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Camouflage & Markings

Luftwaffe Bomber Camouflage - Live

n by Frank Spahr 
n with color analysis input by Martin Waligorski 


Long-time readers of this magazine will perhaps recall that our contributor Dr. Frank Spahr works as a dentist. This story makes another most unusual connection between his work and the modelling hobby (Ed.)

I have no idea how the talk shifted to airplanes, but here was that old gentleman at my office mentioning not only that he had been a Luftwaffe pilot during World War II, but also that he had made models of the planes he had flown during 1942 from Amsterdam-Schiphol. I reacted interested and showed him some of my models I keep in the office.

The next time we met he produced a plastic bag and pulled two old wooden planes out of it. I was stunned. It was a strange feeling for me laying my hands on these 60-years old models.

The models represented two contemporary Dornier aircraft, a Do 217 bomber and Do 24 tri-motor flying boat. My visitor had made them while serving with the bomber unit in Holland, as a pastime during lengthy periods of  combat readiness. The models were carved from solid wood, but showed amazingly good shapes and level of detail. For example, the propellers were made from metal at the Staffelīs workshop. But the best part was the paint scheme. The modeller didn't have any problem with replicating the authentic camouflage scheme - he simply used the paints and paint instructions from unit's stocks!

Having seen the two models painted with original RLM colours and carefully preserved from effects of ageing and elements of nature for 60 years seemed just to good to be true. I asked whether he would mind lending me the models for a few days to take photographs. He agreed. 

But let's start with the story of how the models came about.

KG 77 and the two Dorniers

The old gentleman, Mr Hans Richstein, flew both the Do 217 and the Do 24 when serving as a pilot with KG 77 in the Netherlands. The bombers were stationed at Schiphol, today Amsterdamīs international airport, the seaplanes at Schellingwoude at the other side of the Ijsselmeerīs mouth.

Mr Richstein and the two so different aircraft were connected through an unusual incident.

Upon returning from a bombing raid at Manchester in the Do 217, Richstein and his crew spotted an inflatable rubber lifeboat off the Dutch coast with. They could clearly recognize it as an RAF-type dinghy, as German life boats had a different shape. 

In the boat there were two  figures. He made a low pass to check whether the downed pilots were still alive and saw them wave at the aircraft. The weather was bad with high waves and gusty wind. The navigator tried to verify their position as best as he could and they continued to their base.  

Back there, Mr Richstein tried to organize a rescue mission in spite of poor odds. After receiving a negative response form unit officials, he didn't give up but assembled an all-volunteer crew to fly out in a Do 24 flying boat from Schellingwoude. He was to pilot the aircraft himself. 

They somehow managed to find that tiny rubber boat, no small feat in itself. Not knowing if they would be able to take-off again due to the weather, Richstein loyally asked his crew if they agreed that he tried to land. They all agreed, and one even pointed out that they had their own rubber boats with them.

So they landed and picked up the two British airmen. However, the flying boat took a lot of water during the rescue, which further reduced their chance of successful take-off. Richstein only just barely managed to get the overweight plane out of the water using war emergency power. Once in the air they jettisoned the water ballast and returned home safely.

The squadron commander made sure that the British were tended at the Luftwaffe hospital facilities for a sufficient time to be fully restored before they were transferred to a prison camp. Sadly, Mr Richstein didnīt remember to note the names and addresses of the airmen at the time, and later attempt to contact them from Leeuwarden failed. 

Hans Richstein doesn't make much of the whole event. In my eyes it testifies of a high amount of courage, his skills as a pilot as well as outstanding humanity.

The models

Mr Richstein could not tell me the exact subtypes of the modelled aircraft. I guess the need for this kind of information is only obvious for today's modellers - for him they were simply Do 217 and Do 24. He made the models from knowledge of the originals and what other references he found at the Staffel.

The models are made from wood, with propellers, gun barrels and landing gear made from metal. The scale is 1:50 according to measurements of the models and the dimensions of the originals from the data sheets. They are robust and built very cleanly, a good piece of craftsmanship! 

 Both models bear data sheets with dimensions and weights of the originals. He told me he tried to duplicate what he could and what didnīt get too fiddly, so he omitted the pitot tubes and antennae. An interesting hint for the subtype question (perhaps some of the readers could help resolve it) is that he was positive the planes had no radio altimeter yet, only the earlier barometric one.  

I also asked him about  the rearward armament of the Do 24 which looks somewhat oversized, and he said no, it was a 20 mm gun and the size was correct. I found photographs in my books that show Do 24īs with just this size of barrels.

Both planes are painted in a "splinter" scheme of probably RLM 70/71 over 65. Mr Richstein told me he duplicated the schemes on the real aircraft . No sealer or lacquer was used, only the pure RLM paint.  This makes the models highly interesting for the sake of original, preserved paints of the period.

Markings

Before moving into colour debate, some observation about markings. According to Mr. Richstein, the radio call signs are of the very planes he piloted. These were NE+TA for the Do 217 and CM+JS for the Do 24.

