Skip to comments.Why US Air Corps Servicemen Were Allowed to Wear Such Badass Bomber Jackets in World War II
Posted on 12/07/2012 1:22:52 PM PST by DogByte6RER
Why US Air Corps servicemen were allowed to wear such badass bomber jackets in WWII
In honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Lisa Hix of Collectors Weekly has put together a fascinating and sobering article that both commemorates and explains why members of the US Army Air Corp were allowed to customize their bomber jackets to such outlandish and extreme degrees. The Army, not known for its lax uniform standards, allowed their air-bound servicemen to decorate their jackets with pictures of scantily clad pin-up girls, favorite comic characters, lucky charms, and any other assortment of icons. The reason, says historian John Conway, may have something to do with the age of these soliders but also the tremendous risks they had to endure.
Indeed, most of these guys were just out of their teens, with some as young as 18 years old. And they ways in which they emblazoned their military issued leather A-2 jackets were a reflection of their age and exuberance. Hix writes:
On the bawdiest of these jackets, scantily clad babes gleefully ride phallic bombs. On others, cuddly cartoon characters charge forward, bombs in tow, driven by a testosterone-fueled determination to kill. Some jackets depict caricatures of Native Americans or Pacific Islanders, usually drawn with bones in their noses. Even rarer are those showing Hitler being humiliated-while the number of bombs designated missions flown, swastikas represented German aircrafts destroyed.
The fact that the Army would allow their servicemen to decorate their jackets with such provocative images isn't really that surprising. Army Air Corps duty was one of the most hazardous professions of World War II.
John Conway, co-author of American Flight Jackets and Art of the Flight Jacket, explained to Collectors Weekly that, "When you were up there in a plane, you'd get shot at, and you couldn't call field artillery to support you. You had no ambulance, no medic. There was no tank to come in and run over the enemy. All it took was one accurate aircraft shot, and a plane full of 10 guys was gone."
Bombing missions over Europe carried incalculable risks. Actually, it was calculable and to a disturbing degree; at the worst of times, a crew could expect a 1 in 15 chance of being shot down. And they would have most certainly known the odds especially considering that many servicemen were required to fly upwards of 30 missions. Conway continues:
"We don't have any concept today of what losses are like," he says. "We hear, We lost six guys in Afghanistan today,' and it's horrible. But it's not the same as losing a hundred B-17s in one raid, each one with 10 guys on it. That was happening day in, day out. In the old British Army, all the guys would come out of one town for each regiment. When they went to World War I, there were several cases where in one day, every man in a town was wiped out. So they stopped that old regimental system. During World War II, the attitude of the U.S. Army was, Let's do whatever we can, try to keep these guys happy, they might not be here next week.'"
Bugs Bunny and other characters from Looney Tunes and Walt Disney cartoons were particularly popular motifs with young pilots, as were the Vargas Girls from Esquire magazine. (Disney artists, for what it's worth, designed many of the squadron patches or insignias.) Conway says we have to remember that American pop culture was a lot smaller and a lot more homogenous at the time. No one had the Internet, cable, or even a TV. The A-2 and nose art imagery tended to come from radio programs, newspaper funny pages, comic books, magazines, and cartoon reels shown before movies, which served as a common language for young Americans.
"Again, you're talking about guys who were 18, 19 years old," Conway says. "And this was the first place they'd ever been besides home. They tended to cling to things that were familiar to them. A lot of those guys read comic books and the comic strips in the newspapers when they were kids, and that stuff just stayed with them. They listened to popular radio shows like The Lone Ranger' and The Shadow,' and then they would visualize characters from those programs and paint them on the aircraft."
A hand-embroidered blood chit has a Republic of China flag and a Chinese message promising a reward to anyone who helped the airman get back to Allied lines.
Winn’s Warriors jacket rules!!!!
‘cuz we knew how to win wars 70 years ago?
Related article ...
“WWII War Paint: How Bomber-Jacket Art Emboldened Our Boys”
It was also a period when men were men, and that fact was appreciated by most.
Not quite accurate.
The USAAF lost 46,000 men KIA in WWII.
That does not tally with a 1,000 men killed per bombing run.
I am unaware of any raid that lost 100 B-17s in a single run.
I believe the 334th Fighter Squadron’s fighting eagle was designed by Disney. The 334th was part of the Eagle Squadrons in Britain during WWII, along with the 335th and 336th.
My son flew with the 335th (Chiefs) during the Iraq War. If you go to the base of this wing at Seymour Johnson AFB in NC, a sign outside the base to this day says “Home of the Eagle Squadrons”.
When he went back to Afghanistan a few years later, he was in the 389th (T-Bolts).
Aren’t “bomber jackets” the leather jackets with furry linings and big furry collars, and that the jackets in the photos above were, at the time, called something else?
When I attended college in the early 1970s, one of my classmates was in her 60s.
Her first husband had been a bomber pilot in Europe, and survived the war only to die a few months later when his aircraft, flying over southern California, exploded in midair.
She heard the news over the radio. From that day forward her hair turned white.
Don’t think he said or meant “every” raid.....
The CBI, he said, was the “bump on the butt” of the Allied war effort. They took him in the service because he had flying experience with CNAC but was actually too old to step forward.
He never needed the chits but I still have the CBI patches from one of his uniforms.
Correct you are. We lost 60 at Schweinfurt. 50 B-24s at Ploesti.
Black Thursday over Schweinfurt in August 1943.
60 bombers, 3 P-47s, and 2 Spitfires lost, with 58-95 bombers heavily damaged
No matter how you cut it, those guys could paint anything they wanted to on the back of their jackets and I would still tip my hat to them.
We call the A-2s “Flight Jackets”.
Well the jackets were badass - decorated or not - and why they were allowed (needed) to wear them....
