An Overview of Bf 109E Camouflage and Markings, 1939 - 1940
Dave Wadman ©1999-2002
Confirming the identities of the camouflage colours and patterns worn by Bf 109Es during the Battle of Britain presents an intriguing but complicated challenge. While it is known for the most part that the undersurface colour was usually a readily identifiable light blue, the diversity in upper surface patterns and colours is far more difficult to ascertain.
This fascinating photo demonstrates the low tonal contrast of the 70/71 scheme; noteworthy also is the exceedingly large underwing Balkankreuz applied after the Polish operations, as well as the Staffel color used on the supercharger intake lip and gun troughs. One last point of interest concerns the very dark paint on the gear legs, contrasting with what appears to be 65 used in the gear wells themselves; the darker area is the zippered liner. (Crow)
|A careful study of photographs of the camouflage worn by Bf 109s in northwest Europe in the months prior to the beginning of World War 2 reveals that the upper surface splinter patterns of Black-Green 70 and Dark Green 71 were applied with sharply defined, angular demarcation lines in keeping with standard Luftwaffe camouflage practice. The patterns applied to the Bf 109B, C and D variants were similarly typical for the E-1 and E-3 which, as with the earlier models, displayed considerable variation on the fuselage sides where the pattern in plan view was extended down to meet the undersurface colour. This remained essentially unchanged until the final months of 1939 when a more simplified form of 70/71 splinter pattern began to make its appearance on some E models.|
the outbreak of war in September 1939, the camouflaged upper surfaces of Bf
109’s were being regularly identified in Allied sources as being ‘dark
green’, implying the use of a single colour rather than the two dark greens
officially specified by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) in L.Dv
issued in March 1938. Did
these observations accurately record that a single upper camouflage colour was
being used or did the low tonal contrast between them prevent clear
identification of the two separate colours or, more simply, was this due to
fading through in-service use and weathering?
This photo of a I./JG77 Stab aircraft clearly illustrates the apparent single-tone uppersurface camouflage referenced in the article. (via MacDonald)
During late 1939 - early 1940 and with the Luftwaffe fully committed to its wartime operations, the probability of a single upper camouflage colour being applied to individual aircraft or those of a specific unit is entirely credible. Although no valid or 100% supportable documentary evidence of any Bf 109s with a single upper camouflage colour during this period has yet been discovered, it remains entirely plausible to assume that, for whatever reason, some aircraft may have received a single colour finish to the upper surfaces on either a temporary or permanent basis.
the recent careful examination of a number of good quality original photographs,
the presence of a single upper surface colour on some aircraft is strongly
indicated and in the careful scrutiny of these original prints by several noted
researchers, to date, no discernible evidence of a second colour has been
determined with complete certainty. Nevertheless,
and until factual evidence to the contrary is discovered, it may
perhaps be presumed that contemporary references to a single dark green are
nothing more than a broad generalisation of the camouflage colour.
The singular ‘dark green’ reference possibly being due as mentioned
earlier, to the low tonal contrast between these two colours?
the standard camouflage on the Bf 109 at the outbreak of war, the fighting in
Poland made it clear that while the 70/71 scheme was more than adequate for
ground concealment, the same did not hold true for aerial combat.
Consequently, numerous field trials to find a suitable replacement were
undertaken during the winter of 1939-40 utilising various combinations of the
02 and the greens 70 and 71. The successful outcome of
these trials resulted in a new camouflage pattern of 02 and 71 that was
considered more practical for the then current operations than the earlier
scheme. Accordingly, an order was issued dictating that 02 would replace
Black-Green 70 in the pattern. Almost concurrently, the demarcation for the
undersurface Blue 65 was increased in height to cover approximately
three-quarters of the fuselage sides, including the entire sides of the vertical
tail surfaces. Although
this change effectively restricted the upper colours to the strict plan view of
the aircraft, the actual height of the demarcation varied considerably between
aircraft, most prominently on the rear fuselage between the rear of the cockpit
canopy and base of the fin.
in early 1940 with production of the Bf 109E-4, the 02/71 scheme was applied as
a factory finish, whereas the earlier E models already in service appear
generally to have been repainted at either local or unit level as and when time
allowed, with the attendant broad interpretation of the contents of the order.
