Casemate U.S. Army Vehicle Markings 1944
By Jean Bouchery and PhillipeCharbonnier
Published by: Casemate Publishers, Havertown, PA, www.casematepublishers.com
and: Casemate Publishers, Oxford, UK, www.casematepublishers.co.uk
From 1775 to 1940, the US Army was a constabulary force occasionally ramped up to deal with big issues then shrunk back by a parsimonious Congress to the constabulary role. The branches were the standard infantry, artillery, cavalry, and engineers with most support provided by contractors and, during large mobilizations, it was a mess.
The earliest "vehicle markings" I am aware of (not personally, mind you) were during the Wilderness Campaign when, in an effort to manage the huge wagon trains, BG Rufus Ingalls, Quartermaster of the Army of Potomac, had markings placed on all wagons -- Corps Insignia, Division Color, Brigade Number and other markings denoting content. When unloaded, the wagons went right back to the depot to be reloaded with the exact same content and turned right back around.
The next time an effort at markings was made was for WW1, when unit shoulder patches were also adopted as formation signs, much like British practice. This was not a rigorous system but it continued into the postwar period with various markings on the side of vehicles.
With the major expansion of the US Army, begun in the late 30's and aimed at a multi-million man force, a major reorganization was needed (learning a lesson from a century & a half) and this happened in 1942 with the creation of the Army Ground Forces, Army Service Forces, and the Army Air Forces. It is no coincidence that AR 850-5, Marking of Clothing, Equipment, Vehicles, and Property, was promulgated by the War Department in August 1942, and that is what this book is here to discuss.
The Book is hard-cover, 8x10 size, with 144 glossy pages. It is profusely illustrated with some 300 period photographs (mostly B/W), over 200 illustrations (mostly color), and several maps - all are well laid out and captioned.
The photos are a strong point of the book. The book is about markings and the (very good) period (not restoration or museum) photos are chosen for their illustration of that. But the photos are also interesting for what else they show - uniforms, equipment, activity - and will be of great assistance to modelers.
There is a 1-page Table of Contents, to sub-chapter level. There is a half-page Introduction which sets the tone that the book is for collectors/restorers, modelers, and history enthusiasts to understand the positioning of the national and vehicle markings and make creditable representations, after the choice of vehicle has been made. There are 6 chapters, 3 short Appendices, a one-page Sources & Bibliography, and a page of Publishing Data at the end which also reveals this was first published, in French, by Histoire & Collections in 2018.
To clarify, the book title reads "Markings 1944" and coverage is primarily of applications in France in the latter half of 1944 but in fact there are a number of examples from other years as well as vehicles in Germany, Algeria, Italy, and the US. There is nothing on the Pacific.
Chapter 1, Arsenal of Democracy (12 pgs) has two pages of text and two tables of production statistics, followed by 10 pages of b/w images lifted right out of TM 9-2800, US Army Standard Military Vehicles. It has nothing to do with markings. It's possible someone could have a picture of a marked vehicle they might want to identify, but that would be easier and better done if this information was presented in the Examples of Unit Markings by Vehicle Type in Chapter 5 (Unit Markings).
Chapter 2, The Communications Zone (4 pgs) is really about the Red Ball Express and a few similar operations. These are of interest to restorers and modelers as seen at any number of shows, but it really doesn't cover markings. The COMM Z is part of the Army theater organization and is much more than the Red Ball Express. One of the things which can be confusing (to anyone) is the command, functional, and geographic relationships of echelons and units. Chapters 2 and 3, following, do not, in my mind sufficiently address this, which is one of the reasons the COMM Z chapter appears out of place.
Chapter 3, Organization of the United States Army (28 pgs) is divided into 4 sections - The Infantry Division, The Armored Division, The Airborne Division, and Non-Divisional Units.
The two page intro to the chapter explains how to use the following sections, but steps rather quickly through Armies and Corps and nowhere else are "echelons above division" markings addressed in an organized manner (and see my prior remark about relationships of units and echelons).
So, let's look at the first section, the Infantry Division. What's odd about the presentation is that the format/meaning of unit markings is not introduced until chapter 5, 60 pages later, but the presentation here should be clear enough. The book presents the order of battle (T/O&E) of an Infantry division, to include the major vehicles, guns, trailers, etc. These start at division level (including special troops), then an infantry regiment, then division artillery, followed by the separate Cavalry, Engineer, and Medical units. Data is included in both graphical and tabular format; the key to the vehicle/equipment symbols is on page 35, in the next section.
This makes a great quick reference. There is a typical OOB chart, a Vehicle & Equipment Allocation Chart from the July 1943 T/O&E and another chart showing the Composition of Infantry Divisions that fought in Europe down to Regiment, Battalion, and Company as appropriate. Then the same data is shown graphically along with sample unit markings.
Armored Divisions are treated the same way. Note in the Equipment Table, the Carrier Personnel Halftrack is called Car Halftrack. These tables and data are accurate for the "light" armored divisions; the "heavy" 2nd & 3rd are only distinguished in the Composition table and in some footnotes. Airborne Divisions get the same treatment as do the usual Army or Corps non-divisional units -- Mechanized Cavalry Groups, Tank and Tank Destroyer Battalions, Military Police, etc -- which were assigned to operate in support of the divisions as needed.
