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Camouflage of Soviet fighters, September 1943-1945
by Massimo Tessitori

Updated on October 4, 2013

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The black and green camouflage hurrily introduced in summer 1941 wasn't considered fully satisfactory, and many officers complained of it, also because black is not between the colors of the ground. In June 1942, 20 aircraft LaGG-3 built in factory n.21 and 20 Pe-2s bult in factory n.22 were painted with a 3-shade camouflage for testing purposes, and they obtained positive feedbacks when distributed to operative units.

In flight, the black-green camouflage was good in distance, when the bluish tint of the atmosphere covers its dark shades, but was too visible against the blush horizon when the plane was close to the observer. This livery wasn't good to reduce the visibility of a plane engaged into an air-to air combat, particularly if compared to the new camouflage of German fighters: RLM-74 dark grey-green, RLM-75 medium grey-violet, with RLM-76 light grey-blue undersurfaces.

Another factor entered to influence the choice of a new standard camouflage during the early spring of 1943 was the lack of raw materials as lead and chromium oxide, both utilized for AMT-4 and A-24m green paints. Already in 1942 there was a directive about the use of one coat of green paint instead of the previously applied two coats to save paint; a further cut was necessary now.

In April 1943, a grey/grey Yak-9 was presented as a proposal for the new standard camouflage of fighters. This led some criticism, according to which only one of two greys had to pe used, and only as a part of a three-colors or four-colors camouflage.

Right: The same plane at the NII-VVS show room in 1943. The contrast with the darker green painting of MiG-3, and with the green/black camo of Il-2 and Pe-2 is evident.

It's intereresting to note that the plane was new, arrived from Zavod 115 to the NII VVS for testing already with the grey/grey livery, is well documented in detail photos, that doesn't show any trace of repaintings for test purposes.

From photographic records, it seems that some Yakovlev planes built in Zavod 115 (late production Yak-7B, early production Yak-9 and some prototypes as the first Yak-1M) were very similar in look to the Yak-9 above, that is widely known as the prototype of grey/grey fighters: they show the same pattern and the same contrast.

This suggests that Zavod 115 started to experience the use of two-greys camouflage in late 1942 already, when all other factories still painted fighters in black/green camouflage.

Those greys, supposedly similar to the AMT-11 and 12 put into inventory in 1943, could have obtained by mixing AMT-7 light blue with AMT-7 black.

The vast light blue part on the fuselage sides would be very demasking against a grassy background, but perfect to break the shape of a plane on the horizon.

It's interesting to remember that many Yakovlev prototypes received a green/black camouflage already in late 1940, more than six months before the officialization on the NKAP instructions in 1941; besides, Yak-6 received a three shades camouflage much before it was officialized on the NKAP instructions in August 1943. So it is likely that Yakovlev, that was deputy commissar for the aircraft production, experienced new camouflages on his planes and imposed them to other factories in a second time.

These considerations were much debated, but this image from a video confrms them: we see a Yak-9 with 'serpentine' camouflage aside an usual black-green one, and the difference in shade is clear.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZDMfJdkESI at 4:13

http://sovietwarplanes.com/board/index.php?topic=1085.0

Left:

The grey-grey camouflage was confronted with that of Major-General Losyukov, that proposed, in February 1943, a Yak-1 painted with a 3- shades scheme of AMT-4 green, AMT-6 black, AMT-1 light greyish brown. From the photo aside, we can see that the light brown has been brush painted over a factory painted black/green plane.

Right:

These contrasting necessities led the Scientific Instiute of Air Force, NII-VVS, to make tests from June 20 to 27 of 1943, comparing these two planes plus a Yak-1 with standard green-black camo. These three planes were wiewed and photographed from many angles and distances and against different environmental backgrounds.

 

Left:

The directive n°2389/0133 of July 3, 1943, gave new instructions to paint the Soviet warplanes:

  • the upper and side surfaces of all fighter aircraft are to have two colors: greyish blue and dark grey in the same scheme;
  • upper and side surfaces of all types of aircraft but fighters have to be camouflaged in green, light brown and dark grey (black for Il-4 and Pe-8);
  • the red stars remained in the same six positions of before, but were addictioned with a thick white outline and, more externally, with a further thin red outline.
  • the directive applies to new planes and those in repair shops; it wasn't required that operative units repainted all their planes.