The swastikas on the tailplanes were there from the beginning, but have been overpainted after the war. This was done with some medium grey paint, presumably of the non-RLM variety.

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Marking images, click to enlarge

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An interesting point is that both models show national markings with thin outline and proportions usually attributed to pre-1939 period. An easy - and schematic - explanation would be an error on the part of a modeller, but judging from the high level of accuracy in other respects, it would seem like a gross oversight. I'll leave it to the reader to make up his mind on this.

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Cross marking proportions, click to enlarge

Camouflage pattern

The camouflage pattern on the Do 24 model does not match the drawing in Camouflage & Markings of the Luftwaffe Aircraft Vol.2. I'll leave this without further comment as I did not have additional sources to verify who might be right in this case.

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Camouflage pattern, click to enlarge

Colour analysis

I tried to make photographs for this article in fairly controlled conditions so that readers would be able to get the next-best rendition of the real colour shades.  All photographs were taken outdoors, on an overcast September day with no additional lightning. A neutral grey cardboard served as a background.

I looked through what limited references I have and found in Camouflage & Markings of the Luftwaffe Aircraft Vol.2 schemes for both planes, yet they differ from the models both in the splinter pattern as in information on the colours used. 

Another surprise: While Mr Richstein stated there was no difference between the paints used on both aircraft, the book says seaplanes were painted RLM 72/73 as apposed to RLM 70/71 for bombers. I couldn't make head nor tail of that, especially since the paint specimens in the book look nearly indistinguishable to me. 

Now on to the photos and my observations on the models.

Sheen

The first and quite obvious impression I got from looking onto the models is that you should give your Luftwaffe planes a satin gloss. This quality can often be guessed from photographic references, but using only them as the source of information it is hard to be sure. Through Mr. Richstein's models I have received a definite confirmation.

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Satin-gloss sheen, click to enlarge


Colour contrast

This photo compared to the next one below photos show just how little contrast there was between the RLM 70 and RLM 71. ON the first image above, the hard edges of the upper splinter camouflage can be clearly seen. The change of angle and barely noticeable reflection of light off the wing's surface on the lower shot makes the same edges virtually disappear, and the colours melt together to an almost uniform surface. 

This effect of  "disappearing" upper colour demarcation lines can be suspected from many old black-&-white photographs of Luftwaffe aircraft. The conclusion is that if it looks like a single dark colour on a certain photo, it may not necessarily be so.


RLM 70/71

Both upper colurs matched the corresponding colour chips from the Camouflage & Markings of the Luftwaffe Aircraft Vol.2 fairly accurately. A minor point is that RLM71 (the lighter of the colurs) is perhaps a trifle darker on the model, resulting in even less contrast.

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Upper colours vs. colour chips, click to enlarge


RLM 65

What baffled me most was the difference of the RLM 65 to the paint specimens. The underside paint on the models has weathered quite bit. At first glance I thought this was because of handling, and sure enough, you can see traces of it on the rear fuselage of the Do 217. However, closer examination revealed that the areas not exposed to handling still looked markedly different. Judge yourself.

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RLM 65 compared to colour chips, click to enlarge

A possible explanation is that the RLM 65 aged much more rapidly than the green colours. If you look closely at the bottom surfaces of the Do 217, you will see that the entire RLM 65 sufrace has a distinct grey-yellow (sometimes turning to red-brown) tone, However, the multitude of smaller, presumably newer scratches show that the paint underneath is really light blue as it should be. This could be a sign that the original paint was susceptible to oxidization or some other chemical reaction resulting in the change of colour.

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Blue scratches at the bottom of the Do 217 fuselage and wing. Click to enlarge.

The funny thing is that even if this is true, the RLM 65 paint on the model is still much lighter and more grey than the coluor sample provided in Camouflage & Markings of the Luftwaffe Aircraft. I found a still-blue spot on the bottom of the Do 24's hull that allowed m to show the difference on a photograph. Also, note how the left and right wings differ in colour - can this support the chemical deterioration  theory? 

Other points of interest

The white paint used for the crosses and glazed canopy areas is distinctively off-white, ivory rather than white. I cannot help to wonder if this is the original paint used for the markings on full-size aircraft. Even if it isn't, it is worth noting that back in the 1930s the paint industry relied mostly on organic rather than synthetic pigments, and there were substantially fewer possibilities to produce pure, vivid colors such as white or blue. Even on the white sufraces it is visible that the original color has darkened over time, the surface shifting to brown-grey.

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Canopies painted white, click to enlarge

Conclusion

Having a chance to scrutinize Mr. Richsteins models was a very special experience to me. I hope that I have forwarded a useful part of that experience, including both what I have learned and what remains doubtful. However, none of the remaining unclear points could deter the impression of great modelling workmanship and painting skills that these old wooden models represent.

Happy modelling!

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Additional model photos, click to enlarge

  Acknowledgements 

Thanks to Mr. Hans Richstein who kindly shared his memories and borrowed the models for the photographic session.

n


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