Some units were noticeably slower than others in implementing the change and
even for those repainting their aircraft promptly it must be realised that not
all aircraft within a single unit would or could be repainted at the same time.
On some aircraft the 02 replaced the Dark-Green 71 rather than the Black-Green
70 as directed, while on many others, only the smaller areas of tail and
fuselage sides were repainted in Blue 65 thus leaving the tops of the wings and
fuselage uppersurfaces in the earlier greens. That this occurred is evident from
photographs and the contents of intelligence summaries, which indicates that a
number of Bf 109s in a variety of these finishes survived well into the early
autumn of 1940 and beyond. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that many of
these may have been either older aircraft or those held as reserve or
‘spare’ aircraft, retaining their finishes until they were either lost on
operations or underwent major servicing, at which time the newer scheme would
presumably have been applied.
these changes, which included revisions to the size, style and placement of the
national insignia, several different examples of a simplified splinter scheme,
image reversal patterns, began to appear. In these, the colour divisions were
far less angular than those of the original patterns and are often seen in
photographs to have a ‘feathered’ rather than sharp demarcation. Although
official confirmation for this simplification is unclear, it is reasonable to
assume that they were implemented as a means both to expedite service
requirements and to save on materials and cost, regardless of whether the finish
was of factory or in-service origin.
Summer Battles of 1940
the aerial battles developed above the southeastern coast of Britain and the
English Channel in the mid-summer of 1940, it soon became clear that again, more
changes would be necessary to the camouflage worn by Bf 109s. Whereas the
02/71/65 scheme had worked sufficiently well over France and the Low Countries,
it was found that this was not the case in the air war against England.
The high demarcation level of Blue 65 on fuselage sides and tails made
the aircraft stand out conspicuously against the waters of the Channel and the
colours of the English summer countryside. To overcome this, several methods
were employed to tone the blue down, the most common being an application of
mottling to fuselage sides in 02 and/or one or both - on 70/71 finishes - of the
upper surface colours. One of the earliest reports of this occurred in mid-July
when Bf 109s of JG 51 were reported as having a fine, pale grey ‘overspray’
applied to their fuselage sides; an indication perhaps of one of the first uses
of 02 in this manner. Taking into account the requirement to tone these areas
down, it is entirely feasible that an order was originated, either at RLM
level or from local area command with RLM approval, allowing individual
JG's 2, 53 and 54, to determine the extent and style
of application as was dictated by their operational requirements.
As the variations in mottling are far too extensive to describe in detail, it must be realised that while little similarity existed between individual units, a general uniformity of style and pattern was usually found amongst aircraft of the same unit. Believed for the most part to have originally been 02, it was usually sprayed along the sides of the fuselage and fin in varying degrees of density and pattern. On some aircraft it was occasionally intensified, usually where a colour transition was made such as at the roots of the wings or tailplane, by the random inclusion of one or both – if 70/71 - of the upper colours.
In contrast to this the mottle used by some units was applied in a much coarser form, suggesting the use of a brush or sponge, frequently applied so densely that it took on the appearance of an almost solid colour . Noticeably, many aircraft wearing the coarse, stippled style of mottle also displayed a modified fuselage cross that saw the proportions of the white segments reduced in area to decrease their visibility.
Believed to be the aircraft of Werner Machold, this 9./JG 2 Emil illustrates the heavily applied "stippled" camouflage pattern favored by the Richthofen Geschwader. Also seen in this view is an example of one of the methods used to reduce the visibility of the white areas of the fuselage Balkenkreuz.
the height of demarcation between upper and lower colours was often
altered, with segments of the upper fuselage colours being extended down
the fuselage sides to random depths along its length.
However some units, notably the III./ JG 26, were markedly
reluctant to add any form of additional camouflage to their aircraft and
throughout most of 1940, retained the high demarcation finish with
fuselage crosses and numerals repainted in a smaller format than usual to
help conceal the aircraft at higher altitudes.
