HOW THE CHECKERTAIL DESIGN ORIGINATED
ON THE AIRCRAFT FLOWN
BY THE 325TH FIGHTER GROUP
By Colonel Robert Baseler
At the time, the 325th FIGHTER GROUP was stationed at Montesquieu, Algeria. The headquarters of the Northwest African Air Force issued a request for all Fighter and Bomber Groups, under its command, to come up with a distinctive identification painted on their aircraft. This way, the Bomber crews would know, on site, which Fighter outfit was escorting them, and conversely, the Fighter Jockeys would know which Bomber Group they were escorting.
I had always been an admirer of Werner Voss, the famous German WWI Fighter Ace, who was also known as the "Checkerboard Ace", because of the wide Checkerboard he had painted around the fuselage of his Fokker DR1 Triplane, a short distance behind the cockpit.
I thought such a distinctive identification would look good on the tail section of our P-40Fs, so we started working on the color scheme. John Watkins worked with me and our first attempt consisted of black and white checks, which at a distance looked all red. We then tried red and white checks, which under the same circumstances, also looked all red.
Finally, we tried black and yellow and they were painted on so that they were ninety degrees to the leading edges of the vertical and horizontal tail surfaces. (The checks were 12" square on the P-40s and P-47s, and 10" square on the P-51s.) Needless to say, you could see that Checkerboard tail almost as far away as you could see the entire aircraft.
Colonel Austin, our Group Commander, really like the Checkertail design and gave us the go ahead to get it approved. Accordingly, we drew a large scale facsimile of a P-40F tail section, on a big sheet of paper, and painted on the black and yellow checks. It really looked sharp. Major General Carl Spaatz was the Commander of the Northwest African Air Force and John Watkins had known him for years, so John volunteered to take the Checkertail design to Constantine, Algeria, and personally show it to the General.
The rest is history. The General liked the design and John came home with the written approval to use it.