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USAAF P-40F in the desert: camo scheme ?


Giorgio N
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A question on one of those subjects I know nothing about: I recently bought a second hand MPM kit of the P-40F/L and the box offers a couple of options in desert scheme: a P-40F during operation Torch and a P-40L of 316 FS in Italy in 1943.

Now the instructions suggest for both the use of RAF dark earth/mid stone over azure blue. My question is simply: would these colours be correct ? Or did these aircrafts use US paints ? And if so, would they have been similar to the RAF paints or totally different paints ?

Thanks in advance for any information ! I'll sure have more questions soon on the subject, as I said the P-40 is one of those subjects I really know very little about

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If the P-40 really is from Torch, it came direct from the US and most likely would be in US colors, Sand and OD over Neutral Gray. Two USAAF fighter groups arrived earlier (57th and 79th) and flew with the Desert Air Force and might have had US camo replaced by British. In early 1943 the USAAF in North Africa issued dirctiions for local colors to be used, these included Sand, OD, Field Drab (Army color) NG and some locally mixed variations that may have been loosely similar to Dark Earth and Mid Stone as well as a light blue.

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OMG! Can of worms. Depends on time, unit and individual aircraft.

The USAAF P-40s were painted in the US equivalent of RAF Dark Earth and Middle Stone, which was prett sarn close to RAF paints.

It does appear that the early Fs that went over on USS Chanengo were in DE/MS on top as for the underside it is not clear. Some may have had the top colors applied over OD, and it seems that the NG underside may have been retained. It also seems that the yellow surround on the national marking and US flag may have been applied on ship.

Later F and L P-40 received the Azure Underside. DE/MS/NG may not be wrong.

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According to Dana Bell's "Air Force Colors vol. 2", P-40's of the 33rd and 325th FG's were indeed camouflaged in DE/MS with Azure Blue undersurfaces.directly from the factory. P-40's from the 79th FG also appear to have worn the same colours, I might add.

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FWIW the US ANA equivalent colour standards used were 609 Azure Blue (a little darker and not as warm as the MAP colour, closer to FS 35231 but not quite as grey), 615 Middlestone (similar to FS 30266), and 617 Dark Earth (a little lighter and redder than FS 30118).

Colour photographs reveal some F's with OD behind the canopy side panels which suggests complete re-paints, but these examples do appear to have Azure under surfaces.

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Thanks all for the replies, sounds like the standard RAF scheme would be fine.

The 2 aircrafts in the box are:

- 41-14378 "Dammit" of 33 FG during Torch

- 42-10664 of 316 FS / 324 FG in 1943 (this one with olive drab tail and other fuselage panels)

Both are potentially interesting, but I might also look into a 325 FG aircraft with the checkered tail....

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Were the AN colours available in time for Torch? I'd expect the colours at that time to be US paints to British colour specifications. This is relevant because at least two different shades have been used for Dark Earth, if not three. From memory, colour photos (with all due wariness) show a pinkish shade used for early P-40s with Dark Green,and a dark shade used for those with Mid Stone. Some US types show an intermediate shade.

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Grahame is correct in thinking that ANA (I assume that is what he meant by 'AN') colours were not in use at the time of Torch, The ANA system was not adopted till mid 1943 and it took a few months before airframes painted such reached operational areas.

The USAAF still clung to the use of the existing Olive Drab even then which is different to the ANA shade.

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The P-40s that were in the Western Desert pre-Torch were indeed in Sand over Neutral Grey, rather than UK colours. The ones arriving during/after Torch were in the UK colours.

Yes, it does seem to be the wrong way around, but there it is. The P-38s came over in OD/NG but not the P-40s.

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The P-40s that were in the Western Desert pre-Torch were indeed in Sand over Neutral Grey, rather than UK colours. The ones arriving during/after Torch were in the UK colours.

Now, would those P-40 in sand over NG be P-40F or mainly earlier versions ?

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The one I was doing, and was caught with Azure Blue undersurfaces, was and remains a P-40F. The USAAF tended to keep the Merlin-variants for actions in the West (their East, I suppose!).

A quick look in Rust's Ninth AF shows that some of them did indeed gain disruptive camouflage in the spring/summer of 1943, but the suggestion is that this was OD on top of the Sand (which he calls Desert Pink - it is an old book). He does say that most of them were Azure Blue rather than Neutral Grey, but I don't think that's held nowadays?

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Hi, Graham,

Yes, they were Du Pont colours. 71-009 was the early one, a rather sandy dark earth, used with DG, and 71-035 the later one, better matching MAP Dark Earth, used with Middlestone.

