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By Emmanuel Gustin
July 1933In July 1933 the Hakenkruez or Swastika was applied on the port side of the aircraft in a Red band with a White circle. The opposite side of the aircraft carried the tri-coloured band. These colours were, top to bottom, Black, White, and Red.
Most aircraft themselves carried civilian registrations that followed a specific set of guidelines for both land and sea-planes. This code/registration system is as follows:
Class Regist. Personnel and Weights ----- ------- --------------------- A1 D-Y... 1 Person, all up weight 500 Kg A2 D-E... 1 to 3 Persons, all up weight 1,000 Kg B1 D-J... 1 to 4 Persons, all up weight between 1,000 and 2,5000 Kg B2 D-O... 1 to 8 Persons, all up weight between 2,500 and 5,000 Kg C D-U... Single engined D-A Multi-engined all up weight over 5,000 Kg
Seaplanes:Identical to landplanes except for the following:
A1 All up weight is 600 Kg A2 All up weight is 2,200 Kg B All up weight is 5,000 Kg C All up weight is over 5,500 KgNOTE: All though the B1 group is set down for codes commencing with D-J... no example has ever been found, all aircraft in this group have been registered as D-I...
The remaining three letters in the registration system were allocated in alphabetical sequence that started at AAA and ended with ZZZ. Therefore the codes in each class were as follows:
A1 D-YAAA to D-YZZZ A2 D-EAAA to D-EZZZ B1 D-IAAA to D-IZZZ B2 D-OAAA to D-OZZZ C D-UAAA to D-UZZZ D-AAAA to D-AZZZD-IAAA to D-IZZZ was normally allocated to experimental military aircraft.
Spring 1936In the Spring of 1936, a series of changes came into force. These included the application of the Balkenkreuz. On the fuselage it was placed at the mid-point between the wing and tail unit. On the wings they were placed at either end of the registration markings which in truth meant that they were normally placed near the wing tips.
The combination of the military markings (Hakenkreuz and Balkenkreuz) and civilian registrations (D-.... ) lasted for only a brief period. By June of 1936, two additional marking changes came into effect. The Hakenkreuz replaced the tri-coloured tail band on the starboard side of the aircraft, and military codes were issued to replace the registration letters. As it would take some time to fully implement these new orders, some aircraft were seen to carry a combination of the old and new codes.
A third set of markings was also adopted at this same time. The Jagdgeschwadern were give colours to add to their aircraft. These colours were normally applied to the nose of the aircraft. The colours and the units were:
JG 131 Black JG 132 Red JG 134 Brown JG 232 Green JG 233 Blue JG 234 OrangePart of the new marking changes mentioned above included the adoption of a set of military codes. This new system consisted of 5 characters with two to the left and three to the right of the Balkenkreuz.
A breakdown of this system reveals the following means of identifying the aircraft to its unit:
- First Numeral:
- Second Numeral:
- Numerical position of the Geschwader within the Luftkreis [*]
- Aircraft code within the Staffel
- Third Numeral:
- Gruppe within the Geschwader
- Fourth Numeral:
- Staffel within the Gruppe
An example would be 32+F25 which was a Do 23 from KG 253.
Unit identification numbers also contained information, as follows:
- First number:
- Numerical position with the Luftkreis
- Second number:
- Class of aircraft
- Third number:
Seven numerals were allocated to identify the various aircraft classes. They are listed below as:
Numeral Type of Duty Example ------- ------------ ------- 0 Armed reconnaissance Ku.Fl.Gr. 206 [*] (Sea based) 1 Short Range Reconnaissance Aufkl.Gr (H)/114 (Land based) 2 Long Range Reconnaissance Aufkl.Gr. (F)/125 (Land based) 3 Fighter JG 132 4 Heavy fighter JG(s) 141 [**] 5 Heavy bomber KG 154 6 Dive bomber St.G. 165 7 Transport 8 Multi-purpose[*] Coastal units or Ku.Fl.Gr. acted as independent units containing the normal three Staffeln that are normally associated with any Gruppe. However, the Gruppe identity coincided with the first numeral of the unit identity i.e. I/Ku.Fl.Gr. 106, II/Ku.Fl.Gr. 206, III/Ku.Fl.Gr 306 etc.. The unit identity could also be determined by reading the first three numbers in reverse i.e. an He 59 coded 60+A13 belonged to Ku.Fl.Gr. 106 or a Do 18 coded 60+A42 belonged to Ku.Fl.Gr 406.
[**] The 's' designation stood for schwere which meant heavy. Though seen in documentation, it was not usually seen in more general documentation. Only four heavy fighter units were formed. These being JG 141, JG 142, JG 143, and JG 144. They were all later redesignated as Zerstorergruppen.
Within the training organization, the code system was based on that used by the other units. There was a minor difference that must be noted here. It is shown in the table below.
- First Letter:
- Always an S to denote a School aircraft
- First Numeral:
- Second Letter:
- Flight identity within the school
- Third and Fourth Numeral:
- Numerical identity of the aircraft within the entire school
Each school had flights that were believed to have been termed Staffeln to conform with other Luftwaffe units. These flights were identified by letters.
