North American P-51D Mustang

The 356th Fighter Group was among the lesser known, but more colorfully marked units of the 8th Air Force.

The 356th Fighter Group first arrived in theater in August 1943. They were initially a Thunderbolt group, and started operations from Martlesham Heath in Suffolk October 1943. Ironically they chose no markings at all for group identification, even choosing to paint those natural metal Thunderbolts delivered in Olive Drab over Neutral Gray. Through most of 1944 they came to be close support specialists; unusual for an 8th Air Force Group. But with the 9th Air Force’s (Mustang equipped) 354th Fighter Group on loan to the 8th, the Thunderbolt equipped 356th was made available to the 9th.
They re-equipped with Mustangs, all “D” models and all in natural metal, still with no unit colors in October 1944. Then in November they aggressively adopted unit markings, like making up for lost time. The red nose with blue diamonds was one of the more colorful schemes used by any fighter group, and it was used pretty consistently group-wide. The instigation was probably a new Group Commander, Col. Elnar A. Malmstrom led the group for five months starting November 28.

All told the 356th Fighter Group was *typical* in many ways. They didn’t lead the 8th Air Force in any category, but their leadership was always considered sound and they never had any particular problems either. They received a Distinguished Unit Citation for their close support work during Operation Market Garden, September 1944. The Group’s top ace was Donald Strait of the 361st Fighter Squadron with 13.5 victories, he scored most of his kills in his own mount Jersey Jerk. They had 18 aces overall; and one ace-in-a-day, Capt. Frank A. Morgan was credited with 5.5 kills on February 20, 1945. The group had five jet kills.
This did add up to the 356th Fighter Group having the worst kill/loss ratio in the 8th. 201 aerial kills for 122 losses. But with an 8th Air Force overall ratio of 2.75 to 1 it wasn’t wildly out of line; and most of a year flying close support may have been the reason.

This particular aircraft was flown by Lt. Col. William Kennedy of the 359th Fighter Squadron. My source doesn’t specify, but I would guess with that rank he was the Squadron CO.
It is obviously colorfully marked, typical for the group in late 1944 but with some interesting oddities. In late 1944 invasion stripes were still carried only on the lower fuselage position, but here the order is reversed. Three black and two white is unique as far as I know; whether it was a mistake, prank, or held special meaning to someone I don’t know.
The tail is yellow because this was the squadron color (red and blue were used for the other Group squadrons).
Part of the group colors involved a blue spinner, with three red stripes forward of the blades. The stripes were never applied on this plane. In February of 1945, to simplify painting, spinners were officially switched to squadron color but many retained the original pattern.
Likewise, in February, the canopy frame was to be painted in squadron color. But prior it was not defined. Lt Col Kennedy or his crew chief likely chose blue for their own reasons, perhaps for a red, white and blue theme on the nose.

A 359th Fighter Squadron Mustang in post-2/1945 colors. The original caption identifies this as a P-51K, even though the plane clearly has a cuffed Hamilton Standard propeller. So it may be in error, or the plane had a propeller swap. [photo via Flight Journal]

This is the Tamiya kit with Aeromaster Decals. Both are wonderful and easy to use products. Although the paint scheme here was quite involved. This is also my first completely acceptable use of the Alclad II metal finish. It has less paint texture than Tamiya’s spray metalics and a wonderful shine. Its also sturdy enough to mask over, good thing or this build would have been a disaster! I look forward to using this product more often.

The 356th Fighter Group flew two types in combat. Their Thunderbolts were always in plain camouflage, presumably with the white theater markings, until they switched to Mustangs.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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8 Responses to North American P-51D Mustang

  1. jfwknifton says:

    The photograph from above is really unusual but it captures the lines of the plane perfectly.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    Mustangs are always a favorite, what other plane can look so fast even sitting still, and this one does have quite the striking paint job. Very nicely done.

    • atcDave says:

      Thank you! I’m feeling much better about metal finishes these days too, that bodes well for more Mustangs.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        While my focus wan never really aircraft I’d have to agree that getting a realistic metal finish was always a problem. Probably why I usually went with camo or other, which really limits the authenticity.

      • atcDave says:

        Among the many benefits of camo is it can hide a flawed finish. Ask me how I know…

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I know you know. I know how you know. You know I know how you know. We’re a very well informed group. (Bonus if you can identify the movie reference)

      • atcDave says:

        I’ve heard it, but I don’t think I get it!

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