Camouflage and Markings
Interpreting Military Aircraft Camouflage from Historical Records:
Case in point Luftwaffe colors 1944-45
By Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi
historic military aircraft camouflage is interesting but
sometimes frustrating. It is very rare to find an older aircraft in its
original camouflage and markings. Usually you must rely on
photographs, general orders and instructions, and the memories of
others that may have come in contact with your subject.
While this may seem straightforward, there are many factors that make this
an inexact science. Here, using late-war Luftwaffe camouflage and markings
as our case study, we will attempt to demonstrate some of the difficulties
in formulating rules of thumb.
The Evolution of Contemporary
Popular theories regarding late-war camouflage of Luftwaffe machines have
greatly changed in the past 40 years. Books written during the war or in
the immediate post-war era about Luftwaffe aircraft rarely mentioned
camouflage colors. Color illustrations were often speculative. The
victorious allies captured many of the surviving German military records.
After the war, the Allies packed this large quantity of unsorted material
away in warehouses around the world. The allies only catalogued a few of
these records. The onset of the Cold War virtually sealed records behind
the Iron Curtain. As the soldiers of the combatants returned home, personal
memorabilia such as photographs disappeared into attics and other dark
This was not a callous rejection of history, but rather the desire
to put a war that was still painfully fresh in everyone's minds to rest and
to allow a period of healing to begin. Most of the photos published at this
time were from the United States Air Force or the Imperial War Museum
collections. These pictures showed captured aircraft in various stages of
Color photographs were very expensive to publish so few
appeared in print. In the mid-60's, Karl Ries published several books
pertaining to Luftwaffe camouflage and markings. This was the first
authoritative work on the subject. His theories of the evolution of
Luftwaffe camouflage were dramatically different from what most people
accepted as fact.
Karl used documents, photos, and personal recollections, to
establish that Luftwaffe camouflage changed in 1940-41 to a two-tone gray
camouflage. The theory now is the Germans painted their fighter
aircraft in dark greens through 1940. After 1940 they painted their
fighters in grays through the end of the war.
Researchers continued to catalogue Luftwaffe military records into the late
1970s. New data from these records indicated the Germans made another
change to Luftwaffe camouflage in 1944. Unfortunately time and events
scattered the surviving records. The volume of the remaining material to be
combed through was staggering. Finally, J. R. Smith and J. D. Gallaspy
published a series of books entitled "Luftwaffe Camouflage & Markings
1935-45" (Kookaburra Publications).
The third book in the series, which
covered late-war camouflage, introduced the subject of a late-war change to
green and brown colors for Luftwaffe aircraft. There haven't been any
subsequent broad revelations about late-war Luftwaffe colors. New material
has continued to change the way researchers perceive these late-war
Luftwaffe colors and their application, especially since the Iron Curtain
fell in the early 1990's.
Captured records, photographs, and aircraft
remains from old crash sites continue to pour out of the former Communist
Bloc. Field modification deserves a word here as well. As units moved
farther away from Germany shortages of materials, local needs, and
individual initiative directly affected camouflage and markings of
aircraft. Thus, individual units modified camouflage to suit their needs.
Me-262's of Kommando Nowotny had a very distinctive camouflage,
particularly on the vertical tail surfaces. On the Eastern front, aircraft
of several units (i.e., JG 54) appeared in greens and browns as early as
A good example of a "field modification" is Messerschmitt Me-163B-0 Komet
(Comet) work number (Werke Nummer) V41. On Saturday, May 13, 1944, Major
Wolfgang Späte flew this aircraft. It was first operational mission for
the Me-163. The ground crew painted it a bright red for the occasion. The
ground crew said they painted it in The Red Baron's colors for good luck.
It didn't work. Major Späte failed twice to bring down a P-47.
incident points out several other problems, memory, eye witness testimony,
and written sources. Keith C. Schuyler wrote about how his waist gunner
spotted a red jet fighter on "Saturday, April 21, 1944, after bombing
Hamm." April 21, 1944, was a Friday. The 8th Air Force bombed Hamm on
Saturday, April 22. Hamm is over 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of
Bad Zeischnahn, the Me-163's base at the time.
The Me-163 had an
operational radius of less than 30 miles (50 kilometers). Was it a false
sighting? Did Keith Schuyler get the date and location wrong? Did the
editors of Profile, 225 get the days wrong?
