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Book Review
Luftwaffe Colours 1935 – 1945
Luftwaffe Colours 1935 – 1945 by Michael Ullmann
  • Luftwaffe Colours

by: James Kelley [ CPTKELLEY ]

If ever there was a topic that caused more arguments, debate, and disagreements amongst scale modelers than “Luftwaffe Colors”, I’d be interested as to what it is. When you factor in things like WWII ending 63 years ago, the fading of photos taken with color or monochromatic film, restorations, field mixes of colors, enemy paints thrown into the mix, oxidation, and a million other variables, one wonders if it isn’t impossible to reach a consensus. In recent years though, advancements have occurred in answering some of those questions. Through improved technology, and more and more artifacts (read; wrecks) surfacing, the aviation history and modeling communities have been provided with better evidence, if not hard answers, as to what may have been worn by the aircraft we all so love to read about and replicate in scale.

The book
Following 1994’s “The Gordian Knot” and 1997’s German-Language “Colours of the Luftwaffe 1935-1945”, comes the Second Edition of Michael Ullmann’s 2002 “Luftwaffe Colours 1935-1945”. It is an outstanding investigative text which comprises 360 pages printed on high-quality gloss-finish stock (104 more than the original’s 256), over 300 black & white photos, 16 pages of color photos, 40 drawings, and a set of color chips. Several of the technical drawings, once in black and white, are now presented in color. In this edition, like the original, Ullmann follows the development of colors used and establishes the links between the then-standard RAL colors and those adopted by the German Air Ministry.

The assertions made in this book are clearly stated as being “based exclusively on original documents”. However, the author is intelligent enough to add the following disclaimer: “We now know that old colour photos and colour remnants are unreliable as evidence, that shades varied from one manufacturer to another, and that people have poor colour memory…In the opinion of this author, in the light of the above facts, a scientifically precise reproduction of the colour shades is out of the question today.”

As such, this book does not intend to imply that it is the definitive authority on what is, and is not, beyond reproach. Instead, Ullmann uses the vast wealth of information he has complied over the years to present the best possible explanations of the colors so many have debated for so long, and what they most likely are, based upon said information. After reading this book, and considering the documents and sources used for his conclusions, I’m confident that there are few authors that can be more definitive than Ullmann is here.

Having said that, I did notice a few contradictory statements throughout the book, largely in photo captions. On page 125, a Bf-109G lays resting where it crashed. It displays a ‘saw-toothed” pattern on the wings, and the author describes the colors as “74/75/76”; the standard “Daylight” camouflage scheme. However, the color contrast on the wings is so dramatic, I would offer that they are not, in fact, RLM 75/76. In fact, the lighter of the two colors is in stark contrast to the presumed RLM 75 on the horizontal stabilizers. Again, on Page 96, is a wonderful picture of a JG.3 “Freidrich”. Ullmann speculates that the ring camouflage is “either RLM 74, or possibly a Dark Green.” To my eye, it is a match for the presumed RLM 74 on the wing, which is, of course, dünklegrau; almost purplish-grey in hue. Is this important? No. I simply would have worded the captions differently. The differences could be the angle of the flying surfaces’ light reflection, or a myriad of other factors. The bottom line is they’re great photos with dubious captions.

Like the original edition, this book is not a book of color profiles. It is a “scholarly work”, one that Mr. Ullmann has clearly devoted a large portion of his adult life to. It covers everything from the historical aspect of RLM (RiechsLuftarhtMinesterium) colors and their derivation from RAL (Reichsausschuss für Lieferbedingungen, or Reich Committee for Conditions of Supply) documents, to the L.Dv.521 series of regulations directly applicable to paint application, to the different types of camouflage applications, aircraft types, markings regulations, and informational tables. Sound like a pretty dry read? Well, it’s actually not. While watching paint dry may not be a lot of fun, reading about the arcane development of Luftwaffe paint regulations, including the type of lacquer specification, etc., and how it relates to one of my favorite subjects is actually quite enjoyable in the presentation by Herr Ullmann. Compared to the Merrick series (VOL.1 & VOL.2) it is an easy read. Additionally, I want to make clear, that while it is not a “color profile book”, there are, in fact, numerous small color camouflage pattern diagrams.

There are also many, many diagrams of marking specifications, reproduced directly from factory documents. These should answer any questions one has regarding dimensions, placement, size, etc. of the national markings used by the Luftwaffe. The hundreds of photos in the book, most of which were included in the First Edition, are a consortium of all types used by the Luftwaffe in World War II. If you do not own the First Edition, then I will offer that a lot of these pictures have not been previously seen by the reader. The extra pages in this edition may mislead one to think that there are 100 pages of new material. That is a misnomer. There are about 10 pages of new material over the 1st Edition; the other pages are due to some photos being enlarged over the previous versions, and re-formatting of the page layouts.

