Liaison planes are small lightweight, usually unarmed aircraft used for artillery observation or transporting commanders and messages. The concept was developed before WWII and also included battlefield reconnaissance, aerial ambulance, command and control, light cargo transport and other duties. With short takeoff and landing capabilities, these planes were able to operate from small, unimproved fields under primitive conditions.
The US liaison aircraft of WWII was a high-wing, strut-braced monoplane with a large-area rectangular wing. It is most often powered by an air-cooled, flat-4 piston engine driving a fixed-pitch propeller. Its fuselage was a welded steel frame covered in fabric, seating a crew of two in tandem. It had no electrical system (the fuel gauge is a cork on a piece of wire), was easy to maintain and cheap to operate.
Commercial aircraft manufacturers such as Piper, Taylorcraft, and the Stinson Division of the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation built the liaison aircraft used by the US Army and Navy in WWII. Piper built the ubiquitous L-4, which was one of the primary observation planes used by the US Army, while Taylorcraft provided the L-2 and L-3 models, essentially variants of the L-4. In 1942, Consolidated Vultee produced the L-5, which was based on the other L series models but was the only designed and purpose-built military observation aircraft used by the US. This is a list of the models and their serial numbers.
Stinson L-1 Vigilant
L-1: 40-192 to 40-291, 40-3101 to 40-3142
L-1A: 41-18900 to 41-19081
Taylorcraft L-2 Grasshopper
L-2: 42-7773 to 42-7792
L-2A: 42-35825 to 42-36074, 42-38498 to 42-38537, 43-25754 to 43-25853
L-2B: 43-001 to 43-490
L-2C: 43-2860, 43-2862, 43-2863 to 43-2866, 43-2868 to 43-2873, 43-2901
L-2E: 43-2859, 43-2861, 43-2867, 43-2890 to 43-2892, 43-2903, 43-2906
L-2F: 43-2881 to 43-2883, 43-2889, 43-2893, 43-2908
L-2G: 43-2888, 43-2907
L-2H: 43-2874, 43-2879 to 43-2880, 43-2885 to 43-2886, 43-2895 to 43-2897, 43-2900
L-2J: 43-2875 to 43-2877, 43-2898, 43-2899
L-2K: 43-2878, 43-2884, 43-2887, 43-2894
L-2M: 43-25854 to 43-26753
Aeronca L-3 Grasshopper
L-3: 42-456 to 42-459, 43-2809 to 43-2858
L-3A: 42-7793 to 42-7812
L-3B: 42-14713 to 42-14797, 42-36075 to 42-36324, 42-38458 to 42-38497, 43-26754 to 43-27253
L-3C: 42-60281 to 42-60770, 43-1471 to 43-1960, 42-38470, 42-38471, 42-38473
Piper L-4 Grasshopper (Cub)
L-4: 42-460 to 42-463, 42-7813 to 42-7852
L-4A: 42-15159 to 42-15329, 42-36325 to 42-36824, 42-38380 to 42-38457, 43-29048 to 43-29246
L-4B: 43-491 to 43-1470
L-4H: 43-29247 to 43-30547, 44-79545 to 44-80044
L-4J: 44-80045 to 44-80844, 45-4401 to 45-5190, 45-55175 to 45-55215, 45-55224 to 45-55257, 45-55259, 45-55260, 45-55263, 45-55264, 45-55267, 45-55175 to 45-55524
L-4J: 45-5191 to 45-5200 went to the US Navy (NE-2 BuNo 29669 to 29678)
L-4J: 45-55199 to 45-55298 went to the US Navy (NE-2 BuNo 29679 to 29688)
In March 1941 at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was taken for a flight in a civilian Piper J-3 Cub piloted by C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson (African-American) and she later posed for a series of photographs to help promote the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). The civilian Piper J-3 was later produced for the US Army as the L-4.
Stinson L-5 Sentinel
L-5: 42-14798 to 42-15972, 42-98036 to 42-99574 () L-5B: 42-99575 to 42-99735, 44-16703 to 44-17102, 44-17103 to 44-17252 (*)
L-5C: 44-17253 to 44-17452
L-5E: 44-17453 to 44-18202 (*)
L-5G: 45-34911 to 45-35025
(*) 458 aircraft from these batches were transferred to the US Navy and the US Marines as the OY-1.
Interstate L-6 Grasshopper
In 1940, the Interstate Aircraft and Engineering Corporation based in El Segundo, California produced the S-1B “Cadet,” a tandem seat liaison airplane. The USAAF contracted with Interstate for 250 S-1B aircraft, designating the prototype as the XO-63 and later designated the production airplane as the L-6. It had significant overheating problems that were only partially solved and it had the distinction of fewer L-6s were built than any other USAAF liaison aircraft. The USAAF used the L-6 as a utility transport, liaison and training aircraft in the USA but never deployed it overseas. About 320 were built from 1941 to 1943.
L-6: 43-2559 to 43-2808
An Interstate Cadet, flown by civilian flight instructor Cornelia Fort and a student, was one of the first aircraft (if not the first) to be attacked by Japanese naval aircraft while en-route to Pearl Harbor on the early morning of Sunday, 7 December 1941.
Movie Clip: Tora! Tora! Tora! FLYING SCHOOL – 1970
On 9 November 1942, three Army liaison L-4s, under the command of Army Captain Ford E. Allcom, took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS RANGER (CV-4) cruising off the coast of North Africa on the second day of Operation Torch. This was the first combat mission ever undertaken by US Army liaison aircraft. The little planes had no problem lifting off the carrier and then proceeded to a landing strip along the coast, all the while maintaining radio silence.
Piper L-4A “Cub” (42-36389) is on the deck elevator being raised to the flight deck of USS RANGER (CV-4). Note the yellow surround to fuselage star and the star at the wing tip on top of the wing.
On the flight deck, Lieutenant William Butler (pilot) with Captain Brenton Devol (observer) behind him is ready to start the engine. Two flight deck crewmen are ready to pull the the wheel chocks while a third pulls the prop. Note the engine cowling is painted yellow and in the “Elizabeth”.
