Model Centrum have announced that they are to release a book in November on the aircraft that were deployed to defend the vital Panama Canal and its approaches during World War II.


Camouflage and Markings of US Sixth Air Force

and Antilles Air Command 1941-1945

Volume 1: Single-engined Fighters

The culmination of more than 50-years research, this first volume in a multi-

volume set describes in detail, for the first time, the extraordinary array of classic

aircraft that deployed to defend the vital Panama Canal and its approaches during

World War II. Unlike their combat brethren in the European and Pacific theaters,

the units, aircraft and airmen of the Sixth Air Force – often cited as the “Forgotten

Air Force” – have been all but ignored in the vast body of literature that has been

published since the war. While primarily charged with defending the vital Canal

which, during the first year of America’s war was viewed as almost certainly the

next obvious target of Axis aggression from both the Atlantic and Pacific

approaches, the tropical warriors were also plunged into the shooting war that soon

saw German and Italian submarines rampaging through the Caribbean. During the

first 18 months following Pearl Harbor, unbeknownst to the average Allied citizen

on the home front, the submarine offensive nearly severed the vital oil lifeline from

the Maracaibo, Venezuela fields, and the equally priority bauxite mines in

Surinam, a mineral needed to make aluminum. More than 330 surface vessels were

sunk in the Caribbean and its approaches during that period, and the aircraft and

units of the Sixth Air Force and a regional offshoot, the Antilles Air Command,

created to deal specifically with the submarine menace, saw hitherto

undocumented combat in one-on-one actions that have eluded historians. Faced

with defending a huge geographic region, stretching from Atkinson Field, British

Guyana on the east, up through the entire Antilles chain to Cuba, west through the

Caribbean to the Canal itself, and then up and down the Central American and

mainland South American landmass from Guatemala City to Talara, Peru and

Salinas, Ecuador – the extremely dispersed units of Sixth Air Force anchored their

western defenses in the remote and mysterious Galapagos Islands, far to the

west. The defenders of the Canal soon realized that this vast and largely over-water

operating area demanded camouflage for its aircraft that the standard, prescribed

USAAF mix did not provide. As a result, for the first two full years of the war,

Sixth Air Force leaders evolved markings unique within the Army Air Forces and,

for the first time, a coherent description of these often-exotic schemes are detailed

in this ground-breaking series. But besides the overall schemes applied, Sixth Air

Force and Antilles Air Command crews, nearly always operating in squadron-size

elements or smaller, saw no utility in the unit code identifiers applied to USAAF

aircraft in Europe and the Pacific, where large formations required a means of

identifying members of individual operating units. Instead, they relied upon a

system of so-called “unit numbers” and color coding of easily recognizable aircraft

components, such as prop spinners, fin tips and the individual unit numbers

themselves. The defense of the Canal was a classic instance of “point defense” as

preached at the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field during the pre-war

years, and against which many major USAAF wartime aircraft series were in fact

designed and evolved. Consequently, heavily armed variants of the oft-maligned

Bell P-39 Airacobra series predominated during the war – and the fact that they

were also found to be nearly ideal for anti-submarine surface actions, was an added

bonus. Curtiss P-40s were also issued in numbers and it wasn’t until late in the war

that the P-39s were finally withdrawn and replaced with the superb Lockheed P-38

Lightning, nearly ideal for the threat posture that proved the reality in the Caribbean.

About the Author

Dan Hagedorn, Curator and Director of Collections at The Museum of Flight at

historic Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, is a graduate of Villa Maria

College, the State University of New York, and the Command and General Staff

College (U.S. Army, post-graduate). He was previously Adjunct Curator and

Research Team Leader at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian

Institution, Washington, DC for 19 years. Prior to that, he served in the U.S.

Armed Forces for 27 years in leadership and intelligence positions worldwide

and has, to date, authored 21 monographs or books detailing various aspects of

aviation and aerospace history. In conjunction with the 150th Anniversary of the

Smithsonian Institution, he was named an Unsung Hero of the Smithsonian

Institution and was awarded the Orden Merito Santos-Dumont by the Brazilian

Government for services to Latin American aviation history, in which he specializes.

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