The United Kingdom - 1939-1945
Relatively little serious work was done until relatively recently, and so the field has tended to be bedevilled by actual ignorance (and sometimes nearly wilful ignorance) and repetition of the faults of a few, incorrect, authorities. Examples here are the first edition of Hodges British military markings 1939-1945 (Almark, 1971) which I’ve seen quoted even after the appearance of a much better second edition (with additions and corrections by Michael Taylor, Cannon Publications, 1994) and the 1970s Military Modelling series British Army Vehicle Colour Schemes and Markings of WW2 by Geoffrey Futter
Where more precise work had been done - particularly by B.T.White - this can be shown to have mis-read, or gone beyond, the primary evidence in some instances. Particular confusion has been caused as RAF aircraft schemes have been well studied and assumptions have been made from that “Dark Green” for the Army was the colour the RAF used, and that where the Army is mentioned as using a brown, that this must be Dark Earth. Also “khaki” has caused a great range of problems, as it has been used to refer to both greens, browns and olive drabs without distinction and clarification. Where documents or veteran accounts have been used they have tended to be interpreted in the light of the misconceptions arising from existing secondary material. Modellers have further been hamstrung by changes to British Standards which eliminated some colours post WW2, and by sometimes woolly British terminology.
The story of UK camouflage has been updated dramatically in the last few years, notably by research from Michael Taylor and particularly Mike Starmer, amongst others. Mike’s careful research is still not fully published, although much of it is coming into IPMS Magazine and I must thank him for his patience with my attempts to summarise it. The actual colours used by the British, mixes to match the standards and a summary of their use are given on the MAFVA website- http://homepages.go.com/homepages/m/a/f/mafva/camsub2_5,html
I’m now confident that, within some parameters, our knowledge of British colours is at the stage where confident interpretations can be made.
UK - NW Europe/Home service
There is a high correlation between official documentation, contemporary photographs, supplemented by veterans accounts which means that there is little gap between theory and practice here. British crews seldom camouflage painted their own vehicles, this being done in the factory, or by RE/REME units at base depots rather than in the front line. Painting/re-painting was essentially part of vehicle maintenance. The vast majority of this painting was done with pre-mixed paint conforming to one of the two British Standards given in table to, and according to patterns laid down in the relevant documentation, or at worst conforming to their general spirit. There were clearly time delays in implementation, and misunderstandings, confusions and short cutting, but enough was done more or less by the book, more or less when the book said for documentation to allow fairly confident statements to be made about the colours in a given photo, or for the appearance of a model to be reconstructed when neither is available. Hence all the evidence suggests that a Matador Models Covenanter would be painted in two colours following MTP 20, and badged according to contemporary practice even if we didn't have good photos of most Covenanter units. However the same pattern and colours would be most unlikely on a Tamiya Cromwell, even if we didn't have a photo to work from.
From August 1941 RAF vehicles conformed to the relevant ACIs and MTPs. Before this point, apart from some ad hoc painting, they were overall BS381c No.33 Blue Grey – virtually Humbrol 77, or 77 with a touch of grey only. This is very definitely NOT “RAF Blue” as we might understand it – say Humbrol 96, or the colour of an RAF uniform. The one lead I have on Royal Navy vehicles, a chance phone call from someone who is restoring one, suggests that whilst the RAF were using No.33 they were using No.32 Admiralty Dark Grey. If this is so, then Humbrol 112 is a fair match.
If we discount the Middle East which issued its own instructions on patterns, photographic evidence shows British vehicles conforming to patterns from one of two Military Training Pamphlets - MTP 20 of June 1939 and MTP 46 of 1941, with Part 4a of November that year that most often quoted. For convenience, although probably not using the terms historically, these two MTP numbers can be used as shorthand to describe patterns. Various Army Council Instructions set out the Colours to be used, if the MTP didn't state this or if changes were needed.
Given these basic patterns and a range of colours anyone painting a British vehicle could set up some very flexible effects. Colours for MTP20 were originally from the 1930 BS381c, but later colours from the 1942 BS 987c were used, with this range, usually identified by a number and an SCC (Standard Camouflage Colour) prefix coming to predominated on MTP 46 schemes. Most typically the tones were browns until the introduction of SCC 15 (olive drab) in 1944. The British Standards were for pre-mixed colours which were to conform to the specified standards. Colour photographs and careful interviews with veterans confirm that they were used.
The changeover from one range to the next was by no means hard and fast, and so even after D-Day when SCC 15 predominated, it is difficult to be certain when another shade is around. In broad terms the survival of early Khaki Greens/Bronze Greens would be unlikely in 1944, but browns were still around after D-Day, especially on softskins.
One complication is that few of the BS987c colours had official names, and hence what we have are virtually nicknames, for example "Desert Pink" for SCC11b. This makes life very awkward as "dark green" in a contemporary document could be one of the BS381c Bronze Greens or a BS987c SCC7 or even 15. However it is possible to work towards reasonable certainly by looking at dates and contexts.
The main base tones and mixes are on the MAFVA website
The situation in the Middle East was subject to greater variation than that at home, but nevertheless standard colours were used according to local instructions, and evidence suggest that where patterns were laid down they were usually adhered to, if not slavishly, then in spirit. Again, more detail on paints is given on the MAFVA website, and Mike Starmer’s Caunter articles in Tankette and IPMS Magazine Jan/Feb 2000, and his Valentine follow up in July/August 200 include invaluable discussion. See for example:
Note that Mike Starmer has produced booklets on Caunter, Alamein and Italian schemes, which we recommend. They are available from him at Mike_Starmer@hotmail.com
Again colours and mixes are given on the web
Until 1943 vehicles appear to conform to UK or ME standards. Early 1943 SCC13 “Jungle Green” introduced for use as single overall colour.
Interiors – Until mid-war interiors were silver, changing to white later.
References: Taylor’s second edition of British Military Markings… referred to above is a good a general source as is available at present. Mike Starmer’s notes on 1939-40 British Expeditionary Force colours are in Tankette 31/6; 32/2 and 33/5. However much of this has been sources by “pers comm.” with Mike S, and with colleagues on the Think. Tank e-mail list (firstname.lastname@example.org) My own piece on Valentines in IPMS Magazine July/August 2000 and Mike’s reply also contain our collective ruminations on the poor state of some thinking on British colours, and my first attempt at an overall summary. This led to the details posted on the web and to this article.
Mixes – See MAFVA website.
ã Mike Cooper, 2004