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Luftwaffe Colours

by Michael Ullmann


S u m m a r y

Title and Author Luftwaffe Colours 1935-1945 by Michael Ullman (Hikoki Publications)
Media: Hard cover, 256 pages; high quality glossy paper
Price: £34.95,
Review Type: First Read
Advantages: Research based on original sources; includes colour chips, photos and drawings; a most comprehensive documentation of the origins and directives associated with Luftwaffe camouflage.
Disadvantages: Colour chips are small and glossy; some questionable conclusions about schemes and photos.
Recommendation: Recommended


Reviewed by Mark S. Shanks

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The subject of Luftwaffe camouflage is arguably the most contentious issue in scale aircraft modeling. I’ve seen grown men throw heated words and nearly come to blows over this esoteric, and to non-modelers, slightly ridiculous, area of knowledge. To make matters worse, every few years something new crops up, forcing the toiling enthusiast to re-think their approach and, usually, make a new investment to ensure their models aren’t laughed off the competition table for “inaccuracy”.

Karl Ries deserves recognition for being the first to attempt to establish the basics of the paint schemes and heraldry of WWII Luftwaffe aircraft with his 4-volume series “Markings and Camouflage Systems of Luftwaffe Aircraft in World War II” (1963, Verlag Dieter Hoffman). Ries included a 21-color chart in Volume I of the series, although it was printed, not actual chips. But it DID establish the LDv 521 and RLM colors used. Neither this chart nor the text in the 4 volumes mentions any of the “late war” 80-series colors, and Ries was woefully incorrect in describing fighter camouflage after the 1941 timeframe.

The next development in the study came with the publication in 1970 of Kookaburra’s volumes on the Focke-Wulf FW 190 & Ta 152. In Volume 2, Kenneth A. Merrick proposed the then-astonishing premise that RLM 02 was used in conjunction with RLM 71 as a primary camouflage color. Unfortunately, he went so far as to state that this was the standard for the rest of the war, and that the 74/75/76 scheme “applied only to aircraft based in coastal regions in Western Europe”. Merrick revised his assessment with 1972’s Kookaburra volumes on the Messerschmitt Me 262. Volume 1 of the series has a profile on the back cover showing a 262 in the late-war 81/82/76 colors, but the text describing “Camouflage and Markings” in Volume 2 does not refer to any RLM numbers, instead using descriptive terms such as “pale blue grey”, “blackish grey”, “pale whitish grey”, etc.

In 1973, there were two major developments in this field. Merrick published Volume 1 of “Luftwaffe Colors 1935-40” (Kookaburra, reprinted in 1975 in the US by Arco Publishing Company), and Thomas H. Hitchcock released the “Messerschmitt ‘O-Nine’ Gallery” (Monogram Aviation Publications). The Monogram book contained a 35-color chart comprised of actual paint chips. According to Hitchcock, “All colors ... were professionally matched to actual German color charts with the exception of colors 61, 62, 63, 78, 79, 80, 81, and 82." An addendum issued in 1976 updated this chart with addition of RLM 83, establishing 81 as “braunviolett”, (and incorrectly) 82 as “dunklegrün” and 83 as “hellgrün”.

J.R. Smith and J.D. Gallaspy released Volumes 2 and 3 of the “Luftwaffe Colors series in 1976 and 1977, respectively (Monogram Aviation Publications). In 1980, Merrick and Hitchcock teamed to produce “The Official Monogram Painting Guide to German Aircraft 1935-1945” (Monogram Aviation Publications). For the next 20 years, the three-volume set, plus the “Painting Guide” with it’s dozens of paint chips, were the standard for anyone aspiring to accuracy in Luftwaffe modeling. But, being long out of print, there was a vacuum for the newcomer to the hobby. Michael Ullmann has stepped up to the plate with “Luftwaffe Colours 1935-1945” ( £34.95, Hikoki Publications) to bring us up to date.




The book is 256 pages printed on high-quality gloss-finish stock. It is an evolutionary document, building upon material Ullmann wrote in “Colours of the Luftwaffe 1935-1945” in 1997 (German).

There are 22 “chapters”, the first two providing extremely detailed historical background on the RAL, the origins of the L.Dv 521 charts, the paint companies involved, the influence of Lufthansa and Zeppelins on paint types, quality, and applications. The next chapter is a chronological narrative of the evolution of the L.Dv charts, mostly focussing on fighters. New to me is the assertion that RLM 65 changed in 1941 to a shade much closer to RLM 76. I assume this is confirmed on the L.Dv 521/1 to L.Dv 521/2 charts, although Ullmann doesn’t give his reference.

