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Spitfire Vc Trop with "sky blue" undersurfaces


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#1 Biggles81

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 10:56 AM

A friend and I have been researching some RAAF Spitfires (specifically MH951/A58-254, which was a Castle Bromwich produced airframe so not strictly relevant to this) and we keep coming across references to some batches of Supermarine produced Spitfire Mk Vc Tropical aircraft being produced with "sky blue" undersides in lieu of the standard Azure Blue. Now I have been following all the various threads on RAF colours that are on this board and they are extremely enlightening but in reference to said Spitfires the common reference cited is "Ted Hooten many years ago". Given that some of these aircraft ended up on Malta and some in RAAF service in Northern Australia I am keen to try to run this to ground in a bit more detail.

My question is what evidence is there that Supermarine produced Mk Vc Trop airframes had "sky blue" (be it MAP Sky Blue or some other colour, or even a colloquial description of Azure Blue misinterpreted) applied instead of the official Azure Blue? If some evidence has emerged since Hooten made this claim, what production batches is it likely to apply to.

Thanks very much in advance for any help on this.

Ken

#2 tonyot

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 11:13 AM

Upon looking at photos of many early desert finished Spitfire V`s it is apparent that the undersides are much lighter than Azure Blue. I`d agree that those sent to Australia were amongst them and many can be seen in Malta, the majority, if not all of those which were flown from USS Wasp to Malta had light coloured undersides. The one distinguishing factor is the fuselage roundels which were the A1 Type but with equally spaced colours, ie the red dot is the same diameter as the white Blue and yellow bands. One veteran described the undersides to me as a `Powder Blue'.
Hope that helps
Tony O

Edited by tonyot, 04 September 2011 - 11:15 AM.


#3 Edgar

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 01:17 PM

There are still a lot of gaps in available knowledge; from his research, I think that Ted Hooton had access to Castle Bromwich records (what happened to them, since, is anyone's guess.)
However, to illustrate, here's what I've found, so far.
23-4-42, for Operation Oppidan (a preparatory operation before movement of a/c to Malta) the instructions included one which said," Aircraft are to be sea camouflaged before embarkation." Taken literally, this could have meant Sky undersides.
Mention is occasionally seen of "DTD Technical circular 360," issue 1, of which, turned up in a file in Kew. Dated 23-2-43, the preamble said that it cancelled previous circulars 144, 183, 202 and 321 "including corrigenda & amendments" (none of which I've yet found) plus A.D.M. 332 (also missing.) Interestingly, among all of the usual schemes for home, foreign, and FAA use, there's a little note that fighter a/c, bound for Malta, were to have Light Mediterranean Blue undersides (desert a/c remained Azure Blue.) Why? :shrug: Maybe it was in anticipation of the Sicily/Italy invasion, but orders just order, they don't always explain. By November, 1943, with issue 2 of the Circular, the instruction had gone.
In just those three items, alone, you have three distinct possibilities.
Edgar

#4 Giorgio N

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 01:18 PM

This is something I'd like to know myself: there are authors that believe these light undersurfaces to have been in sky, others that swear about the use of sky blue... is there any official confirmation around about the use of sky blue apart from the well known fact that Middle East Command did not like sky ?

#5 Biggles81

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 08:09 AM

There are still a lot of gaps in available knowledge; from his research, I think that Ted Hooton had access to Castle Bromwich records (what happened to them, since, is anyone's guess.)
However, to illustrate, here's what I've found, so far.
23-4-42, for Operation Oppidan (a preparatory operation before movement of a/c to Malta) the instructions included one which said," Aircraft are to be sea camouflaged before embarkation." Taken literally, this could have meant Sky undersides.
Mention is occasionally seen of "DTD Technical circular 360," issue 1, of which, turned up in a file in Kew. Dated 23-2-43, the preamble said that it cancelled previous circulars 144, 183, 202 and 321 "including corrigenda & amendments" (none of which I've yet found) plus A.D.M. 332 (also missing.) Interestingly, among all of the usual schemes for home, foreign, and FAA use, there's a little note that fighter a/c, bound for Malta, were to have Light Mediterranean Blue undersides (desert a/c remained Azure Blue.) Why? :shrug: Maybe it was in anticipation of the Sicily/Italy invasion, but orders just order, they don't always explain. By November, 1943, with issue 2 of the Circular, the instruction had gone.
In just those three items, alone, you have three distinct possibilities.
Edgar


I knew this was going to be curly, but whilst I had considered sky blue and light Mediterranean blue, actual sky was not something I had even considered. Thanks for you help it gives a least a starting point.

