Grumman F4F and FM Wildcat & Martlet Color Schemes

To the Attack! by Lawrence

( "To The Attack!" by Lawrence Beall-Smith 1943)

    When the Wildcat entered service in late 1940 it was near the end of the United States Navy's pre-war colorful era era.  By the time it passed out of service in the immediate post-war era the standard color scheme carried by navy aircraft was overall Gloss Sea Blue.  Few other WWII era aircraft carried as many colors and the evolution of Wildcat camouflage is a good illustration of USN camouflage.

    On this page I will try to touch on every camouflage scheme used on the Grumman F4F Wildcat/Martlet.

F4F-3 and F4F-4 Wildcats

    The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat entered service in the last days of 1940, this was as the colorful era of Naval Aviation was coming to a close.  As delivered from the factory, the Wildcat was finished in painted aluminum with Yellow Orange upper wings, often referred to as "Chrome Yellow".  The yellow actually slightly wrapped around onto the lower wing.  Only two airwings received aircraft painted in this scheme before an overall light gray was substituted.  Those airwings were Airwing Four aboard the USS Ranger (VF-41 & VF-42) and Airwing Seven aboard the USS Wasp (VF-71 & VF-72).  The Ranger's aircraft  sported Willow Green tails and the Wasp's carried Black.  With this scheme the national insignia was on both sides of the fuselage and on the top and bottom of both wings.  The squadron, mission and aircraft number were carried on the fuselage as they had been for many years.  In the case of the F4F below that would be "41-F-7", which would translate to the number seven aircraft of VF-41.  This was also a section leader's aircraft, so the full cowl ring was painted in the section color as was the fuselage band.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat color scheme and markings for

    In late December, 1940 shipboard aircraft were ordered painted non-specular light gray.  This color would later become Light  Gray ANA 602 and under the FS595B standards the closest would be Light Gull Gray 36440.  Light gray was a "neutral" gray, meaning pure gray, while gull gray has a slight tan tint. There was some variation to the national emblem, but not as much as would come with the Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme that replaced the overall gray scheme.   Some aircraft carried a small insignia forward of the tail planes, while others had a larger one slightly forward of that position.  With this change the national insignia was reduced to four positions:  Both sides of the fuselage, the top left and bottom right wings.  The alpha-numeric codes were to remain for some time.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat
              color scheme and markings for VF-3

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat
              color scheme and markings VF-3

    In the summer of 1941 Blue Gray was painted over the upper surfaces, leaving the lower surfaces in Light Gray.  Blue Gray had no ANA number and seemed to vary in shade.  In most cases painting was done aboard ship resulting in some inconsistencies.  A good example would be the F4F-3 Wildcats delivered to VMF-211 on Wake Island.  Those aircraft were painted while aboard the USS Enterprise while she and the Saratoga were delivering them to Wake.  The Blue Gray was brought up short of the cowl ring, leaving the Light Gray all the way to the top.  They also retained the four position national emblems.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat color scheme and markings

    With the US's entry into WWII the fear of friendly fire was weighing heavily on every ones mind, so on December 23, 1941 it was decided to add further recognition features.  Those were the return to the six position insignia and to add thirteen stripes to the rudder; seven red and six white.  This was done in such haste that some aircraft only received six red and five white.  Some, like Thatch's F4F-3 had the balance portion of the rudder painted while others did not.  With the  return to the six position insignia the ones on the wings were enlarged, while many of the fuselage insignia remained in the location and size that had been in place with the overall gray aircraft.  The alpha-numeric codes also started to disappear to be replaced by only the aircraft number in Pacific based squadrons, though it would remain sporadically with Atlantic based units.  The aircraft number was usually carried somewhere on the aft fuselage and normally duplicated in smaller numbers some where on the forward cowl and the upper surface of the wing.

 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat color scheme and markings

 Almost immediately it was determined that this was not enough and on most Wildcats the size increased again, with VF-41's F4F-4s being a good example.

.Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

    VF-6 aboard the Enterprise took this to an extreme; enlarging the fuselage insignia and moving it forward and enlarging the wing insignia and moving it outboard.  Upon occasion the former insignia would protrude from underneath the new. 

