View Full Version : camouflage question

John Beaman
7th October 2006, 23:26
The 49th FG when working up in Australia in the Spring of 1942 received some "reverse" lend-lease P-40s from the RAF. Were these in Dark Earth, Dark Green and Sky Type S matching RAF colors, or where they in a US interpretation of these paint colors attempting to match RAF colors, including a pale blue instead of Sky-S?

10th October 2006, 03:25
1) depends on what model of P-40
2) depends on if it had USAAF or RAF serial numbers.
(or both)
3) if they were painted here in the USA they were most likely Dark Green/Medium brown/light Grey (no pale blue)
if the RAF re-painted them after delivery then they could be in BSC's
(British Standard Colour)

any possibility of posting a photo or two ???

10th October 2006, 10:13
Tricky one - a veritable can of worms. I thought you would be flooded with replies on this!

Upper surfaces: Du Pont DUCO 71-013 Dark Green - close to FS 34092, Methuen 25-26 F 5, Pantone 553U. Du Pont DUCO 71-009 Dark Earth - close to FS 30219, Methuen 6 D 5-4, Pantone 4635U-4645U. This colour is frequently referred to as "sandy earth". Du Pont also used another, darker 'Dark Earth' - 71-065, closer to 30118, associated with desert schemes but it may have been used later in the P-40E production run resulting in a lower contrast upper scheme.

Under surfaces: Curtiss were initially confused by references to 'Sky'. There were at least three identified undersurface colours: Aircraft Gray, a pale gray close to FS 36473 and believed to be the intended match for RAF Sky Grey. Pastel blue, probably based on the Spec 14057 colour #27 Light Blue - a slightly greener version of FS 35526 or a lighter, bluer version of FS 35414, believed to be the intended match for RAF Sky Blue. Neutral Gray - possibly an anomalous, expedient colour.

For specifics: ET603 (Star Dust) undersurfaces probably Neutral Gray; ET604 (wreck examined by Geoff Pentland) probably Pastel Blue (described as "darker and stronger than Sky Blue" with a greenish caste - may even have been a deteriorated Azure Blue. ET615 (Scatterbrain) probably Aircraft Gray (Sky Grey).

Bear in mind that supply demands could and did result in paint batch variations and the use of expedient colours. The demands on Curtiss at this time meant that production could not be held up because paint of the exact colour was not available.

This is a summarised response. The subject of P-40 camouflage deserves a detailed and definitive study in its own right.

John Beaman
10th October 2006, 15:02
Thanks to you both for the very good answers!


Franek Grabowski
12th October 2006, 02:59
The question is were they really reverse L-L. Several batches of P-40s were delivered to USAAF with factory applied British camo (BSC was not in use by then), so this may be misleading.

12th October 2006, 19:46
again, let's get down to some specifics.
exactly which aircraft are you interested in?
a subject for a model ? if so what kit and version ?

A.F.A.I.K. - B.S.C.'s were actually made official as early as 1931.

some aircraft were 're-possessed' aircraft.
originally ordered by the British and received US-equivalent colors for the colours requested by the British and even some with RAF serials , but after the attack on Pearl Harbor many of these aircraft were then given USAAF insignia and sent to bolster the defenses at US bases.

Franek Grabowski
12th October 2006, 20:08
DTD was the standard and all the L-L aircraft were painted due to needs of their receipients, therefore even late P-40s received factory RAF camouflage and several such aircraft found their way to USAAF.

13th October 2006, 03:48
Not to confuse things further, but here's another perspective on the topic of early P-40 colors (from pp 14-15 of Osprey's American Volunteer Group Colours and Markings by Terrill Clements):

Since the AVG's Tomahawks were taken from production lines working on a British contract, it has been widely assumed that Curtiss painted them in exact matches of the Dark Earth, Dark Green and Sky colours in use on RAF fighters in 1940-41. In fact, it is now clear that Curtiss -- and other American manufacturers as well -- were not so fastidious, and instead typically used paints from their current suppliers that were close matches for the colours specified by foreign customers. Most of these paints were likely based on current US military camouflage standards.

Curtiss employed DuPont enamel camouflage paints on its products in 1940-41, and this included the brown and green colours used on the pattern camouflage of the Tomahawks shipped to Burma. The Dark Earth brown colour (DuPont 71-065) appears to have been virtually identical to Army Air Corps colour Rust Brown 34, while DuPont Dark Green (DuPont 71-013) was virtually identical to Army Air Corps Dark Green 30. Whether they were those specific colours is uncertain, but they are certainly indistinguishable from them, and also 'close enough' to the green and brown in use by the Royal Air Force.

Curtiss employed other colours on its fighters, however, including a sandy earth brown colour (DuPont 71-009). This shade has no analogue in the pre-war American colour standards, but it is similar to British Light Earth, and was perhaps intended for use on Desert Air Force Tomahawks. Period colour photos suggest that this colour was used on a few of the AVG's Tomahawks instead of the darker brown. Second Squadron pilot Robert Layher recalls noticing that, when seen side by side, some AVG Tomahawks had more 'vivid' camouflage on top than others. But it is unlikely that many casual observers would have noticed any significant difference between the colours on Curtiss's products and those on aircraft painted more exactly to British standards. Even fewer would have cared.

The lower surface camouflage of the AVG's Tomahawks is even more interesting. While British contracting officers would likely have specified the complex greenish colour known as Sky at the time these aircraft were ordered, the best colour photographs and film of AVG Tomahawks indicate that their lower surfaces were in fact painted light grey. It appears that other American manufacturers also frequently used light grey rather than Sky, and in fact British manufacturers had themselves employed a range of light blues, greys and greens when first coming to grips with the new requirements for Sky undersurfaces in mid-1940.

