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Spitfire Photo interpretation


Ed Fleming
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Hi Longtime lurker here but finally making my first post!

 

Almost every time I google a question about British aircraft, spitfires especially, I seem to end up here, so I'm really hoping the collective knowledge base will be able to help me interpret this photo of a Spitfire I would like to model. The photo was recently published in the book "Jack Malloch, Legend of the African skies" and is of a 237 squadron Mk IX, flown by Malloch, in Corsica. I have been researching this squadron for some time, even poring through the squadron ORB, and can confirm that this aircraft operated with the squadron from June-September 1944, mostly flown by Jack Malloch. Here is the photo:

 

51443059968_b141c96d40_b.jpg120616004_10158860726676565_5624200246239739255_o by Ed Fleming, on Flickr

 

At first glance this is a great modelers photo, all important parts are visible, aircraft codes, serial, standard looking camouflage- great. But now look at the fuselage band. Something odd is going on. It looks very dark, nearly as dark as the red on the fin flash. Also whatever colour it is fills the 0 of the serial. And finally if you look very closely there is a different shade starting near the top of the 0 and passing over the top of the 2, continuing the fuselage camouflage pattern.

 

My thought is that some sort of repainting/ over painting has taken place but I can't quite figure out what. I can believe that the colour of the lower part of the band is a dark or dirty version of sky, but the colour in the middle of the 0 would suggest that it was not factory applied. The different shade at the top could either be the camouflage colour painted over the band very lightly OR could it be the band painted over the camouflage with the demarcation showing through?

 

An important point of context, Corsica was bombed heavily one night in May and most of the squadrons aircraft were damaged or destroyed. MK402 was one of the replacements for these losses, so the hasty overpainting of bright ID markings is highly likely. Photos of other spitfires in Corsica at this time show the bands painted out, or simply not present.

 

The more I look at this photo, the more confused I get. Any thoughts or help would be most appreciated.

 

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Hello, Ed Fleming

Firstly, welcome to Britmodeller! Also, thank you for posting this beautiful and interesting photo.

As far as Sky band is concerned, I believe it is the case of painting it over with regular DG, OG and SGM, albeit perhaps a bit too thinly. This was a regular practice by Allies in MTO with a purpose to prevent confusion with white Luftwaffe theatre band. There had been exceptions, of course, and they became more frequent as the war progressed towards its end. But until roughly the Normandy landing Luftwaffe maintained regular, although somewhat limited presence in Italy and it would be sometimes difficult to distinguish between White and Sky band in the heat of air combat. Just my two cents worth. Cheers

Jure

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Hi Ed,

 

I agree, this is the Day Fighter Scheme of Dark Green and Ocean Grey with the Sky fuselage band and spinner dulled down with another colour.  If you look at the spinner, the portion behind the prop blades hasn't been overpainted and is much brighter than the rest of it, which looks to be close in tone to the grey round the exhaust stacks.

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Spinner back plates on these a/c are often called out as natural metal, but could they be Sky? Makes more sense to me - remove the spinner and paint red, leaving the back plate in the original colour. Colour of the back plate here looks closer to the colour of the codes to my eyes.

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Great photo not seen that one before, so thanks.

 

You have actually answered your own question Ed. The band has been toned down to remove it, one sees that often in the Meditterean. The top part is overpainted with Dark Green. The odd bit is the lower portion where they look to have tried to remove it by stripping rather than overpainting with fresh Ocean Grey, maybe they were short of OG at the time.

 

Peter - yes Red spinner with original Sky backplate. As you said it was common to remove the front portion of the spinner, leaving the backplate attached to the airframe along with the prop in order to repaint.  It was a lot easier to paint the front portion with it sitting on a bench or something, rather than trying to do it in situ where you have to paint around the prop blades which got in the way.

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It does not answer the OP but the attached images does show how a sky band stood out over Italy. You can easily understand the need to change colour to avoid confusion:

 

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210937

 

if you scroll down on the above link you will see another three images.

