Luftwaffe camouflage schemes

di Alessandro Orseniga
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Luftwaffe camouflage schemes. An illustrated guide to the camouflage patterns of the German Air Force during WWII.

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
This diagram shows the evolution of the Luftwaffe camouflage schemes. They are divided in the basis of year of introduction, aircraft and operational environment. Each scheme is rehowever they might be used the following years as well. presented below the year of introduction; In order to have a better visualisation, it is suggested to open the image in a new window.

This diagram shows the evolution of the Luftwaffe camouflage schemes. They are divided in the basis of year of introduction, aircraft and operational environment. Each scheme is rehowever they might be used the following years as well. presented below the year of introduction; In order to have a better visualisation, it is suggested to open the image in a new window.


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.

Key
  • scheme for fighters only
  • scheme for any aircraft with the exception of fighters
  • F/B scheme for any aircraft
  • uncertain colour or scheme
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Day fighters

Livery in RLM 02

Camouflage scheme RLM 02The 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.

Heinkel 112 RLM 02

This Heinkel He 112 sports a uniform, monochromatic livery in RLM 02 or, possibly, a slightly lighter variant.

Livery in RLM 02 with unpainted sections

Camouflage scheme RLM 02 unpaintedAt 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.

Esempio di verniciatura in RLM 02 con porzioni non verniciate.

This photo shows the first prototype of the Messerschmitt Bf 109: the Bf 109 V1. It can be easily noticed that while the fuselage is painted with a matte light grey, namely RLM 02, wings appear to be shiny and metallic. The interior section of the wing leading edges is left unpainted.

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

Schema RLM 70 71 65 (1941)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.

Me Bf 109 B2 schema mimetico RLM 70/71/65

This Messerschmitt Me Bf 109 B-2 belonged to 6.(J)186 and coded “White 12” is painted with a clear example of RLM 70/71/65 scheme. The demarcation line between the two hues is more visible on the left wing upper surface. It is important to underline that this is not a clear-cut applied line, in spite of what photos could show. On the countrary, the two colours blend in each other along a roughly 5 cm wide stripe.

Messerschmitt-Bf-109B1-in-early-pre-war-markings-flight-profile-photograph-02

The B-1 version of the same aircraft. in flight. This photo dates back to 1938 and gives an interesting view of the scheme geometry on wings surfaces.

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.

Variations

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.

Una fila di Bf 109 C-1 o D-1, mimetizzati con il classico schema RLM 70/71/65.

Four parked Messerschmitt Bf 109 C-1s, camouflaged with the RLm 70/71/65 scheme, photographed at the Fürth Jagdfliegerschule 4, winter 1941. This photo shows even three different patterns. The aircraft on the foreground was painted with RLM 70 and 71 down to about 3/4 of the fuselage sides. On the countrary, the second one sports the lighter scheme introduced for Bf 109. Dark hues can be indeed seen just on the fuselage spine and on upper wing surfaces. Finally, the two fighters on the background sport the same scheme of the second one, although the fuselage sides have been mottled with RLM 70 or 71. This subsequent painting was probably applied at the operational unit airfield.

7 commenti

David E. Brown 27 February 2022 - 05:57

Allesandro,

With respect to the Me 410 “SI+K?”, (WNr.110288-110304), this is a re-built Me 210. I would argue that the machine’s uppersurface camouflage colours were RLM 75/77. The contrast between these two colours is high compared with low contrast between RLM 74/75.

Note that when two RLM colours are used for an upper surface camouflage pattern, the dark and light colours are located in the same position as specified in the respective machine’s Os-Liste. For example, if an Os-Liste calls for RLM 74/75, and the scheme is changed to RLM 75/77, the darker of the two colours (75) will replace the 74 and the lighter 77 replace the 75.

Keep up the good work – this is an excellent website!

Cheers,

David

Rispondi
Alessandro Orseniga 27 February 2022 - 17:16

Dear Mister Brown,
Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate readers’ impressions, in particular when they are as carefully documented as yours.
Talking about the Me 410 “SI+K?”, the contrast of the upper surfaces hues is definitely high as you pointed out. I had actually excluded the possibility of a 75/77 livery, since the only documented use of the RLM 77 is stated by the L.Dv.521/1, where it is intended for night aircraft insignia and not as a camouflage colour.

However, I agree with you: the lighter colour appears to be too bright to be RLM 74, unless we consider the case of a very intense illumination (that I would exclude).
Therefore, an RLM 75/77 scheme is definitely possible. The only issue I came across in my research about RLM 77 consists of a lack of documentation about any other usage apart from insignias. That is the reason why I am so prudent while talking about this particular hue.

If you agree, nevertheless, I would like to further discuss this topic, analyzing other examples, or even documents with you, as I think that your experience in this field is definitely vast.
I would like to thank you again for your kind comment and encouragement.
I await your answer with great interest!

Cheers,

Alessandro Orseniga

Rispondi
Kath Brown 1 July 2023 - 13:01

I’ve trying to find some information about a strange smell that my grandfather-in-law mentioned in his diaries. Here’s what he wrote: “During this last attack, three aircraft were shot down within sight and my father and I motored over to look at two of these which were comparatively intact. These were Junkers Ju 88, a new machine and a most modern and efficient bomber, fast and well armed. I will always remember the peculiar smell which pervaded the aircraft and this was always noticeable in all types of German aircraft throughout the war. I think that it was caused by the dope that they used in the camouflage paint.” I have no idea what he meant by dope, I may have read that word wrong. But do you have any ideas on this? Anything in the paint that could cause a strange smell?
Grazie mille

Rispondi
Alessandro Orseniga 21 July 2023 - 19:08

Dear Kath, thank you so much for reaching out!
I beg your pardon for having taken so long to give you an answer.
Reading the words of someone who actually lived through the war, like your grandfather-in-law, it is always very interesting to me, so thank you for sharing these lines of his memories.
With “dope” he is referring to a particular lacquer that was used to provide better mechanical properties to fabric-covered surfaces. However, since the aircraft he is describing, the Junkers Ju 88, but generally speaking the majority of World War II airplanes were, to a large extent, metallic machines, he is probably meaning a generic coating paint.
Anyway, this fact is really interesting, since your grandfather-in-law was not the only one who noticed it. I remember that Captain Eric Brown, in his book “Wings on my sleeve”, mentions the same feature talking about German aircraft interiors.
Unfortunately, far what concerns the exact compound that may have caused that smell, it is quite difficult to determine it, since the composition of some lacquers is still unkwnown. Paints adopted by Luftwaffe were generally based on synthetic resins, some of them contained nitrocellulose. These compounds (not to mention their harmfulness) undoubtedly have a pungent smell, and therefore might be the cause of what your grandfather-in-law has described.
I hope that I have been of some help. Should I ever came across further information, it would be a pleasure for me to let you know about it.
Please, feel free to write again.
Best regards,

Alessandro Orseniga

Rispondi
David E. Brown 20 December 2023 - 21:30

Alessandro,

If memory serves the odour is related to the hydraulic fluid used by the Germans. Captain Eric Brown stated this in one of his”From the Cockpit” Luftwaffe aircraft articles that appeared in Air International in the 1970s and 1980s. If I come across the specific one I will let you know.

Best,

David

Best,

David

Rispondi
Adam 22 January 2024 - 21:40

What a fantastic article and with such superb graphics on that timeline; brilliant!

I eagerly await future parts; particularly on the desert camo schemes!
Adam

Rispondi
Alessandro Orseniga 10 March 2024 - 17:55

Dear Adam,
Thank you so much for your kind words! I will try to please your wish as soon as possible!
Best regards,

Alessandro

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