Category And Colors

HQ Allied Expeditionary Air Force proposes “Invasion Stripes” be discontinued immediately, July 1944

On July 6, 1944, HQ Allied Expeditionary Air Force sent SHAEF Forward HQ a request that the provisions of SFLAEF Operation Memo.

No. 23 for distinctive markings be suspended effective (hat date. The request continued:

Recommend that no further aircraft be given the distinctive markings and that markings already on aircraft be allowed to fade out and not be renewed. If suspension approved request that all Army and Navy Commanders be instructed to inform all troops particularly gun crews that henceforth they can expect to see friendly aircraft without distinctive markings and that absence of the markings can no longer be accepted as an indication that aircraft are hostile.

In response, SHAEF Forward, signed Eisenhower, sent the following signal to ANCXF, Main EXFOR, on July 9, 1944:

With reference AEAF signal A-124 dated 6th July, 1944. As distinctive markings reduce speed and add to maintenance of aircraft it is desired to suspend SHAEF Operation Memorandum No. 23. Advise earliest date by which you can inform all concerned so that the Memorandum can be canceled from that date. AEAF state it is impracticable to remove markings from all aircraft on one date. National markings remain unchanged.


Northrop P-61A-5-NO, 42-5563, of the 422nd or 425 th NFS, Ninth Air Force, on August 12,1944. It is now marked only on the lower wing and boom surfaces, in accordance with the latest SHAEF orders. (March AFB Museum)


De Havilland Mosquito NF Mk. XVII night fighter, HK470, of 604 Sq, RAF, thal dropped into strip A-8. Picavilte, France, on August 13,1944, It shows how the stripe markings had been removed from the top of the wings and fuselage. This was done to decrease the aircraft’s vulnerabil­ity to enemy gunnery spotters overlooking these strips close to the front line in Normandy. (William L. Swisher)

This signal was followed up by another dated July 30,1944, from the same source, sent to EXFOR, 12 Army Group. This read as follows:

1. Operation Memorandum number 23 refers.

2. Proposed to retain distinctive aircraft markings on the fuselage only and allow markings on the wings to fade out naturally. This to apply only to those aircraft that operate in immediate battle areas.

3. Propose following classes of aircraft do not carry distinctive markings:

a. Coastal Command aircraft.

b. Shore based Fleet Air Arm aircraft, (unless based in FRANCE.)

c. 8th Air Force fighter aircraft. (These aircraft do not operate in close support of the Armies.)

d. Fighter aircraft employed exclusively in anti-CROSSBOW operations. (Attacks against V-l sites in Europe – au­thor).

e. High altitude photo-reconnaissance aircraft.

f. Gliders.

4. Request your concurrence or comments by 030900B.

EXFOR MAIN responded on July 31,1944, stating that:

Ref. your signal of 302025B. Subject distinctive markings on aircraft. Proposal agreed.


Noorduyn UC-64A-ND, 43-5363, carrying very low stripes on the bottom of the fuselage. Note that the large fuselage insignia is actually more visible than most of the stripes. Seen at strip A-8, Picauville, Normandy on August 13,1944. (William L. Swisher)


RAFTaylorcraft Auster, serial number N????, overpainted. Unit unknown, but it is carrying the full-size invasion stripes. Seen at strip A-8, Picauville, Normandy, on August 14,1944 (William L. Swisher)

However, on August 1, 1944, ANCXF (Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Forces) responded to the SHAEF proposal with the following signal:

Yours 302025. Proposal to retain fuselage markings only concurred in but consider this should continue to apply to all classes of aircraft as in your memorandum number 23.

Markings have proved valuable to Naval Forces where operations are not confined to Assault Area and to remove them from some classes of aircraft will cause doubt.

If it is decided to remove wing markings concede that this should be done in as short a time as possible and all concerned then informed.

Somewhat later, on August 7, 1944, HQ Twelfth Army Group (signed Bradley), sent SHAEF Forward the following signal:

Reference SHGCT dated 30 July 1944. This Headquarters concurs in the proposed change of distinctive aircraft markings as contained therein.

Change No. 4 to the Op. Memo No. 13, dated October 13, 1944 ordered the removal of all stripes on Allied aircraft, but on October 25, 1944, a TWX from USSTAF to the various fighter commands stated that:

The present method of applying distinctive markings on your fighters authorized by SHAEF. By this authority you are autho­rized to disregard instructions contained in change no. 4 to Operations Memorandum No. 13 (29 April 1944) of HQ ETOUSA dated 13 October 1944.

Distinctive Markings on single and twin engined aircraft will be as follows:

(A) The under, repeat, under surface of fuselages of single engined aircraft will be painted with five (5) parallel white and black stripes, each eighteen (18) inches wide, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen (18) inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.

(B) The under, repeat, under surface of twin engined aircraft will be painted with five (5) parallel white and black stripes, each twenty-four (24) inches wide, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen (18) inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.

In other words, this meant that the stripes now disappeared from the top of the wings and fuselages of all fighter type aircraft.


Douglas A-20J-15-Do, 43-21745, aircraft 8U-S, “Irene”, of the 646th BS, 410th BG, Ninth Air Force, seen later in the summer of 1944, dearly shows how the upper invasion stripes were painted out on the wings and fuselage after October 25,1944. (LISAF)

The requirements for the distinctive aircraft markings did not come up again until December 5, 1944, when SHAEF MAIN from Robb (RAF Air Marsha] J. M. Robb, Deputy Chief of Staff (Air)), sent the following message to “MED Allied Air Force for Slessor and Bottomley”:

Reference MAAF Signal dated December 2. (not retained in this file – author). Identification difficulties have also been experi­enced in this theatre, and several incidents have occurred recently involving attacks by American fighters against friendly aircraft, sometimes with fatal results. The P. R. Wing aircraft, especially Mosquitoes of Second TAF, have been the chief victims of such attacks and CONINGHAM’s request that the aircraft of this wing be allowed to retain the distinctive striped markings used for OVERLORD operations in order to facilitate identification has been agreed.

CONINGHAM has recommended that the standard RAF markings be made more distinctive on operational aircraft by widen­ing the yellow ring surrounding the roundels. Agree that this is the best arrangement for fighters and fighter bombers which operate low down but prefer your proposals for remaining day types.

If approved request Air Ministry initiate action.


