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France - 1939-1945


The main secondary source is still Steven Zaloga’s  Blitzkrieg: Armour camouflage and markings 1939-1940  Arms and Armour Press, 1980.   The main extant primary source seems to be Programme general des specifications (des) vehicules automobiles destines au service de l’armee  Feb. 3 1934 edition updated 23 Jan. 1935 and 9 March 1937)


The following is based on my own free translation of Francois Vauvillier’s L’Automobils sous l’uniforme (Editions Ch. Massin. 1992).   This is the first time I’ve seen anything on French colours quoting an official document and indeed noting the lack of them!   I think it is to be trusted, and it does give some solid basics to work with.


Colour matching remains problematic.  At http://members.tripod.com/~France40/armeee/colours.html there are some basic suggestions, and Mike Starmer has added others on the basis of the plates in Vauvilliers – acknowledging that these aren’t a primary source and are in lieu of the real thing.   The basic colours seem to be


Base tones

Vert oliv mat – (also vert armee and vert oliv reglementaire)  a dark olive green pre-war, but with a lighter tone coming into use in late 1939.    Note that pre-war colours were “bulled up” and this may account in part for this.   Humbrol 159 or 86 is a probable match, perhaps darkened for pre-war use as pre war vehicles are as dark as their British or German counter parts.

“Gris vert tres fonce”  - In use from Sept 1939 as the base tone for at least armee de l’air vehicles.  Close to Revell 67.  This is probably the original for “Gris Armee” which does not seem to have existed as such and is lighter than RAL 7021 Dunkelgrau.   Mike Starmer has told me that this was the standard colour for vehicles built for the Germans under Vichy.

Gris fer – “Iron grey”, used 1937-39 on air force cargo lorries.  This suggests to me something like Humbrol 27.  It must be lighter than the new colour introduced in 1939, noted above.

Bleu marine – used 37-39 on air force passenger vehicles.  I make this “navy blue”.

Ocre jaune clair – light yellow ochre – used on vehicles in the North Africa – or more particularly in the Sahara.  See Ocre jaune below


Disruptive tones

Brun – usually described as a chestnut brown – The old Humbrol 177 has been quoted, as has 6x133 to 1x98.  It’s a strong dark red brown, in other words.

Ocre jaune – calling this yellow ochre makes it sound sandy, but it’s a strong light brown rather than a sand.   Revell 88  or a mix of Humbrol 93 and 63. s.

Vert – This must contrast with vert oliv mat and the dark grey green, so I’d suggest that we’re talking about a grass green of some sort, and maybe suggest that Humbrol 159+99 may be a possibility.  On the web 86+81 is suggested, so maybe 159+74 or 187 may  work.


Exceptions to the pre-war Very Oliv Mat, apart from camouflage painted AFVs were


  1. Medical vehicles – Vert oliv chassis/body with white tilt(?) marked with a large red cross

  2. Liaison (staff?) vehicles, busses and cars – chassis and mudguards, black, gloss olive green body.  In 1939 just the wheels were to be black, as is often seen on trucks as well.

  3. VIP vehicles – shiny black or “overseas blue”

  4. Gendarmerie vehicles – gloss dark blue, known as “Gloss Gendarme Blue” or Renault Blue 400.

  5. Vehicles in desert areas – light yellow ochre.  Vehicles for use in the Levant were standard olive green

  6. Motorbikes – black, although Terrot used gloss olive green

  7. Fire service – bright gloss red

L’Armee de L’air


New colours were fixed from April 1937


Personnel transports, liaison and ambulances – gloss navy blue, except ambulances which were matt


Supply vehicles, lorries, vans, tractors and scout cars – iron grey – called Renault Grey 748


When War broke out the  Armee de L’air,   issued two circulars on requisitioned vehicles which are quoted as summing up the overall position on vehicle painting well.    The first, on 5th September, set a new matt wartime colour:  “In order to prevent aerial observation of o camps measures should be taken to hide vehicles under trees or sheets.  In order to make this camouflage more effective all Armee de L’air vehicles will be painted a very dark matt grey green”.   The second, on 21 Sept. 1939 confirmed the base colour and also discussed proper camouflage measures.  It set the following


Base tones -  very dark matt grey green on all surfaces except headlight lenses and windscreen.   Attempts should be made to tone down any non-painted areas with matt varnish. No polishing of matt paints.  Blue paint on vehicles proscribed.


Camouflage patterns


Over the base very dark matt grey green, one to three large lighter patches.

The colour of which was to be fixed by “the dominant tone of the surroundings (in France in general, matt green in spring and summer, brown in autumn and winter except in snow)”.  The edges of the light area should be blended gradually into the base tone.  Patches should not be geometric – a patch shouldn’t be limited to the extent of the bonnet, but should extend onto neighbouring surfaces

The overall are of the patches should be about a quarter o the overall vehicle’s surface area. Three matt paints (very dark grey green; green, brown) were to be used.”


The Army made the decision to camouflage new vehicles in the factory in Autumn 1939  The position on new built vehicles seems to have been


Base tone – a lighter olive green that formerly

Pattern painting – brown or ochre or green often, but not invariably using a darker outline.


From a modeller's point of view, then, date is important, but a pretty fair stab can be made at matching the tones seen in a given photograph.


ã Mike Cooper, 2004




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