Reading" Camouflage From An Existent Airframe
Possession of the aircraft you wish to study can be like holding
a piece of
the true cross. Even that doesn't mean you have complete
the aircraft still carries the camouflage you wish to study,
and you can get
paint samples from the airframe without breaking any laws (or
irking any aircraft owners) there are still several complicating
factors. Paints fade
with age, losing their color, or even changing color.
Sheltering aircraft slows this aging process. World War II
military aircraft were generally not built to last. In that
conflict obsolescence was often measured
Sometimes aircraft have already been examined for camouflage. When it was
time for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) to restore
its FW-190A, the workers at their Paul E. Garber Restoration facility
thoroughly investigated the aircraft. The Germans had repainted the
airframe several times. Restorers found the original Luftwaffe camouflage
was still there, under all the other coats of paint. To determine the
aircraft's original colors Mike Lyons, a Garber employee, did an exhaustive
job of sanding the airframe to remove the layers of paint one at a time.
While he did not sand the entire airframe, he chose many spots on the
airframe to check for special markings, colors, etc. This was tedious,
pain-staking work, as the various paints were delicate. He was able to
establish the camouflage and markings that the aircraft had at several
points in its career. He even discovered the airframe had been
re-manufactured at least once.
Old paint finishes are delicate. Professional restorers strip off old paint
prior to repainting. Several cases illustrate this clearly. The
Messerschmitt Me-109G and the Arado Ar-234 the NASM restored are two
examples. The Me-109G-6 was stripped of paint late in World War II. When
the restoration team at the Paul E. Garber facility examined the airframe
prior to restoration in the 1970's, the airframe yielded no indication of
its camouflage or markings in German service. A search of existing records,
including photographs, gave no further clue. The NASM team restored the
aircraft in a scheme they felt was representative of what an Me-109 would
have worn. When the NASM restored the Museum's Ar-234 in the 1980's, the
restorers found most of the original finish had been stripped away when the
airframe was restored to flying condition in 1946. During that restoration
in 1946, the restorers applied a spurious paint scheme. NASM restorers
found some traces of camouflage colors around the cockpit but it was not
enough to conclusively establish the original scheme. Post-war color
photographs of the aircraft existed from when the aircraft was at Freeman
Field (with its original paint). The photographs' age cast doubt as to how
accurately they portrayed the original finish. The colors in the
photographs had faded over the years. Also, by the time pictures had been
taken of the aircraft, the Allies had painted out the original markings. In
the end, the NASM also finished the Ar-234 in representative camouflage and
markings. Even possession of an aircraft does not guarantee you can
accurately "read" a historical paint scheme off the airframe.
Captured at Salzburg, this a/c shows unfinished prop, color varegation
Dusty photos of late-war Luftwaffe aircraft continue to emerge from private
collections. Researchers are gleaning new documents from old archives. Our
concept of late-war camouflage will probably continue to change as new
documents come to light. The great influx of new photos and documents,
particularly from personal collections, is due in no small part to the new
appreciation (and valuation) of World War II memorabilia. This trend is
certain to continue for some time. Color photographs of late-war subjects
are rare. Complicating this is the tendency of color photographs to fade,
rendering many of them of questionable value in analyzing camouflage
finishes. How color negatives are developed also affects the colors of the
images Much more common are black & white photographs of late-war subjects.
However, black & white images are difficult to read for color, as they
reflect grayscale only, indicating only contrast without reference to
color. You can determine one color is lighter or darker than another, but
it is difficult to say exactly what the color may be, as different colors
(e.g. greens and reds) have the same grayscale values. Orthochromatic films
complicate this, as yellows and reds can appear much darker than blues.
Where color charts exist for certain camouflage colors, it is possible to
make a general assumption as to the camouflage of a specific aircraft.
This partially assembled Me-262 has not yet received its camouflage coat.
The cross-hatch pattern on the fuselage was the result of a combination of
primers, fillers and bare metal. The fillers and primers were used to cover
and weatherproof rivets and panel lines. [NASM]
However, one of the problems in evaluating late-war Luftwaffe camouflage
has been the lack of sample charts from paint and aircraft manufacturers
for this time period. This means researchers have to interpret terms such
as "violet-brown" or "medium green" into an exact color. In
unfinished areas of an airframe, remember raw material shortages meant the
quality of metal used in aircraft production deteriorated as the war wound
down. Poorer grades of material and lower manufacturing standards gave the
German metal a darker, gray, appearance than the bright, shiny US metals.
