Best USAAF Olive Drab?

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Best USAAF Olive Drab?


    Working on my first American subject – a P47 razorback. As I've got several tanks and US planes in my stash, it's time to get acquainted with olive drab. Been getting ready over the last year and have olive drab paints from a number of companies plus my now sizable collection of artist acrylics. In the real world I'm sure they'd all do. However, according to the best source I've seen on the subject, they are all wrong. (Yet another color controversy? German tanks, Zeros, now olive drab?)


    Enter Robert Archer a Brit-American aviation engineer who studied colors for fun throughout a career that spanned WWII and the Cold War. He wrote “USAAF Aircraft Markings and Camouflage 1941-1947” for Schiffer in 1997. I couldn't live without that so it joined my collection of huge Schiffer volumes. It has color plates & diagrams but the bulk of its 350 oversized pages are summaries of every directive concerning paints, markings, insignias etc that came out in the war years. The last chapter includes what appear to be very good color samples based upon the porcelain originals that Archer claims the Army used throughout the war in preference to any kind of painted or printed media. (And because they last forever, Archer claims to have several examples.)


    According to Archer the Joint Army-Navy Aeronautical Board (ANA) published a directive in September 1940 concerning all fighters and bombers in USAAF service. (The Navy did a separate report but worked with the Army throughout the war says Archer.) The main camo colors for US fighters and bombers were determined in September 1940 and include “dark olive drab” (given the ANA number 41) and neutral grey. And so it stayed. In summer of 1943 they revised Olive Drab in April (ANA 319) and then again in September (ANA 613). (Neutral grey was replaced by a sky grey.) However, Archer claims that only a few planes ever got the lighter #319 and except for a handful that went to the PTO none got #613. By the time the factories got the news, the USAAF decided to dump camo altogether. (It may mean that #613 or #619 were used on the natural finish birds, but Archer claims that field conversions usually relied in RAF paint. He claims that most invasion stripes were RAF Very Dark Sea Grey. He finds the idea of blue nosed P-51s “fanciful.”) Most model paint makers, Archer thinks, have used the lighter and somewhat greener later versions instead of the 1940 colors that actually were employed. Here is the result:


    “Regrettably, this has resulted in almost every full-size, replica, and model aircraft depicting the AAF's main combat aircraft, being painted in incorrect colors! (Coincidentally, the same problem applies to almost all of the US Navy World War II colors, but that is outside the scope of this work.)”


    I'm not a purist and know we can live with anything reasonable. But if there was a “default” setting it might be nice to know what it was. And it would have practical ramifications. According to Archer's samples, Dark Olive Drab (41) is very much on the brown end of the scale and quite dark. He's not alone in taking this view. The USA WWII page on the super Don's Colors, put out by German paint maker JPS ( ) has an example that is very like Archer's. All of the modeling colors I've seen are either too green or too light or both. (To my eyes Vallejo Model Air 71043 is the closest but shows more green than Archer or Don. Definitely the case with Tamiya XF-62 which armor Meister Steve Zalogda swears by for US armor. Oddly Zalogda himself emphasizes the “brownness” of AGF olive drab (the same as ANA 613) quoting someone as describing it to be like “pig dung” and a “dark, muddy olive brown. Assuming that Zalogda is right that the pigments used were black and ocher that would be a good description: unfortunately ocher is certainly not standard and neither, surprisingly, is black.


    How about it: should we think brown or green when thinking olive? (And if someone knows what Archer was referring to concerning the Navy Colors, I'd like a lead on that.)


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  • Good information you've provided, Eric, on a controversial subject. 

    I know that colors can shift, fade, etc., from photos, but looking through Roger Freeman's Mighty Eighth in Color, some of the OD looks green.

    Apparently most of the paint manufacturers have been befuddled by this, too.  Over the years I've picked up OD from AeroMaster, Floquil, MM, Pactra, WEM, and anybody else along the way (all enamels), and none of the paints exactly match each other.  It didn't bother me, and I've used them all, simply to provide a different look to the planes.

    I think that I'd agree that most paint manufacturers, until maybe the last 10-15 years have been producing ANA 613, and not OD 41. 

    It will be interesting to see what other opinions are. 

        Nulla Rosa Sine Spina

  • Also use Dana Bell's "Air Force Colors" volume 1-3.

