Aircraft Colors and Camouflage, Royal Air Force (World War II)

 

 

Introduction to British color standards

The main color standard used on British military aircraft is known as British Standard BS 381, which was was introduced in 1930 as British Standard BS 381: Colours for Ready Mixed Paints. It was revised shortly thereafter in 1931 as British Standard BS 381C. This included a total of 57 colors known by their one or two-digit numbers and which were ordered in the following manner: blues, browns, greens, grays, reds, browns, and yellows. Neither white nor black were included. A further seven colors were later added bringing the total palette to 64 colors by the start of World War II. A few numbers were skipped, resulting in the numbering running from 1 to 73 with six of the seven newer colors not following the standard color order.

Numerous new colors were developed in the years before World War II while others were introduced after the war had started. From 1940, the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) took charge of wartime color standards and this included all the major colors used on Royal Air Force (RAF) and Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aircraft. There were also two wartime updates of BS 381C (1943 and 1944) with a reduced palette of only 27 colors. However, only a handful of BS 381C colors were ever used for aircraft camouflage purposes. MAP colors did not have any numerical designation and were simply known by their names. Camouflage schemes were specified through numerous Air Ministry or Admiralty orders and were usually based around named two-tone disruptive schemes (such as the Temperate Sea Scheme) plus an underside color, and determined by aircraft role. US aircraft provided to the RAF/FAA via Lend-Lease were typically factory-painted in DuPont colors that closely approximated their MAP originals, and later in substitute paints from the ANA system.

Many of the wartime colors were subsequently incorporated into BS 381C in its first post-war updates in 1948 and 1964 (now known as BS 381C: Colours for Specific Purposes) though some were left out never to be used again, including some well-known ones like Ocean Grey. The 1948 update also adopted a three-digit numbering system where the first digit refereed to the color and last two two digits the shade. Color digits are: blue (1), green (2), yellow (3), brown (4), red (5), gray (6), and violet (7). Notably, no whites are included. Thankfully, almost all colors from the 1931 palette transfered their number to the last two digits so for example, No 1 Sky Blue became Sky Blue BS 101 and No 62 Middle Stone became Middle Stone BS 362. There were very few exceptions, such as No 43 Salmon Pink redesignated Salmon Pink BS 447 and some name changes like No 7 Dark Blue renamed Strong Blue BS 107. From the 1996 revision, all colors are specified as being semi-matt. A different standard, BS 4800: Paint Colours for Building Purposes has occasionally been used on aircraft as well with some colors like Barley Grey BS 18B21 eventually incorporated into BS 381C (as Camouflage Grey BS 626).

 

Contents:

External Links:

References:

 

Paint guide basics:

All colors in this page include a paint chart with matches or equivalences from 19 different model paint ranges. Paints are considered matches if they are labeled with the intended color (either uniquely on together with another color). Paints are considered equivalences if they are close to the intended color but not labeled as such. The accuracy of any paint is independent of whether it is a match or an equivalence and these are described in the text (there can be poor matches and highly accurate equivalences). The following nomenclature is used in the paint tables and is based on matches or equivalences to US Insignia Red FS 11136:

Paint Match or equivalence type (label)
MP01 Labeled to match one specific color (FS 11136)
MP02* Labeled to match more than one color of same-country standards (FS 11136 / ANA 509)*
MP03** Labeled to match more than one color of different-country standards (FS 11136 / BS 538)
MP04 (!) Questionable accuracy of label match (doesn't look like FS 11136)
MP05 (?) Questionable accuracy of label match, untested (doesn't look like FS 11136 in the bottle)
(MP06) Close equivalent to FS 11136 (BS 538)
(MP07) (?) Questionable equivalent to FS 11136 (Generic Gloss Red)

* A single asterisk also denotes implicit matches for same-country standards where there is an official succession between standards. For example, H327* would match ANA 509 even if the label only references FS 11136 since ANA 509 is its official predecessor. This does not apply when there are considerable differences between successive paints (ex: Olive Drab No. 41/ANA 613/FS 34087) and this will be described in the text. By and large, however, single asterisk matches should be considered close enough to unique matches as to not be seriously questioned.

The paint charts make no distinction between gloss, semi-gloss, and matt variants of a color if the correct sheen is unavailable (ex: gloss FS 11136 will be a specific match for matt FS 31136 if the latter does not exist in the same paint range). Exceptions are made where there is a known or suspected color difference (ex: FS 24087 and 34087).

 

TACTICAL SCHEMES

Temperate Land Scheme (1938-40)

The RAF began World War II in Europe using a scheme that would be represenative of the early war period including the Battle of Britain, known as the Temperate Land Scheme. The scheme was introduced around the time of the 1938 Munich Crisis and consisted of a disruptive topside pattern of Dark Earth and Dark Green. The basic pattern would be largely unchanged througout the course of the war on all tactical aircraft, and consisted of two versions known as 'A' and 'B', the former having the Dark Green sections painted broadly in a top-left to rear-right direction, and the latter in a top-right to rear-left direction, thus essentially being mirror images of each other. There is some controversy over the correct shade of Dark Green, with some photos showing a deeper, forest green color while others (mainly using the later Day Fighter Scheme) showing it closer to an olive green. Dark Earth was, as its name suggests, a dark earthly brown that was much more prone to fading than Dark Earth, and freshly painted aircraft would have shown much less contrast between the two colors than aircraft in the field.

The lower fuselage colors are independent of the topside scheme and aircraft using the TLS had different undersides over time. Initially, aircraft had their undersides painted Night on the port side, and White on the starboard side. Night was made from carbon and ultramarine pigments which gave it a dark black-blue appearance. This two-color scheme was used for ground identification by the Observer Air Corps. There was considerable variation in terms of what sections of the fuselage were painted in Night or White. In some cases, Night was only applied to the wing area, in other cases further along the fuselage. Flaps were occasionally painted in the opposite color as well. Older aircraft like Hurricanes occasionally retained Aluminium rear lower fuselages which were a leftover from the overall Aluminium scheme that predated the introduction of camouflage. With the war underway, however, it became obvious that this pattern was not ideal for concealing aircraft against the sky, and as a result a new sky color was introduced at the height of the Battle of Britain. However, there was not a single sky color but rather, four distinct variants that were used to greater or lesser degree during the famous air battle. These are described in the following section.

Spinners were typically Night throughout this period. There was some degree of personalization of spinner colors, particularly by Wing Commanders. Squadron codes were in a basic Grey (Stores Ref. 33B/157), rather than Medium Sea Grey as frequently believed since this color was not added to the palette until later. This grey is slightly darker and more neutral than MSG and was used on all operational aircraft until 2 July 1942 (AMO A.664/42); it is herein referred to as 'basic Grey'. It was common for RAF aircraft in the opening stages of the war to have a greenish-yellow diamond on the wings, similar in color to US Zinc Chromate Yellow . This was not a special marking but rather, a special chemical detection patch (commonly known as a 'gas patch') that would have changed color if exposed to a chemical agent and which would be in view of the pilot. These were removed by the time of the Battle of Britain once the threat of chemical warfare receded.

Paint guide:

 

  Aluminium White Night Dark Earth Dark Green
         
Schemes
General (1938-40) (Lower) Lower Lower Upper camo Upper Camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous (H8) H11 (H77) H72 H73
Gunze Mr. Color (C8) C62 C125 C22 / C369 C23 / C361
Humbrol 56 34 - 29 116
Model Master 1781 2142 - 2060 2054
Revell 99 05 - 182 168
Tamiya XF-16 XF-2 (XF-85) - XF-81
Vallejo Model Air 71.062 71.001 (71.315) 71.323 71.324
Vallejo Model Color - 70.842 (70.862) - -
AKAN 76004 78002 (79043) 70010 70020
AK Interactive - AK 738 AK 2066 AK 2012 AK 2011
AK Real Color RC020 RC004 (RC022) RC287 RC286
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-194 A.MIG-050 (A.MIG-033) A.MIG-070 A.MIG-915
Colourcoats - C03 (ACRN17) ACRN10 ACRN09
Hataka HTK-_078 HTK-_101 - HTK-_009 HTK-_016
Lifecolor LC-74 LC 01 - UA 092** UA 091**
Mission Models MMM-003 MMP-001 MMP-108 MMP-078 MMP-077
Mr. Paint MRP-3 MRP-4 (MRP-255) MRP-108 MRP-110
Xtracolor X142 X405 X012 X002 X001
Xtracrylix (XA1216) - XA1012 XA1002 XA1001

 

Photos:

A soon to be legend: the unmistakable Spitfire Mk I with the older two-blade prop shows the TLS in 1938.
This Spitfire Mk I from March 1940 shows the Night undersides leading all the way up to the spinner which was more common in the original application of this scheme than in the late 1940 version.
This Hurricane Mk I over Egypt shows the White/Night undersides in flight. This photo was taken October 1940, a month before desert camouflage began to be implemented. Night was only applied to the wing area.

Links:

 

Temperate Land Scheme (1940-41)

The Temperate Land Scheme was still applied to most operational aircraft well into 1941. However, the undersides of day fighters had a major change from 11 August 1940 as the Battle of Britain was raging since it was clear that it was more important for fighers to blend in with the sky than be identified from the ground. This led to the introduction of Sky Type S as the underside color, the 'S' referring to its smooth (semi-gloss) finish compared to the matt finish of the topside colors. Unfortunately, it appears that as many as four different types of sky were used, each of them being referred to as either Sky Type S or often with their colloquial names on different Air Ministry Orders throughout the period. This suggests that officials writing the orders may not have even been aware of the differences.

Officially, Sky Type S was the color that would later be classified as Sky BS 210 in the 1948 BSC 381C standard, a pale green-gray with strong hints of yellow. However, it has also been suggested that Eau-de-Nil was used interchangeably especially before stocks of Sky Type S were more widely available. Eau-de-Nil is a brighter green but it would be be difficult to tell these colors apart in the field unless two aircraft with each color were next to each other, much less in a black and white photo. The other major sky color used during the battle was Sky Blue. It was also a very light, pastel-like blue with hints of gray, and would have looked lighter in black and white photography when contrasted with either of the sky greens. Since both Eau-de-nil and Sky Blue were colors from the original 1931 BS 381C palette, it makes a lot of sense that these were widely available in the summer of 1940.

There is considerable photographic evidence that many aircraft in the 1940-41 period were painted with combinations of sky green (whether Type S or Eau-de-Nil) and sky blue. Following the introduction of fuselage bands in Sky Type S from 12 December 1940 (AMO A.926/40), it was not uncommon to see aircraft painted with clear demarcation lines between the fuselage bands and the lower surfaces, even while still in the factory. And at least one color photograph shows clearly different colored fuselage bands and underfuselage colors as well. Finally, although Sky Gray was not an authorized Fighter Command color (it was used for the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command) it is known to have occasionally found itself in a small number of fighters during the battle.

Another important change occurred on 27 November 1940 when portside wings were ordered to be painted Night again, though the remainder of the underfuselage retained whichever sky color was applied. Following the additional of Sky Type S on tail bands in late 1940, spinners gradually adopted this color as well.

Overall, it is understood that application of the underfuselage color was done quite unsystematically across units which is perhaps understandable given the scale of the emergency during the summer and autumn of 1940 and the tendency of the Air Minsitry and field commanders to issue orders on a very frequent basis, often daily. The was also likely considerable confusion over what Sky Type S actually looked like and the Air Ministry added to the confusion by colloquially referring to it in most 1940-41 Orders as 'Duck Egg Blue' rather than the more appropriate 'Duck Egg Green' (both colors are similar but at least the latter would have made it clear that Sky Blue was not the intended color). All that is certain is that there was more than one color used. For the remainder of this document, all further references of Sky Type S will match explicitly to the wartime version of Sky BS 210 with the necessary caveat that in some cases other versions of Sky were used. All three colors were carried over to the 1948 palette although Sky Blue (BS 101) was changed considerably, turning into a blue-green that looks nothing like the wartime shade.