The German metal was less rust resistant. Unfinished portions of aircraft
were not bright and shiny. The metal was dull, inconsistent in color,
sometimes with large contrast between individual sheets of metal used in
manufacture, covered with manufacturer's stamps and occasionally rusty,
which gave it a brown tinge. It can be difficult to differentiate between
unfinished surfaces and surfaces painted in browns and brown-greens, or
even sometimes reds or yellows. This has led to much speculation over
whether the forward part of jet engines on Me-262s and He-162s were painted
in squadron colors (white, yellow, red, etc.) or left unfinished. The
Germans considered the jet engine part of the engine and not the airframe
so they considered it exempt from standard airframe painting directives.
Without color verification, it is all but impossible to determine.
White "35", a 2-seat trainer. While the engine covers on this a/c are
finished, the engine intake is unfinished. The intake of the Jumo jet
engine was was part of the engine. With low engine life and frequent engine
changes, it was not unusual to find intakes either in different colors than
the airframe, or left in bare metal. [NASM]
Photographers usually photograph aircraft from the horizontal plane. Photos
of the lower surfaces of aircraft are rare. A photo taken from the
horizontal plane normally casts a shadow over the under surfaces. This
makes the colors of the aircraft's underside difficult to decipher. Colors
appear different as the light strikes them differently. The task of
interpolating color out of the grays of a black & white image is daunting.
Additionally, some units (i.e., Jagdverband 44) painted the undersides of
their aircraft in bold colors (red with white stripes, black with white
stripes red/white or black/white checked) for aircraft recognition. By 1945
anti-aircraft gunners often assumed anything flying was an enemy aircraft.
Military Directives regarding Luftwaffe camouflage 1944-45...
There was no specific body of orders that governed aircraft camouflage in
the Luftwaffe. Orders and instructions pertaining to aircraft camouflage
were usually part of larger directives from the German Air Ministry's
Technical Department (RLM). This department occasionally issued catalogs of
paint chips to provide specific references for paint manufacturers and
final assembly plants which applied camouflage to aircraft. Since 1941, the
Germans camouflaged their day fighters in these RLM colors:
Specification Color Application
RLM 74 Dark Gray Upper surfaces
RLM 75 Medium Gray Upper surfaces
RLM 76 Light Blue-Gray Under surfaces*
* On the sides of the fuselage the demarcation line between upper surface
and lower surface colors was broken up with the application of the two
upper surfaces colors over a base coat of RLM 76, supplemented by RLM 02 (a
green-gray) and RLM 70 (a black-green). [Some sources indicate the Germans
may have retained RLM 65 for lower surfaces, with RLM 76 only used for
The Germans camouflaged the bomber in these colors:
Specification Color Application
RLM 70 Black-Green Upper surfaces
RLM 71 Dark Green Upper surfaces
RLM 65 Bright Blue-Gray Under surfaces
By 1943, the Germans started to use day-fighter colors for night fighters
as well, with the application of some (or all) colors used in night fighter
camouflage. In 1943, the Luftwaffe began experimenting with darker colors
for the upper surface camouflage of its fighters. After the disastrous
losses of the Luftwaffe day fighter force in early 1944 and the invasion of
France in June of 1944 the need for defensive camouflage for the day
fighter force became even more urgent. The RLM issued "Collected
Instructions Number 1" July 1, 1944. Part of its instruction specified the
colors 81 & 82 should replace 70 & 71 as soon as possible. The instruction
made some provision for mixing old and new colors (i.e., 82 & 70, 81 & 71)
where necessary to exhaust all stocks of both colors. Interestingly, it
included the following comment:
"...The delivery of color-sample cards for the RLM-shade's 81 and 82 is for
the present not possible, thus testing of the paint for correct color-shade
Fifteen days later the RLM issued a second directive which said:
"Camouflage colors and their application to aircraft have lately been
entirely revised. Firms producing camouflage charts will receive from
Erprobungsstelle Travemünde a camouflage atlas containing all necessary
information. With the publication of this atlas, it is forbidden to use any
other color shades and schemes, including special requests from operation
units without the express permission of E-Stelle Travemünde. As a result of
the new revision, the following colors will not be used in the future: 65,
70, 71 and 74. Color 70 however, is still prescribed for (metal)
While the directive didn't directly address day fighter camouflage, the
elimination of 74 as a camouflage color meant day fighter camouflage was
anticipated to change as well. As no color samples were forthcoming from
the German Air Ministry, the various manufacturers now attempted to
describe these colors for themselves. In November 1944 Dornier identified
both 81 & 82 as dark green. The Messerschmitt firm identified 81 as
brown-violet and 82 as light green. Where the Germans established new
production lines they could immediately use stocks of the new camouflage
colors. Existing production lines had reserves of paint stocks to exhaust
first. Under ideal circumstances, it would be 3-6 months before aircraft
appeared in front line units bearing the new camouflage colors. However,
circumstances were far from ideal. There was a war on and the Germans were
A He-162 worked on. Note wingtip color - this was a light blue, equivalent
to RLM 65, applied to leading edge of wings and tailplanes of some
He-162's, as well as wingtips, overlapping upper and undersurfaces [NASM]
...and Historical Perspective
By 1944, Germany was in a struggle for her life. Round-the-clock bombing
and heavy losses from escort fighters put the Luftwaffe on the defensive.