A really rare bird! This is a French designed and built Potez 542, carrying Ihe small invasion stripes favored by the Free French Air Force. It is marked with French roundels on the fuselage and wings, rudder stripes and the Cross of Lorraine on the rear fuselage. Seen at strip Y-9, Dijon/ Long-Vic, France, on October 6, 1944. (William L. Swisher)

Final action on SHAEF Operation Memorandum Number 23 came the next day, December 6, 1944, when SHAEF released the following document:

This is the First Suspcnsion/Cancellation of a SHAEF OPERATION MEMORANDUM.



1. The provisions of Supreme Headquarters, AEF, Operation Memorandum No.23, Distinctive Markings – Aircraft, are suspended effective December 31st, 1944.

2. Except as noted in sub-paragraph 4d. below, distinctive markings will be removed where this can be done without damage to the aircraft and with due regard to the materials and time available for this work.

3. Addressees will ensure complete dissemination of the pertinent provisions of this suspension by the quickest pos­sible means consistent with security.

4. All Commanders will particularly ensure that personnel under their command are instructed that:-

a. The fact that an aircraft of allied manufacture is seen without distinctive markings does NOT necessarily indicate that the aircraft is hostile.

b. For some time Allied aircraft may still be seen carrying distinctive markings, which, with the exception of those in sub-paragraph d below, should now be disregarded.

c. Faded striping under certain conditions of light closely resembles the German cross.

d. For the purposes of facilitating identification by other friendly aircraft all of the photo reconnaissance aircraft of Number 34 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force will be painted with standard invasion markings until such time as all recipients of this instruction are notified by Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Second Tactical Air Force.

5. The removal of these distinctive markings in no way affects the presently prescribed national markings, which will continue to be carried on aircraft.

6. In future, should there be a requirement for distinctive markings, application will be made to this Headquarters.

By Command of General EISENHOWER.

Thus ended the saga of the now famous “invasion stripes.” Frankly, they were a testament to the sad state of aircraft recognition throughout the armed forces (on both sides) and that most armed men would rather take the risk of shooting down one of their own aircraft rather than letting a doubtful type escape (the author taught aircraft recognition throughout WWII and later served with the Royal Observer Corps in England, so he was very familiar with the problem). The problem persists to this time, under the euphemism of “friendly fire.”


Four North American P-51Ds from the 361st FG, Eighth Air Force, assigned to provide top cover for aircraft of the Ninth Air Force finally able to attack the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. The very bad weather that allowed the Germans to make their attack without major Allied air attacks, can clearly he seen in this photo. Note that almost all vestige of the invasion stripes has disappeared from these aircraft. The SHAEF order discontinuing their use was dated December 6,1944, and stated that they were to be discarded on December 31,1944. Nearest aircraft is a P-51D-10-NA, 44-14358, aircraft E9-K “Princess Geraldine", of the 367th FS, 361st FG. Squadron colors are a yellow spinner, aircraft nose and rudder. Seen at strip A-64, St, Dizier, France, on December 30,1944. (William E. Swisher)

image507,image508 image509,image511


These unit insignia are of four famous Fighter Groups and some of their Squadrons, assigned to the Kth Air Force in England, during 1942-1945. The 20th FG was in the 67th Fighter Wing of the 1st Air Division, the 55th and 78th FGs were in the 66th Fighter Wing of the 3rd Air Division, and the 56th was in the 65th Fighter Wing of the 2nd Air Division. Note that the insignia shown here arc the WW2 ones, and have been superseded by later ones in some cases. The insignia of the 3rd Air Division HQ completes the page.


These insignia are from four Fighter Groups and one Bomb Group of the 18th Air Force. The 353rd FG and 357th FG were part of the 66th Fighter Wing, of the 3rd Air Division, the 355th FG part of the 2nd Air Division, and the 356th FG part of the 67th Fighter Wing, 1st Air Division, The 91st BG was part of the 1st Combat Bomb Wing, 1st Air Division.

image523 image524,image525,image529,image530,image531

These insignia are all from 8th Air Force units, except for the 44th BS, 40th BG which was assigned to the 20th Air Force, initially in India and then on Tinian Island. This unit used B-29s. The 34th BG was assigned to the 93rd Combat Bomb Wing, 3rd Air Division, the 92nd BG to the 40th Combat Bomb Wing, 1st Air Division, the 93rd BG to the 20th Combat Bomb Wing, 2nd Air Division, and the 94th BG was part of the 4th Combat Bomb Wing, 3rd Air Division.


The 95th BG served with the 13th Combat Bomb Wing, and the 96th BG with the 45th Combat Bomb Wing, both assigned to the 3rd Air Division. The 303rd BG served with the 41st Combat Bomb Wing, and the 306th BG with the 40th Combat Bomb Wing, both of the 1st Air Division. The 13th, 22nd, and 27th PRS units were part of the 7th PRG. All units were part of the 8th Air Force. Final four insignia are from the often forgotten support units, also of the 8th Air Force.

. Standard AAF Color Shades. Development and Usage

lb. The listing of products in this bulletin does not waive the inspection requirements of the specification. The furnishing of paint which proves to be unequal to the test samples submitted, may be sufficient cause for removing the product and the manufacturer’s name from the list.

2. The failure of a product furnished by the parent company or any authorized plant or affiliate will result in the removal of the product from the approved list and thus prohibit the furnishing of the material by either the parent company and its plants or affiliates until such time as satisfactory requalification has been completed by the parent company.

Color photographs reproduced with varying degrees of accuracy in various books and magazines during the last fifty years have been offered as evidence of variations in USAAF standard colors, not to mention such fanciful creations as bright blue P-5 Is in the Eighth Air Force in England.

These variations are mainly due to indifferent color separations and/or variation of inks used in the color printing process. The author has not found any evidence of such color variations in viewing original USAAF color material. Variations from regulation paint schemes and colors did exist in the field, particularly in the early days of the Pacific war theater, but this was under dire combat conditions and most decidedly not the norm for the USAAF.

Original War Department Spec. No. 3-1 still in use, July 1941

The War Department’s original standard for paint and related materials, for use by the Army and all of its branches, was specification No. 3-1, dated November 28, 1919, but it was not made mandatory for use by the Air Service until July 19, 1922. The relevant portion of the “General Conditions” stated:

This general specification relates to and is a part of each and every War Department specification for paints and related materials except as may be otherwise specifically stated in such individual specification.