Paint guide:

 

  Sky Blue Eau-de-Nil Sky Dark Earth Dark Green
         
Schemes
General (1940-41) (Lower) (Lower) (Lower) / (Tail bands) Upper camo Upper Camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - H74 H74 (!) H72 H73
Gunze Mr. Color - C26 C26 (!) / C368 C22 / C369 C23 / C361
Humbrol 23 - 90 29 116
Model Master - - 2049 2054 2060
Revell - - 159 182 168
Tamiya - - XF-21 - XF-81
Vallejo Model Air 71.404 71.009 71.302 71.323 71.324
Vallejo Model Color - - - - -
AKAN 70001* (!) - 70005 70010 70020
AK Interactive - - AK 2015 AK 2012 AK 2011
AK Real Color - - RC290 RC287 RC286
AMMO by Mig - A.MIG-244 A.MIG-243 A.MIG-070 A.MIG-915
Colourcoats ACRN24 ACRN30 ACRN01 ACRN10 ACRN09
Hataka - - HTK-_026 HTK-_009 HTK-_016
Lifecolor - - UA 095** UA 092** UA 091**
Mission Models - - MRP-080 MMP-078 MMP-077
Mr. Paint - - MRP-118 MRP-108 MRP-110
Xtracolor - - X007 X002 X001
Xtracrylix - - XA1007 XA1002 XA1001

 

Links:

 

Photos:

This well-known picture of a Spitfire Mk II flying over the Northumberland coast in April 1941 shows the Temperate Land Scheme on its most famous aircraft.
Any debate whether there was a single Sky color or not is over when looking at this photo. Compare the Sky Blue band, squadron codes, and spinner on the foreground Hurricane versus the greener Sky coloring on the Spitfires. These are all training aircraft from the Empire Central Flying School.
This is one of the few known color photos showing Sky Blue, on the undersides of Blenheim Mk IFs based in Singapore in 1941. Note the fuselage band as well.
The Temperate Land Scheme lived on even after most fighters switched to the Day Fighter Scheme. This Horsa glider from a training unit in 1943 shows the TLS over a striped yellow and black underside.

 

 

Day Fighter Scheme (1941-45)

By 1941 the Air Ministry decided that the traditional Temperate Land Scheme was no longer adequate to the needs of air combat, which was increasingly taking place at higher altitudes. It also involved considerable activity over the North Sea and the Channel given that the RAF was now on the offensive. The so-called Day Fighter Scheme was introduced (on a gradual basis) from 15 August 1941 and was seen as a compromise between operations over land and water. Dark Green was retained but Dark Earth was replaced by the new Ocean Grey under an indentical pattern as before. Ocean Gray was a cool, medium gray with a noticeable bluish hue which under certain lighting conditions would be very pronounced. Despite the ubiquity of Ocean Grey, it was not carried over in the post-war period, with 632 Dark Admiralty Grey being the closest. Along with the introduction of the DFS, the basic underside color of day fighters was also replaced by Medium Sea Grey. These colors became standard in all RAF daytime tactical aircraft aside from reconnaissance and specialized high-altitude aircraft which did not use disruptive patterns.

There were some exceptions and oddites to this scheme worth mentioning. When the scheme was first introduced, Ocean Grey was a new color and stocks were low which necessitated an ad hoc replacement. This was known as 'Mixed Grey' and was made by mixing 7 parts Medium Sea Grey and 1 part Night (matt black). The result was lighter and less blue than the actual Ocean Grey, being perhaps closer to Dark Sea Grey instead. The day fighter scheme also began to be used extensively in the Mediterranean theater from 1943 onward. Undersides painted in Azure Blue (described in the Desert Scheme section) were common.

Spinners and tail bands remained Sky Type S for the most part, carrying over the possibility that Sky Blue may have been used as well. From 10 August 1942, it was ordered that aircraft be painted with Yellow stripes on the leading edge of the wings. This was for identification purposes for frontal attacks during dogfights. The order was initially given specifically for Lend-Lease Mustangs but was later adopted by all RAF single-engined fighters. Wartime Yellow leans heavily towards orange and its closest post-war equivalent is Golden Yellow (BS 356) although the latter is lighter. Squadron codes were officially Sky but could occasionally differ.

One oddity was the Typhoon low-level fighter-bomber, which were painted with black and white stripes in the lower wings from December 1942. These were composed of four 12-inch black stripes with three 24-inch stripes in between. These may have been the inspiration for the subsequent D-Day invasion stripes applied to nearly all Allied aircraft which participated in the landings. These consisted of three white stripes with two black stripes in between, all 18-inch in size for single-engine aircraft and 24-inch for twin-engined aircraft, and were placed in both the upper and lower wings as well as around the rear fuselage. The topside stripes were the first to be removed in the weeks after the invasion although underside fuselage and wing strips were still seen throughout the remainder of the year.

Paint guide:

 

  Medium Sea Gray Ocean Gray Dark Green Sky Yellow
         
Schemes
DFS (1941-42) Lower Upper camo Upper Camo Tail bands  
DFS (1942-45) Lower Upper camo Upper Camo Tail bands Leading edges
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H335 (!) - H73 H74 -
Gunze Mr. Color C335 (!) / C363 C362 C23 / C361 C26 / C368 -
Humbrol 165 106 116 90 24*
Model Master 2058 2057 2060 2049 2063*
Revell - - 168 159 -
Tamiya XF-83 XF-82 (!) XF-81 XF-21 -
Vallejo Model Air 71.307 71.273 71.324 71.302 71.078**
Vallejo Model Color 70.870** - - - -
AKAN 70016 70047 70020 70005 70009*
AK Interactive AK 2013 AK 2014 AK 2011 AK 2015 (AK 2065)
AK Real Color RC289 RC288 (!) RC286 RC290 -
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-246 A.MIG-245 A.MIG-915 A.MIG-243 -
Colourcoats ACRN04 ACRN07 ACRN09 ACRN01 ACRN21
Hataka HTK-_034 HTK-_032 HTK-_016 HTK-_026 HTK-_275*
Lifecolor UA 094** UA 093** UA 091** UA 095** -
Mission Models MMP-094 MMP-093 MMP-077 MRP-080 -
Mr. Paint MRP-112 MRP-115 MRP-110 MRP-118 MRP-112
Xtracolor X003 X006 X001 X007 X011*
Xtracrylix XA1003 XA1006 XA1001 XA1007 XA1011*

 

Photos:

One of the best color photographs of the Day Fighter Scheme, on a very rare Hurricane Mk V (just two converted) in the autumn of 1943. The grey looks suspiciously like 'mixed grey' as it lacks the characteristic blue of Ocean Grey.
The DFS was the standard scheme of all RAF fighters in Europe from 1941 onward (and abroad as well from late 1944). This Meteor F.3 wears it well in 1945.
Despite barely missing out on the war, this line of Tempest Mk IIs straight out of the factory show the day fighter colors very clearly as well as the distinct blue tint of Ocean Grey.
Typhoons were unique in that they were painted with black and white identification bands under the wings. This was likely the precursor to the D-Day invasion stripes.

 

Links:

 

Tropical Land Scheme (1939-41)

An optional desert camouflage scheme is believed (unverifed by this author) to have been initially specified as early as in 1939 (as an addenda to AMO A.520/39) consisting on a topside camouflage of Light Earth and Dark Green. As its name implies, Light Earth is considerably lighter than Dark Earth and resembles a basic tan. It was previously used on 'shadow compensation' of biplane lower wings (see below). Undersides likely mirrored those on standard home based day fighters. This new camouflage scheme was particularly suitable for the Middle East Command where large tracts of desert were also mixed with greener terrain such as the Nile Delta and Palestine. The name Tropical Land Scheme is often given to this scheme, in reference to various pre-war experimental schemes with the same name.

Confusion subsequently arises from the fact that from 12 December 1940 (AMO A.926/40), aircraft from the Middle East Command were allowed to substitute the Dark Green from the Temperate Land Scheme for Middle Stone (frequently referred to as Midstone). Compared to Light Earth, Middle Stone was only slightly darker but with a characteristic mustard-like tone, but being a new color (it existed in the earlier BS 381C palette but not for RAF use) it likely took a few months before it became widespread, leaving Light Earth as the default. This would appear to have been the first iteration of what later would be the Desert Scheme although at the time the scheme was not named. However, this combination did not last long. From 10 July 1941 (AMO A.513/41), aircraft abroad were authorized to use Middle Stone and Dark Green instead. However, this appears to have been a mistake by the Air Ministry and corrections were issued shortly thereafter to replace Dark Green with Dark Earth although it is likely that some aircraft were indeed camouflaged this way (Air Ministry orders were not always followed to the letter, much less lower order corrections). A month later, on 28 August (AMO A.687/41), this scheme was formally named the Tropical Land Scheme although the actual colors were not stated, which still leaves open the confusion on whether Dark Green or Dark Earth was to be used. Overall, these new schemes were adopted at the discretion of field commanders and a large number of aircraft in theater still retained the Temperate Land Scheme which was only formally removed as an option for aircraft abroad from August 1941. It has also been suggested that stocks of Middle Stone took some time to be procured in theater, and so it is possible that many aircraft retained Light Earth well into 1941.

Regarding undersides, these followed the same conventions as home-based aircraft and so would have used Sky or Sky Blue, the latter being obviously more appropriate in theater. Most photos of aircraft in the Western Desert during 1940-41 show much lighter undersides than would be the case if the later Azure Blue was used. Even faded Azure Blue would still be noticeably darker than Sky Blue and contrast less with the topside colors. Aircraft used for night operations used Special Night undersides. Desert fighters notably did not wear the Sky fuselage bands. Many squadron codes were also commonly used painted White aside from the official basic Grey. Lastly, it became increasingly common for aircraft in theater to use Red/Dull Red (same color, different name) spinners though many continued using Night or Sky. More detail is provided in the next section.

Unfortunately, there are virtually no color photographs of this period which means everything we know about the Tropical Land Scheme is speculative. It is possible to supect the use of Dark Green given its much stronger contrast with either Light Earth or Middle Stone than would be the case with Dark Earth. The difference between Light Earth and Middle Stone is much more subtle, with the latter having slightly less reflectivity than the latter but enough to be noticeable: about as much lighter relative to Middle Stone as Dark Earth is to Dark Green. It is also believed that RAAF paints were used during the 1940-41 period, with the equivalent being RAAF Earth Brown K3/178, which was previously named Dark Earth as well (see the RAAF section). This would go far in explaining the frequent higher contrasts seen in aircraft during this period which are consistent with DE/MS (especially when one factors in Dark Earth fading). Overall, definitive conclusions about any black and white photograph should always be taken with a grain of salt.

Paint guide:

 

  Sky Blue Sky Light Earth Middle Stone Dark Earth Dark Green
           
Schemes
Tropical Land (39-40) (Lower) (Lower) Upper camo     Upper Camo
Tropical Land (Dec 40) (Lower) (Lower)   Upper camo Upper camo  
Tropical Land (Jul 41) (Lower) (Lower)   Upper camo   Upper Camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - H74 (!) - H71 H72 H73
Gunze Mr. Color - C26 (!) / C368 - C21 C22 / C369 C23 / C361
Humbrol 23 90 - 225 29 116
Model Master - 2049 - 2052 2054 2060
Revell - 159 - - 182 168
Tamiya - XF-21 - - - XF-81
Vallejo Model Air 71.404 71.302 - 71.031 71.323 71.324
Vallejo Model Color - - - 70.882 - -
AKAN 70001* (!) 70005 - - 70010 70020
AK Interactive - AK 2015 - AK 2016 AK 2012 AK 2011
AK Real Color - RC290 - RC292 RC287 RC286
AMMO by Mig - A.MIG-243 - A.MIG-200 (!) A.MIG-070 A.MIG-915
Colourcoats ACRN24 ACRN01 ACRN26 ACRN11 ACRN10 ACRN09
Hataka - HTK-_026 - HTK-_013 HTK-_009 HTK-_016
Lifecolor - UA 095** UA 081** UA 097** UA 092** UA 091**
Mission Models - MRP-080 - MMP-076 MMP-078 MMP-077
Mr. Paint - MRP-118 MRP-107 MRP-121 MRP-108 MRP-110
Xtracolor - X007 X049 X009 X002 X001
Xtracrylix - XA1007 - XA1009 XA1002 XA1001

 

Links:

 

Photos:

This Hurricane of No. 33 Squadron based in Fuka, Egypt shows very strong contrast between the topside colors, which are suggestive of Dark Green. The squadron was based at Fuka between September 1940 and January 1941, which suggests Light Earth as the lighter color.
This photo of a RAAF No. 3 Squadron Tomahawk is from November 1941 and shows a much darker topside color which could be either Dark Green or RAAF Earth Brown. The underside color is Sky or Sky Blue.
There were some oddities, like this Crete-based Hurricane in 1941 that has a strange 'spaghetti' mottle. Topside camo is almost certainly TLS.

