Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Blogging Delaware History



DHCA Buena Vista


Twitter  Flickr  YouTube

exhibits

World War II Mission Symbols

Written on: September 3rd, 2015 in Exhibits News Volunteerism

By Carolyn Apple, retired Dover-area emergency medicine physician and Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs volunteer.

What are mission symbols? Learning about mission symbols painted on aircraft during World War II has proved to be somewhat difficult but interesting research. Mission symbols, also known as mission marks, kill markings and victory decals, are the small symbols painted on the sides of planes, usually near the cockpit or nose, which are used to show the successes of the crews that had flown that particular aircraft. During World War II, these marks or symbols appear not to have been official military markings but rather were given meaning through their repetitive use by the airmen. The markings may be varied in appearance and more than one marking may have similar meanings. Mission symbols were used by all of the Allied and Axis countries participating in the war.

Mission symbols on a B-26 bomber. Capt. James "Jim" C. Brown, pilot from the 557th Bomb Squadron of the 387th Bomb Group standing in front of "Ole Smokey."

Mission symbols on a B-26 bomber. Capt. James “Jim” C. Brown, pilot from the 557th Bomb Squadron of the 387th Bomb Group standing in front of “Ole Smokey.”

The following chart includes examples of the types of symbols seen on the U.S. Army Air Force planes. Though initially seen on bombers, mission symbols later were also used on fighter aircraft.

Mission symbols

Mission symbols on a P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft. Capt. Merle B. Nichols of the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, sitting atop "Wilda."

Mission symbols on a P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft. Capt. Merle B. Nichols of the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, sitting atop “Wilda.”

Here are just a few additional interesting facts concerning World War II mission symbols:

  1. When the camel in symbol #25 is facing in reverse, it indicates that the aircraft had to turn around due to engine trouble
  2. Symbols of ships were used to indicate enemy ships destroyed. The markings varied according to the type of ship destroyed
  3. Mission symbols were also used on other military equipment, such as tanks and submarines, to denote the accomplishments of these groups
  4. On Royal Air Force (RAF) planes, one might see a mission symbol of an ice cream cone. What does that mean? An ice cream cone was used by the British to denote Italy. The British associated Italians with those running ice cream (gelato) shops in Britain prior to the war. Another explanation for the symbol of the ice cream cone is that a mission to Milan or Turin was considered to be a “milk run” by the RAF crews. The term “milk run” was generally used to indicate an easy mission
Mission symbols seen on an aircraft dubbed "You've Had It."

Mission symbols seen on an aircraft dubbed “You’ve Had It.”

In my next blog, I will change gears and discuss selected activities of the American Red Cross during World War II.

The images in this blog were selected from the William D. Willis World War II Photographic Collection, one of the permanent collections preserved by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. Mr. Willis of Dover, Del. served as a photographic technician with the Army Air Force during the Second World War. A display of items from the collection, “World War II Through the Lens of William D. Willis,” was on view at Legislative Hall in Dover from March 4, 2015 to Feb. 21, 2016. 

Go to the following for Carolyn Apple’s earlier blogs exploring the subjects of images from the state’s William D. Willis World War II Photographic Collection:

On a Wing and a Prayer: The Use of Military Glider Aircraft in World War II—June 3, 2015

On a Wing and a Prayer: A Closer Look at Military Glider Aircraft Used in World War II—July 21, 2015

America’s Heavy Hitter—The B-17 Flying Fortress—Aug. 11, 2015

 


Tags: , , , , , ,

DHCA Blog Logo

+