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Camouflage and markings of North American P-51 Mustang

Part 4

n by Rick Kent


This page is a continuation of Camouflage and Markings of North American P-51 Mustang, Part 3, covering Allison-powered Mustangs in RAF and Commonwealth service.

Mustangs in RAF & RCAF Service

North American P-51 Mustang
225 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Marylebone, Algeria, May 1943

Here is a most interesting P-51 Mustang of 225 Sqn "borrowed" from the 12th USAAF in North Africa after Operation Torch. This Squadron had flown Mustang I's in the UK alongside Hurricanes working-up in the Tac-R role in preparation for the move to invade Western North Africa; when it moved there it only took Hurricanes. By the beginning of 1943 it was reduced to borrowing Spitfires from Nos 93 and 111 Squadrons for the Tac/R work and using its few remaining Hurricanes for ground attack with bombs. 

Due to 225's severe lack of Tac/R aircraft of their own the 12th AF was "unofficially" approached for the "loan" of some P-51's and a few were received. These aircraft were not allocated RAF serial numbers, retaining their US serials (four that are known are 41-137361, 41-137366, 41-137424, and 41-137428) but these were apparently painted over during re-camouflaging in RAF paints. 

As can be seen the aircraft is a standard US P-51 model including the rear cockpit equipment, and of course four 20mm guns in the wings. The camouflage is reported as being the standard RAF Mid Stone and Dark Earth on top with Azure Blue undersurfaces. The fuselage roundel is a crude adaptation of the original USAAF star marking and full squadron codes are carried in white. The propeller spinner is the standard Mediterranean Theatre red; also note the yellow outboard leading edges on the wings; this was a common feature on many desert painted RAF fighters.

225 Squadron operated these few "borrowed" aircraft from April to July 1943, after which it was completely equipped with fighter reconnaissance Spitfires.

North American Mustang Mk. I
400 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force
Dunsfold, Surrey, June 1943

This is a second, later, Mustang of 400 RCAF Squadron,showing some differences from the earlier one. The unit code letters have by now been abandoned but a maple leaf insignia on a white disc outlined in blue, very similar to the Canadian roundel adopted in post-war years, has been put on the nose. The camouflage colours are still the Mixed Grey and Dark Green uppers with Medium Sea Grey underneath. Note, however, that an all green rudder taken from another aircraft has been fitted as a repair replacement. The other markings are all standard: Sky spinner, code letter and fuselage band (though the latter is a little further forward from the tailplane); plus the normal yellow wing leading edges from outboard gun to wingtip. This aircraft has the later type of engine exhausts and the third variety of radio antenna - note the extra pointed mast below the nose. The camera is fitted. Also, by this time the rear view mirror has become a standard fitting.

 

North American Mustang Mk. IA
170 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Hutton Cranswick, Yorkshire, September 1943

Here a Mustang with two significant differences as compared to the previous one. Firstly it is a Mk. IA with the four 20mm cannon armament; and secondly it is painted with the proper shade of Ocean Grey on the upper surfaces along with the Dark Green, the undersurfaces being the standard Medium Sea Grey. The markings are also as per regulations including the Sky spinner, code letter, and fuselage band. Note that the serial number is positioned below the tailplane; this was usual on the Mks IA and II as well as the RAF's Merlin Mustangs. As to the aircraft itself, note that the additional aerial below the nose is not fitted; the camera is in the rear cockpit.

The red front pieces on the cannon are dust covers which slid over the muzzles and were shot away when the guns were fired. In earlier times before such specially made covers were available, RAF cannon armed aircraft frequently had condoms put over the gun muzzles to keep out the dust! 

170 Squadron first got Mustang I's in June 1942 and exchanged them for the Mk.IA in August 1943. The unit was disbanded in January 1944, being reformed in October 1944 as a Lancaster Squadron.

North American Mustang Mk. I
168 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Sommervieu, Normandy, June 1944

A Mustang Mk. I with D-Day stripes. Most of the Tac/R Mustang units on D-Day did not apply the full set of stripes, in particular they were not painted on the upper surfaces. The reason for this lay in the nature of the work they performed, flying at very low altitudes over very heavily defended enemy troop concentrations, either as single aircraft or in twos. Hence they did not wish to impair their camouflage against any terrain they might use for concealment. In spite of this, these Tac/R squadrons suffered the highest losses of all RAF units in the month following D-Day, mostly due to German ground fire. The task they performed was invaluable to both Army and Air Force units; and also Naval ships bombarding targets from off-shore. 

