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Codes and Markings

This page deals, all too briefly and sketchily, with the codes, markings and camouflage applied to aircraft during the Spanish Civil War, and to some of the confusions that can arise, particularly from photographs of pre- and post-war aircraft. Unit markings are beyond the present scope of this page, but many of these may be found at this link (This site seems to be no more, March 2004).

Pre-war codes

Civil Aircraft

Before 1931, Spanish civil aircraft were registered with the letter M followed by a 4-letter code identifying the individual aircraft, the first letter usually being C for Civil aircraft (for example M-CAKK was a Fokker VIIb3m). In 1931 the code letter system was changed to EC (España Civil) followed by a 3-letter code (so that the Fokker VIIb3m became EC-AKK). Civil aircraft registered for governmental use had a variation on the civil code; EC- followed by a number and then -E (e.g. EC-5-E was a D H 85). Aircraft that were transported to Spain were assigned a temporary ferry code, consisting of EC-W followed by a ferry number (e.g. EC-W22 was assigned to a DH 83 Fox Moth bought by the Spanish government for aerial surveying in 1934, which was subsequently recoded EC-4-E).

Many civil aircraft that were impressed into service during the civil war retained their civil registration codes, while other aircraft were assigned civil registrations during the war, either because they were genuine civil aircraft or because they were masquerading as civil aircraft for delivery to Spain. Yet other aircraft retained their foreign civil registrations.

Military aircraft

In 1926, military codes were standardised, with the Aviación Militar and Aeronáutica Naval choosing somewhat different systems. Prior to this, Spanish military aircraft were, like civil aircraft, identified by combinations of letter codes, starting in this case with M-M, the next letter representing the type of aircraft.

Aviación Militar

Each aircraft type in service was assigned a type number, which was painted on the central yellow band on the rudder, followed by a number assigned to each aircraft as it entered service. For example the 135th Breguet XIX (type code 12) to enter service had the code 12-135. The Grupo number and the number of the aircraft in the Grupo were usually also painted in large black figures on the fuselage sides (in this case 23-18 - The 18th aircraft in Grupo 23), and sometimes on the upper wings. Sometimes the type number and series number were instead painted in white on the fuselage. Some aircraft retained their pre-war registrations in the civil war (e.g. the Hawker Spanish Furies) Some known type numbers are given below:

3 Nieuport NiD 52 20 Fokker FVIIb3m 33 De Havilland D H 82 Tiger Moth
4 Hawker Spanish Fury 21 Cierva C19 and C30 (from 1935?) 34 De Havilland D H 60 Moth major
12 Breguet XIX 22 De Havilland D H 89 41 Cierva C19 and C30 (before 1935?)
15 De Havilland D H 9 32 De Havilland D H 60 Moth 49 Junkers F13 and K30

Aeronáutica Naval

Each aircraft had a code similar to that for civil aircraft, consisting of EA followed by a three letter individual aircraft code (e.g. EA-BAB was a Savoia-Marchetti S-62), although this code wasn't always painted on the aircraft. In addition, each aircraft bore a type letter or letters representing the aircraft type, followed by a number assigned to each aircraft as it entered service (e.g. EA-BAB also bore the code S-1), usually in large letters on the fuselage. The type letters were derived from the name of the aircraft type, and were often kept by naval aircraft used by the republicans throughout the civil war (e.g. The Martinsyde F4 buzzards). Known type codes are:

D Dornier 15 Wal M Macchi M 18 S Savoia-Marchetti S-62
H Hispano E-30 MS Martinsyde F4 Buzzard T Vickers Spanish Vildebeest

Civil War codes

Both the Nationalists and Republicans in the Spanish Civil War used codes to refer to particular aircraft models, based on their use, and partially derived from pre-war codes. Codes were not standardised until some way through the war, and were sometimes not applied to particular aircraft.

Nationalist Type Numbers

Nationalist codes were based on a number system, derived from that used by the Aviación Militar before the war. Each aircraft had a type number, followed by an individual number usually assigned sequentially as aircraft entered service (or were assigned codes). The two numbers were either painted on the fuselage separated by a dash (most typically found on Italian aircraft of the Aviazione Legionaria, but also on most flying boats and sea planes), or either side of the black circle that became the standard Nationalist fuselage insignia (most typically found on German aircraft of the Condor Legion).