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat color scheme and markings

    All of the above changes were made in haste and carried out as operations permitted.  On item of concern was the red dot inside the star  appeared to be a Japanese Hinomaru to some pilots  resulting in Allied pilots mistaking American planes for Japanese.  The rudder stripes were also felt to compromise an otherwise good camouflage scheme, so on May 6, 1942 the red "dot" and rudder stripes were dispensed with.  (This was too late for the aircraft aboard the Yorktown and Lexington, so the airwings aboard those carriers still had the "dot" and rudder stripes during the Battle of Coral Sea.) The six position  insignia was to remain.  Some aircraft showed obvious signs of this repainting, with the fresh color on the rudder being obvious.  Some variations in the location of the national emblem would remain.

F4F-4 color scheme and markings

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat color scheme and markings


    With Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November of 1942, the concern of Allied aircraft being fired on by friendly troops once again arose.  To better identify Allied aircraft a yellow ring was placed around the outside of the U.S. national insignia.  This was only called for on the fuselage and lower wings, but it was sometimes applied to the upper wing also.

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat color scheme and markings

    In January of 1943 a new three color camouflage scheme was introduced to the fleet, consisting of Semi Gloss Sea Blue (ANA 606), Intermediate Blue (ANA 608) and Insignia White (ANA 601).  By this time Grumman F4F production had ended, but Eastern FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcats would leave the factory in the new colors.  

Eastern built Grumman FM-1 color scheme and

    In June, 1943 white rectangles and a red outline was added to the national insignia.  By this time most of the Blue Gray over Light Gray F4Fs were out of service. or alre4ady repainted.  Most that received the new national insignia were with stateside training units.

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat color scheme and markings

    The red border would remain on three color FM-1s for a while.
Grumman Eastern FM-1 color scheme and markings

    A few FM-2 were painted with the red bordered insignia (like the one below) but the red seems to have been painted out rather quickly.

Grumman/Eastern FM-2 three color color scheme and

    On July 31, 1943 the red outline was replaced with insignia blue and would remain the same until 1947.  Even though an order was issued on that date calling for the red outline to be replaced, it would be several months before that was completed.

Grumman designed Eastern built FM-2 color scheme
                and markings

    With different conditions in the Atlantic, it was necessary to devise a color scheme more useful in that environment.   So in July of 1943 a new scheme consiting of Dark Gull Gray (ANA 621) over Insignia White (ANA 601) was implemented.  This scheme was often called "Scheme II".  There was also a "Scheme I" that included Light Gull Gray (ANA  620) in addition to these two colors, but it was rarely used.  This scheme was introduced early enough to have included the  red border to the national insignia, but photographic evidence is lacking.

Grumman designed Eastern built FM-2 color scheme
                and markingsGrumman designed Eastern built FM-1 color scheme
                and markingsGrumman designed Eastern built FM-1 atlantic ASW color
            scheme and markings

    The final factory scheme was the overall Gloss Sea Blue (ANA 623) introduced during June, 1944.  This FM-2 from VC-93 illustrates that scheme.  VC-93 was assigned to the USS Petrof Bay, CVE-80.

Grumman designed Eastern built FM-2 late war color
                scheme and markings USS Petrof Bay CVE-80

    The color scheme for the French G-36A is somewhat of a mystery.  Some sources maintain that the few production aircraft were finished in an overall light blue.  Most sources now agree that it was more than likely a light gray that might very well have been the USN color of non-specular light gray.  In any case the were repainted in Fleet Air Arm colors and renamed Martlet Is by the British.