In contrast to the JG2 aircraft at left, this Emil of the 8./JG 26 showcases the smaller numbers and high demarcation line common to the III. Gruppe of this Geschwader.
more fighter engagements taking place over the sea and increasing numbers of
replacement aircraft entering service, camouflage variations became all the more
widespread, often occurring when easily interchangeable parts such as cowlings, rudders,
armament access panels and battery hatch covers were swapped between aircraft to
expedite servicing. Additionally, two other anomalies
had appeared earlier
in the camouflage schemes.
|The first was a lighter centre to the wing Balkenkreuz that often extended to include areas of the arms of the cross and surrounding areas. This may or may not have been a part of the random light camouflage overspray occasionally applied to wing upper surfaces or was perhaps, evidence of the overall mottled finish seen and documented as being applied to some Bf 109Es of the period. Although no supportable documentary confirmation for this has been found, from photographic evidence it is reasonable to assume that, in all probability, the additional colour was applied to reduce the visibility of the wing crosses and blend them in to the upper surface camouflage, thus helping to conceal the aircraft from observation from above.||
The top of the port wing of the Bf 109E of Lt. Hans Illner of the 4./JG 51 clearly showing the soft, irregular overspray covering the Balkenkreuz to lessen its visibility.
Paul Temme's Bf 109E photographed in the field adjacent to Shoreham airfield where he was forced to land early on the morning of 13 August. The 'wrapped-around' underside 65 along the leading edge of the wing is clearly evident.
|The second and one that again is clearly evident in many period photographs, was the use of a light colour that wrapped around the upper leading edges of the main wings. This may clearly be seen in photos such as those of the aircraft of Oblt. Paul Temme the Gruppe Adjutant of the I./JG 2 who force-landed beside Shoreham airfield during the early morning of 13 August. From the detailed examination of photos of aircraft with this feature it is currently understood that this was actually a continuation of the underside Blue 65 applied so as to encompass the areas of wing leading edge visible in a head-on view. Whether this was an attempt to break up the outline of the wings when viewed from head-on or a characteristic of the location where the camouflage finish was applied has not, to date, been determined with any certainty.|
often totally destroyed, all enemy aircraft that came down in the British Isles
during the Second World War were thoroughly examined by intelligence teams from
the Air Ministry and RAF. The
reports created from these examinations were known as Crashed Enemy Aircraft
Reports, and recorded such information as Werk Nummer, engine type,
armament, additional or special equipment and often, markings and colours.
However, and to the disappointment of many post-war researchers, there
were no set guidelines in these reports for describing the shades of the colours
found on these downed aircraft. Generally,
any examination of the paint was confined to an evaluation of the type of finish
and occasionally, some undamaged panels would be tested for paint durability.
mid-August, the first uses of greys and blue-greys as an upper camouflage colour
were making their appearance in these reports, appearing with increasing
frequency as the battle progressed. ‘light navy grey’, ‘two shades of
grey’, ‘light grey with dark grey mottling’,
‘Battleship grey’, ‘mottled greys’ and ‘camouflage grey’ were some
of the descriptions given, along with mention of varying shades of green-grey
and blue-grey. Were these an indication of the earliest use of the greys 74
that would become the standard fighter camouflage the following year or,
as recent research and correspondence indicates, that they were colours
originally created at unit level?
the appearance of the original version of this article I have received written
confirmation from two former Jagdwaffe ground personnel confirming that
on occasion, various grey shades were mixed and applied to some aircraft in an
attempt to find suitable concealment when flying above the waters of the English
Channel. Confirmation that this occurred ties in with known practices
carried out on Luftwaffe aircraft where a new paint or colour was applied
to selected parts of an airframe to test its viability under operational
can be found that the mixing of various combinations and percentages of the
colours 02, 65, 66, 70 and 71, or similar colours in contemporary paints will
produce a variety of grey and blue-grey shades.
Most, if not all of these ‘grey schemes’ would have been suitable for
use in the prevailing situation on the Channel Front in the latter half of 1940.
It is reasonable to assume therefore that some of these shades were no
doubt almost identical to the later 74/75 greys thus leading to the belief in
some quarters that this series of colours had been applied to Bf 109s in the
summer of 1940. However, as the use
of 74/75/76 was not officially promulgated until the November 1941 issue of L.Dv
it is a wholly convincing possibility that the various greys used during 1940
were those from which they were developed.
