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"GAF Aircraft Markings" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report on Luftwaffe aircraft markings, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 24, May 6, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Before the present war, most nations had distinctive markings on their aircraft, usually some combination of their respective national colors or flag designs. In addition, there were also letters or numerals, or both, designating the type of airplane and the class or unit to which it belonged. After the opening of hostilities, these same markings were generally continued by the belligerent powers, although there were some modifications, especially where there was any possibility of erroneous identification.

The GAF has adopted what appears to be a fairly comprehensive system of markings. The national markings on all types of planes are either a black and white cross or a swastika, or both. The cross ordinarily appears on both sides of the wings and the fuselage, and the swastika on both sides of the fin or rudder.

Identification marks for all operational airplanes, except single-engine fighters, and for many of the transport units consist of a combination of three letters and an Arabic numeral, appearing on the sides of the wings and fuselage, in conjunction with the German cross. The cross divides the four symbols, a letter and numeral preceding the cross and two letters following. The numeral may be in either first or second place, but it, together with the accompanying letter, represents the plane's Geschwader* or, if there is no Geschwader organization, the Gruppe.* The next letter, which immediately follows the cross, is the individual aircraft letter representing the airplane's place within the Staffel.* This letter may be entirely colored or merely outlined in one of a number of colors, or it may be blacked out or shown alone. It is also found painted on top of the wings, or, together with the last letter, is repeated in miniature on the tail. The third and last letter shows the actual Staffel to which the airplane belongs and likewise the Gruppe, since the Staffeln are numbered in consecutive order throughout the entire Geschwader. The following are the third letter designations:

"A" = the Geschwader Stab**
"BCDEF" = 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th Gruppe Stabe respectively
"HKL" = 1st, 2d, 3d Staffeln, respectively, of the 1st Gruppe
"MNP" = 1st, 2d, 3d Staffeln, respectively, of the 2d Gruppe
"RST" = 1st, 2d, 3d Staffeln, respectively, of the 3d Gruppe
"UVW" = 1st, 2d, 3d Staffeln, respectively, of the 4th Gruppe
"XYZ" = 1st, 2d, 3d Staffeln, respectively, of the 5th Gruppe

*[A Geschwader usually consists of 3 Gruppen, and a Gruppe of 3 Staffeln. Generally there are about 9 to 12 planes in a Staffel.]
**[Staff or headquarters.]

In training and in some transport units, two letters precede the cross instead of a numeral and a letter.

Single-engine fighter units use chevrons to indicate the rank of the pilot, and bars to indicate the Gruppe to which he belongs. The following have been noted on several occasions and appear to be fairly general practice:

[Geschwaderkommodore, Gruppekommandeur, Adjutant, Stabsmaschine, Staffelkapitan, 1st Gruppe, 2d Gruppe, 3d Gruppe]

*[Staff or headquarters airplane.]

The numeral in these Gruppe designations is believed to represent the Geschwader to which the Gruppe belongs. The above markings of the three Staffeln of the Gruppe are colored, respectively, white, red and yellow. A Stabsmaschine is sometimes indicated by a horizontal black line running entirely around the fuselage.

Individual pilots and those belonging to an established unit have followed the practice of having crests. This practice was started by prominent flyers and units of World War I, such as Richthofen, Fonck, and Rickenbacker. Pure heraldry is represented by the arms of the city or cities with which the pilot or units are associated. Other individual devices are geometrical forms, with triangles and diamonds predominating; birds, of which the eagle, owl, and raven are most frequently seen; and animals among which cats, foxes, and horses lead the field. Even "Bonzo" and "Mickey Mouse" have been noted.

Some crests are obviously directed at a particular target. Examples of this type are the cliffs of Dover, an axe cleaving John Bull's top hat, and a dog performing on a puddle-shaped map of England.

Numerous other samples have been observed. One is a shield, with an upper field of three white geese flying against a light blue sky, and a lower field of dark blue sea with white waves. Another portrays a white unicorn rampant, mounted on a green shield, with a red background outlined in white. A third is a shield, quartered red and yellow, bearing a white eagle outlined in black, with a telescope in its claws. A picturesque design is that of a white falcon on a blue background, struck by one red shaft of lightning.


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