In addition to the powered aircraft within the Luftwaffe, there were also a number of gliders especially at the A-schules were the ab initio training was carried out. These aircraft carried only the Hakenkreuz on the tail and no Balkenkreuz as these aircraft were engaged on second line duties. A three part code was devised that used the letter D followed by a number in Roman numerals, which identified the Luftkreis. This was followed by a number in the Arabic style which was the aircraft's individual identity. A hyphen was used to separate the three elements of the code.
During this pre-war phase, Geschwader, especially fighters, were broken down into:
- the Geschwaderstab;
- I Gruppe consisting of 1, 2, and 3 Staffeln;
- II Gruppe consisting of 4, 5, and 6 Staffeln;
- and III Gruppe with 7, 8, and 9 Staffeln.
In October 1938, with the formation of Luftkreiskommando VII, the Luftkreiskommando consisted of:
Luftkreiskommando I Konigsberg Luftkreiskommando II Berlin Luftkreiskommando III Dresden Luftkreiskommando IV Munster Luftkreiskommando V Munchen Luftkreiskommando VI Kiel Luftkreiskommando VII Hanover
1939Luftwaffe aircraft engaged in second line duties such as training, communications, ambulance, transport etc, used civil registrations. In January 1939 the D prefix was deleted and substituted by the WL for Wehrmacht Luft to show military ownership. An example is WL-A+HAN, an He 59B-2 used in the ambulance role. Note that in this case the + is not a Balkenkreuz but a Red Cross on a circular White background. The exceptiom to this were those prototype aircraft which retained full civilian registration as well as the Hakenkreuz.
The expansion of the Luftwaffe in the years immediately preceeding the war required some administrative changes. In February 1939, the newly formed Luftflotten (Air Fleets) were created. Luftflotte 1 encompassed Northern and Eastern Germany plus East Prussia, Luftflotte 2 took in North-West Germany and Luftflotte 3 covered South-West Germany. In March of 1939, Luftflotte 4 was formed to take in South East Germany, Austria, and Czechoslavakia. Within each of the Luftflotten was a Luftgau (Air District) which took over the duties of the old Luftkreis. These duties consisted in the main of administrative affairs. Operational functions were controlled within the Luftflotten by Fliegerdivision (Air Division). These were later renamed Fliegerkorps (Air Corps).
These new Luftflotten led to a reorganization of the identities of the Luftwaffe units within the Luftflotten. Those within Luftflotte 1 were allocated the numbers 1 to 25; Luftflotte 2 received the numbers 26 to 50; Luftflotte 3 received 51 to 75, and Luftflotte 4 acquired 76 to 99. In addition Gruppen (not Geschwadern) whose identity ended in 0 or 1 were formed in Luftflotte 1; those ending in 2 were formed in Luftflotte 2; those ending in 3 were formed in Luftflotte 3; and those ending in 4 were formed in Luftflotte 4. This perpetuated at least one small aspect of the previous code allocations. Just prior to the beginning of the war, colours were introduced to indicate the Staffeln within each Gruppe. These were White for the first Staffel, Red for the second, and Yellow for the third Staffel. It must be noted that these colours were used to designate the first, second, and third Staffeln within each Gruppe. The actual number of the Staffeln could in fact be a higher numebr than 1, 2, or 3. The table below shows the breakdown of the colours, Staffeln, and Gruppen.
Gruppe I II III IV Colour ------ - -- --- -- ------ Staffel 1 4 7 10 White Staffel 2 5 8 11 Red Staffel 3 6 9 12 Yellow
Stab Last Letter of Code Aircraft Letter Colour ---- ------------------- ---------------------- Geschwader A Blue or Green Gruppe I B Blue or Green Gruppe II C Blue or Green Gruppe III D Blue or Green Gruppe IV E (F) Blue or Green Gruppe V F (G) Blue or Green Gruppe I II III IV V ------ - -- --- -- - Staffel Colour White Red Yellow Blue Green Colour ------ ----- --- ------ ---- ----- ------- Staffel 1 4 7 10 13 White Last Letter H M R U X Staffel 2 5 8 11 14 Red Last Letter K N S V Y Staffel 3 6 9 12 15 Yellow Last Letter L P T W ZIf more than 15 Staffeln existed within a unit, they would receive the following letters:
Staffel 16 17 18 19 20 Last Letter Q J O E I [*][*] NOTE: These Staffeln may or may not have allocated to a VI or even VII Gruppe.
Within the bomber units, the aircraft distribution was usually as follows:
3 aircraft Kette e.g. Stabskette 9 to 12 aircraft Staffel 27 to 36 aircraft Gruppe e.g. of three Staffeln 81 to 108 aircraft Geschwader e.g. of three GruppenA system replacing the five digit codes with a four digit system was instituted almost on the eve of the war. These codes are the more familiar Stammkenzeichen consisting of two digits then the Balkenkreuz then the remaining two digits. It must be noted that these codes too were not uniform in their application right away. Some of the older five digit codes are known to have carried until the last months of 1939, well after the Invasion of Poland.