Despite the aerial pounding aircraft production in Germany was at an
all-time high. Production peaked in September of 1944. This was in spite of
the loss of foreign production when the Allies retook the territories held
by Germany since the beginning of the War. Additionally Germany had long
been dependent on her "neighbors" for raw materials. By 1944 the Allies had
liberated most of the land Germany had conquered. This denied her access to
much-needed raw materials. German innovations in the fields of synthetic
production of oil and rubber had partially assuaged shortages in these
areas. By 1944 raw metals and facilities needed to produce airframe alloys
were in desperately short supply, this makes this manufacturing feat even
German combat loses were also high, and the Luftwaffe no longer ruled the
skies over Germany. The devastating losses meant the German factories had
to produce a larger number of aircraft to replace the losses. On 31 May
1944 the Luftwaffe had 4,475 serviceable aircraft. On 10 January 1945 the
Luftwaffe had 4,566 serviceable aircraft. On 9 April 1945 the Luftwaffe
still had 3,331 serviceable aircraft.
Another partially assembled Me-262. Again note finishes. In this picture,
the middle of the fuselage cross-hatch appearance would seem to be in grey.
However, German metal quality was adversly affected by wartime conditions,
and sometimes was dark compared to US and British examples. [NASM]
One of the factors participating in this great feat was the effort to
re-manufacture damaged or obsolescent airframes. This helped to boost
production levels to an all-time high. Germany emphasized production of
whole airframes over repair and replacement parts. As a result Germany
didn't properly service existing aircraft, preferring instead to
re-manufacture unserviceable airframes. Efforts continued throughout 1944
to speed production by simplifying manufacturing techniques. Aircraft
interiors, once exhaustively painted, were now simplified or just left
unpainted. Wings and fuselage interiors, other than the cockpit, were the
least likely to be painted. Manufacturers often reduced exterior painting
to a single coat of paint. As shortages grew, primers were only applied to
points particularly prone to corrosion. Coats of camouflage paints were
applied more thinly to help conserve paint, allowing the primer coat to
"bleed" through. Near the end of the war factories delivered some
Messerschmitt Me-262 and Heinkel He-162 aircraft partially or completely
unpainted. Over all surfaces, the variegated grays of the bare metal was
broken only by primed and puttied seams on the airframe.
As an austerity measure, manufacturers experimented with the idea of
leaving the under surfaces of certain aircraft unpainted. In the autumn of
1944 the Germans produced a batch of 50 Focke-Wulf FW-190A aircraft with
only steel and wooden under surfaces painted. The Germans considered this
experiment a success, and this short cut soon became the standard.
Found abandoned by US troops, only the engine cover would appear to have
received any camo coat at all... [NASM]
A variety of sub-contractors manufactured sub-assemblies. By late 1944
final aircraft assembly was usually done outside a "normal" factory
setting. Final assembly points were just a "bolt-em-up" affair, with many
component sub-assemblies being pre-painted before delivery. Shortages of
materials strongly affected production methods. New aircraft on the
production line were often a patchwork of colors, depending on how current
each sub-manufacturer was with their paint supplies. The stress of the
closing ring around them and internal pressures to increase production were
the major contributing factors to airframes that were unpainted or combined
several different sets of camouflage colors. Bombers were largely
unaffected because the Germans cut bomber production in favor of fighter
production. Germany curtailed bomber production sharply in 1944. Except for
a few Arado Ar-234s Germany didn't produce any bombers in 1945. Production
continued at a fevered pace almost until the end of the Third Reich.