Clements' book, incidentally, is a 'must have' if AVG colors and aircraft are your thing, with numerous color photos and color profiles by Jim Laurier.

13th October 2006, 11:45
This post reinforces the observations already made in my post - which seems to have been completely ignored by the others who are posting on this subject.

In addition to the dark green it appears that some P-40Es may have had Olive Drab applied with the Dark Earth in accordance with the later rationalised export colours established by the JAC in early 1942 - perhaps an endorsement of a practice already begun through expediency. References to P-40Es in China in "desert colours" of two browns with photographs showing a decidely low contrast scheme suggest the possibility of some aircraft camouflaged in Olive Drab and Dark Earth and there is certainly primary evidence of P-40 aircraft in South Africa in this precise finish, with various underside colours - including LIGHT BLUES! This may also have something to do with the Curtiss decision to complete all P-40E1 aircraft in the "RAF scheme".

Aircraft manufacturers were under intense pressure to produce machines in quantity and at speed, resulting in both expediency and improvisation. As stated before, production could not stop just because paint to the exact specification was unavailable and paint supply was unlikely to remain constant to the needs of production or, more importantly, destination. Added to these exigencies of wartime production and supply were the human failings attributable to misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the official directives.

In early 1942, at a time when the Japanese army and navy threatened both India and Australia, Curtiss was having to produce sufficient P-40 aircraft to meet the demands of several users in at least two theatres of war, the Middle East and the Far East. Destinations for the supply and replacement of P-40 aircraft altered rapidly and at short notice with the changing fortunes of war. Losses occurring during supply had to be made up, often by diverting unsuitably painted aircraft from one theatre to another.

In February 1942, following heavy combat losses of P-40 aircraft in the Phillipines and Java, 25 crated replacement P-40s had to be abandoned to the Japanese at Tjilatjap and 32 more were lost when the USS Langley was sunk. These two losses alone represented 3.8% of P-40E1 production. It was a time of grave danger and uncertainty for the Allies.

The P-40 was at the time the best fighter available in quantity to the USAAC and despite being since maligned by many aviation writers it was in fact a reliable, rugged and well-armed aircraft able to challenge and even deny Japanese air superiority until more advanced designs appeared with which to turn the tide. In the hands of both the USAAC and RAAF it was crucial to the successful defence of Northern Australia and its contribution to the air campaign in China far exceeded the number of aircraft actually deployed there.

To Curtiss at that time official paint directives were a nicety, adhered to wherever possible but only as closely as paint supplies and production priorities allowed. And this before in-theatre maintenance units added their own, sometimes non-standard, over paints to confuse things even further!

John Beaman
13th October 2006, 18:12
I want to tank everyone for all their great replies and insite. As Nicholas said, it did open up a can of worms!

I asked this question, originally, in regards to some on-going research on the career of George E. Preddy. He went to Australia in early 1942 with the 49th and flew P-40s with the 49th until June of '42 when he was severely injured in a mid-air collision. His P-40 was "Tarheel".

Preddy in his diary says that they flew to a depot and flew some back. You would have to assume that they were a mixed bag. Several were lost enroute. I will have to go back a read again to see when this happened. The 49th did not have enough aircraft on hand when the new pilots arrived for them to fly. I'll work on this.

The question arose because someone is planning a painting.

14th October 2006, 11:57
Perhaps of some interest to the discussion are the recollections about P-40 colour schemes of Colonels Sluder & Baseler of the 325th Gp, albeit concerned with the North African campaign.

Col Sluder remembered that "In Africa we had a mixture of P-40 schemes, I believe most were OD but we had some that were beige and sand, sand and OD, and I seem to recall that my number 52 was beige and OD." Col Baseler recalled that some P-40's were painted in two shades of green. I assume that Col Sluder meant the "dark earth" colour when referring to "beige" and it suggests the sandy caste of the DuPont paint in use.

A well-known colour photograph of P-40s awaiting testing and collection at Asmara field in Eritrea show a mixture of P-40s in what appears to be overall OD (or perhaps Medium Green) and the "desert scheme" of Dark Earth and Sand. The ratio in the line-up is 7/3 respectively. The "dark earth" part of the desert scheme aircraft looks lighter in comparison to RAF Dark Earth.

The Technical Sub-Committe On Camouflage which met on March 5 1942 recorded that the British representative:

"stated that 70% of the British camouflage schemes used a "Dark Green", which was very similar to the Army dark olive drab, thus they could accept this in lieu of the Dark Green throughout the camouflage programs. For ship based aircraft the British stated that the US Navy colours would be acceptable." (my italics)

Another detail often overlooked is the revision to Spec.24114 and TO 07-1-1 made on May 8 1942 that permitted the use of Medium Green 42 as an overall upper surface colour instead of Dark Olive Drab: "when the aircraft operate over terrain so predominantly green that the darker shade proves to be unsatisfactory." This official provision seems to have been lost on many modellers and artists and of course the difference would be most difficult to discern from b/w photographs.

The colour photograph of P-40E '55' "Smiley" parked at Strauss field, Darwin in 1942 suggests it may be painted with overall Medium Green 42 uppersurfaces.

But one remaining puzzle is why the British preferred Dark Olive Drab to Medium Green 42 as a substitute for Dark Green? The decision may say something about the true nature of these colours now lost to us or may just reflect ignorance on the part of the representative responsible.