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Second World War

A representative sample of Canadian Army overseas vehicle markings from the Second World War is given here.  Much information was taken from an article by Richard Yuke of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, which originally appeared in Army Motors Magazine Number 48 (Spring 1989).

FORMATION SIGNS - OVERSEAS


Formation signs measured 6-1/2 inches high by 9 inches wide and were painted on the left front and right rear fenders of vehicles, or the corresponding position if the vehicle did not have fenders.  In 1942, formation signs came to include Division, Corps and Army signs, as additional formations arrived in England.  Some independent brigades and units had their own formation signs as well. 

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1. First Canadian Army
2. I Canadian Corps
3. II Canadian Corps
4. First Canadian Infantry Division
5. Fifth Canadian (Armoured) Division
6. Second Canadian Infantry Division
7. Third Canadian Infantry Division
8. Fourth Canadian (Armoured) Division
9. First Canadian Armoured Brigade
10. Second Canadian Armoured Brigade

During the mid war period, the Second Division also used a "CII" device on the maple leaf of their formation sign.

FORMATION SIGNS - HOME DIVISIONS

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Information courtesy of Colin Macgregor Stevens

According to an Army pamphlet published in September 1944, the above formation signs were authorized for the home defence divisions. While the source does specify background colours, the colour of the "7C" device is not specified.   One also assumes that like the overseas formations, the maple leaf is in gold.   However, Colin Macgregor Stevens tells us that on a jeep he owned (MB155796, DND 61-261) he found original markings on which the maple leaf may have been green, with the 7 and C in gold (with the "7" inside the "C" in the manner of a C-broad-arrow).

UNIT SIGNS

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Restored Canadian truck, showing the PASS sign.

At the start of the war, unit signs were painted on two removable metal plates that were displayed in brackets mounted on the left front and right rear fenders of vehicles.  One side of the plate had the unit's serial number painted in white on a coloured background, with the number specifiying the unit and the colour specifiying the branch of the military the unit belonged to.  A 2-inch wide white bar was added along the top of the sign to indicate Corps units. 

On the reverse side of each metal plate, the word PASS was painted in white on a khaki background.  The sign was usually displayed with the unit sign visible.  If the vehicle broke down, the PASS sign was to be displayed, indicating it was safe to pass the vehicle.  If the PASS sign was not displayed, other vehicles were to assume the vehicle was not simply broken down and that it was not safe to pass the vehicle, since a battle area or enemy ambush might lay ahead.
passsign.gif (1044 bytes) When vehicles began to be produces without the brackets, unit signs were simply painted directly on the vehicle and PASS signs were carried and hung when needed.

On motorcycles, the unit signs were painted on both fenders, reduced in size.  They can also be seen on the gas tanks of some motorcycles as well.

In 1942, the unit signs were moved to the right front and left rear fenders, and the PASS sign was dispensed with.  The metal signs and brackets were used until the signs (or the vehicles) were no longer servicable.

At this time also, serial numbers of Signals units was changed from white to red.  General HQ and Army transport units added a 2-inch wide horizontal bar below their serial number.

tcvsign.gif (1141 bytes) For Troop Carrying Vehicles or other transports such as busses, removable plates twice the height of the normal unit signs were fitted into brackets, on the right front and left rear fenders.  The lower half was painted with the standard unit sign of the vehicle's unit, while the upper half was painted in black.  When the vehicles carried troops, the serial number of their unit was chalked onto this black square.

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On jeeps, the unit and formation signs were painted on the windshield rather than the front fenders.

Specific examples of Unit Signs are listed on seperate pages of the Vehicles section.

TACTICAL SIGNS

Tactical signs were introduced in 1942, in order to help designate special roles, functions or equipment performed/carried by certain vehicles.  The signs measured 8 by 6 inches, painted in black with a 5/8 inch yellow border, and having yellow characters measuring 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches.  These signs were generally applied to the right front bumper (or fender) and located on the rear centre of the vehicle's body, though sometimes it was located instead on the right rear near the formation sign.    The signs were also placed on vehicle sides, either centrally on the leading door, on the turret of armoured vehicles, or on the body of Universal (Bren) Carriers.

WAR DEPARTMENT NUMBERS

Vehicles were identified by unique numbers assigned to them, with a letter prefix identifying the type of vehicle.  The prefix "C" was also used to identify the vehicle as Canadian, as the system of War Department numbers was identical to the system used by other British and Imperial forces. These numbers were to be 3-1/2 inches high, and were painted in white, either horizontally, or if there was no room, diagonally, on the hood of cars and trucks, or on the body of tanks and armoured vehicles.   Motorcycles and some trucks had the WD number on the sides of gas tanks.    WD numbers also appeared on the back of vehicles; for trucks they were located centrally, 4 inches above the tailgate, and on jeeps they were painted on the left side.

CA Ambulance
CC Motorcycle
CF Armoured Car
Scout Car
CH Tractors (ie Artillery tractors)
CL Lorry (30 cwt or heavier)
CM Car (staff car, jeep, etc.)
CS Self-Propelled Gun
CT Universal Carrier
Tank
CX Trailers of all types
CZ Truck (15 cwt and smaller)

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Canadian Jeep in training for Dieppe.  Note the location of the War Department Number, as well as a unit sign on the left rear bumper and the formation sign of the Second Division on the right rear bumper.
National Archives of Canada C138694

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Jeep of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders.  Note the WD Number on the hood.

Photo courtesy Donn Fowler, SD & G Association.

BRIDGE CLASSIFICATION SIGNS

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In order to help bridge sentries determine the weight of vehicles wanting to cross them, bridging discs were added to Canadian vehicles.  These discs were 6 inches in diameter, painted yellow, bearing black numbers which indicated the weight class of the vehicles.  The discs could either be a metal plate attached to the vehicle or else painted directly onto the vehicle.  They were usually located on the right front fender, though on many vehicles the disc replaced the right front headlight.   Vehicles pulling trailers would have two numbers, one indicated the weight class of the vehicle only, the other the weight class of both vehicle and trailer.

Trailers were given double classifications as well; the upper number designated the increase to be made to the class of the towing vehicle, while the lower number was the weight class of the trailer on its own.

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Wartime photo of a CWAC driving a jeep.  Note the speed limit sticker in the corner of the windshield


DND Photo

SPEED LIMIT MARKINGS

Also introduced in 1942 were markings to indicate the maximum speed that vehicles were permitted to operate at (measured in miles per hour).  These were stickers applied to the lower corner of driver's side front windshield.  The sticker was coloured red on the outside and black on the inside.  Vehicles without windshields had them applied where the driver could see them.  These markings were also sometimes simply stencilled on.

In 1943, khaki coloured metal signs measuring 7 inches by 2 inches were to be placed on the lower right side of the windshield, with the speed limit stencilled in red on the front and black on the back.

OTHER MARKINGS

For blackout driving, thr rear axle housing of some vehicles was painted white.   On other vehicles a white disc was mounted underneath the rear of the vehicle so as to be visible to drivers following behind.  Some units painted their unit serial on this disc in black to further aid in recognition.  On later model vehicles, these discs were illuminated by a light controlled seperately by the driver. followme.gif (1043 bytes)

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G.A. Cooper/Public Archives of Canada PA131386

Photograph of Universal Carrier of the South Saskatchewan Regiment in Fleury-sur-Orne, Normandy, 20 July 1944, showing the placement of various insignia.  Note the Second Canadian Division sign lacks the C-II device used earlier in the war.

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Public Archives of Canada photo
Bridging discs on Carriers were also commonly seen as just a yellow outline with black numeral.   Note the location of the WD number.  Sergeant H. Louis and Private T.F. McCann are both from the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

Vehicles belonging to Commanding Officers and Staff Officers were identified at night by means of a lighted sign fitted to the right rear fender.  A triangular or square holder approximately 9 inches by 4-1/2 inches was fitted with two translucent panels approximately 3-1/2 inches square, containing a formation sign in the top panel and a Formation flag and/or serial number in the lower panel.   Despatch Rider signs could also be placed below the lower panel and lit by a seperate switch on the dash of the vehicle.

flash.gif (909 bytes) Recognition markings were used to identify vehicles to friendly forces, especially aircraft.  By the time of the Dieppe Raid, Canadian armoured vehicles had a red/white/red recognition flash painted on them.  This was a holdover from the First World War and was widely used by British vehicles.
In 1942, rondels were to be painted on all other vehicles, of the same type used by Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft, usually located on the hood. ronflash.gif (1200 bytes)

By June 1944, all Allied vehicles going into Northwest Europe were to have the five pointed American star painted on them instead.  These stars sometimes had a circle, either broken or unbroken, painted around them as well.  Canadian units often painted the star on crooked in order to differentiate themselves from American units.  They were painted on the hoods of vehicles, but often on vehicle sides as well.

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Armoured car of the 6th South African Armoured Division serving in Italy. The unit and formation signs are clearly visible.  
South African National Museum of Military History photo

 

PRIORITY

Some vehicles were given priority over others on road ways, such as the vehicles shown here.  The term "Don R" was a holdover from the First World War, and designated a Despatch Rider, or military courier.  Don Rs were given absolute priority over other traffic.

Click the thumbnails to enlarge

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Jeep bearing the Allied rondel on the hood. Also note the sign on the grille reading ROAD WORK - PRIORITY. 
Orsogna, Italy, 27 January 1944

Public Archives of Canada photo