Me 163B camouflages

An attempt to discover some patterns

Listed below are seven types of camouflage applied to operational Me 163B's. The listing is roughly chronologically, although the order could change as understanding increases (especially through dating of photographs). For example, the mottle camouflage (No. 7) could also be one of the first camouflages. Comments are very welcome!

Click on the pictures for larger versions (40 to 70K) with more details about the photograph.

1. Light grey overall

Many, or possibly all, early Me 163B's were painted in a grey color overall, and flown for some time it that color. Some facts were recorded by RAF intelligence, as found in Public Record Office file AIR 40/198. A reconnaissance flight of Bad Zwischenahn on 8 May 1944 showed five or six Me 163 present, and it was remarked "It is of interest to note that all these aircraft appear to have normal aircraft camouflage, whereas most of the aircraft seen previously at this airfield have been light-coloured." A recce flight over Jesau (the production test flying facility) on 29 June 1944 showed 10 Komets present, with the comment "It may be of interest to note that all the Me 163s were light-coloured." It is not easy to establish exactly which WNr were being flight tested at that time, but very likely they were either the last of the 70 aircraft Messerschmitt production block, or early examples of the first Klemm production block (WNr 4400xx). The first operational recording of a Klemm aircraft is 440009 that crash landed at Venlo on 26 July 1944. At least the observation strongly suggest that at least 70 Komets were delivered without camouflage. It also explains the wide variety in camouflages on early Komets, since they were applied in the field, probably without strict instructions or a painting scheme.

The second issue is what grey color was used on these aircraft. The likely options are RLM02, RLM65 and RLM76. I always thought that RLM02 was unlikely, since that color has a much warmer appearance in most photos, see this selection of RLM02 painted prototypes. Possibly, but this is very much unconfirmed, the warmer appearance is caused by the yellow component in RLM02? If the observation is correct, RLM65 and RLM76 remain.

2. Light grey overall with mottled tail

Possibly the first step in camouflaging the Me 163 was to apply mottles to the tail of an otherwise completely grey aircraft. The edge of the tail wheel well is either very dirty of also sprayed with dark paint.

3. Dark overall

My impression is that the overall dark scheme shown below was the first camouflage applied to operational Me 163B's. Nearly all sources claim that the colors were RLM 81/82. The dating of some of the photographs (see the "White 05" page) shows that this is impossible for at least a number of aircraft. This leaves the mid-war colors 74/75 and early-war 70/71. I've compared the photographs with photographs of aircraft with known 70/71 and 74/75 camouflages, and I'm pretty convinced that early Me 163B's were painted in 70/71. The late-production Me 163B's captured at Husum however were likely to have been painted in late war RLM 81/83/76 scheme (although I still have to investigate that properly).

It was suggested that RLM 70/71 is not that strange a choice. RLM 74/75/76 was introduced when large parts of the fighter missions would be over the sea. The RLM 70/71 dark greens were not suited that environment, and were replaced by 74/75 greys. The Me 163's mission was point defence, and would hardly ever take them over the sea. A land camouflage was thus better suited. Another aspect is that camouflage on the ground became more important, since the Allied fighters were shooting up airfields. Lastly, the 70/71/65 colors were still used for bombers (up to the Arado 234 jet bomber), transports and even the Dornier 335. Thus it was not a matter of 'using up existing or left-over stocks', the colors were still in use in 1944.

Whether one or two colors were used for this scheme is very difficult to see. The Luftwaffe very rarely used a single top color though, so a two-color top camouflage is more likely. It's possible that a generic splinter pattern was used.

4. Dark overall plus mottled tail

A variation of the first scheme, but now the vertical tail is painted in a light grey (either 65 or 76) and then mottled. How this improves the camouflage is unclear to me. It has been reported that Me 262 were camouflaged similarly to camouflage them against US and RAF fighters shooting up the airfields.

5. Dark overall plus mottled nose and tail (extended wing camouflage)

Another variation is one where both the tail and the nose were mottled, and the solid camouflage of the wings extended onto the fuselage, roughly following the leading and trailing edges of the wing. Another possibility is that this is a completely mottled aircraft as in the type 6 camouflage, but with very heavy mottling.

6. Dark overall with disruptive tail pattern

A couple of aircraft show a disruptive camouflage of the tail with highly contrasting colors. In both cases the fuselage and wings appear to be of a dark color. The first photograph shows a very strange combination of colors. The second picture could be a post-war repaint, but looks original to me.

7. Completely mottled fuselage

A camouflage often seen in Komets photographs is one where the complete fuselage is painted in a light color and mottled with a medium or dark color. The wings appear to be camouflaged in dark colors.

It is suggested that this camouflage was the result of paint shortages and the manufacturing process. The series aircraft were built by Klemm, using many subcontractors. It appears that the subcontractors delivered the wings already painted, and that the fuselage was only primed in 02. The fuselage was only mottled (due to paint shortage?), either by Klemm, or by units in the field.

Another possibly scenario could apply if the photographs could be dated as early, meaning roughly up to summer 1944, for which there is some evidence. Then these aircraft could be pre-production examples, originally painted in light grey overall. To camouflage them for operational use, mottles were applied. The wooden wings sometimes suffered from detoriation due to moisture, and were possibly exchanged with camouflaged production examples.

I'm not going to guess at the colors used for these aircraft! Aeromaster thinks the mottles are 81/82, while AeroDetail thinks it's 74/75.

Sources on German camouflage

The following sources (chronologically listed) report specific information about Komet camouflage:

On-line sources on German camouflage and camouflage colors

For more information on the very complex subject of German late-war camouflages, see for example David E. Brown's extensive and excellent work 'Late-War Luftwaffe Fighter Camouflage - Commentary on the Evolution and Usage of Luftwaffe RLM Colours 81, 82 & 83', Jens Popp's 'Don Color' site and Luftwaffe camouflage and markings with an overview of published color chips.

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