Type numbers used were based on the following scheme:

Number range Type Notes
1-9 Fighters
10-19 Ground-attack & Light bombers
20-29 Bombers
30-39 Trainers and Light aircraft Code 30 was used for various single-engined aircraft,
31 for various twin-engined aircraft
40-49 Transport planes Code 43 was used for various single-engined aircraft,
42 for various twin-engined aircraft
50-73 Sea-planes
1W-20W Captured aircraft

Republican Type Codes

Republican codes were loosely based on the system used by the Aeronáutica Naval before the war. These consisted of a two letter type code, followed by an individual number usually assigned sequentially as aircraft entered service (or were assigned codes). The first letter of the type code designated the role of the particular aircraft, the second letter identified the particular model. The second letter was usually derived from the aircraft manufacturers' name, letters being taken from the name in order in which the type entered service. For example, AD-013 was the 13th Grumman Delfin, an Assault aircraft, to enter Republican service.

Codes were applied rather inconsistently to Republican aircraft, and aircraft often bore no codes whatsoever, or retained pre-war codes. In addition, aircraft, particularly Russian types supplied in relatively large numbers (such as the I-16s and SB-2s), often bore numbers to identify them within their Grupo, often painted on the tail fin or rudder. Civil-registered aircraft obtained by the Republicans often retained the civil codes of their country of origin.

The first letter of the type code was assigned according to the following scheme:

Code letter stem Type Notes
A (Asalto) Ground-attack Only used for the Grumman Delfin.
B (Bombardero) Bombers
C (Caza) Fighters
E (Escuela) Trainers & Light aircraft The code "EC" was the International Aviation Code for Spanish civil aircraft (see above), and was retained on many originally non-military 'planes, regardless of model.
F (F???) Captured aircraft
H (Hidroavione) Sea-planes
L (bombardero Ligero) Light-bombers & Liaison aircraft
R (Reconocimiento) Reconnaissance planes
S (Sanitario) Ambulance planes
T (Transporte) Transport planes
X (X???) Amphibious aircraft Reserved for the Fairchild 91 (but never applied, as the plane was captured by the Nationalists en route to Spain).

On my page of Spanish Civil War aircraft, republican type codes are given in large type if confirmed by photographic or documentary evidence, and smaller type if they are unconfirmed or implied.

Post-War Codes

Immediately following the capitulation by the Republicans, those aircraft that remained in Spain (for many were flown across the French border or, in the case of the more modern Russian types, were taken back to Russia during the closing stages of the war) were incorporated into the Nationalist Airforce and acquired codes of the Nationalist type.

Pre-War Markings

Spanish military aircraft before the civil war normally had a finish of silver doped canvas areas, and natural metal. They bore red, yellow and purple roundels on the upper (and sometimes lower) wings (see left) and had the rudder (or the central portion of it) painted in the red-yellow-purple tricolour (see right, and pictures of a Breguet XIX and Martinsyde F4 Buzzard above). There were a number of unit badges borne by particular aircraft, e.g. Fighter Grupo 11 bore a black panther on the fin, Fighter Grupo 12 a black stag leaping in a circle on the fuselage, Fighter Grupo 13 a four-leafed clover on a black disk on the fin and the Vickers Vildebeests of the Aeronáutica Naval bore a blue and yellow dolphin on the forward fuselage.

Civil War Markings

The outbreak of the civil war meant that steps had to be taken to identify to which side aircraft belonged, and also to reduce the visibility of at least land-based aircraft (a large proportion of the aircraft of both sides were destroyed on the ground in the first few days of the war). The latter problem was overcome by the application of washes of green or earth-coloured paint over the original metal finishes, often in a mottled pattern, before purpose-designed schemes were applied. Naval aircraft often retained their metal finish throughout the war.

The problem of identifying the side to which a military aircraft belonged was even more pressing, and various different combinations of markings were used in the early stages of the war, becoming somewhat more standardised later in the war. It should be remembered however that there were many exceptions to the general rules given below.

Republican Markings


The Republicans normally retained the tricolour on the rudder of their aircraft. In addition, large areas of each aircraft were painted red, usually wide red bands on the fuselage and wings. The whole rear fuselage was sometimes painted red, and other schemes involving red patches were also seen. The pre-war roundels were sometimes retained, but in other cases red bands on the upper and lower wings were painted directly over them. In a small number of cases the yellow and purple portions of the roundel were over-painted in red to leave a red disc.

