Apr 20

A Brief Illustrated History of Navy Victory Markings

Monday, April 20, 2020 1:56 AM


The taking of trophies and the building of memorials to mark military victories has been common throughout the history of warfare. The English word “trophy” is derived from the ancient Greek tropaion, which was a display of captured weapons, armor and standards commemorating the defeat of an enemy.

Warriors took great pride in the trophies representing their unit’s triumphs in battle but many also wanted to record their individual victories over a foe. Headhunting and scalping were perhaps the most gruesome means for exhibiting defeated enemies. A less grisly practice in some cultures was to get special tattoos after vanquishing adversaries. Pulp Westerns often featured cowboys who sported notches on their holsters or revolvers to mark all the men they had gunned down. While probably rare, there are indeed documented cases of men notching guns, knives and ax handles to record kills. T. E. Lawrence is known to have added notches to his rifle for every man he shot during the Arab Revolt.

Pilots during World War I tracked their success over enemy aircraft as they sought to achieve enough victories to reach the status of ace. It was common for pilots to seek out the planes they shot down to retrieve a piece to keep as a trophy. In addition, squadrons began marking the scores of their individual pilots on a board at their base. These victory marks (also known as kill marks) were usually flags or insignia representing the nationality of the downed aircraft.

By World War II, the U.S. Navy had adopted the practice of adding marks directly to the fuselage of its victorious planes. The tradition was expanded so that ships also prominently displayed a variety of victory marks on a scoreboard, often depicting silhouettes of sunk enemy vessels. The U.S. sea services still use victory marks to signify successful engagements, many of which are quite unique. The following photos present examples of different Navy marks.


No U.S. naval aviator had more victory marks in WWII than Captain David McCampbell. The F6F Hellcat pilot remains the Navy’s ace of aces with 34 aerial victories.


The victory mark on Lieutenant Commander Lance E. Massey’s TBD-1 Devastator torpedo plane was placed after he sank a ship during the Marshall Islands Raid in 1942. Massey was killed while attacking the Japanese carrier force at Midway.


An F6F Hellcat from Observation Fighter Squadron One has four swastika victory marks followed by the names of two American pilots. The pilots shared the plane and each scored two victories on consecutive days while flying in support of the invasion of southern France in August 1944.


PT-209 added a Nazi flag victory mark after sinking a German vessel while operating in the Mediterranean theater in 1943.

A railway boxcar is painted onto the scoreboard of PT-134 after the boat raided Japanese transportation facilities at Cebu City in the Philippines.


The scoreboard lists all the Nazi mines destroyed by the YMS-375—plus an unlucky 8-ball to represent the one mine that damaged the ship.


In addition to the torpedoed ships recorded on its battle flag, the USS Balao (SS-285) had a separate tally of victory marks for all the merchant ships sunk by its deck gun.


The USS Barb (SS-220) had an unusual victory mark on the submarine’s battle flag—a locomotive (middle of bottom row). In a daring mission in 1945, members of the crew landed on Karafuto, Japan, and planted explosives on a railroad track, destroying a passing train.


Crew aboard USS Griffin (AS-13) add another hashmark on the Torpedo Shop scoreboard of Japanese ships claimed by Submarine Squadron 5’s “S-Boats” operating out of Australia circa 1942. The hashmarks are under flags denoting merchant ships and warships.


The top left corner of the battle flag for USS Blackfin (SS-322) flaunts victory marks for the 70 mines that the submarine destroyed.


A TBM-1C Avenger on the USS Hornet (CV-12) in 1944 displays its bombing and torpedo missions.


A sailor points to victory marks representing the destroyers and cruisers sunk by the USS Boise (CL-47) during the Battle of Cape Esperance in 1942. A later review determined that the scoreboard mistakenly overstated the actual number of ships sunk in the nighttime action.


The second column of victory marks on the scoreboard for the USS Charles Ausburne (DD-570) commemorate shore bombardments.


The USS Cod (SS-224) has a victory mark for destroying the Dutch submarine 0-19. Although the Netherlands were an ally, the Cod had to prevent 0-19 from being captured by the Japanese after she became stuck on a reef in 1945. After taking on the Dutch crew, the Cod sank the 0-19. The Dutch crew was so thankful for being rescued that they later hosted a big party for the Cod, which resulted in another victory mark—a cocktail glass.


The USS Gurnard (SS-254) scoreboard has several Japanese flags with a single stripe in the middle to denote transports that were damaged but not sunk.


The scoreboard for the USS Essex (CV-9) now on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum includes victory marks for the bridges, trucks, and ox carts her planes destroyed during the Korean War.


The USS Valley Forge (CV-45) also maintained a scoreboard during the Korean War with a column to record the number of junks destroyed.

The detailed scoreboard for the USS Hornet (CV-12) has a special victory mark in the lower left corner for the role the carrier’s planes played in the destruction of the Yamato, one of the most powerful battleships ever constructed.


The scoreboard for the USS Zeilin (APA-3) includes the kamikaze strike that the ship asborbed in 1945.


The SH-3 Sea King known as “Old 66” bore victory marks of space capsules to commemorate its role recovering Apollo astronauts after splashdown. Old 66 crashed into the sea during a training mission in 1975.


A record of the North Vietnamese MiG-17s downed by the F-4 Phantom II on display at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. (Via Paul Churcher on Flickr)


Gypsy 202, an F-14 from VF-32 involved in the 1989 air battle near Tobruk, displays a victory mark for one the two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers shot down in the incident.


A stenciled helicopter on an F-14 from VF-1 represents an Iraqi Mil Mi-8 shot down during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The helicopter was one of the five victories scored by Tomcats throughout the entire operational history in the U.S. Navy.


The fuselage of this A-7E Corsair II documents the planes entire combat history in the Persian Gulf War. The camels stand for the 39 missions flown while every general bomb, cluster bomb, glide bomb, and HARM missile unleased by the attack aircraft is listed below the pilot’s name.


A 2009 photo of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman displaying cocaine “snowflakes” and marijuana leaves to represent drug busts. Each victory mark denotes one bust regardless of the total value of the drugs seized.


In 2018, the U.S. Navy recorded its first air-to-air kill in almost two decades when an F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22. A Syrian flag was duly added to the fuselage along with the tomahawks that represent airstrikes.


The lightening bolt victory marks on this EA-18G Growler signify jamming missions. The bolt striking the human figure means the Growler succeeded in jamming or intercepting the cell communications of a targeted individual. (Via The Aviationist)


Another EA-18G Growler sports the distinct silhouette of a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor. Fortunately, it is not from a blue-on-blue incident. Rather, it is a friendly taunt stemming from a 2019 simulated combat exercise in which the Growler managed to get a missile lock on the Raptor. (Via The Aviation Geek Club)



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