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Camouflage and markings of North American P-51 Mustang

Part 1

n by Rick Kent

P-51 in the U.S. Service

The Mustang did not gain it's immortal fame until this American airframe was married with the British Merlin engine. Providing long-range escort to B-17s and B-24s, the Mustang carried the air war to the heart of Germany. By war's end, P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter in the European theatre.

An amazing array of firsts was piled up by the Mustang. It was the first single-engined fighter based in Britain to penetrate Germany, first to reach Berlin, first to go with the heavy bombers over the Ploesti oil fields and first to make a major-scale, all-fighter sweep specifically to hunt down the German Luftwaffe.

One of the highest honors accorded to the Mustang was its rating in 1944 by the Truman Senate War Investigating Committee as "the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence."

The P-51D is also the most numerous warbird fighter aircraft still flying, with more than 100 airworthy examples around the world.

This profile collection is devoted to the P-51s in the U.S. wartime service. I will present the selected USAAF Mustangs in order of the Air Force numbers they served with. Let's begin with the 5th Air Force.

5th Air Force

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North American P-51D Mustang
39th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group
5th U.S. Army Air Force
Clark Field, Philippines, 1945

The 35th Fighter Group was re-equipped with P-51D's in March 1945, having previously flown P-47's. They were in natural metal finish with the black theatre bands on fuselage and wings and also the pre-war style rudder striping used on a number of 5th AF Fighter Groups. The rest of the markings all refer to the 39th Fighter Squadron, namely the blue nose and stripes above and below the fin number and also the number 34 itself (the 39th used the range from 10 to 39, with any additional aircraft having 100 added to them, so the 31st aircraft would be 110 and so on). The other two squadrons in the Group were the 40th (red colours and numbers 40 to 69); and the 41st (yellow with 70 to 99).

As a note for modellers of any World War II USAAF operational aeroplanes and their colour schemes I would highly recommend the series of books on the different Air Forces written by Kenn C. Rust, and published by Historical Aviation Album at various dates in the 1970's. Most of the information above, for example, was researched from his Fifth Air Force Story.

8th Air Force

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North American P-51B Mustang
486th Fighter Squadron, 352th Fighter Group
8th U.S. Army Air Force
Bodney, Norfolk, June 1944

Here is the first of three 8th AF Mustangs, in this case a B model of the 352nd Fighter Group. Colouring is the standard Olive Drab upper with Neutral Gray under camouflage. The aircraft carries full set of D-Day stripes (above wing as well) necessitating repositioning of the aircraft letter on the nose, and the blue nose markings of the 352nd.

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North American P-51D Mustang
363rd Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group
8th U.S. Army Air Force
Leiston, Suffolk, July 1944

Here's the second 8th AF Mustang - a P-51D of early type without fin fillet of the 363rd FS 357th FG. The pilot of HORSES ITCH was Major Edwin W. Hiro who was killed in action in this aircraft on either September 18th or 19th 1944.

The time is not long after D-Day so the stripes are still on the under surfaces. The 357th had not yet applied its coloured markings at this stage, so the standard earlier white nose and bands on the tailplane were still in use. These aircraft were camouflaged around the time of D-Day, having been natural metal.

There are a number of accounts which state that 8th and 9th AF aircraft so painted were done with paints obtained from the RAF locally rather than with the US shades of Olive Drab and Neutral Gray; hence I have shown this aircraft in RAF Dark Green uppers and Medium Sea Grey lower surfaces. In photos the undersides on the 363rd look too light to be Neutral Grey which was a much darker shade somewhat similar to RAF Dark Sea Grey. However, in the last analysis, the modellers must make up their own mind about the precise colours used. Note that this aircraft has three small victory markings just forward of the windshield. Also note that there are different styles of lettering: the 'B' and 'D' are squared off, whilst the '6' is rounded.

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North American P-51D Mustang
375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group
8th U.S. Army Air Force
Bottisham, Cambridgeshire, August 1944

This P-51D, serial no. 413926 was normally flown by Lt. Abe P Rosenberger; however it was lost (KITA) while being flown by Lt. Donald D Dellinger on 9 August 1944, only three days after the Invasion. I can only guess that KITA means Killed in Take-off Accident.

The paint scheme might be a little controversial with regard to the upper surface camouflage colour. As you can see I have done my profile with Dark Green (RAF paint), though like the last one it might be US Olive Drab. I have a colour photo of it in a couple of publications and it certainly looks too green to be Olive Drab. The camouflage covers the whole of the tops of the wings and tailplane, the rest of the aircraft being in natural metal.