Towards the end of the war the SS started overseeing production. This
confused an already chaotic system. Since Germany had dispersed its
production the Germans had to send their directives to hundreds of "shadow"
factories scattered around the countryside. Coordination in peacetime would
have been difficult -- in wartime, it was almost impossible. New production
lines for Messerschmitt Me-262 and Arado Ar-234 would be able to adopt the
new colors a lot faster than existing production lines for Messerschmitt
109 and Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft. These existing lines had reserves of older
paints they needed to exhaust before they introduced these new colors.
Next, there was a time lag between aircraft manufacture and aircraft
delivery to front line units. This lag was to test the aircraft and fit
them with equipment needed for front-line service.
This air-to-air shot shows the lower surfaces of Me-262 w.nr 111711. The
only paint is primer used to seal panel seams, and control surfaces and
flaps, the rest largely left in bare metal. [NASM]
If the military had had at its disposal a legion of model builders,
complete with rules and FS-cards, military surveys and records (crash
records, etc.) crash site surveys and such would be more accurate
documents. Most surveyors were conscripts. Military emphasized survey of
weapons, aircraft type, etc. Camouflage was incidental. A comparison of
most crash-site reports with contemporary photographs quickly shows that
accuracy of details on markings and camouflage was not a top priority.
Pilot recollections, while widely used, are not always accurate. To a
pilot, flying characteristics are more important than looks. Certainly a
mechanic, whose jobs included maintenance of the airframe (and its paint)
would be a perhaps more reliable source of information on airframe
appearance. Sadly, most inquiries are with pilots.
Captured before the end of the war when a test pilot flew this a/c to the
West, it was tested extensively after the end of the war. [NASM]
The study of Military aircraft camouflage is an evolving study, with new
theories emerging every day. There are many self-appointed authorities, but
there is very little truly empirical evidence. Thus the study of aircraft
camouflage becomes the elusive search for concrete data, and the attempt to
interpret existing data to cover general application.
An air-to-air of w.nr. 111711 over the midwest U.S. [NASM]
Camouflage and Markings Title Page
Send questions or comments to: (H.R.H.) The WebMaster@norwich.net
Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi © 1998
Getting FS595b from the US gov.
Some time ago I sent a post to rec.scale.model to ask if anyone knew the
differences between FS595a and FS595b. No one answered my question, however
quite a few people asked me how I got FS595b from the US government.
This explains how to order Federal Standard 595b (information provided by
FSSB plus personal experience):
* Foreign payments must be draft on an American bank or international
* Company check must be draft on an American bank
* No personal check over $20, you must use U.S. Postal Money Order
* Check should be made out to the General Services Administration/
* Foreign mail charges are 25% of the total cost for air mail
* Visa and Mastercard accepted (I sent my number and expiry date via
* They ask you to include a self addressed label with your order to
ensure quick processing but I sent them a fax.
Send orders to:
Federal Supply Service Bureau
470 East L'Enfant Plaza S.W.
Washington D.C. 20407
Tel: +1 202 755 0325
Fax: +1 202 755 0285
U.S. chge. Foreign Chge
595b Color Book (1/2" X 1") $ 40 $ 50
586 paint chips
Complete sets (3" X 5") $200 $250
586 paint chips
Fan Deck (1/2" X 2") $ 35 $ 43.75
586 paint chips
Individual paint chips (3" X 5") $ 2 $ 2.50
25 new individual paint chips (3" X 5") $ 50 $ 62.50
Federal Supply Service Bureau is a branch of General Services
Administration. They are on the Internet (@gsa.gov) but they do NOT accept
order via e-mail.
Roberto Lionello <email@example.com>
Wed, 12 Jul 95
Steven VanLiew <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thu, 20 Aug 98
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Late-War Luftwaffe Fighter Camouflage
Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6/U4/R3, WNr.163824
By Brett Green
[bf10913_b10.jpg (49262 bytes)]
Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6/U4/R3
Werknummer 163824 is the last Bf 109 remaining in its original finish. My
original intention for this piece was simply to document the colours of
this aircraft against FS 595 Federal Standard colour chips. However, a
cursory inspection of WNr. 163824 was enough to reveal an immense amount
of additional interesting information.
This article attempts to document the unusual historical, construction
and camouflage aspects of this rare specimen.