    WIP:  Monogram 1/72 B-26 (Snaptite) as 73rd BS B-26, 40-1408, torpedo bomber attempt on Ryujo

    Monogram 1/72 B-26 (Snaptite) as 22nd BG B-26, 7-Mile Drome, New Guinea

    Minicraft 1/72 B-24D as LB-30, AL-613, "Tough Boy", 28th Composite Group

  • checkmateking02

     (all enamels), and none of the paints exactly match each other.  It didn't bother me, and I've used them all, simply to provide a different look to the planes.

    I really agree with this. Considering the rate of production that was needed during the war, batches of paint wouldnt exactly match sometimes, and differant manufacturers. Plus, factor in where each aircraft was stationed, more sun or less, more use or less. Also, differant sub-assemblies would come in differant  plants already painted. All these factors lead to varying shades of OD from one aircraft the next.

    Plus, if you weather your model......that's gonna change the appearence of the OD as well.

    So I would say after all these things, dont get too hung up on a simple thing like this. I've used ANA 613 and the FS OD paint on the same plane to get differant shades.

  • Since the models are only a fraction of their actual size, the paints should also be scaled down as well, IMHO... The Olive Drab one sees on a real aircraft ten feet away doesn't look the same color as the Olive Drab one sees on the same aircraft that's now 100 feet away... Heck, it doesn't even appear to be the same color on a sunny day vs a cloudy one...

    Overall though,  the OD used by the USAAF differed rather starkly from 1940-43 vs 43-45... The early OD paints of some aircraft had a tendency to color-shift, especially in N. Africa, to an almost purple hue... In the PTO, the shift was more towards a tanish, "sun-faded" look, which, while the temps and UV exposure were similar to the N African theater, had the added effects of high humidity and salt on planes causing a weirder shift in colors...

    If one looks at the camouglage paint on P-39s based at Guadacanal (not the P-400s with RAF paint schemes though),  the fading is quite stark, while other aircraft, such as the P-38, fared better in some instances...  I think it had more to do with QC-issues than actual paint colors though...  Northrop had some really bad QC issues with both the OD and Black paint on the P-61s...   Doesn't seem to hold true for New Guinea-based 'Cobras and Lightnings though...

    At any rate, I stick with the classic "TLAR" method, rather than trying to duplicate colors, since the odds of two production blocks of aircraft having identical paint-shades was pretty slim, especially at the outset of the war... Scaling down the objects, without scaling down the paint, is a rather futile pursuit, IMHO... Plus, you could have ten aircraft from the same squadron, but with different paint-batches applied, thus you could conceivably have ten different shades of OD to deal with...

    I'd rather find a "happy medium" and go that way... Getting bogged down in the "correct" shade of OD is a waste of time, as I see it... Heck, when I post photos of my OD-painted models in here, the paint's look is different than what I got sitting in front of me. 









  • There isn't one. Also, FWIW Archers samples will not last forever unless kept in the dark somewhere, in which case they'll just last a long time. Anything with red in it goes pretty quickly.

    By 1943 there were 81 airframe plants in the US and another 5 in Canada. And that's jut the OOB colors.

  • In a nutshell, pick the shade of OD that pleases your eye. As you have learned there is lots of info out there on how OD varied. For factory fresh OD 41 I like to use Tamiya OD or Testors MM Green Drab FS 34086. Both are dark and have the slight brownish hue to them. For weathering light misted coats of most compaines' 34087, Polly Scale OD QM 21 ( a much lighter and browner shade), or other suitable color such as Testors MM Faded OD work well for my tastes.

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  • Sure research is fun...but it's just a model.  At the end of the day, nobody is going to be able to prove whatever color you end up using right or wrong. The best advice is the old rule of thumb: Make the best decision based on reference photos. If there are no reference photos...some may say "you are in luck" :-)

  • I used a colour called olive green. Under flash it looks a little too green. But i felt it looked more realistic than olive drab.

    End of the day, its what your prefer. Colours were often mixed on base to a "There abouts" standard. Peoples memories of colours fades, photos never do them proper justice and environmental factors interfere with accuracy. Pick a green you feel looks about right, go for it.

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  • Scorp, I think you did fine picking this green color.  Photos of the 357th FG show the paint a lot more greenish than brownish (in Freeman's Mighty Eighth in Color).

