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Early Spitfire Code Letter Color?


Mark V
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First of all I apologize for my lack of search skill. I tried doing a forum search on this but ended up with thousands of hits. Even using the logical “AND” didn’t filter enough. 

So... I’m building the older 1/48 Tamiya Spitfire Mk1. I want to do an early 1940 version with the black/white undersides. I was going to use the kit decals, but the code letters look too dark to me. They are almost a bronze color. Shouldn’t they be light gray or “sky”?  

Unfortunately I don’t have any other 1/48 RAF decals. I am considering making masks and painting the letters but would like to confirm the colors. I am using the DK decals DKD48018 color guide for ideas. 

Thanks. 

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If they've got bronze tint to them then it sounds like there something wrong. I don't have the kit but they should look like this colour from the newer version of the kit.

 

d13.jpg

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4 hours ago, Mark V said:

I tried doing a forum search on this but ended up with thousands of hits.

As @Troy Smith will tell you, searching the site from outside will get you the best results. Using your preferred search engine, just add 'britmodeller' to your search term. And as gingerbob has already noted above, for the period you're wishing to model the codes should be Medium Sea Grey.

 

Mark.

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Thanks guys. I appreciate the quick replies. I would have included a photo but it takes me an hour to take a picture and post it here. I guess “bronze” was an exaggeration. I was looking at the decals in poor light. But they do appear too dark, compared to the photo of the newer version. I’ll probably mask and paint them on. 

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8 hours ago, Mark V said:

Thanks guys. I appreciate the quick replies. I would have included a photo but it takes me an hour to take a picture and post it here. I guess “bronze” was an exaggeration. I was looking at the decals in poor light. But they do appear too dark, compared to the photo of the newer version. I’ll probably mask and paint them on. 

Just be careful as some decals can be appear darker when on the decal sheet, you can always test with one of the letters that you are not using on the model. This A is from the same sheet as the other letters which I thought at first might be a little dark, but looked fine when on the model.

 

49969460536_2e903eabb8_o.jpg

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There is the possibility of Sky Grey? - I think there's been a lot of discussion on here, most recently the 6th post on this thread

But then it's Mike Starmer vs Nick Millman unless bombers differed from fighters........

 

The Spitfire Camouflage and Markings booklet gives the stores reference for the paint used for the code letters from introduction onward as 33B/157 and, if memory serves, the AMO for the period just states "Grey" for the code letters.

 

So the weight of evidence is with Sea Grey Medium.

 

I'm locked down away from my references so can't dig much more, especially as I bricked the laptop earlier with an attempted upgrade and it's still recovering.

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Sky Grey was a lot lighter, and I am sure wouldn't have appeared as dark on the b&w photos we see.    It might be interesting to compare the appearance of the codes in ortho and panchromatic film, as Ortho would tend to make any blue appear lighter, and Sea Grey Medium does include some blue.  33b predates the other camouflage colours., even those to DTD 83A i.e. Cellulose paints for (mainly) fabric-covered aircraft.  Sea Grey Medium appears to have postdated both Dark and Extra Dark Sea Grey, which might imply that a similar colour already existed.  However there are many gaps in the list which an earlier issue of SGM would have fitted.

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On 31 Match 1936, the Air Ministry wrote to the RAE asking them to consider the question of identification markings on aircraft. The RAE was asked to consider which size, style, and colour of letters and numerals were best for recognition in the air. The Air Ministry requirement was for a series of numbers to identify the squadron and a letter to identify individual aircraft within the squadron, all of which were to be visible at a distance of approximately 500 yards. Because it was anticipated that it might be necessary to employ different coloured paints for recognition from the ground during air exercises, paints of three different colours were required. The RAE was also to assess whether such markings had any adverse effect on the effectiveness of the camouflage scheme as a whole. When the trials were complete and decisions reached, a quantity of the three paints

chosen were required for service trials in Air Defence Great Britain at the earliest opportunity. The Air Ministry also pointed out that as in practice, the squadron number would be on the rear of the fuselage, the RAE's trials should be carried out with this in mind. It was also to be borne in mind that the squadron number could consist of one, two or three figures and therefore the trials should include a three figure number as this was considered the most difficult to make out.

