|The camouflage of Italian military aircraft circa 1935-1945 is a subject that has become a topic of increasing interest to researchers in the last 40 years, particularly where it concerns scale modeling and to the media and collectors alike.
As in many other matters now, an important factor contributing to the current body of knowledge is the availability of the web based media, in where specialized sites on aviation history and the relevant literature are available, organized along lines dedicated to the press, academia, scale-modeling and marketing, etc.: by internet we mean a community of persons located globally providing notable contributions to the subject, through letters, comments, reviews, forums and so on.
Consequently, new and more material is continuously uncovered and critically reviewed by researchers who more-or-less agree, based on different experiences and opinions, the colour interpretation and reproduction given by authors and artists about the presumed appearance of the aircraft. This can now be done rapidly.
Recently, I prepared the reference "Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 94: Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War", the subject being quite out of WW2 (and WW1). In fact, it was the first reference in thiss eries entirely devoted to the period "between the wars". It was a project conceived in 2000-2001, completed by 2008-2009 and published in 2010.
According to the standard format of this book and the schedule of the series, those chapters regarding references to color-tables were completed first, aircraft "profiles" being meanwhile commissioned to Richard J. Caruana (certainly one of the best known aviation artists). Because of space limitations, the standard book format being 96 pages - including 24 pages for titles, table of contents, tables, appendices with scale-drawings and indices, therefore reduced the color commentary on these aircraft, and as a result no mention could be made about the parallel research on aircraft finishes, camouflage and markings.
This article is an addition or an addendum to this reference focusing on the color and camouflage of the CR.32 during the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, as contextually collected between 1975 and 2010.
National markings, unit markings and tactical symbols, command badges and particular signs, identification codes and factory serial numbers applied to the aircraft are not considered here, these elements however being comprehensively examined for identifying and dating of the photographic documents.
When at the beginning of August 1936 the first 24 CR.32s were sent to Spain, no camouflage was applied to these fighters in service with the Regia Aeronautica, the aircraft finished in silver (aluminium) overall, with a bright copper-yellow radiator ring (rad-ring) and mat-black painted wing struts fairings as well as on the aft-side of the propeller blades; the same silver paint covered Italian national CR.32s directly taken from the Regia Aeronautica service units and depots before being shipped to Spain, similarly as with the first S.81 bombers sent in advance to the Nationalists by air at the end July 1936. Communist workers in Italy confirmed this, reporting to operatives in France that 36 ground crew from the Breda firm worked on 26 and 27 July in two military airports to remove Italian markings on 12 three-engined S.81 bombers, later flown to an unknown destination.
This uniform silver (light) finish of the first CR.32s sent to Spain is confirmed by photographic evidence of aircraft shipped to Spain, unloaded, assembled and beginning operations in August-September 1936.
A rare colour photo taken in September 1937 shows the contrast between silver overall finish and the copper-yellow radiator ring on a line-up of uncamouflaged CR.32s (reference for Profile 1 in colour plates of Osprey 94): this was the case for the first CR.32s operating in Spain by 1936 and also later, when the radiator-rings remained partially or totally uncamouflaged, sometimes after replacement of that part (Image 1; profiles 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 15, 28, 30).
|Fiat CR.32 Colors and Camouflage in the Spanish Civil War
Part I (1936-1937)
By Alfredo Logoluso
|Image 1 - 1a Escuadrilla de Caza "Aviacion de el Tercio" pil. Presel - August 1936|
|Copyright: Alfredo Logoluso, 2010
STORMO! © 2010 11 (2010) 1-2
|Alfredo is an aeronautical engineer and a former officer with the missile defence section of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana. He has worked in both the military and civil aerospace industries. For many years he has researched the aviation history of the Spanish Civil War, writing numerous articles for Italy's specialist press on the subject. One of his primary contacts is Angelo Emiliani, who was the first Italian researcher to document the air war in Spain. Alfredo is the author of Osprey Aircraft of the Aces No. 94 - Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War.|
|In continental Spain only, the first camouflage scheme applied to CR.32s, in September 1936, were characterized by irregular and more-or-less linear or narrow and shaded reddish-brown patches/mottles, on more-or-less uniformly painted sand-yellow upper-surfaces: in fact, during September-October 1936, green was not yet applied. This was because the first major operations of the CR.32 in central Spain began in Caceres base, a terrain (with no trees or grass) where abundant red dust covered aircraft in hot and dry climate conditions, the prevalent colors of the local summer landscapes were also being mainly reddish and yellowish tones.