The Piper cub takes off down the flight deck.
While flying over the Allied invasion fleet, the L-4 cubs were mistaken for enemy aircraft and were shot at. At the time, Vichy French bombers and fighters were attacking the ships of the invasion fleet. While taking evasive action, Allcom’s flight continued to head for the coast, where he was fired on again, this time by anti-aircraft guns of the US ground forces, believing the L-4s were enemy aircraft. With part of his cockpit shot away by the friendly fire, Allcom managed to land safely only to be wounded by machine-gun fire from Vichy French forces. Captain Allcom was fortunate enough to be aided by friendly local civilians, who rushed him to a US Army aid station. The other two planes in his flight were not as lucky.
The engine cowlings of the L-4s were painted yellow as an Allied identification marking. At the time, the Vichy French aircraft had their engine cowlings painted yellow with red stripes. This would have caused the misidentification of the L-4s since US gunners during the heat of battle usually shoot first and asked questions later. For more information see my post “Air Battle Over Morocco 1942“.
After Operation Torch, it was realized that Liaison aircraft need to be launched early during landing operations. However, there are difficulties when the aircraft are launched from a location far off shore. Without proper instruments, aerial navigation is difficult over large bodies of water and the pilot may have trouble locating his unit once he reached shore. Also, the unarmed planes were easy targets for attacking enemy aircraft. The solution was to construct a runway on the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) and then the aircraft could be launched closer to the landing beaches. The aircraft were not meant to return to the LST.
LST-386 unloading US troops onto a landing barge at Licata on the southwest coast of Sicily, date unknown. Note the improvised runway for launching US Army L-4/L-5 observation planes above the main deck. The wings of two planes ready for takeoff are visible.
A dismantled Aeronca L-3B, s/n 42-36119, in the area of the 29th Air Service Group, South Pacific, late 1943. This L-3B was probably used as a source of spare parts for other planes.
Immediately prior to D-Day, two digit codes were assigned to the artillery air sections of Army HQs, Corps HQs, field Artillery Groups and Army Divisions. These numbers were painted in white forward of the fuselage national insignia and were followed by an individual aircraft letter. The letters “I” and “O” were usually not used to avoid confusion with numbers “1” and “0”. All liaison aircraft were not permitted to go into action without these identification markings, but sometimes the individual aircraft letter was omitted.
Despite of all the research since the end of WWII, no complete list of Field Artillery (FA) or liaison squadron unit codes has been found. The unit codes listed below are mainly based on information from US Army veterans or from photographic evidence of aircraft from known units.
US 12th Army Group (1st, 3rd, 9th and 15th Armies) ETO 1944-45
|13||86th Inf Div||44||30th Inf Div||65||94th Inf Div|
|21||8th Armd Div||45||35th Inf Div||67||9th Armd Div|
|23||Arty HQ, US 1st Army||46||79th Inf Div (?)||68||XIII Corps Arty|
|24||Arty HQ, US 3rd Army||47||83rd Inf Div||69||XII Corps Arty|
|25||2nd Inf Div||48||90th Inf Div||70||42nd Inf Div (?)|
|26||VII Corps, 188th FA Gp||49||2nd Armd Div||72||French 2nd Armd Div|
|28||XII Corps Arty||51||69th Inf Div||73||17th Abn Div|
|29||XV Corps Arty||52||3rd Armd Div||74||26th Inf Div|
|32||119th FA Gp & 228th FA Gp||53||4th Armd Div||78||10th Armd Div (?)|
|33||9th Inf Div||54||5th Armd Div||79||280th FA Bn, US 9th Army|
|34||1st Inf Div||55||6th Armd Div||86||78th Inf Div|
|36||4th Inf Div||56||7th Armd Div||87||84th Inf Div|
|37||76th Inf Div||57||82nd Abn Div||89||99th Inf Div|
|38||8th Inf Div||58||101st Abn Div||92||100th Inf Div|
|39||V Corps Arty||59||18th FA Gp||93||103rd Inf Div|
|40||16th Armd Div (?)||62||VIII Corps Arty||94||106th Inf Div|
|43||29th Inf Div||63||Arty HQ, US 9th Army||97||14th Armd Div|
(?) Has not been confirmed by photo evidence or any records.
Sometimes the number of aircraft in the unit exceeded the number of letters available to the unit (usually 10), letters were duplicated but an underline was added to one of the aircraft as seen on this L-4 of the 18th Field Artillery Group. This was a common practice in USAAF fighter squadrons.
A different system, using one or two letters only, was used in Italy since 1943 and later elsewhere in southern and central Europe by the US 5th and 7th Armies. This system did not have an individual aircraft identification letter and multiple aircraft in the unit did carry the same code. Unlike the unit codes in the US 12th Army Group, a full list of unit codes used by the US 5th and 7th Armies are available. This is only a partial list in this post.
Unit Codes for the US 5th and 7th Armies
|A||US 5th Army Arty (HQ)||DA||36th Inf Div Arty||M||US IV Corps|
|AA||1st Armd Div Arty||DB||131st FA Bn||N||194th FA Gp HQ|
|AB||27th Armd FA Bn||DC||132nd FA Bn||NA||91st Inf Div Arty|
|AC||68th Armd FA Bn||DD||133rd FA Bn||NB||346th FA Bn|
|AD||91st Armd FA Bn||DE||155th FA Bn||NC||347th FA Bn|
|ND||348th FA Bn|
|B||US II Corps||E||17th FA Gp||NE||916th FA Bn|
|BA||3rd Inf Div Arty||EA||45th Inf Div Arty|
|BB||9th FA Bn||EB||158th FA Bn||SA||88th Inf Div Arty|
|BC||10th FA Bn||EC||160th FA Bn||SB||337th FA Bn|
|BD||39th FA Bn||ED||171st FA Bn||SC||338th FA Bn|
|BE||41st FA Bn||EE||189th FA Bn||SD||339th FA Bn|
|SE||913th FA Bn|
|C||US VI Corps||J||French Corps|
|CA||34th Inf Div Arty||JA||6th Armd FA Gp HQ||TA||85th Inf Div Arty|
|CB||125th FA Bn||JB||59th Armd FA Bn||TB||328th FA Bn|
|CC||151st FA Bn||JC||69th Armd FA Bn||TC||329th FA Bn|
|CD||175th FA Bn||JD||93rd Armd FA Bn||TD||403rd FA Bn|
|CE||185th FA Bn||TE||910th FA Bn|
Abn – Airborne
Armd – Armored
Arty – Artillery
Bn – Battalion
Div – Division
FA – Field Artillery
Gp – Group
Inf – Infantry
General Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower flies back from the front lines in Italy on 27 December 1943. The Commander-in-Chief, seated in rear of the cockpit of a L-4 Piper just before the take-off, had just completed a tour of the battlefront. The pilot of the plane was Major T. J. Walker of the US 5th Army. Eisenhower just became the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force (SCAEF) in the ETO and was traveling to Britain to his new assignment.
