Consolidated LB-30A in desert camouflage

Desert WW2 Camouflage of USAAF Aircraft in The MTO

USAAF Camouflage Reference Contents:

Desert WW2 Camouflage of USAAF Aircraft in The MTO (1941-1943)

During the North Africa campaign, U.S. Army Air Force aircraft had various camouflage patterns using both US and RAF desert colors. The primary desert camouflage scheme initially used Sand No. 26 over Neutral Gray No. 43. Sand 26 was introduced by previous specification 14057-C on December 1939 and was still in use since The Air Corps Bulletin No. 41 the Sand color was not specified.

On 1 October 1942, Bulletin No. 41-A was updated by adding Sand No. 49 to its palette which was noticeably different from Sand No. 26, which had a lighter tone and a flesh-like appearance. Both Sand No. 26 and Sand No.49 resembled desert pink more than sand. Based on the available wartime color photos, it can be inferred that both colors faded into a tan-like shade. It is highly likely that the aircraft involved in the Torch landings were painted in Sand No. 26.

It is likely that Sand No. 49 was first used for combat aircraft during the later stages of the North African campaign, specifically during the battle of Tunisia and subsequent conflicts in Sicily and southern Italy. However, in September 1943, the ANA system was introduced and Sand No. 49 was replaced with ANA 616 Sand. ANA 616 was lighter than Sand No. 49, but darker than Sand No. 26. It had a less pinkish tint and was matched to post-war FS 30279. It's unlikely that it was used in many aircraft, if any, as the front line was moving to more temperate regions and most U.S. Army aircraft were left in bare metal.

It was common for USAAF aircraft to have a three-tone camouflage scheme consisting of Dark Olive Drab No. 41 and Sand No. 26 (or No. 49) over Neutral Gray No. 43 in a pattern similar to RAF camouflage. Sometimes, U.S. aircraft would use RAF camouflage schemes, which could either be U.S. paints or repainted using leftover RAF stocks.

The use of sand color was not limited to the Mediterranean. In fact, it was also applied on certain planes that participated in the New Guinea campaign, including the P-40s flown by the 15th Fighter Group. However, that paint was not the same as the one used in the MTO. It was much lighter and designed to blend in with the white sands of the South Pacific. The underside was most likely white. The only thing that is obvious in the pictures is that the demarcation line was lower compared to the usual pattern. Moreover, the presence of Neutral Gray No. 43 on wheel caps in some photos suggests that this color scheme was improvised.

This article covers only the camouflage of U.S. aircraft in MTO. The Northwest African Air Force (NAAF) used temporary special desert schemes from March 1943, which are described separately.

Color Guide to Desert WW2 Camouflage of U.S. Army Aircraft in The Mediterranean

  • Neutral Gray No. 43: Standard undersurface color of US Army aircraft at the beginning of WWII. Along with the Dark Olive Drab No.41 it was described in detail in the article 'Early-WW2 Camouflage'.
  • Sand No. 26: Based on the information provided, the best paint option would be FS 31433. Also for color, the closest option would be flesh-colored equivalents, not too pink and not too light.
  • Sand No. 49: Although ANA 616 is often considered the same as Sand No.49, it lacks the pinkish hue of the original. A similar color variant is RAF Desert Pink, which is darker and pinker than FS 30279 and very similar to the fresh Sand No. 49 paint. The FS 31433 variant is also considered close.
  • Sand ANA 616: Paints labeled "US Desert Sand" generally correspond to the color FS 30279, which replaced ANA 616.
  • Dark Olive Drab No. 41: The most common olive camouflage colour for the upper surfaces of US Army aircraft at the initial stage of WW2.
Original Paint No. 43
Neutral Gray
No. 26
No. 49
ANA 616
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
Desert Lower Upper / Upper Patches - - Upper Patches
Desert (Oct. 1942) Lower - Upper / Upper Patches - Upper Patches
Desert (Sep. 1943) Lower - - Upper / Upper Patches Upper Patches
Arcus Colors 517 - - 523 -
Model paints can be used for WW2 desert camouflage of USAAF aircraft in the MTO.

Photos of Desert Camouflaged U.S. Army Aircraft in The MTO

B-25 of the 12th BG over North Africa 1942
In August 1942, the B-25s of the 12th Bomber Group were among the first U.S. Air Force aircraft to take part in the fighting for North Africa. The photo illustrates how the Sand No. 26 on the upper surfaces looks like the surrounding landscape.
B-24 operation Torch
This photo shows a Consolidated B-24D wearing Sand and Neutral Gray camouflage. In desert aircraft was easily covered in dust and quickly faded in the heat of the sun. As seen on the picture, the front of the aircraft appears clean, which may indicate that it is a recently arrived aircraft. This can also be determined by the "Torch" time insignia on the fuselage sides.
P-40 of the 57th FG in Africa
A very good wartime color picture taken by a Life photographer shows the distinct pink hue of the Sand color applied to the upper surfaces of this P-40 from the 57th Fighter Group.
Curtiss P-40N Geronimo of the 57th FG
Not only aircraft from North Africa and MTO could wear desert camouflage. This P-40N Geronimo was also painted Sand to camouflage it in the Pacific sands. Note that the wheel covers remained dark, which suggests that they may have remained Neutral Gray No. 43.

References to Desert USAAF Camouflage:

  • Archer, Robert D. and Archer, Victor G., USAAF Aircraft Markings and Camouflage 1941-1947, Schiffer Publishing (1997)
  • Bell, Dana, Air Force Colors Volume 1 1926-1942, Squadron/Signal Publications (1995)
  • Bell, Dana, Air Force Colors Volume 2 ETO & MTO 1942-1945, Squadron/Signal Publications (1980)
  • Elliot, John M., The Official Monogram US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide Vol 2 1940-1949, Monogram Aviation Publications (1989)
  • Rodrigo Aguilera, The World

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