Book Review
Real Colors of WWII
Real Colors of WWII
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by: Rick Cooper [ CLOVIS899 ]


The 208-page hardcover book is divided into 6 sections, a prologue, a bibliography, and one section each for German, Soviet, British, and American colors and camouflage of WWII. However, the reality is that the prologue and the bibliography only take up a single page each leaving 206 pages of information about the four nations color and camouflage.


The book reproduces all the colors to within a tolerance of plus or minus 4%, it also includes a separate card of 67 color chips that I assume are reproduced to the same standard. The prologue is a short two paragraph section that lays out the purpose of the book while the bibliography of one page is filled with a veritable who’s who of experts in the field as well as a modeler’s bucket list of museums to visit at least once. The meat of the book however are the four sections written by the four experts, allow me to give you a brief run down on each of the four main sections.

German section Written by Jurgen Kiroff; 99 pages.
7 sub-sections
• Introduction
• RAL System and RAL Color Cards
• Chronology of Colors Used by the German Army
• Original Color Parts
• Color Photography Taken During WWII
• Analysis and Study of Colors Using Original Paint Samples
The German section also includes;
12 full color photos from WWII
14 black and white contemporaneous photos
20 full color profiles of different German Vehicles
33 full color photos of original RAL Color Cards
16 full color photos of other contemporaneous German Army documents, memos, charts, and supplementary paint chip cards, many with full English translations.
Over 100 modern color photos of original parts

The German section is virtually half the book all on its own. This is understandable considering the constantly shifting priorities and the progression of the German understanding of color and concealment.

This section is absolutely jammed with information regarding the evolution of the different systems of colors and the regulations regarding their employment of such. Indeed, the information is so well researched and deep that at times it feels as if Kiroff has written a graduate treatise on German colors and camouflage without the modeler in mind at all. This is not to say that the information Kiroff has included is inaccessible to the average modeler. On the contrary, when you are finished with this section you will have a much greater understanding of how the German system developed during WWII as well as stronger feel for what is, or is not, “correct” when painting any model.

There is much to like in this section, so much in fact that it is hard to pick a favorite. But, if I were forced I think I really appreciated the incredibly clear photography of the original color parts. It’s enlightening to see the myriad numbers of different shades of RAL 7028 Dunkelgelb as well as the few completely non-standardized paint jobs; my favorite was the Kriegsmarine helmet recovered in North Africa in a patchwork of RAL 8020 Braun and a garish green that looked like it had been painted by a counter-culture hippie on his way to Woodstock.

Soviet section Written by Przemyslaw Skulski; 14 pages
4 sub-sections
• Introduction
• Camouflage of the Red Army Military Vehicles
• Description of the Particular Paints
• Original Color Parts and Color Pictures
The Soviet section also includes;
14 color photos from the WWII era
12 black and white contemporaneous photos
3 full color profiles
2 official color cards with translation
7 modern color photos of original parts
The Soviet section is, as you might have guessed, quite a bit smaller than the German section of the book. Nevertheless, Skulski packs it with useful information. While it was true that most Soviet equipment was painted in Protective 4BO Green the Soviet military still went through an evolutionary process that brought them to the point that 4BO became nearly ubiquitous. Skulski points out that the Soviets developed two base colors, 4BO and Dark Brown or Black and then supplemented them with another color, 7K Sand, which formed the basis of their tricolor color camouflage schemes. These schemes differed depending on which military region a vehicle served in. However, Skulski does emphasize that it is worth noting that even with all that the overall bedrock of Soviet colors was some shade or another of green.

Of course, no discussion of Soviet WWII vehicles paints and colors would be complete without at least some mention of winter camouflage. Skulski doesn’t disappoint with a full-page discussion as well as several of the photos devoted to winter camouflage.

British section Written by Mike Starmer; 23 pages
4 sub-sections
• Introduction
• The Color Standard (with 17 sub-sections of its own!)
• General Order from 1942 & the Post Alamein Period
• Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy
The British section also includes;
8 contemporaneous photos from WWII
15 full color profiles
7 graphics with outline how different vehicles and classes of vehicles were to be painted
41 re-produced color chips

Mike Starmer has really outdone himself with the section on British vehicles. His approach is a bit different than his two predecessors; he has really written his area with the modeler in mind. It is packed with color profiles that help the reader gain an understanding of how BEF vehicles looked while operating in different locations. Of course, he has a section on the always popular Caunter scheme, the striking Malta pattern and the elusive color BSC No. 28 Silver Grey which Starmer claims is often incorrect in both artwork and kit instructions. I really liked this section of the book as the author has done a fabulous job pointing out the different schemes in different theatres and areas of operation with ample illustrations to help visualize how they look. However, I was left wishing there had been more information on colors and camouflage during operations in NW Europe from Normandy until the end of the war. I was also puzzled by the assertion that no ‘Bronze Greens’ were used in WWII when it also notes on the next page that some vehicles went to France in their pre-war Bronze Green No. 24. This same contradiction appears a couple pages later but perhaps I am misunderstanding Starmer’s information.

