The Great RLM 02 Debate

There isn’t one. A great RLM 02 debate. It doesn’t exist. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s “generally accepted” AKA “the common wisdom” AKA “widely known” that a slightly mysterious color called RLM 02 was used by the German Luftwaffe during World War II as both a “primer” and as an exterior color–particularly during the Battle of Britain, when all the Bf-109 fighter planes of the Nazi air arm were painted in a combination of pale blue, forest green and pale beige (RLM 02). This is the accepted and acceptable standard version of events. ANY deviation from this narrative will get you labeled as a nut-job.

I doubt that it’s true. I very much doubt it.

I’ve been thinking about this since I happened across a statement in a modeling magazine that really shook up my view of the world. In it, some expert guy was quoted as saying, back in the seventies, that he had never “seen any evidence that RLM 02 was used as an exterior color” on Luftwaffe airplanes.

Then I proceeded to misplace the magazine. In a blog, you can, pretty much, drop your trousers at any time and it’s par for the course. In a real, serious journal I wouldn’t even bring up that mysterious “expert.” I certainly wouldn’t bring him or her (sorry–it’s required) up on a forum in the middle of a fight.

But let’s face it–it just doesn’t matter. Nothing I say here is intended to be taken as gospel or peer-reviewed truth. All I’m saying is this: I clearly remember somebody saying that they never saw no evidence of the Luftwaffe using no 02 on the outside of airplanes. I’m not sure what this means, because I can pull up some images on Google that clearly show 02 on German 109’s. But it isn’t a primary camouflage color–and that’s what we’re talking about.

RLM 02 is thought to be have been used by the Luftwaffe fighter arm during the “lull” between the conquest of Poland and the invasion of France–to replace the black green color (RLM 70) with a lighter shade. When you do this, you get a model that looks like everyone else’s model and the shade of 02 required is a pale beige.

Got that?

I have always felt that this was a strange idea. I’ve been at this game for a long time, and when this whole thing “sprang” out into the collective consciousness in the 1970’s via some books from some experts, I expected to see a detailed analysis published in the various modeling magazines.

I’m still waiting. That analysis never appeared. I’m inclined to believe that it never appeared because the arguments supporting the “RLM 02 in the Battle of Britain” were specious. That is to say, malarkey. B.S. Not based upon facts, but upon speculation.

I’ve never seen anything to change my mind on this. I have built models with “02” but I always make the 02 into a pale green color to match my bilious nature.

But even as I’m painting these models, something nags at me. I can’t get the idea out of my head that it’s just not accurate.

Here’s the deal. We live in the age of Google and we can search HUGE databases for color images from World War II showing Luftwaffe aircraft. If JUST ONE of these images showed an airplane that looked like the “green and beige” airplane of myth, then I’d accept it.

But they don’t. They don’t show that at all. In fact, they don’t show anything other than two schemes which are dismissed as “wrong” by “experts.” They show a lot of Bf-109’s painted in black green and dark green, with light blue undersides, with the light blue painted up the sides of the fuselage. They also show a lot of Br-109’s painted in a factory paint job of green gray (dark gray) and gray violet (medium gray), with light blue undersides, with the light blue painted up the sides of the fuselage.

I know what the “arguments” to dispute my “facts” are and they are not valid. Saying that “color photos can’t be trusted” is the mating call of the expert who’s perfidy has been exposed.

All I am asking for is proof. It’s not that hard. Something to dispute the TONS of data indicating that Luftwaffe fighter aircraft were painted in dark green, black green and pale blue, and then very early on, while the “RLM 02” color was supposedly being used, the actual fact is that the airplanes came from the factory or paint barn in dark gray (gray green), medium gray (gray violet) and pale blue.

No RLM 02, except as a color used to create fanciful “mottling” on top of the pale blue as required, along the fuselage sides. The RLM 02 mottling is combined with dark green or medium gray to produce a hazy, brownish-greenish tint.

This isn’t new information (wait–maybe it is–call Osprey!).This was understood to be the case for years, until some sharpie decided to sell some books by changing the narrative. It worked–books were sold. Now, we have to put up with this type of thing over and over as new people show up and want to sell their books. It never ends.

