One of the most fascinating chapters in the story of World War II, in my mind, has always been the struggle for control of the skies over the Mediterranean island of Malta. Acting as an “unsinkable carrier”, the small island was a thorn in the side of the Axis attempts to make the area their own pond.
Even though the guns have been silent for decades, a battle among modelers still “rages”… what in the world were the “correct” colors on the Malta Spitfires?
If you’re looking for the answer, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this isn’t the place.
I can, however, go through the process I went through to decide how I wanted to paint my Malta Spitfire.
Part of the problem is that saying “Malta Spitfire” is a fairly wide net… which Malta Spitfires are you referring to? Multiple batches were delivered by various British and American aircraft carriers. Some were flown in from Gibraltar with 170 gallon ”slipper tanks”. What Mark of Spitfire are you referring to? How was it painted… or repainted? What sort of carb filter did it have?
The truth of the matter is that no one knows for sure, based on what I’ve read. (At least no one has convinced me that they know with certainty…)
In some cases, I would read impassioned words from equally knowledgeable people, yet neither would agree. In a few cases, I would read where someone was positive of a certain fact, indisputable… and then I’d find a photo to prove them absolutely wrong. (Not that my point in all of this was to prove anyone wrong… I just wanted to build a model.)
I read that all Malta Spitfires had Volkes filters, and were the C wing variety… then I’d find a photo of a B wing, with no Volkes filter. No clipped wings? Oh wait, yes, there were clipped wings. And the paint…. Dark blue? Dark gray? Blue or gray and dark earth? Sky or Azure Blue or Sky Blue underneath?
What a mess!
I decided to model John Lynch’s “Malta’s 1000th” bird. Lynch was an American flying for the RAF. He shot down the 1000th Axis plane by a Malta defender, and to commemorate the moment, a photo was taken of Lynch, sitting in his cockpit, with the words “Malta’s 1000th” inscribed on the fuselage, with seven German kill markings.
From photographs, it appeared his Spitfire was a clipped wing Vb, without a Volkes filter, just the standard carb intake. The coloring was solid, though exactly what color and shade I didn’t really ever feel I knew with certainty. A likely scenario was that the airplane was originally painted in dark earth and middlestone uppers. The underside may have been sky blue, which was a much lighter blue than azure. At some point, possibly on Gibraltar or even Malta, it was painted (depending on who you believe) a dark blue, or a dark grey, or a dark blue grey.
One thing I did note on many Malta Spitfires was a very deceptive appearance in looking at the upper paint scheme. While almost all of them looked to be a solid color, there was often a hint of camo pattern. Based on my reading, though,this made sense… if you had limited stocks of paint, and needed to paint an airplane in a hurry, you might end up with a finish that wasn’t didn’t entirely cover the undercoat- and thus gave the appearance of a very faint camo pattern.
I finally made some choices, based almost entirely on what made sense to me, and what I thought would look good. (After all… it’s my model. Go build your own Malta Spitfire.:))
I decided to do the undersides a light sky blue color of my own mixing, if for no other reason than I thought it looked nice. For the uppers, I decided to first paint them dark earth and middlestone, and then lightly overpaint that with a homemade mix of blue and dark gray, mixed to TLAR standard. (That Looks About Right.)
For the kit… well, that choice was easy.. Tamiya’s Mk. Vb is probably one of the most enjoyable builds a modeler can do. It presents no problems whatsoever building, looks the part, and is reasonably priced.
Decals came from Kagero’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vb markings for Lynch’s aircraft. One note- they have the incorrect markings for the German kill markings. A friend graciously printed up some new ones, as I did not have any in the spares box of the correct type to make up the difference.
The undersides were painted with my homemade mix of sky blue, mixed from Tamiya flat blue and flat white. The uppers were painted in Gunze’s dark earth and middlestone. Next, the blue/gray overcoat was a mix of Tamiya sea blue, Tamiya dark gray and dabs and drops of white and blue. It was an odd process… I wasn’t sure what color I wanted, but I figured when I saw it, I’d know it. And sure enough… that was how it happened. I mixed and mixed and added and added, and at the end, I was happy with the color. It may not be right, but I’m happy with it.
I thinned this color down, and oversprayed the camo underneath, making sure to leave enough showing through that later weathering wouldn’t hide it entirely. I did additional fading and shading, paint chipping and oil washing, until I was happy with the result. I even did some scuffing to show some of the camo underneath.
In the end, I was quite happy with the result. While it’s hard to determine exactly what colors are right, I did think that in looking at some photos of my result, converted to black and white, that it was a reasonable guess of what might have been.
If nothing else, I learned quite a lot about the Malta campaign from my reading, and that in itself is reward enough. Not to mention another lovely Spitfire sitting on my shelf now.
So while the momentous air battles over Malta have long since gone silent, the battle over how a Malta Spitfire looks goes on, fought by middle-aged men who play with plastic toys.
(Please note: I make no claim that anything I say is correct or factual or right in any way shape or form. I could possibly be making all of this up… well, except for the Malta part… that did happen. And the part about middle-aged men playing with plastic toys. But the rest might all be a tall tale. For that matter, I may not be Jon Bius, but someone who took over his computer to write insidious things about Malta Spitfires.
However, I am quite sure that upon publication of this, I will get several emails telling me how wrong I am on some point, if not all points, of my reasoning and research. And I’m sure those emails will contradict one another. If I am certain of anything, it’s that I am wrong on some, or even all of my points. But I’m OK with that. I had fun. )