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Quick guide to the colors utilized on Soviet warplanes 1935-1945
by Massimo Tessitori

Uploaded on June 10, 2020

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Up to 1937

 

Few original samples of Soviet planes of that timeframe are known.

The upper and side surfaces were painted with olive green, glossy when new and becoming matt with ageing. On some early types as I-3 and early I-5. it appears very glossy and very dark, in association with a bare metal noose.

The lower surfaces were painted with a not too light blue, that turned to grey-green with ageing.

Often, metallic parts of the engine cowling were left unpainted because paints had a bad adhesion to the metal and would have scratched too quickly. Some types had a black engine cowling as a factory mark.

Red stars were on the fuselage sides, on the wing upper and lower surfaces, not on the tail (or, in case, small starlets on the tail could have been used to design a unit commander). Most stars had a thin black outline, and some types of planes had a thin black circle inside the star, according to the factory.

Usually colorful numbers, often with the outline of another color, were used to design a plane within a squadron, while the color was indicative of the squadron within a regiment.

On some planes of the late '20s and early '30s, red stars or numbers could have been painted on stabilizers and elevators.

The metallic prop blades were aluminum, with the rear part painted black on the outer 70% of its length. Wooden prop blades were painted, probably brown.

All paints were glossy when new, but they often appear matt and worn on photos.

 

mixed construction planes

Most planes (R-5, U-2, I-5, I-15, I-16 Type 4/5.... ) had olive green uppersurfaces and medium blue/grey undersurfaces. The engine cowling could have been with the same color, another similar color, black or natural metal according to the type and factory.

 

Uppersurfaces

Olive green (khaki)

Undersurfaces

Medium blue turning to grey-green

 

 

Metal planes

Large metal planes built before 1935 preserved an olive green finish, prone to chipping. Repainting with dark green 3B is likely around 1937.

Early SB were painted light grey, with bad adhesion to metal surface, probably glossy when new

but quickly prone to chalking, chipping and darkening, particularly on the surfaces where the crew moved.

Uppersurfaces

Olive green (khaki): original

Dark green 3B: possible later repainting

Undersurfaces:

Medium blue turning to grey-green

 

All surfaces

matt light grey

 

1938-spring 1940

 

The position of the national insignias and bort number didn't change: above and below the wings and on the fuselage sides.

As before, most stars had a thin black outline, and some types of planes had a thin black circle inside the star, according to the factory.

Usually colorful numbers, often with the outline of another color, were used to design a plane within a squadron, while the color was indicative of the squadron within a regiment.

The metallic prop blades were aluminum, with the rear part painted black on the outer 70% of its length.

Older planes could have been repainted with the new paints, or not.

 

 

Mixed construction planes:

In 1938, all types received AII dark green uppersurfaces, while the undersurfaces were AII aluminum on fabric/wood parts and AE-9 glossy very light grey on metallic parts.

In 1939-spring 1940, many types (late I-15 bis, I-153, R-10, early Yak-2, UT-1, UT-2) were painted without the green layer on the uppersurfaces.

 

Upper and sides surfaces:

AII glossy dark green

Lower surfaces, fabric and wood skinned parts:

AII Aluminum

Lower surfaces, metal skinned parts:

A9 9 glossy very light grey

 

All-metal planes:

(SB, DB-3, Li-2, Su-2)

 

 

 

1938-late 1939:

AE-8 Aluminum

 

late 1939- spring 1940:

AE-9 glossy very light grey

 

 

Spring 1940-June 1941

 

In spring 1941, new colors were introduced for new military planes: gloss green uppersurfaces and gloss light blue undersurfaces became standard.

The position of the national insignias and bort number didn't change: above and below the wings and on the fuselage sides.

Usually colorful numbers, often with the outline of another color, were used to design a plane within a squadron, while the color was indicative of the squadron within a regiment.

The metallic prop blades were aluminum, with the rear part painted black on the outer 70% of its length.

Older planes, particularly those with silver or grey overall surfaces, could have been repainted with the new green uppersurfaces, often preserving the original finish on the undersurfaces, or left as they were.

 

Mixed construction planes:

(MiG-1/3, Il-2, Yak2/4, Yak-1, LaGG-3, R-10, I-16, I-153);

.

Photos often show that metallic surfaces were lighter than fabric/wood skinned ones, particularly on worn planes (MiG-1/3, Il-2, Yak2/4, Yak-1, R-10, many I-16; not on I-153); a possible explanation is that A-18f and A-19f, somewhat lighter of AII paints, were used on the metallic parts of some types; an alternative explanation could be that AII paints reacted differently between fabric and metal skinning.

AII glossy (medium) green

A-19f glossy medium green

AII glossy light blue

A-18f glossy light blue

 

All metal types

(SB, Ar-2, DB-3F, Su-2, Pe-8):

 

 

Upper and side surfaces:

A-19f glossy medium green

Lower surfaces:

A-18f glossy light blue

 

July1941-July 1943

New instructions on the camouflaging and marking of the Soviet planes were published the same day of the German attack. Planes painted according to the new directives started to be seen at the beginning of July 1941, while old planes either preserved the prewar painting, or were hurrily adapted in rough way, or camouflaged in fantasious way, or (sometimes) were fully repainted during overhauling.

