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Camouflage & Markings

Early Armed Reconnaissance Spitfires

n by RIck Kent


 

A small but significant number of Spitfire Mk. I's were converted to photo reconnaissance aircraft from even before World War II started. Indeed, it was one of these early reconnaissance Spitfires that was the first Spitfire to be captured intact by the Germans at one of the Paris airfields in 1940.

There were seven different versions of Mk. I reconnaissance aircraft in all, with different camera, fuel tanks and armament arrangements. Each version was converted in small numbers only; indeed it is believed that there was only one of the Type E. These conversions were initially known by Type letters rather than separate mark numbers, starting at P.R. Type A and running through to P.R. Type G.  These were then redesignated to P.R. Mk. IA through to P.R. Mk. IG, and then, later still, given their own separate mark numbers, which causes confusion because these mark numbers, in some instances at least, duplicate other later Spitfire marks which were totally separate. So there is no connection, for example, between the P.R. Mk. III and the Mk. III Spitfire that was only ever used for research and development, eventually being the first Spitfire to be fitted with a Griffon engine and redesignated Mk. XX at that stage. What concerns us here with these three aircraft is that they were originally the P.R. Type G, then redesignated to P.R. Mk. IG, and finally to P.R. Mk. VII. This mark number, of course, was duplicated later on by the pressurised high altitude fighter, H.F. Mk. VII, which is much more well known.

Spitfire P.R. Mk I Type G

The P.R. Type G was intended for low altitude reconnaissance and was the only version of these Mk. I conversions to retain its guns (eight .303 inch Brownings), intended for self-defence but which, no doubt, could also be used in an offensive way. In slightly later terms they would have been categorised as Tactical Reconnaissance aircraft rather than Photo Reconnaissance and would probably have had the F.R. designation like reconnaissance conversions of later Spitfires and Seafires. An extra 29-gallon (132-litre) fuel tank was fitted behind the cockpit; three cameras were fitted, two pointing down from the fuselage underside and one fitted in the radio bay on the left side behind the cockpit pointing backwards and downwards for oblique photography. It is this latter one that is visible in the profile of R7116 ZW*C below.

All of the Type G aircraft had large "blisters" on both sides of the cockpit canopy to enable the pilot to see out better for oblique photography. Also, none of these aircraft had any radio mast fitted as the radio was replaced with a camera, and strict radio silence was always maintained by these lone reconnaissance aircraft anyway.




Supermarine Spitfire P.R. Type G
1416 Flight, Royal Air Force
Hendon, London
February 1941

Click to enlarge

K9969 of 1416 Flight, based at Hendon where the RAF Museum now is, shows the standard basic PR colour scheme as used throughout World War II and beyond for a time, in that it is painted in PRU Blue overall with Type B roundels on the fuselage and upper wings and the small size fin flashes. There were many variations of PRU Blue in smoothness and gloss but all were the same colour.

The red spinner is non-standard. Code letters and tiny serial number (just ahead of the tailplane) are Medium Sea Grey: It was quite a normal practice for PR aircraft to carry only the unit code without an individual aircraft letter as they always operated singly anyway. Many carried no codes at all. The red patches on the wing leading edges are simply pieces of canvas stuck over the gun ports with red primer dope to stop particles of dirt, etc from jamming the guns - a standard RAF practice throughout the war.

1416 Flight also operated Blenheims in the reconnaissance role. Interestingly one of the unit's main tasks while based at Hendon, besides missions over enemy territory, was to photograph all British airfields and aircraft factories in order to see how effective their camouflage was when viewed from the air.



Supermarine Spitfire P.R. Mk. IG
140 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Benson, Oxfordshire
October 1941

Click to enlarge

1416 Flight was redesignated to 140 Squadron on 17 September 1941 by which time it had moved to Benson, the main home of RAF Photo Reconnaissance operations throughout World War II. It continued to be a multi-type unit, until it standardised on Mosquitos in 1944.

This aircraft is painted in the standard day fighter camouflage and markings scheme introduced on August 21 1941, of grey/green upper surfaces and lighter grey undersides. It is logical that the P.R. Mk. IG should be painted in fighter camouflage as it was more of a tactical fighter reconnaissance aircraft, just like the Tomahawks and Allison-engined Mustangs.

The official colours to be used were Dark Green and Ocean Grey above with Medium Sea Grey undersurfaces, but stocks of the new colour, Ocean Grey, were not available at first so a mixture of Medium Sea Grey and Black was used instead. This tended to lead to a variety of shades ranging from Medium Sea Grey with no black added at all, to a grey that was hardly different from the Dark Sea Grey that became standard after the war. Modellers should look at photos of individual aircraft and decide for themselves exactly what mix to use.

The markings which went with this new colour scheme consisted of yellow leading edges to the outer wings and the continued use of the Sky spinner and fuselage band, and the change of code letter colour to the same shade. Notice that on this aircraft the individual letter C is smaller than the Squadron code. The repainting of literally thousands of aircraft led to a large variety of fuselage serial number presentations. On some aircraft it simply disappeared, others had it in the standard 8 inch (203 mm) characters over the Sky band. In the case of K7116 it is in somewhat smaller size below the front tailplane.



Supermarine Spitfire P.R. Mk. VII
140 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Benson, Oxfordshire
April 1942

Click to enlarge

It does not really need saying that this aircraft was painted in the seemingly outrageous very pale pink (nearly white) colour all over. However there were very sound reasons for this: (1) the aircraft were supposed normally to operate just below the cloud base and, when seen from the ground, this colour merges well with the cloud, however, from above it was highly visible to enemy fighters; (2) the main reason for it was to carry out operations at sunrise and sunset when the sun is low in the sky, and the pink colour made the aircraft all but invisible at low altitude to ground forces.

The greatest drawback of the pink camouflage was that this colour made the pilots feel very vulnerable even though this was not the case. The pink colour was only ever used on Spitfires and was still being used on the F.R. Mk. IXC's of 16 Sqn after D-Day when based in continental Europe (complete with D-Day stripes). There are some excellent colour photos of the latter taken on "captured" German Agfa 35 mm film by a 16 Sqn pilot. Copies are available in the RAF Museum collection and they have been published in a number of books.

The code letters and small serial number on this P.R. Mk. VII are Medium Sea Grey. Again we have the usual small fin flash and a standard size fuselage A Type roundel but with no yellow. Note that there are no underwing roundels. The roundels on the upper wing are most unusual in that they are slightly smaller than the fuselage roundels (but still Type A with the white ring) and they are positioned very much closer to the fuselage than usual; taking a straight line forward from the tailplane tip the centre of the roundel is exactly in line.

   About the artwork  

Rick Kent is a modeller, IPMSer and a productive aviation artist. Photographic quality prints are available of all Rick's 750 (and always increasing) Fauconberg Aerographics aircraft drawings in A4 or A3 size. For a full list of them together with prices of prints just email him, see address here.

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