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Painting of Soviet military planes:

winter temporary schemes


by Massimo Tessitori
Updated on October 4, 2013
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Soviet Air Force made some limited use of washable white paint during the '30s, utilizing products of general use.

These paints were characterized by bad adhesion on the plane and by a rough surface that increased the drag.

Besides, most of them appear white as snow to the eye, but were detectable on photos made with UV sensible films.

Here is a winter camouflaged R-5 in 1936.

During the winter 1941, many planes were camouflaged with general use distempers that were in many ways unsatisfactory.

After many trials, in October 1941 it was developed a colour designated MK-7, that was undistinguishable from snow on UV-filtered photos too. It was made with chalk, diluted with water, alcohol, and the addition of 0.1-0.2% ultramarine to correct the yellowish shade of the chalk, and casein.

This color was supplied as a paste to be thinned with water to spray over the upper and side surfaces in two layers, or brushed in one or two coats.

Analogue washable paints, developed in January 1942, were MK-7Sh, using gypsum as a pigment, and MK-7E, that included formaldehyde to prevent freezing of the paint during winter storage and application.

Other white washable colors did exist, but those of MK-7 family were the most utilized.

 

Red and black were often utilized to repaint the bort numbers and slogans over the white layer.

As an alternative, the original numbers (usually painted white) can be left uncovered by the winter paint.

Painting a fighter required about 6 kg, a Li-2 about 15 kg, while a large plane as a Pe-8 required about 35 kg of white paste.

Again, this paint was not smooth and caused an increase of drag and a loss of speed of 10-25 km/h.

 

The adhesion of this color was poor, so a part of it was naturally lost during the winter, leaving to see the underlying base camouflage; it could also be washed off with water, a thing that could have been less easy than thought and often left white residual in recesses and a ruined surface of the permanent temperate camo.

 

This highly wearied MiG-3 should be of winter 1941/42.

Apart for solid camouflages that were officially prescribed, the white paint could also be utilized for partial camouflages.

The most common form was to paint white the rear fuselage, tail and wings, leaving the nose and canopy area of its base camouflage.

The success of this use is probably due to the fact that painting parts of the plane that were frequently accessed for maintenance would have constricted to stop the plane for a day while the paint dried, and was anyway subject to be quickly ruined.

Besides, keeping this rough paint far from the front and well immerged into the boundary layer, the lost of speed is reduced.

This photo of LaGG-3 of 35th series should be of winter 1942/43.

Other forms of partial camouflage seem to delete selectively one of the colors of the base camouflage:

this Li-2 has a disposition of white bands that looks to follow the typical black bands of the base camouflage, so it should appear white and green. Note the rarely seen sharp outlines of the winter paint on this plane.

 

On the contrary, this plane looks to have its green parts covered by the winter paint, so it should appear black and white.

The plain stars say that the photo was taken in winter 1941/42 or 1942/43.

In other cases, there is no relation between the white bands and the pattern of the underlying camouflage. The star outline dates this photo to winter 1943/44.

Sometimes camouflages were fantasious. This is an unique known dotted livery probably in winter 1942/43. The thin white outlines on the red stars were a factory mark of Zavod 18 in 1941-43.

Note that the dots are not extended to the engine cowling.

Interesting spots on the nose of a reconnaissance Pe-2.

The white paint could be extended to the prop blades too.

This Pe-8 was photographed in winter 1943/44 and bears a green-brown grey camo under the winter layer.

This winter was the last one in which the winter camouflaging was still utilized on bombers and other non-fighter planes.

Fighter planes had utilized the white finish in winter 1942/43 for the last time, and it was not used in 1943/44 or in 1944/45. The grey/grey livery introduced in summer 1943 was considered as an acceptable compromise on the snow too. In facts, a white livery is masking against a snowy background, but is demasking against any other background, including the horizon.

Usually the nationality marks were left uncovered by the winter camo; in rare cases, a thin layer of white was passed over the red stars too, to reduce their visibility, as visible on the tail of this plane. So it seems they made on the red 5 on the rudder.

This partial winter camo covers partially the typical black bands on the wings and tail.

Besides MK-7 and similar washable paints, it looks that nitro white paint was occasionally utilized.

The finish of the first plane is clearly not MK-7 or similar distempers: it is uniform and glossy.

The second plane has clearly a nose painted with silver.

Nitro paint could have been chosen for a parade plane, or to avoid the loss of speed, or for the lack of MK-7.

Here is plane 36 of the same line of the photo above on Vnukovo airfield.

This plane, as other ones, gives the idea to be of the same color both on its upper side and its belly. To a closer examination, it looks that the undersurfaces are painted with a light glossy color, while the MK-7 winter finish has to be chalky. So, it's likely that this plane preserved a finish in AII light blue on its undersurfaces, that appears hardly distinguishable by MK-7.

The planes of the line showing darker undersurfaces are probably finished with AMT-7 on them, that was darker and more matt than AII light blue.

Clearly, the spinner is not finished with MK-7, but with nitro or enamel white paint.

A Yak-1 with skis wreck in spring 1942. The plane seems to wear an uniform white livery made with glossy nitro paint on the whole external surfaces, including the lower ones.

According to some opinions, this plane could be painted silver, but it doesn't seem to reflect the dark shades of the ground.