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Questions about RAF squadron "gunner stripes" markings


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Hello all,

 

I was wondering if anyone knew of a comprehensive online reference about the squadron colour bars that are sometimes represented on RAF aircraft around the roundel or around the unit heraldic device? I've used the term "gunner stripes" to describe them as some references I've already found call them that.

 

I've always been fascinated by those types of markings and the various ways they've been applied to aircraft. they give the aircraft a clear individuality and yet still some uniformity.

 

I know that fighter units in the interwar period painted those markings very large on their aircraft and that they made a comeback after the war and lasted largely until aircraft were put in generic maintenance pools rather than assigned to squadrons.

 

They seem to be the domain of the fast jet units and though I still see some Typhoons with them, they seem to be gone from Tornados. I'm not holding my breath to see them on the F-35.

 

Anyway, back to the question: is there a definitive and concise online resource for the history and use of such markings?

 

Thanks in advance

 

 

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The nearest equivalent I can think of are the Color and Markings series published in the USA. There were various subjects covered including USN Atlantic Phantom markings, USN Pacific Phantoms, CAG markings for USN/USMC, F-106, F-4C etc etc.

 

You could also access Richard Ward;s Phantom, Lightning and Hunter Squadron books as a starting point, but a definitive book on all the markings - sorry.

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I cannot think of any single source that covers even the RAF squadron bars, never mind the huge range of decorative squadron/unit images used elsewhere.

This applies to both books and, as you requested, on line.

 

The nearest I have found for the RAF is this:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Royal_Air_Force_squadron_roundels

 

To find out about each individual squadron, click on the link below its 'bars'.

Not much on why the colours/pattern were chosen by each unit and what was done to ensure that there was no duplication or 'near misses' when they were first suggested.

I believe that a few were based on some of the symbols/shapes used in the First World War or their earlier RFC/RN badges, but I am happy tone corrected by others.

I presume that some hapless and lowly desk-bound officer had to carefully balance squadron histories, seniority and what they proposed to either approve or reject the designs.

Then some much more senior officer who had past connections with the squadron would change it all...

Allegedly my 'home' squadron (500, Royal Auxiliary Air Force had the green orchards of Kent zig-zagging through the white cliffs of chalk on a background of the waters of the English Channel.

Not too obvious to the uninitiated....

 

Can anyone else contribute any other sources?

John

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There's perhaps no single modern source, but such did exist. There was a book by, I believe, Peter Lewis, which did just that in the mid-50s, and for modellers there was the two Harleyford works Aircraft Camouflage of the world and Aircraft Markings of the world, which contained these.  However no such attempt at an encyclopaedic aproach has been sent for some years, as the sheer size of the task has dawned on people.

 

There has been continued study of the subject, but this has tended to appear in various magazines in an erratic or spasmodic manner and I can't think of a single collation in recent years.

 

I would add that they are not generally known as gunners' stripes.  This is a specific reference to 6 Squadron, because of its role spotting for the guns in the Great War.  They also carry the canopener badge because of their role in the Western Desert with the 40mm Hurricanes, but that is not part of their squadron bars.

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The bar markings are derived from the markings the squadrons used in WW1. In the late 1920s permission was sought by one squadron to use them again. Not to be out done other squadrons started using their old WW1 marking but up-dated and colourful. Some with official permission, some without. Each squadron had to apply for permission to use their new version of the WW1 marking and this process took several years during the 1920s and 1930s

You need to look in close detail at each squadron history to find out just when they received that permission - if they actually got it

Officialdom also dictated if changes had to be made to the form and colours so as not to conflict with another squadron markings, or even to make several similar squadrons have similar markings eg the pre-WW2 VR squadrons flying Harts/Demons all using a series of coloured triangles alternating [red/black, yellow/red etcetera]

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Hi there,

 

These are usually known as "fighter bars", even though some squadrons (such as 617 and 360) never flew fighters. Agree totally with Graham, the only time that I have heard them referred to as a "Gunners stripe" is relating to 6 Squadron, for the reason he states. 

