The Colourful Kurkurznik

The U-2/Po-2 in Profiles

Many aircraft of the Soviet VVS of the Great Patriotic War may claim to be colourful. Colourful and interestingly camouflaged, indeed. But, surely, there is no realistic contender to the title of "most colourful camouflage", for that spot is held tenaciously by the incredibly versatile Polikarpov U-2/Po-2 biplane. So many sobriquets have been applied to this machine that they might fill a catalogue of their own, but the most common--and I think endearing--of these was probably the kurkurznik, or 'corn stalk cutter'.

What is all more fascinating about this aircraft is that the preponderance of remarkable camouflage schemes worn by it were, in fact, applied at the factories, and were not the result of field application irregularities. Zavod 387 (at Kazan), which was the primary centre for U-2/Po-2 manufacture during the War, certainly led the way, but Zavods 464, 471 and 494 also produced their own stunning examples. And, indeed, even before the War much unusual colouration was seen at the original factory, No. 23 in Leningrad. This may well have been related to the extraordinary pre-War 5-, 6- and 7-colour camouflage which was tested at this very factory (and on which we will have a future article) for use with tactical and liaison machines (such as the R-5).

In fact, the entire programme seemed to be a kind of canvas for experimentation in camouflage. One has to guess that when, in 1943, the Government issued a number of recommendations for three-colour schemes as an aid to those programmes who could not think of their own, the staff at Zavod 387 must have fallen over themselves with laughter. Such was the state of camouflage development on the U-2.

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In this article--the first of many parts, one would imagine--we will try to explore some interesting examples of U-2/Po-2 colouration; ones with which we hope our readers might not be previously familiar.

U-2VS "White 17"
pilot u/k
Summer 1942
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Brown/Black/Blue

This Po-2 was photographed in service with the 46 ORAP during the summer of 1942, probably at Orel. The crew of this machine are unknown.

"17" was finished in what looks possibly to be a field scheme. The early Zavod 23 application with sharply demarcated Green/Black camouflage seems clear, and over that there appears to be an appliqué third colour, this in AII Brown. Such a three-colour scheme is not impossible for factory manufacture, but it would be uncommon at this time. The upper/lower colour demarcations were presented very crisply along the squared edges of the fuselage, even over the lower engine cowling (which was odd). The tactical number is presented in an interesting font that one may see on several Leningrad examples, as well.

The national markings were thin black bordered types, as was common for this period, including the wing undersurfaces. The finish looks to have been quite new, and exhibited no unusual features.

U-2VS "Yellow 31"
pilot G. Solov'ev
unit u/k
Autumn 1942
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Black/Blue

The photograph showing "Yellow 31" is held in a private collection, and the only information on the back of the picture states, "G. Solov'ev  VIII-42". Alas, besides this basic data, nothing further is known about this machine.

"31" is wearing a most intriguing scheme. The basic colouration is an over-all application of AII Green/Blue, with 'areas' of AII Black sprayed about in several locations. On first inspection, one might assume that this scheme is another field appliqué job; however, I think it is not. There are a number of clues on the photograph which cause me to believe otherwise (such as the pattern of weathering, the precise nature and locations of the Black appliqué, and other things). Indeed, one can see in a somewhat famous photograph of Kazan manufacture from this time-frame some as yet uncompleted U-2s on the line that appear to wearing camouflage very much like this. I suspect strongly that, in fact, this aircraft left factory painted in this way. The tactical number looks to be finished in yellow; a dirty white colour has also been suggested.

This aircraft is wearing thin black outline national insignia in six positions, as usual. The upper/lower colour demarcation is sharply executed along the fuselage edge, and the upper surface Green colour has darkened with age.

U-2VS "Red 126"
pilot N. Luminova, Ya. Pilenkova
588 NBAP
October 1942
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Dark Green/MK-6

"Red 126" was photographed in the autumn of 1942 in service with the illustrious all-female 588 NBAP (soon to be the 46 GNBAP). The pilot of "126" was Nataliya Luminova, and gunner Yakaterina Pilenkova.