 

The RAE wrote to the Air Ministry with its final report on 15 September 1936, stating that the three colours used during the trials were grey, dull red, and ident green. Two sizes of character were tested, the first being 48 inches high with 6 inch wide strokes, which were tested for visibility at 500 yards; and the second being 18 inches high with 2.5 inch wide strokes which was tested for visibility at 200 yards. Both sizes in all three colours were tested against an earth coloured background and a green coloured background, and it was discovered that the grey colour was the most visible in each case.

 

On 7 October 1936 the Air Ministry wrote to the RAE to inform them that it had been decided to standardise upon the grey colour immediately. The RAE was therefore asked to prepare 100 Standards of the new colour on metal and a similar number on fabric and forward them to the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate. The material was to be bought to Specification DTD 314 and was to be called Sea Grey, Medium.

 

Although the form and colour of the identification markings on camouflaged aircraft had been decided upon, the Air Ministry does not appear to have informed all Commands of the standardisation of identification markings on camouflaged aircraft until September 1937. A letter sent to all operational Commands on 28 September 1937 stated that the usual aircraft number was to be applied on the fuselage and under the mainplanes and that the squadron badge was to be applied in the position laid down in AMO A.24/37. The squadron identification number was to be applied forward of the national marking on both sides of the fuselage whilst the individual aircraft letter was to be applied aft of the national marking on both sides of the fuselage. The characters which made up these markings were to be 48 inches high and to be made up of strokes 6 inches in width with smaller characters only being used when the space available made such a course unavoidable. The paint to be used to apply the squadron number and individual aircraft letter was given as 'Stores reference :- 33B/157 Colour reference :- Sea Grey (medium).

 

Edited by 303sqn
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TBolt nailed it exactly, and the photo illustrates it perfectly.  Notice how side by side the "A" looks darker than the  other letters, due to the background.

Well done.

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Good afternoon to all of you! I’m new to the site and rather than start a new thread, I thought that I’d ask a question via Mark V’s original post (question pertains to Letter Codes).

I have just purchased the Airfix and Tamiya 1/48 Spitfire Mk1’s. I intend displaying both together, as a pair of Fighters belonging to RAF 222 (Natal) Squadron, which was based at Hornchurch, also using Rochford as a forward base (September 1940). Aircraft codes ZD-D (X4278) and ZD-F (P9323). As some extra “ZD’s” would be required, I purchased the Xtradecal sheet X48022 (Fighter Codes) and Xtradecal sheet X48044 (Black Letters Numbers).

Now to the crux of it....Letter Size! Both Kits contain a small Code Letter “F” and a large Code Letter “Q” and I’ll start with the small “F” (X for Xtradecal, T for Tamiya and A for Airfix) the Letter dimensions are as follows and are in Millimeters: 

X 12.5 x 8 

T 12.5 x 7.5

A 11.5 x 9.5 (first figure is height of Letter, the second figure is width)

 

With the Large “Q” we have: 

X 17 x 10

T 18.5 x 10

A 17 x 9

 

As you may have already guessed, for the sake of continuity, I shall be ordering some more Xtradecal Sheets! However, why the discrepancy and are the Xtradecal decals “the benchmark”? 

 

Apologies for the “piggyback” question....slap my wrist if required? 

 

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Aircraft were not always painted with the theoretically correct size of squadron code and Spitfires in particular were often seen with smaller lettering. I'm not interested in the Q as you don't say which airframe it was on, but as for the F:  it is clear that P9323 has smaller letter forms than X4278 in the following photos

 

Here are the real aircraft, first X4278 

222603spit.jpg

 

now P9323

e866d985ac2b889c83b6357d84367f0f.jpg

 

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1 hour ago, TubeDriver said:

Work in Progress: Many thanks for your reply...

basically “don’t worry about it” as discrepancies occurred reasonably regularly? 

 

Cheers for that! 👍🏻👍🏻

Actually, it's more like "use photos of the plane you're building", unless there aren't any. Then try to find pics of other aircraft in that squadron and time period...