American section Written by Steven Zaloga; 53 pages
• Introduction
• History of Olive Drab Color
• US Army Disruptive Camouflage Paint for Tanks
• 1944 Field Manuel FM 5-20B Camouflage of Vehicles
• Disruptive Camouflage Painting of US Army & USMC in the Pacific
The US section also includes:
6 Full color photos from WWII
Over 60 contemporaneous black and white photos
11 full color profiles
Numerous graphics and documents showing proper camouflage and concealment regulations
14 Color chips

The American section of the book is written by Steven Zaloga, arguably the most well known of the four experts that AK has gathered for this publication. He starts with a short history of Olive Drab which probably could have germinated into a book of its own had the publisher or Zaloga desired. As it is, it provides a fascinating background with Olive Drab pre-dating motorized vehicles in the US Army. The author also tries to clear up some of the confusion of the different Olive Drab’s in use with the different branches of the Army as well as the different designations for the same color. I can’t say that you will be an expert when you finish reading but you should have a somewhat clearer understanding of the nuances involved with Olive Drab.

The US section also includes information regarding the somewhat gaudy camouflage patterns floated about during the early years of the war as well as several photos that document the same. The book points out that by the Normandy landings most US vehicles were in overall flat Olive Drab but that some changes did occur at the Army level or above resulting in some of the camouflage patterns that appeared in Europe.

One interesting thing that is included is the 1944 FM on vehicle camouflage. I am not sure if what is included is the entire manual or just excerpts? I am guessing it is not the entire FM but I could be wrong about that. At any rate, it provides some first-rate information on how to plan out the use of natural foliage, netting, dispersion, shadows, and even a track plan among other pieces of useful information. While I probably will not need to worry about siting or a track plan any time soon there is a good bit of material included that can be of great interest to modelers. Perhaps the best part of this section is the large number of photos and graphics that help to illustrate the ideas and concepts.

The section ends with a short sub-section on the Army and Marine Corps in the Pacific theatre. It does include a few nice photos including “Tokyo Express” an USMC M4A3 with the three-color disruptive camouflage as well as several different forms of add-on armor and protection from sapper attacks. I did feel like this section was altogether to short; sequel anyone?


Either go buy this book immediately or put it on the top of your Christmas list if you still have time. It is beautifully printed with nearly every photo in crystal clear focus, the color plates and illustrations are top notch and the documentation provided is illuminating. The collection of original parts is a treasure trove of information for modelers. The photos from the book here to the right are just a sample of the variety and depth of information this contains.

If you would like to see more of what is inside here is a link to Jim's recent episode of "Turning the Page" which highlighted the book. (I'm a bit jealous that he got a signed copy!)

There are a few quirks with the book; I didn’t really like the odd spiral bound graphic that appears on 15-20% of the pages, I didn’t feel that it added anything and was a distraction. I thought that the book shortchanged some areas, particularly the Pacific Theatre, but also the Allied forces in Europe after the Normandy landings. Perhaps another volume is forthcoming that will address that as well as French, Italian, and other nations forces that employed unique colors and camouflage.

My final thought has to do with product placement. We are all familiar with the modeler magazines and how-to books that are often little more than long form advertisements for a line of products. I really thought I would find the same with this book as AK is, at its core, a company that manufactures and sells paint and weathering products for scale modelling. However, nothing could be farther from the truth with this book as you will not find a single reference to ANY AK product throughout the publication. It may even go a bit to far; even the color chips that are provided in the book or on the separate card do not include the call outs for the new Real Color paint line which I assume was the main impetus towards it publication. I think that if AK had included the corresponding Real Color paint reference number at least on the color chip card no one would have blamed them for that small bit of marketing!
Highs: Collaboration of the 4 experts in their respective fields. High quality and variety of photographic material and graphic content. High quality publication values ensure this well made book can last a lifetime.
Lows: Some areas of interest to modelers don't receive as much attention. No coordination with the new Real Colors paint lines.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Remember, this is a limited edition that will not be available forever; so if you are interested in WWII go get one sooner rather than later.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: AK187
  PUBLISHED: Dec 20, 2017

Our Thanks to AK Interactive!
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About Rick Cooper (clovis899)

I have been modeling for about 30 years now. Once upon a time in another century I owned my own hobby shop; way more work than it was worth. I tip my opti-visor to those who make a real living at it. Mainly build armor these days but I keep working at figures, planes and the occasional ship.