Color designations in War Department specifications and publications refer to the color chart attached. Flat or gloss finish when specified shall take precedent over the finish which the color card may present. Requirements for color include those for shade and tone.

Enclosed with the specification was a color card, entitled, “Color Card Referred to in general specification for Paint and Related Materials,” and titled “Supplement to No. 3-1 and Revisions thereof.” This color card had a long life, for it was not superseded by a later one until April 1943.

Although the color card showed twenty-four different glossy color chips, it did not include either black or white. Of the twenty-four colors, only Flat Bronze Green, Color Chip 9 was still being used by the AAF (as an anti-glare coating) in 1941. Alt other colors (these being solely gloss colors) had been superseded by those in the joint Army-Navy Porcelain Color Plates, issued in September 1938

Army-Navy Porcelain Plates, September 1938

Sets of the new joint Army-Navy porcelain enamel (gloss) aircraft color standards were issued to the major paint manufacturers at the end of June 1938.The letter to the manufacturers stated:

These plates are standard for both services and arc to be used for the color control of all paint materials furnished the Air Corps or Air Corps’ contractors on and after September 1, 1938, unless the shade represented by the former Army Porcelain Enamel Color Plates is specified for the purpose of completing an existing order.

With the exception of the Light Blue shade now represented by the True Blue plate, the colors are in quite close agreement with the former Standards and will require only slight pigment modifications to effect the change.

Paints produced in colors represented by the Lemon Yellow, Willow Green and Aircraft Gray are not used by the Air Corps. International Orange has been used only in ready mixed paints for obstacle markings and Cream for dope in accordance with Spec. 3-159.

These porcelain plates probably represent the most accurate method in physical form of matching colors and surviving sets were still in use in the mid-1960s for supplying paint to the services, despite the many changes made to the later color standards issued since 1938. Each set of the porcelain enamel standards contained fifteen plates of the following shades:

International Orange

Instrument Black

Insignia Red

Lemon Yellow

Insignia White

True Blue (replaced Light Blue No. 23)

Insignia Blue

Gloss Black

Engine Gray

Orange Yellow (replaced Yellow No. 4)


Olive Drab

Aircraft Cream

Blue Green

Aircraft Gray

Подпись: One color not provided in these porcelain plate standards, was Flat Bronze Green, color No. 9 on the Color Card Supplement to 3-1, The Flat Bronze Green was then being used as an anti-glare coating for natural metal finished aircraft, per Spec. 98-24113-A, The author was fortunate enough to see one of the sets issued to a major paint manufacturer, together with a copy of the letter issuing it to them. These porcelain plates were approximately postcard size, of concave shape, with the color baked in, presenting a beautiful clean, pure color. The method of use was to put a drop or small quantity of the color being checked into the hollow of the porcelain plate and allow it to dry. When it was dry it would be immediately apparent if it matched the sample or not. After the sample had been checked, it could be removed by wiping over with the requisite solvent. Подпись: These new gloss colors remained exactly the same for the new ANA Bulletin No. 166, issued in December 1943 (the actual colors remained in use until the issue of ANA Bulletin No.l66d in March 1959, so they had a very long life). There were significant changes to three of the earlier Air Corps gloss colors with the issuance of these plates. 1’he red became con-siderably brighter and more yellow than previously, while the yel-low became an almost straight medium yellow shade, losing the orange it previously used. The greatest change was in the light blue shade No. 23, as it was replaced by the Navy true blue color, which was a much darker blue without any green in it. This meant that all of the AAF trainer aircraft painted almost three years later, in the blue and yellow paint scheme, used the Navy True Blue color and the new Orange Yellow.

Development of the AAF Camouflage Colors

The AAF camouflage color standards were the same as those developed for the Air Corps’ combat aircraft. These had resulted in the issue of Bulletin No. 41, Color Card for Camouflage Finishes, on September 16, 1940. However, development of the necessary flat camou­flage colors had begun as early as 1926 with the use of commercial water color paints mixed to suit local conditions.

As a result, a new specification, No. 14057, “Paint, Water, Dry,” was issued on April 3, 1931 to cover the use of such temporary camouflage finishes. No colors were originally specified, the specification merely stating that the colors should be mixed to match those specified in the color card supplement to 3-1, the only color being used at that time being olive drab,

As tests continued on the temporary camouflage finishes several suitable colors were evolved, culminating in the issue of Spec. 14057- C, on December 27,1939. This listed the same colors as previously and added a new shade No. 34, Rust Brown, intended to provide an additional color for use in autumn camouflage. The shades, together with the associated Munsell Color Notation, were as follows:

Shade No.


Munsell Notation






5YR 7/4


Light Blue

5B 7.6/4

Sea Green

ig im

Dark Blue

4B 2.8/3


Dark Green

4G 2.4/1.8


Dark Olive Drab

8Y 3.6/3


Neutral Gray






Rust Brown

5YR 3/4

(Note: the Munsell Notations were changed completely from the 1929 ones to the current (post 1942) one, so it is only possible to check these color shades against a 1929 edition of the colors; the author had access to a 1929 edition to check the actual color shades. It is worth noting that this was the first use of Munsell Color Notations in an official Air Corps specification).

Spec. 14057-C continued to be used by the USAAF and was not finally canceled until 1954, although it had long since ceased to be used prior to that date.