Apart from the rudder and red bands, the colour schemes worn by Republican aircraft were far from standardised. As mentioned above, aircraft incorporated from before the war were often initially left in their metallic finishes (see right), but were soon over-painted in duller colours. Other aircraft were camouflaged in what appears to be green mottled over light brown. One of the most common colour schemes, however, was all-green upper surfaces with either light blue or grey under surfaces. This is probably because Russian aircraft were supplied in these schemes (see below) and French aircraft often retained their green/brown Armée de l'Air colours. Other aircraft appear to have had such a scheme applied in Spain, for example some Letov 231s and Grumman Delfins.

Russian aircraft

Russian aircraft in the mid 1930s, at least those that served in the west, were usually painted in a standard VVS AII green lacquer on the upper surfaces and AII blue lacquer (a quite dark sky blue - not unlike the background to the picture to the right) on the under surfaces. The Polikarpov fighters and reconnaissance aircraft sent to Spain retained this colour scheme, and had red bands and the rudder tricolour applied over this. The SB-2 bombers, however, were finished in a greater variety of colour schemes, with various forms of mottle or wave-band camouflage. For more details of VVS colour schemes (albeit in WWII) see:

Polikarpov I-15 and I-16 fighters built in Spain were not finished in VVS colours, but instead were finished in various wave-band camouflage schemes.

Captured Aircraft

There are few photographs of Nationalist aircraft captured by the Republicans, however those that do exist suggest that a variety of techniques were used to re-brand them. The Fiat CR 32 depicted to the right appears to have been repainted in the classic green/sky finish of many republican fighters, while photographs of a Bf 109 suggest that it was left in its Nationalist grey finish with the addition of red bands on the fuselage and wings. A photograph can be found at:

(This site seems to be no more, March 2004)

Nationalist Markings

Nationalist aircraft were distinguished by various crosses and bands in black and white, and later in the war by black discs on the fuselage and wings. The most consistent marking used was a black St. Andrew's cross on the rudder of each aircraft, with the rudder itself usually being painted white.

The black discs on the fuselages of Nationalist 'planes, particularly the German fighters and Italian bombers, were often adorned with various personal and group symbols.

German aircraft

The aircraft used by the Condor Legion in Spain mostly had one of two basic colour schemes:

Bombers, attack and reconnaissance aircraft were usually finished in the standard 1930s German splinter camouflage of grey, brown and green, with pale blue under surfaces. Later in the war, some aircraft were also sent in two-tone green splinter camouflage, which was becoming standard in Germany at that time.

Fighter aircraft and seaplanes were usually finished over-all in a shade of grey (see discussion about colours below), sometimes with pale blue under surfaces. Later in the war it seems that aircraft sent from Germany were finished with green upper surfaces, although these seem to have quickly faded in the Spanish sun.

Condor Legion aircraft were fairly consistently painted with black discs on the fuselage sides and upper and lower wings, the wing discs typically bearing white crosses from quite an early stage in the war. The fuselage discs often provided a canvas for various personal and squadron emblems, usually in white.

Many German-produced aircraft were either provided direct to the Spanish Nationalist air force, or handed over to them after use by the Condor Legion. The colour schemes of these aircraft were often modified, typically with wave-band camouflage. The Nationalist yoke and arrows were often painted on the fuselage discs of Spanish Nationalist fighters late in the war.

An intriguing exception to the above "rules" were the Heinkel He 70s of A/88 of the Condor Legion (see left), which were painted in a contrasting sunburst design on the upper surfaces, although it's not clear what colours were involved (I would guess that they were cream and red-brown, like some German aerobatic display aircraft of the 1930s, although other authors suggest they were white and blue, as in the profile below.).

Italian aircraft

Fighters and attack aircraft used by the Aviazione Legionaria were usually finished in the "sand and spinach" camouflage typical of Italian military aircraft in the 1930s and into WWII. Blotches of green and/or dark brown were applied on a light brown or sand coloured ground, with pale grey under surfaces. Some bombers were also finished in such schemes, although it appears that Savoia Marchetti SM-81s were initially painted pale cream over-all.

Italian maritime aircraft and the Fiat CR 32s based on the Balearics early in the war were left in natural metal, the flying boats and seaplanes typically having black bands around the fuselage as well as across the wings. Later in the war, the Italian land-based aircraft on the Balearics were painted in various forms of wave-band camouflage.