There were a number of variations in the application of the stripes on the Allison Mustangs, so again it is really a question for modellers to have an illustration of any particular aircraft. This one has the full set of stripes on the undersurfaces with the rear white band on the fuselage right up against the Sky band and going all round the top as well; also notice that this rear band slightly overlaps the yellow of the roundel. The rest of the colouring is normal for this later stage of the war, with Ocean Grey and Dark Green uppersurfaces and Medium Sea Grey undersides; Sky spinner, code letter and fuselage band, with yellow leading edges to the outer wings. Also note that these late Mk.I's had the serial number painted under the tailplane like the later marks. The aeroplane itself has all the later features introduced except for the aerial under the nose.

168 Sqn was one of the first RAF Sqns to move across the Channel to France after D-Day, initially flying partly from temporary landing grounds in Normandy as well as from Southern England until the whole unit moved into Sommervieu on 29th June. The squadron operated Mustangs until October 1944, starting re-equipment with Typhoon FR.IB's in September.

North American Mustang Mk. IA
268 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Plumetot, Normandy, July 1944

Here we have a cannon armed Mustang IA with D-Day stripes showing how their application varied as compared to the Mk.I above. In this instance the under fuselage stripes are further back, overlapping the Sky band considerably with the last white stripe, which also does not go right round the fuselage. Again, there are no stripes on top of the wings. Otherwise the camouflage and markings are just as the last aircraft exactly, as is the modification state of the aeroplane itself. The gun muzzle covers are a very light colour, probably yellow as shown.

There has been a certain amount of confusion in various publications between Nos 168 and 268 Squadrons at the time of D-Day; there is no doubt that at that time 168 had the Mk.I Mustangs and 268 had Mk.IA. Although 268 Sqn kept some Mustangs, including a few Mk II's until 1945, these were supplemented by Typhoons between July and December 1944 and the unit converted entirely to Spitfire XIV's in April 1945.

North American Mustang Mk. II
2 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Beny-sur-Mer, France, August 1944

This is the only Mustang II in this selection; out of the Allison Mustangs supplied to the RAF only fifty were Mk.II's, with the uprated V-1710-81 engine and four 0.5 calibre guns, and serial numbers FR890-FR939 (the great bulk of Allison Mustangs were Mk.I of which there were 520, and there were only 92 of the IA's).

The colour scheme of this Mk.II is as standard: Ocean Grey / Dark Green upper surfaces with Medium Sea Grey undersurfaces, plus the normal Sky and yellow trimmings. The D-Day stripes are only on the underneath and those on the fuselage only have two white stripes with the Sky band replacing the third. Also notice that the roundel is positioned a long way back. This aircraft also has the extra aerial under the nose.

2 Squadron operated all three Allison marks of Mustang, converting from I's and IA's to the Mk.II in May 1944. The unit re-equipped with Spitfire FR.XIV's in November 1944 and gave up its last Mustang in January 1945.

North American Mustang Mk. I
430 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force
Eindhoven, Netherlands, January 1945

This Mustang I of 430 Sqn RCAF was badly damaged on the ground on 1st January 1945 in the German attacks on Allied airfields (Operation Bodenplatte). Such losses on that day were quite considerable and as far as the Allison Mustangs were concerned they were irreplaceable to an already dwindling number. As can be seen, yet again we have the standard camouflage and markings colours (which I won't bore you by repeating yet again) with the D-Day stripes by now only applied to the underside of the fuselage. Also all the later modifications, including the aerial under the nose, are present.

430 Squadron had begun to supplement its Mustangs with Spitfire FR.XIV's from November 1944, and ceased operating Mustangs entirely in January 1945

North American Mustang Mk. I
26 Squadron, Royal Air Force
North Weald, Essex, January 1945

The last of this series of RAF Allison-engined Mustangs shows one of the Mk.I's that 26 Sqn were re-equipped with for the second time from December 1944 to June 1945. During this time the Squadron was based mainly at various airfields still in England, except for a brief period at Cognac in France in April 1945, for reconnaissance missions over the Netherlands. The period spent at Cognac was for the purpose of co-operating with French warships bombarding targets near Bordeaux. Hence the aeroplane is painted in all the standard RAF fighter camouflage and markings for that time, and, of course, most noticeably the reinstatement of Squadron code letters, albeit in a slightly smaller size than usual. The aircraft is in final form with all the modifications that were made from the Mk.I's as they originally appeared.

So, as mentioned before, 26 Sqn were both first (January 1942) and last RAF Squadron to operate the Allison Mustang, re-equipping with Spitfire XIV's in June 1945.

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

n


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