Gruppe and Staffel Markings and Colours
The origins of markings for Stab personnel date back to the pre-war period, being allocated to three officers of the Geschwaderstab: the Kommodore, his Adjutant and the officer in charge of flying operations. Correspondingly for the Gruppenstab, similar symbols were allocated to the Gruppenkommandeur, Adjutant and Operations officer.
|The entry into service of the Bf 109 made it apparent that the earlier Stab symbols would need revising. For that reason, Fl.Inst. 3 Nr.730/37 II 9 issued on 14 December 1937 by the Generalstab der Luftwaffe included a set of instructions and diagrams for the application of markings to fighter aircraft. Apart from containing detailed instructions on the dimensions of numerals and their spacing, new locations and dimensions for Stab symbols were designated, including a vertical bar symbol to be applied aft of the fuselage cross to signify the III. Gruppe instead of the earlier wavy line symbol. A horizontal bar aft of the fuselage cross identified the aircraft of the II. Gruppe while those from the I. Gruppe carried no symbol. All symbols were to be applied in black with white edging and a thin black outline although it is evident in photographs and other records that these markings were not always applied in either the colours or locations officially specified. Despite the clearly worded instructions regarding the III Gruppe marking, at least two Jagdgeschwader; JG 2 & JG 52, declined to effect the change, retaining instead the earlier wavy line Gruppe symbol. In similar fashion, the III./JG 2 and JG 54 also declined to follow the wording of the directive by using white as the predominant colour for their Stab symbols, usually outlining them with a thin black border. Likewise, the II./JG 51 also declined to display their Gruppe bar by using the designated area to display instead their 'weeping bird' emblem.||
This view of the rear port fuselage side of Illner's Bf 109E shows the position aft of the fuselage Balkenkreuz where the II./JG 51 applied their 'weeping bird' emblem.
ordinary Staffel aircraft carried a number identifying the individual
aircraft within the Staffel, and the colour in which it was
painted identifying the Staffel within the Geschwader. These
numbers were usually applied in one of two forms with the figures from 2 to 9
appearing in either a ‘rounded’ or ‘squared’ style that usually remained
constant within the various Staffeln.
Although regularly positioned ahead of the fuselage cross, some units did adopt alternative locations for these numbers. The III./JG 27 chose to apply them to either side of the cowling beneath the gun troughs while the III./JG 54 placed theirs on either side of the forward fuselage, just aft of the rear edge of the engine cowling. Likewise, there were also exceptions to the rule for Staffel colours; on several occasions, red was recorded as replacing the normal black of the second, fifth and eighth Staffeln, the third (Jagd) Staffel of LG 2, used brown instead of yellow and the 5.Staffel of JG 53 is recorded as using grey numerals throughout 1940.
|Spinners too received their share of colours. These were often repainted in black and white in the form of halves or quarters or would merely have a segment of white applied to the base Black-Green 70 spinner colour. In many instances the spinner tip or cap, if fitted, would often be painted in the Stab or Staffel colour. While there are no confirmed reports of the 1944 ‘spiralschnauze’ style of design being used at this time, those coloured bands that were painted on Bf 109E spinners during 1940 are recorded as being applied in concentric circles. However, it is again evident that there were exceptions to the rule here too. For example, the Bf 109E-4 of Oblt. Helmut Tiedmann, Staffelkapitan of the 2./JG 3, was described in Crashed Enemy Aircraft Report No.7 of 21 August 1940 as having concentric rings painted on the nose of the spinner yet published photos of the nose of this aircraft clearly show it to be a thin spiral.|
II & III Gruppenstab
4 & 7 Staffeln
5 & 8 Staffeln
6 & 9 Staffeln
Red Band of JG 53
a short period during the second half of 1940, all three Gruppen of JG
53, and only JG 53, displayed two distinct anomalies in their markings, the
purposes of which have yet to be fully determined with 100% certainty.
