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"Early War Japanese Aircraft Colors" Topic

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HistoryPhD21 Sep 2015 4:07 p.m. PST

I was looking over an aircraft painting forum last night, seeking info on early war Japanese naval aircraft colors and I stumbled across this:

"The latest and most authoritative word seems to be Ian Baker's Aviation History Coloring Books number 36 & 37, Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft Colour Schemes, Camouflage & Markings 1937 1945, Volumes 1 & 2. According to Baker, the directive that introduced the color we usually call 'gray' specified that the planes be painted 'dead grass color' which he describes as 'medium to light brown or ocher.'

I'm not clear about whether that color was retained for the under surfaces when the dark green upper surface color was introduced. It seems likely, but I don't know and Baker isn't clear on that point; or at least, I saw no such clarity in the quick perusal that I had time for this morning.

Baker's books came out back in 1999, but just last week I read something that confirmed his interpretation. In the book First Blue, which is the biography of Roy 'Butch' Voris, the WW2 ace who later formed and led the Blue Angels, he and his fellow pilots described the Japanese aircraft they encountered in the first year or two of the war as 'brown.'

Based on the comments of Baker and Voris, if I was to paint an early WW2 Japanese Navy plane, I would use something like a light to medium tan or beige.

I haven't seen any kind of code, in any of the common color coding systems, to describe the color, and surely the bright Pacific sun made for plenty of variation anyway. Something like the color of the cork in a wine bottle might not be too far off, or maybe something just a tad browner than that. Sort of a 'dead grass color.'

Anyway, the idea of light gray Japanese Navy planes seems to have gone the way of purple Rufes nice looking in paintings and profiles, but not representative of the real thing."

What do the TMP experts think of the grey vs. light buff (I guess that's about the right shade) theory?

Sundance21 Sep 2015 4:38 p.m. PST

My understanding is that it was a very light olive – check out the Smithsonian's Zero.

boy wundyr x21 Sep 2015 6:40 p.m. PST

Hopefully Dom will be by to weigh in, but there have been some previous threads here about this. I'm on my phone so I can't search easily and paste here. I think Zero, color or colour should bring those threads up. Maybe "Japanese" as a search term with color/colour.

boy wundyr x22 Sep 2015 8:03 a.m. PST

Ok, I'm on a real computer now, here's the old thread:
TMP link

So the answer there seems to be it was an olive-gray colour, but for small planes use a light tan/used concrete!

Here's a thread with a photo of a restored plane:
TMP link

HistoryPhD22 Sep 2015 10:44 a.m. PST

Thanks very much!

Skeptic22 Sep 2015 7:39 p.m. PST

In an old Airfix magazine article on Japanese AFV colours and markings, Zaloga referred to a "parched grass colour". Might it be the same?

HistoryPhD22 Sep 2015 8:25 p.m. PST

Apparently, the Japanese word used for that color translates into English as "dead grass green". It seems to me to be a vaguely greenish straw-colored light tan. Try finding that combination amongst Vallajo's palette!

Ryan T23 Sep 2015 9:38 a.m. PST

The revisionist thinking about the colour of Japanese aircraft originated with Jim Lansdale. In 1995 he published a short article in Asahi Journal, setting out the results of his examination of artifacts from about two dozen different Zeros. In this article Lansdale presented his argument that the pale gray camouflage usually associated with the Zero was actually the result of the oxidization of the original paint. He went on to state that the paint found on the artifacts after this oxidization was buffed off was in fact a "pale olive-gray" colour in the case of both Mitsubishi and Nakajima manufactured Zeros.

An updated version of Lansdale's article can be found at:


In his article Lansdale refers to the FS system of colour nomenclature. The olive-grey colours of FS 26350 and 24201 can be viewed at:


HistoryPhD23 Sep 2015 12:19 p.m. PST

One of the paint mixes I've found on the various discussions of this is a 50/50 mix of two Model Master enamel paints: 1792 Bomber Brown and 2071 German RLM-02 Grey

Blutarski23 Sep 2015 6:13 p.m. PST

See Donald Thorpe's "Japanese Army Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II" and "Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II". Thorpe goes into intricate detail regarding all aspects of paint and camouflage schemes.


number424 Sep 2015 11:07 p.m. PST

I'm going to go with Saburo Sakai's comment about the underside of his aircraft being painted "white"………….it may well have been parched grass olive purple gray officially, but to him it looked white – and he was there.

Blutarski25 Sep 2015 3:13 a.m. PST

Thorpe discusses the variations of paint schemes by time period and theater.


Ryan T25 Sep 2015 8:13 a.m. PST

Thorpe's two books were the first attempt to make sense of Japanese camouflage schemes. But since then his work has been superceded by new research primarily that of Jim Lansdale. And when it comes to the Zero all of the artifacts that I have examined support his conclusions.

The list below provides my mixes for both enamel and acrylic paints; all paints listed, however, are acrylic unless otherwise stated. Note that these colors are formulated for a match with the full size prototype and should be lightened for scale effect. It should also be noted that in the early war period Japanese paint had a gloss to semi-gloss finish.

This list was done several years ago and unfortunately does not include some of the paint that is currently available.

Mitsubishi Olive-Gray FS 4201
-Model Master SAC Bomber Tan (1792 – enamel)
-Polly Scale USSR Topside Green (5230)
-Gunze RLM 02 (H-70)

Mitsubishi Fabric Surfaces J-3 Hai-Iro
-2 parts Model Master Flint Gray (2037 – enamel) / 1 part Model Master SAC Bomber Tan (1792 – enamel)
-Tamiya Gray-Green (XF-76)
-3 parts Gunze RLM 02 (H-70) / 1 part Gunze Gloss White (H-2)

Nakajima Olive-Gray FS 6350
-2 parts Model Master SAC Bomber Tan (1792- enamel) / 1 part Model Master White (1745 – enamel)
-2 parts Polly Scale USSR Topside Green (5230) / 1 part Polly Scale White (5011)

Nakajima Olive-Gray FS 0277
-Model Master Armor Sand (1704 – enamel)
-Polly Scale Israeli Khaki (5348)

Nakajima Olive-Gray FS 6160
-4 parts Polly Scale USSR Topside Green (5230) / 1 part Polly Scale IJA Brown (5276)

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