Bumper Markings

This article is going to be focused on more specific and specialised units and their respective markings; for example it will look at the Medical Department,
Airborne units and touch briefly upon the marking systems that were introduced for Operation Neptune /Overlord. I shall not bother repeating the numerous tables of information in this article, since readers can always refer to the first part if they need to. Markings of the Medical Department Large Medical units of the United States Army during WW2 (for example Evacuation and General Hospitals) had a slightly different system for marking and numbering their military vehicles. Rather than place the company letter(s) in the third group, an agreed code was used to represent the type of hospital to which the vehicle pertained. The abbreviations and their respective organisation types are shown in the table below:

When marking medical vehicles which pertain to hospital units, it is necessary for the following identification process to be carried out: – Identify Army to which the unit was assigned – Identify the numerical designation – Identify the type of hospital – Select a Vehicle number Once these stages have been carried out, the bumper markings can be applied. In this case, the information above is applied to the bumper groups (see first article) as follows: 1st Group: Numerical designation of Army, followed by ‘A’ 2nd Group:Numerical designation of Medical unit, followed by ‘M’ 3rd Group:Abbreviation from above table representing Hospital type 4th Group:Vehicle number in normal order of march The following example shows how the bumper of a 1/4-ton Truck pertaining to the 53d General Hospital would appear: It should also be noted that Medical units that used the abbreviations shown in Table 1 were not marked to distinguish vehicles which pertained to the Unit’s Headquarters. All vehicles within the organisation were marked as shown in the illustration.

Markings of Airborne Units: As briefly explained in Part I, markings of vehicles pertaining to regular Airborne units (for example Parachute Infantry Regiments) were not marked as per the standard. The reason for this is due to the fact that vehicles within Parachute Infantry Companies belonged either to HQ or Service Companies, rather to each Company within the Regiment. As a result, markings in the third group for vehicles belonging to any Company within a Parachute Infantry Regiment should use the ‘SV’ abbreviation, rather than the Company identification letter. This illustration shows the correct markings for a vehicle belonging to thepopular Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division:

Suffice it to say the marking commonly seen on many vehicles supposedly belonging to the above organisation – 101A/B-506PIR * E-22 – is a complete fantasy! It should however be noted that vehicles belonging to the Divisional Headquarters were still marked as per regular Infantry Divisions.

Preparation for Overseas Movement Markings: Any vehicle enthusiast or re-enactor who has carefully studied any photographs of vehicles from the build-up D-Day period will have surely noticed a multi-coloured bar code marking which can be observed on the bumpers of some vehicles and certain units. I came across these when looking at items in my collection and noticing the markings, and being intrigued, I set about researching the markings, what they designated and how they were used. Little did I realise what an uphill struggle it would be. Documentation about the subject is minimal, and no comprehensive database or research has been conducted to produce the units and their respective bar codes. Following on from an earlier article written by Major Stephen C. McGeorge on the subject, I was able to obtain a copy of the Headquarters European Theater of Operations (ETO) Standard Operating Procedure #3, which under paragraph 89a lists the following information about the bar code system:

Each vehicle which is to accompany a unit on an overseas move will have painted on the right of the front bumper the unit serial number and color stripes as provided for in paragraphs 81, 82 and 86. The respective paragraphs are reproduced below:

81. Color Stripes:
Three color stripes will be stenciled horizontally and will approximate one inch by four inches in size and in colors alotted numbers as follows:
1 > Buff
2 > Olive Drab
3 > Yellow, bright
4 > Green, bright
5 > Grey
6 > Blue, dark
7 > Maroon
8 > Red, bright
9 > White, lead
0 > Brown, dark
82a. Color Scheme:
The color representing the last figure of the unit serial number is used for the middle stripe. The color representing the next to last figure in the unit serial
number will be used for the top and bottom stripes.

86: The unit serial number will be placed above the stripes.

There’s certainly a great deal of information contained in the above extracts, and it is rather difficult to explain how these POM markings worked without using illustrations and good examples.

However, it’s difficult to offer a wide variety of examples; despite my best research efforts (which incidentally are  still ongoing), I have managed to produce a list of only 10 verified POM serial numbers and their respective units. However, the example above should help to explain the situation: In the illustration, the Unit Serial Number here is 43366. This has been positively identified as belonging to Easy Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. Following on from the directions of the extracted paragraphs above, it’s clear to see how the colours for the bars have been applied. Since the number 6 corresponds to dark blue, and the final two digits are both ‘6’, all three bars of the marking are dark blue. If the penultimate digit was instead ‘8’, then the top and bottom stripes would be a bright red, while the middle stripe remaining blue (assuming of course that the final digit remained ‘6’). It’s a rather complicated subject in its own right, let alone trying to cover it in a two-part article dealing with the entire US Army Bumper Marking system, but this short introduction to the POM markings should serve to answer a few questions about them and their usage on vehicles in Normandy. Another prescription that the earlier cited document made appeared in paragraph 53 ‘Distinguishing Marks – Vehicles’ which read: No Unit titles, Division, Corps or other official formation insignia will appear on vehicles, but each vehicle will have the unit serial number and color stripes painted on the right front bumper. Motorcycles will be similarly marked on the extension of the front mudgard. The above extract probably explains why it’s so difficult for researchers to match unit serial numbers to actual units. Thankfully for researchers and historians however, not all units followed direction laid down in paragraph 53: the First Infantry Division being a prime example.
The Jeeps photo shows these POM markings being used alongside regular bumper markings for the 1st Infantry Division. I am currently in the process of obtaining the Build-Up Tables for Operation Neptune which should list the Units and their corresponding Unit Codes. However, in the meantime I have already begun to build a database of known unit codes, and they are available on my website at the following address: www.med-dept.com/pom. It is hoped that once the tables are obtained, the database can be updated to include a full list.
So, in conclusion to this two-part series looking at the bumper markings of WW2 US Vehicles, I hope that I have covered the necessary ground to allow the re-enactor, vehicle enthusiast and historian to better understand the numerous markings which should appear on the bumper of a WW2 US military vehicle. Of course it’s always possible to find examples of non-standard markings or those which deviate from the norm. This is largely due to the miscommunication of information, misinterpretation by field units or simply by the virtue of the fact that vehicles were transferred from units. In the main however, it’s possible to find more vehicles marked  as prescribed in Army Regulations than those which are not. The general rule to follow however, is to closely study contemporary photographs of the unit you wish to portray. It might have adopted a series of Tactical markings for example, and so it’s always better to base an impression on contemporary evidence, in order to ensure that unit idiosyncrasies are taken into account.

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Keith is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE