Painted in bright and unique colours the job of assembly ships was to get the bombers of the Eighth Air Force into their formations safely. They would then lead the aircraft as they headed off to their intended target. With this done, they would turn back to base. Their role would earn them the nickname 'Judas Goats', after the animal which would lead others to slaughter.
On the 19th January 1942 VIII Bomber Command, renamed later on as the Eighth Air Force on the 22nd February 1944, was formed and preparations began to build up aircraft and aircrew for operations over Europe from airbases in the UK. With its first operation taking place on the 2nd July 1942 when six Royal Air Force Douglas Bostons of No. 226 Squadron, flown by the 15th Bomb Squadron, attacked a number of airfields in the Netherlands alongside the RAF.
B-24D (41-24109) 'Silver Streak'
Assembly Ship in the 466th Bomb Group for B-24's of the 330th Bomb Squadron.
Originally served with the 93rd Bomb Group and was called 'Ready & Willing'.
B-24D (41-23683) 'Green Dragon'
Assembly Ship in the 389th Bomb Group for the 566th Bomb Squadron.
Originally served with the 93rd Bomb Group and was called 'Jo-Jo's Special Delivery'.
As the build up of the Eighth Air Force in the UK continued during late 1942 and 1943 and as air operations increased, various issues arose. These were as a result of hundreds of aircraft from different airfields trying to form up in the skies before they headed to their intended target. The most pressing concern was the loss of aircrews as a result of mid-air collisions and aircraft joining different groups from their own.
B-17E (41-9100) 'Birmingham Blitzkrieg'
Assembly Ship in the 379th Bomb Group for the 525th Bomb Squadron.
Originally served with the 97th Bomb Group.
B-17F (42-3441) 'Spotted Cow'
Assembly Ship in the 384th Bomb Group for the 547th Bomb Squadron.
Originally served with the 384th Bomb Group and was called 'Patches II'.
The solution to this problem was reached during 1943 and would require each Bomber Group to choose one of its older aircraft, normally a B-17 Flying Fortress or B-24 Liberator, to be modified to lead that group's formation. Once the aircraft had been chosen it would be stripped of its armour and armament, fitted with extra navigations lights and repainted in a distinctive paint scheme tailored for each group.
B-24D (42-40127) 'First Sergeant'
Assembly Ship in the 458th Bomb Group for the 754th Bomb Squadron.
Originally served with the 93rd Bomb Group and was called 'Bucket of Bolts' then joined 458th Bomb Group as 'Thar She Blows Again'.
B-24D (42-40722) 'The Little Gramper'
Assembly Ship in the 491st Bomb Group for the 852nd Bomb Squadron.
Originally served with the 389th Bomb Group.
With a basic crew of five or six people, two pilots, navigator, wireless operator and either one or two crew members to discharge flares, the aircraft would be the first to take-off. They would then fly to the rendezvous point discharging flares and flashing their lights until the aircraft of the group they were leading had successfully formed up. Once this had been done they would then change course for the intended target until they formed up with the other bomber groups on the operation. Then, along with the other assembly ships, turned round and returned to base, while the bombers continued onto their target.