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Reasons for custom paint schemes in WW1?


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#1 Viper69

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 22:45

I was curious, in WW1 more then any other war there seem to be individuality applied to planes. Sure in WW2 you have nose art on bombers even some paint schemes by german aces but the ones in WW1 are vibrant colors. It remind me of heraldry in medieval times. You want your enemy your allies to know who you are and who they are fighting/fighting with. Sort of a way to call out somone for a challenge. Also the dappled pinks and greys on the german upper wings you would think would stand out really dont stick out that much over nomans land, it seems to blend in really well.

I just found it intriguing and tried to find some reasoning for it is all and was musing to myself in the 3rd person with an audience.
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#2 Chill31

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 22:50

On this topic MvR said something to the effect of, you will always see the enemy at long range and therefore camoflage is of little importance. I can understand this for the most part except at low altitude. Even then, the closure/separation rates are so slow, a fighter pilot will find you no matter what color you are
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#3 Masaq

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 00:15

Once squadron/flight tactics were developed, it became important to be able to identify individual planes within the unit for the purposes of giving instructions and tactics - if you're the squadron leader's wingman, you need to be able to identify who he is, for example.

There's also the reporting of victories to consider also. Some level of independent verification was required by most parties in WWI, so by having your aircraft easily identifiable you helped ensure that when you said "I unloaded two hundred rounds into a two-seater", other aircraft in the area could confirm that your bright pink Hello Kitty-themed Fokker was indeed seen shooting at a Breguet 14 lol.

With regards to the colours for cammo patterns, it's important to remember that cammo is not to make the plane invisible but to help break up the outline, making targetting it harder. It doesn't have to render it impossible to see to be effective - however, I'm Red-Green colourdeficient (not entirely colourblind) and I find it *incredibly* difficult to discern British/American aircraft in RoF against no-man's land; my colour perception is just out of whack enough that picking out the difference in hues is tricky.

On the other hand, I can spot the default lozenge pattern pretty well, usually.
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#4 JG1_vonGreim

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 00:44

On this topic MvR said something to the effect of, you will always see the enemy at long range and therefore camoflage is of little importance. I can understand this for the most part except at low altitude. Even then, the closure/separation rates are so slow, a fighter pilot will find you no matter what color you are

He also said that he tried about every color in the book before he came to this conclusion and finally decided on red so that he could at least be identified by his fellow fliers. WW1 was a time where flight was still experimental and theories of air combat were still being developed. Most of what we take for granted at the present was still unknown or brand new in their day.
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#5 Panthercules

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 01:43

I suppose each side's view of this issue might also have been influenced by the relevant tactical/strategic situation each side found itself in, just as it was toward the latter stages of the air war in Western Europe 25 years later. From what I've read, one of the reasons (in addition to the weight saving) that the US fighters in late WWII Europe abandoned camo schemes and went with plain silver/metal schemes was that they wanted to be seen - their main goal was to goad the few remaining German fighters to come after the US fighters (1) so they weren't going after the bombers, and (2) so the US fighters could shoot them down. I suspect the Germans retained the camo schemes for their fighters at that point to try to help keep them from getting bounced and killed by US fighters at low levels while leaving/approaching their bases.

Given that the Germans in WWI seemed to prefer staying over their own lines (a fairly defensive-minded approach) but still wanted to be offensive in their desire to destroy the enemy planes, perhaps they figured it would be easier to shoot down the enemy if the enemy could see them and find them more easily than if they were "hiding" behind camo schemes in their own airspace. On the other hand, since the Entente planes spent a fair amount of time "fleeing" back to their own side after their battles (when they would be low on ammo and fuel, and perhaps damaged), I suspect they would be more inclined to want to have a camo scheme to make it less likely they'd be seen and jumped by patrolling enemy fighters on those return trips.

I'm sure there was more to it than that, but it may have been a factor.
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#6 Trouble4u

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 03:59

In WWII it was my understanding that the US quit painting camo because it was no longer needed because at that point of the war they dominated the skies.
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#7 GazzaV.Gazza

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 04:33

There are other factors important to the German side that nobody has mentioned.

Many Jastas flew with their tails painted in Jasta colors. Richtofen's Jasta at one time had all of it's Albatrosses painted red with different secondary colors. For instance, at the time, Karl Almenroder's albatross was painted red with yellow secondary colors.

The Lozenge pattern you've seen on these late war German fighters was to avoid the neccesity for adding paint to the wings, thereby making the planes lighter. What you see isn't a paint job on the wings, but fabric dyed in various colors. There were two patterns, a four-lozenge pattern and a five-lozenge pattern. There were also pink or blue wing-rib tapes on the surface of the wings making the bond between fabric and wing stronger.

Some patterns, especially those with diagonal lines covering entire wings or fuselage were designed to (hopefully) throw off your opponent's fire. This type of paint scheme was also used on allied freighters in hopes that they would make it more difficult to guage their true direction of travel.

As for personalization…who hasn't wanted to paint some cool scheme on their new hotrod?
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#8 VonZimmerman

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 07:47

i think the "oh crap" factor was also a reason why they did these outlandish paints on their planes.

