Both before and during the Second World War, German armor camouflage went through a series of changes. Some of the colors and patterns used, especially during the late-war years, are still subject to much discussion. The camouflage patterns described below mainly apply to armored vehicles. Still, it is not uncommon to see German soft-skinned vehicles with more or less standardized camouflage patterns.

Paint Standardization

The paint colors used were defined by the Reich-Ausschuss für Lieferbedingungen (RAL) (Reich committee for terms of delivery). It is important to note that, while the current Bundeswehr color standard uses some of the same color names, the colors are different from the ones used during the war.

Pre-war, 1927-1937

Between 1927 and 19 July 1937, German tanks were painted in the Buntfarbenanstrich (colorful paint pattern). The pattern used three colors: RAL Nr. 17 Erdgelb-matt (matt earth yellow), RAL Nr. 18 Braun-matt (matt brown), and RAL Nr. 28 Grün-matt (matt green). The colors were sprayed onto the vehicle in the wavy pattern, with a different pattern for each vehicle. The borders were to be either feathered, or bordered by one to three centimeter wide stripes of RAL Nr. 5 Schwarz-matt (matt black).

Early-war, 1937-1940

On 12 July 1937 Inspectorate 2 ordered that all Army equipment was to be painted in dark gray (dunkelgrau) and dark brown (dunkelbraun).

1. In place of the colorful paint pattern, a pattern in the colors dark gray and dark brown is introduced.

The colors should not meet using sharp edges. Instead, they must transition gradually.

On small surfaces, only one color - dark gray or dark brown - is to be used.

2. The units and service stations will be sent color plates once they have been made. The new pattern should only be applied once the current one requires patching or repainting.

3. Applying the paint using spray guns is more beneficial than using brushes, as using a spray gun results in a less shiny paint finish.

4. Tarpaulins must not be painted. They must be used up in their existing colors. Newly produced ones follow the colors in point 1.

5. Available equipment in the Army depots, etc., will retain the existing colorful paint pattern and will be given to the units in their current state.

6. The conflicting instructions in H. Dv. 488, part I, appendix 6, as well as page 237 article 30 and the paint pattern on page 238, are no longer valid. Changes in the manual will be implemented by page inserts or a new printing.

On 8 July 1938, Inspectorate 2 announced that units could begin to requisition color plates from the Army depot in Kassel.

On 2 November 1938, Inspectorate 2 amended the 12 July 1937 order so that units would need to immediately re-paint their equipment. It was also specified that units had to buy the paint directly from the factories. In this order, the colors now reference dunkelbraun Nr. 45 and dunkelgrau Nr. 46 in the RAL color system.

1. The 1937 Army bulletin page 137, item 340, point 2 paragraph 2, point 4 paragraph 1 and point 5 are rescinded. The dark gray/dark brown equipment paint pattern is to be applied by the units regardless of the condition of the existing colorful paint pattern.

2. For the paint jobs is to be used:

  • dark gray number 46 from the color card 840 B 2 RAL
  • dark brown number 45 from the color card 840 B 2 RAL

In addition

  • P-paints for armored vehicles with these colors,
  • W-paints for equipment with these colors,
  • Canvas paints according to point 7 below,
  • in all other cases E-paints (synthetic resin paints). These paints can also be applied to existing oil-based paints.

3. The cost must be borne by the relevant funds of the troops.

4. The appearance of the pattern can be seen in the color plate as per 1938 Army bulletin page 157, item 460.

5. The colors must be ordered from the manufacturers while observing the following points:

The paint must either be delivered ready for use, or, to adjust its ability to be used in spray guns, it must be requested that the company specifies a commercially available paint thinner on the packaging label.

Regarding E-paints, refer to the service manual D 69 1937/38 from 6 August 1937.

Delivery companies for P-paints:

[…]

6. Synthetic resin paints have a shelf life of no more than 3 months; consider this when deciding on how much to order.

7. All tarpaulins for motor vehicles and horse drawn vehicles, as well as colorful covers and protective covers, must be painted in dark gray/dark brown with canvas cover paints.

The delivery companies for canvas cover paints are yet to be announced.

Prior to painting, the canvas must be thoroughly cleaned of dust; it must be completely dry.

The paint must be stirred thoroughly before use and then applied in a single coating with a paintbrush.

The first paint must be dark gray, leaving the areas for the dark brown. After this, dark brown is applied.

