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This Stinson Reliant’s wing markings of alternating black and white stripes indicates its role in the D-Day invasion 70 years ago today. Planes were marked with the “invasion stripes” to reduce attacks from friendly fire. The planes were built in Detroit but many were sent to Britain with the Lend-Lease program. The British red, white and blue circle indicates this was used by the English. The plane is currently on display at the Mid-America Air Museum and is one of the many planes donated to the museum by Col. Tom Thomas. L&T photo/Earl Watt


Invasion stripes help identify D-Day aircraft


• Leader & Times

Seventy years ago today at 2 in the morning above the French coastline, the battle to retake a continent began high above the sandy beaches that would later turn red with the blood of Allied soldiers.

The D-Day invasion began in the cover of night as Allied aircraft dropped paratroopers behind the beaches to secure the roadways.

Days and weeks before the landing, Allied aircraft destroyed bridges and roads and wreaked havoc on Nazi airfields within 120 miles of Normandy in an effort to slow any reinforcement efforts.

Gaining control of the air was critical in establishing a foothold on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe,” and on the day that Kansas General Dwight D. Eisenhower orchestrated the first-ever contested amphibious assault landing in human history, 11,590 aircraft would be used.

The system used to determine whether an aircraft was friend for foe would not be effective in the massive attack, so Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory had to create another way for the planes to be recognized to avoid friendly fire.

He devised a scheme of stripes for all Allied aircraft to be used on the wings and fuselage of each aircraft. The striping consisted of three white and two black stripes.

Five days before the invasion, a few planes with the markings were flown over the invasion fleet to familiarize the crews with the markings.

Leigh-Mallory then sent the orders to mark troop carrier units three days before the invasion, and the fighters and bombers were not marked until two days before the invasion took place.

With the Allied aircraft from multiple countries now sharing a common marking, attacking any German opposition would be easier, and avoiding friendly fire would also benefit the attempted invasion.

The plan worked.

Of the 11,590 aircraft involved in the D-Day invasion, only 127 were lost.

One of the surviving aircraft, a Stinson Reliant built in Detroit in 1943, is on display at the Mid-America Air Museum. The plane was a support aircraft used for navigation and communication and was used by the British. Several Reliants were sent to England on the Lend-Lease program.

Airborne troops were instrumental in D-Day’s success by being able to attack German forces from behind while the beach invasion took place, and constant bombardment from the air overwhelmed the German resistance.

The D-Day invasion force was made up of 156,000 troops, but once a foothold was gained in Normandy, the number swelled to 326,547 in less than five days.

That number would begin the near 800-mile, 11-month push to Berlin.

On May 8, 1945, the Germans surrendered to the Allied forces, and the war in Europe was over, but regaining a beach along the coastline of France under the direction of a Kansas general and the use of overwhelming air superiority 70 years ago today brought freedom back to Europe.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Special thanks to MAAM Executive Director Jim Bert. Other sources include the U.S. Army Center for Military History.

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