Bulletin No. 41 Color Card issued, September 1940

One of the chief items studied in the development of permanent camouflage finishes for the Air Corps, under Study No. 42, was suitable matt shades of color for the camouflage. Tests were run on various shades, using water paint and other types of lacquer and enamel finishes then being developed simultaneously. The results of Study No. 42 culminated in the issue of the Air Corps Bulletin No. 41, dated September 16,1940 (one day after the decisive combat between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain). Entitled “Color Card for Camouflage Finishes,” it contained eight card color chips, each one inch by three inches (2.54 x 7.62 cm) in size. The new colors were:

Dark Olive Drab No. 41

Insignia Red No. 45

Medium Green No. 42

Insignia White No. 46

Neutral Gray No. 43

Insignia Blue No. 47

Black No. 44

Identification Yellow No. 48

Original War Department Spec. No. 3-1 still in use, July 1941

. Combat Aircraft Distinctive Markings,. Invasion Stripes, and Unit Insignia

Nice line up of B-17s of the 95th BG, 13th CBW, 3rd Air Div, Eighth Air Force, at Poltava, Russia after their shuttle bomb mission over Germany on June 21, 1944. Nearest aircraft is B-17G-55-BO, 42-102678, aircraft BG-R of the 334th BS. Next is B-17G, serial incomplete, aircraft BG-M, with a replacement camouflaged rudder. Next is B-17G-20-VE, 42-97599, aircraft OE-T of the 335th BS; note it does not have the black group rectangle on the tail yet. The sixth aircraft is still fully camouflaged, and has the "B” in black on white tail marking. All of these markings are to ВСІ 55-14, dated December 25,1943. (USAF)


Boeing B-17E-BO, 41-9100, aircraft FR-U, was the lead ship for the 379th BG, but was attached to the 525th BS. It was painted in dark olive drab and white stripes alt over; the stripes below the wing ran from front to rear, and those under the horizontal tail were spanwise. The group marking, black tetter “K” on a white triangle, with a dark olive drab outline. Code letters were in white, with the aircraft serial number and letter “U” on the fin in yellow. It was seen on July 24, 1944. (USAF)

. Combat Aircraft Distinctive Markings,. Invasion Stripes, and Unit Insignia








Natural Metal




Wing Tip Marking



© Victor Archer



Three B-17s of the 323rd BS, 91st BG, 1st CBW, 1st Air Div, Eighth Air Force, show the latest changes to the CADMs, in ВСІ 55-21, dated October 16,1944. All of the aircraft, natural metal and camouflaged, are carrying the new red vertical tail areas, together with red wing tips and horizontal stabilizers (not elevators). Nearest aircraft is B-17G-45-BO, 42-97304, aircraft OR-C; on its right is B-17G-30-BO, 42-31908, aircraft OR-R, in camouflage, and behind is B-I7G-49-BO, 42-97271, aircraft OR-B. Squadron code letters are in yellow on camouflage and black on natural metal. November, 1944. (CSAF)


Boeing B-17G-35-DL, 42-107033, aircraft DF-D of the 324th BS, 91st BG, 1st CBW, 1st Air Div, Eighth Air Force, in very shiny natural metal finish carries the latest CAMDs to ВСІ 55-21, dated June 23, 1944. For the 1st Air Div, there was little change except that the natural metal finish changed the Air Div triangle from white to black, reversing the color of the group letter in the process from black to white, and changing the squadron code letters from yellow to black. More colorful changes were to come later in 1944, as the strength of the Eighth Air Force built up rapidly. (USAF)


Boeing B-17G-45-BO, 42-97330, aircraft MS-S of the 535th BS, 381st BG, 1st CBW, 1st Air Div, Eighth Air Force, is seen carrying the new red vertical tail, wing tip and horizontal stabilizer (not elevators) markings, added by ВСІ 55-21, dated October 16,1944. These CADMs remained unchanged for the 1st Air Div until the end of the war. (USAF)


Boeing B-17G-95-BO 43-38810, aircraft SC-V of the 612th BS, 401st BG, 94th CBW, 1st Air Div, plus 43-38733, 43-30541, and 43-37780, plus others, lined upon March 19, 1945.They are carrying the new yellow, trimmed with black, sloping band on the vertical tail, added by ВСІ 55­21, dated October 16, 1944. Note that there are some variations in the positioning and size of the triangle markings. Seen at Deenthorpe, England on March 19,1945. (USAF)


Boeing B-17G-75-BO, 43-37921, aircraft UX-N of the 327th BS, 92nd BG, 40th CBW, 1st Air Div, seen in 1945 at one of the forward strips in Belgium. Barely visible is the red band across the vertical tail, with its tower edge in line with the base of the triangle. The unit code letters appear to be in insignia blue rather than black; compare with the star insignia and the black triangle. (William L. Swisher)


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Consolidated B-24 D-20-Со, 41-24215, aircraft “Z” of the 445th BG, 2nd Bomb Div, Eighth Air Force, at Tihenham, England, in 1944. Note that the aircraft radio call number presentation is incorrect in that it shows both of the year (1941) digits at the beginning of the number; the number “4” should have been omitted. This formation lead aircraft was painted with wide orange bands all over the fuselage and vertical tails. Note that the large letter “F" on the fuselage has lights in all of its horizontal and vertical strokes. (USAF)


Consolidated B-24H or J, serial unknown, aircraft J4-M “Final Approach”, of the 753rd BS, 458th BG, 96th CBW, 2nd Air Div, waiting for take-off at Horsham St. Faith, England, on the Group’s 200th mission. Dark olive drab and neutral gray finish, tail markings are a white vertical stripe on red vertical surfaces. (USAF)


Consolidated B24H, serial unknown, aircraft J3-P, of the 755th Bs, 458th BG, 96th CBW, 2nd Air Div. The markings of the 2nd Air Div were changed to colored vertical tails by ВСІ 55-21, dated June 23, 1944. This aircraft has the red tail with a white vertical band of the 458th BG, together with the earlier upper right wing marking of a white letter “K” on a black circle (for natural metal aircraft). Late 1944. (USAF)


Consolidated B-24H, serial unknown, aircraft Z5-E “The Shack”, of the 754th BS, 458th Bg, 96 CBW, 2nd Air Div. Red tail with a white vertical stripe. Note the grayed-out fuselage insignia, a somewhat superfluous effort! Seen at Horsham St. Faith, England, on February 26,1945.


