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Camouflage and markings of North American P-51 Mustang

Part 3

n by Rick Kent

Intending to continue the last month's Mustang profile collection (Part 1 and Part 2 show a selection of P-51s in the U.S. service - Ed.), I've been looking through my collection of RAF and Commonwealth Mustang profiles (in fact the only Commonwealth squadrons that operated Allison Mustangs were Canadian, so you could say RAF & RCAF). There were so many variations of  the Allison-engined ones that I decided to devote this month's article to them exclusively . The readers will see as the story unfolds why I decided to do so.

I regard the Mustang as probably the best physical example of Anglo-American co-operation ever: designed to a British Air Ministry specification by an American company and then later mated with a superb British engine to produce what was arguably one of the best fighters of all time.

From the start, after initial trials, the RAF decided to use the Mustang in the Tactical Reconnaissance role with its Army Co-operation squadrons as a replacement for the Curtiss Tomahawk; strange to think that, via the latter, the Mustang took over the former role of the Westland Lysander!

There were three different ones: Mk I, Mk IA, and Mk II, the basic difference between them externally being the armament. The Mk.I had six .303 Browning machine guns, two projecting from the underside of the nose and the other four in the wings; the IA had four 20mm cannon; and the II had four .5 calibre Brownings in the wings.

The only reason that the number of RAF tactical reconnaissance squadrons with Mustangs diminished to only one by the end of WWII was not because of any deficiency in the aircraft, but simply due to attrition of an aircraft that was no longer in production. The aircraft that replaced it (Typhoons and Spitfire fighters fitted with cameras) were not so good in that low-level role. The Allison Mustang still was one of the highest performing aircraft at low altitude right up to the end of the war, and besides its role in reconnaissance scored quite a number of victories as a fighter in the process. 

Mustangs in RAF & RCAF Service

North American Mustang Mk. I
241 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Bottisham, Cambridgeshire, April 1942

The profiles follow in chronological order starting with this Mk.I of 241 Squadron. The Mustangs were delivered from North American already painted in very close US equivalents to RAF Dark Earth, Dark Green and Sky, just as shown here. Where they differed from normal RAF practice was in the brown painting of the propeller spinner and the sizing and position of the fuselage roundel. Also they were painted as complete aircraft before dismantling, the parts being put into crates for shipping to and reassembly in the UK. Unfortunately the crates were not marked with serial numbers, so parts from different original aircraft got assembled on arrival and this resulted in camouflage patterns that didn't match up, and so the paints were touched-up to make them match as well as possible. What this means is that there was a great deal of variation in camouflage patterns, roundel and serial number positions and sizes on fuselage, so the modeller is back to needing to check on photographs for any one particular aircraft. 

Officially the Mustangs should have been repainted in the later grey/green colour scheme introduced in the summer of 1941 right from the start, but quite a number retained the brown/green for some time after entering service like this one. The most unusual feature of 241 Squadron's early Mustangs was the method of presenting the code letters all in one block of three letters; the Squadron code was "RZ", the "W" being the individual letter on this a/c. Also, of course, these aircraft should have had the standard Sky coloured spinners and fuselage bands, but they have not been applied. Note also that the obliquely facing cameras have not yet been installed in the rear of the cockpit. This aircraft has the original type of radio antenna and engine exhausts: both of these features were modified later on the British Mustangs. 241 Sqn first got Mustangs in April 1942 and only kept them until November, when it moved to North Africa for Operation Torch and re-equipped with Hurricanes, still in the Tac/R and ground attack roles.

North American Mustang Mk. I
26 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Gatwick, Surrey, June 1942

This Mustang I shows the standard finish adopted for RAF fighters from August 1941, the main differences being the replacement of Sky undersides with Medium Sea Grey, and the Dark Earth on the upper surfaces with Ocean Grey. However, as is so often the case, matters were not quite so simple as that. Pending sufficient supplies of the new proper shade of Ocean Grey, aircraft were painted with a so-called "Mixed Grey". This latter colour was officially to be mixed from seven parts Medium Sea Grey with one part of Night (black); however, as photographs confirm along with contemporary reports, this mixing was not done so precisely and varied a lot. The official mixture would have resulted in a shade very similar to Dark Sea Grey; but there were a range of shades that actually were used: some aircraft even simply had Medium Sea Grey with no black at all mixed in. It is perfectly understandable that in wartime conditions on operational units, when aircraft were being lost at frequent intervals as well, that the precise mixture of a paint colour was hardly of the greatest priority. This particular Mustang shows the darker shade similar to Dark Sea Grey

The Sky spinner, 18 inch fuselage band, and code letters have been applied, along with the yellow wing leading edges which were introduced with the new colour scheme. 