Because it was COLD up there!!!!
Live in fame or go down in flame!
But the article implies that this is the case.
I think the total probably did approach 100 on that raid. 60 lost outright but a large number returned but were damaged beyond repair.
That's for sure.
It just annoys me when the numbers are exaggerated.
The real-life numbers are mindboggling enough, they don't need to be padded.
These are absolutely incredible!
I think we have a Winner!
You are right, it is poorly written as to what they meant.
God bless those brave men. What would we have done without them?
Also the relevant number is not how many were killed - but what % were KIA or wounded.
Reading a book about Neil Armstrong - they lost a lot of men in his tour of Korea - not in numbers - but as a % of pilots.
42,000 KIA from December 1941 to August 1945 would be “only” about 42 men per day.But my understanding is the bomber activity didn’t get started until months into 1942 so the losses were probably closer to 100 men on average of every day the weather permitted bombing.
I doubt today’s Americans would support a war with such losses.
Come to think of it ,today’s Americans prefer to kill their children themselves rather than let foreigners do it. (We have been committing national suicide since 1973 and the death toll is over 40 million yet anyone trying to stop the slaughter is villiied and often prosecuted by the evil ones in authority.
The sad thing is so many sacrificed in 1940s America only to have their children and grandchildren endorse the same evils under different banners.
The Schweinfurt raid (I’d have to look up the date, don’t remember...) was supposedly the worst for losses, during which we lost 60 B-17s and 600 flyers.
Looks like “walkabout” jackets - they wore those wool and leather jackets while flying. Incidentally, the reason for leather is that it doesn’t burn. When I fly I always have a pair of leather gloves in my case just in case of fire (usually happens most behind the panel) - if the controls are to hot because of fire and you have to get down real quick, those gloves will come in handy. (just my 2p worth)
Wiki has 620,000 Americans in the air war with nearly 80,000 ‘lost in action’. That’s almost a whopping 13%!
When the 8th Air Force went back to Schweinfurt in October, they lost another 60 bombers. They lost more than that over Berlin in March 1944. Losses of 30-40 plus on one day were not uncommon until the escort fighters won control of the skies. That’s 3-400 men who didn’t come back after every mission, not counting casualties on the planes that made it back. Even spread out over hundreds of bombers, casualties like that had to have a bad effect on morale. Just flying one unescorted mission took a lot of courage. A full tour of 25+ missions knowing most crews didn’t make it that long took courage on a level unfathomable by people today.
You might read this book on Bomber Harris which does discuss the loss rate of both the Brits and Americans on the bombing runs across the Channel:
Bomber Harris: His Life and Times The Biography of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris,the Wartime Chief of [Hardcover]
Henry Probert (Author
That struck me as well. At the worst, several B-17 raids suffered losses of about 60 aircraft, and those were exceptional instances in which attacks were made deep into German airspace against a mostly intact Luftwaffee and without the benefit of fighter escort. I suspect that the author was misled by sources who spoke too casually and did not check the facts.
You’re so very right - the real numbers don’t need to be padded. The numbers and losses were so high that they make the losses and odds of death in the US Army infantry seem mild by comparison. Only the Marines in the Pacific had worse numbers.
Here’s another number to add into the factor which is almost never mentioned:
The USAAF lost over 25,000 men to aircraft accidents - ie, they were not KIA because they were not “in action” when they died.
Example in our family: Two of my grandmother’s brothers were in the 8th, and one of the two brothers who died was in action (flak hit, plane we ‘poof’, entire crew lost) and the other died while rolling out on takeoff. The English gasoline was horrible crap (the English can’t store gasoline properly to save their lives) and the plane was overweight. In the fog, it apparently deviated off the runway grass strip, crashed and burned with all hands lost as the fuel and bombs cooked off. That’s 10 guys just as dead - but not KIA.
I once went through the stats exercise of computing the chances of completing all 25 missions that it took to get the ticket to go home. In 1943, the odds from the stats *at that time* were that there was a greater than 50% likelihood that you would be dead before you got to your 20th mission. Never mind making 25. I’m sure that some smart guy in the USAAF computed the same odds - and word got around that their chances of going home were very slim. Those guys didn’t shirk or falter, they kept at it, even after horrible losses like the Schweinfurt raids. The odds for most ground-pounders going into battle were far better.
As soon as the odds turned in 1944, the USAAF upped the required number of missions to 30... then 35, then to 50.
The cabins in the heavy bombers were not pressurized. Some guys (the waist gunners) wore electrically heated suits because their position was open into the wind in the early bombers.
Even the guys in supposedly heated cockpits in fighters (eg, the P-38) froze their butts off. The P-38 heater was notorious for being insufficient to the task at hand over Europe...
I remember a journalist recollection (may have been Andy Rooney) who said a Staff Sergeant crew member told him he would gladly trade jobs with any Army Infantryman Private in a second.
Things were pretty bad until we came up with fighters that could make the round trip with the bombers. Things got a lot better as the war ground along, the Luftwaffe was able to introduce jet and rocket propelled planes with limited success because they had lost most of their experienced pilots. If the "wonder weapons" had been introduced earlier in the war things would have been a lot bloodier but we still would have won because we could build planes faster then Hitler's Germany. We won because we had the Atlantic Ocean for a moat.
Now let’s enjoy the bomber jackets.
Schweinfurt seems to have come pretty close:
Nothing can stop the Army Air Corp...finished it for you..:O)
There was a recent program on the History Channel about US airmen who were captured and put in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
It was an amazing story about the survival of these brave Americans. If you can, please watch this. I cannot even begin to describe the fear, heartbreak and then extreme pride at the bravery of these fine men.
God Bless them all.
Here is a website on the show.
The documentary is entitled The Lost Men of Buchenwald.
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