There are few topics in which ecceptions exceed standard features: Luftwaffe camouflage schemes is one of them. This article is created to clarify this topic, analyzing each one of the patterns applied on German aircraft during the Second World War.
German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, founded in 1935, adopted a considerable variety of camouflages for its aircraft. Starting with monochromatic paintings during the first months, in 1936 the first camouflage scheme appeared. At the beginning, this was applied on each type of aircraft. However, this use rapidly changed, introducing different colours and patterns depending on the aircraft role and its operational theatre.
Later, at the beginning of the Second Wolrd War, differentiation of mimetic patterns developed progressively. This lead to the appearence of several modification of the same camouflage scheme. As a consequence, observing original photos, it might be concluded that patterns were applied with an illusory randomness. On the contrary, this apparent randomness was actually ordered by periodic directives issued by the Ministry of the Air force (RLM, Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
That said; why does it seem so difficult to find any aircraft painted with the same camouflage pattern? The next paragraph should give you the answer.
Camouflage schemes application
The livery shown by a Luftwaffe operational aircraft is the result of at least two painting stages. The first one, applied along the assembly line, provided for a primer, several layers of protective coat, camouflage, national insignas, serial number and Stammkennzeichen codes.
During this phase, the painting scheme was absolutely standardized and usually homogeneus among different production plants. Indeed, the application of camouflage was regulated by written documents provided with related illustration that limited (or better forbade) any possible variation of the liveries.
The decentralised aeronautical production system
However, it is necessary to point out that the previously described standardisation gradually collapsed during the last three years of war. This was caused by the decentralisation of military production. As a consequence, various components were singularly manufactured and pre-painted in numerous minor facilities. Therefore, each already camouflaged component was transported to a main assembly plant where they were put together. Due to this production system, parts painted with different camouflage schemes could be assembled on the same aircraft. Coming across photographs of Me bf 109 Ks or Fw 190 Ds apparently composed of “mismatched” components is not uncommon. This feature is indeed the result of several different paintings applied over components belonging to the same aircraft.
Consequently, with the sole exception of differently painted parts assembled together, liveries variability was rather contained during this painting stage.
Second painting stage: operational airfields
The second painting stage all aircraft were subjected was applied directly at the operational airfields. This, at least theoretically, provided the removal of Stammkennzeichen, the application of the identificative number and the Verbandskennzeichen (with the exception of fighters and ground attack aircraft) and the possible addition of unit identification symbols. Practically, however, the livery as well was often altered.
Mottled patterns or irregular schemes were frequently applied over the aircraft surfaces painted in RLM 65 or RLM 76. The additional painting could include the same colours of the standard camouflage, or even different ones. Concerning this possibility, each unit had its own habit. That said, it is easy to understand how the actual number of possible camouflage schemes was extremely high.
Another circumstance in which aircraft liveries could be drastically modified was the conversion from daylight to night scheme or from summer to winter scheme. The two of them were regulated by directives such as the L.Dv. 521/1. However, conversions were not carried out in factories, but directly at the operational airfields. This factor increased the possible interpretations of the directives provided by the RLM.