TBM Markings and Nose Art of VMTB-143
The TBMs are well represented in the veterans' photograph collections. The nose art is creative and not often seen in a TBM squadron. And thanks to the generosity of the pilots and widows I've been able to copy 7 pilot log books. Even though there were 12 TBMs and 18 pilots aboard the carrier the Bureau Numbers (BuNos) in the 7 books seem to account for virtually all of the squadron's aircraft. On the carrier no pilot flew a BuNo reserved for them but rather flew what was available. However while on land several planes were flown heavily if not exclusively by one pilot as detailed in the section on BuNos.
Studying the time line of the BuNos identifies the 12 aircraft originally flown in the war zone. By correlating the photos and log books a few nose art schemes can be linked to specific BuNos.
Images on this page are thumbnails... please click on one to view a larger version.
Large 'P' fuselage markings
and sequence numbers
There must have been a brief time when the sequence numbers were different, as seen in these 2 photos showing a 24 and 29 on TBM cowls. Since 24 and 29 were used on VMF-512 planes it may have been the TBMs were numbered to match the F4Us. In any event the numbering was short lived. The white recognition stripes were painted on in July so the first picture can be precisely dated from the War Diary of the USS Gilbert Islands which gives Aug 2 and 6 as the dates for AA gunnery practice. The second photo was most likely done about that time as Capt. Hockaday is not present yet he arrived on board in August. Photos taken in September show they were were back to using 76 - 87.
Several slightly different lettering styles show up in the photos. In the Santa Barbara photo P81 is done in solid white. This style may have lasted for a while on the carrier (see P84 below) but eventually they had been repainted with a stencil as shown in this August 13 photo of P87. The stencils seen in the Sept 28 in-flight photos are similar nevertheless if you look closely at the shape of the openings in the 8's and P's you can see small variations. And in a few undated carrier photos (see photos of P83 and P84 below) the stencils look different in both the position of the cuts and overall shape of the letters and numbers.
Why were there differing styles? When new TBMs were brought aboard the carrier they had to be painted immediately with the most important tactical markings. This must have been the large Pxx marks because the task board in the TBM ready room ID'ed the planes by their sequence numbers. I think the consistency of letter and number styles was not the highest priority. And perhaps the painters just wanted to create some variety.
To establish the stripe sizes for my 1/48th scale TBM model I enlarged the actual photos and scaled them to 1/48th. The stripes are about 3mm. Extrapolating to full size I think the 2 narrow stripes were 6 inches wide separated by the same amount. The pattern on the top of the starboard wing was repeated on the underside of the port wing. The single large stripe is about 10mm x 68mm, about 19 inches x 128 inches.
The 2 narrow stripes on the tail section scaled out to the same size as on the wing... 6 inches wide with a 6 inch gap. The aft stripe aligns with the aft edge of the white in the national insignia. The bold stripe on the vertical stabilizer is shown dimensioned in 1/48th scale which scales up to be 26 inches tall and 34 inches forward of the rudder hinges.
The dimensions are approximate and if you have a copy of the June 2 order I ask that you please let me know if it dictates the stripe dimensions.
When I built the model I lacked detailed information on the tail markings. I went with 'MARINES' and bureau number 24737 from Woody's excellent sheet. If built today I would use 'NAVY' and a bureau number from the list below.
I found 34 bureau numbers in the 7 log books and one other by inspection of a photo of P84. By placing the bureau numbers on a monthly calendar it's possible to approximate their time line in squadron service and even to assign a few BuNos to specific nose art. Even though pilot log books have the designation 'TBM-3' written in, I consulted Joe Baugher's site at http://home.att.net/~jbaugher/ which confirmed all listed BuNos were for a TBM-3.
The squadron started combat with 12 planes and lost 2 shot down in June for a total of 14. Why were those other 21 TBMs needed? To begin with eight planes were used in Santa Barbara that didn't make it into the Pacific Theatre. Once aboard the carrier the pilots tell me that only light, minor repairs such as swapping out a prop or engine and fixing hydraulic leaks could be handled. For major repairs (they specifically mentioned a hard landing resulting in a bent airframe) the planes had to be flown ashore. Rather than wait for that specific plane to be repaired new ones from depots were flown aboard at once as it was imperative to keep the squadron strength at 12 planes.
This table shows the 35 BuNos in numerical order. The 2 BuNos in red were shot down in June over Ishigaki Shima. The entry in blue is deduced from an early photograph of P84 rather than being recorded in one of the 7 pilot logs. The entries '1' are for BuNos found only once in a log book and I put a question mark next to the 2 BuNos 68119 and 69171 as being worthy of more research. The notes next to the BuNos are explained after the table.
By examining the table a few
conclusions can be reached.
The 7 log books show that while in combat from the carrier no one pilot flew exclusively one BuNo. However VMTB-143 CO Capt. Worlund probably got some deference as he flew BuNo 68919 in March at Santa Barbara and while on Hawaii and for many strikes, and then 85591 in Sept-Oct-Nov. While on Hawaii in April and May Lt. Cromwell's log favors 69023, Lt. Leidecker's 68121, Lt. Liebich's 69058 (Fertile Myrtle), Capt. Webb's 69011 and Capt. Patterson's 69036. Lt. Githens did not have a favored BuNo.
This picture is dated June 16 at an airfield on Okinawa where some of the carrier's planes formed part of a larger ensemble for a strike on Kyushu. The 3 tri-color planes are P80, P82 and P83 which must be replacements for the three planes lost that month. If so their BuNos are 68924, 69017, 69446, not assignable to a particular sequence number. Following the same line of reasoning the 3 lost in June were P80, 82 and 83 whose bureau numbers were 69023, 69026 and 69036, again not assignable.
the individual planes
Eleven of the twelve had nose art. When a dark painted plane was replaced with a tri-colored one, the photos indicate the nose art panel was removed from the old plane and screwed onto the new one. See for example photos under P78, 81 and 83 where a dark panel appears on a tri-color plane.
There were 18 pilots for the 12 planes so not everyone got to name a plane by himself. I've added attribution if known.
P79 (female figure)
P84 Fertile Myrtle
I hope you enjoyed this detailed look at the TBMs of VMTB-143. If you can add anything please let me know through the email link on the home age.
Note to modelers and artists: if you do one of these please send images of your work.
This site was last updated 12/24/07