RAF Fighter Camouflage

Discussions on all aspects of the The United Kingdom & its Empire and Commonwealth during the Inter-War era and Second World War. Hosted by Andy H
User avatar
Pips
Member
Posts: 1161
Joined: 26 Jun 2005 08:44
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia

RAF Fighter Camouflage

Post by Pips » 31 Dec 2007 06:48

Would anyone know in what month and year did the RAF change their fighter camouflage from 'green and brown' to 'green and grey'? And what was the reason?

User avatar
Sewer King
Member
Posts: 1711
Joined: 18 Feb 2004 04:35
Location: northern Virginia

Post by Sewer King » 02 Jan 2008 06:46

From Bruce Robertson's book Aircraft Camouflage and Markings 1907-1954 (Letchworth, Herts, England: Harleyford Publications Ltd, 1956; also Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers), page 97:
General Finish -- Day Fighter

The uppersurface finish of fighters was a straightforward matter: from 1937 it was shadow-shading in dark brown and dark green until 1941 when the dark brown was changed to ocean grey using M.A.P. [Ministry of Aircraft Production] Pattern No.1. This was a turning point of the war in the air. As our fighting role changed from the defensive to the offensive by fighter sweeps across the sea, so it was necessary to compromise between 'over-land' and 'over-sea' camouflage shades. Few realised the significance of this change of colouring, but it epitomised Britain's will and means to fight back.
The 'Pattern No. 1' is that for single-engine monoplanes, and the colors were the 'Temperate Land Scheme' (as opposed to the 'Sea Scheme,' the 'Middle East Scheme' and others). The change from brown to ocean grey did not change the name of the Land Scheme. Unfortunately the month of 1941 when it happened is not told in this book. (page 94)

I for one liked the light blue undersurface used for a time on fighters after June 1940. The author also calls this 'duck-egg blue', but officially it was 'Sky Type S' blue. Evidently it varied with tinges of grey, green, and yellow. Maybe that was one of the reasons it was replaced with sea grey.

-- Alan

User avatar
Pips
Member
Posts: 1161
Joined: 26 Jun 2005 08:44
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia

Post by Pips » 02 Jan 2008 07:56

Thanks for that Alan. :)

I've always considered the reasoning odd that just because aircraft RAF fighters flew over the Channel from '41 onwards they had their colour scheme changed. They still did most of their fighting over land in France - where the brown and green pattern would have been more effective.

User avatar
Sewer King
Member
Posts: 1711
Joined: 18 Feb 2004 04:35
Location: northern Virginia

Post by Sewer King » 03 Jan 2008 04:10

Y'r welcome! Have you heard a similar explanation, then, about why it was changed?

Forgot to mention that green and brown were officially named 'Dark Green' and 'Dark Earth'.

There are other, more specific books on RAF warpaint 1941-45, but what I have is packed away just now. You have got my interest up and now I would like to dig them out (along with a number of other titles).

Handsome photo books like Richard Winslade's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Osprey Publishing Ltd, 1987) show some of the surviving Spitfires and Hurricanes painted in the green-and-brown of 1940. The book is mainly for pictorial rather than technical interest, so the paint schemes are not described. But the paint jobs are so glossy in modern photography of restoration.
Pips wrote:They still did most of their fighting over land in France - where the brown and green pattern would have been more effective.
It could be that the green-and-grey was a year-round compromise. Green-and-brown might have been darker and more conspicuous (if only slightly) against European temperate winter snows, however better they were in summer.

Theoretically the use of 'Ocean Grey' would have freed up the brown paints for use in the RAF 'Middle East' paint scheme, which used 'Dark Earth' and 'Middle Stone' as seen on the desert P-40s. I suspect that grey paints were also somewhat cheaper, but against wartime needs that is a lesser consideration.

Finally, didn't the RAF continue a green-and-grey paint scheme for its jets in continental NATO service? I seem to remember it on British helicopters as well, although White would be added for snow.

-- Alan

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 03 Jan 2008 04:16

I understand that aircraft serving in the Med theater had the undersurfaces painted azure.

Michael

User avatar
Sewer King
Member
Posts: 1711
Joined: 18 Feb 2004 04:35
Location: northern Virginia

Post by Sewer King » 03 Jan 2008 06:01

That is true, from Robertson, page 119-120:
the R.A.F. in Middle East and Mediterranean Areas

General Markings

The standard finish in the Middle East for R.A.F. aircraft from 1941 was tropical land scheme of dark earth and middle stone with azure blue undersurfaces. Up until the end of 1940 aircraft from the United Kingdom were delivered to all overseas areas in temperate land scheme and were re-marked as necessary. However, by 1941, all planned deliveries to the Middle East from Lend/Lease allocations in America and British maintenance and storage were in the tropical scheme.

Dark earth and middle stone were admirably suited to the desert terrain of North Africa, but a temperate scheme was more appropriate to Greece, to where some Desert Air Force aircraft were diverted and in Italy to where this force advanced. At the eastern end, in Iraq, Palestine, Persia, etc., a tropical scheme was suited and used, but at the other end, Gibraltar, which came under Coastal Command, a sea scheme applied to aircraft there, with either sky or azure undersurfaces.

