In recognition of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) History & Heritage Symposium this week, let’s take a look at two aspects of the RAAF roundel. Originally the RAAF’s roundel design was based on the British Royal Air Force’s, itself a derivative of the French air arm’s roundel, featuring red white and blue.
The red centre worked well enough, until the start of the Pacific war at the end of 1941, when a US Navy fighter pilot in a Grumman Wildcat saw an Australian operated, American made Consolidated Catalina:
“…though the shape of the Catalina was no doubt disturbingly familiar, the red in the upper wing roundels seemed to him so distinct—as he later said—that he mistook them for Japanese markings and immediately attacked. Bullets passed through the Catalina’s main crew compartment, fuel tanks, and ailerons, but fortunately no one was hurt and the aircraft was able to land safely.”
[Geoff Pentland -RAAF Camouflage & Markings 1939–45 – Vol. 1]
The red of the roundel had been mistaken for the Japanese ‘rising sun’ red ball, used on the Japanese flag and as a roundel on Japanese aircraft.
[Above: The first RAAF Catalina with red, white, blue and yellow surround roundels on the fuselage (and red and blue roundels on the upper wing). Below, a later RAAF Catalina with blue and white roundels on the fuselage. ADF Serials & Dave’s Warbirds.]
American aircraft had a similar size to the RAAF roundel’s red dot inside their star marking, and this also collected friendly fire as a result. As the writer of the RAAF’s Air Power Development Centre Bulletin here note:
“From a distance, red can be seen more easily than other colours—often, in fact, before other details of a marking can be made out. Cases of mistaken identity led, in March 1942, to the red disc inside the US national star being deleted.”
And ultimately, the RAAF, and the other British Commonwealth nations using similar roundels in the Pacific dropped the red dot for the duration.
The red dot was to return, before morphing into a couple of animals and a vegetable, but that’s another story for another day…
James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.
Roundels via Wikipedia Commons.