 

Some of the symbolism of them has become lost in time - e.g. 4 Squadron has a yellow lightning bolt across their "fighter bars". "Rumour Control" within the RAF suggested that this was to represent cowardice (a yellow streak) and that the squadron had been forbidden to serve in the U.K. because of this. I cannot think of a greater insult to a squadron. I do not know how true this allegation is, that that is what I was told - and 4 Squadron was based in Europe between 1945 and 1999.

 

Officially though, the yellow lighting bolt represents the use of radio or something like that.

 

 

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4 squadron got the yellow lightning flash as they were the first to use radio in fixed wing to ground communications. 4 squadron was in and out of the UK between 1919 and 1945

According to 6 squadron history they were banished from the UK for 50 years - 1919 to 1969, when they returned and went onto Phantoms, then Jaguars

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8 Squadrons supposedly represent sand, blood and Sky. They were another ‘banished’ squadron.

 

Duncan Curtiss’ RAF Sabres book tells a story of how one unit selected their new markings on a wet afternoon, then made up a story to ‘justify’ that selection, only to be praised for putting in so much effort as most seemed to have made them up on a wet non flying day.

 

Some of the RAUXAF AOP Units also carried a ‘gunner’s stripe’ although darker than 6 Sqn’s

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On the inside covers of Fighting Colours by MJF Bowyer, there is a selection of the bars for various squadrons, but no information as to what they represent. Most were introduced in the pre WW2 era on sliver biplanes.

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There was a glossy card (or two cards) containing all these markings which came with a journal some years ago, too - RAF Historical Society Journal springs to mind, but I'm not sure.

 

The 'banished' squadrons element is one of the great made up bits of the RAF's history.

 

8 Squadron is supposed to have been banished because they offended Trenchard when he was GOC RFC in France, and he then - the story goes - banished them when he had the chance when he returned as CAS in 1919. In fact, Trenchard chose the squadrons which were to be the nucleus of the much, much (much, much...) smaller post-1919 RAF, and had the squadron 'put up a black' with him in this way, he'd simply have left them off the final list. [Edit here, 'cos I realise I've got the tale backside about face...] Which, initially,  he did, replacing them on the final list with 208. Whether this was because there had been some offence caused or because Trenchard wanted to ensure that the most distinguished (in his eyes) RNAS-squadrons had more representation than on the previous list (he deleted 8 and 186 squadrons - suggested by the Air Staff - and replaced them with 208 and 203, also replacing 201 with 210).

 

When money was found to create more squadrons, the Air Staff recommended that these should be 8 and 151 - Trenchard accepted 8 without demur - so I'm guessing that the preservation of some RNAS heritage was the reason for the original decision - but decreed that 45 would be the other squadron. 8 was despatched overseas because that was where most of the squadrons were, and those overseas were on ops, rather than training in the UK against a threat which couldn't be defined - and despite the original deletion from the list, why did Trenchard then send 8 overseas if he had such an aversion to it? The answer, of course, is that he didn't - but he couldn't preserve all the original squadrons [note that in the 1919 list, the chosen numbers were 1 to 6 and the next number in line was 14 (to ensure that service in other theatres of war was recognised).

 

84, if memory serves, is similarly associated with a 'banishment' story, and a 'cowardice' story (for leaving the ground crew behind during the opening phase of the war in Burma) and neither of these is true either.

 

It's in the same vein the rumour that 74 Squadron spent so long off the ORBAT because they'd somehow offended the Air Staff (Jon Lake wondered in passing whether it was because they'd painted the tails of the Lightnings black as soon as they got to Singapore in the 60s). In truth, the Air Staff were falling over themselves to reform the Tiger Squadron throughout the 70s, proposing it as (in order) a Phantom FGR2 squadron in 38 Group [along with 3, 8 and 208 as other options, by the way], a Hunter Squadron [45 and 58 instead because of greater seniority] a Victor squadron [dismissed by a puzzled very senior officer saying he thought it inappropriate]; a Lightning squadron [no money to form it] and then - huzzah! - the F-4J buy materialised and as the senior fighter squadron (39 was allegedly being 'saved' for reappearance on the Canberra, and CAS and most of the Air Force Board fully supported this bending of the rules).

