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Facts about German Camouflage Paint in World War II

by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle

As with all of their procurement efforts, Germany established a program to control manufacturing and application of camouflage paints.  Specifications were sent to the paint suppliers detailing the exact method for preparing test specimens to send in for examination and approval.  In addition, the inspectors at the assembly plants were provided with color swatches to use in accepting products painted in accordance with orders specified in contracts.  This strictly controlled and enforced program ensured uniformity in both the paint and the final assembled product.  These camouflage paints were used for the entire range of military equipment and vehicles intended for frontline use - not just Panzers.

At the start of the War, all Panzers were painted in a two-tone scheme of Dunklegrau (dark grey) and Dunklebraun (dark brown).  Dunklegrau RAL 46 (later renumbered RAL 7021) was the base coat.  Irregularly shaped patches of Dunklebraun RAL 45 (later renumbered RAL 7017) were to be spray painted onto 1/3rd of the surface.

In June 1940, a general order was issued to stop applying patches of Dunklebraun and only use Dunklegrau RAL 46 for the entire surface.

In February 1943, a general order was issued to change the base coat from Dunklegrau to Dunklegelb nach Muster (later numbered RAL 7028) - a tan color.  Field units were issued tins of Rotbraun RAL 8017 (red brown) and Olivgruen RAL 6003 (dark olive green) paste concentrate to create camouflage patterns suitable for local conditions.  This practice continued after Panzers were covered with anti-magnetic Zimmerit starting in August 1943.

In August 1944, an order was issued to the assembly firms to apply the camouflage pattern at the assembly plant using Dunklegelb RAL 7028 as the base coat with Olivgruen RAL 6003 and Rotbraun RAL 8017 applied in patches.  This order created the uniform pattern which has become known as the “ambush” camouflage scheme.

Following the order to drop Zimmerit in September 1944, Panzers left the assembly plants with a base coat of primer Rot RAL 8012 (dark red) with only about half of the surface covered with patches of Rotbraun, Olivgruen, or Dunklegelb.

Finally, as initiated by orders dated November 1944 - but not to go into full effect until June 1945 - the Panzers were to receive a base coat of Dunkelgruen (RAL 6003).  A camouflage pattern was to be created at the assembly plant by spraying on Rotbraun or Dunklegelb in sharp contours.

Camouflage paint colors, authorized for use in hot climates or in the winter, will be covered in a separate article.  The effects of light, fading, wear, weathering, dirt, dust, and scale will also be addressed in future.  For now, we’ll stick to the following fundamental facts to create basic starting points from which to build.

  1. Only one dark grey  - Dunklegrau RAL 7021 - was used as a base coat on Panzers!

  2. There was only one Dunklegelb, which was RAL 7028, used from February 1943 until the end of the war in 1945!

  3. Original test color swatches of Dunklegelb RAL 7028 have not been found to date!

  4. Tests show there is no significant variation in Dunklegelb RAL 7028 found on well-protected museum pieces originally painted from 1943 to 1945!

  5. The current RAL classic color swatches do not match the wartime RAL color swatches!

  6. The original RAL paint colors have not been accurately shown in color photographs, digital copies of color photographs,  printed color photographs, or in drawings colorized with water colors!  The color prints in our books published by Osprey are useful for camouflage patterns but do not accurately reproduce the original colors.  Colorized drawings in other publications are usually figments of the artists imagination.

  7. It is impossible to determine color or shade from black and white photographs but they can be useful in determining camouflage patterns created with contrasting color paint!

  8. Most Panzers in museums and private collections have not been repainted to match the original camouflage colors at this time!  Even though inside the Patton Museum, the original paint on the Sturmgeschuetz Ausf.G was not protected and has changed with time.

  9. The only way to obtain reasonable examples of how Panzers looked during the war is by repainting surviving Panzers in the original matt camouflage colors!

A G13 (being converted to represent a Jagdpanzer 38 from May 1945) is being repainted to obtain a very close match to the original matt colors.  It is owned by a private collector and will be displayed at future military vehicle collector shows in the U.S.  This dedication to authentic detail should be encouraged and awarded while the usual practice of spraying on any shade of tan, green, brown, and grey should be discouraged.

Accurate color slides of this vehicle will soon be available from Panzer Tracts as an aid in painting models for the period from September 1944 to May 1945.  While these slides can be copied onto color photographs or scanned into digital formats for viewing on a monitor, the actual colors are usually not converted accurately.

We are also working with other collections to get additional Panzers repainted to closely match the original camouflage colors.  In this way a full range of accurate full-scale examples will be created as a base for systematically assessing the other effects.

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