The large black discs on the slab-sided fuselages of the Italian SM-79 and SM-81 bombers seem to have been particularly tempting canvases for the squadron artists, and were often adorned with fantastic designs (see below, although several of these are from other Italian aircraft types). A black letter "m" - A stylised version of Mussolini's signature, was also often seen on bombers and attack aircraft (see, for example, the SM-81 above).

Captured aircraft

There are many photographs of Republican aircraft captured by the Nationalists, particularly in the closing stages of the war. Early in the war, captured aircraft simply had their red bands painted over, and Nationalist markings applied, but later in the war total repainting of captured aircraft in mottled camouflage seems to have been common. There is one famous picture of a captured SB bomber which has even its propellor-blades camouflaged!

Post-War Markings

After the civil war the Spanish Air Force adopted markings based on those of war-time nationalist aircraft, but replacing the black discs on the wings with roundels of red yellow and red (which were also used as the nationalist colours during the civil war). The black fuselage discs were initially retained, usually with the yoke-and-arrows device applied, but were eventually replaced with the same red-yellow-red roundels. The rudder retained the black St. Andrew's cross on a white ground, and this form of national marking can be seen to this day.

The system of type-numbers applied during the war was continued afterwards, so, for example, single-engined light aircraft taken over from the Republicans at the end of the war were numbered 30*75 to 30*188 (for example, the D H Fox Moth below).

The number system was revised some time after the civil war, with new type numbers being assigned to many aircraft. Photographs of post-war Spanish aircraft can sometimes be problematic, particularly if the wing roundels are not obvious, and this has probably led to some post-civil-war types (e.g. later marks of Bf 109 and He 111) being wrongly, and confusingly, identified as civil war aircraft.

A brief word about colours

In the 1930s, colour photography was still in its infancy. There are few contemporary colour photograph of aircraft from the Spanish Civil War. It's often forgotten, 'though, that the photographic emulsions used in black-and-white photography in the 1930s were also far from perfect. So-called Panchromatic films, which responded in a similar way to the human eye to the range of colours in a scene, although developed, were far from standard. Most films of the period were far more sensitive to light of some wavelengths and less sensitive to other wavelengths. Typically, for example, green hues would appear much lighter than they were in reality, and red hues much darker. This means that the many black and white photographs that exist of Spanish Civil War aircraft should not be interpreted at face value, and guessing at the colours of aircraft based on such photographs is an endeavour doomed to failure. This can be seen in, for example, the range of shades that appear to adorn the upper surfaces and tails of I-15s in Spain. As far as I know, these aircraft were actually painted in a very consistent colour scheme, with standard VVS AII green upper surfaces, and a presumably fairly standard tricolour on the rudder. However, depending on the film used to take photographs, the relative shade of different parts of the aircraft vary tremendously. For example the yellow, purple or in at least one case, the red section of the tricolour can appear to be the lightest colour in different photographs.

yellow > purple > green > red

purple > yellow = green > red

A very strange picture, apparently with red>yellow>purple. This machine in fact fell into Nationalist hands and was photographed while being repainted in Nationalist colours.

A further good example of this is provided by the grey upper surface colour used on Condor Legion fighters, examples of which are given to the right. 20 years ago, every colour reproduction of Bf109s in Spain showed them bearing a light neutral grey scheme, often called "gull grey". However, recent research, based on contemporary German records and surviving aircraft parts, seems to point to the grey being a much darker, greener hue. In fact many of the fighter aircraft sent to Spain may have been finished in a colour much closer to, if not actually, the famous RLM Grau 02.

Much of this research was incorporated into the recent Jagdwaffe title by Mombeek, Smith & Creek (1999), which caused many reviewers to remark unfavourably on the dark colours they had given to their aircraft. Merrick (2005) expands on this research considerably, suggesting that the earliest Bf 109s were finished in bare metal with a yellowish-greenish-grey protective varnish applied, and that all Bf 109s were repainted in RLM 72 or 73 on the uppersides at some later point.

The pictures to the right show scans of profiles of the same aircraft from (Top to bottom) Flying colours (1981), A mid-1990's decal sheet and Mombeek et al. (1999).

Of course, trying to reproduce colours on a web page to be viewed on a computer screen adds yet another layer of complexity to the whole question. So I would like to proudly claim that all the colours on my web site are completely and utterly inaccurate!

The difficulties of estimating colours from monochrome photographs are discussed further by Ian Huntley (1994).

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