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13 minutes ago, Rolls-Royce said:

Actually, it's more like "use photos of the plane you're building", unless there aren't any. Then try to find pics of other aircraft in that squadron and time period...

Unfortunately that's not always the case, 253 Squadron in Italy

 

full?d=1521516937

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Certainly early in the war the rules called for a code letter size that wouldn't fit on a Spitfire - 48" - with a note that "Smaller letters are to be used only when space on the fuselage makes such a course unavoidable." This was still the case in AMO A.926 issued on 12th Dec 1940. So there wasn't really a standard size for Spitfires in 1939/40 at least. The camouflage and markings booklet gives approximate sizes for 19 Sqdn as 28", 610 Sqdn 36" and 92 Sqdn as 30" - presumably all based on measurements from photos. It was July 1941 when they were standardised at 24".

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27 minutes ago, fubar57 said:

253 Squadron in Italy

Yes and no.

 

These are Yugoslav ground crew being trained on Spitfire Vs. At the time, 253 Sqn was re-equipping with a mix of Mk VIIIs and IXs, so this V was not in Squadron use.

 

SW-K is the only one wearing 253 codes, but there were also a few "Wing" aircraft assigned to be available to the squadrons of the wing. Wing aircraft carried only a single letter.

 

I don't have most of my references to hand right now, but I think that this photo was taken at one of the clutch of airfields around Foggia, so it's likely that these aircraft were made available by an MU from the aircraft returned by the squadrons 'in the line' and that it's a random grouping of BAF/DAF aircraft under repair.

 

Back nearer to 'on-topic'. 253 code size and style in 44/45 were standard within the squadron and did look like SW-K as shown, i.e. white and small.

 

On a personal note, my Dad flew Spit VIIIs and IXs with 253 and SW-K was 'his' aircraft later on.

 

Kevin

Edited by KevinK
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Just a line to say “thank you”, to all of you who have added your bit to the “Size” debate! 

I’ve just come back to modelling, after 30 years away from it and so much has changed....Tamiya Paint in tiddly pots, being just one item but people who genuinely enjoy giving over their hard earned experience and information, is not one of them! 

Thanks again for your time and assistance! 👍🏻👍🏻

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Thanks to Harry Lime for reminding me of the trick to searching the forum, don’t use the forum search. I have been very successful searching for other topics using the gooogle with “Britmodeller” for my many other questions. So simple. 

Tbolt, yes! That’s what I’m talking about. I didn’t think the tamiya decals would be that far off. 

Tubedriver, welcome back to the “fun” of scale modeling. This forum is a great asset as you can see. 

Thank you all for participating. 

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If I may add another 2 cents, you've seen how the matter of the size of squadron codes on Spitfires is a complicated one, a result of official directives that conflicted with the small size of the aircraft fuselage. As others have said, initially things varied a lot among units, and that very large Q is correct as are the other smaller letters. Later things became more uniform, but not much for MTO based units as many there used smaller codes. And in any case variations even within the same squadron were not uncommon...

There is however another aspect that complicates things that should be kept in mind... even when there were officially sanctioned sizes and these were followed, a faithful reproduction of these in scale may or not look good on a model for the simple fact that the model may not be a faithful reproduction of the real thing !

Generally kit decals are designed with that particular kit in mind, so the size of the letters will likely have been adjusted to fit correctly on the kit. This can result in latters that are of the wrong size or with wrong proportions but will look good enough on the kit. Same for aftermarket decals specifically aimed at a certain kit.

Sheets of generic letters and numbers are usually designed to represent the most common styles, so will have the prescribed height and will follow the most common proportions, so let's say they will be "correct" on the sheet... when applied to the model however they may look wrong if the model is not as accurate.

Personally I always try to check the size of the codes on the model comparing this to pictures. Then I check among the decals in the stash which ones look best. In some cases I've had to modify them with some creative cutting and pasting, in other cases I've had to give up and accept slightly taller/wider/shorter/narrower codes...

Today I've solved the problem by cutting my own masks and painting the codes, but that involves a lot more work

 

 

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