When a radio could not be used, a message drop and a pickup can be used for single message transfers. A pickup station with the message bag suspended between two poles is setup on the ground.
A L-4 cub of the US 3rd Infantry Division Artillery has picked up a message from ground troops.
A Piper L-4 Cub artillery observation plane takes off from an LST-386 off the coast of Anzio, 1944. Modifications were made to LST-386 so it could carry up to 10 liaison planes to support the Anzio landings.
Wakde is an island group, which lies two miles (3.22 km) off the northeastern coast of Dutch New Guinea (today Papua, in Indonesia). During April 1942, the Japanese occupied Wakde and started building an airfield on the island. US reconnaissance aircraft first noted construction activity during February 1943 and by June a single coral surfaced runway 5400 feet x 390 feet (1646 m x 119 m) was constructed. By September, the Japanese had expanded the base further with a radio station and quarters for 1000 personnel. By 1944, the Japanese force consisted of 763 defenders who constructed 100 pillboxes and bunkers and used 12 caves defending their positions with armaments from aircraft including 20mm cannons and machine guns. Two Type 95 Ha-Go Light tanks from the Japanese Army 36th Division’s tank unit were deployed on Wakde.
On 15 May 1944. US Navy Task Force 77 (TF-77) launched “Operation Straight Line” which landed on Wakde Island. The landing force included the US 41st Infantry Division, 163rd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) with the 3rd Engineer Special Brigade, 593rd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment (593rd EBSR) assisted by four M4A1 Sherman tanks of the 603rd Tank Company. After two days of bitter fighting and mopping up, the island was declared secured on May 18. The battle resulted in US casualties 40 KIA and 107 WIA. Nearly the entire Japanese garrison was wiped out, 759 KIA and 4 Japanese became POWs.
US troops manually unloading a Piper L-4H Grasshopper from a LST ashore on Wakde.
US American forces occupied Wakde and transformed it into a major base as a stepping stone, part of General Douglas MacArthur’s “Island Hopping” strategy. The airfield was expanded to accommodate B-24 Liberator Bomber Squadrons and P-47 Thunderbolts of the 348th Fighter Group (340th and 341st Fighter Squadrons). From Wakde, the first US reconnaissance mission of the Philippines since the fall of Corregidor in 1942, was undertaken over Mindanao.
On 28 June 1944, a GMC truck carrying Piper L-4H Grasshopper, s/n 43-30281, is waiting to be loaded onto a LST on Wakde. Some sources mistakenly captioned this photo as being taken in Normandy which could not because the L-4 has no unit code or invasion stripes.
If the weather was bad or there were no airfields available for the planes to fly to, the liaison planes can be disassembled and transported either by railroad boxcar or by truck.
GMC CCKW-352 short wheelbase (SWB) truck
GMC CCKW-353 long wheelbase (LWB) truck
War Department Field Manual FM6-150 contain information on creating wooden jigs for stowing a liaison plane in the cargo bed of a 2-1/2 ton truck. This Field Manual is in the PDF file format which require Adobe Acrobat Reader installed to view.
Some other US Field Manuals can be found HERE.
From right to left; LST-380, LST-284, LST-499, and LST-382 at Brixham Harbour, Devon, UK, 1 June 1944, loading with vehicles of the US 4th Infantry Division for the assault on Utah Beach 5 days later. Note the GMC truck carrying a L-4 cub on the left side of the photo.
This is my close up of the truck and L-4 cub. The canvas covers over the plane and wings are probably to conceal the invasion stripes due to the strict security of the upcoming invasion. The under surface of the wing was neutral grey. Note that blue disc of the upper part of the star/bar roundel appear to been over painted.
The majority of the Piper L-4s that landed in Normandy during D-day were transported by landing craft, disassembled with their wings placed against the fuselage. This L-4 is on a trailer aboard an US Landing Craft Tank (LCT) along with troops.
Invasion vehicles, including this GMC truck carrying an L-4, are preparing to debark from a Rhino Ferry. A Rhino Ferry is a barge constructed from several pontoons which are connected and equipped with outboard engines, used to transport heavy equipment ashore. Beginning on D-Day, the 111th Naval Construction Battalion operated Rhino Ferries and pontoon tugs at Omaha Beach. The Rhinos and tugs were later used in the construction of the Mulberry artificial ports.
This is my close up of the GMC truck carrying the L-4 above. On the fuselage, the individual aircraft letter “Z” is clearly visible but only the second digit of the unit code can be seen. The unit code most likely is 39 for the US V Corps Artillery. The “PRESTONE 43” stenciled on the hood above the radiator grill indicates anti-freeze was put in the radiator during the winter of 43/44. After transporting the plane ashore, the truck would be used in its assigned task, in this case hauling ammunition hence the “DANGER EXPLOSIVES” placard on the front grill.