 

On the subject of fighter bars, one squadron was exempted from this - 112. They were told to submit their bars and presented something which Robin Brown recalled as [I paraphrase] looking like a drawing of a pair of dentures. They were allowed to keep the sharkmouth...

 

Further Edit - more discussion and some images https://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=22196.0

 

And on page 52 onward of https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/documents/Research/RAF-Historical-Society-Journals/Journal-36-Misc-Pre-War-Squadron-Markings-Poles-at-Halton.pdf

 

 

Edited by XV107
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Rawling's Fighter Squadrons of the RAF had a pretty good go at it, and the individual Modeldecal sheets are a good if incomplete reference.

 

There is still some disputed ones - 602 for example, used Douglas tartan, but as anyone who knows tartan will understand, there are multiple versions of each and whilst Dugald Cameron used Grey Douglas for his book and illustrations, some interpretations use 'Blue' Douglas. As Dugald worked with ex-air and ground crew, I would tend to support that interpretation.

 

There is scope for a definitive Journal, maybe even a thesis in there!

Edited by Dave Fleming
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17 hours ago, XV107 said:

 

When money was found to create more squadrons, the Air Staff recommended that these should be 8 and 151 - Trenchard accepted 8 without demur - so I'm guessing that the preservation of some RNAS heritage was the reason for the original decision - but decreed that 45 would be the other squadron.

>>

 

And on page 52 onward of https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/documents/Research/RAF-Historical-Society-Journals/Journal-36-Misc-Pre-War-Squadron-Markings-Poles-at-Halton.pdf

 

 

 

Strange co-incidence that Wg Cdr Jefford wrote that article!!

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The book that might help ...is SQUADRON HISTORIES ,RFC,RNAS,RAF  by Peter Lewis ....its an old book I got it from the auction sight for a couple of quid I got a 1959 copy but then I'm a bit geeky about old used books especially if they are ex library books

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During my time on fast jets in the RAF, 1991 to 2006, Tornado F.3 and Typhoon, we always referred to the markings around the roundel as fighter bars. I was on XI for 13 years and as we became more involved in the No Fly Zone over Southern Iraq the markings on the F.3 force took a marked turn for the worst. We started to use decals instead of the full markings so they could be removed easily when the airframe went on ops. Elevens became a yellow disc with the double eagles inside. The fighter bars were moved to the dielectric panel on top of the fin so, as I remember, a quick panel change removed the bars. Never liked them myself.

We always referred to Six Squadron as shitty six. The reason I remember is due to the aircrew leaving the groundcrew in France prior to Dunkirk. I do not know if this was true but it was well known.

12509 Tornado F3  x 7 43-56-5 Sqn RAF Nellis AFB 26.01.2000

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

As an F4 pilot on 29(F) Sqn, it was always said that the XXX was because, in the mists of time, a Boss had instructed a painter to apply XX and one X to the aircraft ( ie XXIX = 29), the, slightly confused painter had applied an X an X and another X.  Of course this was nonsense as, in the years of ‘Silver Wings’, 29(F) had flown: Siskins, Bulldogs and Demons with XXXXXX adorned on the upper surfaces of the top wings and any number of ‘X’s on the fuselages.  However, the X was not carried forward from The Great War as 29 has been allocated a vertical white stripe!  Hope thissuitably muddies the water!

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In message #4,  Graham Boak  stated the two books published by Harleyfords  were written by Bruce Robertson  Not  Peter Lewis the titles were 

Aircraft Camouflage and Markings 1907-1954   ISBN-0-9168-6355-5   This book contains  colour plates of  fighter bars and squadron crests in black and white as well as colour plates of national markings   

Aircraft Markings of the World 1912-1967   no ISBN number    in the book but this book has a US Library of Congress

No 67-27310 both of these book contain a lot of information in black and white and colour. 

 

 

Geoff Arnold

Shropshire UK   

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