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Colour Conundrum
RAF Tropical Land Schemes 1934 – 1943 Part 2

It would appear that Middle East Commanddid actually intend to use Middle Stonebecause it is mentioned by name in AMO A.926/40 dated 12 December 1940 in paragraph 5 (i):

“Aircraft of the Middle East Command are coloured MIDSTONE in place of the DARK GREEN.” In the context of the rest of the AMO this meant that Middle East Command aircraft were finished on their upper surfaces in Dark Earth and Midstone. Despite the slight difference in how the colour name is written between 'Middle Stone' in BS 381 and 'Midstone' in the AMO and later RAF documentation, a comparison by eye of BS 381 (1930) No.62 Middle Stone and the RAF colour 'Midstone' reveals them to be identical.

The introduction of Midstone appears to have caused some consternation at the RAE. Following publication of AMO A.926/40, on 21 December 1940, the RAE wrote to the Air Ministry to raise a number of concerns over the contents of the AMO. Paragraph 5 (I) read: 'The term 'Midstone' has not to our knowledge been used for any aircraft camouflage colour and is not included in the standard camouflage colour booklets. Presumably Light Earth is meant and there seems to be no reason why this name should not be retained.'

The Air Ministry replied on 22 January 1941 stating that Midstone was a new colour introduced only in the Middle East and would be applied by personnel there.

Midstone aircraft specification materials would appear to have been provisioned for the RAF Vocabulary of Stores during the summer of 1940. At the time of writing the lowest 33B reference number for Midstone, and therefore presumably the earliest, known of by the author is 33B/356 for 5 gallons of cellulose in a home container. To put this into some kind of context it lies between 33B/330-338 for Sky, introduced from circa April 1940 and 33B/378 for Azure Blue which dates from December 1940. After 33B/356, the next lowest number held for Midstone is 33B/413 which is also for 5 gallons of cellulose but this time in an overseas container.

It would appear that there was a gap of at least six months between the decision being taken to introduce a new colour and it actually becoming available in Britain. Evidence for this is perhaps provided by the late Ian Huntley. In Scale Aircraft Modelling Volume 7, No.3, December 1984 he quoted a Research and Development Memorandum DA.3 dated 6 June 1941as having a footnote which stated that Dope, Middlestone and Dope, Azure Blue were just in production and would be available for use by aircraft destined for the Middle East.

How quickly the application of the new desert camouflage spread to monoplanes which were already finished on the upper surfaces in the Temperate Land Scheme is not known for certain. What is known however is that according to the entry in 257 Wing's ORB for 10 January 1941 in reply to a proposal from HQ Middle East it was agreed that 'desert' camouflage be standardised for all squadrons in the Wing and the squadrons were notified accordingly. 257 Wing was the Night Bomber Wing consisting of 37 Squadron, 38 Squadron and 70 Squadron which were equipped with Wellingtons and 216 Squadron which was equipped with Bombays.

Thus it would appear to be likely that unless Middle East Command could source a supply of Midstone in aircraft specification materials locally in Egypt, the wider Middle East or from countries further afield such as Australia, until Midstone became available as a production colour in the UK from June 1941, aircraft finished in a desert camouflage scheme either in the UK before dispatch or locally within Middle East Command, were actually being finished with Light Earth.

The Australian connection

Australia might sound a little unlikely as a source of aircraft finishing materials for Middle East Command, but it would appear that this was actually the case. In a letter from the Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Australian Air Force to the Chief of the Air Staff of the RAF dated 6 June 1941 para.16 stated that 'As you may know, two Officers from the Middle East were here in April to place orders for a large variety of general equipment wherever there was a likleyhood of early supply.' There followed a long list of items shipped which included 'Paints and Dopes'. Unfortunately no further details are given.

That Middle East Command received supplies of aircraft finishing materials from Australia might explain an apparent variation in Desert Scheme camouflage which Geoffrey Pentland commented upon in his book 'RAAF Camouflage and Markings 1939-45' Volume 2, published by Kookaburra in1989. On page 12 he mentioned apparent variations in the hue of Dark Earth stating that 'well substantiated shade variations...ranging from the equivalent of RAAF light earth to a shade almost as dark as RAAF earth brown.' He then went on to write that 'The phenomenon is particularly striking on the RAF's desert-camouflaged Hurricanes and Spitfires where the darker of the two upper surface colors was frequently very dark indeed, the overall effect being totally out of character with the appearance of a normal dark earth and middle stone combination.'

Was this very dark brown colour actually RAAF K3/178 'RAF Dark Earth' which was later renamed 'Earth Brown'? If so, this would explain the apparent use of a very dark brown colour since Earth Brown is usually matched with FS 36099. The very name of K3/178 'RAF Dark Earth' implies that there was some confusion about this colour and can only have made its supply to Middle East Command in place of the usual shade of Dark Earth more plausible until the error was discovered and corrective action taken.

As far as the author is aware, the origins of the RAAF colours Earth Brown and Foliage Green which when used together could possibly be termed a tropical land scheme, even if this combination was never officially so designated, remain obscure. It is apparent that they already existed upon the outbreak of war in September 1939 because RAAF AGI C.11 dated 22 September 1939 introduced camouflage using the colours Foliage Green K3/ 177, 'RAF Dark Earth' K3/178 and Night K3/179.

For Earth Brown and Foliage Green to have existed in September 1939, they must already have been in existence for some time previously. As stated in Part 1 of this article, in Britain, under wartime conditions, it seems to have taken about six months to get a new aircraft finish into production and effect delivery. Thus it would appear that Earth Brown and Foliage Green cannot have been formulated and the decision made to put them into production as aircraft camouflage finishes to a relevant DTD technical specification any later than the end of March 1939.

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November 2019