Copyright ©2021 text by Rick Cooper [ CLOVIS899 ]. All rights reserved.


How expensive is it ?
DEC 19, 2017 - 06:32 PM
It seems to run from $70-$90 U.S. depending on your source.
DEC 20, 2017 - 12:06 AM
Ouch, though it does seem authoritative as a reference piece. Going to have to keep my eyes open for a copy. Autographing optional.
DEC 20, 2017 - 05:07 AM
Carlos, I don't disagree. It might have been better marketed as a series or at least and Axis/Allies thing.
DEC 20, 2017 - 06:13 AM
Ive always found them to be expensive !!
DEC 20, 2017 - 03:07 PM
Hi Rick ,i'll direct you to so comments about the British section made by the man himself .Its part of a dicussion on the Ak colors and book LINK . I have the book and to fair i agree with your comments about the production values totally its very well put together. How ever i personally found the Britsh and soviet sections very brief and the american section was also very brief and covered stuff like how to hide tanks in trees and other of topic subjects and it did not go into a lot of info on application ,patterns ect .I found the book to be a good buy and worth while but it is certainly not going to any where near the final answer to camouflage of the major powers of WW2. Its one of subjects that could have been done in 4 seperate books and with fair more detail. Have fun Wayne
DEC 23, 2017 - 06:16 PM
Mike’s comments are interesting. It rather begs the question of why hire subject matter experts if you are going to edit out half of what they contribute, presumably without prior consultation. Is his experience mirrored across the other contributors? Of course it’s worth bearing in mind that the purpose of the company is to sell paint rather than publish the best research so maybe we should not be too surprised when something like this happens. It is obviously fine to be in the business of selling paint or indeed anything else that is legal but it is perhaps wise to consider such motivations when assessing the work of such companies when it is other than in the actual field of paint manufacturing.
DEC 23, 2017 - 08:13 PM
Wayne and Robert, Thank you for your replies, I enjoy when these types of conversations can develop. Wayne, thanks for adding the link, I don't follow the 1/48th world, something that I am clearly remiss about. That is some VERY interesting information. It does explain why Mike's section seem so truncated. I would be curious to hear some of the rational on the changes that ensued. I'm also curious which two of the illustrations are the egregious ones (the 3-D illustrations?). Robert, I understand what you are saying but I would disagree with your general premise (only in the spirit of discussion!). In fact it was the one thing what I found most odd about the book. It never, and I mean NEVER, tried to sell any of the new (or the old for that matter) Real Color line throughout the entire book. Other than Mike, I don't recall any of the other writers mentioning models or modelling at all. The book never references the new line at all, not even on the separate card of color chips. I know if it where my paint line I would have always added in the reference numbers for my new line, seems to only make sense. Hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday Season and a Merry Christmas!! Cheers, Rick P.S. Wayne, I hope this isn't the final word, what would be the fun in that? Don't know any historical question that has ever reached any final answer
DEC 24, 2017 - 03:08 AM
Hi Rick, Robert does in deeded have a a good point about marketing and this book just like Mig's Panzer DNA is a tool to get more paints sales. The thing that gets me is they have sample cards for the paint so they have the correct info yet in the case of the British stuff according to Mike in the above link only one out of seven is close. So how do they manage to get it not right?? . And as for using these knowable people to give their invaluable knowledge and then to just cherry pick bits of it and give us the impression that this is the best info going is some what misleading or a cynical but very deliberate stratgey to keeps us holding out for the next installment that will answer the missing sections . There may be publishing reasons/ cost considerations for each section to be taken into account but again i'm sure we would all be happier to pay a bit more for the whole story. Again thought it comes back to the whole thing of doing it right first time. How many paint sets are there out there that have claims to well researched and yet the end product is no where near the real thing, AK's original DAK set is a classic example that set is miles away from even being in the ball park. And then there seems to be a trend towards artistic impression of the color rather than accurate interpretation. What we really need and these guy's tried to do but came up short IMHO is a book done like the old monogram Luftwaffe painting guide that was a better way of doing it. Have fun Wayne.
DEC 25, 2017 - 12:48 AM

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