Consolidated B-24H-L-FO, 42-7478, aircraft ЕС-P bar, “Flying Crusader” of the 578th BS, 392nd BG, 14th CBW, 2nd Air Div, typifies a late camouflaged B-24. The vertical tail markings are white, with a black horizontal stripe. Note that the right tail has received a replacement dark olive drab rudder, still showing its medium green blotches and its portion of the old circle marking painted over. The group code letter “D” does not appear on the right wing circle. Code letters on fuselage are gray and the radio call number on the fin are in yellow. Aircraft letter on the tail is white. (USAF)


Consolidated B-24H, serial number unknown, aircraft “I” of the 715th BS, 448th BG, 20th CBW, 2nd Air Div, taking off from its base of Seething, England. It is on the way to drop supplies to Allied troops battling east оГ the Rhine river in Germany, in the spring of 1945. Group markings were a black diagonal bar across the yellow tail; the squadron insignia was the yellow diamond on the black bar. The aircraft letter is within the diamond. (USAF)

image484Boeing B-17 of the 452nd BG, 45th CBW, 3rd Air Div is seen from above, showing the group letter "L” in a white rectangle above the right outer wing. Taken over Berlin on April 29, 1944, it appears as if both outer wing panels have been repaired, but not repainted prior to this mission. (USAF)


Consolidated B-24H-15-FO, 42-52618, aircraft R5-K “Chief Wapello”, of the 839th BS, 487th BG, was in one of the five H-24 groups in the 3rd Air Div, which also had nine B-17 groups. It proved to he too difficult to operate the two types together, and they were replaced by B-17s after only a few months. The group code letter “P” is seen on the tail and on the wing in the white rectangle. Code tetters were gray, and the aircraft letter “K” was in yellow in both positions, as was the radio call number. (USAF)


Boeing B-17G-45-BO, 42-97258, of the 452nd BG, 45th CBW, 3rd Air Div, with a lot of company, on the way to Germany in May, 1944, No squadron codes were used by this group. The CADMs are to ВСІ 55-14, dated December 25, 1943. Note that this B-17 has a replacement camouflaged outer right wing panel. (USAF)


Boeing B-17G-65-VE, 44-8439, aircraft “R”, of the 95th BG, 13th CBW, 3rd Air Div, seen at a strip in Belgium in 1945. It has the usual Mack rectangle on the tail and the red band up the trailing edge of the rudder; however, a replacement rudder has not yet been painted in the red color. A red band at an angle across the lower left outer wing completes the markings. Date not known, but after January 11,1945, and prior to March 7,1945, in conformance with the latest CADM orders. (USAF)


Boeing B-17G-70-BO, 43-37928, aircraft “D”, of the 490th BG, 93rd CBW, 3rd Air Div, seen in Belgium in 1945. The group marking is a red band across the vertical tail, one-third of its height, together with red hands across the wing, at the inner end of the aileron, and across the middle of the horizontal tail. The 9rd CBW adopted these markings when it was originally equipped with B-24s, and carried them across when the 3rd Air Div became an ail B-17 force in summer 1944. It was the only group in the 3rd Air Div whose markings could be seen easily, and this lead to major changes in the other group markings in the 3rd Air Div in early 1945. (William L, Swisher)


Two B-17Gs, 42-97627 in natural metal, and 42-97555, in camouflage, of the 413th BS, 96th BG, 45th CBW, 3rd Air Div, are seen on their bomb run over the target in late 1944. Using the H2X radar housed in the usual ball-turret position, these acted as radar path-finders for the main bomber force in bad weather when the target could not be seen visually. As they were used with any of the 3rd Air Div forces, they did not carry the usual group tail markings. (USAF)


Three Douglas C-47As towing Waco CG-4A gliders show oft’ the new invasion stripes on June 6, 1944, D-Day. They are from (he 88th TCS, 438th TCG, of the Ninth Air Force. (March AFB Museum)


. Combat Aircraft Distinctive Markings,. Invasion Stripes, and Unit Insignia

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force issues Top Secret memo whose subject was “Distinctive Marking – Aircraft”, dated April 18, 1944 (the “Invasion Stripes”)

On April 13, 1944, the newly formed Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force issued a draft of a major Operation Memoran­dum, Number 23, entitled “DISTINCTIVE MARKING – AIRCRAFT”. This was approved very quickly and issued on April 18, 1944. Only 100 copies of the Top Secret document were made; 55 were issued to the necessary commands, each bearing its own number. The other 45 copies were held as spares. The following information comes from copy number 36, issued to the Chief Administrative Officer (this was declassified by DOD on October 12,1966, at the request of the author).








The object of this memorandum is to prescribe the distinctive markings which will be applied to US and BRITISH aircraft in order to make them more easily identified as friendly by ground and naval forces and by other friendly aircraft.


a. The instructions contained herein will apply to the following types of US and BRITISH aircraft; (I) Fighters and fighter – bombers. (2) Tactical and photographic reconnaissance aircraft. (3) Aircraft employed in spotting for naval gunfire and field artillery. (4) Light bombers. (5) Medium bombers. (6) Troop carrier aircraft, including four engine types. (7) Glider tugs, including four engine types. (8) Liaison aircraft and Air OP’s employed in forward areas for fire spotting and adjustment or for advanced aircraft control. (9) Coastal Command, Air Sea Rescue and disembarked Fleet Air Arm aircraft except seaplanes and four engine aircraft which need not be marked.

b. These instructions will not apply to the following classes of aircraft:(l) Four engine bombers. (2) Air transports. (3) Gliders. (4) Night fighters. (5) Seaplanes.


a. The instructions contained herein will be effective on the day of the assault and thereafter until it is deemed advisable to change. Aircraft will be given distinctive markings as shortly before the day of the assault as it is possible in order to protect the effectiveness of their use.

b. These instructions are in no way intended to change the present US and BRITISH national markings now in use, namely: the USAAF white star on a white horizontal bar; and the RAF red, white and blue roundel.


a Single engine aircraft. (It Upper and lower wing surfaces of aircraft listed in paragraph 2 a above, will be painted with five white and black stripes, each eighteen inches wide, parallel to the longitudinal axis of the airplane, arranged in order from center outward; white, black, white, black, white. Stripes will end six inches inboard of the national markings. (2) Fuselages will be painted with five parallel white and black stripes, each eighteen inches wide, completely around the fuselage, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.

b. Twin engine aircraft. (I) Upper and lower wing surfaces of aircraft listed in paragraph 2 a above, will be painted from the engine nacelles outward with five white and black stripes, each twenty-four inches wide, arranged in order from center outward: white, black, white, black, white. (2) Fuselages will be painted with five parallel white and black stripes, each twenty-four inches wide, completely around the fuselage, with the outside edge of the rearmost band eighteen inches from the leading edge of the tailplane.

c. Four engine troop carrier aircraft and glider tugs. (I) Same as for twin-engine aircraft, wing stripes to be outboard of the outer engine nacelles.

d. Stripes will in no case be painted over the national markings, which take precedence. Wing stripes will extend from leading edge to trailing edge of wings. Special equipment, such as deicer boots, will not be painted over.

e. Types of paint to be employed: (1) USAAF Units – as directed by the Commanding General of the Air Force concerned. (2) RAF Units – as directed by the appropriate BRITISH agency.

f. At Appendix ‘A’ are sample sketches of aircraft painted according to these instructions.


