Panzer Facts #4
ACCURATE CAMOUFLAGE COLORS AND PATTERNS
by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
FOR GERMAN PANZERS FROM 1933 TO 1943
The correct camouflage colors and patterns applied to German Panzers from 1933 to 1943 have been published in the recently released Panzer Tracts No.1-2 - Panzerkampfwagen I - kl.Pz.Bef.Wg. to VK 18.01. These colors are based on German Army orders and manuals and original RAL paint chips from 1922 to1941.
How did we succeed in getting these colors and patterns right when so many other attempts have failed? The answer is simple - persistent in-depth research that took over 15 years. This investment in time and money was needed to sort out the right answers when we were faced with seemingly contradictory evidence. We also refused to release the results until we could accurately print the colors through a tightly controlled process.
What caused others to publish results that are so far off the mark? It shouldn't have been lack of guidance. Our good friend and mentor, Walter J. Spielberger wrote an article entitled "Coloring of German WWII Tanks" which was printed in George Bradford's AFV News Vol. No.3 in November 1965. Spielberger stated that: "Up to 1935, the Reichswehr colored their vehicles in the usual multicolor pattern, mainly green, brown, and yellow. Starting in 1935, the official paint for all German vehicles, including armor, was a dark grey/dark brown combination. Since 1940 the dark brown was discontinued and all vehicles were painted in dark grey only. . ."
As an example let's look at the Squadron/Signal Publication "Panzer Colors" since it is widely known and many modelers, model magazines, and other authors use it as their key reference. The authors of "Panzer Colors" state:in their Sources and Acknowledgements:
"The basic information on official WW II German camouflage color specifications is contained in a c. 1957 paper by F. Wiener, written for the R.A.C. Tank Museum at Bovington. . . Walter Spielberger's book on German armored cars, 1900-1945, provided the material on Reichwehr color schemes. . ."
on page 9 in the text:
In 1922 new standards for painting vehicles were issued, retaining the wartime gray, green, and brown for combat type vehicles, . . .
on page 10 in the text:
In 1935, the new Wehrmacht standardized a new basic scheme for all large items of military equipment, including all vehicles and large weapons. The colors were dark gray and dark brown, and the proportion of color to be used was 2/3 gray to 1/3 brown, . . ."
and, on page 11:
"The Campaign in France and the Low Countries was fought by German vehicle painted overall dark gray, . . ."
Walter Spielberger had already correctly determined that the Reichswehr colors were yellow, green, and brown not gray, green, and brown. So where did the authors of "Panzer Colors" come up with the idea that the "Reichswehr" colors were gray, green, and brown - and - where did they get the false impression that Panzers employed in Poland and the Campaign in the West were painted dark gray? Let's take a look at the reference that they claimed was used.
David Fletcher at The Tank Museum provided a copy of the document that the authors of Panzer Colors stated that they had used. The report "Der Anstrich des Heeresgeraets 1939-1945 1945" was written by Fritz Wiener (a close associate of Walter Spielberger). This report had been translated into English in November 1967 as "Painting of Army Equipment 1939 - 45" and contains the following relevant statements: "With the change from multi-coloured combat uniforms to plain colours, striking colours were avoided on equipment. As far back as 1914 all armies went on active service with their equipment painted grey-green, grey-brown or in a similar unobtrusive colour. During the first World War they attempted to make large equipments (guns, vehicles, etc.) less visible to the enemy by painting them with large irregular patches in shades of grey, green, and brown. This so called "Mimicry" type of painting was then adopted by the Armed Forces (Reichswehr). . . After 1935, the Armed Forces introduced a new and considerably darker shade of grey-brown for use on their equipment. . . .This paint was in general use in the Fall of 1939, but the first alteration came in 1939 (sic - 1940 in the original document).
Fritz Wiener then goes on to quote the earliest dated general order that he had found: (HM 1940 No.804) Painting of Equipment: In order to save paint the following instructions will be observed for the duration of the war: 1. Equipment previously painted dark-grey/dark-brown will be painted in dark-grey only. (OKH. (Chef Ruest u. BdE) 31.7.1940.
- Fact 1: Fritz Wiener simply makes the general statement that starting in WWI, it became the practice of "all" armies to paint their equipment in unobtrusive colors. He never states that the Reichswehr painted the Panzers in grey, green, and brown.
- Fact 2: Fritz Wiener did not find copies of the general army orders written prior to 1940. Therefore, he only expressed a general supposition that the Armed Forces introduced dark grey and dark brown "after 1935". In fact, the change from the three tone yellow/brown/green to dark grey/dark brown was not introduced until 1937.
- Fact 3: Fritz Wiener distinctly stated that equipment used in the Fall of 1939 (campaign in Poland) was painted in a two-tone camouflage pattern of dark grey/dark brown. The general army order to paint the Panzers (and other equipment) in the single color - dark grey - was not signed until 31 July 1940 - well after the Campaign in France had ended. Therefore, all Panzers used in the Campaign in France and the Low Countries were also painted 1/3 dark brown and 2/3 dark grey.
The authors of "Panzer Colors" had not found references that precisely defined which colors had been used during the pre-war era or when the changeover occurred. They were also misled by the mistake in the English translation, stating that a change was made in1939 instead of 1940. However, they also ignored evidence in their references whenever it was apparently contradicted by what they observed in photographs.
- Fact 4: With the exception of a few high contrast prints of black & white photographs of Panzers taken from 1938 to 1940 using glass plate negatives, it is not possible to see the dark brown patches in contrast to the dark grey background. The difference can't even be spotted using modern color photography. We had a set of the original RAL dark grey and dark brown color swatches photographed in bright light by a professional. But as you can see from the scanned image of the developed photograph - there is no distinct difference. If you can't see the difference when you purposefully go after it with close-up shots taken by a professional photographer - there is no chance of seeing the two-tone camouflage pattern in photographs of far-off dusty Panzers in action.
Now that we've conquered the six pre- and early-war camouflage colors, we're currently working on achieving close reproductions of four colors used in Nord Afrika and four colors used from 1943 to 1945. We plan to publish an accurate reference book on German camouflage colors from 1922 to 1945 next year. Until then, if you are interested in accuracy, it might be a good idea to paint only models of Panzers in service up to March 1943 (but not in North Africa).
Pictured here: Scan of the photograph of the original RAL color swatches No.45 dunkelbraun (dark brown) and No.46 dunkelgrau (dark grey).
© 2002 Panzer Tracts