#6 Nick Millman

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 08:24 AM

The Ted Hooton evidence was contained in a letter in SAM Vol.21 No.10 in December 1999. Again, it's worth re-visiting what he actually wrote:-

"The Spitfires built by Supermarine that were sprayed in desert colours, used I understand, Sky Blue undersides - not pure Sky. This was a colour that was similar to Luftwaffe RLM 76. Incidentally, it was also used on many Fleet Air Arm aircraft up to 1942, and after including Seafires. The desert Spitfires built by Supermarine include those in the AB batch (up to AB 536), BP, BR and EN batches. Many of these went to Australia. Once in the Middle East, many Spitfires were overhauled by the Maintenance Unit at Aboukir, and, on being re-sprayed, the underside colour used was Light Mediterranean Blue, which in reality was quite a dark grey-blue."

I suppose that depends on whether his understanding was based on documentary records or recollections, in which case "sky blue" might well have been a colloquial description for Azure Blue. And why the Light Med Blue overspray? Was this because aircraft arriving in Sky Blue were considered to be too light? Did any of these re-painted aircraft end up in Australia?

Because in November 1942 the Directorate of Technical Services in Australia noted that Spitfire VC's being assembled at No. 1 Aircraft Depot were camouflaged in the RAF Desert Scheme described in the document as:-

"in light brown and stone colours with deep sky undersurfaces."

When RAAF HQ replied recommending that the Mid Stone areas should be repainted in Foliage Green they referred to the remaining colours (to be left untouched) as:-

"light brown and deep sky blue"

Ian K Baker believed that both descriptions refer to Azure Blue but the use of such colloquial descriptions in official documents is problematic when considering the other possibilities raised by Mr Hooten. Sky Blue seems unlikely to have been described as "deep sky blue" but both Azure Blue and Light Mediterranean Blue might conceivably be described that way. Deep Sky per se appears too dark - but it is a blue. Diffuse reflectivity of these paint colours in descending order:-

Sky Blue 52%
Sky 43%
Azure Blue 30%
Light Med Blue 16%
Deep Sky 8%

Given all other considerations and on balance Sky Blue should appear the lightest in photographs, appearing almost white, but Sky is not far behind that and I think the determination of Sky Blue vs Sky in b/w photos is uncertain.

#7 Test Graham

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 07:07 PM

I have always understood that the overpainting in theatre with Med Light Blue was for aircraft with Sky undersurfaces.

The use of Sky Blue is at some odds with ME requirements, as Sky was supposedly too light: as Nick implies wartime Sky Blue would be no better. It is however bluer, which might fool the eye.

Vasko Barbic has also described the use of Sky Blue on Supermarine-built tropical Spitfires. It is possible that he was relying on the Ted Hooton account but that may be an unwarranted assumption.

#8 John

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 07:15 PM

I come back again to a point I made some time ago - MAP Sky Blue isn't particularly blue. It's a very pale blue grey and, on application to an airframe, I'm not sure how "blue" it would look under most circumstances.

Sky Blue isn't what I would colloquially define as a sky blue, but Azure Blue is.

John

#9 Nick Millman

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 08:01 AM

Pursuant to John's comment see also the Australian verdict on MAP Sky Blue matched paint quoted in the Foliage Green thread.

Technically Sky Blue is a blue hue in the Munsell system (6.1 B 7.6/1.6) but a pale blue with high lightness value (7.6) and very low chroma saturation towards grey (1.6). The two FS values frequently cited to match it are 35622 and/or 35550 but the former is too green and the latter too blue. Geoff Thomas suggested 35414 which is remarkable when compared to the MAP swatch. Those comparisons might be the reason that some modellers perceive this colour to be more "blueish" than it actually is. And as John notes many people would perceive sky blue to have an appearance more like Azure Blue.

#10 iang

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 09:48 AM

The Ted Hooton evidence was contained in a letter in SAM Vol.21 No.10 in December 1999. Again, it's worth re-visiting what he actually wrote:-

"The Spitfires built by Supermarine that were sprayed in desert colours, used I understand, Sky Blue undersides - not pure Sky. This was a colour that was similar to Luftwaffe RLM 76. Incidentally, it was also used on many Fleet Air Arm aircraft up to 1942, and after including Seafires. "



If Hooton is right, and it was the same colour as used on FAA aircraft, then an answer could be provided by the evidence from the recovery of Lt/Cdr Casson's Skua L2896 803/A by the Norsk Luftfartsmuseum. Casson's Skua was shot down on 13/6/40. The recovered Skua was found to have pale sky blue undersurfaces painted over the original Sky Grey camouflage (in accordance with Admiralty instructions by cipher message on 7/6/40). Whether this is MAP Sky Blue is an interesting question for the genesis of FAA camouflage, but it might also help identify the colour applied to these Spitfires.


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#11 Test Graham

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 02:19 PM

I come back again to a point I made some time ago - MAP Sky Blue isn't particularly blue. It's a very pale blue grey and, on application to an airframe, I'm not sure how "blue" it would look under most circumstances.
John


However blue it may or may not appear in isolation, it appears bluer than Sky. To people familiar with and "expecting" to see Sky, MAP Sky Blue will have appeared blue.