>> Home >> Magazine >> This page

>> 500+ other articles are available in our archive


World War II British Aircraft in Color

Back to main article


A Spitfire Mk V, the photograph is believed to be taken by Charles Brown. Several similar shots of this aircraft have been published. The Machine is an LF Mk. VB with clipped wings.

Clipped-wing Spitfire Mk VB in flightThere is a story behind the picture. The machine shown, SZ*X belonged to the no. 316 (Polish) Fighter Squadron, a unit consisting entirely of exile Polish personnel. In March 1943 the squadron received the new Spitfires Mk. IX. However, after the reorganisation of the RAF in August 1943 that year the unit was assigned to the newly-formed Air Defence of Great Britain. In this role it converted back to the LF Mk. VB for low-level defence and convoy escort duties. The sqadron was relocated to to Acklington, Northumberland, and then Woodvale in Lancs.

The pilots weren't enthusiastic about these old aircraft. The received Mk. Vs were long-used airframes somewhat uprated by the maintenance units. The performance wasn't a match for the Mk IX.

Having more time than usual in this second-line assignment, the squadron's mechanics tested several ideas. Some of the unit's aircraft were laboriously polished by hand to a very smooth finish to gain speed. Indeed, the increase was deemed worth the trouble and the practice was sporadically adopted also by other Mk V units. SZ*X was on of the aircraft on which the idea was tested.

The "polished" Spitfires served with the squadron only until April 1944, when the new Mustang Mk. IIIs were received, and the unit moved back to southern England. No. 316 used it's Mustangs effectively against V1 flying bombs.

Knowing this background information, let's have a look at the photo. The smooth quality of the finish is apparent. Even the camouflage edges appear to be extra sharp on the aircraft - as all modellers will know, polishing helps to remove overspray! Otherwise the scheme is entirely conventional with Dark Green/Ocean Grey upper and Medium Sea Grey lower surfaces. The spinner and the tail band are painted Sky, propeller blades black, wing leading edges yellow interrupted by red patches over the gun ports. A conventional mid-war RAF day fighter scheme!

Still, there are some points of interest in the markings. The size and style of letters SZ*X is non-standard. Letters are painted in Sky. The serial number which is known to be BL 479 is painted only in small letters on top of the tail band.

There is a visible square patch just behind the letter X on the fuselage, a supposed result of a field repair, and painted only in primer.

The movable portion of a canopy frame is painted in what appears to be grey color, lighter than Ocean Grey. Perhaps even this part was replaced during the unit service.

Bob Sikkel added:

Hi, I have a couple of comments about this shot. The square patch above the 'X' on the fuselage covers the identification flare port, probably doped fabric as was done on the gunports.


This well-known photograph shows a Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc, serial no. BE500 of No. 87 Squadron, in early british night fighter camouflage of matt black overall.

Olav Hungnes contributed with more comments:

This Hurricane picture appears in the book The Royal Air Force of World War Two in Colour, and the caption for this has the following info:
Personal a/c of 87 Sqn leader Dennis Smallwood. BE500 had the name Cawnpore I, being a presentation aircraft funded by donation from this location in the United Provinces.
The photo is taken during a flight from Charmy Down on 7 May 1942.

Points of interest:
- Overwing "B" roundel is so smooth that it mirrors the fuselage roundel.
- Bluish tinge to exhaust stain.
- Yellow leading edge marking shows through the black paint (at least visible in my book).
- Spinner and serial lettering in same red as roundel/fin flash.
- Original colour on the part of spine masked by closed canopy (and also on canopy frames?).
- Chord-wise non-black band between the cannons?
- Squadron Leader pennant below windscreen.


A classical study of Vickers Wellington in beautiful color.

Olav Hungnes described this picture as:

I have another in-flight colour pic of Z1572 VR-Q, in the book The Royal Air Force of World War Two in Colour.