It would have been impossible to complete this work without the help of a
number of key people. Firstly, I am very grateful to the staff of the
Australian War Memorial's Treloar Technology Centre - in particular
Benjamin Evans. Ben's detailed knowledge of the subject aircraft provided
many unique insights.
A number of Luftwaffe "camouflage experten" have also clarified and
enhanced the content of this article with their generous comments and
suggestions. Thanks to David E. Brown, Charles Metz and E. Brown Ryle III
for their invaluable contributions. Richard Lutz and Vincent Kermorgant
have also added a number of corrections and additional facts
Copyright (c) 1998, Brett T. Green. All rights reserved. Material
appearing within this document may not be copied, stored or reproduced in
any device or publication, in whole or in part, for the purpose of profit
without the expressed written consent of the author. This material may be
used for personal use and the free exchange of information if appropriate
credit is given to the author.
Late-War Luftwaffe Fighter Camouflage - Part One
2. History of WNr.163824
3. The Treloar Centre Bf 109 G-6 - General Features
4. Camouflage and Markings of WNr.163824
Table 1: Colours Used on the Fuselage of WNr. 163824
Late-War Luftwaffe Fighter Camouflage - Part Two
6. WNr. 163824 Photo Gallery
Late-War Luftwaffe Fighter Camouflage - Part Three
Commentary on the Evolution and Usage of Luftwaffe RLM Colours 81, 82 &
83 by David E. Brown
Please note that Part Three will take some time to load. Please be
Our understanding of late-war Luftwaffe fighter camouflage has changed
considerably over the last three decades.
German aircraft that survived World War Two were initially treated at
best as war trophies, and more usually as junk. Those aircraft fortunate
enough to survive the war were customarily repainted in garish colour
schemes and markings that bore little resemblance to their original
The majority of these rare surviving aircraft were carelessly left
outdoors to deteriorate over time. As often happens with the relics of
recent history, very few people considered the intrinsic value of these
specimens until almost all of them were scrapped or had rotted away.
Until the 1960s, there was a wide perception that German fighter aircraft
were almost exclusively finished in a scheme of Black-Green, Dark Green
and Light Blue. During the following years, a heightened interest in
Luftwaffe aircraft and a willingness to refer to RLM sources led to many
new perceptions about what camouflage colours were really worn by German
warplanes. By the late 1970s the standard day-fighter, maritime and
bomber schemes were well documented, colour photographs became available
and first-hand research on surviving original airframes vastly improved
our picture of Luftwaffe camouflage policy and application.
By 1980, when the number of authentic examples of WWII German warplanes
had dwindled to a handful, a number of revelations regarding late war
Luftwaffe camouflage came to light. These included the use of a new
day-fighter scheme of brown and greens, plus the possible use of a new
series of lower-surface colours.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was built in greater numbers than any other
aircraft of World War Two except the Il-2 Stormovik. Out of the 30,500 Bf
109s to leave the productions lines, only one remains in its original
finish today. This article describes the derivation, history, camouflage
and markings of this truly unique aircraft.
2. HISTORY OF WNr.163824
Due to a remarkable set of circumstances Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6
WNr.163824 managed to escape "restoration" and has spent most of the last
half-century safely stored.
The aircraft was claimed as a war prize by Allied forces and shipped from
Eggebeck airfield in Germany on 4 September 1945. It was eventually
delivered to Australia via the United Kingdom. WNr.163824 was sold to a
British buyer in 1979, but the Australian Customs Service blocked its
export and confiscated the aircraft. WNr.163824 is currently located,
partly disassembled, in the Treloar Technology Centre of the Australian
War Memorial in Canberra.
WNr.163824 is probably the last remaining Bf 109 in almost original
condition. It still wears its wartime camouflage and markings and has
survived the last five decades remarkably well. Despite its partial
disassembly, the Australian War Memorial has all components except some
The Treloar Centre has no plans to "restore" this aircraft. Their mission
is to preserve this significant specimen in its current condition. This
policy provides the researcher with a unique insight into the problems of
interpreting the application of late war Luftwaffe camouflage schemes.
3. THE TRELOAR CENTRE Bf 109G-6
Werknummer 163824 was an uncommon Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6, which wore an
equally uncommon camouflage scheme.
Although factory production of the Bf 109 G-6 ceased in the summer of
1944 this Bf 109 was rebuilt in December 1944 from the components of a
number of aircraft.