The first case concerns the replacement of the ‘Pik As’ emblem. According to RAF intelligence sources in Air Ministry Weekly Intelligence Summary No.60, the emblem was ordered removed by Hermann Göring and a red band applied in its place, stating that the unit was to become known as the ‘Red Ring Geschwader’. While there is some evidence to suggest that it may have stemmed from some personal antipathy on the part of Göring, or possibly from some ideological difference with the leadership of the Geschwader, the definitive reason for the order has yet to be determined. In the past, several valid theories for this change have been examined in depth, but most have been subsequently disproven although one, containing some merit, submits that it may have been nothing more than a temporary identification feature. There was however one event which transpired at this time that may have been of some significance. During early August, at around the time of the appearance of these red bands, Göring replaced the majority of the Jagdwaffe Kommodore with younger men, although two units serving with Luftflotte 3, JG 27 and JG 53, retained their existing Kommodore until October. Then, after Oblt. Günther von Maltzahn had taken over command of JG 53 from Oblt. Hans-Jürgen von Cramon-Taubadel at the beginning of October, the ‘Pik As’ emblem began to reappear on the Geschwader aircraft in a somewhat newer and larger format than previously seen. As a matter of interest, the first recorded incident of a Bf 109E being brought down over England where the red band had replaced the ‘Pik As’ emblem occurred on 16 August. On that date the aircraft of Fw. Christian Hansen of the 2./JG 53 force landed at Godshill on the Isle of Wight and when examined was reported in Crashed Enemy Aircraft Report No.11 of 19 August 1940 as having a “red band around nose 6” wide”.
|The second case, and one frequently recorded as a political gesture on the part of the Geschwader, occurred almost concurrently with the reintroduction of the ‘Pik As’ emblem. Many aircraft from the II and III Gruppen had the Hakenkreuz on their fins overpainted with several pilots using these areas to display their individual Abschuss tallies rather than in the more usual location on the rudder. Although some aircraft of the Gruppen did re-apply the Hakenkreuz after a short period of time it was often placed on the rudder rather than in the usual position on the fin. The period of time that these anomalies with the Hakenkreuz covered is not known for certain but some aircraft of the III./JG 53 were photographically recorded as still without their Hakenkreuz in late November 1940.||
Photo of the III./JG53 Gruppenadjutant Ltn. Erich Schmidt's Emil illustrating the absence of the Hakenkreuz on the fin; photo dated Nov. 1940. Behind Schmidt's aircraft can be seen another Emil carrying the "Pik As" badge.
earliest examples of the use of these markings occurred when aircraft of JG 26
and JG 54 were recorded as carrying areas of yellow paint applied to wing and
tailplane tips and also to top sections of rudders and on occasion, to the
vertical trailing edge section
of the rudder. There is little doubt that these markings were established as an
aid to instant recognition in the air where such conspicuous markings were
invaluable to both sides. In appreciation of this value, the Jagdwaffe
were quick to increase the use of such colours to include cowlings and entire
rudders. Whereas the application of either yellow or white
to wing and tailplane tips remained relatively constant from unit to unit, this
was not often the case where cowlings and rudders were concerned.
On rudders, it first appeared in the form of an inverted triangular area on the top section as may be seen in photo's of the Bf 109 of Gerhard Schöpfel of the III./JG 26 circa mid - August. Not long after this, other Bf109Es, often noted as being from the III./JG 54, were recorded as having approximately one-third of the rear vertical rudder surface painted yellow or possibly white, while on Bf 109s of other units, the entire rudder was finished in one of these colours. When the whole rudder was painted, the exact area covered frequently varied as a section of the original Blue 65 would often be left on which the pilot would display his 'Abschuss' tally, usually marked as black or red vertical bars that often identified the nationality of the victim and the date of the victory. In addition to the painted rudder variations, at least two Bf109Es of the period are documented where the fin was also painted in yellow or white but based on currently available information, these are seen to be the exception rather than the rule at this time.
