Colour and Markings of Operation Starkey

By Steve Nichols

This is the first in a series of articles and colour profiles covering the colour and markings of aircraft with the modeller in mind, which hopefully will be a monthly feature. The first group these articles will cover the aircraft of the United States 9th Air Force and the RAF's 2nd Tactical Air Force involved in the Operation Overlord, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day in June. These images are intended as a reference for modellers searching for colour schemes for allied D-Day aircraft. An effort is being made to present little seen or never before illustrated aircraft.

To kick off this series, I am going to explore the first wide use of what has become known as invasion stripes as applied to a wide variety of aircraft. I am not speaking of the Normandy invasion, but the little known "Operation Starkey" which took place in late August and early September 1943.

Historical background

Operation Starkey was originally planned as a large-scale invasion hoax by the COSSAC staff under Major General Fredrick Morgan aimed at Boulonge in the Pas de Calais region of the French channel coast. By the time it was actually executed it was considerably downsized. From August 16 to September 9 1943, elements of the British and Canadian armies, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force were involved in preparations described as consistent with an assault on Boulogne. In its final form Operation Starkey was visualised as feint against the Boulogne beaches intended to divert German troops from Italy and draw the Luftwaffe into large-scale combat with RAF fighters over the channel. Unfortunately, as the operation reached its climax on September 9 1943, it became obvious that operation Starkey aroused nothing but supreme lack of interest from the Germans. In the post WWII years this has been more than matched by historians

The preliminary phase, which lasted from August 16 to 24 August, USAAF and RAF aircraft bombed airfields, transportation and industrial targets in the preparatory phase. From August 25thto September 8th, the bombing intensified and was broadened to include ammunition and fuel dumps concealed inland in the forests around Boulogne. The conclusion of Operation Starkey came on September 9th, when the bombers specifically targeted gun sites in the Boulogne area. In marked contrast to the Normandy invasion, 9 months later, the allies telegraphed their every move in the mock invasion. Which was by now was considerably reduced in scale.

September 9th saw the most Naval activity in the English Channel since the Dunkirk evacuation. The 255-ship armada sailing to Boulogne from Dungeness at 0730. The fleet contained Thames barges, pleasure steamers and destroyers, but no troops were carried. Noticeably absent were Capital ships of the Royal Navy, which were engaged supporting the landings in Sicily and latterly Italy. The missing battleships, which had been a vital element in all allied invasions thus far, was probably one of the main reasons why the Germans did not swallow the bait. This caused one R.N. officer to comment that the reason for the lack of German response was. "There was not enough cheese in the mousetrap!"

At 900 hours the entire mile-wide armada, which had been sailing for Boulogne did an abrupt 180-degree turn and headed for English ports. Spitfires flew 786 sorties and nearly 300 allied light bomber sortie had been directed at the Boulogne area. Nearly 340 heavy and 85 light bombers and fighter-bombers attacked thirteen airfields. A tragic result of all this bombing activity was the accidental bombing of the French village of Le Portel by 8th USAAF B-17's which resulted in 500 French civilian casualties. In spite of all this aerial activity but only two German aircraft were shot down. Whatever the Allies were selling the Germans were not buying.

The First Invasion Stripes?

The Sicilian Invasion in July 1943 was plagued by friendly fire from the Allied fleet shooting at and shooting down British and American Aircraft. Indeed, on the nights of July 11 and 13 44 12th Air Force C-47's laden with British and American Paratroops were shoot down over flying the allied fleet. Several types of special ID markings had been carried on aircraft participating in training exercises in the United Kingdom. Clearly this state of affairs could not continue, so Operation Starkey turned out to be the test run for a new means of identifying Allied Aircraft over flying the fleet.

Several types of special ID markings had been carried on aircraft participating in training exercises in the United Kingdom. However, for this operation a new method of Identification was tested. Aircraft involved in Starkey appeared on 9 September in something similar to Typhoon ID stripes, on closer examination this was somewhat modified one step. Two white and two alternating parallel black stripes of equal width, were carried on each wing, above and below. In at least two photo's the stripes are shown to have been painted over the under wing roundels. To my knowledge, there is no photo's showing the upper wing of Starkey aircraft but there exists the distinct possibility that the upper wing roundels were over painted too. The colour profiles accompanying this article show the upper wing roundels over painted if nothing else to stimulate research. Aircraft known to have carried these stripes as confirmed by photographs were Spitfires, Boston's and Whirlwinds. Others thought to have carried these early invasion stripes include Typhoons, fighter-recon Mustangs, Mitchell's and Venturas. All of these types were in RAF service. The 8th United States Army Air Force B-26's which were heavily involved in this operation are not know to have carried the stripes. In addition, some twin-engine A/C had their noses painted white. This evidently turned out to be the only successful part of the Starkey hoax invasion. The dawn of June 6, 1944 found thousands of Allied aircraft over flying the invasion fleet with alternating Black and white stripes painted on the wings and fuselages of all allied aircraft taking part.

Next article: The Adventures of 122 Wing over Normandy. This will feature the colour and markings of 2nd TAF Mustang III's during the summer months of 1944.

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