References regrading early camouflage come especially from fighter pilots, such as Generali Adriano Mantelli and Giuseppe Ruzzin, who independently confirmed the two-colour camo scheme applied to the first CR.32s in continental Spain during September-October 1936: Mantelli recalling the camouflage origins precisely from Caceres' reddish dust and Ruzzin reporting (letter to author: 20 March 2001) about camouflage for CR.32s: "When the third expedition arrived at Cadiz on 12 October 1936, our CR.32s were painted silver as in Italy, the same aircraft being soon repainted with yellow and maroon patches, following the fancy of operators: unfortunately, paint was granular, so reducing speed by at least 5 Km/h; later paint being ofr better quality, almost glossy".
This sugegsts that "yellow" or "sand-yellow" and "reddish-brown" or "maroon" paints initially used for CR.32 camouflage in Spain were probably non-standard aviation paints, not corresponding to later standardized colors for military aircraft finish, being instead paints of uncertain production and origins, possibly manufactured in Spain (for general purpose), or other possible Italian origins. Examples of the so-called "red-and-yellow" CR.32 early camouflage in Spain (1936) are given in Osprey 94 in the color-profiles 3, 4, 5, and photos on pages 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 30.
Green patches or mottles, with more-or-less shaded/soft edges, began to be added or applied later to the CR.32 camouflage operating in continental Spain (during the winter 1936-37, from bases near Torrijos where olive-trees and vegetation were present), this also being remembered by Generale Mantelli and confirmed by b/w photos, showing four different "grey-tones" on camouflaged CR.32 surfaces, corresponding respectively to silver (clearest, uncovered areas), yellow, red, green (the latter appearing generally the darkest tone on b/w photos; an example is in Image 2 - reference for color profile 6).
|Image 2 - 3a Sq. Aviazione Legionaria - pil. Montegnacco - - December 1936|
|Early examples of green mottled or patched camouflage applied along with (or upon) silver and yellow painted upper- and side-surfaces are given in Osprey 94 profiles 7 and 8, or photos on pages 32, 33, 34 and 37. An example of camouflage applied in January 1937 is given in Image 3 - reference for colour profile 7.|
|Image 3 - CR.32 bis "quadriarmo" - 5a Sq. Aviazione Legionaria pil. Francois - February 1937|
|As remembered also by Generale Mantelli (letter to the author, 8 February 1976): "Our CR.32s, initially aluminium-finished, were camouflaged according to the colors of the operational area in so far as upper surfaces are concerned, while under-surfaces were painted bluish-grey".
CR.32s based in the Balearic Islands instead remained silver overall until Summer 1937, where about half of these fighters keeping this so-called "aluminium-finish" (even till toward the end of Civil War), some others however bearing the typical Italian "band-camouflage" scheme of 1936-'37, very rarely seen on CR.32s operating on continental Spain.
According to other sources also, from the end of 1936 to the beginning of 1937 at least two basic green paints were in use in Spain: a greyish-green and a darker olive-green (the latter more frequently applied). These could be both general purpose paints (also used for vehicles, railway wagons, etc.) or among early paints imported from Italy and for use as military aircraft camouflage. In fact, by the winter of 1936-'37 paints used in Italy for the so-called "banded-camouflage" were quite widely available and applied also by the FIAT factory at Turin where CR.32s were produced, this set including at least five colours: light-yellow or sand-yellow, maroon or reddish-brown, brown or dark-earth, greyish-green or sage-green, dark-green or olive-green. There was also a sixth colour used for upper- and side-surfaces camouflage - a light-earth or ochre-yellow (apparently more often used by the other Italian aircraft manufacturers other than FIAT) - and a pale-bluish-grey generally applied to aircraft under-surfaces.
