Desert US Army Air Force Aircraft Camouflage in The MTO

Desert US Army Air Force Aircraft Camouflage in The MTO


Mediterranean Theater (1941-43)

USAAF aircraft that participated in the North Africa campaign had a bewildering array of camouflage patterns, using both US colors as well as approximations of RAF desert camouflage. The basic desert camouflage scheme was initially Sand No. 26 over Neutral Gray No. 43. Sand 26 was part of the older Specification 14057-C from 27 December 1939 and would have still been in use given that Air Corps Bulletin No. 41 did not include an equivalent Sand color. This changed on 1 October 1942 when Sand No. 49 was added the palette in Bulletin No. 41-A. The two Sands were noticeably different. Sand 26 was lighter and had a flesh-like hue. Both colors are closer to desert pinks than sand, but the few color photos available suggest that they faded into a more tan-like color. Aircraft participating in the Torch landings were almost certainly using Sand 26. Sand 49 probably found its way into combat aircraft late in the North African campaign, probably during the fighting in Tunisia as well as the fighting that followed in Sicily and southern Italy. The introduction of the ANA system in September 1943 resulted in Sand 49 being succeeded by Sand ANA 616. Lighter than Sand 49 (though not as much as No 26), it was noticeably less pink, being matched to post-war FS 30279. It is unlikely that it was used in anything more than a handful of aircraft (if at all) given that by then the fighting was moving into more temprate regions and most USAAF aircraft were being left in natural metal anyway.

USAAF aircraft were also known to carry a three-tone scheme which usually consisted of Dark Olive Drab No. 41 and Sand 26/49 over NG 43 in a pattern remniscient of RAF camouflage. RAF camouflage schemes were also known to be used on USAAF aircraft these being US equivalents or possibly field repaints from RAF stocks. Although Sand is most closely associated with the MTO, it was also used on some aircraft in the Pacific during the New Guinea campaign such as the P-40s of the 15th Fighter Group. However, it is believed that this was a completely different type of paint, being considerably lighter and intended to conceal aircraft against the white sands of the South Pacific. Undersides were probably white, although photographic evidence suggests that much more of the fuselage was painted sand relative to the normal demarcations. Some photos show NG 43 wheel caps which are further suggestive of the ad hoc nature of this scheme.

The Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF) sported temporary special schemes from March 1943 which will be described additionally.

Color Guide to US Army Aircraft in The MTO

  • Neutral Gray No. 43: Standard undersurface color of US Army aircraft at the beginning of WWII, it has been described in detail in the article 'Early-WW2 Camouflage'.
  • Sand No. 26: The closest match would be FS 31433. Flesh equivalents are probably the closest insofar as they are not excessively pink or excessively light.
  • Sand No. 46: Although often taken as interchangeable with ANA 616, the latter would miss out on the original's pinkish hue. A possible equivalent is RAF Gulf War Desert Pink which is both darker and pinker than FS 30279 and thus very close to what Sand 49 looked like when freshly painted. It is included as a close equivalent along with FS 31433, the proposed close equivalent, which is rare.
  • Sand ANA 616: Most paints that are labelled as 'US Desert Sand' or something of the sort tend to match with FS 30279 which superseded ANA 616. 
  • Olive Drab No. 41: The most common olive camouflage colour for the upper surfaces of US Army aircraft at the initial stage of WW2.
No.43 Neutral Gray No.26 Sand No.49 Sand ANA 616 Sand No.41 Olive Drab
Desert Lower Upper / Upper Camo - - Upper Camo
Desert (Oct 42) Lower - Upper / Upper Camo - Upper Camo
Desert (Sep 43) Lower - - Upper / Upper Camo Upper Camo
Gunze Aqueous H53 (H44) (?) - - (H78)
Gunze Mr. Color C13 (C51) (?) - - (C38)
Humbrol 176 (61) (?) - (250) (66)
Model Master (2035) (2001) (?) - 2053 -
Revell (374) (35) (?) - - -
Tamiya XF-53 (XF-15) (?) - - XF-62
Vallejo Model Air 71.051* - - 71.140* 71.316
Vallejo Model Color (70.992) 70.804** (70.804) - -
AKAN 72038 - - - -
AK Interactive AK 2203 (AK 3012) (?) - (AK 2111) AK 2201
AK Real Colors RC261 - - (RC032) RC259
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-239* (A.MIG-116) (?) - - A.MIG-237*
Colourcoats ACUS13* - (ACRN16) - ACUS15
Hataka HTK-_033 - - (HTK-_068) HTK-_004
Lifecolor UA 046* (UA 709) (?) UA 089* (UA 089) UA 005*
Mission Models - - - - MMP-091
Mr. Paint MRP-141 (MRP-185) MRP-144 MRP-139
Xtracolor (X158) (X406) (?) (X032) - -
Xtracrylix (XA1158) - (X1032) - -
Arcus 517 - - 523 -

Photos of US Army Aircraft in The MTO

B-25 of the 12th BG over North Africa 1942 The B-25s of the 12th Bombardment Group were among the first USAAF aircraft to see combat in North Africa, in August 1942. Here they show how their Sand 26 topsides blend with the terrain.
B-24 operation Torch A B-24 in Sand over NG camo. Aircraft in the MTO were very dusty and faded quickly in the scorching sun. However, at least the forward fuselage here appears clean which may suggest a recently arrived aircraft, given the Torch landings-era insignia.
P-40 of the 57th FG in Africa The P-40s of the 57th Fighter Group were pictured in color by Life Magazine. This photo has been resaturated by a third to show the pinkish hue of Sand 26 (or 49).
The well-known P-40N 'Geronimo' of the 15th Fighter Group shows the special sand color used on some Pacific aircraft. It would have blended well with the sand from above. Note the wheel caps which are most likely NG 43.


  • 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)
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