 

Ray

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I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions from that photo. There's obviously a quite large line of overexposure crossing the ID band, which suggests areas either side shouldnt be trusted as its not clear why there's such an overexposure there. It  appears to be a very bright day judging from the shadows. That means areas of curvature are going to show significant variation in tone. To illustrate, compare the DG ahead of the cockpit with the DG below and to the right of the fuselage roundel or the grey of the underside of the wing from leading edge to trailing edge. And compare that leading edge with the lower cowling - but both are almost certainly the same colour but they tones are very different. Finally also look at the aircraft behind, which appears to have a standard ID band. 

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2 hours ago, Phoenix44 said:

I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions from that photo. There's obviously a quite large line of overexposure crossing the ID band, which suggests areas either side shouldnt be trusted as its not clear why there's such an overexposure there. It  appears to be a very bright day judging from the shadows. That means areas of curvature are going to show significant variation in tone. To illustrate, compare the DG ahead of the cockpit with the DG below and to the right of the fuselage roundel or the grey of the underside of the wing from leading edge to trailing edge. And compare that leading edge with the lower cowling - but both are almost certainly the same colour but they tones are very different. Finally also look at the aircraft behind, which appears to have a standard ID band. 

 

I agree it's hard to draw a conclusion - the band appears to be lighter than the underside colour for a start.

 

Moreover, although clearly a panchromatic film we don't know if any filter was used on the lens. It was quite common to use a red or orange filter to darken blue skies and this would affect the relative tones of colours on the aircraft as well. Some experiments I did a while back suggest a red filter makes Sky and Dull Red much the same tone, both slightly lighter than Azure Blue or MS Grey. Also the grass/scrub on the ground looks dark and you might expect it to be more like straw during an Italian summer.

 

I'd be interested to see the source of the overpainted sky band being common in the MTO statement - is it true or is it an erroneous conclusion based on a misinterpretation of a monochrome photo that has been published somewhere and then repeated iin multiple places? I don't know and I would believe in it more if there was documentary evidence.

Edited by rossm
clarification
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21 minutes ago, rossm said:

 

I'd be interested to see the source of the overpainted sky band being common in the MTO statement - is it true or is it an erroneous conclusion based on a misinterpretation of a monochrome photo that has been published somewhere and then repeated iin multiple places? I don't know and I would believe in it more if there was documentary evidence.

 

There is plenty of photographic evidence showing repainted sky bands on DFS finished RAF aircraft in Italy. And at the same time there is plenty of photographic evidence showing RAF aircraft retaining the sky band over the DFS finish, sometime even showing aircraft within the same unit with and without band.

 

Interestingly, there are pictures of Luftwaffe and ANR aircraft in the same theatre and same years wearing the white band and others showing the band repainted or even not present from the start. Identification must have been a bit tricky in those 2 last years of the war !

In general pictures seem to show that initially RAF aircraft tended to have the band removed, while  at the end of the war practically no Axix aircraft retained the band while RAF aircraft did,

To add to the confusion, RAF aircraft in Southern France generally seem to have retained the band and at a certain point the boundaries of ETO and MTO became very blurred

 

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Hi. Does anybody have the Air Britain book on the MK serials??

I agree the band looks red.

7 SAAF had red fuselage bands(part of 7 Wing) and you state that this was a replacement a/c.

It could have been with 7 SAAF before and thus overpainted when it joined this sqdn.

We need to confirm if this MK402 was with 7 SAAF before.

Be good

Stefaan

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16 minutes ago, Stefaan said:

Does anybody have the Air Britain book on the MK serials??

I agree the band looks red.

7 SAAF had red fuselage bands(part of 7 Wing) and you state that this was a replacement a/c.

It could have been with 7 SAAF before and thus overpainted when it joined this sqdn.

We need to confirm if this MK402 was with 7 SAAF before.

 

AB- MK402 274/1 SAAF SOC 18.10.45

 

http://www.airhistory.org.uk/spitfire/p070.html

MK402LFIXCBAFM6633MU 15-2-44 222MU 26-2-44 Empire Ray 21-3-44 Casablanca 6-4-44 274Sq 1SAAF SOC 18-10-45

 

15 hours ago, Ed Fleming said:

237 squadron Mk IX, flown by Malloch, in Corsica. I have been researching this squadron for some time, even poring through the squadron ORB, and can confirm that this aircraft operated with the squadron from June-September 1944,

no list of 237 Sq, but, if the ORB has MK402 listed,  then the above maybe wrong or incomplete.

