TBM Markings and Nose Art of VMTB-143


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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 
When VMTB-143 was training in 1944 at the Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara their planes had a large 'P' on the fuselage followed by a 2 digit sequence number... see photos of P81 and P90.  I think a letter/number combination may have been standard practice for squadrons that trained in Santa Barbara, see for example the photo of the large 'N' fuselage mark on TBMs of VMTB-134 in 1943.  Corsair photos from squadrons at Santa Barbara show a similar style with of course a different letter.  Unlike the Corsairs of VMF-512 whose large 'EE' markings were painted over, the TBMs retained their 'Pxx' fuselage markings throughout the Pacific War.  The 'Pxx' appeared on both fuselages sides.  Sequence numbers for the 12 TBMs aboard the carrier were 76 - 87 with one exception.

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.

The 'P' appeared only on the fuselage sides while the sequence number was on the cowl at the 2 sides and chin.

Data markings
As far a I can tell the TBMs had some of the small data stencils.  The tail had the standard 3 lines consisting of "TBM-3" with "Navy" on top of the 5 digit Bureau Number (last 2 digits are 41) as seen in this enlargement of P81.  Other close ups show informational marks and I can pick out "Enclosure Release" and the usual Hamilton ovals on the prop blades.  There aren't any detailed views of the top or bottom of the wings so I can't say if they were marked.

White recognition stripes
Maj. John Elliott USMC (ret) published a beautifully done series of books The Official Monogram US Navy and Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide.  In volume 2 on p.121 he says the technical order directing carrier-specific recognition stripes to be painted on the planes aboard the CVEs was issued June 2, 1945.  On the USS Gilbert Islands they were not painted on right away as in June the planes were pounding targets in the Sakishima Gunto.  During the Balikpapan operation June 30 - July 3 the TBMs don't yet have the stripes.  The earliest dated photo with stripes is this accident photo of P87 dated at the National Archives Aug 13.  Between July 7 and July 29 the carrier's planes were on land at Tacloban where the CVE recognition stripes must have been painted on.  Some of the vets refer to these as invasion stripes.

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.

Aircraft bureau numbers
In June 1944 the squadron started training at Santa Barbara with the TBM-1C.  The first TBM-3 showed up in log books in February 1945 and from the beginning of March until November all planes were -3s.  What follows talks about the -3s only. 

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.

      Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov
68076 R late                      
68095 R late                      
68119 ?        


68121 12                      
68190 R late                  


68386 SB only                      
68546 R late                      
68762 R late                      
68840 12                      
68917 SB only  


68919 12                      
68924 R June                      
68952 12 P78                    
68959 SB only                      
69011 12                      
69017 R June                      
69023 12                      
69026 12                      
69028 SB only P84   not known                
69034 12                      
69036 12                      
69037 SB only                      
69041 12 P81                    
69047 R late                      
69058 12 P84                    
69171 ?          


69446 R June                      
85553 R late                      
85591 R late                      
85648 12                      
85683 SB only      


23108 SB only                      
23191 SB only  


23316 R late P78                


23318 R late                      

By examining the table a few conclusions can be reached.
1. Keeping in mind the carrier set sail April 12 for the Pacific theater, BuNos with 'SB only' next to them did not sail aboard the carrier.
2. The 12 planes that first went into combat are noted with a '12'.  Eight of them lasted until at least October, well after hostilities were over. 
3. Three BuNos don't appear after June - the 2 shot down and 69036.  Their 3 replacements that came aboard in June are noted by 'R June'.
4. Hard flying or accidents caused some replacements to be needed after the end of hostilities, noted as 'R late'.
5. There were very few flights in November so 23316 and 68190, seen only once in October, may have been on strength in October and November but not flown by more than 1 pilot.
6. BuNos 69171 and 68119 don't make sense to me so I put a question mark next to them indicating in my mind a need of further study.

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.

Paint schemes
The TBMs are usually seen in dark paint, undoubtedly the standard sea blue.  However as we'll see in the photos below some of the planes had the tri-color paint scheme giving rise to photos of planes with the same sequence number but in two finishes.  The tri-colored planes are presumably replacements from depots.  On September 28 six planes participated in aerial formation flying where all are depicted are in sea blue... P77, P78, P80, P81, P84 and P85.  It would seem as though sea blue was applied as time permitted. 

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.

Photos of the individual planes 
Photos are presented in the order the planes were numbered.  I could find pictures of both the port and starboard in the area of the cowl except for P76(stbd), P82(stbd) and P87(port). 

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.

Click here to see a slide show of just nose art close ups.

Click here to see all the individual photos shown below in one slideshow.

P76 Lucy Lu
Named by Lt. Jackson after his wife Lucille.  Art on port - I can't find a picture of the starboard side. 


No artwork seen on starboard or port.

Unattributed.  Art on port only.  These 2 planes show vestiges of the last 3 digits of the BuNo... 952 and 316.  From the BuNo table these are 68952 and 23316. 

This close up comparison convinces me the panel was transferred from the dark plane to the tri color one.  Not only are images indistinguishable but the 4 faint smudges on the left thigh and 2 dots of paint are visible in both.

P79 (female figure)
Unattributed. Small figure of a woman on the starboard side. The figure looks like a cowgirl with cowboy boots, hat and a gun in hand.  Capt. Hockaday,rolex replica watches who replaced Lt. Misamore, was a Texan who reputedly emphasized the greatness of his home state to anyone in earshot.  It's a pure guess but perhaps this art is his, modeled after the famous Kilgore Rangerettes.  No art seen on the port side.

P80 Laurie Ellen II
Unattributed, with art on the starboard side only.  The pilot in the photo is Lt. Montgomery so perhaps the art has something to do with him.


P81 The Loose Goose
In my mind two pilots are associated with The Loose Goose.  In his photo album Capt.omega replica watches Stalnaker wrote 'my plane' next to its photo.  Capt. Patterson grew up on his family's "Goose Haven" farm and remembers being associated with this artwork.  Art on starboard only.  Here's another example of the panel with artwork having been transferred from one plane to another.  You can even see vestiges of an 8 from the prior 81. 

P82 GiGi
GiGi is attributed to Lt. Lally who named it after Maurice Chevalier's GiGi.  I have not found a photo of the starboard side. The image here is from my TBM model which was painted in accordance with Lt. Lally's recollections.  No art was seen on the port side.

P83 Rebel
My guess is this was named by Virginian Lt. Hay. No art found on the port side.  I think the long cigarette shaped streak to the right of his mouth is an accidental scratch.

P84 Fertile Myrtle
Lt. Liebich told me he and Lt. Knickelbein jointly named Fertile Myrtle - a turkey carrying a bomb.  How appropriate! The art is on the starboard side only.  Lt. Liebich is flying P84 in the last picture from Sept 28.  From his log book this is BuNo 69058.

It was common practice to paint the last 3 digits of the BuNo near the cowl to ease aircraft ID.  But once in squadron service these would be painted over as time permits.  From this picture it can be inferred the BuNo on this P84 was 69028.  The solid letters of P84 tag this as an early TBM.

P85 Florida Gator
Unattributed... I couldn't find a pilot from Florida.  Artwork is on the starboard side only.

P86 Oil Turmoil
Attributed to Lt. Whalen who in a letter home wrote this was his plane.  Artwork on starboard only.

P87 Doris Mae
Unattributed and the only example of girlie art in the squadron.  I can't find a photo of the port side.

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.  

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