The unit code for the L-4 above could not be 49 for the US 2nd Armored Division. Unlike all Allied tactical aircraft, the L-4s of the 2nd Armored Division landed in Normandy on D+3 without the black and white invasion stripes. When the division’s Artillery Air Officer received the instructions for their application he did not pass them on because the relevant memorandum was classified information and labeled “Top Secret”. The air crews had to hurriedly get the invasion stripes painted on their planes before they could fly.
This is a GMC truck carrying an L-4 which has driven off a LST. The circled star on the hood (bonnet) is reflected on the windshield.
Saint-Pierre-du-Mont was liberated by US Ranger forces on 7 June 1944 after moving inland from Pointe du Hoc. The area northeast of the village was used by the USAAF as a forward airfield. The 834th Engineer Aviation Battalion started construction on June 7 and was completed on June 8 at 1800 hours. It was pressed into service as Emergency Landing Strip 1 (ELS A-1) with a crude grass/dirt runway. At that time, it could only handle small observation aircraft. Just over 24 hours later (at 1845 hours) it had been upgraded from a Refueling and Rearming Strip (RRS A-1) to an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG A-1), able to handle aircraft up to the C-47 transport. From June 10, an RAF Ames Type 15 GCI radar site became active at the airfield, the only survivor of three that were mistakenly sent to the Normandy beaches on D-Day, instead of on D-Day + 3. On June 10, an unknown P-38 unit began using the airfield probably as an emergency landing strip. From June 13 to August 24, the airfield was used by the P-47 Thunderbolts of the US 9th Air Force, 366th Fighter Group consisting of Fighter Squadrons: 389th (A6), 390th (B2) and the 391st (A8).
A Piper L-4 taking off from the dirt runway.
A P-38 Lightning taking off from the uncovered runway on June 10 with a Piper L-4 parked on the side of the runway.
This is my close up of Piper Cub L-4 coded 25 ☆ J. It was assigned to the US 2nd Infantry Division which landed on Omaha Beach on June 7 near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. Note the extended telescopic antenna AN-29-C on top of the fuselage.
Operation Vogelkop 1944
Operation Globetrotter was an amphibious landing and subsequent operations around Sansapor on the Vogelkop Peninsula on the northwestern coast of Dutch New Guinea. On 30 July 1944, the invasion forces landed at Sansapar (Green Beach), Mar (Red Beach), and Middelburg and Amsterdam Islands. The Task Force comprised of the US 6th Infantry Division (Reinforced), less the 20th Regimental Combat Team. The Combat units for the assault were the 1st Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 63rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Field Artillery Battalion, the 6th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, a company of the 6th Engineers, and 4 anti-aircraft batteries. All of the landings on July 30 were unopposed and it was not until August 16 that elements of the Japanese 35th Division were able to reach the area of the landings.
Various vehicles; Buffaloes, DUKWs, Tractors, and a GMC truck carrying a Piper Cub plane are put ashore from LST-202 on Red Beach, at Cape Opmarai (northeast of Mar), Dutch New Guinea, 30 July 1944.
This is my close up of the GMC truck carrying the Piper Cub in the photo above. Note the red surround on the under wing star/bar insignia which was applied between July and September 1943 indicating the aircraft probably had a 1943 serial number.
The code name for the landing operation of the Allied invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944 was Operation Dragoon (initially Operation Anvil). The objective of the invasion was to secure vital ports on the French Mediterranean coast and increase pressure on the German forces by opening another front. After a few preliminary commando operations, the US VI Corps landed on the beaches of the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) under the shield of a large naval task force.
The Sea-bees converted the LST-906 into a Jerry-rigged aircraft carrier carrying 10 USAAF L-4 Grasshoppers which were used in the invasion of Southern France at Saint Tropez. LST-906 is seen here underway in the Mediterranean. Note one of the L-4s is ready for launching.
The L-4 Grasshoppers on LST-906 were the artillery spotters for the US 3rd Infantry Division (see the unit codes above). Note L-4 coded “JC” belonged to the 69th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the French Corps. On 31 July 1944 off the coast of Italy or Sicily, the L-4s launched during training for the Southern France invasion.
US Army Air Force pilots and observers aboard LST-906 talk over their mission before taking off in their L-4 Grasshopper aircraft. Note in the background on the left side of the photo is L-4 with unit code “BC”.
This is a good head on view of a L-4 taking off from the wooden runway. The runway appears to been constructed with 2x4s and covered with plywood. Note that a large group of sailors and/or GIs are sitting under the runway ramp.
This is my close up of the L-4 taking off above. The unit code “BC” can be seen on the fuselage of the L-4.
This L-4 Piper was piloted by 1st Lieutenant Wilfred M. Boucher of the 41st Field Artillery Battalion. Boucher’s L-4 had an extra fuel tank installed, and when he switched over to it an air bubble caused him to stall out and forced him to ditch in the ocean. After retrieving his plane and him, the US Navy and placed his wrecked plane on the beach at Cavalaire, France. This photo shows how really fragile the liaison planes were.
French 2nd Armored Division
The Aviation Artillery Platoon of the French 2nd Armored Division (French: 2e Division Blindée, 2e DB) was created on 7 April 1944, consisting of the 25e, 27e, 31e and 32e Section d’Observation d’Aviation d’Artillerie Section (S.O.A.A.), in English: Section of Observation of Artillery Aviation. Each section had 2 planes of the L-4B or L-4H type, two pilots and a mechanic. The 1st aircraft of the 25e S.O.A.A. arrived on 19 June 1944. On August 6th, the planes crossed the English Channel and arrived in Normandy. On August 25th, the 4 sections were located at Nemours, France, later at Barbizon in November 1944.
The following two photos are my close ups of IWM FRE 6414 and IWM FRE 10800. Both are of the same photo but with two incorrect captions. They are two Piper L-4Hs of the 25e S.O.A.A. (including s/n 43-29934, coded 72 ☆ B) at Wetterheim in December 1944. Note the invasion stripes and the French three color flag on the tail fin.