The Werknummer strongly suggests its original manufacture during Autumn
1943 by Messerschmitt at Regensburg. At that time the aircraft would have
been fitted with the standard, three section framed canopy with "Galland
Panzer" armoured glass behind the pilot's head. The three-letter code and
date "MCY 31-12-44" tells us that the aircraft was rebuilt by Ludwig
Hasen & Co., Flugzeug-Repararatur-Werk, Münster i/W in December 1944. In
its new guise it featured an MK 108 30mm cannon firing co-axially through
the spinner (to U4 specifications), and provision for a fuselage mounted
300 litre drop tank (to R3 specifications - a "Ruststatze", or Field
Probably the most unusual feature of this Bf 109G-6 is clear evidence
that the rear section of the conformal "bulge" associated with DB605D and
DB605AS had been removed from both sides of the fuselage. This indicates
that despite its G-6 identity, the fuselage is from a later airframe.
There are few clues to help identify this fuselage. The only definite
pointer is that the DF loop antenna and the radio hatch are both in the
wrong position for a 109K-4. However, this only narrows the possible
fuselage source to a G-6 AS, G-14 AS, G-10 or a G-10 AS.
There is a prominent, but non-standard,
bulge rivetted to the top of the port
engine cowl just behind the port machine gun trough. This bulge is
noticeably bigger than the standard round pressed protrusion (on top of
the gun interruptor housing) usually seen in this position on a Bf
It is unclear why this large, non-standard bulge was required, but it may
eventually help explain the exact identity of the rebuilt fuselage.
The starboard engine cowl is originally
from a Bf 109G-5 as shown by the scoop,
cover, extra bulge and small vent. These features provided accommodation
and access for the cockpit pressurisation gear, and were unique to the
G-5 variant. Despite this cowl design, the pressurisation gear is not
installed in either the engine bay or the cockpit. The style of pressed
gun trough insert is also consistent with a Bf 109 G-5 engine cowl. The
port-side cowling is probably from the same G-5.
The lower cowl may have been sourced from any type of G-5, G-6 or G-14;
or a G-10 A/S. It has the smaller radiator housing and no "bumps" on the
front, so it is certainly not from a G-10 or K-4.
It is interesting to note that, as the Bf 109G-10 was a hybrid type
itself made up of the components of older aircraft, WNr.163824 was
probably in its third incarnation by December 1944.
The aircraft features the Erla Haube clear vision canopy with "Galland
Panzer" and a red dive-angle indicator painted on both sides of the
canopy side glass. This suggests that the aircraft was intended for use
as a fighter/bomber, or (more likely) that the canopy was sourced from a
109 Jabo. The armoured glass windscreen has a hole on the starboard side
for a desiccant capsule.
A small, triangular Werknummer plate is
located aft of fuselage station 8 on the
starboard side. The Werknummer is from a batch assigned to Bf 109 G-6
built by Messerschmitt at Regensberg.
Not surprisingly, there has been some confusion identifying the sub-type
of this aircraft. Some sources claim it is a G-14, other state that it is
a G-6/U2. However, despite its somewhat bizarre hybrid elements, the
general layout, weapons, powerplant and Werknummer all point inevitably
to this aircraft being a Bf 109 G-6/U4/R3.
It is possible that the aircraft was not delivered to a front-line
squadron following its reconstruction. The only markings borne by this
Bf109 are national markings and the Werknummer.
4. CAMOUFLAGE AND MARKINGS OF WNr.163824
LATE-WAR RLM COLOUR INSTRUCTIONS
RLM specifications for colours and camouflage schemes were reasonably
well documented until 1944. Written instructions and colour chips were
supplied to all factories producing fighter aircraft to ensure a standard
appearance. There was very little variation of the common camouflage
colours RLM 02, 65, 70, 71, 74, 75, and 76, except in those cases where
experimental schemes were worn by specific units such as JG 54 during the
1942-43 period in Russia.
In contrast however, standardisation of the late war Brown, Greens, and
oft-speculated Grey-Blue, Green-Blue underside colours was difficult if
not impossible to attain. We must therefore largely rely on sometimes
contradictory and fragmentary RLM instructions, and monochrome photos, to
determine the colours applied to late war Luftwaffe fighters.
