History of the white star on World War Two military vehicles.

A lot has been said and written on the history, meaning and use of the white star on Allied military vehicles in World War Two. It seems that over 55 years after the end of the war nobody knows the real story. This section of White Star is not pretending to be the true story of the white star. What follows is a caption of what people say and what is written in books on the subject.  Realise that the truth is somewhere in between.

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The following is taken from a book called "American Military Camouflage and Markings 1939-1945" by Terrence Wise (Almark Publications 1973).

"There are six different types of national identification symbols to be seen in photographs of  US army vehicles during World War Two, five of which are variant of the well-known white star, used on all Allied vehicles from the Normandy  landings of 1944  onwards. It would appear therefor that the white star was the direct descendant of the earliest versions, all of which were but transient stages in the development of a national identification insignia.

Three colour star

The first symbol symbol to appear,it was in use before the war, was a white star with a circular centre in red on a circular background of blue. This was based on the colours of the national flag and was also identical to the marking carried on American aeroplanes in 1918 and which continued in use during World War Two until about 1942. This type of star appeared on vehicles up to 1941. The colours were sometimes reversed with a blue centre on a red background.

Two colour star

No doubt a direct descendant of the three colour star, this appeared in North Africa at the end of 1942 on half tracks and soft skinned vehicles. It consisted of a white star on a circular background, usually of blue but sometimes red. The symbol does not appear elsewhere and seems to have been used for only a short time in North Africa.

The national flag

The Stars and Stripes was used prominently on vehicles( and men's uniforms) for the landings in North Africa in November 1942. The national flag does not seem to have been much used in any other theatre, and was only employed in North Africa for political reasons, Operation Torch being the first American participation in the   "European" theatre.

Star and stripe

Possibly adapted from the USAAF symbol, this variant of the white star was used extensively on tank turrets during 1942 and into 1943. It was primarily employed on the late production M3 Mediums (Lees) which were used to train the first American armoured formations in England and Ireland during 1942, but appeared on Stuarts as well, and was also in service in North Africa and, to a lesser extent, the South West Pacific.

Star and circle

A plain white star,surrounded by a continuous or broken white circle, this came into common usage towards the end of 1943 and continued in service throughout the remainder of the war. It was specifically designed as an aerial recognition symbol,but was painted indiscriminately on most parts of all vehicles in North West Europe and Italy, although it does not seem to have been deployed much in the Pacific theatre of the war. This marking was used by all the Allied forces at this time.

White star

Vehicles of the US forces training in the United Kingdom during 1942 often carried this plain white star, and it also appeared in the South West Pacific from as early as August 1942 (Guadalcanal), yet it does not seem to have been  adopted as the sole emblem until as late as the Spring of 1944, when the mass of vehicles gathering in southern England called for more uniformity of marking styles. By 1943 the star was to be seen on all types of vehicles and in all theatres, from the Aleutians and the South West Pacific to North Africa, Sicily and Italy. From 1944 onwards the plain white star became the most common form of national identification symbol, although it was often used in  conjunction with the star and circle.

Location

In the early years of the war location of national identification symbols was rather haphazard and only a rough guide can be given, mainly drawn from examples seen. The national flag, as used in North Africa, appeared on both sides of the bonnets of "soft skinned" vehicles, and occasionally on the hull sides of tanks. The earliest form of the star, two and three coloured ones, appeared on the hull sides   and glacis plates of tanks and on the sides of half tracks, towards the rear of the body. The star and stripes was carried only on tanks,  always on the sides of the turrets with the  stripe encircling the turret. The plain white star was used in 1942-1943 both on the sides and on the bonnets of "soft skinned" vehicles, and on the glacis plates of tanks. From 1944 on the star and circle insignia became predominantly uses for aerial recognition, although it still appeared sometimes on cab doors and on tank glacis plates. For ground recognition the plain white star became most common in all theatres although varied enormously and the number of stars ranged between one or none and seven, eight or even ten. This gave the impression,a false one, that no standard regulations existed. Officially the white star was carried by all vehicles on both sides, rear, front and top, being applied to equipment mounted on vehicles when that equipment provided the most suitable surface. ( The best example of this which comes to mind is the M12, which usually had the aerial recognition star placed on the 155 mm gun near the breech, as this was about the only convenient surface). The air recognition star was not  normally applied to the surfaces which might be occasionally covered by equipment such as tarpaulins, fold-down windscreens, petrol cans and the like. AFVs rarely carried this official range of stars. They might have one on the hull rear instead of one on each rear wing, or occasionally one on the turret rear instead. They almost always carried the top star for air recognition, because of the allied air supremacy, and sometimes had another star on the glacis plate,  but rarely did they bear all the official stars in the official locations at the same time. Examples of stars on the hull sides and the turret are to be seen, but should not be taken as the general rule. Some of these examples were on amphibious tanks or tractors. DUKW's etc, whose sides would often be concealed in the water anyway, and this would presumably account for the extra stars here. (DUKW's in action in Italy often had two stars on each side). Transport vehicles carried their air recognition star on the roof  if they had a hard body, on the cab roof if they had a canvas tilt, and on the top of the bonnet if no other suitable hard surface was available. Often stars appeared on both cab roof and bonnet. On horizontal surfaces the star was applied with one point facing the front of the vehicle: on vertical surfaces the single point faced upwards. Size was limited mainly by the space available on the different types of vehicles, but did not exceed 36 inches between opposite points, nor measure less than six inches between opposite points."

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Peter Hodges also spends some words to the white star on military vehicles in his book: "British Military Markings 1939-1945" (Almark Publications 1971): "

Air recognition Signs

In North West Europe for the Overlord landings of June 1944 a white five-pointed star was worn on all Allied vehicles. On trucks and the like, it was painted on the cab doors and on the bonnet or roof, the upward-facing mark being contained within a white circle. Tanks were similarly marked. The stars remained in use officially until the end of the war, though in practice they were often painted out, particularly on vehicle sides, as they offered too good a sighting mark for German gunners."

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Ray Cowerdy author of the book "All American Wonder", a must have for every jeep restorer, writes in Volume 1 of AAW:"

Unit markings-National symbol

A white five-pointed star will be the national symbol of all motor vehicles assigned to tactical units. Administrative motor vehicles operating in an active theatre of operations will be similarly marked when directed by the theatre commander. The size of the national symbol will be determined for each type of motor vehicle and will be large enough to take advantage of the surface upon which to be painted. Whenever requirements for camouflage outweigh the requirements for recognition, the national symbol may be covered by lustreless olive-drab gasoline solvent paint, camouflage nets, oil and dirt, etc. or will be removed. ...........According to Army Regulations 850-5 one point of the 15 inch hood star should be positioned 1.5 inches forward from the dash on the cowl and hood so that the star is visible with the windshield up or down. The 6 inch white star had to be painted on both sides of a jeep midway between the rear corner grabhandle and the top bow/hand rail swivel bracket."