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Military Vehicle Camouflage

Camouflage marking of vehicles is a very popular subject. Many people who have privately owned military vehicles choose to paint them with a camo pattern, even if it is not authentic for the time period of the vehicle. For example, the popular Woodland Camo pattern was not in use until 1975 but its not hard to find M-37 trucks from the 1950s and 1960s painted with that camouflage pattern.

Military vehicle camouflage pattern painting
Camouflage pattern painting.

Today in WW II: 24 Oct 1944 US 7th Fleet units block southern approaches to Leyte while 3rd Fleet aircraft attack Japanese task forces in the Sibuyan Sea [Center Force] and Sulu Sea [Southern Force].  More 
24 Oct 1944 Battle of Surigao Strait: last battleship vs battleship action in history; Japanese Navy Southern Force ambushed by US Navy 7th Fleet; heavy Japanese losses [Leyte, 24-25 Oct].
24 Oct 1945 United Nations organization officially comes into existence.
Visit the Olive-Drab.com World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

Painting Camouflage Patterns on Military Vehicles

The full story on camouflage painting of military vehicles is covered in several sections, each with its own Olive-Drab.com page:

General Information about Camouflage

Camouflage netting over artillery emplacement

Camouflage is the art of making military objects harder to see. In the past this was done by simple field expedients, such as the use of brush or earth berms to conceal a location such as a gun emplacement, encampment, or supply dump. After aircraft came into use, it was also necessary to change the appearance as seen by overhead observers, a need that now must consider how a site will took from a satellite. In the modern age there are also requirements to defeat the use of sophisticated sensors that look for infrared signatures or probe for other wavelengths that may reveal military equipment, personnel, or activity.

Camouflage netting augmented with local materials has long been used to conceal static positions, as in the photo, left, showing a howitzer position of the 2ID near Brest, 1944. In addition to camouflage of static positions with nets and brush, camouflage doctrine included efforts to conceal the tracks when vehicles were moved.

U.S. Military Vehicles Before 1975

Camouflaged M3 halftracks in a parade, 34th Division, Rabat, Morocco, 4 July 1943
Camouflaged M3 halftracks in a parade, 34th Division, Rabat, Morocco, 4 July 1943.

During World War II and after, until camouflage came into general use in 1975, U.S. vehicles were typically painted olive drab with blue drab or white markings. Several different shades of olive drab were used officially while un-officially vehicles were painted in local shops with whatever was available. The color specification for olive drab went through a number of changes over the years, explained in detail on the linked page.

Vehicles were selectively camouflaged with paint in World War II, according to FM 5-20B (April 1944) "Camouflage of Vehicles" which called for patterns composed of a light color and a dark color:

Black or olive drab have proved satisfactory dark colors in several theaters of operations. The light color is selected to match a light color typical of and predominant in the terrain in which the vehicle operates. White or light gray paint is applied to the undersurfaces of vehicles to cause them to reflect light, thus lightening the dark shadows of the undercarriage. This is called countershading.

Figures 38 to 40 of FM 5-20B were color plates showing vehicles painted olive drab with black (for temperate zones and jungle), olive drab with earth red (for desert terrain), and olive drab with white (for snow and trees).

4 Color vs. 3 Color Camouflage

127th Security Forces Squadron personnel with an M1043 HMMWV in 3-color camo at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, MI, 6 February 2002.   (7.62mm M60 machine gun mounted on the HMMWV)
127th Security Forces Squadron personnel with an M1043 HMMWV in 3-color camo at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, MI, 6 February 2002. (7.62mm M60 machine gun mounted on the HMMWV)

When camouflage for general use on vehicles was introduced in 1975, the patterns called for four colors. This type of pattern painting is described in U.S. Army publication TC 5-200: Training Circular, Camouflage Pattern Painting (August 1975), details on the linked page. The manual TB 43-0209 Color, Marking, and Camouflage Painting of Military Vehicles, Construction Equipment and Materials Handling Equipment (October 1976) contained patterns for all vehicles in military inventory at that time. The linked page provides patterns for some of the most popular vehicles. The four color patterns are sometimes called MERDC patterns, named for the Mobility Equipment Research and Design Command that designed them.

During the 1980s the NATO countries, including the United States, agreed on a new camouflage scheme for vehicles, one with three colors (HMMWV photo, above). The camouflage manuals were updated in 1988 and 1990 to reflect the new standard:

  • TB 43-0209 Color, Marking, and Camouflage Painting of Military Vehicles, Construction Equipment, and Materials Handling Equipment. 30 Oct 1990. Change 1, May 1991
  • TM 43-0139 Painting Instructions for Army Materiel (Oct 1988 with Changes 1-3)

The three color patterns are sometimes called NATO camo or CARC camo, the latter for the paint used, although CARC was also used for four color painting. NATO itself uses the term SCAPP: Standard Camouflage Pattern Painting, described in a North Atlantic Council document, Brussels, Feb 1993.

Camouflage Painting Resources

The November/December 1998 issue of Military Vehicles Magazine carries in-depth information on painting in general and camo pattern painting in particular along with tips on canvas care and maintenance. This issue will be a good reference to have on hand. David Doyle's Standard Catalog of U.S. Military Vehicles has extensive information on camouflage patterns and painting in Appendix 2.

Find additional photos and hi-res versions of military vehicle camouflage at the Olive-Drab Military Mashup:

Camouflaged troops repel attack on M3 half-track carrying an x-ray portable field unit in a simulated battle test, Mitchel Field, Long Island, NY, 1943. The x-ray unit is set up in battlefront areas in a specially constructed dark-room tent.  The halftrack could be M2 or M3.
Camouflaged VC-series Dodge trucks on a Pontoon Bridge, during 3rd Army vs. 2nd Army maneuvers, Louisiana, September 1941.
155mm Howitzer M1 under a camouflage net and snow, ETO, winter 1944-1945.
US Air Force vehicles with desert camouflage paint schemes await delivery to units deployed in the Persian Gulf region during Operation Desert Shield, August 1990
Camouflaged M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle at the Joint Readiness Training Center,  Fort Polk, LA.
Members of Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division from Camp Lejeune, NC, layout and camouflage an M101A1 105mm howitzer during Exercise Crisex 81, Garrucha, Spain, October 1981.

Camouflage Uniforms

The U.S. Army adopted the camouflage Battle Dress Uniform in 1981. Camouflage uniforms were also used in World War II by both the Army and the Marine Corps. Battle Dress Uniform camouflage patterns are described in detail on the linked page. The page has some good color illustrations of the various camo patterns used for different environments.

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