Consolidated B-24Hs at Fort Woth plant

Early-WW2 USAAF Camouflage

USAAF Camouflage Reference Contents:

Early-WW2 USAAF Camouflage (1941-1943)

When World War II broke out, the U.S. Army Air Forces introduced camouflage consisting of Dark Olive Drab No. 41, a deep olive hue, over Neutral Gray No. 43. Sometimes an additional color, Medium Green No. 42, was also applied. It was used for additional camouflage consisting of irregular spots on the edges of wings and tail fins and stabilizers.

The exact hue of Dark Olive Drab No. 41 during WWII has been a longstanding debate, as the U.S. Army Air Force and U.S. Army versions frequently varied. Notably, when the ANA system was established in 1943, changes occurred yet again to the USAAF variant. Though there is no definitive answer, it is generally assumed that freshly painted Dark Olive Drab No. 41 had a dull olive green tint which gradually faded into either a darker shade of green or more usually towards tan over time. Such disparities in fading were caused by the diverse pigments utilized by paint suppliers to match the authorized color chip. Additionally, it faded differently on material surfaces compared to metal – hence why Dark Olive Drab No. 41 painted aircraft typicall features lighter fabric flaps, rudders, ailerons, and other moveable surfaces (or sometimes even opposite). Probably no other military camouflage shade has been seen with more diversity of hues in photographic evidence, and since all drabs tend to appear close between being green or brownish-green, small adjustments in lighting and saturation also had an effect on its visible hue.

Neutral Grey No. 43 is far less contentious, as the title suggests it's nearly a perfect neutral gray (its ancestor, Neutral Gray No. 32 according to 1939 specification had Munsell value of 5N which in 1929 notation illustrated as perfect neutral). Depending on the photograph taken, this shade can appear warmer or cooler and also tends to look darker than its real tone due to the dirt accumulation on the lower surfaces during aircraft operation.

Medium Green No. 42 replaced Sea Green No. 28 and had a much darker green hue with shades of blue. It was intended to blur the edges of the aircraft, but the effect turned out to be the opposite. This paint was much less susceptible to fading than Dark Olive Drab No. 41 and the edges of the aircraft became even more noticeable, especially in black-and-white photographs.

On June 15, 1943, the U.S. Army Air Forces issued Technical Order T.O. 07-1-1 instructing aircraft to adapt specific temporary finishes that varied from the regular colors. This was especially necessary for aircraft operating in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where the standard blotches of Medium Green No 42 were to be replaced by Dark Olive Drab No. 41 on the upper surfaces painted with Sand No. 49. For night-operated aircraft, Neutral Gray No. 43 was also to be replaced by Black No. 44 for lower surfaces to reduce visibility at dark. Due to the lack of new paints and the old colors remaining in stock, this regulation also allowed the use of predecessor analogs such as Sea Green No. 28 for Medium Green No. 42, Sand No. 26 for Sand No. 49, as well as Black No. 33 for Black No. 44 instead of the current shades stated in Specification 14057-C. After the introduction of the new specification, only a limited number of combat aircraft carried the new camouflage, either new factory-painted ones, some combat units in the mainland, and some U.S. Army bombers based in the United Kingdom.

On September 28, 1943, the ANA system was introduced to replace Bulletin No. 41 paints with new equivalents (for more details, see the article about USAAF aircraft camouflage at the end of World War II). It's common knowledge that the majority of brand-new USAAF planes kept being coated in Dark Olive Drab No. 41 and Neutral Gray No. 43 while inventory lasted; those supplies were still available even after a month since when aircrafts had been ordered not to be painted at all. Complicating the issue is that, prior to introducing the ANA system, authorities briefly reverted back to Olive Drab No. 319 - a color used by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This hue differs from both Dark Olive Drab No. 41 and ANA 613 as it consists of a paler shade of brown. Despite being an U.S. Army paint color, reports suggest it was also used on several aircraft in 1943.

Early War USAAF Camouflage Schemes

Camouflage Special Temporary
Upper Lower Upper Lower
Green
No. 42
Medium Green
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 43
Neutral Gray
No. 28
Sea Green
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 43
Neutral Gray
Desert
No. 49
Sand
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 43
Neutral Gray
No. 26
Sand
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 43
Neutral Gray
Night
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 44
Black
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 33
Black
The diagram above displays general and special schemes used at the beginning of WW2.

Olive Drab vs Olive Green vs Green Drab

In the 1920s and 1930s the Air Corps and Navy used independent color standards. But by 1939 agreement had already been reached on a single Army and Navy standard for all peacetime colors. However, the stock of colors continued to be used until they were exhausted. But by August 1942 all camouflage colors had been standardised and unified.

OLIVE DRAB: QM Spec color #22 was a good match for Air Corps OD, though the latter was a bit lighter, a little stronger, and a bit yellower. The ANA spec was the same as the 3-1 color, but the Navy made little use of Olive Drab in any case. The camouflage color was Dark Olive Drab (#31 or #41) which was darker and greener, but the word "Dark" was rarely used, and was dropped in June 1943
—Dana Bell, Air Force Colors Vol. 1

Unlike others, most USAAF aircraft did not use multi-color camouflage on the top sides. This was usually done using Olive Drab on the upper surfaces and Neutral Gray on the underside.

QMS and ANA paint chips with different colors suggesting Olive Drab shade are given below. FS analogues are also provided.