Since i never flew in WW1 (duh :P) i can only count my Red Baron 2 flying time as experience, but when ever i was flying around in my DH.2 and i ran into a group of Albs and in the excitement that followed i noticed one had some big piece of art on its fuselage my instant reaction would be "oh crap.. an Ace"
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#9 ZaltysZ

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 08:44

Masaq"]I'm Red-Green colourdeficient (not entirely colourblind) and I find it *incredibly* difficult to discern British/American aircraft in RoF against no-man's land; my colour perception is just out of whack enough that picking out the difference in hues is tricky.

That info should be classified for your own sake :D

But seriously, camo has not much to do with staying invisible in dogfights. Most camo patterns are designed so, that it will be hard to detect the plane on the ground and work for enemy reconnaissance/ground attack/bomber planes will be harder. Once in the air, it is more important that you will be correctly identified by your own side (be it other planes or flak). Also, if expert has vividly painted plane, it will be easier for less experienced pilots, because there is higher chance that enemy will attack that colorful plane and not the boring ones. In addition, it is easier to find your wingman in dogfight, when there is no radio, but your wingman has a distinct paint scheme.
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#10 J2_squid

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 09:56

The reason the germans painted their planes in differing and often striking schemes was because to claim a kill you needed it verified by either another pilot or ground forces. The vast majority of the time the germans would only fight over or behind their own lines.

To claim a kill they needed to produce evidence of a wreck of the plane and independent confirmation that it was indeed them that shot it down.

By flying in a readly recognised plane your chances of someone confirming you did indeed shoot that plane down increase, and therefore so did your amount of kills.

This is why their is such a disparity between the colour schemes of entente and german planes. Whilst the entente pilots might sport a personal embelem, the planes were kept in their factory colours.
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#11 Ironwrench

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 05:34

Actually the purpose of rib tape is to cover the rib stitching that attaches the fabric to the wing ribs. Rib stitching, rib tape see how it all ties together? - I'm just ribbing you.

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#12 BroadSide

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 05:48

Nice 2009 Necro Post!

Another reason why we need moderators here.

or maybe someday the RoF forums will get a hand-me-down moderator from BoS! :lol:
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#13 Ironwrench

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 07:56

Glad to see some one is paying attention.

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#14 PatAWilson

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 18:13

I think it's more simple than that -

The Germans did it because they were allowed to.
The British did not do it because they were not allowed to.
The French … not sure. They did have a couple of outlandish schemes but these tended to be the exception. Most were fairly tame. Hope some of our French fliers can fill chime in.

Last note - even the German proclivity towards (as HT would say) tarted up paint jobs is IMHO over stated. The most common markings were black and/or white and relatively simple - a letter or a band.
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#15 Fidd

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 16:50

In WWII it was my understanding that the US quit painting camo because it was no longer needed because at that point of the war they dominated the skies.

Use of bare-metal aircraft by USAF was initially limited to bombers, where it was found that the weight-saving alone was worthwhile, not to mention facilitating quicker manufacture. This then spread to fighters as a practice, for similar, though less clear-cut reasons. In theatres where US aircraft were liable to attack on the ground, camouflage was often retained or reintroduced long after "silver" aircraft had become standard in theatres where no such threat existed.
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#16 PatAWilson

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 17:34

Makes sense for bombers because you are not going to hide 1000 B17s anyway. Fighters not so much, although I have heard that the performance gain was considered worth the loss of camo.

And now back to WWI … :)
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#17 J.j.

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 17:35

I don't mind seeing a post again when it is interesting.

As for the French planes, mostly the colourful decorations, when done, where ton signal a "special" pilot, or a few times the number of his victories (see SPAD XIII of Marcel Coadou of Spa 88 for example).
But the French also adopted some of the early tactical markings to aid squadrons regrouping, or to signal the planes of the leaders.
There was also a marking know as the "ace band" to signal a pilot who has shot down 5 ennemy aeroplanes.

Finally, and this became a constant at the end of the war, each Escadrille adopted a squadron insignia, which had a lot of different forms: characters, animals, objects, bands, stars,…
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#18 PatAWilson

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 19:56

Thanks for the info JJ. My perception of French planes is that they were mostly pretty subdued. Was that by choice or enforced? For instance, if I joined Esc 103 and wanted to paint my plane purple, would it be allowed or would I be told "earn it".
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#19 J.j.

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 20:08

Subdued? I'm not familiar with the word?

"Custom" paintschemes were possible, even at low rank, but they tended to be limited by regulations. You were able to have a colourful plane, but not too much… The only planes in this case I can think of were the planes of Georges Madon (all red), a brilliant pilot and officer, and the one of Armand Pinsard (all black), the same, an early ace with the SPAD.
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#20 PatAWilson

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 20:21

You got the meaning just fine :). Subdued in this context means not gaudy or overly colorful. And thanks again for the info.
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#21 HotTom

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 20:27

Makes sense for bombers because you are not going to hide 1000 B17s anyway. Fighters not so much, although I have heard that the performance gain was considered worth the loss of camo.

For fighters at least, stripping off the camo paint was all about performance. Reduced considerable weight and considerable drag.

My late uncle, a P-47 pilot, said the increase in top speed was substantial and the ground crews went a step further by waxing the planes regularly.
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