British and Commonwealth Camouflage Patterns of World War Two 1930–1945

British camouflage schemes.

British Matilda Mk.III Infantry Tank painted in the »Caunter Scheme« camouflage pattern used in North Africa in 1940. The painting instruction supplied with the Airfix kit were incorrect, the light blue disruptive stripes of the desert camouflage pattern should actually be B.S.C. № 28 »Silver Grey«, and Airfix M3 »Olive Green« is too dark to match B.S.C. № 34 »Slate«. Wargamers may deploy the Airfix model of the Matilda Tank in the early campaigns in France and North Africa. Captured Matilda Tanks were converted to self-propelled guns by the German Wehrmacht, who used them for training purposes.

Basic Vehicle Patterns

  • U.K. 1930
  • France (BEF) 1939
  • North Africa 1937, 1939 & 1940
  • U.K. 1941, 1942 & 1943
  • North Africa 1942 & 12/1942
  • North Africa 1943
  • Sicily 1943
  • Italy 1943
  • Syria/Persia/Iraq 1943
  • Far East 1942 & 1945
  • NW Europe 1944 & 1945

How many olives are in dark green?

There is some controversy among manufacturers of plastic model kits regarding the correct colour used for the basic dark green camouflage pattern of British Army vehicles in World War 2. The old Airfix 25-pounder field gun and Quad tractor kit nicely illustrates the kind of confusion which has persisted for more than 20 years.

  • Airfix 25 pdr and Quad ca. 1976: “LIGHT BROWN M5 overall, with irregular patches of OLIVE GREEN M3 on tractor only”. This editor still owns a section of 25-pdrs painted light brown according to these faulty instructions.
  • Airfix 25-pdr and Quad 1993 re-release: “30 DARK GREEN overall, with irregular patches of 29 DARK EARTH on tractor only”. Not correct either, the Quad should be Dark Brown with Patches of Dark Green as before, but the 25-pdr and the ammo trailer need to be painted Dark Green instead of Dark Brown. The text in the instructions is ok, the drawing is incorrect.

Apparently, someone noticed the obviously mistaken painting instructions of the 25-pdr and trailer. Simply reversing the colours in the original instructions is a workable solution, even if it isn’t completely accurate for the Quad. More importantly, notice how colour designations can change from LIGHT BROWN to DARK EARTH and OLIVE GREEN to DARK GREEN. How can there be such confusion about colour? Did the British Army not issue precise specifications regarding the colour schemes to be used on vehicles? Apparently, manufacturers are in doubt and hobbyists are easily frustrated by the problem.

Model Kit Basic Colour Camouflage Patches
Airfix Quad M3, later 30 Dark Green 29 Dark Earth
Airfix AEC Matador 30 Dark Green
Airfix Bren Carrier M3 Light Olive
Airfix DUKW 86 Light Olive
Airfix Churchill Tank 86 Light Olive
Airfix Sherman Tank 86 Light Olive
Hasegawa Daimler, 7th Armd. Div. 54 Khaki Green
Matchbox Jeep, 7th Armd. Division 75 Bronze Green
Matchbox Jeep, 11th Armd. Div. 86 Lt. Olive, 72 Khaki Drill 33 Matt Black
Matchbox 17 pdr, 11th Armd. Div. 75 Bronze Green
Revell Desert War M5 Stuart 116 Sand 48 Sea Green/Light Blue
Airfix Desert War Matilda M14 Sand M3 Lt. Olive / M25 Lt. Blue

In the case of the 11th Armoured Division Jeep and Morris tractor for the 17-pdr anti-tank gun produced by Matchbox it is not clear if the two colours are to be mixed in order to produce the basic colour or if either colour can be used interchangeably. In any case, the table above clearly shows that five manufacturers recommend no less than six different shades of green to be used on British vehicles.

Until recently, the author had assumed that Airfix M3 Dark Green really is the same as Humbrol 30 DARK GREEN, because the Airfix M3 codes disappeared in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and Humbrol № 30 replaced them in painting instruction. The 1993 Airfix re-releases are split on the issue, translating the original M3 code into 30 DARK GREEN and 86 LIGHT OLIVE, the former being used on some tractors and the latter on tanks and the US built DUKW amphibian. Francis Liew, historian and contributing writer for this camouflage article, points out that Humbrol № 86 Light Olive is actually the matching colour used for modern British vehicles (Olive Green). Revell recommends 48 SEA GREEN to be used in the three-colour Desert War camouflage, the same pattern that Airfix would have had you paint in M3 DARK GREEN, M14 SAND and M25 LIGHT BLUE.

