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Luftwaffe Colours, 1935-1945

by Michael Ullmann, Hikoki Publications, Manchester, UK, 2008, $59.95.

Books dealing with German aircraft camouflage and markings are a significant slice of the aviation history publishing industry. It seems that each aircraft in the Luftwaffe’s inventory has at least one volume devoted to its coloration, with the more iconic types such as the Messerschmitt Me-109 boasting several dozen titles. Despite this apparent oversaturation of the market, Michael Ullmann’s latest book, the culmination of nearly two decades of research and writing on the subject, stands apart.

For one thing, this book is based entirely on original German documents—including the meticulous painting regulations issued by the Reich Air Ministry (RLM) at various stages of the Luftwaffe’s rise and fall, as well as the statutes from the Reich Law Gazette mandating national markings and identification lettering. Many of these documents are presented complete and in first-rate translations. The author covers not only the basic colors and camouflage patterns, but also modifications such as tropical colors, temporary night and winter camouflage, and maritime schemes necessitated by the Luftwaffe’s changing and widening war. Of particular note are the late-war decrees, mandating bare-metal undersurfaces and other cost-saving measures. Ullmann covers subjects such as paint schemes for Zeppelin airships and commercial aircraft often overlooked in previous works. On the subject of the “official standard” for German aircraft paint schemes, this book is definitive.

Of course, the official regulations are only the beginning of the story. Wartime conditions and shortages, human error and misinterpretation, as well as the ingenuity of front line personnel often led to tremendous variations in the actual camouflage and markings worn by the aircraft. The author deftly sketches the differences between theory and practice. Refreshingly, if Ullmann resorts to speculation, he identifies it as such—and it is usually informed, well-reasoned speculation.

If at times the technical information on paint composition and surface preparation becomes a bit overwhelming, this well-organized book is a most useful reference tool. It is beautifully illustrated, with a fine selection of photographs, facsimiles of official RLM marking diagrams and instructions, a paint chip chart and three-view camouflage color pattern diagrams derived from original documents and shrewd photo research. The volume’s production values, as we have come to expect from this publisher, are top-notch. Luftwaffe Colours will obviously interest aircraft modelers, but all students of the Luftwaffe, the Third Reich and the German war economy will find this book valuable.


Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here