Art as camouflage? Camouflage as art?
Nose Art and the Brothers Grimm!?
A sort of whimsical look at aircraft paint schemes from World War 1 to Afghanistan
Written By: David Wesley Tonkin – Manager of the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum.
From the days of the earliest aerial combat over the trenches of World War 1 the Germans sought to develop a camouflage scheme that would confuse the French and British aviators and possibly restrict immediate observation and identification; both in the air and on the airfield.
The evolution of the German’s camouflage went from random blotches of color to simulate the checkerboard agricultural landscape of France and Belgium to the three or four color Lozenge Camouflage or “Buntfarbenanstrich” (as illustrated by the paint scheme of our Museum’s Fokker D.VIII Replica pictured above).
The French and British quickly developed and used their brown and green flowing shapes paint scheme for daytime missions and sometimes a dark blue and black scheme for dedicated night mission aircraft. The Allies colors and shapes continued to be used into World War II and beyond; with minor variations for the conflict geography.
Of course the ego or eccentricity of individual flyers; and their need for self-expression in their aircraft’s paint schemes often negated the camouflage’s effectiveness. (As illustrated by the personal decorations on the Fokker Dr.1 and the Sopwith Camel [above] in the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome collection).
Initially, as stated earlier, the camouflage schemes in World War 2 did not change too dramatically for British and French aircraft (Like this impeccably restored Spitfire photographed at the Reading WWII Airshow in 2016).
As the war progressed both the Allies and the Axis began to evolve special geographical variants of their “standard” color schemes.
The Germans had a whole array of very intricate color themes for the Luftwaffe in Eastern Europe and the Russian Front campaigns in both Winter and Summer. Both protagonists also developed locally suitable camouflage for the war in North Africa – Western Desert battles. The Allies intentionally broke all the conventions of trying to confuse the enemy when they painted the broad black and white “Invasion Stripes” on everything that flew just before D-Day to ensure that nervous and trigger-happy naval and ground based anti-aircraft artillery gunners did not shoot down friendly aircraft! You can break those rules when you have virtual air supremacy!
The red and white nose and checkerboard and the pugnacious bird nose art on World War II American legendary fighter ace Major Dominic Salvatore “Don” Gentile’s Mustang P-51B, “Shangri-La” (Pictured above / left) shows the pilot’s flair for self-expression, the picture also illustrates the USAAF’s preference for polished silver aluminum fighter aircraft and the aforementioned Invasion Stripes!
Other World War II nose art is chilling in its raw significance; a vivid example is the nose art on the B29A (Pictured above / right) named “Bockscar”. Five days after the bombing of Nagasaki by "Bockscar" the Emperor of Japan recognized that his country now faced total annihilation and agreed to unconditional surrender. World War II was over.
Undoubtedly the most noteworthy German nose art of the Second World War was the Mickey Mouse emblem that was the personal aircraft insignia used by Luftwaffe General Adolf Joseph Ferdinand Galland who first painted the famous symbol on his Messerschmitt Bf 109 E and later in 1945 his ME262.
My May 2015 article “Did Mickey Mouse fly with the Luftwaffe?” in “Thoughts on Wings” on the Museum’s Website tells this story in some detail.
A-10’s (Pictured on the left) have served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm where the aircraft singularized its unique capabilities. The A-10 also participated in other conflicts such as Grenada, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against ISIL in the Middle East.
During this time the standard paint scheme for the A-10 was the flat-grey color in universal use by US and NATO forces during the late 1990’s to the present. The savage shark mouth nose art was popular with many Warthog pilots … reminiscent of the legendary American Volunteer Group; the "Flying Tigers" aircraft in China during World War II.
In my opinion however the grand prize winner for the most bizarre aircraft decoration goes to a World War 1 Fokker DVII (Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke) that was flown by Pilot Gefreiter (Private) Wilhelm Scheutzel of Jasta 65 stationed on the Western Front during 1918.
Scheutzel’s aircraft features artwork depicting the Brothers Grimm fairy tale the “The Seven Swabians” on each side of the fuselage and a black crest with 3 yellow deer antlers coat of arms of the Wuerttemberg Royal House! (The Fokker DVII reproduction with the Seven Swabian fuselage art pictured below is in the wonderful Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome collection and is still flying!)
A summary of the fable is … Once upon a time there were Seven Swabian brothers who travelled through the world; to protect themselves from danger they carried one long spear with them. Their travels are fraught with ridiculous encounters and imagined dangers. One day they come upon a hare sleeping in the sun. They mistake the poor hare for a monster and decide to attack it. After bracing themselves with all the courage they can get they strike out and the hare runs away, whereupon they realize they have once again been fooled. Pilot Gefreiter Scheutzel must have loved that story as a child; enough to commemorate it on his aircraft!
Photograph Credits and Acknowledgements:
1. The “Bockscar” image is Copyright to Rogerd; Permission is granted to reproduce under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License / Version 1.2
2. The A10 – Warthog and “Don” Gentile on the wing of his P-51B, 'Shangri-La' images are the work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.
3. The Fokker D.VIII image is Copyright to the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum – DVHAA
4. The Fokker Dr.1, Sopwith Camel, Spitfire and Fokker DVII images are all Copyright of David Wesley Tonkin