No. 08
Olive Green
No. 22
Olive Drab
No. 31
Dark Olive Drab
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
ANA 613
Olive Drab
FS 34086
Green Drab
FS 34087
Olive Drab
FS 34088
Olive Drab
Comparison chart of official U.S. olive paints

Neutral Gray (Underside Gray)

Dana Bell has provided a fairly comprehensive reference on this color.

In May of 1942 the Joint Aircraft Committee's Subcommittee on Standardization agreed to eliminate redundant paints needed for camouflaging AAF, US Navy, and British aircraft produced in the US. Under this plan, AAF Neutral Gray (QMS #43) and Navy Blue Gray (QMS #12 & M-485) were superseded by RAF Extra Dark Sea Gray, which became known simply as Sea Gray. However, enough Neutral Gray (QMS #43) had been stockpiled by mid-'42 that some aircraft produced in 1944 were still being painted the older color. Sea Gray ANA No. 603; F.S. Equivalent, 36118.
Dana Bell, Air Force Colors Vol.2
No. 43
Neutral Gray
FS 36173
Air Mobility Gray
FS 36270
Neutral Gray
No. 33
Neutral Gray
ANA 603
Sea Gray
FS 36118
Gunship Gray
FS 36176
Dark Gray
No. 10
Light Gray M-495
The QMS, ANA, and FS paint chips are referred to as Underside Gray.

Early-WW2 USAAF Color Guide

  • Dark Olive Drab No. 41: Modelers are often faced with the issue that most paint brands only offer one version of WWII USAAF color, disregarding the shifts produced by adapting to ANA. As a result, a paint labelled as simply "US Olive Drab" doesn't provide much guidance for model makers. Another issue is whether or not the aircraft was recently painted in Dark Olive Drab No. 41 due to it having recently arrived at an airfield or if it has exposed to sun and weather conditions over time.
  • Neutral Gray No. 43: Neutral Gray No. 43 is more populare among model paint makers, and its closest match is FS 36173 (with some similarities to FS 36270). However, there isn't an ANA counterpart since the color that replaced it - ANA 603 - has a much darker hue with bits of blue.
  • Medium Green No. 42: As the Medium Green No. 42 color was never a predominant fuselage color, most paint suppliers have steered clear of it. It was later replaced by ANA 612 and is sometimes compared to FS 34092 which is available in most paint ranges. However, there are enough disparities between them that they cannot be regarded as one in the same (thus being deemed an approximation instead of a perfect match).
Original Paint No. 43
Neutral Gray
No. 41
Dark Olive Drab
No. 42
Medium Green
Scheme
General Lower Upper Blotches
Arcus Colors 517 - 525
Model paints can be used for early-WW2 USAAF aircraft camouflage.

Photos of USAAF Aircraft in Early-WW2 Camouflage

Consolidated B-24H at Fort Worth plant
Several Consolidated B-24Hs showing freshly applied Dark Olive Drab No. 41 over Neutral Gray No. 43. The photo was taken in 1943 at the Fort Worth aircraft plant.
Camouflaged C-87
The photo of the Consolidated C-87 transport aircraft illustrates the greenish hue of the Dark Olive Drab No. 41, widely used at the beginning of WWII.
B-17E over the ocean
A very good wartime photo from a color reproduction perspecive. Dark Olive Drab No. 41 applied to this B-17E also has a green hue. Noteworthy is the distinct difference in shade on the metal surfaces and fabric skin on the ailerons, tail and rudders.
Boeing B-17F-5-BO Flying Fortress s/n 41-24419 of 341st Bomber Squadron, 97th Bombing Group
This B-17F was originally assigned to the 327th Bomber Squadron, 92nd Bomber Group, and was named the "Virgin Sturgeon". Later, in 1942, this Boeing was reassigned to the 341st Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bomber Group, where it was renamed "Honey Chile II" and the noseart was repainted with a fresh coat of Dark Olive Drab No.41, which looks distinctly darker and greener than the brownish faded paint.
B-26 s/n 42-10754 K9X of 494 Bomber Squadron, 344 Bombing Group
Unlike most factory photos where the freshly painted Dark Olive Drab No. 41 has a greenish hue, the paint on this Martin B-26 Marauder is more brownish looking.
Land-lease Douglas A-20 in USSR
A very good photo illustrating the difference in the Dark Olive Drab No. 41 and the Medium Green No. 42 camouflage patches applied to the tail of this Douglas A-20 awaiting delivery to the Soviet Union under the lend-lease.
Curtiss P-40N 74th Fighter Squadron in China
Rare excellent quality color photo where you can clearly see the worn olive camouflage with medium green blotches on the Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk preparing for a rocket mission in China.
Camouflaged B-17F Little Audrey
The camouflage pattern of Medium Green No. 42 blotches was quite varied. In some cases, Medium Green No.42 could completely replace the Dark Olive Drab No. 41 on the upper surfaces because it was less susceptible to fading in the sun, and the high probability of Luftwaffe raids on air bases in England required effective camouflage. However, in some cases, as on this Boeing B-17F, Medium Green camouflage patches could cover all the upper surfaces of the aircraft, not just the edges of the wings and tail.

References to Early-WW2 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)
  • David Rapasi, Shades of O.D. & Neutral Gray, ARC
  • Rodrigo Aguilera, The World Wars.net

Read More on USAAF Camouflage:

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

1 of 4