As to the extraordinarily controversial late-war “RLM 84”-type colors, Ullmann asserts “Variations of RLM 76 were also used, attributable to a shortage of raw materials, resulting in a light grey-green or light grey blue.” Additional chapters cover markings and insignia, aircraft interiors, and an entire chapter devoted to “the mystery colours”: RLM 81, 82, and 83. Instead of chapters dedicated to aircraft types, e.g., fighter, bomber, ground attack, etc., they are organized into “Tropical Colors”, “Maritime Aircraft”, “Snow Camouflage”, “Night Camouflage”, “Gliders and Sailplanes”, and “Export Colours”. The last part of the book, pp. 198-254, reproduces (for the first time in English, as far as I am aware) the entirety of L.Dv 521/1 Part 1, L.Dv 521/1 1941 Part 1: Powered aircraft, L.Dv/2 1943 Part 2: Gliders, L.Dv 521/3 1938 “Handling of aircraft paints”, Sammelmitteilung No. 1 June 1944 and Sammelmitteilung No. 2 August 1944. The last page is a 44-paint chip chart of RLM colors 00 through 83. Ullmann confirms “Shade 84 never existed. It would appear that this designation was created by other post-war writers to explain the light underside variants of colour 76.” The book is illustrated throughout with many black and white photos, original official camouflage pattern drawings, and 16 pages of color camouflage patterns.

Mr. Ullmann makes it clear in his introduction that this book “is based exclusively on original documents”, and with that in mind, he has provided the historian with invaluable primary source material. However, I disagree strongly with some of his conclusions, primarily those concerning night fighter camouflage. For example, on page 119, he features a well-known photo of the vertical stabilizer of He-219 WNr 29004, G9+DH. He states, “The blotches of 75 are so symmetrical that it is possible that they were sprayed with a mask or template.” It is far more likely that in fact the upper surfaces of the aircraft were sprayed overall 75, and that 76 was oversprayed in a simple crosshatch pattern. Even better illustrations of this type of night fighter camouflage are shown in Volume 3 of Monogram’s “Luftwaffe Colors”. Page 111 has a color photo of a Ju 88G-1 more clearly showing the cross-hatch of 76 OVER 75, while at the bottom of the same page, a Bf 110G has a solid coat of 74 (or more likely, 75) on the upper surfaces. Photos of Wilhem Johnen’s Bf 110G-4 unmistakably show this same application of 76 over 75. Close examination of many other photos of late-war night fighters will show that this amounted to a standard practice, officially documented or not.

Many of the photographs will be familiar to long-time modelers, and most disappointing are the interpretations given to some of them. Page 84 features a well-known 109G with an unusual “sawtooth” top-surface patter, Ullmann states this is a 74/75 combination, but the high contrast makes that most unlikely. The same interpretation is made on 109s and 190s on page 59, and with that old chestnut, the top view of an Me 210 (#21, page 20.) The same photograph (#124 on page 72 and #316 on page 172) is described as two different aircraft (when it is in fact, our old friend, FW 190D-9 “Brown 4”, of JG 26). There is no discussion of the effects of orthochromatic versus panchromatic film on interpreting colors in existing black and white photos, and surprisingly, there are no color photos used for illustrative purposes.

The color chips themselves are also a disappointment. They are quite small (3cm x 1.6 cm, as compared to the 5 cm x 5 cm in the Monogram guide) and gloss finish, which makes accurate color discrimination more difficult. Not all of them match the Monogram chips, but as I am the last one to argue that there existed some sort of absolute and invariable standard, I will take both publishers’ word that they used original sources and the chips were professionally mixed and matched. A coupon is enclosed for a supplementary chart of 10 colors (69, 70, 71, 72, 76, 79, 80, 81, 82, and 83). Apparently, some of the chips were “slightly inaccurate, while others had even more variations”. This is very good of Hikoki to be up front about it and provide a free update. The smaller size of the chips has been cited as a cost-savings measure, but the additional cost for the book would not exceed, in today’s dollars, that of the Monogram guide when it was released.

I’m sure many modelers will look for color profiles. There aren’t any, but the purpose of this book isn’t meant to provide specific color schemes, and those profiles are available in abundance elsewhere. But what will the average modeler make of the extensive L.Dv material? It’s hard for me to say how many people need to know the recommended stirring time for the lacquers, or their storage temperatures, the internal workings of the masking tape dispenser, or what the paint viscosity gauge looked like. Also, the 16 pages of generic color camouflage patterns might have been put to better use with additional photos, particularly of application methods.




Is it worth the purchase price? Undoubtedly, especially for those who do not have the Monogram volumes and painting guide.

However, in my opinion, there is a great deal of material here that will be of more interest to the completist and historian than to the average modeler, and much left out that I, for one, was hoping to see. For once, there are no shattering revelations, but instead, a most comprehensive documentation of the origins and directives associated with Luftwaffe camouflage. Perhaps the subject (covering all Luftwaffe aircraft camouflage directives over a 10-year period) is too broad for such a relatively slender volume. Again, Ullmann’s stated guiding principle was using exclusively original documents. What this book does not do is answer the many questions concerning the non-documented (but photographically illustrated) exceptions to the rules and address the minutiae more near and dear to the modeler’s heart.

A most worthy effort, one that I’m sure will find it’s way to many enthusiasts, but all things considered, not really a “must have”.

Review Copyright © 2001 by Mark S. Shanks
This Page Created on 11 June, 2002
Last updated 22 July, 2003

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