WWII bomber jacket art

How to Be a Retronaut's latest gallery is a world-beater: "U.S. Air Force personalised bomber jackets, WWII." Stylin'.

U.S. Air Force personalised bomber jackets, WWII


  1. While perusing the jackets, it seems I’ve discovered the source of The Cars’ 1984 ‘Heartbeat City’ album art… at least for the lass. See “Sweat’er Out”. A better researcher than I will need to inform us if the woman’s pose is an original, or influenced by a yet earlier previous work. Edit: in retrospect, I realize this isn’t a completely unusual pin-up pose.

    Bittersweet to see the see the in-your-face sexuality frequently on display in the USAAF: these guys were all in their early twenties – if that – , and most of them were probably dead by the end of the war.

    1. Yep, i will never forget when i learned that B-17 crews were sent home after 25 missions. This because this was the maximum number they where statistically expected to survive.

  2. This artwork is so stunning and the execution so seemingly flawless it begs the questions:

    What medium and methods were used on these? Was each a unique painting done to order or some sort of transfer that could be customized?

    Where and by whom would one get this done in WWII? Certainly not the PX or Quartermaster’s office. Were there specialty shops near the base or operations theater like tattoo parlors and girlie clubs are?

    BTW, I know I could probably Google it, but hearing a neat nerd response is better. “My grandpa used to tell me about the…”

    1. I think that if you’re painting on leather, you have to use oil paints.
      I have a beat up jacket I want to paint on at some point.

      The artists who painted the nose art were possibly the same guys who did
      the jackets. They were talented airmen who knew which end of the brush
      went into the paint.  The figures were often copies of pin-ups by artists like George Petty, Gil Elvgren and Vargas, who illustrated for Esquire in the 1940s.

      Vargas did the original illustration for the Candy-O album cover for the Cars.

  3. I’m a little confused here. Is each little bomb supposed to represent a mission? That’s a lot of missions for some of these guys. I had always understood that a crew member was only required to serve a fixed number of missions, 25 or 26 I think, after which he would be give the option to be sent back to work in training and administration. Given the high casualty rates, most people rotated out. Some did sign up for another set of missions though.

    Also, the pictures say this is from an archive of the 401st Bomb Group, but some of the jackets clearly refer to the Pacific theater, while the 401st was in Europe. Guess the dudes at the 401st were collecting jacket pictures from everywhere.

    1. In nose art, a bomb is a mission credit, and swastikas are for planes shot down. For jackets, maybe it refers to the plane or maybe there is some artistic license, I really don’t know.

      Art could be done by anyone but some sections had official artists.

  4. “fixed number of missions”  read Catch 22, but also remember bombs don’t care who they kill.

    1. “Catch 22” is as much a historical depiction of WWII as “MASH” is of the Korean War.  Which is to say, war as a framework to satirize something else, deeper about the human condition.

  5. Link is broken from my spot.  Pity.  1 bomb, 1 mission where bombs were dropped.   They weren’t sent home at 25 missions because at 25 they were statistically supposed to have been shot down.  Late 1943 – early 1944 the 100% shoot-down probability was somewhere just above 17 missions.  Terrible times.

  6. Pimp my flyin’ fortress!

    OK now, I’ve just gotta say it:
    Yo dawg, I heard you like bombing sorties
    so we put a bomb in your bomb,
    so you can bomb while you bomb!

    32 missions, according to the jacket. Unbelievable.

  7. There is soooo much awesome on that jacket, I am surprised it all fits!

    My godmother’s husband was the stereotypical farm boy from Kansas. He was the engineer on a B-17 and later a B29. I interviewed him for school one time – and I am glad I did.

  8. DO WANT.  but me wearing it would be disrespectful to the man who earned it, so polite decline.  still, badass as it gets.

    also:Fetching of original content failed due to Page Speed Service Fetch Error CLOSED. If you own this domain, please consult this FAQ.

  9. The jackets usually matched the nose art.

    The RAF Museum has an Avro Lancaster bomber with 137 sorties marked on her.

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