Did you know we have lost a color since World War II?

Color photo of a Panther tank, but how much did the photograph’s colors shift since it was taken?
(Photo: tank-afv.com)
It’s no surprise that uncountable pieces of hardware went missing during and after such a large conflict as World War II. But did you know that we have lost not just canteens, knives and guns, but even an entire color? Dunkelgelb, “dark yellow,” was first used by Germany as camouflage paint in Africa, then was adopted as the base coat of paint for all military vehicles from 1943 onward – and yet, we no longer know what exact color it was.
Most wartime photos and film footage were black and white, which is, naturally, very bad at documenting a specific color hue. Surviving color images and film are also inaccurate. Wartime color film had chemical instabilities which caused colors to gradually shift as the film aged, so what we see on an old photo today is not the color it held when it was new. Transferring color footage to newer, more stable film could and did introduce further color changes during the process, leaving us with no 100% reliable color images.
A Panther tank at the Bovington Tank Museum,
(Photo: tank-encyclopedia.com)
But what about actual vehicles? Wouldn’t those preserve their colors? As it turns out, no they wouldn’t. For starters, many vehicles were painted with “good enough” paint rather than official dunkelgelb due to wartime supply shortages. When the paint was available, it came in a paste which had to be diluted in gasoline or water before use in the field, and different mixing ratios would result in different shades. Rain, snow, dust, sunlight and sand, in turn, further changed the paintjob over time. Post-war restoration in museums often ended up using whatever paint looked good enough, rather than fully accurate reproductions.
One particular artist’s interpretation of dunkelgelb
(Image: Arcus Hobby Paint)
“And what about official databases?” – you might ask. “Wouldn’t Germany have had one for such things?” You’d be right, they did. The RAL (Reichs-Ausschuss für Lieferbedingungen – Imperial Committee for Delivery Conditions) colour standard was established in 1927 for exactly such purposes, is still in use today, and we know for a fact that it contained both dunkelgelb and a variant of it. The problem is, the database is constantly changing, with new colors added and old ones changed or dropped all the time, and the present-day version of the RAL standard no longer has either the original entry or the color samples, so even the official sources don’t know exactly what color “dark yellow” was. And that’s how we have lost an entire color after the war.
An actual, extremely rare surviving can of World War II dunkelgelb paint on the left, with similarly rare cans of olivgrün and rotbraun. But did the paint inside preserve its original color to this day?
(Photo: Camouflage Paints Facebook group)

Save $500 with our Battle of the Bulge promotion

American soldiers in a foxhole in January 1945
(Photo: U.S. Army, Tony Vaccaro)
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