It may surprise some that the US Army had regulations for camouflage of its vehicles.Vehicle camouflage was not as common in the US Army for a couple of reasons.Unlike most other armies, individual vehicle crews were not expected to apply camouflage paint.That was the job of the Army Corps of Engineers.The Engineers would generally do a unit at a time with replacement vehicles being delivered in Olive Drab.There was also a feeling in the US Army that camouflage was ineffective after a short time in the field.The dust and grime which covers a vehicle in combat generally obscures the camouflage pattern, rendering it useless.When used the camouflage generally they involved a base color, black and a contrasting color. Under ideal circumstances, the Army Engineers had twelve colors available to camouflage equipment with.
Officially, there were specific colors for different climates (base color, secondary color, tertiary color):
·Temperate: Olive Drab; Field Drab*; Black.
·Desert:Sand or Earth Yellow; Earth Yellow or Earth Red*; Black.
·Arctic: White; Olive Drab; Black
* Or other light color to match terrain
Counter-shading is a camouflage technique which is intended to counter-act shade and shadows.Basically you apply dark paint to the areas which reflect the most light and light paint to the areas in shadow.Practically this meant painting the upper surfaces a darker color and the overhanging surfaces a lighter one.The most common example is of a wavy patch of white on the underside of a tank’s gun and transmission housing.
The 1st Armored Division landed in Morocco with a complete set of regulation markings.No bumper codes were used.They were replaced by a complex set of geometric markings.Many of the vehicles had paper American flags pasted on in the hope that the French would not fire on Americans.No camouflage painting was used.Very quickly, mud and other improvised forms of camouflage were used to try to break up the dark outline of vehicles against the light colored desert landscape.Many tankers over-painted their conspicuous star markings as experience showed that they provided too good of an aiming point for German gunners.
FS:34087 Olive Drab
In March of 1943, the 1st & 2nd Armored Divisions were ordered to begin applying pattern painted camouflage paint to their vehicles.Generally the camouflage was a base of Olive Drab with large areas of either Earth Yellow or Earth Red.
It is difficult to assess the number of vehicles that were camouflaged in Italy and Europe.Some vehicles invaded Italy still wearing their camouflage from Sicily.A number of photos show tanks in Olive Drab with bands of Black or Earth Brown.Tonally the three colors are so similar that only a clear high quality photo will show the difference.
It would be reasonable to find vehicles in Italy camouflaged using the following colors with an Olive Drab base.
There are a number of pictures showing Sherman tanks camouflaged with a base of Olive Drab with bands of Field Drab and Black.
One of the most active units assigned to camouflage paint tanks was the 602nd Engineer Camouflage Battalion in NW Europe (1944-45).Their records indicate the most common patterns painted were an Olive Drab base with Black or Earth Brown bands (sometimes both color were used together).
In winter 1944 many vehicles were hurried covered with whitewash, which was just as hurriedly removed when the snow melted.
In Germany, most vehicles were camouflaged by using branches of the ubiquitous pine tree.
FS:34087 Olive Drab
FS:30118 Field Drab
FS:30099 Earth Brown
This has been an interesting learning experience for me.I started out wanting to understand how and why the US Army marked its vehicles and I have created a monster.I hope someone finds this useful.If I get ambitious I will add a Pacific markings section.But other than some minor edits I am sure I will have to make, I think I am done here for now…
Bradford, George: Armor Camouflage & Markings North Africa 1940-1943 (Bradford 1971)
Wise, Terence: American Military Camouflage and Markings 1939-1945 (Almark 1973)
Zaloga, Steven: US Armour Camouflage and Markings 1917-45 (Osprey 1984)