There is still no definitive information about the precise color shades applied in 1942 however, based on the available data analysis, study of the period photographs and factoring in the camouflage standards, the most probable aircraft appearance can be determined. The camouflage schemes of the Spitfires flown off the island varied quite a bit. Initially the most suitable color was considered the Dark Mediterranean Blue but due to the shortage of this paint there were aircraft painted in different shades of blue. The lighter shade, Light Mediterranean Blue, originally intended for the biplanes, was also used, then the naval Extra Dark Sea Grey, American Blue Gray M485 and various colors from the ships‘ stocks, initially not intended to be applied on the airplanes. Spitfires from the later deliveries mostly received the “Malta” camouflage either at Gibraltar before embarking or immediately upon their arrival on the island. The quality of the paint application was rather inferior to the factory finish. The coat of paint sometimes fully covered the original paint work, in other cases it was rather thin, and the original coloration showed through so the new coating was more of the blue filter rather than fully covering coat of paint.
March 7, 1942
Spitfires that reached Malta, and the first ones deployed outside of Britain,
took off on March 7 off the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. During the
operation code-named Spotter fifteen Spitfires Mk.Vb were dispatched carrying
340 l (90 gal) drop tanks which enabled them to extend their range for more
than 1,000 km (650 miles) long flight to Malta. All fifteen Spitfires safely
landed at Ta Kali airfield. No. 249 Squadron was the first to receive the new
Spitfires and three days later, on March 10, it flew its first combat missions
against the Ju 88 formation escorted by Bf 109.
March 21, 1942
Two weeks later another nine Spitfires Mk.Vb reached Malta in the same manner. Spitfires arriving in Malta during the operations Spotter and Picket were camouflaged in the standard desert scheme of Dark Earth and Middle Stone on the upper surfaces, the lower surfaces were painted in either Sky or Azure Blue. The lower surfaces color depended on the factory: the aircraft manufactured at Supermarine had Sky, those completed at Aircraft Servicing Units (ASU) had the lower surfaces in Azure Blue. Upon the arrival in Malta the Middle Stone patterns were overpainted in a grey color which is said to have been a mixture of various shades. The exact color of this mixture remains unknown, but it’s believed it was very similar to Extra Dark Sea Grey.
March 29, 1942
Operation Picket II
The rather strong contrast of the desert camouflage colors did not seem the best scheme for flying over the sea. Therefore, before embarking on the aircraft carrier at Gibraltar, the third batch of seven Spitfires Mk.Vb had their upper surfaces overpainted in the dark grey-blue color, probably Extra Dark Sea Grey.
April 20, 1942
The oldest document promulgating the requirement for
the new camouflage for the Spitfires delivered to Malta was the supplement Nr.
1 to M.E. Air Movement Instruction No. 1 dated March 30, 1942. It stated that
the Spitfires destined for Malta were to be camouflaged in the new scheme of
Dark Mediterranean Blue on the upper surfaces and Sky Blue on the lower
surfaces. At the same time, the No. 601 and No. 603 Squadrons personnel in Great
Britain was getting ready to be dispatched to Malta with the full complement of
47 new Spitfires Mk.Vc (including reserves). These aircraft were to be painted
in the new Malta camouflage but upon relaying the instructions they were simplified
to the “sea camouflage“ which was, logically anticipated as the camouflage
applicable to the Fleet Air Arm aircraft and the aircraft were painted in that
way at the factory. Once this mistake was noticed at Gibraltar the stocks of
Dark Mediterranean Blue and Sky Blue were loaded together with the aircraft.
The supplies however were sufficient for repainting only the portion of the
aircraft to be delivered. Out of forty seven Spitfires on board of USS Wasp
during the Operation Calendar twenty seven were camouflaged at ASU with Royal
Navy colors, the remaining twenty were repainted with new “Malta” colors of
Dark Mediterranean Blue and Sky Blue. The Spitfires on board received markings
in white numerals 1 and 2 and a code lettter.
May 9, 1942
For years, based on the archive
photographs, it was speculated what color was applied to Spitfires Mk.Vc
transported on board of the USS Wasp carrier during the Operation Bowery.