On 20 January 1939, Inspectorate 6, responsible for motor vehicles, detailed how different vehicle classes should be painted.

Item Vehicle type Paint pattern for the chassis and superstructure Equipment (headlights, bumper, radiator, handlebar, canopy, etc.) Remarks
1 Commercial cars for senior staff, miscellaneous posts, and intelligence commands To be specified when ordering.
2 Motorcycles including side cars Dark gray, matt, number 46 No shiny parts; canvas in dark gray fabric, seats and backrests in weatherproof dark gray grained leather1 in 46 of the color card; storage bags dark gray, their covers2 in dark gray fabric as per 46 of the color card. 1) Substitute fabric allowed.
2) Storage bag covers are currently not included in deliveries.
3 Commercial cars for unit staff and service posts
4 Cars for units with two or more axels, with special purpose superstructures Two-color pattern in number 45 dark brown and number 46 dark gray (see paint pattern for weapons and color card number 840 B 2, fourth supplementary sheet from May 1938) No shiny parts; canvas and tarpaulin two-colored in number 45 and 46 of the color card; seats and backrests in weatherproof dark gray grained leather1 in 46 of the color card
4 All motor vehicles not mentioned in item 1 through 4 and their trailers

The pattern was to be a base coat of dunkelgrau, with one-third of the vehicle covered in dunkelbraun.

The dark brown color was very dark, making it very difficult to distinguish the colors on black-and-white photographs. Most photographs therefore appear to show the vehicles painted in a monotone pattern.

Mid-war, 1940-1943

After 12 June 1940, units stopped buying paint directly from the suppliers. Instead, paint was issued directly to the units, with Dunkelgrau being the only issued color.

On 31 July 1940, to save paint, Inspectorate 2 issued an order to temporarily suspend the use of dunkelbraun paint.

To conserve paint, the following applies for the duration of the war:

1. Equipment that was previously required to be painted dark gray/dark brown will now only receive a single-color dark gray paintwork.

2. Obstacles, such as K- and S-rolls, barbed wire, smooth wire, will no longer be coated in paint.

On 10 February 1941, the RAL colors were re-numbered, with dunkelgrau Nr. 46 becoming dunkelgrau RAL 7021.

North Africa and Southern Europe, 1941-1943

On 17 March 1941, Inspectorate 2 ordered that equipment in North Africa should be painted two-thirds yellow-brown (gelbbraun RAL 8000) and one-third gray-green (graugrün RAL 7008). Canvas items was to be also to be painted using a special type of paint.

1. In place of the dark gray/dark brown or single-color dark gray patterns (1940 Army bulletin page 382 item 864 paragraph 1), the equipment - including all motor vehicles - in use with the units in Africa must be given a paintwork of yellow-brown RAL 8000/gray-green RAL 7008, both matt.

This pattern is to be created in the same way as the previous one, with yellow-brown in place of dark gray, and gray-green in place of dark brown.

The colors should not meet using sharp edges. Instead, they must transition gradually. Small surfaces (including spoke and disk wheels) can be kept in one color. Yellow-brown is predominant, in the approximate relationship of two thirds yellow-brown and one third gray-green.

2. The paint is to be procured by the troops. Supply companies are mentioned in H. B. Bl. 1940 part C page 180 item 535 and page 531 item 1269.

To be used is:

  • for armored vehicles: P-paint,
  • for signal equipment (radio equipment): W-paint, to the extent that the equipment is painted in this color,
  • for equipment with magnesium alloys (e.g., electric wheels on guns, etc.): paint as per technical delivery terms 6337,
  • for equipment made of canvas: paint according to point 3 below,
  • for other equipment: synthetic resin paint (E-paint).

Nitro combination paints as per technical delivery terms 6317 B from 12 February 1941 can also be used to the extent that the units have spray guns at their disposal, with the exception of ready-to-use synthetic resin paint (E).

Should P-, W-, and E-paints not be available, all vehicles and army equipment (including armored vehicles) can be painted in removable (wipe- and rain proof, and fire-resistant) camouflage colors as per technical delivery terms 6345 (emulsion paints, removable with scrubbing brushes and washing soda) can be used. These can be painted on (drying time about 30 minutes) and can also be thinned with water and sprayed on.

Units that are already deployed are to request the colors through the supply channels.

3. Canvas paint from the following companies is to be used to paint canvas equipment (tarpaulins, covers, protective covers, etc.):

[…]

Prior to painting, the canvas must be thoroughly cleaned of dust; it must be completely dry.