British Standard Colour

The table below lists British Standard Colour information extracted from documents which were de-classified and released to the public in 1984. Field orders issued by the War Office and any documents classified as “secret” were kept secret for 30 years. British Standard shades and matching Humbrol colour codes were compiled and edited by contributing writer Francis Liew.

Home Forces: 1939 Three Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Green № 22 B.S.381-1930 lighter disruptive pattern 86
Middle Bronze Green № 23 B.S.381-1930 base colour 30
Dark Green № 24 B.S.381-1930 darker disruptive pattern 75
Most vehicles were in the three colour disruptive pattern or in a two colour disruptive pattern using only dark green patches over the bronze green base colour. Photographic evidence suggests that some light tanks in the cavalry/recce regiments were painted in a two colour pattern using light green disruptive patches on the bronze green base colour.

France (BEF): 1939 Three Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Khaki Green № 3 B.S.381-1939   30
Dark Green № 4 B.S.381-1939   75
Light Green № 5 B.S.381-1939   86
The only difference between the 1939 and 1940 vehicle patterns is that the B.S. shade numbers were changed. Vehicles without disruptive patters would be painted in the base colour only. Three colour and two colour patterns existed, as noted above.

U.K.: 1941 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Khaki Brown № 2 B.S.987C-1942 base colour 26
Dark Earth № 1A B.S.987C-1942 disruptive pattern 29
Khaki Brown was used as a base colour from 1941 to 1943.

U.K.: 1942 & 1943 patterns

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
1942 Khaki Green № 7 B.S.381-1939 base colour 151
1943 Khaki Brown № 2 B.S.987c-1942 base colour 26
Khaki Brown continued to be used as a base colour even when Khaki Green was temporarily introduced as an alternate base colour in 1942.

NW Europe: 1944 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Khaki Green № 15 B.S.987C-1942 Olive/Khaki Drab 159
Black disruptive pattern 33
The Mickey Mouse Pattern was introduced in early 1944. It consisted of large intersecting circular areas of matt black, applied freehand with a brush at army depots, either by soldiers or civilian employees. Please note that it was mainly used on “softskins” – tractors, trucks, etc and armoured/scout cars. The pattern was to be “applied to all top surfaces, with extensions down onto the vehicle sides, and along the bottom edges of the vehicle”; “the underside of the chassis was also painted black”.
Variations of this pattern included random black disruptive patterns, used on self-propelled howitzers, and “black wavy pattern”, used on Universal/Bren Carriers only. Please note that the only photographic evidence of tanks using black disruptive pattern was the 4th/7th Dragon Guards (8th Armd Bde), where bold black curves were painted on the sides of the hull. Black disruptive pattern was not normally used on tanks, because British tank crews made extensive use of hessian tapes and foliage for breaking up the vehicle’s silhoutte

NW Europe: 1945 Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Deep Bronze Green № 24 B.S.381-1942 75

North Africa: 1937 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Stone № 61 B.S.381-1930 base colour 121
Terra Cotta № 44 B.S.381-1930 disruptive pattern 70
This particular desert scheme of terra cotta disruptive lines on a light stone base colour could be painted to resemble stone walls, but it was not in widespread use. Because of the unique appearance of the surrounding terrain, local camouflage schemes had to be devised in the field.

North Africa: 1939 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Stone № 61 B.S.381-1930 base colour 121
Slate Grey № 34 B.S.381-1930 disruptive pattern 31
Shades № 52 B.S.381-1939 (Pale Cream) and № 53 B.S.381-1939 (Deep Cream) were also used as base colours, particularly in the campaign against the Italians in North Africa. They were never in widespread use and the light stone basic overall colour quickly replaced them.

North Africa: 1940 Three Colour Diagonal Bands Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Stone № 61 B.S.381-1930 base colour 121
Light Grey № 28 B.S.381-1930 disruptive pattern 64
Slate Grey № 34 B.S.381-1930 disruptive pattern 31

North Africa: 1942 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Stone № 61 B.S.381-1930 base colour 121
Dark Green № 4 B.S.381-1939 disruptive pattern 75
Apparently, Crusader tanks serving in North Africa were also camouflaged in a Light Stone and Black disruptive pattern. An exception to the rule, but not too far off from the guidelines laid down by the War Office.

