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”.