Photographic evidence from the embarking of the Spitfires confirms both the
desert camouflage in Dark Earth, Middle Stone, Azure Blue or Sky and the Navy
camouflage in Extra Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey and Sky. According to the
veterans’ recollections most of the Spitfires were repainted on board in some
kind of blue or blue-grey color. The application of the USN colors seems the
most probable. Those are M-485 Non-Specular Blue Gray, applied to the upper
surfaces of the twelve F4F Wildcats assigned to the USS Wasp (CV-7) CAP duties,
and Deck Blue 20-B color applied to the exterior steel deck as a part of the
aircraft carrier camouflage scheme.
There is a third option: both colors, M-485 Non-Specular Blue Gray and Deck Blue 20-B could have been applied to maintain the upper surfaces camouflage pattern on some Spitfires. In that manner the two-tone blue-grey camouflage scheme would have been consistent with the scheme on the upper surfaces of the aircraft operating on Malta at that time. The lower surfaces color remained the standard shade of Azure Blue or Sky. 46 Spitfires aboard USS Wasp and 18 aboard HMS Eagle were marked in the same way as the Spitfires from the Operation Calendar. The white numerals 3 or 4 on one side of the cockade and the code letter on the other one.
An interesting event worth mentioning occurred during the Operation Bowery when the Spitfires took off from the USS Wasp. After the take off in his Spitfire BR126 X-3, the Canadian pilot, P/O Jerrold Alpine “Jerry” Smith found out that his drop tank was inoperable, and he was not able to reach the airfield on Malta. He jettisoned his tank and received order to bail out of his Spitfire. Instead Jerry inquired about the attempt to save the aircraft by landing it on the aircraft carrier deck. After the captain approved, he indeed tried to do it. His first approach was too high and too fast however his second attempt was successful and he safely landed his Spitfire and stopped mere six feet from the end of the flight deck. He managed, as the first in the world, to land a Spitfire on the aircraft carrier and even without an arresting hook! For his deed P/O “Jerry” Smith was unofficially awarded the American Navy Wings from the flight deck officer David McCampbell, the future most successful USN fighter pilot who, as a LSO (Landing Signal Officer) directed the whole operation.
May 19, 1942
Even though no known photographs of seventeen Spitfires Mk.Vc flying during the Operation LB came to light it is assumed, that they were repainted at Gibraltar in Dark Mediterranean Blue on the upper surfaces and probably the Azure Blue on the lower surfaces was also repainted with Sky Blue color. Thanks to the pilots’ logbooks we know that these Spitfires were marked with the code letter C in front of the fuselage cockade and two-digit numeral behind it. For example, Spitfire BR107, delivered during the Operation LB, was coded C-22 while BR108 carried the code C-20 and BR175 was marked C-51.
June 3, 1043
Spitfires Mk.Vc were embarked on the HMS Eagle deck for the Operation Style. Of
them, 27 reached Malta. Many surviving photographs of Spitfire BR305, which was
delivered during the Operation Style, show that it had been finished in the
Dark Mediterranean Blue/Sky Blue.
June 9, 1942
the last operation during which the Spitfires camouflaged in Dark Mediterranean
Blue and Sky Blue were delivered. In total 32 Spitfires Mk.Vc were delivered
during the June. After that, the air command on Malta (AHQ Malta) requested the
change in the coloration to be applied to the newly delivered Spitfires.
July 15, 1942
It is not exactly clear why the AHQ Malta decided to change their camouflage requirements from a single blue color on the upper surfaces to the two colors pattern which included the lighter blue color shade. It might have somehow been related to the appearance of some Spitfires delivered during the Operation Bowery which carried two tone blue-gray scheme on the upper surfaces. The new camouflage scheme, required by the AHQ Malta as of June 1942, resulted in the adoption of two colors pattern for the upper surfaces: Deep Sky Blue and Dark Slate Grey. Light Mediterranean Blue was to be applied on the lower surfaces. Based on the surviving photographs it is quite probable that some of eight Spitfires Mk.Vc and 24 Spitfires Mk.Vb participating in the Operation Pinpoint could have been camouflaged in these new colors.