This view of the 7./JG 27s Oblt. K. Fischer's Bf 109E-1 lying in Windsor Great Park on the afternoon of 30 September illustrates the aircraft number applied to the side of the engine cowling, a feature of aircraft of the III./JG 27.
|With cowlings, it can be seen from photographs that the area covered by white or yellow paint varied considerably between aircraft, often extending rearwards as far as the base of the windshield. Any unit emblems that would otherwise be hidden by this paint were usually masked off carefully, and two such units, the I./JG 3 and the III./JG 27, masked off the distinctive JG 3 ‘Tatzelwurm’ and JG 27 numbers so as to leave them on a conspicuous rectangular background of the camouflage colour. From late August on, it is unusual to find a photograph of a Bf 109E without some part of its airframe covered in either yellow or white paint, and to date, no significant explanation for the use of the two different colours has been ascertained, suggesting that they may have been used somewhat indiscriminately. In addition to the use of yellow and white for these tactical markings, it is also claimed in some sources that red was used for the same purpose. However, despite several detailed investigations to date, no photographic or documentary evidence whatsoever has been discovered to support this claim.|
some references suggest that
change from yellow to white occurred
at the end of August, it is evident from the contents of Crashed Enemy Aircraft
Reports for the month of September that both colours were being used
concurrently by different units during that time. As far as research to date has
shown, it would appear that this use of white lasted only for a period of
approximately three or four
and was seemingly confined in the main to units based within a small sector of
occupied France. During the last week of August, the fighter units of Luftflotte
3 were placed under the control of Luftflotte 2 when the bomber units of
the former were temporarily withdrawn from daylight operations in order to join
the nightly attacks on centres of industry in the British Midlands. However,
whether or not this was in any way connected with the use of the white tactical
markings for the single-engined fighter force, remains a matter of speculation
for the present.
Canopy FrameworkOne other area of airframe colour that deserves mention is that applied to the canopy framework. For the earlier canopy style as fitted to the E-1 and E-3, photographs show that while the external areas were usually finished in accordance with those colours used for the upper camouflage, the internal faces could be finished in either 02 or a darker grey that, in all probability was Black-Grey 66. However, with the introduction of the heavier framed canopy and windscreen that was introduced on the E-4, recent investigation by Dutch and German researchers has established that both inner and exterior faces of the framework was painted in Black-Grey 66 at the source of manufacture, often leaving any external camouflage colour(s) to be applied at a later date or at unit level. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that in period photos of 109 variants with heavier framed canopies that appear to be in a single, very dark colour were, for whatever reason and in all probability, left in 66 rather than having the appropriate camouflage colour applied.
In this view of Bf 109E-1 W.Nr. 6296F (F= flugklar, or repaired to airworthy status) belonging to Werner Bartels of the III./JG 26, the retrofitted later canopy style may be seen to be in a different shade than the surrounding fuselage paintwork.
Upon closer inspection, some overspray from the repainted aft fuselage may be found on the rearmost portion of the canopy, while the windscreen and hood itself retain the coat of overall 66. Interestingly, this view of the cockpit area of Bartels' E-1 indicates what may well have been an all Black-Grey 66 interior.
it is a well-recognised fact that the RLM had a clearly defined
administrative intent to regulate Luftwaffe camouflage practices, it must
also be distinctly understood that, as surviving documentary and photographic
evidence reveals, there were many exceptions to its established edicts.
Unfortunately, since very few original documents or diagrams are available from
which definitive information can be obtained; much of the interpretation for
these variations must rely heavily on informed and educated speculation based
upon such material and knowledge as is currently available.
 RLM 65 Hellblau
 RLM 70 Schwarzgrün
 RLM 71 Dunkelgrün
 Specification of Handling and Application Instructions for Aircraft Paints, March 1938
 AKA RLM 02
 e.g. JG 52.
 e.g. JG 2
 The Bf 109E-1 of Lt. Johann Böhm of the 4./JG 51. Photos of this aircraft after capture clearly show the over-sprayed areas of the Balkenkreuz.
 RLM 74 Dunklegrau
 RLM 75 Mittelgrau
 Although not officially promulgated until November 1941 there is evidence to indicate that the 74/75 schemes was first applied to Bf 109s early in the production run of the F-2 model in mid-1941. On 24 June 1941, an RLM order was issued which, it is understood, officially approved the changeover to a new day fighter scheme incorporating the colours 74 and 75 over 76, this change being further reflected in the reissue of L.Dv.521/1 in November of that year
 Ace of Spades
 Hans-Jürgen von Cramon-Taubadel is understood to have had a Jewish wife.
 Hptm Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke, Gruppenkommandeur of the III./JG 53, photos of whose Bf 109E taken in November 1940 clearly show the overpainted Hakenkreuz and the newly applied ‘Pik As’ emblem.