As to the aircraft itself, note that this one has the oblique camera mounted in the rear cockpit facing to the left, and also it has a rear view mirror on top of the windshield. The latter point is something else that modellers should always check when making Allison-engined RAF Mustangs. The exhaust stacks remain in their original condition as does the radio antenna. This right-hand side view shows a peculiarity of the Mustang in that it had its pitot tube under the right wing; the vast majority of fighter types had them under the left wing.

26 Squadron was the first operational unit to receive the Mustang, in January 1942; it kept them until March 1944 when it was re-equipped with Spitfire Mk V's; however it re-equipped again with the Mustang I's in December 1944 and kept them until June 1945. It was thus both the first and last Squadron to operate the Allison Mustang, and from January 1945 the only one left with them after 430 Sqn RCAF re-equipped with Spitfire XIV's. The wartime RAF base at Gatwick is of course now the second major airport for London...

North American Mustang Mk. I
2 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, July 1942

This Mustang I of 2 Squadron shows the markings modifications introduced on RAF fighters in July 1942 to the roundels and fin flash, with the narrow (2 inches) white and yellow rings/stripes. On this particular aircraft the upper surface grey remains the Mixed Grey previously described, otherwise the camouflage is the standard Dark Green on top with Medium Sea Grey undersides. 

On this aircraft the roundel is the standard size 36 inch diameter, as it was on all Mustangs after the introduction of the new style; however the position of the roundel on the fuselage continued to vary considerably right up to the end of the war, as did the serial number which also continued to vary in size and position quite a lot. There was always a problem with the Mustang in the European Theatre in that it closely resembled the Messerschmitt 109 in shape, as a result of which various types of special recognition markings were tried out by both the RAF and USAAF. Quite a lot of RAF Mustangs, like this one, had the yellow leading edges of the wings extended all the way in to the wing root fairing. It should be borne in mind that their main role was to co-operate with army forces at low altitude which made them vulnerable to friendly ground fire, so from head-on view the extra yellow helped at least a little as a recognition aid. 

Also note the white name "Eileen" just ahead of the cockpit canopy; this was a common feature on 2 Squadron's Mustangs (and also their previous Tomahawks) that there was a girl's name starting with the same letter as the individual aircraft code letter painted in white like this (eg Tomahawk XV-S was called "Suzanne"). This aircraft is fitted with the oblique camera in the rear cockpit but the perspex window has been replaced by a metal piece with a hole in it for the camera to point through; the latter was a fairly common modification on Allison Mustangs. The engine exhausts and radio antenna remain as original on this aircraft.

2 Squadron operated Allison Mustangs of all three marks at various times from April 1942 until January 1945.


North American Mustang Mk. I
613 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Twinwood Farm, Berdfordshire, July 1942

This Mustang is a real anomaly of non-regulation markings. Very nearly a whole year after the order was given to repaint fighter aircraft in the grey/green finish this one still retains the Dark Earth and Sky colours. In spite of this however it has had its roundels and fin flash modified and also has its Sky band on the fuselage, but the spinner remains Dark Earth! It also has the standard style of yellow leading edges which were introduced with the grey/green colour scheme; also the code letters are in Sky, not light grey. 

This aeroplane is also a good illustration of how the roundel position on the fuselage varied so much, resulting in this instance with the individual aircraft letter having to be placed on the nose as there is no room for it behind the roundel. The panda head on the nose is an individual pilot's marking; it is not known whether it appeared on both sides. 

As to the aircraft itself, note that this one has a rear view mirror; the exhausts and radio antenna remain as original. Also the camera is fitted but the perspex (with a hole cut in it) remains on the left side.

613 Sqn flew Mustang I's from April 1942 until October 1943 when it became a Mosquito VI fighter-bomber squadron for the rest of the war.


North American Mustang Mk. I
169 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Doncaster, Yorkshire, October 1942

This Mustang I of 169 Squadron shows the Mixed Grey / Dark Green / Medium Sea Grey finish together with some other markings differences. Note that on this aircraft the Sky band has been painted somewhat further forward together with the serial number; something else that varied sometimes on Allison Mustangs. Also the roundel is very low in position and right close up to the serial number. 

The spinner is the regulation Sky of course but the camouflage pattern is not a usual one compared to other single-engined fighters on the rear fuselage and vertical tail (normally it would be Dark Green across the fin/rudder where the grey is and vice-versa). Next we come to the yellow markings on the wings: again we have the full-span leading edges and also added are the chordwise 12 inch bands top and bottom which were ordered as a special recognition marking for RAF Mustangs from 1st July to 2nd December 1942. 

