Colour Conundrums of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain Part 1
Scale Aircraft Modelling|November 2020
Confidential Admiralty Fleet Order (CAFO)477/40 'Colouring and Markings of British,French and German Aircraft' dated 23 March 1940 provides a useful summary of British knowledge and understanding of Luftwaffe camouflage and marking practice at the start of the period under examination here.
Paul Lucas

Section III was headed 'German Military Aircraft' and read as follows:

'(A) Camouflage and Colouring.

(i) Upper surfaces are painted dark olive green.

(ii) Under surfaces are usually painted light sky blue.

(B) National markings.

(i) A black Greek cross on both sides of the fuselage and upper and under surfaces of the wing tips.

(ii) a black Swastika on both sides of the tail plane.

(C) Aircraft letters.

A combination of letters and numbers is shown on the sides of the fuselage.'

The description of Luftwaffe camouflage and markings contained in this CAFO can probably be taken as an indication of what British pilots were told to expect Luftwaffe aircraft to look like when they met them in combat. This description was what was considered to be normal and thus anything that did not appear to match this description would have been considered abnormal and thus worthy of being reported.

The reports quoted here have been accepted in good faith, as being accurate descriptions of what the pilots concerned thought they saw. Irrespective of whether the colour schemes described actually existed or not, they represent variations from the norm, and it is not the author’s intent to try and make the case that any of the finishes described here saw widespread use. It may be the case that the finish was limited only to the particular aircraft reported, or a relatively small number of aircraft from the same unit. If aircraft from the same unit were reported using similar nomenclature on different days in different reports, this might give the impression that a particular scheme was more widely used than was actually the case.

The material presented here has for the most part been taken from three types of primary source. The first type are Fighter Command Intelligence Summaries (FCIS), which, as might be surmised from their title, were summaries issued by HQ Fighter Command, usually spanning a period of two to three days. For example, FCIS No.176 covered the period from 0900 hrs. 14 September to 0900 hrs. 16 September 1940, the period that is usually considered by British historians to be the climax of the Battle of Britain.

The second type are 11 Group Intelligence Bulletins (11G IB), which were issued every few days during the early Battle of Britain period before being issued on a daily basis as the fighting intensified. Thus the same period covered by FCIS No.176 was also covered by 11G IB No.54 for 14 September, No.55 for 15 September, and No.56 for 16 September 1940.

The third type are the Crash Reports (CR) written by RAF Intelligence Officers following examination of the remains of enemy aircraft that came down over Britain, which were also issued on a daily basis. These reports, however, might contain details of enemy aircraft that had been brought down several days prior to the date of the report due to the time lag inherent in having to travel to the wreck site and examine the wreckage before writing up the report. For example, CR No.29, dated 14 September, contained details of aircraft brought down on 11 September, while CR No.33, dated 18 September, contained details of aircraft brought down on 15 September 1940. The material has been organised here by topic, roughly in the chronological order in which the topic arises, whilst all the documents cited under each topic are presented in chronological order. It should be noted that there are occasional discrepancies in dates and other details from one document to another.

Phantom Roundels

From the onset of the Blitzkreig in May 1940 until sometime around mid-August 1940, there are many reports made of Luftwaffe aircraft carrying roundels similar to those carried by British or French aircraft. FCIS No.96 of 14 May 1940 contained a short paragraph entitled 'Enemy Aircraft Markings', which summarised a report originating with the Advanced Air Striking Force in France thus:

'Section leader of 501 Squadron returned from attack on nine He. 111's reports three of these aircraft had white roundels on fuselage and wings. No repeat no black cross or other normal markings.'

FCIS No.114, dated 2 June, was the first to mention what became a common description of the colour of the fuselage and sometimes upper wing marking on Luftwaffe aircraft when it stated that

'It is reported that all He.111's seen over France have a yellow ring similar to the one painted on our aircraft. This is round the black cross in the usual position on the fuselage.'

The RAF had reintroduced a Yellow outer ring to the fuselage roundels of its aircraft with effect from 1 May 1940 and this had consequently a month to become widely perceived as a recognition feature of British aircraft.

July 1940 saw further reports of Luftwaffe aircraft carrying roundels such as that included in FCIS No.143 dated 8 July:

'It is reported that an E/A engaged over Falmouth was seen to have British or French roundels with yellow outer circles on the wings, and roundels without yellow circles on the fuselage.'

This was followed by 11G IB No.5, that covered 14 and 15 July, that stated:

'601 Squadron report that a Do.215 which they engaged on 11/7/40 was difficult to identify as the upper surface of each wing was marked with a black cross surrounded by a circle.'

Further identification problems were recounted in 11G IB No.6 that covered 15, 16 and 17 July thus '

“A” Flight 145 Squadron on patrol 17/7/40 sighted two aircraft 1,000 feet below them, which were at first thought to be Blenheims. They appeared to have standard R.A.F. camouflage, with yellow roundels on wings and fuselage. The two aircraft then started firing, black crosses on the roundels were observed, and it was realised that they were JU.88's.'

Other reports from July include FCIS No.147, dated 20 July, and 11G IB No.16, dated 29 July, as follows:

'Enemy bombers have been seen with black crosses surrounded by yellow roundels.'

'54 Squadron report that some Me. 109's which they engaged on 25/7/40 had red, white, blue and yellow vertical markings on their fins, and yellow roundels on the upper surfaces of the mainplanes.'

The reports continued into August. 11G IB No.25 of 12 August stated:

'One pilot 56 Squadron reports that the Dorniers encountered by his Squadron on 12/8/40 had big yellow roundels on the fuselage similar to the size and position of those on our aircraft but he was unable to see the markings inside the roundels.Another pilots reports that the Me. 109's had vertical white stripes on the fins and yellow roundels on the fuselage similar to our own aircraft.'

This same encounter was reported within FCIS No.153, dated 13 August, as follows: 'It is reported by a pilot that the Dornier 215 encountered on the 11th over the Estuary had big yellow roundels on the fuselage, similar in size and position to those on our a/c, but he was unable to see the markings inside the roundels.'

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