    By the way, you did an excellent job on this build.  Saw it earlier over at the 8th AAF GB, and should have complimented you there.

        Nulla Rosa Sine Spina

  • I'm not quibbling about there being "a" OD. The project I'm planning will use three or four shades of it. Just wanted to get a decent place to start. Zaloga claims the two pigments used were black and ochre. Of course, as noted before, that still leaves two decent variables. Anyway, I'm cooking up my own and I'm going to follow Archer, especially as it fits Dons Colors so closely, which is on the darker brownish end of the scale. If Zaloga is right, USGF employed the same OD that the Army AF never did switch to (going to natural finish instead) so another batch I've got (as well as Tamiya out of the bottle) is a little lighter and toward the olive end of things, although the difference is not dramatic. That will go to tanks. Archer did say that the few aircraft that were painted with the 1943 OD did look significantly lighter, especially the bombers - I'd guess that the OD that went over natural finish on 44 fighters was this shade (unless it was whatever was on hand in the UK, so I guess you could use RAF greens too.)

    Good excuse for color mixing which I find fun - lot like finger painting.


  • ANA 613 was based on the Corps of Engineers specification TAC ES-680 so it has a ground basis for armored vehicles use.  This from Dana Bell's AF Colors, vol. 2.  The AAF still didn't like it and still wanted to use OD 41 as late as November 1945 according to Mr. Bell.  The AF switched to NMF to save time on the assembly line, but switched back to painting camo with stocks of OD41, medium green and the RAF colors when the fighter and medium bomber groups moved over to the Continent in 1944.

    WIP:  Monogram 1/72 B-26 (Snaptite) as 73rd BS B-26, 40-1408, torpedo bomber attempt on Ryujo

    Monogram 1/72 B-26 (Snaptite) as 22nd BG B-26, 7-Mile Drome, New Guinea

    Minicraft 1/72 B-24D as LB-30, AL-613, "Tough Boy", 28th Composite Group

  • Another research project. That's very interesting data but I'm going to have to check Archer and others for confirmation. I can't remember seeing pictures of late war USAAF aircraft in proper camo after spring 44. They'd have glare panels and enough painted on for ID, but natural finish is still quite prominent and if the sun was out it would not take much natural finish to act like a flying mirror. An old prof of mine in undergrad days many years ago had done a stint with the LW in early 1945. (There were a lot of German emigres on campus back then, and not all from pre-1939.) He said it infuriated German pilots (especially rookies like him) that the Americans took no pain to hide themselves, but rather hung out a sign saying "fight us." The LW did, and as my prof put it, (he had less than 90 hours total in an aircraft and was flying what I'm sure was a Dora) "the Americans treated us like the children we were." An American fighter pilot told me exactly the same thing: shinny aircraft were an invitation to the dance. No doubt natural finish was an industrial decision and the pilots put a different spin on it. The military works that way. There was also a theoretical improvement in performance, but you could get almost the same result by simply waxing the plane the way the RAF did. In any case, if you know of any photos of US combat planes sporting full paint after mid-44 I'd like to see them. (Everything happened in war of course. I have a Tamiya P-47M which went to the ETO in early 45 to the "Wolf Pack" and the cover art gives it  a kind of very dark grey paint: almost British like Archer mentioned.)



  • EBergerud

    I can't remember seeing pictures of late war USAAF aircraft in proper camo after spring 44. 

    Any P-51D in OD. If I have my dates right, the P-51B made its appearance in early '44 (late February/early March), with the earliest -D models reaching active duty in June and July. Most were NMF, but there are OD examples to be found. Bud Anderson's Old Crow, etc. The difficulty is finding color wartime pics and not resto-jobs.

    Here's one I found of Passion Wagon - a lot of the 357th FG 'Stangs wore OD at least for some time:

    Regarding the Wolf Pack's Jugs...their D-25s were finished in RAF colors (don't know if paint stocks got wonky, if they had more latitude given their # of kills, etc) - ocean gray and dark green up top.The -M models were either that black gray color, or blue and dark blue, but the exact shades and where they were sourced from remains the subject of controversy. 

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  • In Tamiya's line of aircraft rattle cans is AS-9 Olive drab which looks alot like Doog's picture. But with filtering techniques you can shift the hue lighter or darker or introduce the other colors to it.

    Mike T. 

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