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Camouflage and Markings

Bristol Beaufighter

Part 1

n by Rick Kent


A piece of improvisation

Britain's lack of long-range heavy fighters at the outbreak of the war was undoubtedly a source of embarrassment to the RAF. Single-engined interceptors such as the Hurricane and Spitfire lacked the endurance for effective standing patrols, and it was soon discovered that the heavy long-range fighter would be invaluable to perform a wide variety of tasks.

The result was a piece of true British improvisation - initiated as a a private venture of Bristol company, the Beaufighter entered service only a year after the outbreak of  hositilities, at a time when it was most sorely needed. Direct derivative of Bristol's earlier types Blenheim and Beaufort, the Beaufighter had two promising qualities which the the Blenheim lacked - speed and firepower.

When the last Beaufighter left the Bristol Aeroplane Company's Weston-super-Mare works in  September 1945, a total of 5562 aircraft of this type had been produced in the United Kingdom. Of these some 1063 were Mark Vls and 2231 were Mark Xs. During its operational career the Beau had played a prime role in defeating the Luftwaffe's night blitz of 1940-1941, and it had operated in every major campaign of the war, carrying out the last operational sortie of the European war, a strike against German shipping in the Skagerrak, and serving with distinction in the Pacific until the capitulation of Japan.

The Beaufighter may have been the product of improvisation but it was a remarkably successful one!

Bristol Beaufighter in profile

The following profiles illustrate some important moments of the Beaufighter's operational career.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IF
25 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Ser. no. R2069
North Weald, Essex
September 1940

25 Sqn were the first RAF front-line unit to get the Beau, in September 1940, replacing Blenheim IF's in the (night) fighter role, though these early aircraft didn't have any radar.  They were, as you can see, painted in the standard day fighter finish of the time - the all black night fighter colour scheme wasn't introduced until December 1940. Also they had the spinners fitted on the propellers, as did all early Beaus - but these were often removed later on.  My advice to any modeller making a particular Beau Mk. I would be to work from a photograph of the actual aircraft concerned whenever possible.  Some Mk. I's were even fitted with the dihedral tailplanes later in life.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IF
604 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Ser. no. R2101
Middle Wallop, Hampshire
December 1940

The overall matt black finish was introduced for night fighters in December 1940. This aircraft is still retaining the underwing markings and also Medium Sea Grey code letters and serial number (these were later changed to dull red).  This aircraft is equipped with the early "bow & arrow" type of radar - you can see the receiving aerials on the wing leading edge, the transmitting aerials are on the nose hidden behind the engine.  604 Sqn received its first Beau in September 1940 but re-equipment from the Blenheim IF was quite slow.  However in 1941 it soon became the top-scoring night fighter squadron in the RAF - one of its pilots was the famous John "Cat's Eyes" Cunningham.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IC
252 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Ser. no. T4828
Idku, Egypt
December 1941

This Beaufighter carries an interesting colour scheme - I think you would agree.  This aircraft has obviously suffered severe damage to the tail and rear fuselage, which have been replaced from another - hence the different camouflage undersides and non-standard serial number (6 inches high as opposed to the regulation 8 inches, and also the gap between the prefix letter "T" and the rest of the number).  

Many RAF a/c in North Africa, although repainted in the desert colours on top, retained the original sky colouring on the undersurfaces, and did not have the azure blue as officially specified - hence this one has had a rear section from a blue one put on to it but the main part remains in sky.

252 Sqn were the first Coastal Command unit to get the Beau in the UK in December 1940 and at that time had the code letters "PN".  They were transferred to Egypt via Malta in May 1941 to operate in the ground attack role and also anti-shipping in the Mediterranean.  When first in Egypt they retained the PN letters, but these were deleted for a time, then replaced with "BT", which in turn was also fairly soon deleted.  