From about the autumn of 1942 the RAF's tactical reconnaissance squadrons based in Northern Europe ceased to use any squadron identity letters and so, as with this Mustang, only had the individual aircraft letter in Sky. This aircraft still has the original type of radio antenna and engine exhausts, and has a rear view mirror and the camera in the rear cockpit. Another thing to notice on all the Allison Mustangs are the three small louvres on the rear right upper engine cowling; these were not on the left side - only the right.

169 Sqn was formed with Mustang I's on 15 June 1942. It carried out shipping reconnaissance, ground attack, and fighter defense against low level attacks by Luftwaffe fighter-bombers, but was disbanded on 30th September 1943. A new Mosquito night intruder squadron was formed the next day with the same number. The airfield used at Doncaster was before the war, and still is, a famous horse-racing course.

North American Mustang Mk. I
400 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force
Middle Wallop, Hampshire, October 1942

A very unusual colour scheme can be seen on this Mustang I of 400 Sqn. The upper surfaces are camouflaged in Dark Green and Mixed Grey with all black undersurfaces; however, as you will see, the camouflage pattern has been much modified by further covering various areas with Dark Green

The original roundel has been overpainted and moved while still as the thick-ringed Type A1, hence the strange green pattern ahead of the new one and also a whole patch of grey has been painted over with green around the cockpit area, perhaps to make the whole nose darker. The reason for this dark colour scheme is that 400 Sqn were employed on "Night Ranger" missions over occupied Europe around this time, at the same time as performing other types of fighter and reconnaissance operations. They were quite successful in shooting down enemy aircraft. 

To return to the roundel itself, note that it is a rather crude conversion of the earlier type and the proportions are quite inaccurate, the blue in particular being too thick and the red centre too small. In spite of all the dark painting the sky spinner, fuselage band, and codes are retained, along with the full-span style of yellow leading edges to the wings. Also the tops of the wings still have the 12 inch yellow bands over them. The aircraft is in original condition in every respect, but is not fitted with the camera in the rear cockpit; it would not be necessary for night fighter/ground attack missions. 400 Squadron RCAF flew the Mustang Is from April 1942 until February 1944, having commenced re-equipment with unarmed reconnaissance Spitfires and Mosquitos in December 1943.

North American Mustang Mk. I
16 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Weston Zoyland, Somersetshire, November 1942

This 16 Squadron Mustang I is the first in this series to show how the aircraft were gradually modified in service. The radio equipment is changed so there is no aerial wire anymore, just the original mast with its small attachment point at the top. Then the exhausts from the engine are of the later type, wider and flatter at the rear than the original type. The aircraft is painted Dark Green and Mixed Grey on top with Medium Sea Grey underneath; the spinner, fuselage band, and code letter are all in Sky, and the yellow recognition bands appear around the wings and full-span on the leading edges (incidentally the leading edges were 6 inches at the inner end and narrowed towards the wingtips). The roundel is in a fairly normal sort of position, allowing room for the code letter to be placed behind it and the fuselage band is right back against the tailplane. The camera is fitted in the rear cockpit.

16 Squadron first got its Mustang Mk. Is in April 1942 and kept them until November 1943, having started to re-equip with unarmed Spitfire PR Mk. XI reconnaissance aircraft in September 1943.

North American Mustang Mk. I
309 (Polish) Squadron, Royal Air Force
pilot: Major Jerzy Golko 
Findo Gask, Fifeshire, March 1943

This Mustang I of 309 (Polish) Squadron has a most unusual colour scheme, but then as I said before there were many variations. In this instance the upper surface grey areas have simply been painted with the same Medium Sea Grey colour as the underneath, without adding any black mixture at all. But to confuse matters more, parts from another aircraft have been used to make repairs: the upper engine cowling panel in Dark Green looks very odd and also the trim-tab on the rudder is from another aircraft. The roundel is quite far back and low down in position, and this is emphasised even more by the Sky band being quite far forward. This has also resulted in the serial number position relative to the band appearing odd and also the code letter having to be placed ahead of the roundel. The yellow wing leading edges on this aircraft are of the normal type, only extending from the tip to the outboard gun port, and not going the full span of the wing. Also there are no yellow bands around the wings. The Polish Air Force marking of course is on the nose, and the spinner is the usual Sky colour. This aeroplane, like the last one has the modified radio with no aerial wire and also the later type of flame damping exhausts. The camera is fitted in the rear cockpit.

309 Sqn used Mustangs I and IA from July 1942 until February 1944, when it converted to Hurricanes until October 1944, at which time it re-equipped with Merlin-engined Mustangs III and IV. The Squadron served at Findo Gask in Scotland from November 1942 until March 1943, operating mainly on shipping reconnaissance missions.

Continue to Camouflage and Markings of North American P-51 Mustang, Part 4

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


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