Desert Air Force

... Seventy-two Blenheims had been mustered from [various] squadrons, many still in shadow-shading and black undersurfaces, but attempts were made to give them azure undersurfaces.

Bostons and Marylands came to supplement the day bombers, they had a plain azure blue undersurface...
-- Alan

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 03 Jan 2008 21:13

Pips wrote:I've always considered the reasoning odd that just because aircraft RAF fighters flew over the Channel from '41 onwards they had their colour scheme changed. They still did most of their fighting over land in France - where the brown and green pattern would have been more effective.
Although I have read no authoritative discussion on the question, a thought occurs to me inspired by more general reading. And that is that the Dark Green/Dark Earth scheme was perhaps better suited for the camouflage of aircraft parked on the ground, but that Dark Green/Sea Grey was better suited for air-to-air combat. This would be especially true in a situation where the RAF planes would be flying above or among clouds/mist/haze, which in Europe would be as often as not.

Michael

User avatar
phylo_roadking
Member
Posts: 17487
Joined: 30 Apr 2006 23:31
Location: Belfast

Post by phylo_roadking » 04 Jan 2008 02:28

Michael - indeed. That particular shade of grey was apparently more difficult to see against more backgrounds that than RAF aircraft would be flying against, including skyscapes, than Dark Earth...which looked rather noticable against ANY colour of sky background :) Speed blurs colours as our optic nerves strive to keep up and refocus vision, but the degree of contrast in a brown-against-grey or -against-blue contrast apparently speeds up the brain's second-by-second reacquisition of data and decision making process, like the faster discrimination between two contrasting primary colours.

Also, looking down from above - only in perfect visibility and altitudes under a thousand metres are greens and browns of the terrain below clear enough to required perfectly matching camoflage. Any degree of low cloud or heat haze or distance fades the colour contrasts below in look-down, against the background of which a lowflying aircraft flies. So an intermediate colour like the grey is more effective.

User avatar
Pips
Member
Posts: 1161
Joined: 26 Jun 2005 08:44
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia

Post by Pips » 04 Jan 2008 07:51

Michael Emrys wrote: And that is that the Dark Green/Dark Earth scheme was perhaps better suited for the camouflage of aircraft parked on the ground, but that Dark Green/Sea Grey was better suited for air-to-air combat. This would be especially true in a situation where the RAF planes would be flying above or among clouds/mist/haze, which in Europe would be as often as not.

Michael
Indeed, a very good point. :)

User avatar
Sewer King
Member
Posts: 1711
Joined: 18 Feb 2004 04:35
Location: northern Virginia

Post by Sewer King » 08 Jan 2008 05:52

Pips wrote:Would anyone know in what month and year did the RAF change their fighter camouflage from 'green and brown' to 'green and grey'? And what was the reason?
August 1941. Finding an answer to the original question was made possible by finally digging out (almost literally) a copy of a specific reference book for RAF warpaint in NW Europe. From the following it seems all of us have “reverse-engineered” the reasons for replacing Dark Earth paint with Ocean Grey.

From James Goulding and Robert Jones’ book Camouflage and Marking: R.A.F. Fighter Command Northern Europe 1936 to 1945, (London: Ducimus Books Ltd, and Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co, 1971), page 20:
… From the middle of 1941 British fighters began to increase the offensive into enemy-held territory, and the fighting was carried our over land and sea, and at ever-increasing altitudes. For this changed tactical situation, the existing colours of Dark Green and Dark Earth, with Sky undersides, were unsuitable. These colours had proved their worth when rendering fighters less conspicuous on aerodromes during re-arming and refueling when enemy aircraft roamed the skies over Britain during daylight. The colours had also proved to be correct during combat over the greens and browns of the British countryside at the comparatively low levels of the average raids made during mid-1940.

But with the changed situation of the air war, experiments were carried out to determine a suitable combination of colours to meet the new combat conditions. Different colours were tried out on several Hurricanes at the Air Fighting Development Unit at Duxford, and included various combinations of Dark Green and different Greys, or two tones of Grey. Extended trials were carried out on a few operational Hurricanes.

Eventually the decision was taken to retain Dark Green as one of the basic colours, but to evolve a new Grey to replace Dark Earth. This change would cause a minimum amount of repainting on the upper surfaces. The best replacement for Dark Earth was found to be a fairly deep Grey with a distinct blue-green hue, and it was given the official colour name of Ocean Grey.

Compromise Colour

Ultra-violet light effects produce bluer tones over land and sea when viewed from higher altitudes, as can be seen in the distance on any bright sunny day at ground level. But the new colour also had to be effective over the sea at lower altitudes. Ocean Grey proved to be a good compromise colour between the two differing requirements, and it was adopted to become the new companion colour to the existing Dark Green.

… The Air Ministry ordered the new standard day fighter camouflage scheme to be gradually introduced as and when it was convenient after 15th August, 1941, and Supermarine amended the Spitfire drawings the following day.

