Squadron Aircraft - Markings

This page is compiled from information contained in three exceptional works on RAF aircraft markings:

Les Rogers. British Aviation Squadron Markings of World War I: RFC, RAF, RNAS. Schiffer Military History, 2001.
Wg Cdr Jefford. The Origins of Fighter Squadron Heraldry. Royal Air Force Historical Society Journal 36, 2006. [covers inter-war period]
Flintham, Vic and Andrew Thomas. Combat Codes: A Full Explanation and Listing of British, Commonwealth and Allied Air Force Unit Codes Since 1938. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2003.


At the beginning of the air war in France, most Squadrons in the fighter/scout role were flying the BE2.  As more and more Squadrons were deployed to France, it became necessary to provide a visible method to allow pilots to regroup after engagements.  Initially, the markings were only used by BE2 Squadrons.  However, the practice soon spread throughout the RFC; in September 1917, 56 Squadron adopted an 18 inch white band just in front of the tail section.  After the German offensive in March 1918, in which German forces overran several RFC airfields, the RFC assigned new markings, though only to single-seat scouts such as the SE5a.  In the event, 56 Sqn took on the inverted, open V in place of the bar.  Coloured wheel coverings were used to identify individual flights: A Flight - red, B Flight - Blue/White, C Flight - Blue.

S.E.5a of Captain Grinnell-Milne, 1919, showing Squadron markings (Crown copyright)

Inter-war Period

At the end of the war, the near-total disbandment of the RAF meant that fighter Squadron markings were no longer necessary.  However, by 1924 enough Squadrons had been re-established that the need for Squadron identification again became necessary. During air exercises in the summer of 1924 it became apparent that Squadrons had difficulty regrouping after engagements and, probably more important in terms of providing an impetus for change, the Group Commander could not tell who was who, making it difficult for him "to criticise their work".  Trials were conducted and in September 1924 AOC 6 Group, Air Commodore Charles Samson, proposed a series of coloured markings to run the length of the fuselage.  56 Squadron was assigned the now-familiar red and white checkers.


With the belligerence shown by Hitler in 1938 during diplomatic talks concerning the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland, the RAF implemented a war-time dark camouflage colouring scheme and removed the squadron plumage.  On 27 Apr 1939, Air Ministry Order 154/39 dictated the use of a 2-letter Squadron identifier for all aircraft, with 56 Squadron being assigned LR. In September 1939 as highly classified document, SD110, was sent out re-assigning the codes and giving 56 Squadron the letters US.  The intention was to regularly alter the codes; however, this never occurred.  As such, 56 Squadron maintained the US moniker throughout the war.

Post 1945

For a short while 56 Squadron flew aircraft with the ON code, emblazoned on the Meteor's inherited from 124 Squadron. Soon, however, US replaced ON. In 1950, the RAF ceased the use of the 2-letter codes and the red and white checks were revived. It had been used as nose art on at least one airframe in 1948/49.  The red and white checks have remained an important part of the 56 Squadron identity ever since being displayed on the fuselage or on the top edge of the vertical stabiliser.