Army, Navy and Air Commanders will disseminate complete information concerning these distinctive markings to all troops under their commands no earlier before the day of the assault than will insure the complete distribution of the information.

By command of General Eisenhower:

W. B. Smith

Lieutenant General, U. S. Army,

OFFICIAL: Chief of Staff.


Major General, G. S.C.,

Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3.



Allied Naval Commander, Expeditionary Force,


Command-in-Chief, 21 Army Group,


Commanding General, First US Army Group,


Air Commander-in-Chicf, AEAF,


The Secretary, The Admiralty,


The Under Secretary of State, The War Office (MO 3)


Commanding General, ETOUSA


Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces,


The Under Secretary of State, The Air Ministry


Commanding General, USSTAF,


Air Officer Commanding, Bomber Command


Chief of Combined Operations,


The Secretary, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Offices of the War Cabinet,


The Secretary, Combined Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D. C.


OPD, War Department, Washington, D. C.


OPD, Navy Department, Washington, D. C.


A. F.H. Q.


Supreme Commander, SFLAEF,


Deputy Supreme Commander,


Chief of Staff,


Deputy Chief of Staff,


Chief Administrative Officer,


Adjutant General,


Secretary General Staff,


AC of S, G-l,


AC of S, G-2


AC of S, G-3


AC of S, G-4,


AC of S, G-5,


Chief Engineer,


Chief Signal Officer,


Public Relations Division,


Headquarters Commandant,






to SHAEFOP MEMO NO 23 dated 18 April, 1944


Width of Stripes 18 inches to start 6 inches inboard of National Marking.


Width of Stripes 18 inches each.


Dark Green


Ocean Grey




Width of Stripes 24 inches to start outboard of Engine Nacelles


PRU Blue


Width of Stripes 24 inches each.


NOTE: National Markings are not to be painted over by the black and white stripes.



Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force issues Top Secret memo whose subject was “Distinctive Marking - Aircraft”, dated April 18, 1944 (the “Invasion Stripes”)


Lockheed F-5B-1-LO, 42-68205, shows off the new invasion markings at Poltava, Russia, on June 21,1944. It was part of the first shuttle force to attack Germany, then continued on to Russia. Unfortunately, the force had been followed by a Luftwaffe Heinkel He 177, and that night, the Germans launched a devastating raid, destroying many of the B-17s. (USAF)

First Army Commander requests change to narrower stripes (“Invasion Stripes”) for Field Artillery and Liaison Aircraft, May 1944.

The First Army Commander, Lieut. Gen Omar Bradley, on May 16, 1944, requested authority to modify distinctive markings for Field Artillery and Liaison (CUB) aircraft. Modification requested was to use 8 inch stripes instead of 18 inch stripes, it was not considered that this change would jeopardize the safety of these small aircraft through identification failure by friendly Air and Ground Forces. Reason for the request was the excessive weight added by paint and the increased difficulty in concealing such aircraft in forward combat areas. This request was approved the next day.

“Invasion Stripes” removed from top surface of wings and fuselage of small artillery liaison aircraft (Piper Cubs), June 1944

HQ Allied Expeditionary Air Force informed SHAEF, HQ 21 AG, Advanced Allied Expeditionary Air Force, HQ Second Tactical Air Force, Main HQ Ninth Air Force, HQ Air Defense Great Britain, HQ USSTAF, HQ Eighth Air Force, ANCXF, and HQ Coastal Com­mand, on June 22,1944, that:

Small artillery liaison aircraft (Piper Cubs) may be seen in the Beachhead combat zone, with no distinctive markings on the top surface of wings and fuselage. Markings will continue to be carried on the ventral surfaces. This necessary due to difficulty encountered in providing camouflage for these aircraft while they are on their unprotected landing grounds very near to the front lines.


Douglas A-20J-15-DO, 43-21745, aircraft 8L-S, “Irene”, of the 646th BS, 410th BG, Ninth Air Force, seen at its English base on June 22,1944. It shows how the full complement of stripes were carried until October, 1944 (see a later photo of this aircraft in this section). Note the roughness of some of the painting, probably done without the benefit of taping. (USAF)


Stinson L-5-VW, 42-98592, seen at strip A-8, Picauville, Normandy, on July 7,1944. Note the full size invasion stripes, versus those on the Piper L-4s. (William L. Swisher)

Propeller Blades and Hubs to be black, May 1941

Steady progress in the development of new camouflage finishes and requirements inevitably led to continued amendments to Spec. 24114. Unfortunately, Amendment No. 2 has been lost (therefore there is no exact record as to what was said in it). Amendment No. 3 dated May 9, 194І, specified that all propeller blades and hubs should be painted matt black on all surfaces. Paragraph E-5 required that:

All external surfaces of airplane propellers and hubs, after the provisions of Paragraph E-la have been complied with, will be sprayed with one coat of zinc chromate primer, Specification No. 14080. The final finish shall consist of one light coat of cellulose nitrate camouflage lacquer, Specification No. 14105. The color of all external surfaces shall be black in accordance with 14080. The final finish shall consist of one light coat cellulose nitrate camouflage lacquer. Specification No. 14105. The color of all external surfaces shall be black in accordance with Shade No. 44, Bulletin No. 41. After the propeller and hub have been camouflaged and prior to installation, the propeller assembly will be checked for balance.

This was to be the last amendment to Spec. 24114 issued by the Air Corps, later ones being issued by the Army Air Forces.