The main differences between the Mk IF ("F" for Fighter) and Mk IC ("C" for Coastal) were that the C's had the additional six .303 machine guns in the wings - two in the port, four in the starboard wing - and increased internal fuel tanks.  Or to put it the other way round, the fighter versions only had the four 20mm cannon in the nose - the wing space being occupied by radar equipment.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IC
236 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Ser. no. T4800
Wattisham, Suffolk
June 1942

This Beaufighter is probably the most famous of them all. On 12th June, 1942, crewed by Flight Lieutenant A.K. Gatward (Pilot) & Sergeant G. Fern (Observer), this aircraft dropped a French Tricolore on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, and then strafed the nearby Headquarters of the Kriegsmarine.

As you can see, by this time the spinners had been removed from the propellers, and the Direction Finding (D/F) Loop added behind the cockpit.  

Also the standard Coastal Command camouflage of Extra Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey and Sky had been introduced - but still with roundels underwing and very pale grey code letters.  There is a well-known photo of this aircraft, showing it at least one month later as it has the Type C1 (narrow white & yellow) roundels and narrow white fin flash stripe; but the original type A1 (equal width circles) were not replaced until July 1942 - hence my drawing shows the earlier type.  

Flt Lt Gatward went on to command a whole Beau Coastal Strike Wing later in the war with the Mk.X (and also, of course, higher in rank).

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIF
456 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force
Ser. no. T3370
Valley, Anglesey
September 1942

A Merlin-engined Mk.IIF night fighter, which shows the later form of all-black finish with dull red code letters and serial number, and also the early interception radar. Also it's an Australian Squadron, based in Valley, Anglesey in Wales.

The Beaufighter always had something of a problem with "swing" on take-off due to the twin-engine power with both props rotating in the same direction - the Merlin-engined version was even more powerful than the Hercules-powered aircraft and hence was somewhat disliked by its pilots.

456 Sqn began re-equipment from Defiants in September 1941 and used the Mk.IIF until January 1943, having started to replace them with Mk.VIF in July 1942. They were based at Valley throughout their time with the Mk.II.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIF
256 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Ser. no. V8443
Woodvale, Lancashire
February 1943

The above 256 Sqn Mk. VIF nightfighter shows the standard colour scheme introduced in October/November 1942 - overall Medium Sea Grey with Dark Green camouflaging on the upper surfaces, and dull red code letters with black serial numbers.

This aircraft still has the early type radar (receiving aerials under and over the wing) but with the dihedral tailplane - early Mk VI's still had the flat type. The housing on top of the fuselage just behind the cockpit is the camera-gun.

In case you wonder, the small pipe that comes out of the lower fuselage below the observer's position is the fuel-dump pipe.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIF
255 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Ser. no. MM924
Bo Rizzo, Sicily
August 1943

Another Mk VIF night fighter but with the centimetric radar in the "Thimble Nose" radome, and also based in Italy rather than the UK. Note that the aerials on the wing leading edge are no longer applicable, but the sloping ones on the right wing were still there.

255 Sqn originally received Beau Mk IIF (Merlin-engined and all black finish) in July 1941 as replacements for the Defiant and some Hurricanes in the UK. They moved to North Africa (Maison Blanche) in November 1942, and on to Sicily in August 1943 - after that they were based on the Italian mainland until September 1945, having re-equipped with Mosquito night fighters from January 1945. The Sqn was disbanded on 30th April 1946 at Gianaclis, Egypt, and has never been reformed since.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIF
415th Night Fighter Squadron, 12th U.S. Army Air Force
Ser. no. KW147
La Vailon, Southern France
September 1944

The 12th USAAF in the Mediterranean Theatre had several squadrons of Beau night fighters - I think Ken Rust in his book on the 12th says four in total. These aircraft were supplied on reverse lend-lease from Britain. They were not organised into any Group, but operated on an independent Squadron basis. As you can see they retained the standard RAF night fighter scheme but with US markings.

Continue to Camouflage and markings of Bristol Beaufighter, Part 2

Rick Kent is a modeller, IPMS:er and a productive aviation artist. His speciality are computer-generated aircraft profiles.

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