The paint must be stirred thoroughly before use and then applied in a single coating with a paintbrush.

The first paint must be dark gray, leaving the areas for the dark brown. After this, dark brown is applied.

4. The cost of the paint must be booked under chapter VIII E 230.

On 25 March 1942, Inspectorate 2 ordered that gelbbraun and graugrün were to be replaced by brown (braun RAL 8020) and gray (grau RAL 7027) once existing paint stocks were depleted, using the same pattern.

In place of the dark gray pattern (1940 Army bulletin page 382 item 864 paragraph 1), the equipment - including all motor vehicles - in use with the units in Africa must be given a paintwork of brown RAL 8020/gray RAL 7027, both matt (not shiny).

Brown 8020 is predominant, in the approximate relationship of two thirds brown 8020 and one third gray 7027. Gray is to be added in irregular patches, so that both colors gradually transition into each other.

Small surfaces, wheels, etc. can be painted in a single color of either 8020 or 7027.

The colors are to be acquired through the supply channels. The current paints 8000 and 7008 must first be used up.

1941 Army bulletin page 140 item 281 is no longer valid.

On 3 July 1942, Inspectorate 2 issued an amendment stating that this order also applied to the units on Crete. Some vehicles sent to the southern parts of the Eastern Front were also painted in the two-tone camouflage pattern used in Africa.

Late-war, 1943-1945

On 18 February 1943, Inspectorate 2 issued an order to paint all vehicles in a base coat of dark yellow (dunkelgelb. On top of the dark yellow was to be painted a pattern of olive green (olivgrün, a color adopted from the Reichluftfahrtsministerium (RLM) (Reich ministry of aviation)), red brown (rotbraun RAL 8017), and dunkelgelb. Paint was ordered by the units according to their types and amount of equipment for re-painting in the field.

1. Equipment paint schemes. In place of the prior equipment paint scheme, dark gray-dark brown, that has been changed to a single-color dark gray for the duration of the war, as well as in place of the brown-gray paint scheme for the units in Africa and on Crete, the following paint scheme enters into immediate effect for major equipment pieces

dark yellow in accordance with sample

The RAL color card number for this dark yellow will be determined later. Samples can be requested from the Army Weapon Office Wa J Rü (W u G 1/V), Berlin W 15, Sächsischestrasse 8.

Until further notices, the current scheme is to be kept for small equipment pieces that are carried in vehicles (for example, signal equipment, supply crates, tool boxes, crates and cases for veterinary equipment, filing boxes).

For the scheme is to be used

  • P-paint as per technical delivery terms 6321 for tanks,
  • W-paint as per technical delivery terms 6320 for radio and signal equipment,
  • Finishing paint as per technical delivery terms 6337 for equipment with magnesium alloys (for example, electronic wheels on guns),
  • otherwise synthetic resin paints according to technical delivery terms 6317 B.

Conflicting instructions are no longer valid.

2. Camouflage paint schemes. The units are responsible for applying appropriate camouflage colors according to the conditions in the field. For this purpose the units have to carry camouflage pastes (3) in the following colors

  • olive green as per the color card of the Reich air ministry for camouflage colors (building and group camouflage),
  • red brown RAL 8018,
  • dark yellow in accordance with sample as in point 1.

3. The camouflage pastes as per point 2 are to be acquired through the supply channels. The following flat rates are to be used for calculating the total amount for each unit.

Olive green, kg Red brown, kg Dark yellow, kg
Single-horse vehicle 0.5 0.5 0.5
Two- and multiple-horse vehicle (including limber) 1.0 1.0 1.0
Gun with a caliber up to and including 75 millimeters 0.5 0.5 0.5
Gun with a caliber up to and including 105 millimeters 1.0 1.0 1.0
Gun with a caliber up to and including 210 millimeters 1.5 1.5 1.5
Gun with a caliber above 210 millimeters 2.0 2.0 2.0
Nebelwerfer of any type 1.0 1.0 1.0
schweres Wurfgerät (per 10 frames) 1.0 1.0 1.0
Tank 2.0 2.0 2.0
Car 0.5 0.5 0.5
Truck up to 2 tons 1.0 1.0 1.0
Truck over 2 tons 1.5 1.5 1.5
1-axeled trailer 0.5 0.5 0.5
2-axeled trailer 1.0 1.0 1.0

The camouflage pastes come in packages of 2 and 20 kilograms. The total amount for each unit is rounded to a number divisible by 2. The 20 kilogram package size is used for quantities greater than 20 kilograms, and for the remainder packages of 2 kilograms.

