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RLM - Colors of the German Luftwaffe

by Wolfram Bradac

The aircrafts of the German LW (Luftwaffe) in WWII were painted with standardized paints. The colors of this paints were registered as RLM# (Reichs Luftfahrt Ministerium). In certain regulations it was exactly determined where and when the colors had to be used. The sources as a whole are very poor and if you would like to know more about it, you'll find some books in the appendix. We have to make a distinction between paint and color in the following paragraphs.

Basically I can say that there is a difference between pre-war splinter camouflage until approx. 1938, splinter camouflage in RLM65/RLM70/RLM71 (just to read 65/70/71), attack camouflage of fighters until approx. 1944 and camouflage in the last months of battle. The aircrafts from production line were delivered in standardized camouflage which was modified at front line.

Examples for the camouflages of the German Luftwaffe in WW2:

pre-war camouflage until approx. 1938 61/62/63
early biplane-fighters, prototypes 02
splinter camouflage (green) - aircrafts except sea-aircrafts until the
end of 1939, later bomber, transport aircrafts and battle-aircrafts
3- color desert camouflage (Africa) 78/79/80
nightfighter (firstly black only) 75/76
fighters approx. since the end of 1939 65/70/71
fighters France and Battle of Britain often 02/65/71
attack camouflage of fighters from 1941 until 1944 74/75/76
fighters 1944-45 76(84)/81/82(83)
The paints were produced by different paint producers in German occupied territory; the situation became more complicated because of the war. This was the reason why only low-grade and domestically produced pigments were used for the paint's production. Therefore it was already impossible to produce a precise coloring in the early stage of war. Paints reacted to differently weather and high altitude radiation. On the basis of black and white photography it is nearly impossible to identify for variant shade of grey with certainty (i.e. RLM 65 and RLM 65 A). The color photos from WWII are not proper for an exact identification of colors, since after that long time a variation of colors occurred. And with today's color films you will get different results by constant ratio of light. To make this confusion perfect, you have to know that in the last months of war every bottle of old and new color was used and had been mixed in a ratio of 1:1 according to the regulation (Luftwaffendienstvorschrift) of the Luftwaffe.

So, for the today's modeller, there is no standard RLM#. For the later colors like RLM81 / 82 / 83 no RLM color sample card existed. Original aircraft parts and sections had to be used for the present creation of color sample cards. Personally I put the main focus on a harmonic camouflage. Many RLM# colors have a cross reference to a RAL# (Reichs Ausschuss Lieferbedingungen).

Today there are some paint producers, like GUNZE, TESTORS, JPS-COLOR, LIFE-COLOR etc., which have the RLM colors in their production program. These colors are labelled with these RLM#. This colors have to be used with attention, but they are much closer to the original color than products from HUMBROL, REVELL, etc. The colors from GUNZE were produced on the basis of the RAL color sample card. For the aircraft as well as the vehicle colors. At least this applies to number 4## and higher. In my opinion these colors are quite accurate and they are good to handle with an airbrush.
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Comment for the RLM-color chart:

This chart includes all known RLM colors, the color RLM 84 is not given, since this color did not officially exist. Also not given is RLM 99 where 99 means shade irrelevant. RLM 00 means clear vanish. All RLM colors were labelled with numbers and not with the term. For some colors the versions are known. If this is the case I mentioned the number of known versions in the column versions. Most of the versions were brighter or darker, with just one exception. RLM 81 ; the mentioned FS number is a brown violet shade, like it can be seen on color profiles. It is supposed that this shade was brought directly to the units and was applied there. The other variants of RLM 81 are more olive green. I abstained from color specification in FS numbers, for the variants of RLM 81, since they vary too much according to the sources.

how did i get the color references?

In the web you find a lot of color charts with cross references to different paint producers. After comparison I found out a lot of differences in the charts. Since most of the producers are not from DIN and RAL compound areas, I decided to work on the FS (Federal Standard) basis. I got the up-to-date color sample cards FS-595b from the States. Many color charts, like the IPMS Color Cross Reference Guide or the FS # on the Aeromaster decal sheets are compound on the FS-595a. Therefore I also wrote these numbers down. (source: IPMS Color Cross Reference Guide). Unfortunately a lot of numbers of colors were deleted when there was the change from FS-595a to FS-595b. These colors are mentioned extra and shown in blue.

I took as a reliable source the book The Official Monogram Painting Guide for German Aircraft 1935-1945 to specify the colors based on FS-595b. In this book are some color sample cards (painted, but not printed), which are made on specification from the German RAL-institute. I compared these color sample cards with such one from FS-595b and wrote down the corresponding color number. Non of these FS numbers corresponds to 100%; all FS numbers with greater differences are specially mentioned in yellow.