 

@Graham Boak may have some information on one of Shores Mediterranean books. 

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1 hour ago, Giorgio N said:

 

There is plenty of photographic evidence showing repainted sky bands on DFS finished RAF aircraft in Italy. And at the same time there is plenty of photographic evidence showing RAF aircraft retaining the sky band over the DFS finish, sometime even showing aircraft within the same unit with and without band.

 

Interestingly, there are pictures of Luftwaffe and ANR aircraft in the same theatre and same years wearing the white band and others showing the band repainted or even not present from the start. Identification must have been a bit tricky in those 2 last years of the war !

In general pictures seem to show that initially RAF aircraft tended to have the band removed, while  at the end of the war practically no Axix aircraft retained the band while RAF aircraft did,

To add to the confusion, RAF aircraft in Southern France generally seem to have retained the band and at a certain point the boundaries of ETO and MTO became very blurred

 

I may have misunderstood some of the posts - I agree with you about complete overpainting, it's the partial overpainting I wasn't sure about.

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274 Sq went back to the UK in April 1944: if this aircraft was ever with the squadron it wasn't for long.  Possibly it was allocated on paper to the unit before realising that it was leaving.

 

The new Shores books only cover up to July 1943 but the next one is overdue.  I wouldn't expect the aircraft to feature unless it was successfully involved in an important action, which appears to be unlikely.

 

MK402 is not listed as being with 237 Sq. in Fighter Squadrons of the RAF, but if it wasn't mentioned in its Aircraft Record Card then this wouldn't have been known.  It should be added that aircraft movement records are known to have been inadequate in this theatre, possibly due to now-lost records.  It is not listed in Squadrons of the SAAF nor in  Spitfire Squadrons of the SAAF.  The latter book shows Mk.IXs as predominantly, but not universally, retaining the Sky band.  It should be said that it also has a comment that after May 1944 aerial combat was rare to non-existent. so it seems unlikely that confusion with Axis markings was any problem. 

 

I didn't notice any Spitfires with red bands: such markings, red and yellow, were seen on USAAF Spitfires around the time of their replacement by P-51s but on RAF/SAAF aircraft?  More information please.

 

The RAF didn't recognise the terms ETO and MTO:  Spitfire Squadrons in Southern France were part of the Desert Air Force (1st TAF) in the Mediterranean and such operations were well clear of other RAF operations in Northern France.

 

MA402 is one possible source of confusion but as this was written off in August 1944 this seems unlikely.

 

 

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Here's a colour study using using Power Touch demo, software that emulates b/w film.  Orange is just a 50/50 blend of roundel red and yellow - no idea if that is official mix.  I used the default setting of 80% for filters.  At 100 % Red filter, the yellow sample transforms to absolute white.

 

MK402-study.jpg

 

Just a quick observation, utilizing the red filter makes both Roundel Red and Medium Sea Grey near equal grey tone.

 

regards.

Jack

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1 hour ago, Graham Boak said:

The new Shores books only cover up to July 1943 but the next one is overdue.  I wouldn't expect the aircraft to feature unless it was successfully involved in an important action, which appears to be unlikely.

 

Vol. 4 covers up to 5 June 44 (if you mean History of the Air War in the Mediterranean) and has been on the market for at least 3 years (as I bought mine in 2018), but that doesn't help, obviously. Vol. 5 is due in exactly two weeks, according to Grub.

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I didn't notice any Spitfires with red bands: such markings, red and yellow, were seen on USAAF Spitfires around the time of their replacement by P-51s but on RAF/SAAF aircraft?  More information please.

 

Hi Graham.

Your note in your post.

7 wing was:

 

1 sqdn-- red wingtips

2 sqdn --red horisontal stabelizer tips

4sqdn-- red fin tips

7 sqdn--- red fuselage bands

 

Stefaan

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All great thoughts, and thanks for the welcome!

