Dunkelgelb for dummies


Is this dunkelgelb? Photo courtesy of Getty
A few posts ago I wrote about the “controversy” surrounding the correct color of dunkelgelb (literally “dark yellow”)  a color used on German vehicles during World War II. This is important to many modelers obsessed with historical detail. The only other color that gets more press is olive drab.

The question comes up because several hobby paint companies like Tamiya, Testors, Model Masters, Vallejo, Humbrol, Life Color, Italeri and others all have paints called dunkelgelb, but they all vary considerably from each other. So the new modeler asks “Which one should I use?”

The answer is simple, but the reasons are not. Taking historical research to a new level, many modelers have looked into the history of this color in detail. Here’s one for example. There are many reasons why what you see in old photos and restored vehicles is not correct.

First, there are many photos of German vehicles in black and white which makes identifying colors difficult at best, but some people have written extensively on the subject. Second, in the few color photos, the film gets old and the colors shift, which gives a false impression. 

I’ll let modeler and author Steve Zaloga tackle this one. 

  • Nearly all TV documentaries using World War II colour footage are created using video tape that was transferred from colour film. I have worked with honest-to-goodness original WW II colour film, and the condition and colour quality of the film varied considerably. To begin with, wartime colour film was notoriously subject to colour shifting due to chemical instability. Secondly, if extreme care with colour balance is not taken during the film-video transfer process, changes result in the colours. During the editing of the tape, further colour variations are introduced unless colour balance is precisely set. And finally, the same situation applies when the master video edit tape is dubbed for dissemination. This says nothing about commercial VHS copies which are often several generations removed from the original film stock. Many of the same sorts of problems exist with colour photos. By the time they are printed in a book or magazine, they are several generations removed from the original, and with all the care in the world they will differ from the original. 

Here’s a link to the original article.  It’s about the color olive drab, but many points apply also to dunkelgelb.

That’s one reason. Another is the fact that armored vehicles during a war go through all sorts of weather conditions. Snow, sleet, rain, mud, dust, sun, sand, you name it. These vehicles are maintained so they can fight and protect the crew, not to look pretty. These elements take a toll on the paint and fades or wears it away. So a brand new tank from the factory will not look new after several months  of fighting. The colors will look different from the standard. 

Generally, they are not repainted by the crews, but by maintenance crews when the vehicle goes back for repairs.  They might repaint the left side, for example, after repairs with a fresh coat of paint while the rest of the tank is faded. To the casual observer, it looks like two different colors of paint were used.

That’s all during wartime. Years later, when a tank or vehicle is recovered and restored by a museum, the paint has faded so much it can be difficult to tell if it’s the “right” color. The museum rebuilds the vehicle and repaints it anyway, and there aren’t many restorers who care about the proper wartime color, they just want it to look good enough.

The above is mentioned in the article linked above, along with a few others. 

Another point is that the Germans had a lot of trouble with their supplies, including paint, because of the incessant Allied bombing towards the end of the war. Often the right ingredients were not available and the factories did the best they could. This accounts for color differences also.

 The camouflage paint was supplied to the German crews in paste form and diluted with gasoline or even water, and depending on how much was used, the colors changed. Often the painting was done in a hurry because they needed to get their tanks ready for the next battle and a tank is a large object to paint. Imagine if you had to paint your massive tank in two hours because there were some U.S. Forces coming your way.

So what does this all mean for the modeler? The short answer is that there is no simple answer. Modelers have debated which paint color they prefer on their models in forums such as The Miniatures Page,  Missing Lynx, Armorama, Military Modelling, Track Link and others.

There is one more point to make and that is the German government has a official register of colors for all government  and commercial equipment dating back to 1927, called the RAL colour standard. There were two colors in the standard, RAL 7028 and RAL 7028  Ausgabe 1944 which were used during the war. The Germans used these colors along with a few other similar colors on their armor and vehicles. The original  samples of each color no longer exist and the standard itself has changed over the years, colors getting different numbers, colors being dropped and added and so on.  As a result, the modern  RAL standard does not have a color with the number 7028, so this useless to today’s modelers. More information on this is located here

The general consensus is that a modeler should choose a color that they think looks “right” and stick with it. Simple really, but each modeler has an idea of what they want their model to look like. Anyway, modelers can always change the base color by shading and dry brushing. At model shows,there will be many models painted in different shades of dunkelgelb and because of the above factors, none of them will be the “true” dunkelgelb, but they will be close.

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