L-4H coded 72 ☆ A, flown by Captain Callet and Lieutenant Mantoux (observer), on 24 August 1944, dropped a message in the Prefecture courtyard from General Philippe Leclerc, commander of the 2e Division Blindée to the beleaguered parisians in Paris – “Don’t give up, we arrived”.
On 25 August 1944, the French 2e Division Blindée and the US 4th Infantry Division entered and liberated Paris. Four Piper L-4s flew over Paris at low altitude; two L-4s of the 2e Division Blindée, unit code 72 (one was flown by Captain Herbert Rousselier) and the other two were attached to the 2e Division Blindée, flown by Americans of the 196th Field Artillery Battalion (Joe Kilkenny with his observer in one and Lieutenant Ken G. Thorpe alone in the other). Before the flight, Captain Rousselier was informed that Thorpe wished if possible to see his parents who lived Paris and whom he had not seen in four years.
While flying over the Foch avenue, German snipers open fire at the four planes. Shortly after flying over the Arc de Triomphe, the L-4s landed close to the Porte Maillot (train station). Thorpe cut his engine and glided a bit before landing to avoid hurting anyone.
After the landing, their planes were quickly pushed off to the sides of the street.
Thorpe found himself quickly on the shoulders of an unknown man shouting for joy. The Americans remained a few days in Paris and contributed to a film for Pathé News. Their L-4s remained parked in front of their hotel on the Av. de la Grande Armée.
Piper L-4H 43-29635 of the 196th Field Artillery Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Group (Unit Code 59) in front of hotel Marinelli. Today: Marmotel Etoile, 34 Av. de la Grande Armée, 75017 Paris, France.
US 9th Air Force:
|6C||14th Liaison Squadron||9 Apr 1944||26 L-5s, 2 UC-78s||US 3rd Army|
|8R||153rd Liaison Squadron||31 May 1943||32 L-5s||US 1st Army|
|L1||173rd Liaison Squadron||24 Oct 1944||L-4s, L-5s, UC-78s||Communications Zone ETO|
The 14th Liaison Squadron (code 6C) was a XIX tactical air command unit and was attached to the US 3rd Army from May 1944 until the end of war. The squadron sent a 2-3 plane detachment, a Dodge WC51/52 loaded with fuel cans, 1 or 2 jeeps with an officer, 2-3 enlisted pilots, 1 mechanic, and 1 cook to each Corps in the 3rd Army. They flew various missions, mostly administrative ones transporting around staff officers, but also doing impromptu reconnaissance and often dropping maps/orders to forward units of the Corps.
Lieutenant General George Smith Patton Jr., commander of the US 3rd Army, prepares to go aloft in a L-5 to inspect his forces from the air, France, 26 August 1944. Patton is grabbing the handle to close the window. Note the 3 star placard behind the pilot. In the background is probably the wings of another plane taking off or landing.
Aircraft of the 153rd Liaison Squadron displayed their unit code as 8 ☆ R, with no individual aircraft letter, instead of 8R ☆ followed by a letter.
The 173rd Liaison Squadron applied the L1 unit code correctly but used numbers (1 to 32) instead of letters to identify individual aircraft.
Cessna UC-78 Bobcat:
In 1942, the USAAF ordered the Bobcat as a light twin engine transport with variable-pitch propellers as C-78s, which were re-designated as UC-78s on 1 January 1943 and 1354 were built. By the end of WWII, Cessna had produced more than 4600 Bobcats for the US Army, 67 of which were transferred to US Navy as the JRC-1. The Bobcat also received many nicknames such as “The Bamboo Bomber”, “Useless-78”, “The Wichita Wobbler”, “Brass Hat”, “Double-Breasted Cub”, “Boxkite”, “Rhapsody in Glue” or even the “San Joaquin Beaufighter”.
Major Charles Carpenter of the US 4th Armored Division flew Piper L-4H Grasshopper (s/n 43-30426) coded 53 ☆ K, named “Rosie the Rocketer” which mounted a trio of bazookas just outboard of the jury struts (6 total).
This is a close up of the triple Bazooka mounting on the jury struts. At that time, the invasion stripes were over painted on the upper surfaces of the plane.
This is an aerial view of L-4H “Rosie the Rocketer”.
On 20 September 1944 during the battle of Arracourt (east of Nancy, France), German Panthers of the 111th Panzer Brigade advanced towards CCA (Combat Command A) HQ and several US 4th Armored Division support units were pinned down or trapped by the German advance. The 4th Armored Division’s CCA was led by Colonel Bruce Clarke. Clarke’s command post was at the Riouville farm a half mile (0.80 km) east of Arracourt. Guarding the command post was a platoon of 76mm M18 GMC Hellcats (704th TD Battalion), two battalions of 105mm M7 HMC Priests, and a battalion of tractor-drawn 155mm artillery pieces of the 191st Field Artillery Battalion.
Major Carpenter took to the air with his bazooka-armed L-4 Cub to attack the enemy. At first, Carpenter was unable to spot the enemy due to low clouds and heavy fog, which finally lifted around noon. Spotting a kompanie of German Panthers advancing towards Arracourt, Carpenter dived through German ground fire in a series of attacks against the panzers, firing all of his bazooka rockets in repeated passes. After returning to the field to reload, Carpenter flew two more sorties that afternoon, firing no fewer than 16 bazooka rockets at German panzers and armored cars, several of which were hit. Carpenter’s actions that day were later credited and verified by ground troops with knocking out two Panthers and several armored cars, while killing or wounding a dozen or more enemy troops, and was eventually credited with destroying 6 enemy panzers, including two Tiger I heavy tanks. Carpenter’s actions also forced the German panzer formation to retreat to its starting position, in the process enabling a trapped 4th Armored Division water point support crew to escape capture or destruction.
Major Carpenter was nicknamed “Bazooka Charlie” or “The Mad Major” and no victory markings were applied to his plane.
Major General John Shirley Wood, commander of the US 4th Armored Division, often utilized his personal pilot, Major Carpenter, to keep up with his rapidly moving division, sometimes personally carrying corps orders from HQ directly to his advancing armored columns.
