RAF Skies...
By Rato Marczak, 2009

1. Introduction

During almost all my modeling career I've been watching (and being part of) many discussions about the correct color for the undersides of Hurricanes and Spitfires. Everybody knows that the colors of RAF's Temperate Land Scheme during the first years of WWII were Dark Green/Dark Earth on upper surfaces and "Sky" on undersurfaces. I've quoted Sky because the word has quite a broad meaning in the WWII context, and that's the reason of the present text.

We've grown up looking at those Battle of Britain photos, showing Hurries and Spits with a fuselage ID bands in a clearly lighter color than their bellies. I bet you all were told that the underside should be Duck Egg Blue with a Sky type S fuselage stripe. If this is the story that arrived to your end, fine, because it is basically correct. That's not my case, and not being a RAF expert by any means, that's why I decided to study the subject some years ago. I simply got tired of too many descriptors: Sky, Sky Blue, Sky Type-S, Duck Egg Green, Duck Egg Blue, Sky Grey, and so on...

This short text is a summary of what I could gather on the subject. I'll be adding more stuffs as they come up...

2. British Standard 391C

RAF's Temperate Land Scheme used Dark Green/Dark Earth on upper surfaces and Sky on undersurfaces during the early years of WWII. Its creation during the pre-war years is rooted in the BS 381C. Following moves made in the paint industry in the early years of the 20th century the first range of standardized paint colors was published in 1930. After an early revision this became known as BS 381C: 1931 Colours for Ready Mixed Paints. Even this old version already had a Sky Blue color:

This British Standard formed the greater part of the limited palette of paint colors available from most paint manufacturers throughout the next twenty years.
The WWII however put an end to the production of all but a very small selection of colors for specific purposes including camouflage and the decoration of War Department buildings. Among the remaining ones, colors 241 (Dark Green), 350 (Dark Earth) and 101 (Sky Blue) / 210 (Sky) or 216 (Eau-De-Nil) were used during the first years of WWII, although only the Sky Blue was included in the original 1931 version of the chart. The picture below shows a post-war version of the chart (if someone has a scan of the 1939 chart, please drop me a line):

And this is essentially the same chart that survived to these days [5].

3. Which Sky, after all?

This is the heart of the confusion. Dana Bell [1] has elucidated much of the mess. First off, the name Sky was not forged to designate the underside colors of British fighters during the Battle of Britain. The 1931 version of the BSC 831 already had the color #1 Sky Blue, as show above. The current version (evolved from the WWII chart) contains #101 Sky Blue and #210 Sky. So the term is old. The problem is that during WWII, the Sky color was also called Sky Type S, Duck Egg Green and Sky Type S Grey, but they were all the same color. Two other colors Sky Blue and Sky Grey also existed, and they should not be used by the Fighter Command, but were. So we have at least three colors to think about:

C1 Sky: This color was proposed by the British Air Ministry in 1940 as a pale greenish gray similar to FS 34324 [1] to be used on fighters and bombers. The name Sky, however, was forged only later in that year. This color was one of the new Type S (smooth) ones, hence the "Type S" suffix. I'm convinced that this color did not derive from 210 Sky in the 1939 chart, but from the 216 Eau-de-Nil color. I also believe the non-official designation Duck Egg Green may have been invented to differentiate the Sky Type S from the Sky Blue (Duck Egg Blue).
C2 Sky Blue: This was the underside color preferred by the Fighter Command. It was a pastel blue shade described as Duck Egg Blue. This color seems to have remained virtually unchanged since the 1931 chart.
C3 Sky Grey: This color should have been used only on FAA and Costal Command, but found its way on RAF fighters as well.

Hence, leaving the Sky Grey out of the discussion (and forgetting the many other non-official names), we have to worry about two colors only: C1 (Sky / Sky-Type S) and C2 (Sky Blue / Duck Egg Blue). Yes, they are two different colors, and many times we found photos of Spitfires and Hurricanes with their bellies painted Duck Egg Blue and the common fuselage identification band painted in Sky (strictly speaking, the correct should be: Sky Blue undersurfaces with Sky Type-S band). In order to stop the confusion, the Air Ministry defined a directive in December 1940 stating that any instruction specifying Duck Egg Blue should be replaced by Sky [1]. Of course, both colors lived together during a while (in fact, until the end of the war). Clearly, the Air Ministry expected to have both colors (C1 and C2) merged in a single color (C1) after a given point.

