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The History of
Lead Assembly Ships of the Eighth Air Force


These brightly and uniquely coloured aircraft would lead a formation of bombers before they headed off to their intended target. With the job done they would then turn back to base. As a result of their role they would earn the nickname 'Judas Goats', after the animal which would lead others to slaughter. This article explains the circumstances that required these aircraft and what their job was.

On the 19th January 1942 the Eighth Air Force, originally named VIII Bomber Command, was formed and preparations began to build up aircraft and aircrew ready for operations over Europe from airbases in the United Kingdom. With the first operation taking place on the 17th August 1942 when eighteen B-17 Flying Fortresses attacked marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville in France, escorted by Sptifires.

B-24D (41-24109)
B-24D (41-24109) 'Silver Streak'
Lead Assembly Ship in the 466th Bomb Group for B-24's of the 330th Bomber Squadron.
Originally served with the 93rd Bomb Group and was called 'Ready & Willing'.

B-24D (41-23683)
B-24D (41-23683) 'Green Dragon'
Lead Assembly Ship in the 389th Bomb Group for the 566th Bomber 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 bomber aircraft from a number of 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)
B-17E (41-9100) 'Birmingham Blitzkrieg'
Lead Assembly Ship in the 379th Bomb Group for the 525th Bomber Squadron.
Originally served with the 97th Bomb Group.

B-17F (42-3441)
B-17F (42-3441) 'Spotted Cow'
Lead Assembly Ship in the 384th Bomb Group for the 547th Bomber 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 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)
B-24D (42-40127) 'First Sergeant'
Lead Assembly Ship in the 458th Bomb Group for the 754th Bomber 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)
B-24D (42-40722) 'The Little Gramper'
Lead Assembly Ship in the 491st Bomb Group for the 852nd Bomber Squadron.
Originally served with the 389th Bomb Group.

With a basic crew of five or six people, two pilots, navigator, radio 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 groups on the sortie. Then, along with the other lead assembly ships, turned round and returned to base.

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     Hawker Hind
     Battle of Britain Timeline
     The History of Lead Assembly
     Ships of the Eighth Air Force
     Fairey Gannet
     Avro Shackleton



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