July 21, 1942
Surviving photographs of three Spitfires Mk.Vc and 27 Spitfires Mk.Vb, which are confirmed to have been delivered during the Operation Insect, support the fact that they could have been finished in the Malta scheme of Deep Sky and Dark Slate Grey camouflage.
August 11, 1942
Operation Bellows was the third mission during which
the Spitfires were transported from the United Kingdom directly to Malta,
bypassing Gibraltar. The operation was an integral part of the convoy Pedestal,
the famous mission to supply Malta. On August 11, 38 Spitfires Mk.Vb took off
off the HMS Furious flight deck. All of them, except one, which was forced to
make an emergency landing on HMS Indomitable, reached Malta safely. Typically
for Spitfires destined for Malta, the coloration of the aircraft participating
in the Operation Bellows is questionable. Most of the airplanes were finished
in the desert scheme with Azure Blue on the lower surfaces, a part of them
however received the naval camouflaged in Extra Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey
and Sky. The photographs of Spitfires delivered to Malta during the Operation
Bellows confirms repainting of the “desert” upper surfaces in the workshops of
the local Maintenance Command. It is highly probable that the upper surfaces
repainting was done with only one shade of Deep Sky or Extra Dark Sea Grey or
the new standard camouflage scheme in Deep Sky and Dark Slate Grey was applied.
August 17, 1942
HMS Furious returned to Gibraltar from her latest
mission on August 12 and immediately embarked two Hurricanes and 32 Spitfires.
On August 16, she set sail again and a day later 32 Spitfires took off from her
flight deck, 14 of them in version Vc and 18 in version Vb. Twenty-nine of them
managed to reach Malta shores. According to the period pictures the camouflage
of these Spitfire varied from the new scheme of Deep Sky and Dark Slate Grey to
the upper surfaces finished in Dark Mediterranean Blue.
October 30, 1942
The aircraft loaded on the decks of the OG.85 convoy ships were originally destined for the Operation Torch (the Allied landing in the North Africa). With the General Eisenhower approval, however, 44 Spitfires were diverted to Malta (32 in Mk.Vb on board of HMS Furious while 12 aircraft in the version Mk.Vc flew directly from Gibraltar). Operation Train was the last mission to reinforce Malta with Spitfires flying off the aircraft carrier. These were finished in the standard camouflage scheme of Deep Sky and Dark Slate Grey on the upper surfaces and Light Mediterranean Blue on the lower surfaces.
Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 082 –
Malta Spitfire Aces
Air Marshal Sir Keith Park: Victor
of the Battle of Britain, Defender
of Malta – Murray Rowlands
Sniper of the Skies: The Story of George Frederick “Screwball” Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM – Nick Thomas
Scale Aviation Modeller; May 21;
A Malta Story Reprised – The Malta Spitfires of 1942 by Paul Lucas
Scale Aviation Modeller; Nov 18;
A Malta Story concluded – The Malta Spitfires November 1942 – July 1943
by Paul Lucas
Scale Aviation Modeller; Oct 18;
A Malta Story concluded – The Malta Spitfires June – October 1942;
by Paul Lucas
Scale Aviation Modeller; Sep 17;
A Malta Story Continued – Colloquial Camouflage Malta Spitfires delivered
via Gibraltar 18 May to 17 August 1942
by Paul Lucas
Scale Aviation Modeller; Aug 17;
A Malta Story Continued – Operations Oppidan, Hansford and Bowery. USS Wasp’s Second Spitfire Delivery to Malta 24 April to 9 May 1942 by Paul Lucas
Scale Aviation Modeller; Jan 16;
A Malta Story – Spitfire Vc’s of Operation Newman & Calendar 13–20 April 1942 (Part 2) by Paul Lucas
Scale Aviation Modeller; Dec 15;
A Malta Story – Spitfire Vc‘s of Operation Newman & Calendar 13–20 April 1942 (Part 1) by Paul Lucas
Malta Spitfire Vs – 1942: Their Colours and Markings by Brian Cauchi