The directive contained 15 camouflage schemes for many types, of which only one for the fighters; so, Lavochkins and Yaks had to be conformed to the same template.

The template itself was well different from the serpentine camouflage of the grey-grey test plane. The lines shown in the template are splinter-like, but this wasn't always respected on real planes.

According to the Soviet handbook for wooden aircraft desing "Projektirovanie derevjannyh samoljetov", page 355 (NKAP SSSR, Moskva, 1945), the darker layer (AMT-12) was painted first, and then AMT-11 blue-grey was painted on it. (cit. K. Lumppio)

 

 

 

Yak-1b

Yak-1B remained in production till the mid of 1944 before being replaced by Yak-3 on the assembly lines.

After July 1943, Yak-1bs were delivered with the new grey/grey camo scheme, usually with light blue undersurfaces.

Yak-3

 

A photo of Yak-3 prototype under testing. The fresh colors show a strong contrast. The painting scheme differs from the standard template on the nose and left wingroot where it's curved and moved forward; the remaining part follows fairly well the template, even in a weak attempt to be angular. Note the stars, whose outline looks silver instead than white.
On this plane, the distribution of the bands conform well to the template, but the contrast is very low, probably due to the quick fading of dark grey AMT-12.
On this plane it's the AMT-11 blue-grey to be faded.
This photo of the Yak-3s of Normandie-Niemen just arrived in Bourget in 1945 confirms that the variability of colors, or at least of the blue-grey AMT-11, was real and not only due to bad exposition of the photos.
Lower and lower contrast. Note the soft angulated lines.
This plane seems to show evidence of repainting on the mid and front fuselage, while the rear fuselage and wings show extremely faded colors. This style of repainting was common enough on photos, possibly because the front part of the plane was more prone to wearing, while the rear part was complicated to be repainted because of the star and bort numbers. On this photo, both the number and the outline of the star looks silver instead of white.
   

Yak-7B

 

 

 

 

This type was already out of production in August 1943, anyway many of them were repainted with the new camouflage.

A collection of photos of Yak7B of a navy unit that were reportedly painted in shades of grey. It seems that the uppersurface was painted with AMT-11 and 12, probably according to the NKAP scheme of 1943, while the undersurfaces look painted with AMT-11 or 12. Spinners and rudders look white or silver. Reports and images show that in the same unit there were planes with light blue undersurfaces too, as usual. This was considered a marine scheme by the crews, but perhaps this was because they didn't know that all land-based fighters were receiving the same grey/grey livery.

Yak-9

This image shows well the contrast between the grey/grey 'silver 930' and the black-green 'white 935'.

 

Photo of the famous Yak-9 n.22 and 31. The wing camo of wing appear very angular, apparemtly due to a repainting by brush or by mask. The AMT-11 on the rear fuselage and wing appear much lighter than that on the nose, that appears gloss because freshly repainted. The colors of the rudder are even more faded.

Yak-9B n° 01, in evaluation with the 130 Bomber Division, has a dark look, but the pattern is undoubtably of late 1943.

Note the white band on fuselage, the red lightning on the rudder, the guards badge on the nose and possibly a red star on its spinner.

These Yak-9Bs follow a strange variation of the 1943 template.

A line of Yak-9DD of 236 IAD at Bari, in Southern Italy, ready to escort US bombers on a raid against Rumania.

The first plane, and few other ones, appear to be pained with upper and side surface in solid grey, probably AMT-11, while other ones have the usual disryptive camouflage.

LaGG-3

This plane of late production of Tbilisi plant shows a fresh and well contrasted camouflage. The pattern is the same of the Yaks.

Only the plant of Tbilisi continued to produce LaGG-3 between 1943 and 1944.

The grey/grey camouflage has never been documented on earlier types of LaGG-3.

La-5F and FN

 

Two photos of the production lines of La-5F and FN at Factory 21 ay Gorkiy. The types were produced in parallel for some time.

The new camouflage was employed for a good part of the production of La-5F and for nearly all La.5FN.