The wartime position of the national markings changed from prewar standard: they were on the fuselage and tail sides and under the wings, but no more over the wing uppersurfaces. At the beginning, the fuselage stars were not previded, but they were introduced in the directives after a month.

The red stars were glossy red, and could have had, or not, a thin black outline.

The bort numbers, usually with 2 glossy white, light blue or silver digits, could have been alternatively on the fuselage or tail sides. Yellow was avoided or forbidden (particularly on spinners and rudders) to avoid friendly fire, being the distinctive color for the Axis planes.

The propellers blades were painted fully black.

 

Mixed construction planes

(Yaks, MiG-3s, Lavochkins, Il-2s, some Polikarpovs and prewar-time planes, and probably some small all-metal types as Pe-2 and Su-2)

Upper and side surfaces: camouflaged with bands of semimatt AMT-4 green and AMT-6 black;

Undersurfaces: light blue; in late 1941, the AII glossy light blue was gradually replaced with the AMT-7 light blue, that was semimatt and darker.

 

AMT-4 semimatt dark green

AMT-6 semimatt black

AII glossy light blue

AMT-7 semimatt light blue

Large metal planes

(Il-4, Pe-8, Li-2)

camouflaged upper and side surfaces with matt A-24m green and A-26m black, similar to AMT-4 and 6 but more matt

undersurfaces: matt A-28m light blue (it could have appeared similar to AMT-7 or, alternatively, lighter and more greenish, probably due to the stocks). Often large bombers hat their undersurfaces painted with night black, darker than the A-26m.

Fabric-covered surfaces were painted with AMT paints, some difference could be visible.

The camouflage often appears matt, worn and low-contrasted in photos.

A-21m matt dark green

A-26m matt black

A-28m matt light blue

Night black

 

Winter 1941 and 1942

(rarely in winter 1943, never in winter 1944)

The planes could have had their upper and side surfaces overpainted with the MK-7 white distemper, that was intended as washable but was hard to br removed without deteriorating the underlying temperate camouflage paint.

The white layer could have been uniform, but more often it was patchy and disegual.

Rarely, the winter finish was made with usual non washable glossy white paint, or even with aluminum paint (beware that the light conditions of a winter photo could represent a white plane as it was silver painted).

The bort numbers were often repainted in red or black for a better contrast on the white background.

Aside uniform white uppersurfaces, other winter schemes were possible:

the planes could be camouflaged with white bands, leaving green and/or black bands visible;

alternatively, the white paint was put on the rear of the fuselage, the tail and the outer wing consoles, avoiding the nose, the canopy area and the wingroots where the crew needed to access without having to wait the drying of the white paint.

Some more fantasious dotty or striped winter camouflages were possible, but rare.

The original white numbers could have been left visible through an interruption in the winter white layer.

 

August 1943-spring 1945

 

Around August 1943, new directives about the painting of the planes were made. They previded the camouflage in two shades of grey of the fighter planes, and in three shades (green, brown and grey) of the other planes.

The red stars on the fuselage, tail and below the wings acquired a white outline with a thinner red one around, to make them more recognizable.

For a pair of weeks, new fighters were painted with the new grey-grey camouflage but still with the red stars without white outline.

The existing planes with the old painting often preserved their camouflage, but white or white-red outlines were added to their red stars.

A directive of late 1944 extended the angular grey-grey camouflage of fighters to all planes, but photos seem to show that it wasn't observed except for few planes (Po-2, ShCh-2, Yer-2, some Li-2).

 

 

Fighters

(Yaks and Lavochkins, all of mixed construction; perhaps Po-2 starting from late 1944)

The standard pattern adopted in summer 1943 was more or less angular.

A camouflage with two shades of blue-grey seems to have been experienced on a limited number of Yak fighters since late 1942; the characteristic pattern was described as 'Wavy, serpentine or loop', not angular as the one that became standard.

The shades of AMT-11 and 12 were dark when the paint was new, but they faded quickly with the weathering. Often dark retouches on the faded paint are well visible in photos.

AMT-11 semimatt blue-grey

AMT-12 semimatt dark grey

AMT-7 semimatt light blue

 

Mixed-construction non-fighter planes

(Il-2, Pe-2, Yak-6, U-2)

Upper surfaces: camouflage with AMT-1 light brown, AMT-4 dark green and AMT-12 dark grey.

Undersurfaces: AMT-7 light blue.

Often the older black-green camouflaged planes were updated with the addition of light brown bands and white-red outlined stars after August 1943.

AMT-1 semimatt light brown

AMT-7 semimatt dark green

AMT-12 semimatt dark grey

AMT-7 semimatt light blue

All-metal non-fighter planes

(Il-4, Pe-8, Tu-2, Li-2)

Upper surfaces: camouflage with matt A-21m light brown, A-24m dark green and A-32m dark grey (or A-26m black). The A-24m and A-32m were very similar to their AMT counterparts, perhaps less ontrasting, while the A-21m was somewhat more yellow than the AMT-1.

Undersurfaces: matt A-28m light blue (or blue-green) or Night black (darker than the A-26m).

Fabric-covered surfaces were usually painted with AMT paints.

Not all the large planes had red stars on their fuselage sides.

The camouflage often appears matt, worn and low-contrasted in photos.

A-21m light brown

A-26m dark green

A-32m dark grey

A-26m black

A-28m light blue or blue-green

Night black