 

Desert Scheme (1941-45)

From 2 July 1942 (AMO A.664/42) the Tropical Land Scheme gave way to the Desert Scheme which is the most well known RAF camouflage scheme for the North African and Mediterranean theaters. The Desert Scheme appears to simply have been a renaming of the Tropical Land Scheme, formalizing the topside camouflage of Dark Earth and Middle Stone that were in place before the accidental inclusion of Dark Green on AMO A.513/41 which was later corrected. A new underside color of Azure Blue (frequently referred to as Azure) was also formalized as an alternative to Sky/Sky Blue although its use probably predates the AMO. Azure Blue was based on a pre-war color (No 4) and was noticeably darker than Sky Blue, being in fact a blue-grey. In black and white photos it would be slightly darker than Middle Stone which makes it easy to distinguish compared to the lighter sky colors that preceded it.

Red/Dull Red spinners became far more commonplace by the time the Desert Scheme was implemented. The wartime Red was developed shortly before the conflict began as a new roundel color and it does not match any BSC 381C color (pre-war and post-war roundels match Post Office Red/Cherry Red BS 358). It is often described as a terracota, brick red, or even a red-brown (use a color picker if skeptical). Confusingly, Air Ministry Orders tended to refer to the roundel color as Red and squadron code color (from 1942 onward) as Dull Red, but photos conclusively show that these colors were identical and as such, it must be assumed that this was the same color used on spinners as well (which is also supported in the photos below). Dull Red was also commonly used for squadron codes along with White, blatantly disregarding the fact that the official color for day fighters abroad was Sky. By this time aircraft flown by Wing Commanders frequently had very unorthodox squadron codes and spinners.

Following the invasion of Italy, RAF aircraft in the theater gradually dispensed with desert in the months that followed as the fighting gradually moved into more temperate regions, reverting to the Day Fighter Scheme of UK-based aircraft though some aircraft were still seen in Desert Scheme well into 1944. By 7 September 1944 (AMO A.864/44), the use of desert camouflage on fighter aircraft (though not on bombers) was formally discontinued although Azure Blue undersides were still common and certainly more appropriate for the sunnier Italian skies.

The North African campaign was also the first which saw widespread use of Lend-Lease aircraft under RAF command, such as the P-40. US aircraft were typically factory painted in RAF-equivalent colors (DuPont and later ANA equivalents) which are described in the Lend-Lease section as well as the chart section below. However, many Lend-Lease aircraft used in the Mediterranean were originally shipped to the UK and thus were painted in the TLS scheme and repainted in the field with RAF colors.

Paint guide:

 

  Azure Blue Middle Stone Dark Earth Dull Red
       
Schemes
Desert Lower Upper camo Upper camo (Spinner)
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - H71 H72 -
Gunze Mr. Color C370 C21 C22 / C369 -
Humbrol 157 (!) 225 29 -
Model Master 2048 2052 2054 -
Revell - - 182 -
Tamiya - - - -
Vallejo Model Air 71.108** 71.031** 71.323 -
Vallejo Model Color 70.902** 70.882** - (70.982)
AKAN 70004 - 70010 -
AK Interactive AK 2017 AK 2016 AK 2012 -
AK Real Color RC291 RC292 RC287 -
AMMO by Mig - A.MIG-200 (!) A.MIG-070 -
Colourcoats ACRN34 ACRN11 ACRN10 ACRN22
Hataka HTK-_028 HTK-_013 HTK-_009 -
Lifecolor UA 098** UA 097** UA 092** (UA 088)
Mission Models MMP-092 MMP-076 MMP-078 -
Mr. Paint MRP-119 MRP-121 MRP-108 MMP-123
Xtracolor X026 X009 X002 -
Xtracrylix XA1026 XA1009 XA1002 -

 

Photos:

One of the most stunning high-resolution photos of Spitfires in flight, these Mk Vs over Tunisia show the desert colors in all their beauty. Note how Dark Earth faded considerably in the desert sun, certainly more than on home-based aircraft.
A somewhat more colorful photo of a tropical Spitfire, showing the Azure Blue undersides and the terracota-like Dull Red spinner. In many desert photos, Dark Earth resembled an olive brown.
The Desert Scheme was used well into 1944 in Italy, as seen on this Hurricane. Middle Stone appears lighter on some of the background aircraft.
There was extensive use of Lend-Lease fighters like these Kittyhawks (P-40). Many were originally shipped in TLS and repainted in desert colors in theater.
Though not in desert camo, this closeup of a Whitley being used for paratroop training shows that roundel Red and code letter Dull Red were in fact the same (use a color picker for an extra surprise: it's a brown).

 

Links:

 

South-East Asia (1941-45)

Tactical aircraft in the South-East Asia theater (the Command which gives it its SEAC acronym was established on 21 August 1943 but popularly refers to the entire campaign) featured two main variations of the standard schemes used in Europe and no theater-specific paints were used. The basic scheme involved the Temperate Land scheme (Dark Earth and Dark Green) over an underside of Sky or, as became more widespread from 1942 onward, Medium Sea Grey. It was common for aircraft using this scheme in carrying White identification bands on the wings, stabilizers, and fins although this was not applied universally on all aircraft. By late 1944/1945, many aircraft began switching to the Day Fighter Scheme (Ocean Grey and Dark Green) with Medium Sea Grey undersides which was the default factory paint on all aircraft sent to SEAC from the UK. Sky fuselage bands were also occassionally carried over in the OG/DG/MSG scheme though not in the earlier DE/DG/MSG scheme. Another source of variation were spinner colors, which could be Night, White, or Sky (and occasionally a different color as well), while squadron codes followed home-based conventions but were also often seen in White. As in all theaters, there were often exceptions to the schemes, for example some aircraft like Hurricanes and Beaufighters were seen with Azure Blue undersides (not a typical color for this theater but in theory permitted) after being transferred from the Middle East.

The SEAC theater saw the RAF extensively use US-built aircraft like the P-47 which is known to have been received in US equivalents to the Day Fighter Scheme, these being Olive Drab ANA 613 (for Dark Green), Sea Gray ANA 603 (for Ocean Gray), and Light Gray ANA 602 (for Medium Sea Gray). However, they were repainted in theater with Dark Earth and possibly in DG and MSG as well. There is no known evidence that P-47s ever flew in Ocean Gray and in the final months of the war, many were seen in Aluminum. With respect to British fighters, Hurricanes were seen in both schemes, earlier Spitfire Mk VIIs were mostly in DE/DG/MSG while most Mk XIVs were in OG/DG/MSG although there were plenty of exceptions. Aside from the different contrasts between the two schemes (OG/DG being more pronounced), it was almost always the case that white serials were painted on aircraft in the early scheme and black serials in the later one.

Paint guide: All colors are described in previous sections.

 

  Medium Sea Grey Ocean Grey Dark Earth Dark Green Aluminium White
           
Schemes
SEAC Early / P-47 Lower   Upper camo Upper Camo   (ID bands)
SEAC Late Lower Upper camo   Upper Camo   (ID bands)
NMF         Overall  
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H335 (!) - H72 H73 (H8) H11
Gunze Mr. Color C335 (!) / C363 C362 C22 / C369 C23 / C361 (C8) C62
Humbrol 165 106 29 116 56 34
Model Master 2058 2057 2054 2060 1781 2142
Revell - - 182 168 99 05
Tamiya XF-83 XF-82 (!) - XF-81 XF-16 XF-2
Vallejo Model Air 71.307 71.273 71.323 71.324 71.062 71.001
Vallejo Model Color 70.870** - - - - 70.842
AKAN 70016 70047 70010 70020 76004 78002
AK Interactive AK 2013 AK 2014 AK 2012 AK 2011 - AK 738
AK Real Color RC289 RC288 (!) RC287 RC286 RC020 RC004
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-246 A.MIG-245 A.MIG-070 A.MIG-915 A.MIG-194 A.MIG-050
Colourcoats ACRN04 ACRN07 ACRN10 ACRN09    
Hataka HTK-_034 HTK-_032 HTK-_009 HTK-_016 HTK-_078 HTK-_101
Lifecolor UA 094 UA 093 UA 092 UA 091 LC-74 LC 01
Mission Models MMP-094 MMP-093 MMP-078 MMP-077 MMM-003 MMP-001
Mr. Paint MRP-112 MRP-115 MRP-108 MRP-110 MRP-3 MRP-4
Xtracolor X003 X006 X002 X001 X142 X405
Xtracrylix XA1003 XA1006 XA1002 XA1001 (XA1216) -

 

Photos:

A nice photo of a pair of Spitfire Mk VIIIs from No. 607 Squadron and their pilots in Burma. The white ID bands on the wings and fins are evident. The low contrast and white serials indicate a TLS camo.
Despite being a post-war photo (1946), this Spitfire Mk XIV features DFS camo and shows some of the SEAC oddities like the DG overpaint over the larger original roundels. White ID bands are still seen on the stabilizers.
Color SEAC photos are a rarity, this one shows a Thunderbolt just before takeoff from Jumchar, India in 1945. The TLS colors can be picked out on the wing edges as well as the aircraft in the background.
This SEAC Mosquito shows the natural metal finish that was common in the final months of the war in this theater.

 

High-Altitude PRU (1940-45)

Beginning in December 1940, tactical aircraft that were employed in photo-reconnaissance began adopting their own specialized camouflage schemes, introducing numerous experimental colors and schemes of which only some were eventually standardized. The first of these aircraft were initially painted Camotint Green, a pale green that was developed by the famed Australian photography pioneer Sidney Cotton (later head of the RAF's Photographic Development Unit or PDU) during pre-war clandestine flights over Germany and which was also the basis for Sky Type S. According to accounts, this color rendered aircraft nearly invisible at 10,000 feet and higher. Much like the confusion regarding Sky Type S, Camotint Green has also often been described as 'Duck Egg Green' and was probably most similar to Eau-de-Nil. Camotint Green was initially used on Blenheims and early photo-recon Spitfires. However, as photo-recon missions began taking place at higher altitudes, it was decided to move to a new color which resulted in the introduction of PRU Blue (PRU meaning Photo Reconnaissance Unit) around 1941. Also developed by Cotton and his PDU team, this was a deeper blue with a hint of gray that became the stanard high-altitude photo-recon color for the duration of the war and was also used on UK-based USAAF aircraft including Reverse Lend-Lease Mosquitos as well as P-38s (F-5s). Spinners were typically PRU Blue as well, although many ended up being painted black.

Paint Guide:

 

  Camotint Green PRU Blue
   
Schemes
PRU Early Overall  
PRU Late   Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous (H74) -
Gunze Mr. Color (C26) -
Humbrol - 230
Model Master - 2061
Revell - -
Tamiya - -
Vallejo Model Air - 71.109**
Vallejo Model Color - -
AKAN - -
AK Interactive - -
AK Real Color - RC297
AMMO by Mig - -
Colourcoats - ACRN14
Hataka HTK-_051 HTK-_042
Lifecolor - -
Mission Models - -
Mr. Paint - MRP-120
Xtracolor - X008
Xtracrylix - XA1008

Sources:

 

Photos:

Probably the most famous color photograph of a recon Spitfire, in this case a PR.XI. This one has black spinners.
This Spitfire PRU squadron is based in Italy in 1944 and has a PR.XI in the foreground and a Griffon-engined PR.XIX in the background.
The Mosquito was another widely used PRU aircraft, this photo showing a PR.XVI.