Between September and early November 1944, the US XX Corps of Patton’s 3rd Army was battling a string of forts along the Moselle River and trying to penetrate a ring of steel surrounding the city of Metz. From the available intelligence, the Moselle River line opposite Thionville was heavily defended by the enemy. Further south at the town of Uckange there was an excellent crossing site which was the logical place for a river crossing. It was thought that the enemy would not expect an attack in that area. With those considerations in mind, General Walker ordered a battalion of the US 95th Infantry Division to make a river assault at Uckange in order to distract the enemy’s attention from the main effort of the US 90th Infantry Division at Koenigsmacher. The remainder of the 95th Division would be used to contain the German fortified salient west of Metz. The 95th Division would maintain constant pressure along that defensive perimeter until an encirclement had been made or until a weak spot developed there. Then, on the Corps Commander’s order, the 95th Division would advance and capture the city of Metz.
At dusk on November 8, Company C, 1st Battalion, 377th Infantry Regiment, 95th Division paddled across the Moselle River in 17 assault boats about 200 yards (182.88 m). Due to appalling weather conditions, a preliminary air attack on the enemy on the far bank was not possible but an artillery barrage was fired before the crossing. Once across, there was no immediate German opposition from the 73rd regiment of the 19. Volks (People’s) Grenadier (VG) Division. The small group of infantry advanced about 400 yards (365.76 m) across the flood plain and then dug in to wait for sunrise. Then the enemy artillery began to drop around them. During the early hours of November 9, Company A was ferried across. During the night, the continuous heavy rain caused the river water level to spill over the banks, increasing the width of the river and increased the speed of the current. Contact with the companies was only by radio since efforts to get a telephone line across the river failed.
By daylight on November 9, the 1st battalion had two companies and a heavy weapons platoon on the east bank of the swollen river. They then began to move further inland and passed through the villages of Imeldange and Bertrange. Although not in contact with enemy infantry, artillery and mortar shelling were heavy and the GIs dug in for cover and to keep warm. The high flood waters defeated all attempts to resupply the two cut off companies. The accurate enemy shelling and the strong river current made daylight movement across the river impossible, even when the assault boats were fitted with outboard motors. It was decided to try to resupply by air using light artillery spotting aircraft. Ten L-4s from the division’s artillery and the 193rd FA Group flew in 104 loads of k-rations, ammunition, medical supplies, cigarettes, water purification tablets, plasma and toilet paper. Flying at an altitude of 25 feet (7.62 m), a volunteered “dropper” sat behind the pilot and tossed out the vital parcels to the troops on the ground. The air crews could see some of the GIs standing in water in their foxholes. They shouted and waved when rations landed next to their foxholes.
Sketch by PFC Ernest L. Deal, A Company, 377th Infantry Regiment
Against heavy resistance, the US 95th Infantry Division captured the forts surrounding Metz and captured the city by November 22.
Siegfried Line 1944
On 1 December 1944, a L-4 equipped with Bazookas in a hangar at, assumed to be, Aachen-Merzbrück, Germany. This L-4 made trial attack runs on the airfield.
The Aachen Merzbrück airfield was used by the Luftwaffe, with IV./LG 1 and I./St.G. 77 of Lehrgeschwader 1, equipped with Junkers Ju 87 Stukas during the first week of battle in May 1940. After the battle of France ended in June 1940, the airfield was little used until the Allies captured it in early November 1944.
The pilot’s name is unknown and the L-4 was named “LUCKY PIERRE ff”. Pierre is a christian boy name and it is an English originated name with multiple meanings. Pierre name meaning in English is rock, stone and the meaning of “ff” could be “Free French”.
The L-4 was coded 77 ☆ D and still had invasion stripes below the insignia. Unit code 77 was associated with the US 104th Infantry Division but it is not confirmed. At the time, the US 104th Infantry Division was fighting in the area east of the airfield between Eschweiler and Inden, Germany.
The serial number “4-9950” is a mystery. It is hand painted on with thin numbers, not the standard US Army stenciled numbers and 44-9950 does not belong to any US liaison plane.
Early on December 17, Kampfgruppe Peiper overran an airstrip where several of L-4s managed to take off while under fire. One of the L-4s was piloted by a sergeant who leapt into the cockpit, having only a few pre-war crop dusting flying hours to his name.
L-4s under camouflage netting on a snow bounded field near Érezée (between Hotton and Manhay), Belgium, 4 January 1945.
Grounded because of a blizzard, a Piper L-4 tied down in a snow covered field in vicinity of Bastogne in the area held by the US 6th Armored Division. The unit code on this Piper is either 68 or 88, snow is obscuring the first digit. Unit code 68 is the US XIII Corps Artillery and the unit for code 88 is unknown.
Piper L-4s parked along a snow packed airfield. L-4 coded 44 ☆ C belonged to the US 30th infantry Division and L-4 coded 29 ☆ Q in the background belonged to the US XV Corps Artillery.
Piper L-4J, serial number 44-80091 and coded 44 ☆ J, was piloted by Major Jack Blohm of the US 30th infantry Division at Spa (northwest of Malmedy), Belgium, January 1945. Note the extended telescopic antenna AN-29-C on top of the fuselage.
This is an aerial view of Piper L-4J coded 44 ☆ J which is fitted with landing skis.
Piper L-4 coded 33 ☆ Z which is also fitted with skis belonged to the US 9th Infantry Division.
Iwo Jima 1945
The invasion of Iwo Jima (19 February – 26 March 1945) was code named Operation Detachment. On February 26, two Stinson OY-1 Sentinels of Marine Observation Squadron 4 (VMO-4) from the escort carrier USS Wake Island (CVE-65) landed on the repaired runway. These were first two US aircraft to land on the newly captured airstrip and they did so while under heavy Japanese small-arms and mortar fire. The first OY-1 to land was piloted by Lieutenant Harvey Olson. In time, the mere presence of these small planes flying overhead would make the Japanese gunners to cease fire and button up against the inevitable counter-battery fire which followed.