Well, we all know that this was not the case as you can find aircraft undersides painted with both Sky Blue (Duck Egg Blue) and Sky Type-S. From the photos I've seen, it seemed that the norm for fuselage bands was to use Sky Type-S. The problem is that until recently I thought that the ID letters should be painted with Sky Type-S, too.

Digging the internet I found a couple of official documents stating exactly the contrary [6][7]. They not only instructs for the use of Duck Egg Blue for code letters right in 1942
[6], but also Sky Blue for the undersurfaces and fuselage bands [7]. Moreover, they are two examples of official documents contradicting the 1940 Air Ministry instruction mentioned by Dana Bell [1] (of which I don't own a copy).

This is
Air Ministry Letter S.7312/D.O.R. of 1942:

And here are the relevant excerpts of
A.F.C.O. A.3, specifying colors for code letters and fuselage band, from 1943:

The complete pdf files of these directives can be found here (S.7312 and AFCO_A.3). I'm sure there are other similar documents.
They seem to contradict the majority of the color photos... But both are from 1942-43. Photos seem to prove that Sky Blue undersurfaces with Sky-Type S bands were the norm during the first years (code letters colors varied). Some examples:

It is also worth to note that the ground crews can not be blamed for any faults, as these bands were generally applied at factory:

After 1942, however, it seems that the Fighter Command either had its own ideas about camouflage, or ignored completely Air Ministry instructions on the subject. A third possibility is a complete lack of spread out standardization for the color names.

4. Conclusions (or sort of...)

In a nutshell:

1. In what concerns RAF's Temperate Land Scheme during the first years of the war, there are two sky colors to work with: Sky / Sky - Type S and Sky Blue / Duck Egg Blue (FAA and Costal Command is another story). Both colors were used on (or under!) the British fighters, but photos show that the second was more common.
2. The photos also show that the ID bands were generally painted with Sky, as well as the code letters.
3. These two general practices contradict at least two official documents from 1942-43 (stating that everything should be Sky Blue)...
4. ... and these two documents contradict the Air Ministry directive from December 1940 (stating that everything should be Sky Type-S).
5. The two contradictions 3 & 4 in sequence don't make the common practices 1 & 2 correct.

Therefore, it is really one of those cases where it is highly advisable to have in hand at least a photo of your subject. If you go to the Sky-Type S band & codes with Sky Blue under surfaces, your chances of being correct are high. But everything goes here... check your references!

It is worth to note that some profile artists acknowledge the Air Ministry directive of 1940, depicting their profiles with the same color for band, codes and under surfaces (for instance, see[8]). In other cases, however, it is just lack of acknowledge from the artist!

Any document from Hawker or Supermarine containing painting specs of their fighters would help to elucidate some points here, particularly why (or really if) they ignored
the 1940 directive.

Finally, I'm aware this text is incomplete and possibly faulty at places. My objective was to compile and organize the information I had in hand about the subject, by my access to official documents is limited to what I receive from friends and worldwide the internet. I'd appreciate any contributions, suggestions, criticism or comments to make it more accurate.


1.   Bell, D.: Aviation Color Primers No.1: US Export Colors of WWII, Meteor Productions, 2002.
2.   Aircraft Colour Chart - RAF Day Fighters (WWII - Northern Europe), Iliad Design, 2005.
3.   Bell, D.: Air Force Colors - Volume 1, 1926-1942, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1995.
4.   Bridgwater, H.C.: The Curtiss P-36 and P-40 in USAAC/USAAF Service 1939 to 1945, Combat Colours #3, Guideline Publications, 2001.
5.   BS 381C -
Specification for colours for identification, coding and special purposes, British Standard Institute, 1996.
6.   Air Ministry Letter S.7312/D.O.R. - Introduction of New Type Roundels and change in colour of Squadron and aicraft code letters, 1942.
7.   A.F.C.O.  A.3 - Code Letters for Operational and Reserve Squadrons, RAF, 1943.
8.   Fleischer, S. and Ryś, M.: Hawker Hurricane, Vol.1, Monografie Lotnicze #51, AJ-Press, 1998.

Rato Marczak © 2009