Boeing B-17B of the 19th BG, March Field, shows the standard “U. S. ARMY” marking under the wing. The two underwing cocardes were replaced by a single one under the right wing in Spec. 24114. (March AFB Museum)



Boeing B-17E-BOs, 41-9141 and 41-9131, flying near Seattle are in two different finishes. The nearest one has been repossessed from an RAF batch and is painted in dark green and dark earth over deep sky, with an RAF fin flash, while the other one is in dark olive drab and neutral gray. 512 of this version were built and were considered to he the first real combat-ready B-17. (USAF)

Colors for TVaining Airplanes (Specification 98-24113)

Colors for Advanced, Primary, and Basic trainers were called out in Spec. No. 98-24113-А, dated September 9,1938, and the appli­cable portions follow (with the colors corrected to the new Army-Navy Porcelain Color Plates of September 1,1938):


Spec. 98-2411Э-А, Color for Army Air Corps airplanes

Exterior (Exposed) Surfaces.

Primary and Basic Training Airplanes

Advanced Trainers

Ailerons-both surfaces

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)


True Blue

Aluminum (1)

Elevator-botb surfaces

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)

Fins-bolh surfaces

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)

Flaps-both surfaces

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)


True Blue

Aluminum (1)

Fairing, fuselage-wing

True Blue

Aluminum (1)

Horns, fittings, etc.

Color of surface to which attached

Aluminum (1)

Rudder, balanced section

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)

Rudder, aft of rudder post

Standard rudder insignia

Standard rudder insignia


No added finish

No added finish


True Blue

Aluminum fl)

Stabilizers-both surfaces

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)

Struts-landing gear

True Blue

Aluminum Ш


True Blue

Aluminum (1)

Struts-wire braces

True Blue

Aluminum (1)


True Blue

Aluminum (1)



Aluminum (1)

Tail Wheel Fork

True Blue

Aluminum (1)




Wings-both surfaces

Orange Yellow

Aluminum (1)

Wheel Cowling


Aluminum (1)

Highly Reflecting Surfaces i. e. The fuselage decks forward of the pilot’s compartment and the inboard side of engine nacelles.

Flat Bronze Green (3)

Flat Bronze Green (3)

Interior (Enclosed) Surfaces

Primary and Basic Training Airplanes

Advanced trainers

Wings and Control Surfaces, including ribs, spars, and all interior structures



Fuselages, excepting compartments for personnel, luggage, and cargo



Cockpits for pilots and observers which are open or for which sliding enclosures are provided

Yellow Green (2)

Yellow Green (2)

Closed cockpits, the top and sides of which form part of the fuselage structure

Floor and sides to tops of windows: Flat Bronze Green No. 9 (3). Sides above windows and ceilings: aluminum

Floor and sides to tops of windows: Flat Bronze Green No. 9 (3). Sides above windows and ceilings: aluminum

Seats and upholstering for seats, carpets, drapes, etc.

Flat Bronze Green No. 9 (3).

Flat Bronze Green No. 9 (3),

Luggage, cargo and bomber’s compartment

Yellow Green (2)

Yellow Green (2)


(1) Parts and surfaces fabricated from the following aluminum alloys and corrosion resistant steels are used in the natural metal finish without paint coatings, except anti-glare coating:

Aluminum covered Aluminum Alloy, Specification No. 11067.

Aluminum Alloy, Specification No. 11072.

Aluminum Alloy, Specification No. QQ-A-359.

Aluminum, Specification No. 57-151-1.

Corrosion Resistant Steel, Specification No, 11068.

Parts and surfaces manufactured from other metals or fabric shall be finished with aluminum, enamel, lacquer or dope as specified.

(2) Yellow Green is prepared by mixing:

Zinc Chromate Primer, Specification No, 14080 -1 gallon.

Black Enamel, Specification No. 3-98 – 1/10 gallon.

Aluminum Powder, Type B, Specification No. TT-A-476 – 4 ounces,

Toluene, Specification No. 50-11-38 -1 gallon.

(3) Flat Bronze Green is to match color chip No. 9, Color Card Supplement Specification No. 3-1. The lacquer or enamel shall produce a matt appearance of minimum gloss.


Douglas XB-19, 38-471, in flight over Santa Monica with an AT-6. It first flew on June 27, 1941, in natural metal finish, and was the largesi aircraft to enter AAF service until the B-36. (Nick Williams)

These requirements covered primary and basic training airplanes finished in the true blue and orange yellow color scheme, together with advanced trainers finished in aluminum or natural metal finishes. This spec, also covered the interior yellow-green color; this was not matched to any specific color chip, but was prepared by mixing zinc chromate primer, black enamel and aluminum powder, as specified.

Thus, just prior to entry into World War II, the Army Air Forces had no less than three standard trainer aircraft finishes; (1) the orange yellow and true blue scheme; (2) aluminum paint finish; and (3) natural metal finish.

Placing Star insignia on side of training aircraft objected to in view of very large number of aircraft that would have to be repainted, August, 1942

The War Department Circular No. 273, August 18, 1942, required that all trainer aircraft would have to have the star insignia painted on the fuselage, aft of the wing. The Southeast Air Forces Training Center, Maxwell Field, AL, pointed out that to meet this rquirement, not only would they have to expend a lot of effort on painting the insignia on all of their approximately 4,600 aircraft, but that they would also have to remove the field letters and numbers on all of these aircraft. They felt that the letter and field numbers were necessary for ready identification of aircraft in their training program. Thus, they requested if it was possible to have trainer aircraft excluded from the requirements of the circular.

The HQ. Air Forces Flying Training Command, Fort Worth, TX, to whom the above objection had been sent, in turn wrote to the Director of Individual Training, AAF, Washington, stating that there were approximately 15,500 training type airplanes in the Flying Training Command that would require a change of insignia in order to comply with W. D. circular No. 273. They requested that to avoid interruption of training schedules, and to conserve labor and materials, that the Circular be amended to exclude training type aircraft assigned to the AAF Flying Training Command.

Meanwhile, Maxwell Field, on September 29,1942, sent a letter to the Director, with recommendations for applying the star insignia to the fuselages of in-service training aircraft.

In reply, on October 12, 1942, the Director stated that the Aeronautical Board had proposed the following suggestions regarding the fuselage insignia; these were, if approved, going to be issued as anA-N spec. A maximum diameter of 50 inches and a minimum diameter of 20 inches were to be used for the fuselage insignia, standard sizes to be in multiples of 5 inches. The diameter to be used was the standard size which came closest to being 75 percent of the fuselage depth at the selected location. It was believed that the specified size and location of the fuselage insignia would leave adequate space on training airplanes for their identification markings.

It was also stated that, pending more definite information and the issue of appropriate instructions and technical orders, no action was to be taken by Flying Training Command to alter the markings on their aircraft.


