In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack much of the American airpower in the Pacific lay wrecked, caught on the ground by the Japanese assault. Planes lined up in neat rows alongside airfields proved easy targets for bombers and strafing fighters. Even worse, there were multiple instances of gunners on the ground firing on any aircraft within range regardless if it was American or Japanese. To address these problems commanders ordered that aircraft were to be disbursed and camouflaged while on the ground, and additional national markings applied to aid recognition in the air. The Hawaiian Air Depot (HAD) was tasked with making these changes.
The Hawaiian Air Depot scheme consisted of applying broad patches of colors from paint stocks on hand to break up the aircraft’s outline. Application appears to have been limited to medium and heavy bombers. The exact colors were not documented nor were lists kept of which aircraft were repainted. Fortunately there is surviving color film of four aircraft in HAD schemes, one B-18, one B-17C/D, and two B-17Es. The Dark Olive Drab 41 upper surfaces were broken up with patches of what appear to be Sand 26, Neutral Gray 43, Rust Brown 34, and Interior Green. There was no set pattern and not all colors may have been used on every aircraft. Photographs of B-18s and B-17C/Ds show no uniformity, but the B-17Es follow a general concept with variation in the color boundaries. In some photographs this color pattern “fingerprint” can permit the individual aircraft to be determined. Data blocks were masked off before the new camouflage was applied which allows the original Olive Drab background to show through. The undersides were not repainted. It is interesting to speculate if any of the B-17C/D or B-18 retained natural metal undersides.
National markings were augmented by applying additional insignia to the starboard upper and port lower wing surfaces bringing the total to six. Thirteen alternating red and white rudder stripes were also added, but without the vertical blue stripe of the pre-war marking convention. The “U.S. ARMY” lettering remained on the underside of the wings as can be seen in several photographs. Individual aircraft serial numbers were applied to the vertical stabilizers in Orange Yellow, but the size and shapes of the numerals varied so modelers must pay careful attention.
The application of the HAD scheme was short lived. The order was issued on 10DEC41, but when the 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauders arrived in Hawaii in February 1942 they received only tail stripes. Three B-17Es also received tail stripes but no disruptive camouflage, serial numbers 41-2403, 41-2435, and 41-2446 – which is currently under restoration as the famous “Swamp Ghost”. However, tail stripes and red centers to the national insignia were being painted out by some units as early as April to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru, and this was formalized by ALNAV 97 on 06MAY42.
The HAD scheme Flying Fortresses are interesting not only due to their unique camouflage, but also due to the service records of the crews which flew them. They flew against long odds for a long time, in adverse conditions against a capable and determined enemy. An excellent overview of their operations is provided by historian Steve Birdsall here: http://www.historynet.com/pacific-tramps.htm
After digging into the subject, my opinion is eighteen B-17E, eight B-17C/D, and at least two Douglas B-18s (likely many more) received the full HAD scheme. I have posted examples of the early “shark fin” B-17s and B-18s in previous blogs, and will now focus on examples of the B-17Es which I hope are of interest to modelers in future posts. Any additional information is most welcome, as are any corrections or citations.