The controversy is that some publications have stated that these P-51's of the 361st Fighter Group were painted blue on the upper surfaces, but having seen the photos I am convinced that the others are right in stating Dark Green or possibly Olive Drab. It may be that some of their aircraft were painted with Insignia Blue but not all of them - Roger Freeman states in The Mighty Eighth that the US fighter units in the UK were really left to their own devices as to how to camouflage the tops of their aircraft after D-Day and that some did use Insignia Blue, but most obtained Dark Green from British sources).

The D-Day stripes on the undersides are obvious as is the yellow nose Group marking (the squadron coloured rudders were not introduced until later in 1944, by which time camouflage had practically disappeared from 8th AF fighters with the exception of the P-47's of the 56th Fighter Group).

9th Air Force

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North American P-51D Mustang
380th Fighter Squadron, 363rd Fighter Group
9th U.S. Army Air Force
Maupertuis, Normandy, August 1944

Here is a 9th AF Mustang. What makes this one interesting for modellers is that the markings are the ones that Airfix provided for their very first Mustang kit when it came out about 40 or so years ago. I remember eagerly buying it then well, dare I say! The kit instructions did not make any mention of the blue nose or D-Day stripes unfortunately, nor did they say that it was a 9th AF machine, which was very confusing at that time as the only USAAF codes that had been published at all were those of the 8th and so did not include 'A9'.

There is not a tremendous amount to say about the colouring of this early type P-51D as it's mostly obvious. The D-Day stripes have been overpainted on the top surfaces with either Dark Green (British) or Olive Drab (US) paint. The anti-glare panel ahead of the cockpit is the original Olive Drab. The blue nose is the 380th Fighter Squadron colour - the 9th had the squadron colours on the nose rather than the group as in the 8th.

There are also standard P-51 black recognition bands around the tailplane - but not the fin. Otherwise the airframe is natural metal overall. A photo of this aircraft appears on page 100 of Kenn C. Rust's book The 9th Air Force in World War II, published in 1970 by Aero Publishers, California, ISBN-0-8168-7025-X.

10th Air Force

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North American P-51A Mustang
1st Air Commando Group
10th U.S. Army Air Force
Burma, January 1944

Now we come to the 10th Air Force based in India and Burma, and the famous 1st Air Commando Group as shown here on one of it's earlier Allison-engined P-51A's. Overall colour scheme is the standard US Army Olive Drab and Neutral Gray. This is decorated with the white diagonal stripes and other white markings on the nose, fin and rudder, plus the wing and tailplane (but not elevator!) tips.

profile_mustang_06a.gif (3586 bytes)Nicely added to by the name Carol's Daddy on the nose in a type of Old English script. As you can see the individual aircraft number '18' is painted in white over the orange yellow serial number (36113). The direction-finding loop on top of the rear fuselage was a normal fitting on Mustangs in the China/Burma/India theatre.

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North American P-51D Mustang
1st Air Commando Group
10th U.S. Army Air Force
Asansol, India, 1945

Here's the second 10th AF, 1st ACG Mustang, but this time a natural metal P-51D. The markings of black band to the rear of the spinner, diagonal fuselage stripes, and chequered fin and wingtips - but not tailplane on this particular aircraft - are all fairly obvious, as is the individual identification number '66' under the cockpit. Note that the D/F loop and radio aerial mast are also black. The name Sigh! on the nose is interesting in being two colours with red letters and black '!'. The anti-glare panel is Olive Drab.

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North American P-51D Mustang
1st Fighter Squadron, 2nd Air Commando Group
10th U.S. Army Air Force
Kalaikunda, India, early 1945

The third and last 10th AF Mustang represents the 2nd ACG. As with the previous 1st ACG machine we have a basically natural metal aircraft with black markings apart from the Olive Drab anti-glare panel.

The standard recognition bands appear on the vertical tail and around the wings - but on this one not on the tailplane. Also the spinner is black. The unit markings consist of the '!' which interrupts the fin band and the lightning flashes. The latter are also on both top and bottom of the wings, each side of the recognition band, the lightning flashes being angled with the points meeting each side of the band at the leading edge. The national insignia, of course, is over the top of the outer lightning under the right wing and on top of the left.

The rear cockpit canopy frame is also black as is the individual aircraft number '84' on the nose. Note that this aircraft does not have the D/F loop on the rear fuselage.

Continue to Camouflage and Markings of North American P-51 Mustang, Part 2

Rick Kent is a modeller, IPMS:er and a productive aviation artist. His speciality are computer-generated aircraft profiles.


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