Chapter 4, Common Markings (30 pgs) are those other than unit markings, tactical markings, and the like. These would be Registration (USA) Numbers, National Identification (Star), and "usage markings" such as bridge classification, shipping, driving warnings such as max speed and left-hand drive, and what not. The illustrations for placement of registration numbers, stars, etc, are useful.
Ambulances get extra treatment as do Military Police Vehicles. And lastly, for some reason, we get a page on the Clubmobile.
Chapter 5, Unit Markings (58 pgs) - The chapter is divided into 5 sections - 10-page introduction, followed by sections for Examples of Unit Markings by Vehicle Type, the (Army) Air Forces, Tactical Markings of Certain Divisions, and Unit Serial Numbers.
The introduction feels like a rewrite of AR 850-5 with examples of bumper markings, both by the book and not so much, and a number of illustrative photos.
The Examples of Unit Markings by Vehicle Type section follows the introduction, and is exactly what it says - it's the heart of the book.
The (Army) Air Forces section is only 4 pages but does illustrate some of the variation, but more importantly highlight the need to carefully study bumper markings for small Air Forces peculiar markings -- the dump truck, dozer, and shovel clearing a bombed out town (pg 118) are from an Aviation Engineer Battalion. I had not paid that much attention until the book pointed these out.
The Tactical Markings Typical of Certain Divisions is 6 pages but again highlights certain small markings/logos that might appear and could help one to understand/interpret a vehicle in context. On page 125 is a photo of a weapons carrier from the 84th Division with a stylized version of their "Rail Splitter" patch on the front bumper - this is not a new photo nor is the first tie-in to the unit patch but it's the first time it sunk in for me.
The last section, Unit Serial Numbers (10 pgs), was something I had seen once or twice but with no explanation. These were a 5-digit serial with a 3 colored-bar symbol used as unit embarkation codes used by First US Army for D-Day. There was a List A covering D to D+14 and a List B covering D+15 to D+90. This is based on research ca 2011 (see Bibliography & Sources in the book) and it appears only valid for List A.
The middle bar color reflects the last digit color and the top & bottom bars reflect the next-to-last digit color. Despite first appearances, the color symbol does not act as a verification of the 5-digit serial, but perhaps as a quick way to spot a different colored symbol in a line of vehicles that should be from the same unit, although even this isn't foolproof as all units with the same last two digits will have the same color symbol - examples abound in the charts provided.
The lists were changing frequently as loading changed and the text implies usage was not consistent. I went back through a number of photos and didn't see them (but I will look much closer from now on), so it is more a matter of "if you see this odd symbol, now you know what it is" than something you have to try to apply because it may have existed. The research is available from online sellers at a significant cost, but I'm not sure it is worth it.
Chapter 6, Camouflage (4 pgs) not really relevant to the subject of the book. If you subtract the 2 pages of right/wrong color sketches, it is then just 2 pages of reprint on applying paint.
Appendices (4 pgs) appear as afterthoughts and contribute little to the book. Appendix 1, Material (sic) not used by the US Army in 1944-1945, is really a closing to the "don't get it wrong" discussion from the Introduction, but the book is about markings to be applied "after the choice of vehicle has been made". Appendix 2 is Miscellaneous Markings - tire pressure & speed limits, camouflage & air panels. Appendix 3 is a list of Authorized Abbreviations, which might be handy, but aren't really the point of the book.
Remember to always check your own photographic sources; the book provides enough examples of why.
Pros: Production quality is good. The period photos are good and well chosen and well captioned. A couple charts, such as the Infantry Division T/O&E, make for great quick-references. The Unit Serial Numbers section can be of great assistance if such a marking appears in your B/W source photograph.
Cons: I do not think this book adds to existing literature and I have mixed feelings if it is a good introductory book given my remarks about organization and content.
I would like to sincerely thank Casemate Publishing for providing the review sample to AMPS.
Reviewed by John Ratzenberger, AMPS Eastern Carolina Plastic Modelers and AMPS Central Virginia.
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References, selected from those cited in the Sources & Bibliography in the book.
1. Emile Becker and Jean Milmeister; US Army (ETO 1944-45) Marquages et Organisation; Yes, in French & German with some English, but this still the first thing I reach for. There is extensive effort at the organization of the Army, to include the covering dates of attachment, up and down. Not only are divisions covered in detail, but also Corps/Army combat, artillery, air defense, and engineer units.
2. Terence Wise; American Military Camouflage and Markings, 1939-1945.
3. ---; AR 850-5, Marking of Clothing, Equipment, Vehicles, and Property, August 5, 1942 w/chgs 1-10. This isn't just vehicles, but other stuff which you might have in a scene - and PDF versions are available online.
4. George Forty; U.S. Army Handbook 1939-1945. A great one-volume "This is the army" book.
5. Shelby Stanton; Order of Battle, U.S. Army World War II. For historical and organizational data, from battalion up, from 1936-1945, you can either start here or end here when all else fails.