Vought OS2U Kingfisher Pacific Theater Camouflage And Markings

The Vought OS2U Kingfisher was a light observation and scouting floatplane which was produced for the US Navy during WWII.  It was the primary shipboard aircraft carried by USN battleships and several cruisers, mainly used for scouting, gunfire spotting, rescue, and patrol duties.  It was powered by a 450 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior radial engine which gave it a modest maximum speed of 164 mph.  Armament consisted of a fixed .30 caliber machine gun firing forward between the engine cylinders and another on a flexible mount for the observer.  It supplanted, but never quite replaced, the Curtiss SOC Seagull and was itself being supplanted by the Curtiss SC Seahawk during the last year of the war.

There is a chronology to US Navy aircraft markings in WWII.  Once understood, the markings carried by the aircraft can usually be used to establish the general time period of the subject.  This is a small detail which can sometimes escape ship modelers.  A meticulously researched ship camouflage can be betrayed by modeling embarked aircraft in markings from another time, or even mixing several types of national insignia on the same model.  There were exceptions to be sure, but typically marking directives were followed and quickly adopted by fleet units, although various commands sometimes issued conflicting instructions which could result in marking differences within the same unit.

During the 1930’s US aircraft were painted in a high-visibility scheme collectively referred to as “Yellow Wings”.  At the end of the decade US Navy aircraft wing uppersurfaces were painted Orange Yellow 614 (often called Chrome Yellow, an automotive paint) with Aluminum Dope on other surfaces.  Vertical tail surfaces were color coded to denote ship assignment, and nose and fuselage bands designated sections within a squadron.  National markings consist of a white star with a red center on a blue field, carried on both upper and lower wing surfaces.  Here is an OS2U-1 with landing gear substituted for the floats over San Pedro.  Fuselage codes indicate it is the 7th aircraft of Observation Squadron 1 assigned to the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38).  This scheme was standard until the end of 1940.
With war spreading throughout the globe, the high-visibility markings were seen as a liability and the Yellow Wing era came to a close.  On 30DEC40 BuAir issued a directive that all Fleet aircraft were to be camouflaged.  Ship-based aircraft types were to be painted in nonspecular light gray overall, patrol aircraft were to carry light gray undersurfaces and blue gray uppersurfaces.  On 26FEB41 BuAir specified that national insignia were to be carried in four locations – upper port wing, under starboard wing, and both sides of the fuselage.  Here is a Kingfisher in the overall light gray scheme preparing to launch from a battleship catapult.  Note the large size of the wing insignia. (LIFE photograph)
The overall light gray camouflage for shipboard aircraft was short-lived, officially lasting only from 30DEC40 to 20AUG41 when Commander Aircraft, Battle Force issued a directive that upper surfaces were to be painted blue gray.  Here is a Kingfisher recovering alongside the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) off Hawaii in SEP41 carrying this camouflage.  Modelers note that these are the same markings which would be present during the Pearl Harbor attack on 07DEC41. 
As a result of several friendly fire incidents during and following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on 23DEC41 CinC Pacific issued a directive that all US aircraft in the Hawaiian area were to carry national markings in six locations (upper and lower surfaces of both wings, both sides of the fuselage) and red and white tail stripes on the rudder.  By early January various other commands had followed suit, and size guidance was also included with a trend to larger insignia.  Here is a beautiful color shot of a Kingfisher showing the specified markings in effect from 23DEC41 to 06MAY42.  (LIFE photograph)
Several Kingfishers are spotted on the deck of the seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5).  Note the differences in the size and location of the wing insignia, reflecting the variations between the directives of various commands at the time.  Interestingly, the photograph is dated 14MAY42.  If that date is correct, the red centers to the national insignia and the tail stripes were already directed to have been painted out when this picture was taken.  (World War Photos)
To eliminate any confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru, the red centers of the US national insignia were ordered to be removed by ALNAV97 on 06MAY42.  Rudder stripes were also painted out at this time, preferably with blue gray to match the upper surface camouflage, but many units made do with whatever paint was available.  Here is a nice overhead shot of a Kingfisher on the water at NAS Jacksonville in early 1943.  The wing stripes are unusual, likely an aid to formation flying.
There were several variations in the size and location of the insignia, modelers are well advised to seek photographs of the specific subjects they wish to portray whenever possible.  The maximum size could range from the leading edge of the wing to the beginning of the aileron, as illustrated by this Kingfisher being towed ashore at Funafuti sometime in early 1943.  (World War Photos)
1943 was a confusing year for US Navy aircraft markings, with many changes being made and some only partially adopted in the field.  Effective 01FEB43, SR-2c directed that naval aircraft revert back to four national insignia, upper port wing, under starboard wing, and both fuselage sides.  Photographic evidence suggests that many field units did not eliminate the extra wing insignia.  On 28JUN43 ALNAV 12 directed that the national insignia be modified to incorporate a white bar on either side of the star, and the entire insignia was to be outlined in red.  This directive generated considerable opposition in the Pacific Theater, commanders fearing any red might lead to confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru.  On 31JUL43 Third Fleet issued a directive for its subordinate units NOT to outline the national insignia in red, and AN-I-9b of 14AUG43 made the change official by changing the outline color to Insignia Blue.  Here is a Kingfisher on the ramp in the Aleutians, her markings reflecting the confusion.  The white bars and red outline are in place indicating the date is likely sometime between 28JUN43 and 14AUG43, but she still carries national insignia in six positions.  The white stripes on the vertical and horizontal tail surfaces are an Aleutian theater marking.
A major camouflage change came about when SR-2c of 05JAN43 introduced a graded scheme consisting of Non-Specular Sea Blue, Semi-Gloss Sea Blue, and Intermediate Blue over white.  This began showing up at the front in the summer of 1943 and was in effect until the scheme was changed to glossy Sea Blue overall, effective 07OCT44.  Here is a Kingfisher on the port catapult of the USS Missouri (BB-63) in the graded scheme.  Her crew is mustering as part of an abandon ship drill during her shakedown cruise in AUG44.

More Kingfisher photographs here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2019/02/13/os2u-kingfishers-in-the-aleutians/

7 thoughts on “Vought OS2U Kingfisher Pacific Theater Camouflage And Markings

  1. I like them, but I agree they look odd without the floats. Same as the SOC, but that one doesn’t quite look so out of place. I thought the Kingfisher was a good way to illustrate the changes in the markings as the war went on.


  2. Always loved the look of the Kingfisher floatplanes! Thanks for making this concise guide to the different camo schemes they used in WWII.

    In the photo of the Kingfisher at NAS Jacksonville in early 1943, you refer to stripes on the wings. Do you mean the darker colored lines running along where the wings join the fuselage? I thought they were anti-skid surfaces to aid the pilots when they got into or out of the cockpit. (I’m just guessing, mind you.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Craig! You are right about the walkways parallel to the fuselage, those are visible on most photographs of Kingfishers. I was looking at the diagonal lines, those were likely used by wingmen as alignment aids while practicing formation flying. They were fairly common on the Yellow Wings aircraft, but rare on camouflaged aircraft during the war.


      1. Oh, THOSE lines! I can’t believe I completely missed them amid the water streaks. Any thoughts on what color they might have been? My initial thought was that they were likely another shade of blue or gray, not too different from the overall plane’s color. But then I thought that in a black-and-white photo, they could be red; they must have been something that would stand out if they were indeed meant as a visual aid for wingmen.

        Interesting stuff! Thanks for the reply.

        Liked by 1 person

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