Additional InformationAs of May 1936, a Geschwader consisted, usually, of a Geschwader Stab, with four aircraft; three Gruppen Stabs., with three aircraft each for a total of nine; and nine Staffeln with nine aircraft each for a total of 81 aircraft. The total number of aircraft for the entire Geschwader was 94.
A Gruppe consisted of three Staffeln; a Staffel consisted of three Ketten; and a Kette had three aircraft.
Geschwader designations consisted of three digits. The first stood for the unit's number in the Luftkreis. The second stood for the type of unit, and the third digit was the number of the Luftkreis.
Around the time of the Battle of Britain, the breakdown of numbers of aircraft for the fighter organizations were as follows:
2 aircraft Rotte 3 aircraft Kette e.g Stadskette 4 aircraft Schwarm e.g. Stabsschwarm 12 to 14 aircraft Staffel 36 to 42 aircraft Gruppe e.g of three Staffeln 108 to 126 aircraft Geschwader e.g. of three GruppenThe breakdown of the Gruppen within the Geschwader and subsequent Staffeln are as indicated:
GESCHWADERSTAB I GRUPPENSTAB II GRUPPENSTAB III GRUPPENSTAB ------------- ------------- --------------- 1 STAFFEL 4 STAFFEL 7 SATFFEL 2 STAFFEL 5 STAFFEL 8 STAFFEL 3 STAFFEL 6 STAFFEL 9 STAFFEL
Tail BandsIn 1941, tail bands were added as part of the markings for aircraft on the Eastern Front and the Mediterranean. A white band round the aft fuselage was carried by aircraft in the Mediterranean and southern Russia; a white band was carried in central and northern Russia and Scandinavia. Often wing tips and cowling were painted in the same color. In mid 1944 a more complicated system of 'Reichsverteidigung' (defense of the reich) tail bands was introduced for fighter units.
JG=093 : Single white band JG=094 : Black, white and black band JG=095 : Black and yellow band JG 11 : Yellow band JG 27 : Green band JG 51 : Green, white and green band JG 52 : Red and white band JG 53 : Black band JG 77 : White and Green band JG 300 : Blue, white and blue band.The 'Gruppe' within the Jagdgeschwader was identified by markings within the band; a narrow horizontal stripe was added for the II. Gruppe and a narrow vertical one for the III. Gruppe. The Gruppe markings were placed inside or on top of the bands. According to the book, the total width of the band was 900mm. This was often ignored.
Fighter MarkingsGerman fighter units had their own markings system, which is summarized below. For the non-alphabetic symbols, the following convention is used: '~' indicates the a curved line, resembling an U with down-turned tips. '|' indicates a vertical line, '-' a horizontal line, and '+' a cross. '<' indicates a forward pointing '<', but when this is repeated as '<<', the second symbol was painted inside the first one, often as a triangle. For the circle I use 'o', and for the solid ball '·'
A Jagdgeschwader was made up of three (later four) Gruppen, indicated with Roman numbers. Each Gruppe had three Staffeln, of 12 aircraft, labelled with arabic numbers; these were numbered continously -- 7. Staffel was part of III. Gruppe. The point has the meaning of 'th' in German, so '2.' means '2nd'. The Staff (Stab) of each Gruppe had also four aircraft, and so did the staff of the geschwader. Theoretical strength was thus about 124 aircraft. The aircraft of the officers had special markings, placed in front of the German cross:
Geschwader Commander: <<| or <<-) Geschwader Vice-Commander: <| Geschwader first officer: <- Staff Major: <|| Geschwader technical officer: <| Gruppe Commander: << Gruppe vice-commander: < Gruppe technical officer: <o Staffel commander: 1The Staffel commander, known as 'Staffelkapitän' (but not necessarily having the rank of captain) was sometimes also identified by a small flag on the antenna mast.
The Gruppen were indicated by symbols placed after the cross:
I. Gruppe (none) II. Gruppe - III. Gruppe ~ or | IV. Gruppe · or +While Staff- and Gruppe-markings were in black with white borders, a distinction between Staffeln was made by varying the colors of the symbols and numbers of aircraft:
1. Staffel, 4. Staffel, 7. Staffel:white 2. Staffel, 5. Staffel, 8. Staffel:red 3. Staffel, 6. Staffel, 9. Staffel:yellow Additional Staffeln: blueSo an aircraft with a Yellow 5 and a ~ painted on it belonged to the 9. Staffel, part of the III. Gruppe. There were, however, many exceptions on this system, which was complicated and only applied to jagdgeschwader.
AGr : Aufklaringsgruppe ErpG : Erprobungsgruppe JG : Jagdgeschwader KG : Kampfgeschwader NJG : Nachtjagdgeschwader NSGr : Nachtslachtgeschwader SAGr : See Aufklaringsgruppe Sch. G. : Slachtgruppe StG : Stukageschwader ZG : Zerstorergeschwader
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