FErnando, back at Nairobi

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It was the early short-tailed Fs that tended to be in the plain sand-painted OD over NG scheme. The long tailed Fs are more often seen in the RAF desert scheme but with two variations - one with the equivalent desert colours (DE/MS/AB) and one where the Dark Earth segments are actually OD (and as distinct from aircraft where OD has been added as patch painting). The undersides of the latter aircraft are difficult to determine. A colour photograph of 210511 of the 59th FS, 33rd FG (with the US flag) in flight appears to show the aircraft in OD, MS (or Sand) and NG. Whereas "Jeep" of the same unit appears to be in DE or OD/MS/AB.

x7-5 of 87th FS, 79th FG appears from another colour photo to be in DE or OD/MS/NG, the underside colour strongly suggested by its contrast to the AB used as a backing to the squadron insignia on the nose.

This mixture of desert and adapted schemes is borne out in the response of Col Sluder of the 325th FG to a specific question about the colours of USAAF P-40s in North Africa. He stated: "In Africa we had a mixture of P-40 schemes. I believe most were O.D. but we had some that were beige and sand, sand and O.D. and I seem to recall that my number 52 was beige and O.D."

Further evidence of a mix of aircraft schemes arriving in theatre is provided by a colour photo of newly delivered P-40s at Asmara in Eritrea awaiting ferrying. Of 10 aircraft in the line up 7 are in plain OD and 3 in the desert scheme. The difference in the OD to the Dark Earth on the desert painted aircraft is evident. All the aircraft have stars on both upper wings.

Edited by Nick Millman
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The lighter 71-009 Dark Earth is somewhat dark to be called beige, and Middle Stone might be closer - but neither make a lot of sense in the full quote. MS and OD is not a particularly likely combination, but then neither is DE and OD. Sand (the actual colour of that name) and OD, yes.

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How some people perceive and describe colours is a continuing source of wonder. Unfortunately we don't know what colour Col Sluder considered to be "beige"!

Dark Earth and OD was a "standard" combination when OD was authorised to be used in place of Dark Green early in 1942 and in fact E's arriving in CBI in this scheme after a sojourn in India were often described as being in "desert colours" because of the fading qualities of the OD.

Further the RAAF also adapted the OD over NG scheme. Following delivery at Townsville all newly assembled P-40E-1s had their yellow roundel surrounds and fin flashes overpainted if they were received that way. They also had their Box Number and British Purchasing Commission Serial removed, as well as any USAAF markings. Aircraft delivered in the US scheme had their upper surface finish of OD overpainted with segments of RAAF Dark Earth camouflage to the same pattern as the P-40E-1s but retaining Neutral Gray under surfaces. Later some of these aircraft had the NG undersurfaces over-painted in Sky Blue with an undulating demarcation pattern. This moving feast of adapted schemes in a period of expediency and war theatre exigencies has proved a source of confusion ever since as we try to pigeon hole operational aircraft into known factory schemes and colours.

Nick

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And we should not forget the "Instructions For Aircraft Camouflage Northwest African Theater" issued by the HQ Northwest African Air Forces (US) on 10 March 1943 and using colours from US Army Corps of Engineers' specifications (i.e. NOT from ANA or USAAF sources), providing several different desert camouflage schemes to match different background colours.

(Just to make things even more complicated).

Any aircraft wearing such schemes would have used variations of patterns issued with the instructions and not "RAF type" patterns, but AFAIK very little research and study has so far been done on the extent of the implementation of these orders, which were strictly local to NW Africa.

For more Details, see Dana Bell's vol.2 of "Air Force Colors" (Squadron Signal) and Robert D. Archer's "US Army Air Forces Aircraft Markings And Camouflage 1941-47" (Schiffer).

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Corps of Engineers colours were already available, they were used for vehicles and tanks, the instructions specified they should be thinned with gasoline (!).

And this is what the books say:

Dana Bell, (Op. Cit.) p 17: "While it is certain that the prescribed color combinations were not universally accepted, their use cannot be totally rejected either. It is probably no coincidence that existing camouflages were often altered during that spring and summer. Many Sand B-25s and P-40s had a darker disruptive color applied, and some of the 47th BG's A-20s were repainted with a sand colored pattern. Veterans often mention browns and a yellower sand. It is possible that they are remembering Engineer colors and not a brownish OD or a faded Sand."

Robert D. Archer, (Op. Cit.) p.124: "Photographs of the time show that it was chiefly theA-20, B-25, and P-40 units that adopted the new camouflage. No photographs seem to have come to light showing the recommended camouflage on P-38, B-17, or B-24 aircraft. Variations of the recommended camouflage have been seen on many A-20 aircraft, particularly those of the 47th BG, stationed at Canrobert, Algeria, during March, 1943."