 

The stripped off paint theory sounds intriguing, I had not thought of that! If so, one wonders just how long it stayed like this, or even if it ever flew looking like this. The photographer may even have interrupted the repainting process. Maybe the safe bet would be to just model the aircraft as it almost certainly would have looked within a few days, with the band fully painted out but still evident?

 

23 hours ago, Phoenix44 said:

I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions from that photo. There's obviously a quite large line of overexposure crossing the ID band, which suggests areas either side shouldnt be trusted as its not clear why there's such an overexposure there. It  appears to be a very bright day judging from the shadows. That means areas of curvature are going to show significant variation in tone. To illustrate, compare the DG ahead of the cockpit with the DG below and to the right of the fuselage roundel or the grey of the underside of the wing from leading edge to trailing edge. And compare that leading edge with the lower cowling - but both are almost certainly the same colour but they tones are very different. Finally also look at the aircraft behind, which appears to have a standard ID band. 

I agree that there is a lot of over exposure on the upper fuselage, but if you look closely there is a very clear and hard demarcation which runs through the top of the 0, over the top of the 2 and then towards the tail plane. It is too wavy to be a part of the overexposure, which would follow the contour of the fuselage. This follows the standard camouflage pattern. 

But I had not noticed the aircraft in the background with a very similar tone to its band, thank you!

 

20 hours ago, rossm said:

Moreover, although clearly a panchromatic film we don't know if any filter was used on the lens. It was quite common to use a red or orange filter to darken blue skies and this would affect the relative tones of colours on the aircraft as well. Some experiments I did a while back suggest a red filter makes Sky and Dull Red much the same tone, both slightly lighter than Azure Blue or MS Grey. Also the grass/scrub on the ground looks dark and you might expect it to be more like straw during an Italian summer.

 

This is very interesting, and I may put it to the test. I agree the balance of probability is that the band is sky and simply looks darker for some reason. The aircraft in the background would corroborate this. But then the spinner backplate is still a lighter tone! Just a lighter version of sky as used by the propeller manufacturer?

 

17 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

274 Sq went back to the UK in April 1944: if this aircraft was ever with the squadron it wasn't for long.  Possibly it was allocated on paper to the unit before realising that it was leaving.

Agree that this is probably the first squadron assignment for this aircraft. One pilot noted in his logbook the this was a "brand new spitfire". Points to it being delivered  in standard markings. 

 

I agree that there is very little evidence of partial repaints, and I don't think it would have stayed like this very long. The safe bet would be to model it as it almost certainly would have looked a few days later, with the band fully painted out, or as it would have looked at delivery with a full band. But thats a bit boring!

 

Still not sure why the Zero in the serial is filled with the band colour, to me this hints at a repaint of the band at some stage, surely it would not have looked like this from the factory?

 

Please keep the ideas coming, believe it or not it really is helping to organise my thoughts!

 

 

 

 

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12 minutes ago, Ed Fleming said:

+++

This is very interesting, and I may put it to the test. I agree the balance of probability is that the band is sky and simply looks darker for some reason. The aircraft in the background would corroborate this. But then the spinner backplate is still a lighter tone! Just a lighter version of sky as used by the propeller manufacturer?

+++

 

We (or at least "I") see a "realtively dark" blue mediterranean sky. This might support the use of a yellow or light yellow filter ans panchromatic film.

 

We see the fin flash and roundel so we get an idea of (dark/subdued) red and (dark) blue, still matching panchromatic film and not outrouling the use of a yellow filter.

 

We see two men to the left of the plane showing "regular" skin tones.

 

And we see the roundel's yellow ring (not white but light grey), so if any yellowish filter was used, it was just a light one, not dark yellow.

 

So my conclusion is: The Rumpfband is not sky but a darker tone. And to me the Rumpfband looks to be done in at least two tones, a darker on on the upper half and a not so dark one on the lower half - and maybe it even a retained Sky portion at the lowest part.

 

Still, I would not dare to guess the spinner's and canon fairing's colors.

 

Interestingly the DV.M code lettering has a black outline (see the previous pic in the stream).
https://www.flickr.com/photos/158359628@N06/51443555729/in/photostream/

 

95296147_10157320461561302_1922681847091822592_o

 

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