 

Low-Altitude PRU (1940-45)

In contrast to the single-color schemes of high-altitude PRU aircraft, low-altitude aircraft were forced to retain a camouflage pattern in order to make them less conspicuous over ground and water. Considerable freedom was given to PR units in setting their particular camouflage colors and thus there is little guidance from official sources. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult to acertain which colors were used from black and white photos. It is likely that most low-altitude PRU aircraft were probably painted in day fighter schemes given that there was no specific distinction made for them in Air Ministry Orders. However, it is believed that one unique topside camouflage scheme consisted of Dark Green and Medium Sea Grey, given that some photos showing a much stronger contrast between the colors than if Ocean Gray had been used. Underside colors may have retained Sky but it is also believed that early aircraft may have used Deep Sky. As its name suggests, this was a very strong blue and also quite rare with its only main use being on some Mosquito NF.XVs.

Official guidance was introduced on 7 September 1944 (AMO A.864/44) for a topisde camouflage of Extra Dark Sea Green and Extra Dark Sea Grey. The former is a pre-war coastal color but quite rare in actual use, this being one of its few standard applications. The latter is one of the standard colors of the Temperate Sea Scheme (see below). Undersides were to be painted in PRU Mauve, a grayish lavender which also does not appear to have been used outside of PRU units. Even though first official mention of this scheme came in 1944, it is very likely that it had been used experimentally beforehand and that any combination of these colors could have been used (there are mentions of Dark Green and Medium Sea Gray over PRU Mauve from 1942). There are no known color photographs of this scheme in use, with the giveaway in black and white being the very low contrast between the topside colors (much less than the day fighter schemes). Given lighting and weathering conditions, however, this would still make any suspected photo of this scheme far from conclusive.

Low-altitude PRU aircraft also frequently sported a single-tone scheme of PRU Pink. This was seen primarily on Spitfires up to the Spitfire FR.IX in 1944 and many were seen with invasion stripes which means they were active during and after D-Day. PRU Pink was a very light pink, sometimes referred to as a pinkish off-white, and would have probably looked white at a distance.

One striking scheme used on Mediterranean photo-reconnaissance Spitfires consisted in an overall dark blue. There is some confusion regarding the exact color, with most sources pointing towards Dark Mediterranean Blue but some sources suggesting Royal Blue was used instead. These Spitfires had pale Type B roundels (similar to modern RAF low visibility roundels) which implies that the fuselage color was very close to the normal roundel color. In the event, Dark Mediterranean Blue and Royal Blue are very similar to each other and dark enough to necessitate lighter roundels.

Paint Guide:

 

  Deep Sky PRU Mauve Extra Dark Sea Green Extra Dark Sea Grey PRU Pink Dark Mediterranean Blue
           
Schemes
Early Lower   Upper camo Upper camo    
Late   Lower Upper camo Upper camo    
Late (Alt)         Overall  
Mediterranean           (Overall)
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - - - H333 - -
Gunze Mr. Color - - - C333 - -
Humbrol - - (30) (?) 123 - -
Model Master - - - 2059 - -
Revell - - - - - -
Tamiya - - - - - -
Vallejo Model Air 71.090** - - 71.110 71.408 71.313
Vallejo Model Color - - - - - -
AKAN - - - 70019 - -
AK Interactive - - - - - -
AK Real Color - - - RC295 - -
AMMO by Mig - - - - - -
Colourcoats - - - ACRN02 - -
Hataka - - - HTK-_140 HTK-_024 -
Lifecolor (LC 10) - - - - -
Mission Models - - - - - -
Mr. Paint - - - MRP-114 MPR-190 -
Xtracolor - - - X005 X034 X048
Xtracrylix - - - XA1005 - -

 

Links:

 

Photos:

The strong contrast between the topside colors suggests that this prototype Spitfire PR.XIII may be in DG and MSG. The underside is also slightly darker than the topside gray which might be evidence of PRU Mauvre.
Meanwhile, the minimal contrast in this Spitfire PR.VII (or Type G) could be Extra Dark Sea Green and Grey. The lack of official guidance means this is all speculative.
PRU Pink was used early on, like on this PR.VII. Early pink Spitfires used Type A roundels while later ones switched to Type B.
The sole known color photo of pink Spitfires, these PR.IXs show just how subtle PRU Pink was. The aircraft on the left has visible D-Day invasion stripes.
This Malta-based Spitfire is likely to be painted in some dark blue (Dark Mediterranean Blue?) including pale roundels.

 

High-Altitude Fighters (1943-45)

High-altitude fighters dispensed with the disruptive camouflage and used a two-tone scheme of Medium Sea Grey over PRU Blue. This was mostly seen in Spitfires whose engines were tweaked for high-altitude operations and had the HF designation like the HF.VII and HF.VIII. Spinners were notionally left in Medium Sea Grey but, as with all schemes, there were exceptions.

Paint guide: All colors are described in previous sections.

 

  PRU Blue Medium Sea Grey
   
Schemes
High-Alt Lower Upper
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - H335 (!)
Gunze Mr. Color - C335 (!) / C363
Humbrol 230 165
Model Master 2061 2058
Revell - -
Tamiya - XF-83
Vallejo Model Air 71.109** 71.307
Vallejo Model Color - 70.870**
AKAN - 70016
AK Interactive - AK 2013
AK Real Color RC297 RC289
AMMO by Mig - A.MIG-246
Colourcoats ACRN14 ACRN04
Hataka HTK-_042 HTK-_034
Lifecolor - UA 094
Mission Models - MMP-094
Mr. Paint MRP-120 MRP-112
Xtracolor X008 X003
Xtracrylix XA1008 XA1003

 

Photos:

The Spitfire HF.VII and HF.VIII are most associated with this scheme, in the former case (shown here) almost exclusively. This aircraft carriers what appears to be a Sky spinner.
Sadly there are no known color photos of the HF scheme (to my knowledge) although this video still of a SAAF HF.VIII is almost certainly evidence.

 

Malta Spitfires (1942)

Welcome to one of the most contentious topics in World War II aviation! It is worth starting off with the only thing we know about the (in)famous Malta schemes used on Spitfires in the spring of 1942: we know nothing conclusive about them. The confusion comes because of the fact that these aircraft were ferried from Britain to Malta on board the USS Wasp on two separate occasions and the available black and white pictures of the aircraft on board (as well as after landing) show unconventional topside colors, both two-tone and single-tone and which appear to have been painted on board (often poorly).

The first Malta trip was known as Operation Calendar and took place between 14-20 April 1942. A number of well-known photos taken at Glasgow show Spitfires being lifted on board the USS Wasp in a two-tone topside that at least one researcher has suggested to be some type of gray and green; possibly Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey which would explain the strange contrast seen on hangar photos that does not seem to match the Desert or Day Fighter schemes. The few pictures taken on the voyage itself show a very sloppy single-color topside that is now believed to have been Dark Mediterranean Blue, a color requested by Squadron Leader E.J. Gracie at Malta along with Sky Blue undersides. One well-known photo shows aircraft 'U-2' overpainted in a dark single-tone color with the original serial masked off to visibly reveal a two-tone underneath. It is believed that stocks of these paint were hastily loaded on the USS Wasp at the last minute as a result of Gracie's orders which resulted in some (but probably not all) of the aircraft painted as such en route. It has also been suspected that stocks of US Navy paint were used for this purpose with suggestions including an experimental Dark Blue being trialled on some of the USS Wasp's F4F Wildcats as well as the M-485 Blue Grey that was standard on USN aircraft (or some ship paint like Deck Blue). This could possibly explain the two-tone blue topsides that have been long suggested as being one of the schemes seen on Malta Spitfires.

Unfortunately, most of the Spitfires sent to Malta from Operation Caldendar were destroyed on the ground by Luftwaffe strikes in the 48 hours after their arrival. As such, a second trip known as Operation Bowery took place between 3-9 May 1942. It is believed that these Spitfires were painted in Temperate Sea Scheme of Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey (see below). However, there are more photos taken from this voyage than the previous one and these too lead to considerable confusion, not least the irregular (wavy) demarcation line seen on some aircraft. Unlike Calendar, most of the Spitfires from Bowery survived after landing on Malta (some were in action just minutes after doing so) and were later photographed on land wearing further dark single-tone topsides, in some cases with the squadron codes hastily painted over. It is quite likely therefore that they were repainted with Dark Mediterrean Blue topsides and Sky Blue undersides (contrast is too high to have been Azure Blue) as per Gracie's orders once there was time to do so.

The lack of color photographs of these Spitfires means that this will remain a hotly contested topic although one that over the last few years has seen considerable new research come to light which means the mystery of Malta's Spitfires may one day be conclusively resolved.

Paint guide: All colors are described in previous sections.

 

  Sky Blue Dark Mediterranean Blue
   
Schemes
Single-tone Lower Upper
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - -
Gunze Mr. Color - -
Humbrol 23 -
Model Master - -
Revell - -
Tamiya - -
Vallejo Model Air 71.404 71.313
Vallejo Model Color - -
AKAN 70001* (!) -
AK Interactive - -
AK Real Color - -
AMMO by Mig - -
Colourcoats ACRN24 -
Hataka - -
Lifecolor - -
Mission Models - -
Mr. Paint - -
Xtracolor - X048
Xtracrylix - -

 

Photos:

One of the well-known photos of the first Spitfire Mk Vs being loaded on the USS Wasp on April 13th. They have not been repainted yet.
An unfortunately poor photo of 'U-2' in the hangar sporting a very sloppy paint job with the serial masked over. Traces of the previous two-tone can be easily seen.
The lack of squadron codes and strong contrast between the topmost colors suggests Operation Calendar.

These Spitfires are from Operation Bowery (with HMS Eagle in the background). Note the very modest contrast between the colors although the wavy demarcation raises suspicions.

This Spitfire is parked next to a USN Wildcat painted in M-485 Blue Gray. The Spitfire is clearly darker. Undersides are probably Sky Blue.
The patchy nature of Malta-based Spitfires is evident on this aircraft based on Luqa which has probably been repainted DMB after landing. Note the overpainted squadron codes.
Another Spitfire based at Krendi shows an unmistakable single-color topside with new squadron codes.

 

Links:

 

White Meteors (1945)

The Gloster Meteor was the first Allied jet, introduced in July 1944. Despite being the most capable Allied fighter by far, it was relegated to UK air defense duties for much of its wartime service where it was highly effective at intercepting V-1 flying bombs. An initial detachment from No. 616 Squadron was sent to the continent in January 1945, with the entire squadron following suit in March. In order to ease identification by Allied forces, Europe-based Meteors were painted entirely White. By this time, the Luftwaffe was all but annihilated and no combat with enemy Me 262s took place.

Paint guide: Any basic white will do.

 

  White
 
Schemes
Continent Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H11
Gunze Mr. Color C62
Humbrol 34
Model Master 2142
Revell 05
Tamiya XF-2
Vallejo Model Air 71.001
Vallejo Model Color 70.842
AKAN 78002
AK Interactive AK 738
AK Real Color RC004
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-050
Colourcoats C03
Hataka HTK-_101
Lifecolor LC 01
Mission Models MMP-001
Mr. Paint MRP-4
Xtracolor X405
Xtracrylix -

 

Photos:

One of the Meteor F.3s in No. 616 Squadron based in Belgium in 1945.

 

STRATEGIC SCHEMES

Day and Night Bombers (1939-45)

Unlike their fighter and coastal counterparts, RAF bombers followed virtually identical day and night schemes throughout the entirety of the war. All bombers borrowed the Temperate Land Scheme colors for the topside, these being Dark Earth and Dark Green. Two different underside colors were used. Day bombers used Sky Type S thus replicating the scheme used on early fighters. Meanwhile, night bombers used Special Night, which was a matt version of the standard smooth Night but without the ultramarine pigments which resulted in a soot-like appearance. In most pictures it looks identical to the color of the aircraft's tires. Night was used when Special Night was not available. The demarcation line for night bombers was typically quite high on the fuselage, making them look predominantly black from the ground. All day and night bombers after 2 July 1942 (AMO A.664/42) used Dull Red squadron codes in place of the earlier basic Grey.

Due to heavy losses during daytime operations, Bomber Command switched to night operations early in the war beginning from 1940 although a small number of day bombing units remained in service. One aircraft that became an exception to the bomber schemes rule were the bomber variants of the Mosquito which employed the Day Fighter Scheme (see below).