Please note that the instructions did explicitly prescribe the use of Corps of Engineers colours, not of colours to aeronautical standard.

I had only mentioned those instructions for the sake of completeness of information, and as I said very little is known about the extent of their implementation (although they did make for some rather interesting colour combinations).

Edited by Super Aereo
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Aircraft are painted with paints which are specifically designed to their operating conditions, specifically high speed (abrasion) and variable temperatures (adhesion), complete with the appropriate primers. If non-standard paints were to be used, they would create excessive skin friction drag due to their larger pigment size and in addition would be non-durable: they would peel and hence create even more drag. Top speed, cruise speed, climb rates and ceilings are reduced, landing and stall speeds are increased. It is a bad idea. Yes, there were some schemes drawn up for this use, and there are some distinctive schemes seen on aircraft in this theatre. However, these aircraft do not show patterns that match those suggested by the CoE.

An alternative, and more credible, suggestion is that borrowed British paints were used. Possibly, if less likely, older French stock.

It is worth pointing out that when the 8th AF required camouflage colours for some of its fighters in 1944, in the lack of USAAF Olive Drab paint they resorted to RAF paints rather than US Army Olive Drab, which was readily available in large amounts. Similarly the Jagdwaffe on the Channel airfields in 1940 are reputed to have used French aviation paints for the experimental grey schemes, not mixes from the Heer's Panzergrau. The USN used different paints for its carrier-borne aircraft and its ships, although one was actually sitting on the other, and camouflaged to match!

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Aircraft are painted with paints which are specifically designed to their operating conditions, specifically high speed (abrasion) and variable temperatures (adhesion), complete with the appropriate primers. If non-standard paints were to be used, they would create excessive skin friction drag due to their larger pigment size and in addition would be non-durable: they would peel and hence create even more drag. Top speed, cruise speed, climb rates and ceilings are reduced, landing and stall speeds are increased. It is a bad idea. Yes, there were some schemes drawn up for this use, and there are some distinctive schemes seen on aircraft in this theatre. However, these aircraft do not show patterns that match those suggested by the CoE.

An alternative, and more credible, suggestion is that borrowed British paints were used. Possibly, if less likely, older French stock.

It is worth pointing out that when the 8th AF required camouflage colours for some of its fighters in 1944, in the lack of USAAF Olive Drab paint they resorted to RAF paints rather than US Army Olive Drab, which was readily available in large amounts. Similarly the Jagdwaffe on the Channel airfields in 1940 are reputed to have used French aviation paints for the experimental grey schemes, not mixes from the Heer's Panzergrau. The USN used different paints for its carrier-borne aircraft and its ships, although one was actually sitting on the other, and camouflaged to match!

Absolutely agree, but the instructions said what the instructions said.

I didn't write them, Northwest African HQ did...

The instructions are quite clear, whether people like it or not, At the end of the day, if RAF night-fighter aircraft still manged to fly after being covered in sooth-like stuff like RDM2/RDM2a, I don't find it too difficult to believe that paint destined to cars could be used on them.

Didn't the Russians use tractor paint on some of their aircraft?

Didn't the RAF use stoving paint for engine cowlings?

What is ideal is what is ideal but what is expedient is often more practical...

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No, the Russians did not use tractor paint on their aircraft. This is a myth.

No, the RAF did not use stoving paint on their engine cowlings. This claim is new to me - perhaps you can actually come up with some specification that describes this? Paint on engine cowlings was often discoloured because of the heat, which is not a characteristic of stove enamel. This is a good place to point out that one other requirement for an aircraft's paint is light weight.

I didn't say poor paint stopped the aircraft from flying altogether, I said it affected their performance adversely. De havilland reckoned that using RDM2 paint cost 23mph on the Mosquito. Trials on the Halifax suggested 2000ft on ceiling. That's why the use of coarse matt paint was abandoned. This is the reason for the introduction of the Smooth series of RAF paints which had the grain size halved - from the prewar norm, not the RDM 2 standard. I believe that the Germans followed the same route only some years earlier, and this is behind the introduction of their new series of paints (and colours) in 1938/39.

I have the same books you have, but nowhere is there any evidence (from photos or histories) that these CoE suggestions were actually followed in practice. It wouldn't be the first or last time that Staff officers failed to understand details of the modern world their juniors had to live with. (I'm just reading Andy Bird's Coastal Dawn, in which following heavy losses on night operations by Swordfish over Northern France in 1940, a senior officer telephoned a Blenheim fighter unit to order them for fly escort.)

First rule of thumb: if any source tells you that non-aviation paint was used (individual markings excepted) on high-performance aircraft, hold the statement in extreme disfavour. However good the reference may be elsewhere.

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