Grumman G-36A color scheme and markingsGrumman G-36A color scheme and markings

    As originally delivered some of the Martlet I aircraft had a glossy finish.  Those in actual service appear to have a more semi-gloss, or even flat finish.  The aircraft were painted in Grumman's interpretation of the  colors used on  Fleet Air Arm aircraft before leaving the Grumman factory.  The green used in place of slate gray was a mid green, almost like an emerald green.  The gray used in place of extra dark sea gray was darker and bluer than the FAA color and some references claim that it was the insignia blue used in the national markings on American airplanes.  These aircraft also carried the early war RAF/FAA roundels: Type A under wing, Type B upper wing and A1 on the fuselage.  The red and blue would be toned down later in the war.  The fin flash was also of an earlier type.  Or more correctly Grumman's interpretation.  The aircraft in this plate represents aircraft BJ562 , one of two Martlet Is that shot down a Ju 88 near Scapa Flow on 25 December, 1940.  That was the first aerial victory for an American airplane in British service.

Grumman Martlet I color scheme and markings

    The Martlet II scheme is pretty much the same as the Martlet I, though on some aircraft the top colors extend below the wings.

Grumman Martlet II color scheme and markings

    The Martlet III presents somewhat of a conundrum.  These aircraft were made up from an order originally for Greece.  To provide the aircraft as soon as possible the first thirty F4F-3A Wildcats were selected.  Greece fell to the Axis forces before they could be delivered and the aircraft were diverted to Great Britain while in route.  They were off loaded at Gibraltar and taken over by the FAA equipping number 805 and 806 Squadrons.  Sources vary on the serials given to this batch and there is confusion as to the color they were painted in.  Some sources state that they were painted overall azure blue.  Others state overall gray.  Being that they were to have been USN machines it is quite possible that they left the Grumman factory in non-specular light gray just as other aircraft destined for the USN at the time.  Both colors are represented as I do not have the resources to draw a definitive conclusion though I personally lean towards gray.

Grumman Martlet III color scheme and markingsGrumman Martlet III F4F-3A Wildcat color scheme and

    Sometime after arriving in North Africa at least some of the aircraft received a coat of "midstone" on the upper surfaces.  It is not known if the undersides were painted azure (if they had indeed been gray), or if they remained whatever the original color had been.

Grumman Martlet III color scheme and markingsGrumman Martlet III color scheme and markings

    At some point dark earth was added in a disruptive pattern over the midstone.  The standard desert camouflage for the RAF would have been "midstone/dark earth over azure blue".  This seems to be the scheme adopted for the Martlet III even though it was a Fleet Air Arm aircraft.

Grumman Martlet III color scheme and markingsGrumman Martlet III color scheme and markings North

    It is believed that at least one Martlet III received a black underside.

Grumman Martlet III Fleet Air Arm color scheme and

    The Martlet IV (sometimes called an F4F-4B) would see a change to the markings.  While still in the FAA scheme of dark slate gray/extra dark sea gray over sky, the national insignia changed to Type C roundels under the wings, Type C1 roundels on the fuselage with Type B remaining in use on the upper wing surfaces.  The fin flash also changed in proportions the white being much smaller stripe than the red, or blue.  The red used for all those markings changed to a duller red referred to simply as "dull red".

Grumman Martlet/Wildcat IV color scheme and

    The Martlet V/Wildcat V was delivered in the same scheme as the Martlet IV aircraft.  The name was changed to Wildcat in 1944 to align with the USN's designation.

Grumman Wildcat V color scheme and markings

    The Wildcat VI was simply an FM-2 in FAA service and while the first deliveries were in the standard FAA camouflage later aircraft reverted to the USN scheme of overall gloss sea blue.

Grumman Wildcat VI

    If any Martlet/Wildcat aircraft before the Wildcat VI carried this scheme, or the tri-color USN scheme I have not seen photos of them.

Grumman Wildcat VI late war fleet air arm color
                    scheme and markings

    Wildcats in service in the Pacific wore roundels of two colors: blue and white.  White recognition stripes were applied to the tail as by this time friendly fire was a greater danger than enemy fighters.

Grumman Wildcat VI late war color scheme and
                    markings Google

    The Grumman applied patterns for the G-36A, G-36B and F4F-4B:

British purchasing commision Martlet color
                    camoflauge schems

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Page created 07-29-05

Modified 01-04-20

Clifford Bossie

Grumman F4F Wildcat
Eastern FM-1 & FM-2 Wildcat
Grumman Martlet