An assembly ship (also known as a formation ship or Judas goat) were B-17's and B-24's (usually older models) that were stripped down of their armaments and given extra flares, navigational equipment, and unique distinctive paint scheme in order to organize combat box formations more quickly.
Due to the threat of fighters to US Army Air Force bombers during daylight raids, tight bomber formations began to be employed in order to maximize defensive firepower and to concentrate bombs on the designated target. However, these formations required time to assemble and in 1943 the idea of using older model bombers to guide the others was devised. The US Army Air Force hoped to ideally assemble bomber formations within an hour. However this often required two to three hours as planes from multiple airfields required coordination, all under radio silence so as to not tip off the Germans to the impending raid. The assembly ships had their armaments removed and carried a skeleton crew of two pilots, navigator, radio operator and one or two flare operators. They were given additional flares, flare ammunition (of a particular color), navigational equipment (including navigational lights) and unique paint schemes. Each paint scheme was unique and different flare colors carried by each assembly ship in order to more quickly organize the pilots of a particular bomber formation. Once the bomber formations formed up the assembly ships would link up with other groups before returning to base. However, there is an instance where a B-24 nicknamed "Spotted Ass Ape" continued with its bomber formation all the way to its target in Germany. The use of combat boxes and thus assembly ships continued throughout the war even after long-range fighter escorts like the P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning were developed.
- "⚜ | Why Use Colourful Camouflage in World War 2? - Assembly Ships". Youtube. Military Aviation History.
- "Polka Dot Warriors > Vintage Wings of Canada". www.vintagewings.ca. Vintage Wings.
- "The History of Lead Assembly Ships of the Eighth Air Force | Classic Warbirds". www.classicwarbirds.co.uk.