This other photo is from the starboard side, and gives both a date and a place. It would be remarkable if the above photo wasn't taken during the same session.
The caption reads:
Wellington III Z1572, seen flying ENE (that would be east-northeast) some three miles east of Thetford (the road is that from Brettenham to Bridgham) on 27 May 1942 when serving with No 419 Squadron. This unit was the third Canadian-crewed bomber squadron to be formed in the UK. Z1572 served first with Nos 115 and 75 Squadrons and went on to fly for another RCAF squadron, No 427, before being pensioned off for training duties with No 16 OTU. The bomber was finally SOC (struck off charge) on 30 April 1945.

Point of interest are: 1. Tannish leading edges of flying surfaces (and also D/F loop housing). 2. Remarkably bright blue in fuselage roundel and fin flash, different from upper wing roundel.


Mosquito B Mk.IV DK338 was photographed during manufacturers' trials at Hatfield in September 1942 before it was given No. 105 Squadron markings. This particular aircraft eventually crash landed on the approach to Marham on 1st May 1943.

The camouflage is a standard earlier Mosquito scheme of Dark Green and Ocean Grey upper surfaces with Medium Sea Grey undersides, but the photograph does not reflect the colors properly because of it's brownish tint. The spinners are painted Ocean Grey.

Note the massive coal-black stain developing behind on the engine nacelle behind the exhaust shroud and oil dripping everywhere!


Another Mosquito, this time a B Mk.XVI ML963 from no. 571 squadron. Same camouflage scheme as on B Mk IV above, although this time the colors are captured better on the film. The machine is war-weary, serving before the picture was taken with both no. 109 and no. 692 squadrons. Finally it would be lost in a mission over Berlin on 10th April 1945.

On the upper surface of the wing you can see lot of wear and tear on the paint. A large rectangular patch in grey color has been added just over the back of the port engine nacelle. Another patch can be seen just in front of the serial number - a gray belt of primer color, probably a result of some major repair to the tail. Standard RAF roundels of late war variety are carried and the code letters RK-K are painted in insignia red. Furthermore, there are five mission marking rectangles painted in white at the front fuselage just behind bombardiers' side window. There is also a non-standard feature to this otherwise very standardly camouflaged aircraft. The leading edges of the radiators between the engine nacelles and the fuselage are painted in black color.

Note that the exhaust stain is much softer than on the previous picture because of non-shrouded exhausts.


Classic beauty! This well-known photo presents a Spitfire PR Mk XIX - a late photo-reconnaissance mark with Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. It is probably a factory-fresh machine photographed during a trial flight. What makes the photo interesting is the PRU Blue camouflage - a unique shade of blue used by RAF reconnaissance aircraft to conceal them against sky background at altitude.

The roundels are of low-visibility type with no white ring. The propeller blades are black with yellow tips. Other interesting feature is very noticeable stenciling on the port wing, reading LOCATION FOR WING STEADYING TRESTLE. These stencils were typical for all Spitfire marks.

For a modeller, there are further interesting things to note. The inside of the radiators and details like pitot tube are all painted in the same color as the rest of the aircraft. The exhaust pipes are not stained in rusty-black as many modellers would be tempted to render them, but rather in pale color, and the discoloration is very uneven. Furthermore, note a massive oil leak developing under the wing center and further back the fuselage - typical for even brand-new Spitfires of all marks!


Back to main article


This page: 
Has been last updated:
The URL of the page is:
Downloaded at:

©  Copyright 1997-2006 by IPMS Stockholm and the Community Members. All Rights Reserved.
The layout and graphics of this site, HTML and program code are © Copyright 1997-2006 Martin Waligorski. Used by permission.

Terms of use: This site is an interactive community of enthusiasts interested in the art of scale modelling of aircraft, armor, figures, spacecraft and similar subjetcs. All material within this site is protected under copyright, and may only be reproduced for personal use. You must  contact the Author(s) and/or Editor for permission to use any material on this site for any purpose other than private use.