100 Years of the RAF, No. 222 Squadron RAF Hornchurch, September 1940, Spitfire Mk Ia, “ZD-R” Tamiya 1/48
This article is part of a series:
- 100 Years of the RAF, No. 19 Squadron circa August 1938, Duxford, UK 1/48 Airfix Spitfire Mk I “early”
- 100 Years of the RAF, 541 Squadron late 1944, Spitfire PR MK XIX, 1/48 Airfix
- 100 Years of the RAF, No. 601 Squadron, Egypt November 1942, 1/48 scale Tamiya 61035 Spitfire Mk Vb
- 100 Years of the RAF, No. 222 Squadron RAF Hornchurch, September 1940, Spitfire Mk Ia, “ZD-R” Tamiya 1/48
- Spitfire Mk Vb Tropical, EP-706 “T*L” No. 249 Squadron as flown by George Beurling at Malta
- 100 Years of the RAF… Alan Deere’s Spitfire Mk I “Kiwi”, No. 54 Squadron Tamiya 1/48
- 100 Years of the RAF, Spitfire Mk Vb, 81 Squadron RAF Hornchurch, June 1942 “FL*A” / BM-461 Tamiya 1/48
I want to start out by saying “Thank You” to Paul Nash @white4freak for technical assistance, and Paul Barber @yellow10 for starting this great idea for a Group build to honor the RAF. Thank you also goes out to Martin and his staff here at iModeler too, for providing a great website for us to display our work.
Without any of these gentlemen, this Spitfire build would not be here for you to view, nor would it be as “historically” accurate.
I wanted to have some Spitfires in my collection that represented the various colors and camouflage schemes (A and B types), that the RAF used during this “Early War” time frame. After conducting some research on my own, and becoming thoroughly frustrated with what I was finding online and in books on the various colors, I reached out for some professional help on the matter. Not the sort of “professional help” afforded by my friend David Leigh-Smith @dirtylittlefokker, although some would say his help would be in order after my building too many Spitfires 🙂
Paul Nash came to the rescue and helped to guide my decisions as far as the colors that were used on the undersurfaces of Spitfires during this era. He even sent me the fuselage code letter decals that were needed, and 1/48 scale paper patterns to use as masks for painting the “A” style (and “B” style) camouflage that were used on the Spitfire too!
What more could you ask for ? A true gentleman indeed. iModeler is a great place for fellow model builders to lend a helping hand to each other when needed.
As it turns out, the RAF used at least four distinct colors on the undersides of the fuselage and wings of it’s fighter aircraft during this time frame. To begin with, at the time the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire entered service, all of the front line fighters in use at the time were biplanes in the RAF, as well as the majority of the World. These fighters were primarily covered with fabric. In an attempt to prolong the life of the fabric covering, aluminum dope color was used to help shield the fabric from the effects of the sun and the associated UV rays.
Another important consideration that was taken into effect was weight. The added weight of various colors was thought to degrade the performance of these machines. As such, these planes were not to be painted with an excessive number of layers of paint. The added weight from just the paint alone could be in excess of 60 pounds! On larger aircraft such as bombers, this amount could be quadrupled.
Another very important consideration was aircraft balance. They didn’t want to affect the center of gravity and change the flying characteristics or possibly even make the plane unsafe to fly.
As a side note, a similar balance problem happened later with P-51″D” Mustangs, but it was more extreme since greater weights were involved.
They had a large fuel tank on the “D” model Mustang that was located behind the pilot. The pilot was supposed to draw fuel from this fuel tank first, then switch over to the other tanks when it was dry (or close to it). There are recorded cases where the pilot failed to do this and spun the plane in which often resulted in a fatal crash. These crashes were attributed to “improper balance” and “pilot error”.
So during this time between the Wars, most RAF aircraft had an overall finish in Aluminium Dope on the fabric covered areas. When the Hurricane and Spitfire arrived, the RAF started painting the upper surfaces in a two color camouflage as things were “headed south” in Europe (and the Pacific) and another War was eventually eminent.
Here’s a photo of a Hurricane showing the undersides painted in an overall aluminum color. The “buzz” numbers were painted rather large at this time.
It was very common to see a Spitfire (or Hurricane) during the time of the Dunkirk Evacuation with one wing painted in “Night” (which was black), and the other side of the plane would be painted in “White”. The dividing line between the colors would usually run right down the center of the plane, as seen in this early Mk I Spitfire.
On occasion, only the wings would be painted as such, with the remaining portions of the fuselage and stabilizer remaining in “Aluminum Dope” color. Here’s a Hawker Hurricane painted in this manner.
Now here’s where the confusing part sets in: The use of “Sky” colors, and how it was implemented into service on aircraft in the RAF.
There is a lot of confusion here, and I do not claim to be an expert on the subject. Apparently there was a conflicting description in the name of the color. Some times I found the colors referred to as “Sky” while other times it was called “Sky Type S”. To make matters worse, the color “Sky” was occasionally described incorrectly, or the orders to paint the planes were not properly written and hard to understand. So this led the ground crews to paint the undersides of these planes using the colors they “thought” were appropriate.
Then supply problems came into play as well. Certain units didn’t have access to the “new” color paints, while others did.
Then toss in the similar colors of “Eau-de-Nil”, “Duck Egg Blue”, “Duck Egg Green”, BSS-381, “Blue Gray”, “Light Blue”, and you will see why so much confusion exists even to this very day… all of these colors (and names) were used at one time or another by the RAF.
Some were simply the same color described with a different name. Others were slightly different colors with the same name… confusing to say the least. I’d love to hear your comments on this matter. Please keep it civil though.
Here’s where Paul Nash stepped in and saved the day. He told me about a Spitfire from 222 Squadron that was excavated years after it had crashed. This plane flew with 222 Squadron and was lost in early October of 1940, on October 7th (I believe). They were able to accurately match some of the parts that were recovered to existing color paint swatches.
What these aviation archaeologists found out was remarkable. It appears as if the Spitfire in question was repainted in various places at least three times during it’s rather short service career!
Each time a different color was used. One just happened to be a perfect match to the BSS-381 color. Paul was even kind enough to send me a few pictures of this color matching process, and an artists rendition showing an illustration of Spitfire “ZD-R”.
Normally I don’t place too much credibility on artists renditions. However this time I made an exception, as it had a lot of archaeological proof that this color was indeed used on Spitfires from this particular Squadron.
If you look closely, you will see that the fuselage Squadron code “ZD” is not in the typical location of the Starboard side. Having looked at various wartime black and white photos of Spitfires in 222 Squadron, this was often done on their planes. Here’s a few pictures showing a Spitfire from 222 Squadron that was forced down and was photographed when it was in German hands. You can clearly see how the fuselage codes are arranged.
To add some icing on the cake, the rendition offered the Spitfire wearing a “B” Scheme which was the mirror image of the other Spitfires I had under construction at the time.
So this made it even a better choice for me to paint my Spitfire in this way.
The artists drawing had the underside color listed as BSS-381, which was a 1930 era No. 1 “Sky Blue”. Needless to say I was ecstatic at this information, since now I could build up an accurate model depicting the “Sky Blue” color that I wanted to use. To make things even a little easier, this particular Spitfire had it’s fuselage serial number over painted, so that was one less problem to deal with. Things were getting better all the time!
Here you can see the “Sky Blue” on the underside of my 222 Squadron Spitfire. Notice the tiny under wing RAF roundels and just how far they are positioned outboard on the wing.
Here it is placed next to another recent Spitfire build that is wearing the “Sky” color. The lighting has made the light “Sky Blue” appear a little too light, and the “Sky” looks way too dark…
In all actuality it’s more of a true “Sky Blue” color that it was named for. Someday I hope to get better lighting for taking pictures of my builds. I plan on building a photo light box in the future. The Spitfire on the left had the underside painted using Tamiya XF-21 “Sky”. The plane on the right used Model Master FS 35622 “Duck Egg Blue”.
In this next picture, you can see the difference between the “A” and the “B” camouflage schemes. The “A” Scheme in on the left side Spitfire, while the “B” scheme is on the right and has the yellow “gas detection” panel on the Port side wing. They are basically a mirror image of each other.
During this time of the War, the Brits didn’t know if the Germans were going to use gas weapons like they did during “The Great War”. So various planes had these gas detection panels on them. They were supposed to act as an early detection system. The panel was supposed to change colors if it was exposed to a gas.
Occasionally the colors were reversed. This would have the Dark Earth color (which is the Brown) used in place of the Dark Green. It pays to have a photo reference when you are lucky enough to find one…
Supposedly the fuselage serial numbers were to determine the type of camouflage pattern that was to be used on the airframe, with the even numbers having one pattern and the odd having another. I have found that it was not always true that the serial number dictated the “A” or the “B” patterns.
During the wartime production, an airframe was not always ready to be painted when the painter was ready to spray the plane. So on occasion they “improvised” at the factory and painted it with what ever pattern they had ready at the time. Here again it is best to have a picture if you can if accuracy means that much to you.
This model is the older Tamiya kit number 61032. If memory serves me, it was originally released back in 1993. It still builds up into a nice looking Spit. I have read on other websites where the fuselage is too fat or the shape of the wing isn’t spot on. This may be true, as I didn’t take the time to check for these alleged problems.
I can say that it looks like a Spitfire to me once it’s built. Close enough for Government work ! This one was built right out of the box. Well almost…
Instead of using the kit supplied De Havilland style propeller, I used one from the new tool Airfix Spitfire Mk I kit. With a minor alteration to the prop shaft, it fit like a glove. No other additions were made other than to add some aftermarket decals.
In case you are interested in looking at how this Spitfire was built (and a few more along with it), here’s a link to the build journal. It’s currently active and has more Spitfire models underway.
The following history of 222 Squadron was obtained from Wikipedia:
World War One
The squadron was formally formed at Thasos on 1 April 1918 from “A” Squadron of the former No. 2 Wing, RNAS when the Royal Air Force was formed. At this time, Richard Peirse became Officer Commanding 222 Squadron. Later, on 6 April 1918, former “Z” Squadron of No. 2 Wing, RNAS was added to the strength. Renumbered No. 62 Wing and consisting of Nos. 478, 479 and 480 Flights, the squadron was given the task of maintaining raids on Turkish targets in Macedonia and Thrace, operating from islands in the Northern Aegean, officially adopting the 222 Squadron number plate on 14 September 1918. The squadron continued to carry out raids on Turkish targets in the Balkans until the end of the war, eventually disbanding on 27 February 1919.
World War Two
On 5 October 1939 No. 222 Squadron was reformed at RAF Duxford flying Blenheim Mk.If’s in the shipping protection role, but in March of the following year it re-equipped with Spitfires and became a day-fighter unit. It fought during the Battle of Britain, being based at RAF Hornchurch on 15 September 1940, under Squadron Leader “Johnnie” Hill. It later took part in Operation Jubilee, the 1942 Dieppe raid. In December 1944 the squadron converted to Tempests, which it flew until the squadron was recalled to the UK to re-equip with Meteors.
Entering the jet age
From October 1945 the squadron flew various marks of Meteors for nine years and later, after December 1954 Hunters, being part of Scotland’s defense, but on 1 November 1957 No. 222 was disbanded.
In its last incarnation on 1 May 1960, No. 222 became a Bristol Bloodhound SAM unit at RAF Woodhall Spa, but after four years service in this role it disbanded on 30 June 1964.
This model was painted using Model Master enamels. A light dusting was applied using colors from the Tamiya weathering decks.
I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I have enjoyed doing the research and the actual building.
Comments are encouraged.
Thanks for looking and please have a safe and Merry Christmas!