Boeing B-17F-27-BO, 41-24639, was the last of the -27 block and is seen flying near its Bassingbourne, England, base in late 1942. It carries the yellow code letters of the 323rd BS, 91st BG, assigned to the 1st Bomb Wing, Eighth Air Force. (USAF)


Curtiss P-40C-CU, 41-13468, of the 31st FS in the 6th AF, Caribbean area. It is shown in its net-covered revetment; note the shadows on the aircraft’s camouflage. Photo taken in December 1942. (USAF)


Yellow outer ring added to lower wing and fuselage insignia for aircraft destined for use in invasion of North Africa, in Amendment to Op. Memo No. 9 for operation “Torch," dated September 30,1942,

In preparation for Operation “Torch”, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, an amendment dated September 30, 1942, to Operation Memorandum No. 9, dated September 25, 1942, was issued by Allied Force Headquarters under Gen. Eisenhower’s command. This amendment added a yellow ring around the star insignia on the fuselage and under the wing of all American aircraft taking part in this invasion. Intended for ground recognition, it was not required for use on the upper wing insignia. (However, it is obvious from photographs that many aircraft also carried the ring on the upper wing insignia – author). An order adding a two-inch thick ring to the fuselage star insignia was also issued by Gen. Spaatz on October 1,1942, in England for USAAF aircraft in the European Theater of Operations. It has been suggested that this yellow ring was added to the insignia to make it more resemble the British roundel and thus help reduce resistance to the invasion by the local French troops: they were considered to be more friendly to the U. S. forces than to the British forces, who had recently shelled the French Fleet in its home port to prevent it falling into Axis hands. (The later adoption of RAF type red, white, and blue fin flashes on USAAF aircraft serving in North Africa also lends credence to this suggestion – author.)

Replies to Arnold’s teletype re development of camouflage tabulated, April 17,1943

The replies from the different theater commanders were collected and are paraphrased below as far as bombardment types were con­cerned:

London. – Subject appreciable increase in speed, removal of camouflage from heavy bombardment types favored. Removal same from underside only of medium types favored. Bases reasonably safe from surprise attacks due to modem radar so value of passive defense of camouflage in air is deleted.

Alaska. – With 20 miles per hour increase in speed, believe non camouflage of airplanes more desirable in this theater if nets are available for camouflage of aircraft on ground. Believe speed increase due to weight reduction rather than glossy surface.

Brisbane. – At this time do not desire removal of camouflage from airplanes for this theater.

Cairo. – Further camouflage not required as long as airplanes given dull neutral color not reflecting sunlight.

4th and 11th Air Forces, – Desirable removal of camouflage all types except transports.

Hawaii. – Recommend no paint on top, sky blending camouflage on bottom, propellers to be painted antiglare. In ac cordance with background, top to be camouflaged locally.

As a tentative conclusion, it was suggested that:

Due to the early warning and vectoring capabilities of radar, camouflage is losing its importance when weighed against the cost in speed and weight.

A compromise along the following lines was suggested for bombardment types:

(1) Reduce the weight of the camouflaging materials to as low a weight as possible consistent with changing the metallic sheen of the ship to a less conspicuous appearance.

(2) Allow the surface to be roughened to a minimum extent to somewhat reduce reflection consistent with the smoothness of surface required for low drag. Some reflection could be tolerated if a minimum of roughness was obtained,

(3) Following documents noted as having important bearing on subject:

(a) Final report on Experimental Camouflage Finish for Aircraft, dated March 8,1943 (Eglin Field).

(b) Memorandum Report on Camouflage of Aircraft in Flight, dated October 27,1942 (Eglin Field).

(c) Report on Conference on Special Camouflage for Anti-Submarine Aircraft at Langley Field, Virginia, dated September 16,1942, (Eglin Field).

These comments and recommendations were withheld from further distribution until all answers had been received from the theater commanders. However, a memo to the Bombardment Branch of the Requirements Division, the Air Support Branch (of the same divi­sion) stated:

Six replies had been received with five widely varying answers. If these answers were typical of the other replies to be received, camouflage would have to be provided for each type of theaters requirements. To date, a sky blue to dull drab camou­flage had been desired by two of the theaters. Camouflage had to fit the terrain condition, the tactical tasks being performed and the passive type of protection required for the theater.

Further remarks could not be made until all replies had been digested. However, it appeared that it would be necessary to provide camouflage for each theater as necessary to fit the particular situation.

Photographic B-24s (F-7s) to be painted two shades of blue, October 16, 1943

The Mat. Lab. at WF in a letter, dated October 16,1943, advised the AAF Representative at Northwest-St. Paul Modification Center that B-24s being modified to F-7s for photographic purposes, should be thoroughly cleaned, sprayed with a hiding coat of aerial blue enamel, followed by sufficient coats of shadow blue enamel to produce shading over visible bottom surfaces. (Note: this is a most remarkable letter, because it contains reference to two enamel colors, aerial blue and shadow blue, which have never appeared anywhere in any paint orders, standard color listings, etc.! Research has not been able to find any other official reference to these colors, nor did they ever find their way into any of the AN standard aircraft camouflage colors).

Paint manufacturers query the variety of color standards in use, October 1943

The Forbes Varnish Company, Cleveland, OH, on October 22, 1943, asked the Material Division, Wright Field, OH, whether or not certain of the gloss colors in the Army-Navy Porcelain Color Standard had been superseded by certain color chips in “Color Card Supplement to US Army Spec. 3-1, revised April 21,1943.”

The Production Engineering Section replied that the Color Card Supplement colors did not supersede any of the Army-Navy Porcelain Standard colors, and pointed out that in each instance the correct color standards to use would be those referenced in the applicable detail specifications (see Chapter 7 for full details).

Gen. Arnold signs order eliminating camouflage on all aircraft, October 30, 1943

On October 30, 1943, the Prod. Eng. Sect. (WF), informed by teletype the Western Procurement District, Los Angeles, CA, that Lt. Gen. 13. Giles, С/As (Wash.), had signed an order, which had been counter-signed by Gen. Arnold and Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz (Northwest African Air Force), eliminating camouflage from all aircraft. WF had not then officially received the order, but suggested that the District withhold for one week, approval of any funds for paint buildings.