Paint guide:

 

  Sky Special Night Dark Earth Dark Green
       
Schemes
Day Lower   Upper camo Upper Camo
Night   Lower / Sides Upper camo Upper Camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H74 (H77) H72 H73
Gunze Mr. Color C26 / C368 (C137) C22 / C369 C23 / C361
Humbrol 90 - 29 116
Model Master 2049 - 2054 2060
Revell 159 - 182 168
Tamiya XF-21 (XF-85) - XF-81
Vallejo Model Air 71.302 (71.315) 71.323 71.324
Vallejo Model Color - (70.862) - -
AKAN 70005 (69043) 70010 70020
AK Interactive AK 2015 - AK 2012 AK 2011
AK Real Color RC290 (RC022) RC287 RC286
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-243 (A.MIG-033) A.MIG-070 A.MIG-915
Colourcoats ACRN01 ACRN17 ACRN10 ACRN09
Hataka HTK-_026 - HTK-_009 HTK-_016
Lifecolor UA 095** - UA 092** UA 091**
Mission Models MRP-080 - MMP-078 MMP-077
Mr. Paint MRP-118 MRP-255 MRP-108 MRP-110
Xtracolor X007 (X505) X002 X001
Xtracrylix XA1007 - XA1002 XA1001

 

Photos:

These Blenheim bombers based in Wyton show the Sky undersides of day bombers, which were only a fraction of Bomber Command strength after 1939-40.
This high quality color photo of a Hampden shows the night bomber scheme, though with some darker patches of Dark Earth.
This Halifax flying over France shows the DE/DG topside color that was used on all RAF bombers (except Mosquitoes)
The demarcation line for the underside Special Night was quite high giving heavy bombers like this Stirling a menacing look from the ground (particularly with its enormous landing gear).
An exception to the rule was the Mosquito, whose bomber variants like this B.IV sported the Day Fighter Scheme.

 

Links:

 

Desert bombers (1941-45)

Bombers based away from the UK were initially authorized to wear the standard day/night bomber schemes based on the Temperate Land Scheme with either Sky or Night undersides depending on day or night operations. With the introduction of the Desert Scheme for fighters in 1941, bombers were also allowed the choice of scheme to use in theater. For bombers, this involved the Desert Scheme (Middle Stone and Dark Earth) over Azure Blue undersides for day bombers or Special Night (matt black) undersides for night bombers. Unlike the bomber offensive over Europe, bombing operations over North Africa were predominantely tactical in nature and so most of them were undertaken by light and medium day bombers. There was also a large influx of US Lend-Lease aircraft, most of which were day bombers by nature. As such, most RAF bombers in the Mediterranean theater sported identical desert camouflage to their fighter counterparts with exceptions being the Wellington which was almost always seen with Night undersides in theater.

In 1944, the Desert Scheme was abandoned for fighters but, strangely enough, not for bombers which were still allowed to use it until the end of the war. Given that the Desert Scheme was always optional for bombers, it is likely that during 1944-45 most were left in standard TLS bomber camouflage or, in the case of Lend-Lease aircraft, left in their US factory colors Olive Drab over Neutral Grey (see below).

Paint guide: All colors are described in previous sections.

 

  Azure Blue Special Night Middle Stone Dark Earth
       
Schemes
Day Lower   Upper camo Upper camo
Night   Lower / Sides Upper camo Upper camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - (H77) H71 H72
Gunze Mr. Color C370 (C137) C21 C22 / C369
Humbrol 157 (!) - 225 29
Model Master 2048 - 2052 2054
Revell - - - 182
Tamiya - (XF-85) - -
Vallejo Model Air 71.108 (71.315) 71.031 71.323
Vallejo Model Color 70.902 (70.862) 70.882 -
AKAN 70004 (79043) - 70010
AK Interactive AK 2017 - AK 2016 AK 2012
AK Real Color RC291 (RC022) RC292 RC287
AMMO by Mig - (A.MIG-033) A.MIG-200 (!) A.MIG-070
Colourcoats ACRN34 ACRN17 ACRN11 ACRN10
Hataka HTK-_028 - HTK-_013 HTK-_009
Lifecolor UA 098** - UA 097** UA 092**
Mission Models MMP-092 - MMP-076 MMP-078
Mr. Paint MRP-119 MRP-255 MRP-121 MRP-108
Xtracolor X026 (X505) X009 X002
Xtracrylix XA1026 - XA1009 XA1002

 

Photos:

These SAAF Boston bombers based in Libya in late 1942 are seen with the Azure Blue undersides typical of daytime aircraft.
The year and location of this photo is unknown but shows a Wellington bomber with Armée de l'Air markings in desert camo with Night undersides.

 

Night Fighters and Intruders (1940-45)

With the switch to primarily night bombing operations, the RAF gradually began requiring a large number of night fighters, which were typically conversions of other aircraft. From December 1940 onward, night fighters were painted in a simple overall Special Night (matt black) scheme. Typically, code letters were red although many were also seen in Medium Sea Grey. Spinners were also usually red although like in most other schemes this varied in practice. From 1943, night fighters began dispensing with the all-black look and adopted a new camouflage scheme that was formalized on 7 September 1944 (AMO A.654/44). This consisted of a base color of Medium Sea Grey throughout that was disrupted by a topside camouflage of Dark Green. The demarcation with the underside was usually at mid-fuselage and could be either straight or uneven. On aircraft with straight demarcations, the overall effect was nearly identical to the Day Fighter Scheme albeit with Medium Sea Grey replacing Ocean Grey.

With the intensifying scale of RAF operations over German-controlled territory after the Battle of Britain, the concept of the intruder was born. These were usually night fighters, fighter-bombers, and aircraft tasked with disrupting enemy operations either across the English Channel or behind the front lines in North Africa. Almost all night fighters operated as intruders as well, as did most fighter-bombers. The first official intruder scheme was introduced on 8 October 1942 (AMO A.1096/42) and consisted of the Day Fighter Scheme (Ocean Grey and Dark Green topside camouflage) with Special Night undersides. From September 1944, the pattern was adjusted alongside that of night fighters to become a topside camouflage of Medium Sea Grey and Dark Green over Special Night.

There were no special provision for night fighters and intruders operating abroad, with official orders having them painted in the same schemes as day fighters but allowing for different arrangements if appropriate. Intruder operations were quite common in North Africa and these aircraft were seen with a Desert Scheme (Middle Stone and Dark Earth) over Special Night undersides. In squadrons operating aircraft that could serve in the intruder role (like the Beaufighter and Boston), it was common to have some aircraft painted with Special Night undersides and others in their standard day schemes.

It is believed that many night fighters and intruders reverted to the smooth Night undersides since the large pigments of Special Night created considerable friction in the air and resulted in slower speed. This was not so much of a problem for larger bombers since they rarely flew at their top speeds. All night fighters and intruders after 2 July 1942 (AMO A.664/42) used Dull Red squadron codes in place of the earlier basic Grey.

Paint guide: All colors are described in previous sections.

 

  Special Night Medium Sea Gray Ocean Gray Dark Green
       
Schemes
Night Fighter (40-43) Overall      
Night Fighter (44-45)   Overall   Upper camo
Intruder (42-44) Lower Upper camo Upper camo  
Intruder (44-45) Lower Upper camo   Upper camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous (H77) H335 (!) - H73
Gunze Mr. Color (C137) C335 (!) / C363 C362 C23 / C361
Humbrol - 165 106 116
Model Master - 2058 2057 2060
Revell - - - 168
Tamiya (XF-85) XF-83 XF-82 (!) XF-81
Vallejo Model Air (71.315) 71.307 71.273 71.324
Vallejo Model Color (70.862) 70.870** - -
AKAN (79043) 70016 70047 70020
AK Interactive - AK 2013 AK 2014 AK 2011
AK Real Color (RC022) RC289 RC288 (!) RC286
AMMO by Mig (A.MIG-033) A.MIG-246 A.MIG-245 A.MIG-915
Colourcoats ACRN17 ACRN04 ACRN07 ACRN09
Hataka - HTK-_034 HTK-_032 HTK-_016
Lifecolor - UA 094** UA 093** UA 91**
Mission Models - MMP-094 MMP-093 MMP-077
Mr. Paint MRP-255 MRP-112 MRP-115 MRP-110
Xtracolor (X505) X003 X006 X001
Xtracrylix - XA1003 XA1006 XA1001

 

Photos:

This Hurricane Mk IIc shows the all-black scheme used on night fighters during the first half of the war. The black-blue tone is suggestive of the older Night on this aircraft.
This factory inspected Mosquito has a freshly painted late war night fighter paint job. The 'invisible' demarcation line with the underside is characteristic of this scheme.
This Malta-based Mosquito Mk II is painted in the intruder scheme, with black undersides.

 

Transports (1939-45)

The RAF did not specify specific paints for its transport aircraft, and these were order to use whatever scheme was felt relevant for their operational requirements. As such, transports tended to use the 'default' schemes for their regions, such as Temperate Land Scheme (Dark Earth and Dark Green over Sky) and Day Fighter Scheme (Ocean Grey and Dark Green over Medium Sea Grey) for UK-based aircraft as well as the Desert Scheme (Middle Stone and Dark Earth) for aircraft based in the Mediterranean, in the latter case it was frequent for transports to retain Sky undersides rather than the more theater-relevant Azure Blue. There were considerable exceptions and so there is no hard rule to go by; the relevant scheme must be deduced from photographic evidence. Towards the end of the war and in the immediate post-war period, many RAF transports were left in natural metal finish (NMF). These were mostly British-built aircraft, usually transport variants of older heavy bombers like the Stirling and Halifax.

The RAF was an early adopter of the US-built Dakota (C-47) which soon became the main transport aircraft of both Allied powers, and this was partly the result of an agremeent between US and UK authorities for the UK aircraft industry to concentrate on combat aircraft where it had a comparative advantage. Around one-fifth of all C-47s produced in the US ended up in RAF hands. Like most Lend-Lease aircraft, these were initially provided in US equivalents to RAF paints or re-painted in theater which was common in North Africa and Italy. However, from 1943 onward the majority of UK-based Dakotas were left in their original Dark Olive Drab No. 41 over Neutral Grey No. 43 (later Olive Drab ANA 613 over Sea Grey ANA 603) colors as used by the USAAF. Blotches of Medium Green No. 42 (ANA 612) were also common.

The RAF also made extensive use of gliders as part of airborne operations. Strangely enough, gliders did have an official camouflage scheme that was identical to that of night bombers: Dark Earth and Dark Green over Special Night with high demarcations.

Paint guide: All RAF colors are described previously or in the USAAF page. Given the dominance of the Dakota in the RAF transport inventory, the original USAAF colors are provided below for convenience (US equivalent RAF colors are described in the Lend-Lease section)

 

  No. 43 No. 41 No. 42  
Neutral Gray Dark Olive Drab Medium Green Aluminium
       
Scheme
Lend-Lease (Late) Lower Upper Blotches  
NMF       Overall
Paints
Gunze Aqueous H53 (H78) (H302) (H8)
Gunze Mr. Color C13 (C38) (C302) (C8)
Humbrol 176 (66) (149) 56
Model Master (2035) - (1764) 1781
Revell (374) - (48) 99
Tamiya XF-53 XF-62 (XF-26) XF-16
Vallejo Model Air 71.051* 71.316 (71.124) 71.062
Vallejo Model Color (70.992) - (70.895) -
AKAN 72038 - (72037) 76004
AK Interactive AK 2203 AK 2201 AK 2202 -
AK Real Color RC261 RC259 RC260 RC020
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-239* A.MIG-237* (A.MIG-238) A.MIG-194
Colourcoats ACUS13 (?) ACUS15 ACUS16  
Hataka HTK-_033 HTK-_004 HTK-_019 HTK-_078
Lifecolor UA 046* UA 005* UA 008* LC-74
Mission Models - MMP-091 (MMP-028) MMM-003
Mr. Paint MRP-141 MRP-139 MRP-140 MRP-3
Xtracolor (X158) - (X114) X142
Xtracrylix (XA1158) - (XA1114) (XA1216)

 

Photos:

Early RAF transports were seen in the Temperate Land Scheme as is the case with these Norfolk-based Harrow transports in early 1938.
Desert-camouflaged Dakotas of the widely photographed No. 512 "Pegasus" Squadron lined up in Bari, Italy. Most desert Dakotas appeared to have Sky rather than Azure Blue undersides.
A transport fit for a king: King George V is received by Field Marshall Montgomery in Holland with an Olive Drab and Neutral Grey Dakota in the background.
Late war British-built transports tended to be heavy bomber conversions like this Stirling C.V painted in Day Fighter colors albeit with a highly suspect Ocean Grey ('Mixed Grey' or Dark Sea Grey perhaps?)
In the final months of the war many RAF transports began the switch to natural metal finishes like this Halifax C.VIII (though the photo is from 1946).