Bluish-grey and ochre-yellow were also introduced in Spain by late 1936 and the beginning of 1937 respectively, so by spring 1937 there were at least six basic colours available for upper and side-surfaces (aluminium-silver, reddish-brown, sand-yellow, ochre-yellow, greyish-green, olive-green) and two colors for under-surfaces (aluminium-silver and bluish-grey), independently from considering different origins or purposes (and different tones eventually) of applied paints.
This anyway cannot yet explain the extreme variety of camouflage colors (and schemes) applied to CR.32s in continental Spain during 1936-'39, as the same can only be known by examining hundreds of historical photos, films, relics, etc. In fact, it must be mentioned that apart from the physical or optical variations introduced by different kinds of photographic films and processing (since orthochromatic or panchromatic negatives, show different "grey-tones" mainly for yellows and reds in b/w photos), a large variety of camouflage colors and schemes was also due to three general causes other than the availability of the several basic paints, so that it's possible to observe b/w historical photos and movie-frames of CR.32 flying formations or line-ups on the ground, taken in Spain (and shortly later in Italy too), presenting - in the same light conditions - each aircraft out of three or four or more machines camouflaged in a different way whencompared to the others: perhaps no other aircraft in aviation history displayed such a wide variety of color and camouflage schemes as the CR.32s in Spain. As a direct and contrasting comparison, almost all the first-line fighters used by the Spanish Republican forces - those being hundreds of I-15 biplanes and I-16 monoplanes, both being the primary adversaries of the CR.32 - had unvaryingly and uniformly green painted upper and side-surfaces, according to the Soviet VVS standard 1936-'39 and memories of both Republican and Nationalist airmen, with very few known or hypnotized exceptions.
The further three general causes of such a great variety of camouflage schemes were: the non-uniformity in paint preparation, application techniques and through wear and tear.
In preparation both dilution with solvents and mixtures of basic paints, while application was executed both by brush and air-spray-devices (the latter more frequently used and an evident reason of changeable finish), all factors influencing the final appearance of painted surfaces: colours intensity, dullness, shaded effects, etc.
In so far as service wear or attrition is concerned, it is sufficient to imagine two aircraft with similar camouflage colors beginning operations: the first one seen after three weeks flying during the battle of Brunete on advanced airfields in central Spain in July 1937, with up to 40°C in the shade and turbulent dust acting as a sand-paper; the second machine flying for three weeks, six months later, during battle of Teruel in Aragon – locally the coldest winter since 1900, reaching 40°C below zero or much less at flight altitude, often the aircraft being covered by iced-snow both in the air and on the ground. At the end, the colors appear quite different compared to each other, and each one different with respect to its initial status.
Moreover, often even parts of the same aircraft (wing and fuselage, port and starboard wing-planes, tail-fin and stabilizer, ailerons or wheel-fairings, etc.) appeared painted by colours and camouflage schemes different to each other, this mainly depending on repair and frequent part substitutions operated by ground crews, but also because of existing paint variety.
Re-painting of the CR.32s in Spain was also quite frequent, this not only, or was not mainly, because geographical- and winter- or summer-camouflage were more-or-less prescribed or applied (both within Italian or Spanish units), but evidently owing more to paint wear or attrition, more than any other reason. And this also should explain much of the aircraft painting that was applied in the field and within air-units, instead of at the factories and depots. By the latter, CR.32s were also re-painted after repair, overhaul, reconstruction, etc., surely giving the aircraft some better degree of camouflage uniformity or standardness, more complying with seasonal or geographical prescriptions about camouflage. For instance, CR.32 NC 262 (initially coded 3-17 and later 3-51), often photographed during the Civil War because it was most used by leading ace García Morato, received at least six different two- and three-color camouflage (and possibly eight) during a period of about 30 months, this meaning an average of one re-painting after four-five months service, which could be about the same for other CR.32s in Spain, within both Spanish and Italian units.
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