But there was a complication in this story of the change from Dark Earth to Ocean Grey. It has always been popular to quote the new grey used as ‘Dark Sea Grey’, and it is still being stated as such in some of today’s publications. Some observers refer to a ‘non-blue’ Grey being used on upper surfaces, and all these reports are based on a half-truth.

… all Air Ministry Orders and signals refer only to that colour [as Ocean Grey]. There is no truth in any suggestion that Ocean Grey varied in colour during the war years, and was less blue in earlier years. Any variation in shade would have been only due to bad mixing or, more probably, insufficient stirring. But the fact is that there was another grey which was apparently authorized for use in place of Ocean Grey, and this was the ‘non-blue’ grey already observed. Although no mention is made of this grey in Air Ministry Orders, it is quoted on the manufacturer’s camouflage and markings drawings and, therefore, must have been officially approved as all these drawings had to be approved by the Air Ministry.

This grey was a straight mix of seven parts of Medium Sea Grey and one part of Night. It was usually quoted as an alternative to Ocean Grey. As there were literally thousands of day fighters of all types to be repainted the demand on the paint manufacturers must have been enormous. Ocean Grey contained a number of colours in its mix, such as Night, White, Blue, and Yellow, and it would have been difficult for anyone other than the authorized paint manufacturer to produce a consistent shade. This was the probable reason why a simple mix of Medium Sea Grey and Night was given as the alternative. Although not so effective a colour as Ocean Grey it was better than Dark Earth under the new tactical conditions.

Both Ocean Grey and the mixed grey came into use on production Spitfires on 16th August, 1941, but Ocean Grey became the main colour used for the rest of the war years. The mixed Grey, from available evidence, went out of use and reference to it was removed from drawings, but it was re-instated on 2nd October 1943, and from this date either Grey was specified. Ocean Grey, however, remained the normal standard colour.

Possible the specified use of the mixed grey, the removal of reference to it and its re-instatement reflected supply problems with Ocean Grey from time to time. It is not known for certain that the alternative colour was mixed by squadrons, but as they used the manufacturers drawings it is almost certain that they did.
From page 29:
North American Mustang

From August 1941 a newly-developed camouflage scheme of Dark Green and Ocean Grey upper surfaces and Sea Grey Medium lower surfaces had been brought into use. The grey tones were ideally suited for flight across the English Channel and against the cloud conditions prevalent in Europe…

As far as aircraft being supplied under Lend-Lease was concerned promulgation of the new camouflage orders of August 1941 did not come into effect quickly enough to enable such colour modifications to be applied to Mustangs prior to delivery. Mustangs were still arriving in the U.K. as late as May 1942 with the Dark Green and Dark Earth uppersurfaces and Sky under…
Page 68:
Hawker Hurricane

... Pending supplies of pure M.A.P. [Ministry of Aircraft Production] Ocean Grey, [Hurricane] squadrons used the mixed grey from 15th August, 1941. The first squadrons to use the new upper surface camouflage scheme were those in Nos. 10 and 11 Groups, and the Spitfire wing of No. 12 Group.
And pages 267-269:
Curtiss Mohawk

... [Mohawks IIIs and IVs] were delivered direct to the U.K. with provision for British 0.303 machine guns and radio equipment and they were already painted in what was then, the standard R.A.F. camouflage of Dark Green and Dark Earth upper surfaces with Sky undersides.

… Many of these early Mohawks [Is and IIs] were recorded during the late summer of 1940 with the French camouflage and insignia crudely painted out by the then-standard British schemes and it was not uncommon to see a Mohawk with Dark Green and Dark Earth upper surfaces but with the undersurfaces still in the original French silver finish…
=======================

Shades of blue-greys still serve well in modern fighter color schemes for air-to-air combat, in different air forces. Modern paint technologies may have some edge over those of WW2 for all I know, and of course the airspeeds and tactics have long changed.

But it might be interesting to compare certain periods of NATO /Warsaw Pact fighter warpaint with those of Allies/Axis. After the late 1970s, WP fighters began to take on dark green and brown camo patterns which strike me as comparable to those of the early-wartime RAF. Up to then NATO pilots had been taught to watch for “the silver fighter” enemy in combat, whereas in late WW2 the American fighters had been the ones to fly in bright metal finish.

I still wonder how close the latter-day RAF warplane scheme of green-and-grey is to that of WW2, if is not more or less the same.

-- Alan

User avatar
Pips
Member
Posts: 1161
Joined: 26 Jun 2005 08:44
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia

Post by Pips » 08 Jan 2008 09:38

Brilliant information Alan. Heartfelt thanks.You have answered my question completely - and several others I was going to ask! :)
Sewer King wrote: Ultra-violet light effects produce bluer tones over land and sea when viewed from higher altitudes, as can be seen in the distance on any bright sunny day at ground level. But the new colour also had to be effective over the sea at lower altitudes. Ocean Grey proved to be a good compromise colour between the two differing requirements, and it was adopted to become the new companion colour to the existing Dark Green.
-- Alan
Given the above I guess the Germans discovered the same thing, and thats why an overall grey upper surface came into vogue.

Return to “The United Kingdom & its Empire and Commonwealth 1919-45”