Unit Patches

Squadron patches were an informal way for airmen to wear their units mascot or insignia. The first patches replicated ‘Nose Art’ painted on ships, aircraft, tanks etc and would be worn by the individual on their flying jacket for the duration of their time with that particular squadron. The original patches were either painted or embroidered onto leather or canvas, and were created by anyone. However it wasn’t until 1939 when Walt Disney was asked to create an insignia that they really began to hit mass popularity. Between 1939-1945 Disney and his team of five cartoonists produced around 1,200 individual unit designs. All the designs were in cartoon style, many depicted well know Disney characters with their own interpretation to best represent their mission or role. Others chose a more menacing mascot like the grim reapers or the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Rogers.

Owing to the vast number of squadrons in operation at the height of the second World War this form of insignia art peaked in 1945, as units started winding down the war effort and disbanding, so did the production of their patches. Going into the Cold War during the late 40’s, early 50’s the upper echelons of military started to discourage this form of customisation to military equipment and uniforms, though some units did manage to keep their traditional unit mascots and many are still seen today. The USAAF fighter units based at R.A.F. Lakenheath are a great example of keeping this colourful tradition alive.

I love the colour, the designs and stories that each patch carries. The sole purpose of the patches when first conceived by Disney and all the men and women who wore them was to boost morale, in the same way today they put a smile on my face and so I want to share them and celebrate them for their artistic merits. The patches I’ve introduced here are a careful selection of some of the brightest and most interesting designs. Mike and I have tried to incorporate a wide range of groups, from bomber squadrons through to liaison and staff units.

About the artist, Mike Madams

I first noticed Mikes talent for hand painting leather jackets when we attended a Light Aircraft Association gathering in Oxfordshire, he was wearing his beautifully battered A2 jacket with USAAF style painted back. It looked amazing and I knew he was who I needed to create these pieces of art. Mike’s talents don’t just lie with art, day to day he pours his love, and skill into restoring vintage aircraft, particularly wood and fabric constructions. He has a passion for period aviation, history, and design. During his spare time (when he’s not creating patches!) he’s a keen musician and father.