• Peter Berthoud

Pepys' Aircraft Recognition Cards of World War II

Updated: Nov 19

Three different sets of Official Aircraft Recognition cards were issued by the British Military Authorities during World War II, in January 1941, July 1942 and April 1945.


Three different sets of Official Aircraft Recognition cards in their boxes.

The first two were made for the Air Ministry and the final set for the Admiralty. All sets were produced by Pepys and issued in anonymous looking brown cardboard boxes, each containing four packs of cards.


The cards were produced as training aids for Pilots, Gunners, Observers and other service personnel. They were designed to be used informally and each set contained a leaflet that suggested games to be played with them and encouraged players to devise new games. Even non-competitive card players could be expected to enhance their knowledge through a process of osmosis.


The three sets of Aircraft Recognition cards, left to right, January 1941, July 1942 and April 1945.

The three sets of Aircraft Recognition cards, left to right, January 1941, July 1942 and April 1945.


The January 1941 Set


The four packs of cards from the 1941 set, Red, Blue Orange & Green

The four packs of cards from the 1941 set, Red, Blue Orange & Green, each pack came with a key sheet. The vivid colours of the card backs were used in all three sets.


The 1941 set's introduction leaflet.

The 1941 set's introduction leaflet. Click to expand.


View of the four packs of cards showing backs, silhouette types and Jokers.

Each pack of cards has 4 different silhouette views of 13 different aircraft and 1 Joker with 4 views of a single aircraft, 53 cards in total. The four different views, General Perspective, Front view, Plan view and Side view can be thought of as "suits".


Different types of aircraft are grouped together by the colour of the pack's back.


Red: Single-engined aircraft.

Blue: Multi-engined aircraft (single rudder)

Orange: Multi-engined aircraft (twin rudders)

Green: Miscellaneous aircraft


The 1941 Green pack showing both sides of its Key sheet.

The 1941 Green pack showing both sides of its Key sheet.

The 1941 Green pack showing both sides of its Key sheet. Click to expand.


The introductory leaflet suggests a number of games that could be played with any of the packs, Happy Families, Rummy, Clock Patience, Pelmanism, Snap and Banker.


Banker is a gambling game in which any number of players can take part. Each player begins with an equal number of counters. The "Banker" shuffles, turns over one card and then begins to count to ten. The player to the left has this time to identify the correct silhouette. All the other players may try to distract the person who is guessing. At the count of ten, if the player fails to recognise the aircraft and admit defeat they pay the banker one counter. If they guess correctly, the banker pays them two counters. If they give an incorrect answer they pay three counters to the banker. The game continues with the next player to the right becoming the banker and continues until all the cards have been used and the player with the most counters is declared the winner.


The July 1942 Set.

1942 Pack Introductory leaflet.

1942 Pack Introductory leaflet. Click to expand.


Again 4 packs of Red, Blue, Orange & Green backed cards plus key sheets. Each pack contains 3 views of 17 different aircraft, a total of 51 cards plus 1 Joker. This time with the only views being Front, Plan and Side views there are just 3 "suits".


The 1942 set with the red pack open showing one side of the Key sheet

The 1942 set with the red pack open showing one side of the Key sheet. Click to expand.


Happy Families, Rummy, Clock Patience, Snap and Banker are suggested as possible games. Pelmanism is dropped as a suggestion.


The April 1945 Set

The 1945 set's introduction leaflet.

The 1945 set's introduction leaflet. Click to expand.


In the 1945 set once again there are 4 packs with the same backs but this time with many more US aircraft & Japanese aircraft, the latter of which are all referred to by their Allied codenames. The silhouettes are replaced with photographs and feature traditional suit symbols and indices. The 4 suits make a pack of 52 cards plus 1 Joker. The four Jokers act as the Key cards for each pack so there are no Key sheets in the 1945 set.


The Blue pack from the 1945 set.

The Blue pack from the 1945 set. Click to expand.


The Introductory leaflet includes the same games as in the 1941 and 1942 sets with Pelmanism reintroduced and two new games, Donkey and even Poker are suggested but there is a stern note on the front page of the introduction leaflet:


The inclusion of the normal symbols on the cards enables all ordinary games to be played, but these packs of cards are provided as aids to training in aircraft recognition. Therefore, it is most desirable that games be devised where identification of the various types of aircraft is necessary and not those using the standard card indices.


A duty sealed pack from the 1945 set.


The boxes maybe utilitarian but the cards in all three sets are of high quality. Often one or more packs in a set can still be found sealed in a duty wrapper.


The distinctive card backs were used for several other Pepys games including Wu-Pee, Disney Wu-Pee, Dingbat, Picture and Disney Dominoes.


For a round up of card games from WWII see my personal blog which features games from Pepys and several other publishers.