About 15 years ago I received a couple of emails from fellow scale modelers from all over asking me what are the “true and definitive colors” of the Boeing P-26s that saw service with the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) during World War II. The phrase “true and definitive” was tough to answer and even today with all the references available to the public that phrase is still a little tricky because of the word “definitive”. So what I did was to analyze every information (both public and private) that has landed on my lap and did my own analysis. It may not answer the phrase in its absolute sense but it gives us an idea of how the PAAC Peashooter looked.
P-26As were transferred to the PAAC (from the inventory of US Army Air Force) on July 1941. Twelve (12) were allotted to the PAAC but there are some transfer documents that accredit them with 14. The last two could be the two P-26As used by USAAC advisers flying out of Nichols and Nielson’s airfields while supervising the transition of the PAAC which was based in Zablan airfield.
Now in 1941, the P-26As were considered as obsolete in USAAF arsenal and a designation of a “Z” prefix was attached at the beginning. Thus the official designation should have been ZP-26A’s but this was never carried due to the fact that many of the pilots and US airmen referred to them as plainly P-26s or fondly “The Peashooter”. Now all obsolete a/c at that point in time were stripped of their color livery and were mostly in NMF finish. The cowling bands however retained a dark blue or blue finish or even the original squadron colors on the cowling. However, a few of the P-26As in 1941 still had their livery colors of Light Blue (Blue No. 23) with Yellow wings and tail planes. Squadron colors were designated on the cowl covers of the aircraft. Red (Red with Yellow) for the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, White for the 17th Pursuit Squadron, and Blue for the 20th Pursuit Squadron. Aircraft transferred to the PAAC appear to have come from different squadrons.
Now on to the schemes: It was widely assumed (and believed) that the PAAC flew P-26As in camouflage colors. The colors were said to be the following:
A) Olive Drab with Medium Green over Neutral Grey
B ) Middle Stone and Dark Earth over Light Blue
C) Olive Drab and Earth over Neutral Grey
D) Olive Drab and Neutral Grey
E) US standard color schemes of Light Blue 23 fuselage and Yellow Wings with over painted US roundels and squadron markings.
F) Natural Metal Finish
G) Overall Light Grey finish.
Now for the explanations:
A, B and D – these two scheme stuck to the minds of most artist and scale modelers because of the profiles made by Hasegawa’s 1/32 P-26A (which by the way had wrong PAAC roundels) and of course Hobby Craft’s Philippine WWII P-26 that gave the same two options as above but this time with the correct PAAC roundel and with consultations with leading Philippine aviation experts such as the late Capt. Alberto “Bert” Anido.
However, as I was going over some of the documents of Bert, he wrote an article in Small Air Force Journal sometime in the 70’s and he clearly states that at “no time did the PAAC use P-26As in the Middle Stone and Earth colors” (of the so called two tone brown scheme). So is it safe to say that this scheme is eliminated? Hmmm, probably yes but I leave it up to the reader to decide.
As for the Olive Drab over Neutral Grey the USAAF has standardized this scheme on all aircraft of pursuit / attack nature. This explains the P-40 B and E and the B-17Ds that arrived in the Philippines from the mainland (a few of the B-17Cs were still in NMF finish) have already sported this scheme. It was also customary for some of the US aircraft to have a few blotches of Medium Green (close to FS-34092) but it was not that evidently seen in the Philippine Islands in late 1941.
It was in high probability that the PAAC used stocks of OD and Medium green paint with their P-26s. The tone and hue varied depending on the primer or undercoat of the aircraft. Let’s say the P-26 used to carry the standard Light Blue 23 and Yellow wings then all of a sudden hastily applied with an overcoat of olive drab. The color of the wings will vary due to the different undercoat colors. The wings would have a faded olive drab color due to the yellow under sufaces and the fuselage with have a bluish tone due to the Light Blue 23.
B & C – this may have been the result of fading of colors and the assumption that the water based camouflage paints were applied to the P-26As. Early war exercises in the US used a water based color scheme of greens, browns and a color known as desert pink. This was evident to some P-26s and P-35s that were painted with water based paints but they were more of green or olive drab in nature. Now Olive Drab has a brown touch to it and faded olive drab can appear brown when worn. Instead of repainting the entire aircraft with OD, it was (and they could have freely chosen on their own) to over-paint the faded one with a fresher color resulting in a mixed fresh and faded paint. The pattern could have been done free hand as there was no standard in the application of the colors as the PAAC although patterned after the USAAF had its own freewill with minor issues and one of them was color schemes.