One issue I find to be a disappointment about this book is the set of Color Chips. They’re really very small (29x16mm), and they have a glossy finish to them. I think it would be beneficial if they were larger, and had a matte, or at least semi-matte finish. Adding a glossy finish to the chips, in my opinion, further clouds the issue of color accuracy. A few of the colors differ slightly from the larger ones provided in VOL.1 of Merrick’s work, but I feel confident that both of these authors have infinitely more wisdom concerning this issue than I. I will take it on faith that the colors were mixed using authentic documents by professionals. The similarities between the two sets of chips, however, are just as striking.

Chapters (not including Acknowledgements, Introduction, Sources, or Index) include:

1-Principles: What Is Colour?
2-Historical Background: Regulations & Official Documents
3-Paints 1935-1945: Lufthansa and Zeppelins
4-Luftwaffe Paints 1935-1945: A Chronological Overview
5-Tropical Colours
6-Maritime Aircraft: Camouflage for Two Environments
7-Snow Camouflage: The Luftwaffe in winter
8-Night Camouflage: Darkness brings not sleep
9-JG54 Dark Camouflage Colors
10-Gliders & Sailplanes: New Colours for New Problems
11-Export Colours: Old Colours under New Names?
12-Markings & Insignia
13-Aircraft Interiors: Silver, Grey, Black
14-Caring For Aircraft Paintwork
15-Simplifying Surface Protection: Back to the Metal
16-Shades RLM 81, 82, and 83: The Mystery Colours
17-Development of Aircraft Paints
18-LDv 521/1 1938: Part 1
19-LDv 521/1 1941 Part 1: Powered Aircraft
20-LDv 521/2 1943: Part 2: Gliders
21-LDv 521/3 1938: Handling of Aircraft Paints
22-Sammelmitteilung No. 1: Collected Communication 1, July 1944
23-Sammelmitteilung No. 2: Collected Communication 2, August 1944
24-RLM Colours
25-Inside Back Cover: Colour Chart

In conclusion, is this book worth the money spent? Absolutely. While it may not appeal to the average “it looks like a Focke-Wulf to me” modeler, it is an invaluable source of archival data for the modeler who is more concerned with color accuracy. It will also have great appeal to the historians among us, or the Luftwaffe and General Aviation enthusiasts. Additionally, it is a pleasant read, considering the arcane subject at hand. If you already have the First Edition, you may want to seriously consider whether or not you need to add this to your collection. But, if you don’t have any of Michael Ullmann’s works, you definitely can not do any better than to add this book to your library!

My sincere thanks to Marie Ray of Specialty Press for the review sample.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: An invaluable source of archival data for the modeler who is more concerned with color accuracy.
Lows: A few contradictory statements throughout the book.
Verdict: You definitely can not do any better than to add this book to your library.
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 10: 1-902109-07-4
  Suggested Retail: $59.95
  PUBLISHED: Dec 14, 2008
  THIS REVIEWER: 100.00%

Our Thanks to Speciality Press!
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About James Kelley (CPTKelley)

Copyright ©2020 text by James Kelley [ CPTKELLEY ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Hi all regarding people having poor recollection of colours I asked my mother, who saw F.A.A aircraft at short range nearly every day during the early 1950s, what colour she remembered the undersides being. I was expecting a reply that had something to do with Sky. Her reply - "weren't they a sort of dirty white". I didn't bother asking about the upper surfaces! Cheers Steve
DEC 14, 2008 - 02:12 AM
I wish I could see any advantage to this book other than the newly colorized schematics. Ullmann spent way more space discussing arcane topics than I found interesting or helpful. There are several miscaptioned photos beyond what Kelley mentions. When writing about speculative matters such as the unusual JG 54 schemes, Ullmann offers some new guesses, but they are little more than guesses. The same goes for his discussion of late war colors, and while he does provide evidence that certain of the 80s colors were only used by specific manufacturers, his section pales in comparison with already published books on, for example, Bf 109Ks and Fw 190Ds. In general, the photo selection is out-dated and prosaic. There is almost nothing from recent Eastern European publications or even modern (post-1990) Western publications, and most of the photos are the same old photos that appear in almost every other book on Luftwaffe camouflage without the unique photos that give extra value to those other books. Kelley is quite right that the color chips are too small and too glossy to be very helpful - they seem more a last minute inclusion by the publisher to improve the apparent value of the book. If you have no other summary book on Luftwaffe camouflage, this will serve that purpose, but at quite an expense. If you have or can find any other summary book or series this has so little new as to be redundant, and I would not bother. I returned my copy to the seller.
DEC 23, 2008 - 09:37 AM

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