Camouflage and Markings of No. 74 Squadron RAF

Spitfire Site

Pictorial history of the famous "Tiger Squadron", described and illustrated by Rick Kent
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“I Fear No Man”

Throughout aviation history, tiger motifs have been increasingly popular, culminating in the contemporary Tiger Meets. I recently completed a series of profiles devoted to the very first Tiger aviation unit in the world – No.74 RAF Squadron. The unit was formed in 1917 and exists until this day, flying Hawks from RAF Valley at Anglesey in Wales. Many famous names like Mannock, Malan and Mason came to be associated with the Squadron.

To many people No. 74 will be better known as a Tiger Squadron. This name was first popularised by the book entitled Tiger Squadron written by J.I.T. “Ira” Jones shortly after the First World War. Since then the eye-catching tiger head badge (matching the Squadron motto I Fear No Man), and the colourful yellow-and-black motifs were often carried by the unit’s aircraft during the peaceful periods of it’s 80 years long history.

This series of profiles shows all aircraft types that the Squadron used operationally, from the very beginning up to this day.

The Propeller Era

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Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5A
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Claimarais, France, April 1918

Here is the first aircraft of the 74 “Tiger” Squadron, RAF. 74 was first formed on 1 July 1917 with various training types before receiving its first operational fighters, the S.E.5A, in March 1918, going to France (St. Omer) on the 30th of that month. The unit remained in France until February 1919 when it returned to Britain from Halluin to Lopcombe Corner. It was disbanded there on July 3rd 1919.

A famous book entitled Tiger Squadron was written by Captain J.I.T. “Ira” Jones, who was the Squadron’s Commander from December 1918 to February 1919, which told of the unit’s exploits in the First World War – hence the Squadron was known by that name from its earliest times. The Squadron destroyed 140 enemy aircraft between 12th April 1918, when it had its first dogfight, and the end of the war in November 1918.

They were not reformed until 1935, as shown in the following profiles.

The S.E.5A’s were finished in the standard PC10 khaki dope on the upper surfaces, whilst the lower surfaces of the wings and tailplane were clear-doped, giving the creamy finish on the linen fabric, which darkened with age and good old fashioned dirt. Also, of course, the British fin stripes were the same as French ones at that time – i.e. with blue leading and red trailing.

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Hawker Demon
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Hal Far, Malta, November 1935

The second 74 Squadron aircraft was this Hawker classic. The unit reformed on board the transport ship Neutralia on 3rd September 1935 with Hawker Demon two-seat fighters. This was part of the British response to the Abyssinian crisis when quite a number of RAF squadrons went to the Middle East. 74 Squadron was destined for Malta as shown, but was not allowed to identify itself by number until 14th November for security reasons, being known only as Demon Flights at first.

As can be seen, the a/c were camouflaged in a locally devised scheme (which was based roughly on that originally invented for the Sopwith Salamander of WW I). The paints were locally produced, but the colours were very close to Dark Green and Dark Earth; the camouflage patterns varied a lot, as did roundels, some having just blue/red in varying positions, and yet others having full red/white/blue. The serial numbers were usually painted over, again for security.

The lower surfaces of this Demon were left in their original Silver (Aluminium) doped finish and the metal struts were left unpainted. The underwing serials were painted over. It also retains its red wheel discs, indicating a machine of ‘A’ Flight. A photo of it appears in “R.A.F. Squadrons” by Wing Commander C.G. Jefford, published by Airlife England, 1988, ISBN 1 85310 053 6, on page 22. This photo is in fact from the RAF Museum collection, which I catalogued myself when I was there, and I helped “Jeff” in his research for the pictures. It shows that this a/c had just one red/blue roundel on the top of the right upper wing. The rear part of the exhaust is painted with a special white anti-glow paint, presumably to stop it from blinding the crew at night.

In July 1936 the Squadron was shipped back to England, arriving at Hornchurch in September. In April 1937 it re-equipped with Gloster Gauntlet single-seat fighters.

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Gloster Gauntlet Mk.II
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Hornchurch, Essex, June 1937

profile_74sqn_03a.gif (3576 bytes)This Gloster Gauntlet shows the standard RAF inter-war colour scheme of silver overall (except for the small black anti-dazzle in front of the cockpit) with the colourful style of markings used by fighter squadrons. The Gauntlets were the first 74 airframes to carry the tiger stripe markings on the fuselage and repeated across the top wing between the roundels. The tiger’s head badge is in the standard spearhead outline on the fin. The yellow wheels indicate an aircraft of ‘B’ Flight. All these colourful markings were of course removed and painted over with camouflage with the Munich Crisis in 1938.

The Squadron received Gauntlets in April 1937 and kept them until February 1939 when it re-equipped with Spitfire Mk. Is, remaining at Hornchurch in Essex not far to the east of London throughout the entire period.

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