USMC OY-1s parked along the runway of Motoyama Airfield #1 on Iwo Jima, February 1945. The closest plane was sponsored by the students of Eastbrook School District indicated by the legend painted on it engine cowling.
The US Army was not the only ones to mount bazookas on their liaison planes. Three bazookas are mounted on these OY-1s (probably with another three on the opposite side) on Iwo Jima, March 1945.
Bazooka fire from the OY-1s silenced Japanese gun positions faster than artillery counter fire. They were also used against the entrances to the Japanese cave and tunnel system in a ridge overlooking the eastern beaches.
A L-5 Sentinel fly over a destroyed Me 262 A-2a (WNr. 500079) at Giebelstadt Airfield in Germany on 4 April 1945. At the end of March, the US 12th Armored Division of the XXI Corps, 7th Army, 6th Army Group captured the airfield and it was extensively photographed by the 798th Signal Corps. To hide the airfield from Allied reconnaissance aircraft, the runway was painted to resemble a grassy field complete with fluffy white sheep and Hitler had built an escape railroad track that led to the airfield. On the fuselage of the L-5 just forward the star/bar insignia is the unit code “F” for 36th Field Artillery Group.
Sections of the German famous autobahn became ready-made runways for the US artillery observation planes of the fast moving divisions. The Piper L-4 on the left has the unit code “67” on the fuselage which is the US 9th Armored Division.
Piper L-4 Dogfight
On 11 April 1945, pilot 1st Lieutenant Merritt Duane Francies, Field Artillery, and forward observer Lieutenant William S. Martin, 71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Armored Division, US 9th Army, were flying a Piper L-4H Grasshopper on a reconnaissance mission over Vesbeck, Germany. It was Francies’s 142nd combat mission of the war.
The two airmen spotted an German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch flying beneath them. The Storch was similar to the Grasshopper. Both aircraft were a single engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The Storch was larger and faster, but both airplanes performed similar missions during the War. Francies put his L-4H into a dive and overtook the Luftwaffe plane. Both US officers carried M1911 Colt .45-caliber semi-automatic pistols, with which they fired on the Fieseler and emptied their 7-round magazines, then they reloaded. The enemy plane began to circle. Francies made another pass, coming to within an estimated 30 feet (9 meters) of the German plane. Both of them opened fire again, striking the Storch in the windshield and in the fuel tank. The Storch went into a spin, then crashed landed. Francies landed his L-4H nearby.
“Duel in the sun” – Burt Mader
The two German crewmen got out of the Fi 156 and tried to run, but the observer had been wounded in the foot. Seeing that the observer had been hit in the foot, Francies ran over to help. He pulled off the man’s boot and a .45 bullet fell out. Martin fired a warning shot and the German pilot stopped, then surrendered. About 15 minutes later, the captured Germans were turned over to a US 5th Armored Division tank crew. The injured German thanked them many times for bandaging his wounded foot.
Francies and Martin posing beside the wreckage of their crashed adversary.
The Piper L-4H Grasshopper was named “Miss Me!?” with serial number 43-29905 and was coded 54 ☆ J.
Brodie Landing System
The Brodie landing system was a method of landing light airplane devised by USAAF Captain James H. Brodie. This method of landing involved catching a hook attached to the plane with a sling which itself was attached to a cable. This system proved useful in landing aircraft in normally unsuitable terrain, such as the jungle or in mountains, and also afforded good camouflage.
A similar launching and landing apparatus was previously used by the US Navy in the 1930s. The US Navy airships USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5) successfully launched and recovered Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk biplanes with hooks and retractable trapezes. However, both of the airships crashed. The USS Akron crashed on 3 April 1933 killing 73 crewmen and passengers and the USS Macon crashed on 12 February 1935.
The Brodie system differed in that the system was based on a wire capture with a larger (longer) target to hit by the pilot. Even though it could be mounted to moving objects, it was also suitable for fixed installations on the ground.
A hoist and sling device lifted the plane and its crew onto the trolley, then a special winch pulled the aircraft back to the ship’s stern-side end. The pilot gunned the engine, and a clutch released the trolley. The plane rolled along the cable, picking up speed. As the aircraft accelerated, the pilot pulled on a lanyard. This detached the plane from the sling, causing it to soar into the air. To land the aircraft, the pilot simply lined the aircraft up with the cable, and snagged the sling with a hook. The machine’s winch worked like a fishing reel, and slowed the plane to a stop. Both takeoffs and landings needed only 600 feet (183 m) of cable and often less with strong headwinds.
Film: Piper L-4 Brodie 1944
The Brodie system took some time for the pilot to master. The L-4 Piper Cubs were tail-heavy planes, which meant pilots had to routinely pull back on their yoke when landing. But doing this during a Brodie landing might cause the propeller to hit the cable, and over-correcting might send the plane crashing into the sea. Another problem was the moving waves. The masts and cable could swing around in arcs of 30 feet (9.144 m) or more when the ship rode a swell. Also, sudden strong crosswinds could slam the light plane into the side of the LST.
The Brodie landing system was fitted to LST-776, LST-393, and LST-325 but only LST-776 saw actual combat in 1945. It launched US Navy OY-1s at Iwo Jima and US Army L-4/L-5 observation aircraft at Okinawa.
The rig’s hardware weighed less than 4 tons (3628 kg), light enough for two trucks to carry. On land, Brodie’s system could theoretically equip jungle airfields, although there is no information of any such deployments.
Brodie filed several patents detailing a more robust, enclosed raceway for the trolley instead of a cable and other upgrades to accommodate heavier aircraft. After the war, he tried to sell his system in the civilian market. He envisioned rigs mounted on building rooftops for “air commuters.” Airplanes could use the system for carrying mail and passengers from ship to shore. Forest rangers could had a simple way to launch small aircraft in remote mountainous regions and the system could been useful for emergency winter operations when airports were snowed in. But with the advent of the helicopter, Brodie’s system never took off for post war civilian use.