 

COASTAL SCHEMES

Temperate Sea Scheme (1940-44)

The Temperate Sea Scheme (TSS) used by RAF Coastal Command was one of the the longest standing RAF camouflage schemes, lasting from the pre-war to the late-war period also used by the Fleet Air Arm. With the RAF it was the exclusive scheme of Coastal Command and was particularly fitting for the dreary, overcast skies over the North Sea and the Atlantic even though it was used in tropical regions like the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia as well. The TSS was composed of Dark Slate Grey and Extra Dark Sea Grey. Dark Slate Gray is a dark olive gray, which much like US Olive Drab (which it closely resembles), had a tendency to look more green or more brown depending on lighting, fading, and wear. Extra Dark Sea Grey is a cool dark gray, with subtle hints of blue that were more pronounced with fading. The topside TSS camouflage pattern was of the same general style as its contemporary, the Temperate Land Scheme (as well as all other wartime patterns). Curiously, AMO A.926/40 appears to have accidentally listed Dark Slate Grey as 'Dark Grey', an error that was corrected less than a month later on 9 January 1941 (AMO A.30/41).

Initially, the underside color that was paired with the Temperate Sea Scheme was Sky Grey, a light gray that was exclusive to Coastal Command/FAA aircraft. The introduction of Sky Type S in 1940 eventually found its way to Coastal Command as well, and this was the official color by the time AMO A.926/40 was issued on 12 December 1940. As with Fighter Command, it is likely that some other sky colors were used on Coastal Command aircraft during 1940, particularly Sky Blue. Mediterranean aircraft were also seen using Azure Blue. From 1941 (and officially from AMO A.664/42 on 2 July 1942), large Coastal Command aircraft began switching to White lower surfaces as well as fuselage sides (including the fins). These included the patrol versions of bombers like the Wellington, Whitley, Fortress (B-17), and Liberator (B-24), as well as the Sunderland flying boat. In some cases the tospide camo was applied in only a very narrow strip of the upper fuselage, making them look almost entirely white when observed from the ground. The demarcation line with the topside colors could also be straight or wavy. This is often referred to informally as the Anti-Submarine scheme given that these aircraft were all employed as sub-hunters. Small numbers of TSS aircraft on special missions were authorized to wear Night undersurfaces. Early Squadron codes were basic Grey and from July 1942 they were specified as Light Slate Grey for aircraft with white undersides and Dull Red for all others.

More than any other major RAF command, Coastal Command was highly reliant on US-supplied Lend-Lease aircraft. These aircraft were painted directly in the US using DuPont equivalents which were 71-19323 for DSG, 71-19324 for EDSG, and 71-021 for Sky. Once the ANA system was instituted in September 1943, official ANA equivalents were used and these were Olive Drab ANA 613 for DSG, Sea Gray ANA 603 for EDSG, and Sky ANA 610 for Sky.

Paint guide:

 

  Sky Grey Sky White Dark Slate Grey Extra Dark Sea Grey
         
Schemes
Coastal (1939-40) Lower     Upper camo Upper camo
Coastal (1940-44)   Lower   Upper camo Upper camo
Anti-Sub (1942-44)     Lower / Sides Upper camo Upper camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - H74 (!) H11 - H333
Gunze Mr. Color - C26 (!) / C368 C62 - C333
Humbrol - 90 34 224 123
Model Master - 2049 2142 2056 2059
Revell - 159 05 - -
Tamiya XF-19 XF-21 XF-2 - -
Vallejo Model Air 71.407** 71.302 71.001 71.309 71.110
Vallejo Model Color (70.989) - 70.842 - -
AKAN - 70005 78002 70046 70019
AK Interactive - AK 2015 AK 738 - -
AK Real Color RC285** RC290 RC004 RC294 RC295
AMMO by Mig - A.MIG-243 A.MIG-050 - -
Colourcoats ACRN13 ACRN01 C03 ACRN06 ACRN02
Hataka HTK-_203** HTK-_026 HTK-_101 HTK-_202 HTK-_140
Lifecolor UA 521** UA 095** LC 01 - -
Mission Models - MRP-080 MMP-001 - -
Mr. Paint (MRP-242) MRP-118 MRP-4 MRP-117 MRP-114
Xtracolor - X007 X405 X025 X005
Xtracrylix - XA1007 - XA1025 XA1005

 

Photos:

The Temperate Sea Scheme in all its glory in this early Beaufort Mk I flying over Cornwall. Like US Olive Drab, small changes in lighting or saturation would make Dark Slate Grey look more brown or more green.
Another Beaufort sports the Night underside used on special missions. Dark Slate Grey looks green here.
Lend-Lease aircraft like this Fortress (B-17) were used extensively by Coastal Command. 'Heavies' had much of the fuselage painted white.
The Sunderland was one of the workhorses of Coastal Command. From the ground, this aircraft would have appeared almost entirely white.
This No. 21 Squadron Blenheim crash landed at Watton in 1941 with a color camera crew conveniently present. Sky Blue undersides are obvious although other squadron aircraft have been pictured with Sky.

 

Links:

 

Late Coastal Command (1944-45)

From 7 September 1944 (AMO A.864/44), Coastal Command aircraft ditched the Temperate Sea Scheme in favor of a single topside color of Extra Dark Sea Grey, a scheme that would be characteristic of post-war coastal and naval aircraft as well. White was defined as the standard underside color as well as the fins, with the high demarcation lines used on the 'heavies' in the earlier scheme in order to make the aircraft look entirely white from the ground. Spinners were officially to be left in Extra Dark Sea Grey but in practice, many other colors were used. Squadron codes for all aircraft with white undersides were Light Slate Grey, and either Dull Red or (unofficially) Night for all others.

Nevertheless, this scheme was seen well before the date of the Air Ministry Order, with many Liberators already using a two-tone scheme in the second half of 1943. And despite the new specifications, Sky was never fully abandoned as an underside color and was seen on most late-war FAA tactical aircraft like Beaufighters and Mosquitos. As with the early scheme, Night was allowed as a special underside color when necessary.

Paint guide: All colors are described in previous sections.

 

  White Sky Extra Dark Sea Grey
     
Schemes
Coastal Lower / Sides   Upper
Coastal (Tactical)   Lower Upper
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H11 H74 (!) H333
Gunze Mr. Color C62 C26 (!) / C368 C333
Humbrol 34 90 123
Model Master 2142 2049 2059
Revell 05 159 -
Tamiya XF-2 XF-21 -
Vallejo Model Air 71.001 71.302 71.110
Vallejo Model Color 70.842 - -
AKAN 78002 70005 70019
AK Interactive AK 738 AK 2015 -
AK Real Color RC004 RC290 RC295
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-050 A.MIG-243 -
Colourcoats C03 ACRN01 ACRN02
Hataka HTK-_101 HTK-_026 HTK-_140
Lifecolor LC 01 UA 095** -
Mission Models MMP-001 MRP-080 -
Mr. Paint MRP-4 MRP-118 MRP-114
Xtracolor X405 X007 X005
Xtracrylix - XA1007 XA1005

 

Photos:

These Liberators (GR.III and GR.V) in a Northern Ireland base clearly show a two-tone (despite some patchy fading) even though the photo is belived to be from 1943.
This Vickers Warwick in 1943 also shows what appears to be only ESDG on the topside.
The Mosquito also served with Coastal Command, such as this FB.VI from the Banff Strike Wing in Scotland. Undersides are clearly Sky (compare with the white spinner tips).

 

Mediterranean Coastal Command (1941-43)

Officially, there was no regional distinctions made for Coastal Command aircraft. However, some aircraft in the Mediterranean were known to carry Azure Blue undersides, which would have undoubtedly made more sense than Sky in the brighter, clearer skies. Two other colors used in the Mediterranean theater deserve mention as they were used on a number of special schemes for specific aircraft, notably Beauforts and Blenheims, when operating over water. This scheme, sometimes referred to as the 'Special Coastal Scheme', consisted on two unique theater colors, Light Mediterranean Blue and Dark Mediterranean Blue for the main topside camouflage (retaining existing patterns), and Azure Blue as the underside color although some aircraft likely used Night (black).

Paint guide:

 

  Azure Blue Dark Slate Grey Extra Dark Sea Grey Light Mediterranean Blue Dark Mediterranean Blue
         
Schemes
Coastal (Med) Lower Upper camo Upper camo    
Coastal (Special) Lower     Upper camo Upper camo
PR Spitfires         Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - - H333 - -
Gunze Mr. Color C370 - C333 - -
Humbrol 157 (!) 224 123 48 -
Model Master 2048 2056 2059 - -
Revell - - - - -
Tamiya - - - - -
Vallejo Model Air 71.108 71.309 71.110 71.113** 71.313
Vallejo Model Color 70.902 - - - -
AKAN 70004 70046 70019 - -
AK Interactive AK 2017 - - - -
AK Real Color RC291 RC294 RC295 - -
AMMO by Mig - - - - -
Colourcoats ACRN34 ACRN06 ACRN02 ACRN23 -
Hataka HTK-_028 HTK-_202 HTK-_140 - -
Lifecolor UA 098** - - - -
Mission Models MMP-092 - - - -
Mr. Paint MRP-119 MRP-117 MRP-114 - -
Xtracolor X026 X025 X005 X047 X048
Xtracrylix XA1026 XA1025 XA1005 - -

Photos:

This beautiful photo of a Beaufort at Luqa, Malta shows the Azure Blue undersides and a traditional TSS topside camo.

 

OTHER

Shadow Compensation (1938-40)

From The RAF employed a camouflage technique known as 'Shadow Compensation' for its biplanes, which involved lower wings being painted in lighter colors than the standard scheme. The intention for this was that the shadow of the upper wings would even out the colors. Shadow Compensation was used primarily for the Temperate Land Scheme as well as the Temperate Sea Schemes given that most British biplanes used in World War II were used early in the war by Fighter Command as well as by Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm. The term 'Shadow Compensation' is often referred to as 'Shadow Shading' although this was the term used initially (both by the RAF and USAAF) to describe the particular camouflage pattern as seen in the Temperate Land Scheme.

Shadow Compensation for the Temperate Land Scheme involved Light Earth and Light Green. Although Light Earth was used extensively in the early years of the North Africa campaign (before Middle Stone became more widely available), and is slightly lighter than Middle Stone and lacking its mustard tone. Light Green was a rare RAF color whose only main use was for shadow compensation. Light Green is closer to a medium green than Dark Green and a close approximation could be US Medium Green (FS 34102). Shadow Compensation for the Temperate Sea Scheme consisted of Light Slate Grey and Dark Sea Grey. Light Slate Grey is a green-grey, close to SAC Bomber Green (FS 34159) or German Field Gray (RAL 7009). Dark Sea Grey was used more widely in the post-war period. It is somewhat similar to the 'mixed grey' used as a replacement for Ocean Grey in the Day Fighter Scheme, being roughy similar in brightness but with much less blue.

One of the main differences between Shadow Shading on the two schemes is that biplanes using the Temperate Land Scheme frequently had sections of the fuselage also painted in the two lighter colors. For those aircraft with White/Night undersides, this effectively created a six-tone scheme. Shadow Compensation was abandoned by the RAF early in the war with lower wings being treated as upper surfaces from December 1940 onward although it presisted in the Fleet Air Arm until the end.

