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Origins of The “Boxing Bulldog”

Origins of The “Boxing Bulldog”

The exact origin of Aleksander Gabszewicz’s “Boxing Bulldog” motif is something of a mystery and seems to pre-date its wider use by other Allied units. Photographs taken at RAF Northolt in April 1942, when Gabszewicz was the Commanding Officer of No. 316 (Polish) Squadron, show the “Boxing Bulldog” emblem painted onto the right stole of his Mae West life jacket. Clearly, he had already adopted it as his own by early 1942 and is said to have been using it from 1941. A color pencil drawing of the “Boxing Bulldog” in his personal album is dated 1942 and shows the creature wearing the colors of the Polish flag on its shorts, vest and cape, with the Polish coat of arms on its vest, but without the lightning flashes on the boxing gloves. The first of Gabszewicz’s aircraft to wear the emblem was his Spitfire Mk IX EN526, which had a relatively small “Boxing Bulldog” painted on the port side of the fuel tank cover, just forward of the cockpit. Gabszewicz flew EN526 from June to mid-September 1943, while he was the Wing Leader of No. 1 (Polish) Wing, achieving three of his aerial victories in this aircraft. Meanwhile, in April 1943, Walt Disney presented a version of a remarkably similar “Boxing Bulldog” cartoon drawing to the USAAF, for use as the official badge of the 32nd Fighter Squadron, which was then based in England. The squadron was flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts on bomber-escort duties for B-17s attacking enemy targets in occupied Europe. The badge was formally approved for use by the 62nd FS on June 18, 1943. In a personal project, Disney created many unique insignia for military units during WW II. He set up an insignia design unit within Disney Productions Studios and, working with other Disney staff artists, he created more than 1,200 insignia during the war. Disney’s artwork, which he donated free of charge, was used as decals on tanks, trucks, bombs, planes, and many different types of military transport and equipment. Interestingly, from December 1943 to February 1944, Gabszewicz completed a brief exchange posting with the USAAF 56th Fighter Group, which included the 62nd FS, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt from Halesworth, Suffolk, and so he would have seen the 62nd FS use of the “Boxing Bulldog” as their badge. The 62nd FS is still active with the USAF, now based at Luke AFB, Arizona, flying the F-35 Lightning II; the “Boxing Bulldog” is still used as the squadron’s emblem today. Another Allied squadron that used a version of the “Boxing Bulldog” emblem was 135 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, a Home Defense unit that flew the Hawker Hurricane in Canada. The squadron went the whole hog and kept an actual bulldog pet as a mascot. It is known that the “Boxing Bulldog” was painted onto the 135 Squadron Hurricanes and onto the pilots’ Mae West life jackets by September 1942. The squadron history records that the emblem was adapted by 135 Squadron pilot Alan Hartley from the one created by Disney Studios for the 62nd Fighter Squadron of the USAAF, but as the 62nd FS emblem was not presented by Disney until April, that doesn’t quite seem to match up.

Walt Disney presenting his “Boxing Bulldog” drawing to Sgt. Seymour Pine USAAF in April 1943, for use as the 62nd Fighter Squadron emblem.

The most likely origin of the “Boxing Bulldog” would appear to be Disney, although how Aleksander Gabszewicz had seen it and adopted it as his own by April 1942 at the latest remains a mystery.

Updated: January 26, 2021 — 11:18 AM

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