(13) Operation Bodenplatte

Color profiles: Janusz Światłoń, Arkadiusz Wróbe, captions: Marek J. Murawski, Tomasz Szlagor
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The Luftwaffe
Towards the end of 1944 Adolf Hitler undertook his last attempt to change the course of the war, launching a counteroffensive in the Ardennes. The German land forces were to enjoy a powerful air support. At dawn of 1st January 1945 the Luftwaffe carried out a surprise attack against allied tactical air force units stationed at advanced airfields in western Europe. The operation code-named ‘Bodenplatte’ saw involvement of over 900 German aircraft. But numbers could not make up of the inexperience of most pilots, who either had difficulty locating their assigned targets or were not trained to make a successful strafing attack. Worse still, ill-informed Flak gunners exacted a heavy toll on German fighters passing above them. The Allies’ overall losses amounted to some 350 aircraft destroyed and a further 220 damaged. The cost of the operation for the Luftwaffe was 280 aircraft and 214 pilots. It was a mortal blow for the German air force, which failed to recuperate from such crippling losses before the cessation of hostilities.
The German fighters which participated in the Operation Bodenplatte were camouflaged in painting schemes complying with a document known as Sammelmitteilung No 2, issued by the OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe) to aircraft factories and repair centres on 15th August 1944. The document included an order to discontinue the use of RLM 74 Graugrün. That paint, once its stocks would have been used up, was to be replaced by a new colour designated RLM 83 Dunkelgrün (Dark Green). The latter was a dark tinge of green, which offered a sharper contrast than the hitherto used RLM 74. With some manufacturers, however, the ‘old’ stocked paint continued to be in use for months to follow.
Some aircraft still carried the older camouflage patterns specified in the November 1941 issue of Luftwaffen Dienstvorschrift (L.Dv.) 521/1. These were combinations of RLM 74 Graugrün (Grey-Green), RLM 75 Grauviolett (Grey-Violet) and RLM 76 Lichtblau (Light Blue). The two shades of grey provided segmented camouflage for wings, tailplanes and fuselage decking, whilst the light RLM 76 covered undersurfaces, as well as fuselage and tailfin sides. The prescribed pattern of segments was detailed in factory instructions. This basic camouflage was supplemented by mottling fuselage and tailfin sides with RLM 74 Graugrün (Grey-Green), RLM 75 Grauviolett (Grey-Violet) and RLM 02 Grau (Grey). Those three colours were used all together or in combinations of two at a time. At times RLM 74 Graugrün was replaced by RLM 70 Schwarzgrün, which was also used for painting propeller blades and spinners. This painting scheme can be found on Messerschmitt Bf 109 Gs, Focke-Wulf Fw 190 As and early Ds, as well as on Messerschmitt Me 262s of early production runs.
The closing period of war (starting with late 1944), during which the Germans struggled with deteriorating supply and economic conditions, witnessed a great variety of individual camouflage styles. Some Messerschmitt Bf 109 Gs produced by the Erla plant were painted only with a single colour, RLM 83 Dunkelgrün or RLM 81 Braunviolett (Brown-Violet), on the sides and upper surfaces.
Messerschmitt Bf 109 K-4s were as a rule camouflaged in RLM 81 Braunviolett and RLM 82 Hellgrün on the upper surfaces, and RLM 76 Lichtblau on fuselage sides and bottom surfaces. A similar camouflage was applied to Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-8s and A-9s as well as F-8s. Most Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Ds substantially varied in undersurface camouflaging. Depending on a manufacturer, there were at least 15 variations, ranging from an overall coat of RLM 76 Lichtblau, through partial natural metal finish in the centre section, to covering front section with RLM 81 Braunviolett.
National insignia were painted in RLM 21 Weiß (White) and RLM 22 Schwarz (Black). Balkenkreuze on the upper wings and fuselage sides were usually applied in a simplified, outline style. The outlines were in white, and in case of fuselage crosses they were often filled in with RLM 74 Graugrün, or later with RLM 83 Dunkelgrün.

The Allies
The New Year’s attack was directed against a formidable contingent of the combined RAF and USAAF tactical air forces – mostly fighters and fighter-bombers. Stationed at 11 forward airfields in Belgium, five in Netherlands and one in France were units of British 2nd TAF and American 9th AF. The former included No 83 Group with eight Wings (which comprised 14 squadrons of Spitfires, 11 of Typhoons and five of Tempests), and No 84 Group with six Wings (with a further 22 squadrons on strength, mostly Spitfires and Typhoons). There was also No 2 Group with one Wing of Mitchell medium bombers and a Recce Wing flying Spitfires, Mosquitos, and Wellingtons. The Americans had ten Fighter Groups (nine of P-47 Thunderbolts, and one of P-51 Mustangs, the latter on detached service from 8th AF) and one Recce Group flying F-5 Lightnings.