Paint guide:

 

  Light Earth Light Green Light Slate Grey Dark Sea Grey
       
Schemes
Temperate Land Lower wing Lower wing    
Temperate Sea     Lower wing Lower wing
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - - - H75
Gunze Mr. Color - - - C25
Humbrol 119 - (31) 164
Model Master - - - 2059
Revell - - - -
Tamiya - - - XF-54
Vallejo Model Air 71.291** 71.403 71.406 -
Vallejo Model Color - - - 70.991**
AKAN - - 70018 70017
AK Interactive - - - -
AK Real Color - - - RC296
AMMO by Mig - - - -
Colourcoats ACRN26 ACRN25 ACRN05 ACRN03
Hataka - - - HTK-_140
Lifecolor UA 081** UA 002** - UA 108**
Mission Models - - - -
Mr. Paint MRP-107 MRP-109 MRP-116 MRP-113
Xtracolor X049 - X037 X004
Xtracrylix - - XA1037 XA1004

 

Photos:

A rare color photo of a pre-war Gladiator showing the unmistakable different tones of shadow compensation on wings and fuselage.
A Swordfish flies over Northern Ireland in early 1940, showing evidence of shadow compensation, particularly the Light Slate Grey.

 

Lend-Lease schemes (1941-45)

The UK was the main recipient of US Lend-Lease aid, and the RAF received thousands of aircraft which saw action in all fronts. The most common are described below:

US equivalent paints initially followed DuPont standards intended to match RAF paints. Of the Temperate Land Scheme colors of Dark Earth (71-009) and Dark Green (71-013), the former was noticeably lighter although the latter was very close. They best match FS 30219 and FS 34096 respectively although FS 34079 has been suggested for Dark Green as well (it is very similar). Confusingly, a second variant of Dark Earth (71-035) came in use later and this was much darker, being closer to the RAF color and also fading less. It closely matches FS 30118. In contrast, Sky (71-021) has been an endless source of controversy. Of all the DuPont equivalents it is the one that is least similar to the original, being noticeably lighter and lacking the yellowish hue of Sky Type S. Its closest match is FS 35622 which happens to be known as a 'Duck Egg Blue'. In color photographs, however, it frequently ends up resembling different types of gray, often a light tan grey (closest to FS 36622) as well as a sky gray which could reflect attempts to match Sky Grey rather than Sky Type S. To what extent this reflects an actually different paint shades or simply different color characteristics of the photo is what drives the confusion: most color photos of 71-021 are in factory-fresh aircraft whereas most photos of Sky Type S are of aircraft in the field and thus dirtier. Furthermore, factory-fresh photos of Sky Type S are often of early Hurricanes and Spitfires which may have been painted Sky Blue, which in black and white appears lighter and would contrast more sharply with the topside colors just as the DuPont colors do. Regardless of what photos appear to show, the expert consensus is that 71-021 is indeed a pale gray-green and not a light gray.

As for the Desert Scheme, Middle Stone (71-069) was similar in brightness thus probably looking identical in black and white but lacked the mustard tone of its MAP counterpart. It is closest to FS 30266. When paired with the later Dark Earth (71-035) it would have had much greater contrast than the RAF originals or with 71-009. In contrast, Azure Blue (71-062) was very close to the RAF version aside from being a bit darker and has been matched with FS 35231.

Once the newer ANA colors were developed, US factories were ordered to use designated ANA equivalents instead of DuPont matches. In many cases, these varied significantly from their RAF colors. Although some colors like Dark Earth (71-035), Middle Stone, Sky, and Azure Blue received their own ANA successors, the colors used in the Day Fighter and Temperate Sea Scheme did not. Instead, both schemes used the same equivalents for their greens and grays, these being Olive Drab 613 (closest to FS 33077 though superseded by FS 34087) and Sea Grey ANA 603 (closest to FS 36118) respectively. While they were close enough to the TSS, they were far less of a match to the DFS: Olive Drab was too dark and too brown and Sea Grey was also too dark and lacked Ocean Grey's distinctive blue tint. Additonally, the US equivalent to Medium Sea Grey was Light Grey ANA 602. This is often matched to FS 36440 but it is believed that it was somewhat darker but still unsuitable as an equivalent to Medium Sea Grey and was said to have been discontinued shortly after introduced in favor of Dark Gull Gray ANA 621 which was of similar brightness although still somewhat warmer. As with USAAF aircraft, it is likely that stocks of Olive Drab No. 41 were used before switching to ANA 613 which leads to the possibility that only few late-builds ever used it if at all. Finally, Sky ANA 610 was much closer to the original Sky Type S than the earlier DuPont equivalent and virtually identical to the post-war FS 34424 that superseded it.

A comparison between US and RAF paints is provided below with the disclaimer that hex equivalents will never be fully accurate to an original paint chip.

  RAF US FS   RAF US FS
Dark Green (1)       Ocean Grey      
  71-013 34083   ANA 603 36118
Dark Earth (1)       Dark Green (2)      
  71-009 30140   ANA 613 33077
Dark Earth (2)       Medium Sea Grey (1)      
  71-035 30118   ANA 602 36440
Middle Stone       Medium Sea Grey (2)      
  71-069 30266   ANA 621 36231
Sky       Sky      
  71-021 35622   ANA 610 34424
Azure Blue       Dark Slate Grey      
  71-062 35231   ANA 613 33077
  Extra Dark Sea Grey      
  ANA 603 36118

 

Paint guide: The following paint chart includes only the US equivalents to the Temperate Land (plus Sky) and Desert (plus Azure Blue) schemes as those were the only two to have been used extensively before the ANA equivalent colors were designated. DuPont numbers are in the topmost header row. It should be noted that hardly any paint ranges (Mr. Paint being the sole exception as well as Colourcoats for Sky) carry DuPont/ANA-specific RAF paints, with most merely including them in the labels for convenience. Rather than merely repeat the matches for RAF paints from previous sections, the paint chart takes the closest FS equivalents mentioned in the text in parenthesis under the assumption that modelers will want to make their Lend-Lease models look sufficiently different from home-produced RAF aircraft, the exception being Azure Blue which is virtually identical.

 

    ANA 609 ANA 615   ANA 617  
71-021 71-062 71-069 71-009 71-035 71-013
Sky Azure Blue Middle Stone Dark Earth (1) Dark Earth (2) Dark Green
           
Schemes
TLS Lower     (Upper Camo) (Upper Camo) Upper Camo
Desert   Lower Upper Camo (Upper Camo) (Upper Camo)  
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous (H314) - - (H310) - (H309)
Gunze Mr. Color (C314) (C370) - (C310) - (C309)
Humbrol - (157) - (118) - (116)
Model Master (1722) 2048** 2052** (1742) 2054** / (1702) (1710)
Revell - - - - - -
Tamiya - - (XF-59) (?) - - -
Vallejo Model Air (71.328) 71.108** (71.291) (71.125) 71.139** (71.294)
Vallejo Model Color - 70.902** (70.977) (70.874) (70.873) (70.893)
AKAN (72074) (70004) (6/82044) (72003) (6/82045) (72002)
AK Interactive (AK 2154) (AK 2017) - (AK 2103) - (AK 2101)
AK Real Color (RC241) (RC291) (RC030) (RC225) (RC085) (RC027)
AMMO by Mig - - - (A.MIG-202) - (A.MIG-206) (?)
Colourcoats ACRN36 (ACRN34) - (ACUS18) - (ACUS20)
Hataka (HTK-_092) (HTK-_028) - (HTK-_012) - (HTK-_016)
Lifecolor (UA 139) (UA 098) (UA 081) (UA 015) UA 092** (UA 001)
Mission Models MMP-080** MMP-092** - (MMP-066) - (MMP-058)
Mr. Paint (MRP-225) MRP-143 (MPR-368) (MRP-103) MRP-145 (MRP-101)
Xtracolor (X149) (X026) - (X102) (X101) (X110)
Xtracrylix - (XA1026) - (XA1002) - (XA1110)

 

Photos:

Possibly the best photo ever taken of US equivalent paints in these early Mustangs at their Inglewood factory, showing the earlier Dark Earth (71-009). Sky (71-021) does look closer to the RAF version here. The background aircraft is in Olive Drab.
Early Lend-Lease aircraft were shipped directly to the UK, mostly in Temperate Land Scheme and Sky like these Boston Mk IIIs (A-20s) lined up at Attlebridge. The Dark Earth appears to be 71-009.
Desert aircraft in the snow? These Martin Baltimores are in the US ready to be shipped to North Africa (the only theater this aircraft served). Note the darker Dark Earth which is surely 71-035.
This Mitchell (B-25) shows some patchy fading but is otherwise a good example of an OD/NG scheme in RAF use which became the norm around 1943 until the end of the war. Early Mitchells were painted in TLS.
A factory fresh Marauder (B-26) in the US awaits shipping to the UK. The red outline of the roundel on the B-25 in the background suggests this photo is from 1943. North Africa-based RAF Marauders were painted in desert camo.
This early fighter-recon Mustang Mk Ia (F-6A) is almost certainly painted in ANA equivalents to the Day Fighter Scheme, as evidenced by the minimal blue tone of the gray, and darker green.

 

Links:

 

Royal Australian Air Force schemes (1941-45)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had its own palette which, while roughly based on RAF colors, had slight variations to the originals. Additionally there was a small number of unique colors which are the subject of this section. RAAF aircraft followed a similar camouflage pattern as the RAF but with differnet colors. The topside camouflage was composed of Earth Brown K3/178 and Foliage Green K3/177. Earth Brown was more akin to a chocolate brown and slightly darker than RAF Dark Earth. It has been matched to FS 30099. Foliage Green was a deeper green than RAF Dark Grey, and would have certainly been better suited for the lush jungle canopies of the South Pacific. There is a debate on whether it more adequately matches US FS 34092 or FS 34096. The use of these colors would have resulted in RAAF topsides looking darker and warmer than their RAF counterparts. Undersides were painted Sky Blue K3/195. This would have been similar to its RAF equivalent although brighter, thus making it more appropriate for the clearer Pacific skies. Aircraft employed in night operations had their undersides painted Night K3/179 or Special Night K3/315. Many RAAF aircraft in the South Pacific (mainly fighters) featured prominent white tails like their USAAF counterparts. They also had white leading edges, possibly to distinguish from the yellow leading edges of Japanese fighters, and these typically extended across the whole wing.

From December 1943, RAAF aircraft dispenseed with the Earth Brown, leaving many aircraft with single topside color of Foliage Green. Undersides were painted Medium Sea Grey K3/183, similar to its RAF equivalent and also lighter than an earlier grey that was used as a pre-war underside (before Sky Blue became available). Many aircraft, particularly twin-engined ones like the Beaufighter and Mitchell, were painted in overall Foliage Green. From May 1944 it was further ordered that all RAAF combat aircraft be delivered in natural metal finish (NMF). Aircraft that had already been painted likely remained so.

Lend-Lease aircraft from the US were usually left in their original colors (Dark Olive Drab No. 41 over Neutral Gray No. 43 with optional Medium Green No. 42 blotches) with occasional modificatons such as repainting the underside Sky Blue in some early aircraft. Some early aircraft may have been painted in US equivalents (DuPont matches) of the Temperate Land scheme. Likewise, many British aircraft like Spitfires were left in their original RAF colors, either the Temperate Land, Temperate Sea, or Day Fighter schemes, or in their respective RAAF equivalents. It was common to see RAF schemes with some RAAF color modifications or touch ups and overall, it must be emphasized that there were no hard rules for RAAF aircraft overall. For example, one interesting and unique paint scheme were the 'Black Cats', a number of Catalinas that were painted black in order to conduct special night-time operations deep into Japanese-controlled waters.

The RAAF palette largely applied to aircraft that served in the Pacific theater, usually under US command. Many RAAF squadrons were attacked to the RAF in Europe and the Mediterranean and in these cases, followed RAF conventions relative to their theater and role. A similar logic applied to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAAF) which in the Pacific largely used US Navy colors or equivalents from its own palette.

Paint guide: Only Colourcoats and Lifecolor make RAAF-specific paints. Of the four main colors, the underside Sky Blue and Medium Sea Grey are closest to their RAF equivalents and should be an acceptable substitute. Earth Brown and Foliage Green are trickier and, barring specific paints, can be matched to their closest FS equivalents, FS 30099 or FS 34092/34096. Because the latter are almost universally available, only direct matches are provided below. FS 30099 is rarer, but available from Vallejo, AK Real Colors, and Hataka. Tamiya's Flat Earth (XF-52) is probably the closest generic equivalent, and certainly closer to the RAAF color than RAF Dark Earth. Colourcoats also has a small range of RNZAAF colors.