E – Now this color was very evident to the P-26As when they were transferred to the PAAC. Photographic evidence exists of P-26As parked at Zablan airfield in July 1941 that shows the aircraft in Light Blue and Yellow wings. Even the US roundels were still present. The only evident change was on the tail. The red white and blue rudder was repainted with Olive Drab (or Medium green) and the PAAC diamond were applied together with the aircraft number that started with the number “3”. e.g. 301, 203,…etc. The color of the cowl was repainted to dark blue (or retained). Another explanation was that blue being the color of the PAAC and the abundance of blue cowled P-26s from the 20th PS and the NMF P-26s that had blue cowls. Some of them still retained the squadron emblems of the 3rd PS and the 17th PS.
Hobby Craft of Canada produced a WWII P-26 collection that suggested two schemes: A P-26A with the USAAC in NMF based in the Philippines (with Dark Blue Cowl) and a P-26A (No. 303) with Light Blue 23 and Yellow Wings except that the tail rudder was repainted with OD or Medium Green and with the PAAC diamond. The roundels of the wings were over painted with OD or Medium Green and the PAAC diamond applied as well. The word “US” was over painted with “PHIL” and the word “Army” on the other wing was retained. There was even an option of a red outline on the diamond (similar to the present Phil Air Force diamond – sans the winged lozenge).
F & G – On the other side of the photo of the famous Zablan Field flight line, there were six (6) P-26As in overall light color, suggesting that these were the NMF with the Dark Blue cowl.
In my discussions with Bert, he singled out another photo that shows a single P-26s in light color “that did not have sheen” . He was suggesting that this light grey (or close to primer grey). That this aircraft was previously in natural metal finish and a primer was applied prior to painting of the PAAC camo colors.
Markings and Tactical Numbers:
The PAAC utilized the 6 position roundel. Two in the rudder and four in the wings. The standard PAAC diamond was an inner diamond in dark blue with a bigger white diamond in the background. Some reports mentioned a red trim on the outer diamond. I have seen a photo evidence of the red trim on a Beech Model 18 that was parked at Loakan Airfield in Baguio.
Now from an interview with Brig-Gen Ernesto “Ting” Aquino, he said that while he visited Zablan Airfield just before the war, the red trim on the PAAC diamond was evident to the NMF Beech Model 18 and the two P-12E biplanes that sported the Light Blue 23 and Yellow Wings. He clearly recalls that the P-26s only had the white diamond surround and same with the single B3 Keystone Bomber of the PAAC. As for the tactical numbers, they were in black and located on the tail just before the PAAC diamond. The words “PHIL. ARMY” was located underneath the wings. This was considered (and I believe) the standard.
However, some reports did mention of large tactical numbers in white located in the fuselage and that the PAAC diamond was located in the fuselage. Some even suggested a white or red diagonal band that ran across the diamond. – this was evident in the illustration of Hasegawa’s 1/32 P-26 model. However, I have found no photographic evidence that this scheme existed and the only visual representation of such schemes was artist impressions.
Interviews by Bert Anido with PAAC pilots such a Villamor, Juliano and Kare mentions that the pilots do not even remember the tactical numbers of the aircraft they flew nor even the color schemes as they were more concerned with the enemy than the appearance of their aircraft.
So what is the best possible color scheme of the P-26As with the PAAC?, Well definitely there was no single nor definitive scheme. The most likely schemes are those with US livery colors with present US roundels in the wings (as evidenced by photographs), and those whose US roundels were over painted with PAAC diamonds. The Olive Drab / Medium Green (or faded Olive Drab) over Neutral Grey (due to the US standard color before wartime) and maybe one or two P-26s that were still natural metal finish and the single (assumed) overall light grey aircraft.
Several years after I wrote the first draft of this piece I came across someone who had in his possession alleged unpublished aerial recon photos before and after the Japanese attack in the Philippines on Dec. 41. I cannot ascertain if they were actual Japanese sources but the one thing that caught my attention was a PAAC P-26A with tailcode #302 at Batangas Field before it was bombed on December 12. The only other photo that I know of #302 is a distant image from a general photo taken by Carl Mydans for LIFE at Zablan Airfield.
I cannot post the other photo that shows #302 allegedly at Batangas Field due to the owner’s request so the next best thing was to recreate it through a scale model: