Sunday 26 January 2014

Soviet Camouflage

When people think of a Soviet tank, they typically imagine its colour olive drab, perhaps with lots of red stars all over. While pre-war doctrine did put easy identification over concealment, that line of thinking began to change in the late 1930s.

"In 1939, as a result of ABTU's initiative, NIIIT developed a deforming colour scheme for tanks and armoured cars.

Between August 15th and 29th, 1939, ABTU's proving grounds (Kubinka station) performed research on deforming large-spotted colour schemes of wheeled and tracked vehicles. ABTU Chief, Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel-General of the tank forces comrade Pavlov and IU KA Chief, Major-General comrade Mihailin took part in the trials.

As a result of the trials, it was determined that it is beneficial to replace the olive drab factory paint with a multi-coloured deforming paint scheme. The report with blueprints and photographs was sent to ABTU on August 11th, 1939 (source #38).

NIIIT KA proposed performing field trials in 1941 and provide GABTU with results in June of this year. Currently, NIIIT is performing laboratory tests of deforming paints, in order to finally establish the patterns and composition of the paint. Trials are scheduled for May 10-25th at the ABTU proving grounds (Kubinka station). NIIIT has ordered sufficient amounts of paint for this task.

Chief of the NIIIT KA, Military engineer 1st grade, Zheleznih
Chief of the 2nd Department, Military engineer 2nd grade, Sheglov
January 1st, 1941"
CAMD RF 38-11355-1

However, war does not wait politely for trials to end, and the tankers took matters into their own hands.

"From reports coming to GVIU, it can be seen that active army units apply a deforming colour scheme to their tanks and vehicle, in order to hide them more effectively. However, due to a lack of appropriate colours and poor execution reduce the effect of the paint. I think it is necessary to apply camouflage paint in factory conditions, and hurry the preparation of instructional posters.

Chief of the Red Army GVIU
Major-General of Engineering Forces Kotlyar

August 27th, 1941"
CAMD RF 38-11355-1

Here's a picture of one of those custom-painted tanks. The pattern is very unusual, with tactical markings hurriedly painted over top.

Here are proper instructions for summer camouflage (for artillery):

CAMD RF 81-12104-327

"To the military representative at the Red Profintern factory

In order to mask the material possessions of the artillery units among the terrain, and to ease its concealment by improvised means in the field, a camouflage paint scheme is being implemented. 

The camouflage scheme is to be applied to guns, limbers, ammunition crates, and carts that were previously painted olive drab, barrels of 76 mm model 1938 mountain guns, and artillery transportation methods (tractors, cars, trailers), tarps, tents, and large cases. 

On August 25-28th, we will send you the "Instructions for camouflage painting" and samples of 5K (dark brown), 7K (yellow earth), and 4BO (olive drab), which you must pass on to the factory, retaining 1-2 samples.

In order to fulfil this order, the Council of People's Commissars issued order #5667 on August 7th, 1941, ordering the People's Commissar of Chemical Production to ship 6K and 7K paint using part of the budget for 4BO paint.

It is imperative that camouflage paint be applied immediately, as soon as paint and instructions are received.

Report on delays in this transition, and report as soon as you complete transition to this new camouflage scheme.

Deputy Chief of the GAU KA, Military Engineer First Class, Lipanovich
Military Commissar of the GAU KA, Regimental Commissar Kozlov
August 16th, 1941"

The colours were defined as follows (from Kolomiets and Moshanskiy, Camouflage of Red Army Tanks 1930-1945):
  1. "Green - 4BO (medium colour) works with all green vegetation backgrounds, and is the main, dominant colour. This colour covers 45-55% of the surface area of the object.
  2. Yellow-earth - 7K works with bare earth backgrounds (plowed soil, roads, rock slides, etc). This colour covers 15-30% of the surface area of the object.
  3. Dark brown - 6K works with dark spots on various backgrounds and with tree trunks. This colour covers 15-30% of the surface area of the object.
The following requirements were given when painting:
  1. Spots must imitate natural shapes, must have wobbly contours, and must vary in shape and size.
  2. Spots must be arranged in such a way as to alter the appearance of the object as much as possible. Recognizable parts of the object, such as straight lines and angles, shields, gun barrels, wheels, etc, must be painted with spots of various colours. The direction of elongated spots must not be parallel to the outline of the object, and must intersect with it at various angles. Spots of one colour and similar size should not be placed symmetrically. Spots may be enclosed in one part of the object, or cut off by the outline of the object. "Open" spots must "travel" on to adjacent surfaces, i.e. be painted on at least two surfaces. Angles that are sticking out must be painted in predominately dark colours. The top of an angle must not coincide with the center of a spot. Permanently shaded areas of the object must have highly contrasting yellow and brown spots.
  3. As a general rule, using stencils is unacceptable.
    The spot locations must vary in accordance with the above rules. Alternatively, it is necessary to vary the colours in the included drawings, replacing all or some of the yellow spots with brown, and brown spots with yellow.
Unpainted elements of the barrel, breech, and other mechanisms, sights, and labels are not painted over."

The book also includes instructions. The spots must be first outlined in chalk, and labelled with a letter signifying the colour. In the event that the tank is already painted green, only non-green spots are labelled and painted. When converting summer camouflage to winter camouflage, paint over the green spots with solid white, and over the yellow and brown spots with a hashed pattern. Depending on how open the terrain is, increase or decrease the density of white stripes. Captured vehicles coloured in monochrome grey must be painted in the same fashion.

Unlike tanks, artillery was very commonly painted in camouflaged colours, even artillery in the Reserve of the High Command, which theoretically wouldn't have much use for it.
RGK artillery in camouflage.

M6 AT gun on trials. You can see a camouflage pattern on the gun trailer.

Here's how the tanks dried after being painted at the factory:

Sherman drying after being painted

Also, winter instructions:

CAMD RF 38-11355-107

"Conclusions of the report from the NI proving grounds of the Red Army GABTU on the winter camouflage paint of armoured forces.

Experiments performed on six kinds of paint schemes shows that the best contour and relief masking is achieved with a three-colour paint scheme, with a white image based on the method of optical displacement, a mesh pattern, and spots with a wobbly contour. 

Downsides of this method include a large amount of time needed (14 man-hours), and the necessity to draw an image on the tank before painting.

Recommend the camouflage scheme outlined above for factories. For tanks currently assigned to a unit, paint the whole tank in one shade of white. 

The NI proving grounds must distribute drawings and paint recipes to factories."

The camouflage scheme in question doesn't exactly have three colours. The different types of surfaces are flat white, a white mesh on an olive drab background, and plain olive drab. Something like this:

On camouflage of combat vehicles in winter conditions

1. Type of paint.

A chalk mixture is used in order to paint. During frost, use warm water to prepare it.
Amount: approximately 1200 kg for a two regiment tank brigade, or 5-6 kg per vehicle.

In cases where there is not enough chalk, it is possible to use slaked lime. Lumped lime is completely unsuitable for this task. Disadvantages of using lime: the paint will gradually turn brown, the lime acts as an irritant. Both types of paint can wash off, and are not resistant to snow and rain.

2. Directions on application of camouflage paint.

The order to paint is given out in the winter, right before the vehicles will be used. The order is given by the same unit that orders the use of combat vehicles.

The painting is done by the crews themselves, as close as possible to headquarters (where warm water is available).

Brushes used for washing cars may be used for painting, as well as any containers (buckets, etc). The time to paint a vehicle is 2-3 hours."

CAMD RF 3098-1-2

The Red Army also had a large amount of unofficial winter camouflage schemes.

The next photograph is very interesting. The tanks in it are rather rare T-30s. The T-30 was a simplified T-40 with a better gun and no amphibious ability, but not quite as simplified as a T-60. The tanks have a strange pattern applied to them. One tank like this might be an indication of scorched paint due to an engine fire, but several in one place clearly show that this was the camouflage pattern applied to the tanks of this entire unit.

Elements of the terrain were also used to aid in camouflaging vehicles.