 

  K3/195 K3/183 K3/178 K3/177  
RAAF Sky Blue RAAF Medium Sea Grey RAAF Earth Brown RAAF Foliage Green Aluminium
         
Schemes
RAAF (1941-42) Lower   Upper camo Upper camo  
RAAF (1943-44)   Lower   Upper  
RAAF (1944-45)         Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - (H335) - - (H8)
Gunze Mr. Color - (C335) / (C363) - - (C8)
Humbrol (23) (165) - - 56
Model Master - (2058) - - 1781
Revell - - - - 99
Tamiya - (XF-83) (XF-52) (?) - XF-16
Vallejo Model Air (71.404) (71.307) - - 71.062
Vallejo Model Color - (70.870) (70.872) - -
AKAN - (70016) - - 76004
AK Interactive - (AK 2013) - - -
AK Real Color - (RC289) (RC029) - RC020
AMMO by Mig - (A.MIG-246) - - A.MIG-194
Colourcoats ACOZ01 ACOZ12 ACOZ03 ACOZ02 -
Hataka - (HTK-_034) (HTK-_256) - HTK-_078
Lifecolor UA 515 UA 515 UA 513 UA 514 LC-74
Mission Models - (MMP-094)     MMM-003
Mr. Paint - (MRP-112) MRP-F043 MRP-F034 MRP-3
Xtracolor - (X003)     X142
Xtracrylix - (XA1003)     (XA1216)

 

Photos:

This flight of locally-designed CAC Boomerangs shows a combination of older EB/FG over SB camouflage on the foreground aircraft with the others in Foliage Green topsides.
A video still of a group of Beaufighter Mk 21s shows them in overall Foliage Green.
This is the best quality color photo of a RAAF aircraft, a Beaufighter Mk IC. The topside appears to be a two-tone although it is hard to tell which (Day Fighter?).
Lend-Lease aircraft like this flight of P-40s retained their Olive Drab over Neutral Gray colors although in some cases they were partly or fully overpainted
Late in the war, RAAF aircraft were left in their natural metal finish like this B-25 flying over Brisbane.


Links:

 

Interiors (1939-45)

Compared to their US counterparts, RAF aircraft had a refreshing consistency in terms of cockpit and interior colors. The basic cockpit color used universally across all RAF combat aircraft was Grey Green, which as its name implies was a slightly lightened and dulled out green. Aside from black instrument panels, this color was only interrupted by the color of certain aircraft seats (notably the Spitfire) which was a leather-like red-brown which I presume was used to blend better with the actual leather cushions of the backrest. Grey Green was also used as an interior color, with some aircraft showing evidence of this in the wheel wells. From mid-1942, some aircraft like the Typhoon and Tempest (and later Meteor) began carrying Night cockpits. Late Spitfires like the Mk XIV retained Grey Green throughout the war, not swtiching to Night until later in the post-war period.

For the most part, however, there was no standard interior color although each aircraft design tended to follow similar practice. For example, Spitfires almost always had wheel wells in the same color as the fuselage underside color. Hawker aircraft (Hurricane, Typhoon, and Tempest) frequently kept their wheel wells in natural metal. Twin-engined aircraft like Beaufighters and Mosquitoes often had parts of the wheel well in metal as well as Grey Green, the latter being the color of bomb bays if available. Four-engined bombers had them in metal and black, like the undersides, with bomb bays also in black. Landing gear as well as wheel caps were usually left either in natural metal or the fuselage underside color. It appears that a larger share of aircraft using the early Temperate Land Scheme aircraft, Desert Scheme aircraft, and night bombers used underside colors for their wheel wells.

Lend-Lease aircraft retained their US cockpit and interiors colors which were highly manufacturer-specific. The USAAF page gives further detail.

Paint guide: Grey Green is widely available and not particularly difficult to get wrong, especially considering how much cockpit colors can vary due to lighting. It is often approximated to FS 34226. A standard leather red-brown like Tamiya XF-64 or an equivalent to German RAL 8012 is good enough for Spitfire seats.

 

  Grey Green Night Aluminium
     
Scheme
General Cockpit / (Interiors)   (Interiors)
Late   Cockpit / (Interiors) (Interiors)
Paints
Gunze Aqueous - (H77) (H8)
Gunze Mr. Color C364 C125 (C8)
Humbrol 78 - 56
Model Master 2062 - 1781
Revell - - 99
Tamiya - (XF-85) XF-16
Vallejo Model Air 71.126** (71.315) 71.062
Vallejo Model Color - (70.862) -
AKAN 70007 (79043) 76004
AK Interactive AK 2018 AK 2066 -
AK Real Color RC293 (RC022) RC020
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-219** (A.MIG-033) A.MIG-194
Colourcoats ACRN28 (ACRN17) -
Hataka HTK-_025 - HTK-_078
Lifecolor UA 551** - LC-74
Mission Models MMP-079 MMP-108 MMM-003
Mr. Paint MRP-111 (MRP-255) MRP-3
Xtracolor X010 X012 X142
Xtracrylix XA1010 XA1012 (XA1216)

 

Photos:

A Spitfire Mk IX cockpit from the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar (a restoration facility) showing the ubiquitous interior Gray Green color and the red-brown seat.

Most late Hawker aircraft like this Typhoon Mk Ib at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford had Night cockpits. In cockpits, Night easily contrasted with the darker basic black of the instrument panel. (Photo credit: Richard Crockett via Flickr)

The wheel wells on this Typhoon Mk Ib at the RAF Museum in Hendon are painted Medium Sea Grey, just like the underside. Although not shown in this photo, this aircraft also has MSG landing gear and wheel caps (walkaround link here).
The massive bomb bay in this Canadian-built Lancaster B.X (equivalent to the British-built B.III) is painted in Night. Also note the differences with the black struts.
This Beaufighter under restoration at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford shows the combination of Grey Green and natural metal parts that was common in the larger wheel wells of twin-engined aircraft.

 

Color Tables

British Standard BS 381C (1931)

  BS 1948 BS 1943/44
  No 1 Sky Blue BS 101 No 1
  No 2 Turquoise Blue BS 102 No 2
  No 3 Peacock Blue BS 103 No 3
  No 4 Azure Blue BS 104 No 4
  No 5 Oxford Blue BS 105 -
  No 6 Royal Blue BS 106 No 6
  No 7 Dark Blue BS 107** -
  No 10 Light Brown BS 410 -
  No 11 Middle Brown BS 411 No 11
  No 12 Dark Brown BS 412 No 12
  No 13 Nut Brown BS 413 -
  No 14 Golden Brown BS 414 -
  No 16 Eau de Nil BS 216 -
  No 17 Sea Green BS 217 -
  No 18 Grass Green BS 218 -
  No 19 Sage Green BS 219 -
  No 20 Olive Green BS 220 -
  No 21 Brilliant Green BS 221 No 21
  No 22 Light Bronze Green BS 222 -
  No 23 Middle Bronze Green BS 223 -
  No 24 Deep Bronze Green BS 224 -
  No 25 Light Brunswick Green BS 225 No 25
  No 26 Middle Brunswick Green BS 226 No 26
  No 27 Deep Brunswick Green BS 227 -
  No 28 Silver Grey BS 628 No 28
  No 29 Quaker Grey BS 629** No 29
  No 30 French Grey BS 630  
  No 31 Light Battleship Grey BS 631** No 31
  No 32 Dark Battleship Grey BS 632** No 32
  No 33* RAF Blue Grey BS 633 -
  No 34 Slate BS 634 -
  No 35 Lead BS 635 -
  No 37 Signal Red BS 537 No 37
  No 38 Post Office Red BS 538** -
  No 40 Crimson BS 540 -
  No 41 Maroon BS 541 -
  No 43 Salmon Pink BS 447 No 43
  No 44 Terra Cotta BS 444 No 44
  No 45 Venetian Red BS 445 -
  No 46 Red Oxide BS 446 No 46
  No 47 Light Indian Red - -
  No 48 Deep Indian Red BS 448 -
  No 49 Light Purple Brown BS 449 -
  No 50 Deep Purple Brown - -
  No 51 Chocolate - No 51
  No 52 Pale Cream BS 352 No 52
  No 53 Deep Cream BS 353 No 53
  No 54 Primrose BS 354 -
  No 55 Lemon BS 355 No 55
  No 56 Golden Yellow BS 356 No 56
  No 57 Orange BS 557** No 57
  No 58 Light Buff BS 358 -
  No 59 Middle Buff BS 359 No 59
  No 60 Deep Buff BS 360 -
  No 61 Light Stone BS 361 No 61
  No 62 Middle Stone BS 362 -
  No 63 Dark Stone - -
  No 64 Portland Stone BS 364 No 64
  No 67* Traffic Green BS 267** -
  No 68* Traffic Yellow BS 368 -
  No 70* Traffic Red BS 570 -
  No 71* Middle Graphite BS 671 -
  No 72* Dark Graphite - -
  No 73* Gulf Red BS 473 -

* Colors added to palette after 1931

** Colors have had their names changed after 1948

 

MAP wartime colors

  BS 1948 BS 1931 DuPont FED-STD* Munsell**
  Light Earth - - 71-048 FS 30257 ?
  Dark Earth BS 350 - 71-035 FS 30118 ?
  Light Green - - 71-047 FS 34172 ?
  Dark Green BS 241 - 71-013 FS 34083 10Y 2.9/1.5
  Extra Dark Sea Green - - 71-067 FS 34092 ?
  Grey Green BS 238 - 71-036 FS 34226 ?
  Medium Sea Grey BS 637 -   FS 36270 ?
  Dark Sea Grey BS 638 - - FS 36173 ?
  Extra Dark Sea Grey BS 640 - 71-19324 FS 36118 ?
  Ocean Grey - - 71-068 FS 36152 7B 4.5/1
  Light Slate Grey BS 639 - - FS 34159 ?
  Dark Slate Grey BS 634 - 71-19323 FS 34096 0.5GY 3.7/1
  Sky Grey - - - FS 36463 ?
  Sky BS 210 - 71-021 FS 34504 ?
  Deep Sky - - 71-052 FS 35056 ?
  Sky Blue BS 101 No 1 71-061 FS 35550 ?
  Azure Blue BS 104 No 4 71-062 FS 35231 4.1PB 6.2/6.0
  Light Mediterranean Blue - - 71-063 FS 35117 2.4PB 4.4/4.6
  Dark Mediterranean Blue - - 71-064 FS 35109 ?
  PRU Blue BS 636 - 71-066 FS 35164 5.3B 3.9/3
  Middle Stone BS 362 No 62 71-069 FS 30266 ?
  Night BS 642 - 71-006 FS 37038 ?
  Yellow BS 356 No 56 71-010 FS 33538 ?
  Red - - - FS 31105 ?
  Blue BS 110 - - FS 35056 ?
  Aluminum - - - - ?
  Matt (Dull) Red - - 71-007 - ?
  Matt (Dull) Blue - - 71-012 - ?
  Semi Matt Black - - - - ?

* Federal Standard numbers are approximate

** Munsell values quoted from Nick Millmann via Britmodeller. Hex values adapted from color plate in Tanner (1976).

 

RAAF wartime colors

  BS 1948 FED-STD*
  K3/169 Bright Red BS 538 FS 31105
  K3/170 Identification White - FS 37875
  K3/177 Foliage Green - FS 34092
  K3/178 Earth Brown - FS 30099
  K3/179 Night BS 642 FS 37038
  K3/183 Medium Sea Grey BS 637 FS 36270
  K3/185 Yellow BS 356 FS 33538
  K3/187 Extra Dark Sea Grey BS 640 FS 36118
  K3/188 Dark Sea Grey BS 638 FS 36173
  K3/189 Dark Slate Grey - FS 34096
  K3/190 Light Slate Grey BS 639 FS 34159
  K3/193 Grey Green BS 238 FS 34226
  K3/195 Sky Blue BS 101 FS 35550
  K3/197 Dull Blue BS 110 FS 35056
  K3/209 Dark Earth BS 350 FS 30118
  K3/216 Dark Green BS 241 FS 34079
  K3/223 Light Earth - FS 30257
  K3/225 Light Green - FS 34172
  K3/315 Special Night BS 642 FS 37038
  K3/316 Azure Blue BS 104 FS 35231
  K3/318 Dark Ocean Blue - FS 35042

* Federal Standard numbers are approximate

Last modified: 14 February 2020