Bearing in mind the current raw material, manufacturing, and logistics situation, it is the duty of the troops to use the paints and camouflage pastes sparingly and to limit their use to where it is absolutely necessary.

4. The shapes in which the camouflage pastes are applied are left to the discretion of the troops. The general idea is to divide the sides of the equipment (vehicle) into multiple colors.

In general, it has proven effective to create larger patches of paint while avoiding any regularity (cloud-like).

The camouflage pastes are to be used as delivered, or by thinning them with water or fuel. In addition to paintbrushes, they can also be applied with makeshift tools (brushes, rags) and will dry quickly. They are also suited for camouflaging tarpaulins.

Should the removal of already-applied camouflage paste be required, it can be done with fuel.

5. The winter camouflage (in snow-covered terrain) will for the time being continue to be the white scheme with emulsion paint as per technical delivery terms 6345. All equipment that is send for frontline troops up until the end of February 1943 is to be applied this scheme prior to shipment. The introduction of white camouflage paste for winter camouflage will be arranged later.

6. Transition guidelines.

a) Newly manufactured equipment that already has the current paint scheme is to be repainted or - for equipment made of fabric - redyed prior to delivery as per point 1.

b) Equipment already in stock is only to be shipped with the paint scheme or color as per point 1. This equipment must also be covered with the white emulsion paint if it is shipped before the end of February 1943 (5).

c) The paint scheme of the equipment that is already with the field units (dark gray or - for the units in Africa and on Crete - brown-gray) is not changed. Necessary camouflage is done with camouflage paste (2 through 4).

d) Equipment with replacement and occupation units must be repainted as soon as possible according to point 1. The necessary paint (point 1, paragraph 4) as well as the camouflage pastes (point 2, 3) is to be acquired by the units through the supply channels. However, tarpaulins must be repainted with camouflage paste.

Dunkelgelb was later given the RAL number 7028, and olivgrün the RAL number 6003.

The lack of detailed guidance on camouflage patterns resulted in a very wide variety of patterns. Some units used created carefully painted patterns, while other patterns were very rough. To standardize and improve camouflage patterns, on 19 August 1944, it was ordered that all vehicles should be painted at the factories. The pattern, Hinterhalt-Tarnung (ambush camouflage), still used a base color of dunkelgelb, with rotbraun and olivgrün stripes. On top of each color, small dots of the other two were applied. This pattern was created to give the appearance of the sun shining through forest foliage.

In mid-September 1944, vehicles were ordered to not receive the dunkelgelb base. Instead, camouflage was to be painted sparingly directly on top of the red oxide primer. It is unclear whether this meant that the camouflage paint was to fully cover the vehicles' surface, or if the red oxide primer was intended to remain visible. On 31 October 1944, more elaborate camouflage in dunkelgelb, rotbraun, and olivgrün began being applied at the factories over the red oxide primer. Furthermore, dunkelgrau could be used if dunkelgelb was unavailable. Despite this order, there has never been any evidence that dunkelgrau was actually used.

On 20 December 1944, it was ordered that a dunkelgrün base, with a hard-edge pattern of dunkelgelb and rotbraun, should be used.

Interior Colors

Throughout most of the war, the most common interior color was elfenbein RAL 1001 (ivory) and graugrün, with some pieces of equipment retaining their factory-applied colors. Elfenbein made the interior brighter, while graugrün was more resistant to oil and dirt. During 1944, it was ordered to start leaving the interior in the red oxide primer.

Areas visible from the outside of the vehicle were generally painted in the exterior base color. There are, however plenty of photographs showing interior colors on the inside of doors and hatches.

[header1=color_variations]Color Variations[/header1]

While the colors were standardized, there were slight variations from manufacturer to manufacturer. Different application methods, especially when the paint was applied in the field, could also affect the result. Determining the original color of preserved equipment can be unreliable. Aside from the risk of the equipment having been re-painted after the war, paint colors can change over time.

Museum vehicles are rarely re-painted correctly. While some museums do research the camouflage, such research is often based on articles written for modelers. As such articles may, in part, be based on museum vehicle paint jobs, this practice can likewise lead to wrong conclusions. Unless the museum documents their color research, such as the Tank Museum's Tiger 131 (external link), museum vehicles cannot be used as reliable references.

