SPITFIRE MARKINGS AND CAMOUFLAGE
The subject of Spitfire camouflage and markings is a huge one, this page gives only a brief overview.
The low-resolution and limited colour palette of the images are due to them being drawn in the 1990s for use on Amiga and DOS PCs.
The first Spitfire, the prototype K5054, was first flown unpainted. Later a finish of "float-plane blue" was applied.
The first Spitfires to reach the RAF were painted in a camouflage scheme of brown (called "Dark Earth") and dark green. The undersides were painted with one-half black, the other white, with the dividing line running from nose to tail, sometimes only the underside of one wing was painted black, leaving the fuselage underside white. The idea behind this underside colour scheme was to aid identification of RAF fighters at height through binoculars by the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) and anti-aircraft artillery. After the Battle of Britain, the entire underside was painted a duck-egg greeny-blue colour called "Sky". There were shortages of the official colour so a range of available paints and locally mixed colours were often used.
Spitfire MkI 19 Squadron, the first squadron to fly Spitfires.
RAF aircraft usually carried two sets of characters. The first was in quite small black or dark letters near the tail on both sides of the fuselage. This was that aircraft's own serial number and would stay with it throughout its service life, the only problems arise when one good airframe was made out of two damaged ones! The other was a three (very rarely four) letter code in large light characters arranged around the fuselage roundel. The first two letters were the code of the Squadron the aircraft was with, for example, "XT" was 603 squadron in 1941. The remaining letter was the individual code of that aircraft within the squadron. So if you were with 603 squadron and were told to take off in "baker" aircraft you would walk out to the aircraft with XT-B on its side. Since most squadrons would only have eighteen aircraft at maximum there was no need for any other letters, on the odd occasion that a squadron did acquire more than 26 aircraft it might start again with "AA". The squadron markings of an aircraft would change any time it was acquired by a new unit. The RAF would change the squadron code if it ever thought the Germans had managed to tie the code to a particular squadron, so the code of a squadron might have changed during the course of the war. The codes were deliberately painted on as large as possible so that pilots could identify planes from their squadron so as to form up into formation again after a dogfight. The only exception to this code-scheme were Wing-Commanders, that is the officers who commanded a Wing of two, three or more squadrons, usually flying from a common airfield, or "clutch" of airfields. Thus the famous Douglas Bader was allowed to have the letters "D-B" painted on the side of his Spitfire VA because he commanded the Wing flying from Tangmere Aerodrome. Bob Stanford-Tuck, commander of the Biggin Hill Wing had a Spitfire with "RS-T" on it.
Spitfires in Brown and Green camouflage. Note the type "A1" fuselage roundels.
The brown and green camouflage saw the RAF through the Battle of Britain and into1941. With them now taking the fight to the enemy and having to cross the Channel or North Sea to do it, the brown part of the camouflage stood out against the sea. So it was changed to a dark grey colour called "Ocean Grey", a scheme of grey and green being equally good over land or sea. At the same time the lower surfaces were painted a lighter shade of grey, called "Medium Sea Grey". During the early war years it had been normal for the propeller spinner to be painted black, during 1941 this was switched to "Sky" and a thin band of "Sky" was painted around the rear fuselage as an aid to identification. To aid quick identification of aircraft joining up with a formation from the rear yellow leading-edges to the wings were introduced.
Spitfires - One brown and Green with type "A" roundel and one grey and green with type "C1" roundel
Spitfires employed in the reconaissance role employed special camouflage. High-altitude aircraft were painted a dark shade of blue overall (known as PR blue). Low-level aircraft were often painted pink, this unusual colour proved very good at hiding the aircraft against a background of low cloud.
Spitfire Mk V of early 1942 - After the switch to grey and green camouflage but before the adoption of "type C" fuselage and underwing roundels with their reduced white band. Note the yellow leading-edge of the wing with dull red fabric patches over the machine-gun ports.
The RAF symbol of concentric red white and blue discs known as a roundel, was carried on the top and bottom of the wings and the side of the fuselage. The roundels on the top of the wing had the white missing leaving only red and blue (the so called "type B" roundel). This helped the aircraft be less easily seen, particularly if it was on the ground. The roundels on the side of the fuselage and under the wing (the latter not always present) were of the normal "A" type. The fuselage roundels were then surrounded by another ring of yellow to make it stand out from the background camouflage (this was known as the "A1"roundel). From mid 1942 the roundels on the side of the fuselage and under the wings had the white band reduced in thickness (called the "type C" roundel or "Type C1" if it had a thin yellow ring around it).
Grey and Green Camouflage Spitfires - Note the type "C1" roundels on the RAF example.
For D-Day and the invasion of Europe all Allied aircraft had black and white "Invasion stripes" painted on the wings and fuselage. This again helped identify them as friendly to their own anti-aircraft guns, at this stage considered often to be more of a danger than the all-but-defeated Luftwaffe.
Grey and Green Spitfires - Notice lack of red centre to the roundel on the Indian example.
In the Far East the roundel had the red centre removed to stop it being confused with the red disk "Hinomaru" emblem of the Japanese.
In the Middle East Spitfires were painted with "sand and stone" upper surfaces for operation over the desert. The undersurfaces were a much darker blue, "azure blue" to suit the more intense blue of the sky in that theatre of war.