World War One aircraft camouflage
Camouflage and combat aviation were born as a result of
World War I. From 1914 onward, aircraft flew high over the frontline to
see what the "other side" was up to. These machines were both slow and
fragile; they were not camouflaged, simply because few people actually saw
the need for it. Early military aircraft were a pale yellow, just like
pre-war machines. This was caused by the application of translucent dope
and varnish on the cotton or linen fabric used to cover the light wooden
structure. At the time, this was the extent of the protection given to
Once in the air or even
on the ground, the first military aircraft stood out like sore thumbs.
They were all too visible to anyone flying above the forests and the mud
of the trenches. As early as 1916, with the introduction of new, improved
fighter aircraft, and with the increasing number of raids on the bases,
losses became so great that researchers on both sides had to devise
camouflage schemes. Their main goal was, literally, to make the aircraft
disappear into the woodwork.
In Great Britain, the story actually began in 1913 with
a series of experiments performed by a Crown corporation, the Royal
Aircraft Factory, to discover the ideal pigmentation needed to protect
aeroplane fabric from the highly damaging effects of the sun's ultraviolet
rays. The generic name used to describe the compounds was "protective
covering," or PC. A mixture offering the best compromise between
protection and camouflage was adopted in April 1916; this was the
so-called PC-10. Depending on the proportions, the dopes and the pigments
in it, PC-10 could vary from a greenish-ochre to a superb chocolate brown.
The example above is the basic scheme for British
camouflage. The upper surfaces were a single dark colour usually a green
or brown, and the under-surfaces were varnished cloth. The forward
fuselage area around the engine compartment was often painted a medium to
The French planes in the early years were varnished
fabric, switching in 1915 to a silver covering. In 1916 They began
experimenting with several different camouflage patterns using 4 or 5
colour patterns in large blotches on a varnished canvas background, lower
wing colour varied from light blue, tan, to pale grey.
Shown above is the upper wing of a SPAD XII painted in the
original factory camouflage colours. The under-side is light grey. This
example has the standard American Expeditionary Forces markings.
The German military approached the problem from a different
angle. At first, the Air Service used two or three colours, applied in
large blotches over the entire aircraft.
The example above shows one of the typical
for the upper wing of an Albatros D-III, there were 2 and 3 part schemes
in purple and green, lower surfaces were typically painted with a pale
Toward the end of 1916,
Germany introduced a new scheme called Lozenge camouflage which was made
up of polygons in four or five colours, sometimes more, printed on the
fabric. This camouflage not only saved the weight of the paint, but also
the time needed to apply it to each and every aircraft.
The example above is of a five colour lozenge pattern
commonly in use in 1917-1918 . The lozenge fabric has been applied
cordwise on the top surface of the upper wing of a Fokker D-VII. The
pattern of the lozenge fabric used on the lower surface of the wing is a
lighter set of colours
large scale use of wood and, in some cases, light alloys in aircraft
covering, Germany also had to develop camouflage schemes involving
patterns that disrupted the silhouette of the plane making it difficult to
distinguish the silhouette of the aircraft; the three to five colours they
used were often quite similar to the ones printed on the "lozenge fabric."