Using photographs to determine color can be next to impossible. Many factors can change the appearance of a color on a black-and-white photograph. Lighting and angle can make dark colors appear light, and light colors dark. Some black-and-white films will make red colors appear darker than green, while other will make green colors darker. Dust can make a vehicle painted dunkelgrau appear dunkelgelb.

While many Second World War photographs were posed, most were either taken in combat conditions or by soldiers with little, if any, training in taking photographs. In such conditions, it is much more likely that what appears to be an anomaly is in fact some optical illusion, rather than a factory worker disobeying orders to paint a single vehicle in an unauthorized color.

Whitewash

During the first winter on the Eastern Front, it became apparent that Dunkelgrau vehicles became very easy targets in the snow. On 18 November 1941, Inspectorate 2 issued an order to apply white paint to vehicles.

The units in Norway, on the Finnish front, and in Russia can be provided with white camouflage paint for equipment - in particular vehicles, including motor vehicles - for the duration of the snowy conditions.

The pattern is left to the unit commanders.

To be used is the removable camouflage paint as per the modified technical delivery terms 6345.

The units and service stations are to acquire the paint through the supply channels. It is to be painted on top of the existing dark gray paint, and washed off once the snow melts.

This order was amended on 25 March 1942 to clarify that the white paint could also be used on tarpaulins.

The paint could be removed with washing soda in the spring. Areas around unit markings, Balkenkreuze, and other markings were usually left in their original color to avoid having to repaint the markings.

As there was not enough white paint available to paint all vehicles, non-combat vehicles were generally not whitewashed. Some vehicles also received only partial whitewashes, such as in stripes or only on the front. Some even used chalk, white sheets or stacked snow, when no paint was available.

The whitewash camouflage continued at least until the winter of 1942/1943, as can be seen in point 5 of the 18 February 1943 order introducing dunkelgelb above.

Field Camouflage

Germany had camouflage nettings and camouflage tarpaulins but did not generally use them for vehicle camouflage. Instead, small rings were welded to the sides, to which foliage could be attached using wire. During the late-war years, large piles of pre-cut branches were sometimes left at roadsides, to allow retreating units to quickly camouflage their vehicles.

Sources

  1. Kraftfahrtechnischer Anhang zu den Allgemeinen Heeresmitteilungen 1939. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres. BArch RH 1/169.
  2. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Vierter Jahrgang 1937. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1937. 228 p. BArch RH 1/160.
  3. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Fünfter Jahrgang 1938. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1938. 341 p. BArch RH 1/161.
  4. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Sechster Jahrgang 1939. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1939. 429 p. BArch RH 1/162.
  5. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Siebenter Jahrgang 1940. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1940. 570 p. BArch RH 1/163.
  6. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Achter Jahrgang 1941. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1941. 677 p. BArch RH 1/164.
  7. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Neunter Jahrgang 1942. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1942. BArch RH 1/165.
  8. Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen : Zehnter Jahrgang 1943. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1943. BArch RH 1/166.
  9. ANDORFER, Volker, BLOCK, Martin & NELSON, John. Nuts & Bolts volume 15 : "Marder III" Panzerjäger 38(t) für 7,62 cm Pak 36 (Sd.Kfz. 139). Uelzen : Nuts & Bolts, 2001. 104 p.
  10. CULVER, Bruce & MURPHY, Richard. Panzer Colors : Camouflage of the German Panzer Forces 1939-45. Carrollton : Squadron/Signal Publications, 1976. 96 p. ISBN 0-89747-057-5.
  11. JENTZ, Thomas L. & DOYLE, Hilary Louis. Germany's Panther Tank : The Quest for Combat Supremacy. Atglen, PA : Schiffer Military History, 1995. 156 p. ISBN 0-88740-812-5.
  12. JENTZ, Thomas L. & DOYLE, Hilary Louis. Panzer Tracts No. 1-2 - Panzerkampfwagen I : Kl.Pz.Bef.Wg. to VK 18.01. Boyds, MD : Panzer Tracts, 2002. 96 p. ISBN 0-9708407-8-0.
  13. JENTZ, Thomas L. & DOYLE, Hilary Louis. Panzer Tracts No. 5-3 - Panzerkampfwagen "Panther" Ausfuerung G. Boyds, MD : Panzer Tracts, 2004. 68 p. ISBN 0-9744862-7-2.