North Africa: Diciembre 1942 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Stone № 61 B.S.381-1930 base colour 121
Terra Cotta № 11A B.S.987C-1942 disruptive pattern 70
Terra cotta is a red earth tone, described by veterans of the campaign as a deep red. After wear and tear in operational use, it turned to a dull pinkish colour, similar to the shade of light coloured bricks. This pattern was used in the Tunisian and Middle Eastern theaters of operation. The city of Petra in Jordan is named “Red Rose City” after the vicinity’s red desert sand.

North Africa (Tunisia): 1943 Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Middle Bronze Green № 23(G3) B.S.381-1930 base colour 30
A two colour disruptive pattern was used on Universal/Bren Carriers. This pattern was different from the black wavy pattern applied to carriers in NW Europe in 1944, it consisted of black flames, or teeth along the upper and lower edge of the carrier’s superstructure.

Sicily: 1943 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Mud (Mid. Stone) base colour 84
Blue-Black disruptive pattern 67

Italy: 1943 Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Khaki Green № 7 B.S.381-1930 a.k.a. Bronze Green 151

Syria/Persia/Iraq: 1943 Two Colour Disruptive Pattern

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
Light Stone № 61 B.S.381-1930 base colour 121
Terra Cotta № 11A B.S.987C-1942 disruptive pattern 70

Far East: 1942–1945 (British and Indian armour fighting in Burma)

B.S. Designation Official Shade Note Humbrol №
1942 Jungle Green № 13 B.S.987C-1942 base colour 116
1945 Deep Bronze Green № 16 B.S.381-1930 base colour 75

It is apparent, that British AFV colours changed frequently, adapting to diverse terrain conditions encountered in the theater of operation. Using the above table, wargamers and collectors will be able to select the correct colour schemes for vehicles participating in the campaigns in France 1940 and 1944, Italy 1943–45, Germany 1945 and the Desert War.

Snow Camouflage

In January 1945, 21st Army Group issued a “Snow Camouflage Booklet” with the following guidelines for snow camouflage:

Section 34. “Use of Whitening Agents. In western Germany and in the Low Countries snow conditions are seldom constant. Rapid thaws may be expected and snow cover will not necessarily be continuous over a wide area. Morever, even in deep snow, buildings, woods and other features still provide dark backgrounds. White paint or other whitening agents should not, therefore, be used directly on vehicles and weapons, but only as a means of whitening materials to be put on them.”

Section 35. “White paint may be used, when practicable, on the underside of any tarpauline which can be reversed ...” and, as an alternative, “... to provide a temporary effective camouflage material, garnished nets can be dragged in the snow.”

Appendix A:
“Calico: supplied in rolls of three foot width. Suitable application, making into patches with strings attached, to be used on artillery or other nets, or for attachment to tank turrets, guns, recce vehicles and for general improvisation.
White Scrim: supplied in rolls of 100 yards length, three inches wide. For garnishing nets, wire netting, helmet covers, wrapping of gun barrels, small arms and for sniper aides.”

Appendix C listed methods of preparing limewash from rock lime (24 hours) and slaked lime, using salt or powdered glue to obtain a more permanent type of paint. Please note that, using only limewash, this snow camouflage was not very durable and soon revealed patches of the darker paintwork colours underneath.

Scale Colour – Aerial Perspective

A paint chip taken from a historic armoured vehicle may very well be the same Olive Drab or panzer grey colour which the hobbyist can purchase from Revell and Humbrol today, but it would be a mistake to paint 1:72 scale models in this way. When viewed from a distance, the actual vehicle exposed to sunlight will appear much lighter than a small model painted in the same colour. Dust settling on the vehicle can highlight the overall colour even further, sometimes completely obliterating the camouflage effect and making it impossible to hide the vehicle against the dark background of a treeline or forest.

Aerial Perspective allows the model builder to simulate this effect. The authentic base colour is used as an undercoat, preferably sprayed on, to speed up the painting process. The undercoat should be left to dry before additional paint is applied. Mix the base colour with white to highlight it and then drybrush it onto the vehicle. The raised surfaces of the model will pick up the highlight just like the real vehicle picks up sunlight. Viewed next to each other, at the appropriate scale distance, of course, both vehicles will appear to be the same size and their overall colour should be similar, depending on the intensity of natural lighting the modeller wishes to recreate. Drybrushing can be done in several layers, using more white each time. A final layer of dust grey can be applied to simulate the cumulative effect which a dusty road march would have on the vehicle and its crew.

Francis Liew

British Miniatures of World War Two