10 Replies to “The Great RLM 02 Debate”

  1. Dan, could you give some links to photos showing your colour scheme? I am finding it difficult to find good ones that show the correct 109 at the correct angle, in colour.

  2. Hi,
    Maybe get in touch with Gosshawk Unlimited in AZ, they did a FW190-D13 and got the corect colors from a crashed 190. I’m pretty sure they have a list of RLM colors that were used and I think the light blue was one of them, I was the one that painted it to how you see it today, from bare metal up including hand cut german font stencils. I hope they can help you out.

    1. This is a complex subject deserving of discussion. I thought 02 was a green/gray color and I was wrong. So I’m now leaning towards the conclusion that it was used to “mottle” over the original super-dark 70/71 paint jobs (I posted photos of these mottles) until the fighters were repainted in 74/75/76. I would not say that NO Luftwaffe aircraft ever had a splinter scheme with one of the colors being 02. Hell, it’s possible. But it wasn’t the “standard” during the Battle of Britain and all those bazillion models and drawings and skins for Il-2 and so on are “wrong” in that regard. That’s just my opinion. I believe that it is important to form one’s own opinion, independently of others, and to stick to that opinion until evidence proves otherwise, and not to make the mistake of choosing to believe something just because one has a shelf of beige 109’s. C’mon, lads! Don’t behave in such a shameful fashion! What’s more important– your reputation or the truth? Only a foul blackguard would choose to support his 109 shelf over the sacred truth! Surely we live in a enlightened age when all and sundry endorse the simple ethical rule that truth should be one’s first obligation.

      Oh wait…

  3. My shelf is fine with only 1 beige 109. I really looked at my built model horde after reading that and I was surprised by the lack of early luftwaffe aircraft I have built from the euro theatre. A veritable fleet of Afrika Korps aircraft, but few Euro, and only 1 early 109…with masses of Japs and Commonwealth making up the bulk, and a few Americans and others making up the tail end.

    That link I posted to the conversation on the forum amazed me. I also have searched for the famed 02 splinter camo, surely so many experts can not be wrong? But nothing…no pictures, no full aircraft relics apart from those that are slowly being ‘restored’ (even here I can picture the legions waiting with baseball bats, the threatening phone calls, the pitchforks and torches should any but the annointed splinter camo be used…).

    And with a mass of very well written and researched evidence by John, nobody seems to think he might be on to something. Everything is either shrugged away, totally ignored, and hostility from those who cannot explain the elephant in the room. Experts are called upon and never show, spurious reasons are given for everything that was brought up…unbelievable. Suddenly, an experten enters the thread, who claims to have worked on all sorts of luftwaffe aircraft and seen them by the truckload in 02 splinter cam, yet can only show a few bits of scrap that apparently come from wings, and these are from somebody elses collection? WTF?

    I wish John had called him on this, but I guess he was probably one post from being banned when you see the building hostility from the powers that be there.

    1. It’s interesting to observe that experts can be wrong. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not rare. Experts are wrong all over the place. What’s amazing is that buildings don’t fall down and airplanes don’t fall out of the sky (more often than they do). What’s really troubling about this (to me) is that this tendency of the human being to believe experts leads to all kinds of weirdness, which most of us just ignore, but a few of us, an unhappy few, notice it and begin to pull on that thread. Once you start to investigate, you find case after case, example after example, where the “experts” are dead wrong, and nobody seems to notice or care, and if you try to point out how they are wrong, you get a rifle butt to the jaw.

      The scary thing about this is that this kind of “investigation” sounds like it might be fun and even profitable, but it tends to lead people down the path to madness. Seriously. It’s a kind of “early warning” of schizophrenia that some folks are just mesmerized by situations where the majority is mistaken. How many of us nuts started going nutty after stumbing across an article on the Kennedy assassination? All it takes is the tiniest bit of scraping with the fingernail to reveal that the Koh-i-Noor diamond is really something else, and while it’s not a diamond, it may be portal…

      Yup, ’tis better to just believe what you’re told and mind your own business. Yup.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.