed in spotting for naval gunfire and field artillery. (4) Light bombers. (5) Medium bombers. (6) Troop carrier aircraft, including four engine types. (7) Glider tugs, including four engine types. (8) Liaison aircraft and Air OP's employed in forward areas for fire spotting and adjustment or for advanced aircraft control. (9) Coastal Command, Air Sea Rescue and disembarked Fleet Air Arm aircraft except seaplanes and four engine aircraft which need not be marked.
a. The instructions contained herein will be effective on the day of the assault and thereafter until it is deemed advisable to change. Aircraft will be given distinctive markings as shortly before the day of the assault as it is possible in order to protect the effectiveness of their use.
4. DISTINCTIVE MARKINGS
a Single engine aircraft. (I) Upper and lower wing surfaces of aircraft listed in paragraph 2 g above, will be painted with five white and black stripes, each eighteen inches wide, parallel to the longitudinal axis of the airplane, arranged in order from center outward; white, black, white, black, white. Stripes will end six inches inboard of the national markings. (2) Fuselages will be painted with five parallel white and black stripes, each eighteen inches wide, completely around the fuselage, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.
Army, Navy and Air Commanders will disseminate complete information concerning these distinctive markings to all troops under their commands no earlier before the day of the assault than will insure the complete distribution of the information.
By command of General Eisenhower:
On August 1st, 1944, ANCXF (Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Forces) responded to the SHAEF proposal with the following signal:
Yours 302025. Proposal to retain fuselage markings only concurred in but consider this should continue to apply to all classes of aircraft as in your memorandum number 23. Markings have proved valuable to Naval Forces where operations are not confined to Assault Area and to remove them from some classes of aircraft will cause doubt.
If it is decided to remove wing markings concede that this should be done in as short a time as possible and all concerned then informed.
Somewhat later, on August 7th, 1944, HQ Twelfth Army Group (signed Bradley), sent SHAEF Forward the following signal:
Reference SHGCT dated 30 July 1944. This Headquarters concurs in the proposed change of distinctive aircraft markings as contained therein.
Change No.4 to the Op. Memo No. 13, dated October 13,1944 ordered the removal of all stripes on Allied aircraft, but on October 25, 1944, a TWX from USSTAF to the various fighter commands stated that:
The present method of applying distinctive markings on your fighters authorized by SHAEF. By this authority you are authorized to disregard instructions contained in change no. 4 to Operations Memorandum No. 13 (29 April 1944) of HQ ETOUSA dated 13 October 1944.
Distinctive Markings on single and twin engined aircraft will be as follows:
(A) The under, repeat, under surface of fuselages of single engined aircraft will be painted with five (5) parallel white and black stripes, each eighteen (18) inches wide, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen (18) inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.
(B) The under, repeat, under surface of twin engined aircraft will be painted with five (5) parallel white and black stripes, each twenty-four (24) inches wide, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen (18) inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.
This meant that the stripes now disappeared from the top of the wings and fuselages of all fighter type aircraft.
Final action on SHAEF Operation Memorandum Number 23 came the next day, December 6th, 1944, when SHAEF released the following document:
This is the First Suspension/Cancellation of a SHAEF OPERATION MEMORANDUM.
SUSPENSION OF OPERATION MEMORANDUM NUMBER 23, 6th December, 1944
1. The provisions of Supreme Headquarters, AEF, Operation Memorandum No.23, Distinctive Markings - Aircraft, are suspended effective December 31st, 1944.
2. Except as noted in sub-paragraph 44. below, distinctive markings will be removed where this can be done without damage to the aircraft and with due regard to the materials and time available for this work.
3. Addressees will ensure complete dissemination of the pertinent provisions of this suspension by the quickest possible means consistent with security.
4. All Commanders will particularly ensure that personnel under their command are instructed that:
5. The removal of these distinctive markings in no way affects the presently prescribed national markings, which will continue to be carried on aircraft.
6.In future, should there be a requirement for distinctive markings, application will be made to this Headquarters.
By Command of General EISENHOWER.