Invasion stripes were alternating black and white bands painted on the fuselages and wings of World War II Allied aircraft, for the purpose of increased recognition by friendly forces (and thus reduced friendly fire incidents) during and after the Normandy Landings. The bands, consisting of three white and two black bands, wrapped around the rear of an aircraft fuselage just in front of the empennage (tail) and from front to back around both the upper and lower surfaces of the wings.
Stripes were applied to fighters, photo-reconnaissance aircraft, troop carriers, twin-engined medium and light bombers, and some special duty aircraft, but were not painted on four-engined heavy bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force or RAF Bomber Command, as there was little chance of mistaken identity—few such bombers existed in the Luftwaffe. The order affected all aircraft of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, the Air Defence of Great Britain, gliders, and support aircraft such as Coastal Command air-sea rescue aircraft whose duties might entail their overflying Allied anti-aircraft defenses. To stop aircraft being compromised when based at forward bases in France, a month after D-Day stripes were ordered removed from the upper surfaces of airplanes, and completely removed by the end of 1944.
The use of recognition stripes was conceived when a study of the effects of thousands of aircraft using IFF on D-Day concluded that they would saturate and break down the existing system. Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commanding the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, approved the scheme on May 17, 1944. A small scale test exercise was flown over the OVERLORD invasion fleet on June 1, to familiarize the ships' crews with the markings, but for security reasons, orders to paint the stripes were not issued to the troop carrier units until June 3 and to the fighter and bomber units until June 4.
The stripes were five alternating black and white stripes. On single-engined aircraft each stripe was to be 18 inches (46 cm) wide, placed 6 inches (15 cm) inboard of the roundels on the wings and 18 inches (46 cm) forward of the leading edge of the tailplane on the fuselage. National markings and serial number were not to be obliterated. On twin-engined aircraft the stripes were 24 inches (61 cm) wide, placed 24 inches (61 cm) outboard of the engine nacelles on the wings, and 18 inches (46 cm) forward of the leading edge of the tailplane around the fuselage.
In most cases the stripes were painted on by the ground crews; with only a few hours notice, few of the stripes were "masked". As a result, depending on the abilities of the "erks" (RAF nickname for ground crew), the stripes were often far from neat and tidy.
The stripes for this two-day deception operation in 1943 were black from the wing tip to a position on the wing where the chord is 5 feet, then four bands of alternating white and black. This was the same for the upper and lower surfaces. These were applied to all aircraft operating at low level. For single engine aircraft the stripes were 18 inches in width. For twin engine aircraft, including the Westland Whirlwind, the stripes were 24 inches in width.
An earlier use of black and white bands was on the Hawker Typhoon and early production Hawker Tempest Mark Vs. The aircraft had a similar profile to the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and the bands were added to aid identification in combat. The order was promulgated on 5 December 1942. At first they were applied by unit ground crews, but they were soon being painted on at the factory. Four 12-inch-wide (300 mm) black stripes separated by three 24-inch (610 mm) white, underwing from the wingroots. From early 1943 the Typhoons also had a yellow, 18-inch-wide (460 mm) stripe on each of the upper wings, centred on the inner cannon. All of these markings were officially abandoned 7 February 1944.
The Luftwaffe's Jagdverband 44
The late-war specialized all-jet Luftwaffe fighter squadron, Jagdverband 44, possessed a number of Fw 190 D piston-engined fighters to protect their units' Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters during the jets' takeoff and landing operations, as the jets were most vulnerable to Allied piston-engined fighter attack at those times. The Fw 190D aircraft of this so-called Platzschutzstaffel (airfield protection squadron) used a solid red color scheme, with narrow white stripes, under the wings and central fuselage to identify them as "friendly" Luftwaffe fighters, for similar reasons as the "invasion stripes" had been used in Operation Overlord ten months earlier over Normandy. The Staffel was nicknamed 'Die Würger-Staffel'.
Invasion stripes were re-introduced on British and Australian Fleet Air Arm aircraft operating during the Korean War in 1950. Similar stripes were also used early in the war on F-86 Sabres of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing.
The stripes were used again by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, and the French Air Force during the Suez operation of 1956. Single-engined aircraft had yellow/black/yellow/black/yellow stripes one foot wide. The pattern was the same on multi-engined aircraft but the bands were two feet wide.
- D-Day was originally scheduled for June 5.
- Robertson, Bruce. 'Aircraft Markings of the World 1912-1967'. Harleyford Publications, Letchworth,. England. 1967.