The repetitivity of the new camouflage is evident.

The metal plates on the sides were usually left unpainted.

No photos of earlier La-5s with grey/grey camouflage are known.

The numbers were painted in factory, white with probably dark blue outline, and were standardized as size and font; probably they were the production numbers of the planes into a serie of 100 ones, and usually weren't changed at the units.

 

La-7

Three photos of the first production La-7 show well the new livery of 'splinter' blue-grey and dark grey over light blue, and the new style of national insignas. Black remained in use for prop blades. AMT paints appear semigloss when new, and then turned to matt. (from Yakovlev's piston-engined fighters by Yefim Gordon)
A photo of a La-7 with the NKAP 1943 grey/grey livery. The large numbers, already introduced in 1943 on the green/black camo, were painted in factory with uniform style and bore a thin outline, probably dark blue.

Prototypes

The Il-2I of the summer 1943 looks painted in a grey-grey livery corresponding with the new template of 1943. The new style stars are scarcely recognizable, probably because of the use of a silver outline instead than white.

 

I-230 (MiG-3U) of mid 1943. Only six were built, and are believed to be painted in grey/grey livery.
I-231 prototype of late 1943. This is believed to be grey-grey too.

I-224 prototype of August 1944 is believed to have its upper and side surface in solid blue-grey AMT-11.

 

Camouflage paints for Soviet fighter aircraft, September 1943 - 1945

 

name of paint indicative chip match typical use notes
AMT-12 
matt dark grey
FS-27003 (2,3)  Very prone to fading to a lighter shade.

AKAN 345

Upper surfaces gray-gray camouflage
(sometimes utilized alone)
Nitrocellulosic lacquer for mixed construction planes
AMT-11 
matt blue grey
FS-26190 (2)  Very prone to fading to a lighter shade.

AKAN 344

Upper surfaces gray-gray camouflage
(sometimes utilized alone)
Nitrocellulosic lacquer for mixed construction planes
AMT-7 
matt greyish blue
FS-25190  Very prone to fading to a lighter shade.

AKAN 302

Undersurfaces
Nitrocellulose lacquer for mixed construction planes

Note: from photographic records, it seems that AMT-11 and 12 were subject to quick fading, and repaintings appear much darker than the original camo.

Note: according to some sources, in case of lack of AMT-11 and 12 paints, they could have been replaced with a mix of 60% AMT-7 and 40% AMT-6 for AMT-11, and 40% AMT-7 and 60% AMT-6 for AMT-12.

 

 

An important discussion on the shades of these colors can be found here: http://sovietwarplanes.com/board/index.php?topic=1151.0

The restoration of the Yak-3 of Bourget is an interesting resource to see original colors that lied for 60 years under layers repaintings.

Although old, the colors look fairly well preserved and look compatible, considering the likely fading, with the dark shades shown by the Nakrasok Alboom.

 

http://sovietwarplanes.com/board/index.php?topic=1197.0

http://www.museeairespace.fr/votre-visite/collections/1939-1945/yakovlev-yak-3/mouvement/

http://www.pyperpote.tonsite.biz/listinmae/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=201%3Ayak-3&catid=35%3Ales-reserves-du-musee-de-lair&Itemid=55&limitstart=1

 

 

This is the only early Yak-9 when preserved in Yakovlev collection, and has a grey-grey camouflage similar to the known serpentine, but probably not original. Later, the Yakovlev museum was dismantled and this plane has been sent to another one where it was repainted in unaccurate way.

A Yak-9 tail in excellent condition is shown at Tikkakoski museum. A comparison with FS catalogue gives: darker grey FS 35042, lighter FS 36118. (cit. K. Lumppio) I suppose that these colors are taken around the star, where they look more fresh; other slightly different shades could be obtained from the underlying part. There is some green on the rudder, too.

 

 

 

Two interesting images of a wreck of a La-5FN.

Above, the pieces wre made wet with water to show better their original colors; we recognize AMT-7, 11, 12 and the yellowish putty for wood.

Below, a detail of the bort number bears an interesting discovery: its outline was dark blue, and this was probably true for all late-style bort numbers on La5F, FN and La-7.