As US forces prepared to invade the heavily defended island of Okinawa, LST-776 equipped with the Brodie system stumbled upon a hidden Japanese defense. Sometime just before the invasion, LST-776 launched L-4s and L-5s to conduct anti-submarine patrols for the US fleet.
The L-4/L-5 patrols encountered a small island that was ringed by a series of small caves with what appeared to be railroad tracks running to the water. The patrol pilots reported what they found back to the fleet. Without knowing the actual purpose of the caves but believing they were a possible threat to the fleet, destroyers were order to shell all the caves on the island. After Okinawa was captured it was realized that there were about 350 Japanese Shin’yō (“Sea Quake”) class suicide motorboats fitted with explosives in the caves. These suicide boats were intended to ram the rudders or propellers of the ships in the US invasion fleet. Once the US ships were disabled, it would allowed kamikaze planes to fly over and attack stationary targets.
On 5 May 1945, Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring made his way to the US lines in hopes of surrendering to them rather than to the Soviets. He was taken into custody near Radstadt on May 6 by elements of the US 36th Infantry Division. On May 9, pilot Captain Mayhew “Bo” Foster, Göring and a group of officers from the 36th Division gathered on a tiny airstrip outside Kitzbühel, Austria, to transport the highly prized prisoner back to Germany in a Piper L-4 cub. But there was a problem, Göring weighed more than 300 pounds (140 kg) and the lightweight L-4 would not be able to get the two of them off the ground. The division only had a small airstrip which was suitable for only light planes. They had to upgrade to the one L-5 Sentinel in the division’s inventory which was slightly larger and had more power.
Göring settled into the back seat of the L-5 and tried to fasten his seat belt. It would not stretch across his huge belly. He held the strap in his hand, looked at Foster and said, “Das goot!” (that’s good). Foster did had thoughts of flipping over to drop him out but it did not matter because Göring was wedged in tight.
This is the photo of that moment which shows Foster in the cockpit and Göring seated directly behind him, his elbow propped on the plane’s fuselage. The unit code on the plane was probably “DA” for the US 36th Infantry Division Artillery.
Patton’s US 3rd Army conducted a major offensive to liberate western Czechoslovakia (Today Czech Republic or Czechia) from German occupation.
US V Corps (1st Inf Div, 2nd Inf Div, 97th Inf Div, 9th Armd Div, 16th Armd Div, and 102nd Cav Recon Gp)
US XII Corps (5th Inf Div, 26th Inf Div, 90th Inf Div, 4th Armd Div, and 2nd Cav Recon Gp)
US XXII Corps (79th Inf Div, 80th Inf Div, 94th Inf Div, and 8th Armd Div)
On 5 May 1945, a Stinson L-5C Sentinel, s/n 44-17328, coded 88 ☆ L and in the background is a Piper L-4H coded 88 ☆ R at the town of Kdyně (Domažlice District), about 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Plzeň.
In May 1945, several US Piper L-4s landed on the road leading to Katowice near Strakonice, Czechoslovakia. They were looking for an airport in Lipky. Local scouts gave them directions. This Piper L-4H, s/n 43-29488, was coded 25 ☆ E. Note that there are no invasion stripes on any under surfaces of the plane.
General Patton prepares to go aloft in a 14th Liaison Squadron L-5 Sentinel to review the US 103rd Infantry Division at Kirchdorf, Germany, on 14 September 1945. Note the 4 star placard and the text “FIRE EXTINGUISHER LOCATED INSIDE” painted on the door.
On 9 December 1945, Patton was injured in an auto accident on a road outside Mannheim, near the Rhine River. Taken to a hospital in Heidelberg, Patton was discovered to have a compression fracture and dislocation of the cervical third and fourth vertebrae, resulting in a broken neck and cervical spinal cord injury that rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. He died in his sleep of pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure at about 1800 hours on 21 December 1945, at the age of 60.
The L-4s and L-5s continued to serve in the US armed forces after the war. The Cessna L-19/O-1 Bird Dog was the first all-metal fixed-wing aircraft ordered for and by the US Army following the creation of the separate USAF in 1947. The Bird Dog had a lengthy career in the US military, as well as in other countries. During 1950-53, L-4s and L-5s saw combat again in the Korean War used by US and South Korean forces.
In late 1966, the USAF selected a military variant of the Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster, designated the O-2, to supplement the O-1 Bird Dog forward air controller (FAC) aircraft then operating in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, the O-1 Bird Dog and the O-2 Skymaster were equipped with white phosphorus rockets to mark enemy targets for the fast movers USAF and USN fighter bomber jets.
The Fighting Grasshoppers: US Liaison Aircraft Operations in Europe 1943-1945, Ken Wakefield, 1990
Lightplanes at War: US Liaison Aircraft in Europe, 1942-1947, Ken Wakefield, 2000
US Liaison Aircraft in action – Squadron/Signal Aircraft No. 195, 2005
Video: LN-MAV “Bazooka Maverick”
Video: Flying a 1943 J3/L4 WW2
Model Kits and Decals
Bronco CB35014 US Piper Cub L-4 (O-59) Grasshopper – 2007
Bronco CB35018 Piper Cub L-4H Rosie The Rocketer – 2009
Hobbycraft HC1580 L-4 Cub WWII Piper Grasshopper – 1992
MisterCraft E41 Piper L-4H “Cub” (1/50) – 2019
Special Hobby SH48218 Piper L-4 Grasshopper – 2022 (Future)
DK Decals DKD48019 Piper L4/NE-1 in USAAF and RAAF service
AZ model AZ7274 Stinson L-5 “Sentinel” Special – 2009
Kopro 3146 Piper L-4H Cub – 2004
Kovozávody Prostějov (KP) KPM0190 Piper L-4 “Grasshopper” w/Bazookas – 2020
Kovozávody Prostějov (KP) KPM0191 Piper L-4 “Grasshopper” w/Brodie Hook – 2020
Směr 0948 Piper L-4H – 2018
Sword SW 72004 Stinson L-5 Sentinel – 200?
Starfighter Decals 72-155 L-4 Grasshoppers – 2017