I took the RAL numbers from the book Surface Protection Treatment (Oberflächenschutzverfahren), which is quite a reliable source. Whenever an RAL # did exist the colors from Revell and Humbrol are referenced by this RAL #. These colors are specially mentioned in green. I used the Humbrol Authentic colors as a conversion chart (the colors didn't fit well) and by means of the Humbrol # I made a reference to the corresponding Revell #. These colors are specially mentioned in red. Unmarked Humbrol and Revell colors are referenced by FS 595b.
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RLM Var Term Application FS-595b FS-595a  RAL Revell Humbrol
00   water pale protection coat          
01   silver undercarriage, coats 17178 17178 9006    
02   RLM-grey interior, camo, prototypes 34159 36165 7003 45 86
03   silver gray early paint 37200 37200      
04   yellow markings 33538 33538 1004   154
05   ivory early paint for gliders 33798 37880      
11   grey            
21   white markings 27780 37886 9001 5 34
22   black markings 37038 37038 9004 8 33
23   red markings 31302 31140 3020    
24   dark blue markings 25053 25053 5000 56 25
25   pale green markings 34090 34115 6000 365  
26   brown early camouflage, markings 30109 30109 8004    
27   yellow markings 33637 33637 1021    
28   claret red markings 30045 30032      
41   grey interior  36463 36440 7011 71 92
42   grey       7012 77 79
61   dark brown camouflage until approx. 1938 30040 30040 8019 81 10
62   green camouflage until approx. 1938 34159 34128 6003 361 117
63 2 pale blue camouflage until approx. 1938 36375 36373 7033   115
64   light blue s.c. export color 35526 35414      
65 2 pale blue undersurfaces 35352 35352   55 65
66   black grey interior (cockpit visible) 37030 36081 7021 9 184
67   dark olive s.c. export color 34098 34098      
68   pale olive s.c. export color 34258 34097      
69   lichtloh s.c. export color 33695 33596      
70   black green camouflage, props 34052 34050     91
71   dark green camouflage 34083 34079   363 30
72   green camouflage - seaplanes 37030 36081      
73   green camouflage - seaplanes 36081 34092     32
74 2 dark grey camouflage 36081 34086     32
75   medium grey camouflage 26132 36122     140
76 3 light blue camouflage, undersurfaces 36473 36473     175
77   pale gray markings 26420 36493 7035 371 196
78   pale grey undersurfaces - Africa 35352 35352      122
79   sand yellow camouflage - Africa 30219 30215   382 118
79   sand brown camouflage - Africa 33448 33434   382 118
80   olive green camouflage - Africa 34079 34052     116
81 3 brown violet camouflage since approx. 1944 30045 34087   66 155
82 2 pale green camouflage since approx. 1944 34096 34128 6003 361 117
83 2 dark green camouflage since approx. 1944 34138 34138 6006   108
91   dural grey Lufthansa - color          
   = just approx. right shade
   = does not exist anymore in FS595b
   = referenced by RAL#
   = referenced by Humbrol Authentic Colors
Comments to RLM-79: At the beginning of the war in Africa RLM-79 sand - brown was used. This paint was propably in Italian stocks. Later on RLM-79 sand - yellow was used, which was paler then sand - brown.

Comment to FS-Number System: 1xxxx = gloss, 2xxxx = semi - gloss, 3xxxx = flat. Corresponding to the flat color shade 34138, no semi - gloss or gloss shade must exist.
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the scale-effect:

An additional aspect of determination of shades of colors is the scale effect. Every model reflects because of its smaller size less light then the original. Therefore a model painted with original colors looks always too dark. To avoid this effect we can mix to every color a higher amount of white. At this topic there are many different opinions.

The amount of white can be calculated by the following formula:

Scale : 2 = % of white has to be added to the basic color

Example:1:72 > 72:2 = 36% white to be added, 1:32 > 32:2 = 16% white to be added

This formula can not be adopted for big (1:24) and small scales (from 1:144 and higher). At the scale of 1:24 you can abstain from adding white. The formulas mentioned above are often published. They are also published in The Official Monogram Painting Guide to German Aircraft. This book is in Europe and in the States quite common.

British modellers prefer it a little bit darker, formulas from Ian Huntley:

1:32 - 7%,  1:48 - 10%,  1:72 - 15%,  1:144 - 23%

(from: Ian Huntley - Scale Aircraft modelling Vol. 5 / # 10)

"The scale effect is one of the most controversy fields in modelling. The discussion is very old and until now there is no satisfactory solution for every modeller. We use 3 different color sample cards, all of them should have original color samples from RLM-colors. The different shades of this cards differ quite often very much. If we think to use for every scale a different card so it would be too much to find the right shade. The thing would not match. We should consider that the colors of the camouflage should fit and the painting should look good. There is nothing more to add."
(this is the comment of Revell-Germany about Luftwaffe colors)

This schedule is not considered as the absolute truth of colors. I am always open for hints and information concerning this matter.
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you will need Acrobat Reader 4.x for reading or printing 
  Sources/ References:  
  The Official Monogram Painting Guide to German Aircraft 1935 - 1945
by Kenneth A. Merrick, Thomas H. Hitchcock
Monogram Aviation Publications, 1980, ISBN 0-914144-29-4
  IPMS Color Cross-Reference Guide, by David H. Klaus
Meteor Productions Inc., 1992
  Oberflächenschutzverfahren und Anstrichstoffe der dt. Luftfahrtindustrie und Luftwaffe 1935 - 1945
by Michael Ullmann
Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 2000, ISBN 3-7637-6201-9
  Federal Standard 595b Colors - Fan Deck (July 1994), 7690-01-162-2210  
  Color conversion table HUMBROL, Version 11-06-2000, by Steffen Jachnow
Download (only german):

many thanks to Steffen Jachnow for his assistance
  Markierungen und Tarnanstriche der Luftwaffe im 2. Weltkrieg (1-4), by Karl Ries jr.
Verlag Dieter Hoffmann, 1967 - 1972
  Camouflage & Markings Luftwaffe 1935 - 1945 (1-5)
by Jaroslaw Wrobel, Janusz Chielewski, Robert Michulec
AJ-Press, 1994 - 1998 - english edition: Books International
  different charts from paint producers  
  meet the author      

Wolfram Bradac

  I was born in 1962 in Vienna. During my school time I started modelling with Airfix kits. After a long break I restarted modelling. My main subjects are aircrafts of the German Luftwaffe of WWII, also military vehicles.

Like most other modellers I stored a lot of kits, more than I built. Beside modelling photographing is my main subject.
  Wolfram Bradac  
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This page:  ARCHIVE: RLM - Colors of the German Luftwaffe
was last modified on: Dec 18, 2000
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