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Friday, September 25, 2015

Hiding In Plain Sight: Camouflage and Color in WWII

Since the beginning of time, man has tried to disguise himself and his intentions on the battlefield. Whether it be a Trojan Horse or covering vehicles and installations to hide from aerial reconnaissance, other armies and it's troops; camouflage has played an important part of warfare.

This Tiger may need a little more to help hide it......what do you think?
As with everything else, the art of hiding a tank while also trying to use it as a tool of war is a careful balance of planning and color. We take for granted that many of the period pictures from WW2 are in black & white. It's easy to forget or even difficult to discover what colors were actually used during this period to cover the bare metal and primer that was used during this time.

Capturing the right colors can be difficult if you don't know where to start. The time you take to look into the color pallets used will help in acquiring the right paints and with practice, you'll be a faster and better painter. Above shows the beginning stages of trying to get the desert colors right on a British Crusader.

I was lucky enough to receive a stack of military modelling magazines from my dad a while ago. One of them contained an article and a large amount of information relating to colors used by the British War Ministry the entire length of the war. With the permission of the researcher and author of the articles, I am happy to share this intel with WWPD and a special Q&A session at the end of this article.

 You can see by that chart, the implementation of the color schemes for both the ETO and for operations in a desert environment. Don't forget, at this point in history there was a lot of British influence all over the world and many countries were part of the British Empire.

We don't see too much changing between 1940-41 in the UK, other than the painting of vehicles with a 'disruptive' pattern in order to break up their shape.

Abundance of change in 1941, as we can see by the color palettes shown above. Note how the color varies a little bit with the desert camouflage. Drawings would be distributed in order to paint the schemes relatively quickly and still maintaining some organization so units would no just do as they please in applying the paint. Some colors were in short supply and more brown tones of paint were introduced. On 7 November 1941, all armor operating in North Africa would be painted with a white/red/white marking on them.

We're into 1942, the large white 'X' used for air recognition on vehicles is used for the first 8 months. War Department numbers are introduced for all vehicles, Desert Pink and Blue-Black paint leads into a General Order for speed limit markings to appear. The white/red/white tab that appears on desert vehicles is rescinded in June of 1942 and the RAF roundel for air recognition is adopted (August 1942) and would be used until the following year.

Only a few instructions come out moving in 1943! After pushing into Sicily, 15 Army Grp HQ Instruction 18/43 brings in three changes, authorizing red/white/red markings, RAF roundel and Allied star for air recognition.

A big shift in painting vehicles one color is a big part of '44/'45. The white star replaces all roundels as the air ID marking and the familiar red cross is used to mark all ambulances in Europe, Sicily and ITO. November 1944, there is a Technical Directive issued to paint the 17 pdr. guns on the M4 'Firefly' camouflage, this marks a time when enemy tankers were learning the bigger gun was becoming a bit of a target and in order to break up the longer barrel, paint and a false muzzle break was used and made it difficult to distinguish the Firefly from other M4 variants.

A summary of timeline, markings and the 'Geometric Diagram' shapes and colors used for the duration of the Second World War. You should be able to use the paint swatches displayed on these copies to match the colors available from several of the model paint companies. I know there are certain paints, whether Tamiya, Vallejo or P3 Paints. Mixed with methods you have, the benefit of having a guide like this will help you in getting it right when it comes to painting tanks and vehicles from the British forces lists in Flames of War.

 Australian Div Cavalry from the Mid-War North Africa book. I wish I had this resource when I began painting this army three years ago. All sources have people that work hard to get all this information together. I was lucky enough to get the permission of the author to post his charts and the scans of the pages used in this article. I also had a chance to ask some questions and use them for an added bonus to this WWPD exclusive. I've left my questions in italics with Lt Col William Marshall's responses marked with 'WM' and in bold type.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me today.
WM: You are welcome
What is your current occupation?
WM: Officer, SA. National Defence Force ( Lt Col ) Joint Operations Division, Directorate Doctrine Development.
When you decide on a topic, where do you start your research?
WM: I usually look at what I have available in my library, the go the the Internet and then to the Military Archives.
Can you go into a little more detail on where others can locate some of your resources?
WM: Our Military Archives would be the most appropriate place to start.
You concentrate on South Africa in much of your printed work, have you done any other work on other countries? Particularly the WW2 period?
WM: Yes usually about British Colours and Markings.
What got you interested in modelling/painting?
WM: While still at school I became interested in military modelling, I currently hold the position of Master Modeler from the African Militaire group.
Where did your interest in WW2 come from?
WM: During my modeling days.
Being in the military, does your research ever feel like 'work' to you?
WM: No it's a hobby!
What can we expect out of your new website you're currently working on?
WM: More Colours information and related pictures.
Are you working on any new books and where can people find them?
WM: Yes, a colours book, SA Air Force Fighters in WW2, the History of the Olifant Tank and the History of Mine Protected Vehicles.
Thanks very much for taking some time out of your schedule to talk with me.
WM: My pleasure!

You can find LtCol Marshall and his publications at his website. From his page: "Currently he is assigned to the Joint Operations Division as a staff officer at the Doctrine Development Centre. He has a passion for things Second World War and has helped with the development of the SA Colours & Markings series of books.  He has also assisted with a number of other publications notably the Polish printed Armor Color Gallery, the Armor Photo Gallery on the Comet tank, a French publication on the Marmon-Herrington armoured car and did the layout for the publication Aegean Pirates." Please stop by SA Colours and Markings for more. I hope you found this informative and add it to your bookmarks regarding British WW2 color palettes and timeline regarding specific regiments or units.

Matt 'ViciousEgo' MacKenzie has been interested in WW2 and gaming since a teenager. He regularly contributes articles and hosts the DiceDevils Podcast on Matt is retired on weekends and enjoys FoW, Kings of War and X-Wing. Your comments and support are always welcome.

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