Tuesday, February 17, 2015

ITALIAN AIRCRAFT MARKINGS


From 1926 a single grey-brown fascio in a light blue circle, with black bordering, was applied on both sides of the forward fuselage or engine cowling. The fascio blade always faced vertically forwards or horizontally outwards. This symbol, consisting of an axe bound by ribbons to a bundle of rods, dated from ancient times and represented the power and authority of the imperial Roman state. It was adopted by Mussolini and his political party, hence the term 'Fascists'.

Originating from 1935 and Mussolini's consolidation of power, a new national insignia was introduced. This consisted of three black fasces on a white circle, bordered in black, and applied to the upperwings. A reverse white on black background was sometimes applied underwing. By 1942 the background colour was deleted to allow the camouflage to show through. Prior to this being officially adopted, some units had already overpainted the upper white circle for better concealment.

From June 1940 the rudder stripes (green, white red, green to front) were converted into a simple white cross on both sides, sometimes with the horizontal arm extending across the fin. The badge of the House of Savioa (introduced in 1930) was placed in or above the centre of the cross. For the first few weeks of combat, some units still retained the pre-war tricolour rudder markings (e.g. Z506Bs of 35 Stormo). Very few foreign aircraft wore the fascio or Savoia badge. Only Bf 109s and Fi 156s in this category used upper wing insignia.

Other markings were adopted as the conflict developed. A broad white band was applied around the mid-fuselage from the autumn of 1940, although not widely used until early 1941, when the need for recognition between the Axis partners in the Mediterranean arose. Aircraft operating with the CA.l. over Belgium and the English Channel during the Battle of Britain received yellow engine cowlings. This practice was also used in the Balkans and Russia. On the Eastern Front Italian aircraft also carried a yellow fuselage band in line with Luftwaffe custom. Yellow wingtips were added to aircraft in Russia from 1942, and fighters on this front also added one or two white triangles above and below each wing with the base aligned on the leading edge. Yellow could also be seen on the cowlings of aircraft in North Africa during 1941-1942. White spinners were used on fighters in Italy, with white extended to engine cowlings, particularly on bombers, in the Mediterranean. Aircraft in East Africa wore a black 'X' over the white fuselage band, also with a black cross under each wing inboard of the insignia. For night missions the fuselage bands and fin crosses were usually blacked out.

Units were referred to in Roman numerals until 1 January 1940, when all documentation was ordered to be written in Arabic numerals. For example, XII Gruppo became 12 Gruppo.

The squadriglia number was normally shown on both sides of the mid-fuselage, followed by a hyphen and the aircraft number (rarely higher than 15). Occasionally the squadriglia number would appear on the fin, such as on the Re 2002s of 101 Gruppo. The colour was nearly always black, although some aircraft with dark camouflage received white numbers. The aircraft number was mainly red, but black, white or yellow was used if paint stocks were limited. These numbers were occasionally repeated on undercarriage legs (fighters and assault planes) or the cockpit area (bombers). The hyphen usually matched the colour of the squadriglia number. For dark camouflage schemes the numbers were outlined in white or yellow. There was no set size for the numbers. Occasionally units used coloured cowlings, spinners, and bands instead of squadriglie numbers. 377 Sq for example, used red, white, and yellow cowlings on their Re 2000s in mid-1941. 6 Gruppo's MC 200s had a white tip on their tail in early 1941. 151 Gruppo had coloured stars on their MC 202s. Trainers used a three letter code, which indicated the location or role. This was usually an abbreviation of the home base, such as FAL, used on Breda 25s used at Falconara.

Unit commanders sometimes used personal aircraft with the Gruppo or Stormo number applied in Roman numerals (e.g.CUII on an MC 202 of 153 Gruppo). The commander's pennant was also applied under the cockpit or on the rear fuselage. The colours of these varied, but were usually seen as a red horizontal stripe on a light blue standard, or black on white.

Company logos were also applied, mainly on bombers and transport aircraft.

Officially, individual markings and victory tallies were frowned upon. This is why tail fins or fuselages marked in the way the Germans or Allies celebrated their 'kills' are rarely seen. Honours were given to the unit, rather than the pilot or crew. It is difficult, even now, to ascertain individual claims unless the crews kept their own unofficial records. Research in the official communiques rarely reveals nominated airmen, unless the unit commander was involved.

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