Luftwaffe camouflage schemes analysis and evolution
Having clarified the reason for such a huge variety of liveries, it is time to get into the thick of things to analyze the various Luftwaffe camouflage schemes. Due to the reasons described above, the liveries shown in this article are the most utilised. However, always bear in mind that ecceptions, as it often happens, are always in ambush.
Camouflage schemes diagram
Old diagram versions
Camouflage colours table
The following table shows the colours used to camouflage Luftwaffe aicraft during the war. In this case, if a colour is no longer present below a certain year, it means that it was not used anymore.
- F scheme for fighters only
- B scheme for any aircraft with the exception of fighters
- F/B scheme for any aircraft
- ? uncertain colour or scheme
Livery in RLM 02
The first painting adopted by Luftwaffe can not be defined exactly mimetic. As a matter of fact, it was just a uniform coat of RLM 02 applied over both upper and lower surfaces.
The first version of RLM 02 could be slightly lighter than the one used during the war; this supposition is not entirely supported though. During 1935 the denomination “RLM 02” had not been introduced yet, therefore both this colour and the future RLM 63 were indiscriminately used. Moreover, several paintings producer existed at the time and it is consequently hard to establish whether the first Luwtwaffe aircraft were painted with the so called RLM 02 or with a similar, but not identical, hue.
The diagram shown in this article indicates just RLM 02, although it is necessary to underline that, at least up to 1936, slightly different pigmentations were definitely used. This type of livery was applyed to any aircraft with the exception of seaplanes. In 1935 Luftwaffe had not been involved in any conflict yet. Because of this, aircraft did not need to be less visible (camouflaged) and the motive for such a standardized livery is therefore clarified.
Livery in RLM 02 with unpainted sections
At the same time, several planes were just partially painted with RLM 02: some sections were indeed left unpainted (or just sprayed with trasparent protective coats). This habit had never been apparently prescribed by any written document. As a consequence, it is hard to outline a specific scheme, since the unpainted parts could be the most varied ones.
The choice of living unpainted certain sections is driven by economic reasons and, in some cases, by pure common sense too. The majority of the aircrafts painted with this livery were indeed prototypes. These would have never entered operational service and, moreover, would have almost certainly undergone further modifications. Spending time and money to paint theme would have been counter-productive.
Before moving on the following scheme, it is worthwhile to point out that the unpainted surfaces were not considered “painted” with RLM 01 Silber, in spite of their metallic aspect. RLM 01 is indeed a real painting and does not correspond with a simple unpainted section. You can take a look at this article to find out more about this hue.
Camouflage scheme RLM 70/71/65
Thanks to the esperience given by Spanish Civil War and an encreasing differentiation in the airforce branches, in 1938 the L.Dv. 521/1 (Luftwaffen Dienstvorschriften 521/1) introduced new painting schemes and colours. In particular, the former RLM 61/62/63/65 scheme was substituted by the simpler RLM 70/71/65 one. According to the L.Dv. 521/1, the new camouflage scheme had to be applied on all aircraft with the exception of maritime ones. This means that both fighters and other aircraft types (always with the exception of maritime and naval aircraft) still possessed the same camouflage system for airborne and ground concealment.
The reasons why this scheme was introduced are several. First of all, the passage from four to three colours allowed a faster application. In the second place, the change in terms of hues permitted the development of an “air superiority scheme”. This is a consequence of the introduction of new doctrines in the Luftwaffe, that was no more used only as a “flying artillery” to support ground units, but as an operationally indipendent armed force.
The new colours
Looking closely at the new scheme, the same geometrical pattern of the former one can be detected. However, upper surfaces appear definitely darker. They are indeed painted with the new shades (RLM 70 and 71), both of them named Schwarzgrün: black-green. Instead, apparently, lower surfaces did not vary. They were indeed still painted in RLM 65.
However it must be pointed out that this shade of RLM 65 could be slightly different from the 1936 one, being more greyish (RLM 65 v. 1941). It is indeed certain that the pigmentation of this colour had been modified from the 1936 L.Dv. 521/1 edition to the 1941 one. This theory is supported by colour photos as well as the Farbtontafeln of these documents.
This scheme appeared to be quite effective when applied on large aircraft, although the concealing effect on figthers was rather disappointing. The problem was not caused by the colours, but rather by the pattern. As a matter of fact, the entirely painted sides of the fuselage, covered with such dark colours, stood out excessively if compared with the sky.
Because of this, the fuselage area intended for the RLM 70 and 71 was drastically reduced to a thin dorsal spine. As a consequence, the surface now left unpainted by these colours, RLM 65 took their place, being lighter and specifically targeted to reproduce the colour of the sky.