It is now over 50 years since the last of these aircraft was painted. We
are fortunate to have the opportunity to examine such a late-war scheme
It is important to point out that the aircraft was examined under
artificial light, and that 50 years will have had some effect on the tone
and shade of the original camouflage colours. Therefore, the following
interpretation the aircrafts colours should be considered as a
reasonable and balanced evaluation rather than a concrete statement of
fact. What cannot be denied, however, is that the camouflage finish of
this aircraft is well preserved and exhibits many interesting traits.
The accompanying images are not entirely helpful in displaying the
colours of the aircraft due to a combination of lighting factors and
multiple photographic processes between the Treloar Centre and your
computer screen or printer.
The colour information in the Tables should be considered more reliable.
These Tables have been produced using the results of a number of visits
to the Treloar Centre to inspect the aircraft. An FS-595B colour-chip fan
was used to compare the colours on the aircraft to Federal Standard
colours. Following these initial comparisons, further analysis was
undertaken by comparing the colours on WNr.163824 directly to some well
respected sources including "The Official Monogram Guide to Painting
German Aircraft 1935 - 1945" (see References).
The camouflage finish of Bf 109 G-6 WNr.163824 is just as remarkable as
its hybrid heritage. The aircraft has been dismantled into separate
fuselage, wing and tailplane assemblies. Wings and tailplane have been
stored and are unavailable for examination, but the fuselage is
Table 1 supplies a description of the camouflage and markings, with
Federal Standard Colour equivalents noted. Although the conclusions are
undoubtedly subjective, this aircraft may be our best opportunity to
understand late war Luftwaffe fighter camouflage schemes more than 50
years after the event.
Primer and Undercoat
Patches of primer are exposed in places. At
least two different primer colours were
used. Spots of red primer are visible on raised rivets on the port side
of the fuselage and on the canopy. Fabric "pinking" has been used at some
stage to cover the flare chute just underneath the starboard side of the
windscreen. Red primer has been applied to seal this pinking, although
the fabric itself has been blown off.
Notwithstanding the presence of this red primer, large sections of RLM 02
Grey primer can also be found under thinly sprayed mixed Green/Grey,
particularly on the mid-starboard fuselage. Hand-painted RLM 02 Grey
primer has been used in a more economical way on the rear of the
starboard fuselage, where it is applied only along panel and rivet lines.
The airframe probably received at least a partial base coat of RLM 76
White-Blue before its new camouflage colours were applied. This coat
shows through in several places where the dark uppersurface colours have
been scuffed and worn. It is difficult to positively establish that the
same base coat colour of RLM 76 was used on the entire airframe. RLM 77
Light Grey may have been used on the fuselage spine and other parts of
the airframe. It is also likely that the camouflage on the starboard mid
fuselage was applied directly over the old camouflage pattern, as a
mottle of RLM 71 Dark Green seems to be showing through the new lower
The fuselage sides and undersurfaces are sprayed in a thin coat of a
non-standard Green-Grey colour. This effect of this colour is quite
similar to RAF Sky Type "S". The RLM 76 base coat shows through in
several patches, particularly on the starboard fuselage. Streaky vertical
lines on the starboard fuselage sides point to the Green-Grey colour
possibly "running" while it was still wet. However, it is equally likely
that these streaks are the result of spilt fluid while the airframe was
A noticeably different colour is applied behind a sharp, ragged
masked line on the rear starboard fuselage aft of fuselage
station 4. This demarcation continues as a jagged horizontal line to the
back of the fuselage, isolating the colour to a large patch on the rear
starboard fuselage side only. This is a lighter, brighter shade which
appears to be a distinct Yellow-Green colour Note 1. In contrast to the
light, patchy application of the Green-Grey colour, this brighter
Yellow-Green colour displays solid paint coverage.
Both of these lower fuselage colours are probably what some 1980s sources
described as RLM 84, or "sky" colours. This designation was never applied
by the RLM, and the colours were probably obtained as a result of mixing
stocks of existing paint. It is possible that the colours on the fuselage
of WNr.163824 and other late war fighters may have represented the use of
new standard (but undocumented) colours. However, it is more likely that
they are a mix of current and/or redundant stocks of 02/76, 76/04,
04/80/21, 65/02/21, 77/76, 77/02 or any number of other combinations.
A number of sources claim that these late-war "sky" colours did not
exist. They contend that the colour variation was due to fading or
oxidisation of standard RLM 76 White-Blue. One argument made to support
this argument is that when the "oxidised" layer is removed, there is
evidence of RLM 76 underneath, proving that the top layer is nothing more
than a weathering effect.