In the Spring of 1943, all B-17s were factory-finished in an Olive Drab (Shade 41) over Neutral Gray (Shade 43) paint scheme. The national insignia at the time was an Insignia Blue disc, upon which was applied a 5-pointed white star. This device, known as a "cocarde," was applied to the upper surface of the port wing, the lower surface of the starboard wing, and both sides of the fuselage forward of the waist windows. Prior to May 1942, a red disc had been applied to the center of the star. The red disc was overpainted white in June 1942 owing to confusion in the Pacific Theater with the red disc that identified Japanese aircraft. Vega-built B-17s were unique in that they carried a 60" diameter cocarde on the fuselage, as opposed to Boeing and Douglas, which used a 55" cocarde. When the aircraft arrived in England, the white of the star was usually overpainted a dull gray in an effort to reduce the visibility of the aircraft to enemy aircraft. These variations are illustrated in the following figure:
All B-17Fs and painted B-17Gs carried their designator number in 24" tall yellow numbers on the vertical stabilizer. The designator, commonly called the "tail number", was simply the aircraft's serial number, minus the first digit "4" and without the hyphen. For example, B-17F 42-30005 would have the designator 230005 painted on the tail. Unpainted B-17Gs had designators painted in black numerals.
Beginning 1 July 1943, each squadron of the 384th was assigned a 2-letter squadron code, which were 48" gray letters applied forward of the fuselage cocarde on the port side, between the waist window and cocarde on the starboard side (36" on replacement aircraft). In the case of the Vega-built Forts, the code was often split around the cocarde on the starboard side, and the second letter grouped with the individual call letter. 384th Bomb Group squadron codes were as follows:
Each aircraft was given an additional letter to identify it within its squadron. This letter was most often painted aft of the cocarde and forward of the waist window on the port side, and immediately forward of the second squadron code letter on the starboard side. The letters were re-used as new aircraft replaced lost or transferred aircraft.
With the arrival of so many new Bomb Groups in England during the summer of 1943, group identification became of paramount significance. Also on 1 July 1943, aircraft in the 1st Air Division were assigned a white triangle, to be applied to the upper surface of the starboard wing (96") and both sides of the tail (72"), above the designator. Each group within the division was assigned an individual letter, to be applied inside the triangle in insignia blue or black. The 384th became "Triangle P." The first missions flown by the group in June were flown without the group insignia or squadron markings, which began to be applied to the aircraft during the first week of July 1943. This initial marking scheme is illustrated in the following figure:
June 29, 1943 saw another change in the national insignia, which was to be made immediately. In an effort to aid in identification, white bars were to be added on both sides of the cocarde, and the entire device was to be outlined in red. Unfortunately for the aircraft of the 384th, this meant applying them directly over the squadron code letters. The majority of photographs indicate that no effort was made to repaint the letters. This device, designated AN-I-9a, is specific to the late summer and fall of 1943. It can be identified in black and white photos by the red border appearing as a lighter shade of gray than the blue disc.
The insignia was changed once again in August 1943, due in part to confusion in the Pacific. The red border was to be changed to insignia blue. This was not considered a high priority in the European theater, and aircraft continued to carry examples of the red bordered insignia throughout early 1944. Replacement aircraft coming from the US had the new insignia applied at the factory, and examples of B-17s that had the border painted in the field can be identified by a much darker border, due to the fading of the original blue paint. This device was designated AN-I-9b as illustrated in the following figure:
ABOVE LEFT: B-17F 42-30043 "Ruthless," 547th BS, SO*V. This photo illustrates the red-bordered insignia, type AN-I-9a. Notice the gray star and the white bars overlapping the code letters.
ABOVE RIGHT: B-17F 42-30005 "Salvage Queen," 546th BS, BK*A. This photo illustrates the type AN-I-9b insignia, which was obviously applied in the field. Note how the original Insignia Blue of the cocarde has faded to a much lighter shade compared to the freshly painted border.
Replacement aircraft also had an additional 24" yellow "plane-in-squadron" letter applied to the tail, below the designator number.
When the group began receiving unpainted B-17G's in the spring of 1944, squadron codes were painted in black, and the group insignia became a black triangle with a white "P."
The group marking was changed for the last time in August 1944. Tail markings were changed to a 10' per side black triangle, 18" wide, surrounding a solid white triangle with a 36" black "P" in the middle. The aircraft designator number was repainted on the base leg of the black triangle in yellow. The 24" aircraft call-letter was painted in black below the base leg. At the apex of the black triangle, a yellow number (1-4) was painted to identify the squadron: 1=544th, 2=545th, 3=546th, 4=547th. The insignia was also applied to the upper surface of the starboard wing, minus the designator and squadron identifier. This final marking scheme is illustrated in the following figure:
ABOVE: B-17G 44-8007, "Screaming Eagle," 545th BS, JD*Z, displays the group insignia used from August 1944 through the end of the war.
In April 1945, each squadron was assigned a color to be applied to the engine cowlings:
When hostilities ceased in May 1945, each aircraft was assigned a number, 1 through 71, which was applied to both sides of the nose in 24" black numerals.
Throughout the war, the majority of the aircraft were "unofficially" personalized with nicknames, petnames, and a wide assortment of nose art. Several of the original B-17Fs from the Vega factory carried examples of propaganda that was applied on the rear fuselage by artists from Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Some aircraft had this artwork painted over once they arrived in England.