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Correct tail red-white-blue on British RAF planes?

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I tried to figure out what's correct, red up first or blue, on the plane tail of a RAF crate:

Most historic (WW1) pictures i saw are only black and white, and this is what confused me now:



From the archives of IL2:




0r this: (a skin not finished yet):


Halberstadt RAF v6.jpg


One i did before:


- RAF Ju52.jpg

Edited by jollyjack
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3 hours ago, AndyJWest said:

Like it says on Quora - the RFC/RAF fin flash was red at the front of the fin, blue at the back.


So the top skin piccy above is wrong then?

Edited by jollyjack
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Actually, looking into this further, I seem to have got this wrong. Most colour depictions of WWI RFC aircraft, and paint schemes of modern replicas, seem to have it the other way, and the red-white-blue ordering may have come a lot later. Wikipedia suggests that it may have been as late as mid 1940. 


Apologies for the misleading answer. 

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Now if there are some colored pictures from WW1 on that, or some RAF museum with ww1 planes ...

here's the Blue upfront: https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/collections/avro-504k/


and the there's this Sopwith:




from the the same source:




Now i also wonder they made up their mind about a right or left sided drivers position in WW1.... at least in France the trains still keep to the left.


Edited by jollyjack
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2 hours ago, jollyjack said:


So the top skin piccy above is wrong then?


No - as a rule of thumb the WW1 colours were on the rudder, not the fin, and usually blue on the front, like the froggies. Between the wars they usually stopped painting colours on the rudder, then later (start of WW2) they started adding the colours to the fin, red at the front as the standard. 


You can always find the odd case that looks different, or a B&W photo that is a bit ambiguous. You have to compare the grey shades with the roundel, where the red is always at the centre. There are some monochrome pics of Fairey Battles that look as though they might have had blue at the front, but I think this is just an artifact. There are photos of the same aircraft, QT-D, where the front stripe on the fin seems to match the blue on the roundel - but another of the same aircraft where the front is the same grey as the red bulls eye.   


 Some planes may have been marked up in the field rather than at the factory in the early days and had irregular tail markings, but if you go blue at the front for FC planes and red at the front for everything WW2 you will almost certainly be right.


edit: You should just ignore the "Red Devil": it was a privately owned aircraft not a service aircraft, he could paint it whatever he liked: and who knows if the restorers have kept it's original scheme anyway.

Edited by unreasonable
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Yeah, the stripes disappeared some time between the wars. Possibly because nobody knew if we'd be fighting with the French, or fighting with the French*, come the next one. From Wikipedia:


In an attempt to conform to the appearance of French military aircraft, rudder stripes reappeared on aircraft (mainly Fairey Battles and Hawker Hurricanes) of the RAF based in France, starting in early September 1939. These stripes were painted in standard RAF colours in the order blue, white, red.



The reversed order seems to have come soon after. That's Wikipedia though, and doesn't cite a source, so probably shouldn't be taken as gospel. Or as anything other than something wot some bloke wrote. 


* Isn't the English language wonderful?


Edited by AndyJWest
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I would not be surprised if the author has seen something like this and concluded that the blue is at the front:




And not noticed another picture of the same plane...




Without some original source or colour photo my money is on the red at the front.  



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It depends on the film used. Different film/photopaper have different reactions for the same exposure, hence they display color brightness differently. I suppose this picture was taken by an Agfa fim (and process). The deviations in color levels is known and a feature of those "analog film plugins" for image editing software. What you can do is take a color image from such an aircraft and process it to Agfa black&white and see the brighness levels for each color level. Also, the second picture is taken later on in the evening. You can see the sun is getting low, changing white balance of the scene. This can impact the picture as well. Also, we do not know if the two pictures were taken by the same photocamera. As many hours passed in between the shots, I don't think so. If one of the two shots was done by using a yellow filter, then again you cange color levels.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi All,

Originally posted by Don Clarke over on the RAF command forum back in 2005.

In Robertson's Bombing Colours: British Bomber Camouflage and Markings 1914-1937, he summarises the chronology of RAF "official instructions" (presumably AMOs) in Appendix VI:

"May 16 1915 Rudder striping with blue leading from the rudder post, red trailing and white in between adopted for all British aircraft


July 15 1930: RAF notified that the colours of rudder striping on aircraft was to be in the reverse order, ie, red leading from the rudder post with blue trailing. This change was to effect a distinction between French and British aircraft.


September 29 1930: Contractors were instructed to effect the rudder striping change on aircraft delivered from this date.


October 31 1930: Rudder striping changes had to be effected by this date.


August 1 1934: Rudder striping discontinued and roundels reduced in size so that they did not overlap into ailerons. Object overall was to remove over-painting on control surfaces.


February 1 1936: Grenade form approved as the standard outline frame for bomber squadron badges marked on aircraft.


August 1 1937: Camouflage introduced for all operational aircraft on production."


Aircraft produced under this 1937 instruction carried no fin flash, and the lack of flash seems to have continued, in the ME at least, until late 1939.


British Aviation Colours of World War Two: The Official Camouflage, Colours and Markings of RAF Aircraft 1939-1945 (RAF Museum Series Vol 3 ) begins with AMO A.154/39, and unless my copy is missing a page, makes no mention of the fin flash at all.


The first mention of the fin flash is in AMO A.926/40 of 12 Dec 1940:

"Section II, par 9(iii) Fin markings

Vertical red, white and blue stripes (with red stripe leading). These stripes are to be 8in wide and 27in high forming a rectangle of 27in by 24in or an area conforming to this as nearly as the size and shape of the fin permits. The marking is to be placed on the fin against the hinge post immediately above the tailplane."


However, it is apparent that by late 1939, fin flashes were already in use. The earliest photo of a 211 Squadron Blenheim with fin flash already wears the new UQ code and must be Sep 39 or later. The form of flash varied markedly through 1939 and 1940. This may have led to another AMO on markings of earlier 1940 date which may have addressed flashes: A.540, however, I've never seen a text of it and it is absent from Vol 3 above (the ref no seems not quite right, too).


On dates, whatever date the orders were promulgated or to be executed, their actual application in service would vary according to local circumstance, the more so overseas.


While Goulding and Moyes (RAF Bomber Command and its Aircraft 1936-1940) have nothing further to say on flashes other than noting variations in the field in 1940, it may be useful to see also: "Britain Alone, The camouflage and Markings of British Military Aircraft June 1940 - December 1941" by Paul Lucas (although the partial copy I have, thanks to Ken Krag, does not discuss flashes).

regards Rob.

PS I painted the Camel in the top photo of the original post :) 

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Well, especially after the last pot i now am really confused .... i'll give up skinning any RAF, RoF, Riff, whatever plane's tails. Or go for pink yellow green instead.

PS i wonder about the Hurricane skin tailoring that probably will come by the bucket load after Jason released the template.

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No need for confusion:  for WW1 = on rudder, blue at the front. For WW2 = on vertical stabiliser, red at the front.


The Hurricane has a tiny problem just now that some of the skins have blue at the front on one side and red at the front on the other. I am sure they will be fixed pronto.






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