This U-2 wears one of the classic two-colour scheme applications from the spring-summer of 1942 at Zavod 387. The precise form of these patterns is often quite variable, but it is immediately clear that they represent a recognizable family of camouflage. The undersurfaces have been painted with MK-6 noch' black finish, and this was likely done at the regiment, and not at the factory. The tactical number is completed in red in a very plain font, and there is some yellow trim across the top of the rudder.

The national markings were thin black border type stars, but those on the wing undersurfaces were obscured by MK-6. This practice was quite common on night attack machines. The upper surface finished appeared to be somewhat darkened with use and exposure, and there was some considerable grime present over the cowling.

U-2VS "Red 8"
pilot M. Samsonov, N. Churbin
Summer 1944
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Black/Light Brown/Blue

This classic Po-2 was photographed in service with the 9 GNBAP during the summer of 1944, probably along the Russo-Polish frontier. The pilot of "8" was St.Lt. Moisey Samsonov, and gunner Nikolai Churbin.

"Red 8" wears one of the beautiful summer schemes seen during much of the period from later 1943 until the summer of 1944 from Kazan. The application is a three-colour disruptive pattern on the upper surfaces, and by preference AII lacquers Green, Black, and Light Brown were usually seen (though not exclusively). The lines and forms of this pattern were flowing and organic, and are entirely representative of these types. The upper/lower colour demarcations were softly applied in all locations--typical for this period at Zavod 387--and the tactical number "8" was applied in red trimmed carefully with white.

This aircraft wore white boarder national insignia in six positions, as shown. The finish looked to be somewhat new-ish, and no significant grime was obvious on the machine.

U-2VS "White 40"
pilot P. Dovendonya, K. Ristic
Summer 1943
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Black/Blue

Another Po-2 of the superlative 46 GNBAP during the summer-autumn of 1943. "White 40" was piloted by P. Dovedonya, with gunner/crew K. Ristic.

This machine is finished in one of the innumerable Po-2 schemes of 1942 (from Kazan, presumably) which often demonstrate this 'discoordination' between the patterns on the control surfaces; it was a classic theme borrowed from earlier manufacture at Leningrad. The paints here were AII Green and Black, these featuring quite sharp colour demarcations, as was the upper/lower surface demarcation. The inscription to port reads, "Smert' Fashistam!" (Death to Facists!), and was applied in white with a curious 'decorative' scroll type font. The Guard's Emblem on "40" was rather large, and quite attractively executed. Some small red bars are to be seen under the numbers "40" on the rudder, and the meaning of these markings is unknown.

"White 40" wore plain red star type markings in six positions, as usual. The surfaces looked to be somewhat darkened with age, and some wear and grime was evident.

A 3-D "skin" model of this aircraft is available for those who have the flight simulator IL-2 Forgotten Battles. The skin may be found here, and it is a useful reference for anyone wanting to model this aircraft.

U-2VS no number
pilot u/k
211 ORAP
Winter 1943
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Dark Green/Blue

Nothing is known about the pilot/crew of this curious U-2, which is the subject of photograph in the TsDAK collection [ref. 91-9 43-I]. The date given on the back of the photo suggests the winter of 1943-44 as the correct time frame, and the unit as the 211 ORAP.

This aircraft demonstrates a delightful winter appliqué scheme, almost certainly one which was applied in the field. The meandering lines look to be completed with AII Dark Green, over what is certainly a coat of somewhat worn MK-7 white. The colour underlying this white distemper is not clear, and I have speculated to draw a simple AII Green application in this case. The MK-7 has been appled around the national stars, and well down to the fuselage sides, giving a sharp colour demarcation (except on the cowling, where it is soft). No other markings are present; neither a tactical numer or other item.

Thin black boarder national insignia were carried in six positions, as shown. Some considerable grime and wear were obvious over the lower engine cowling.

U-2VS "Yellow 19"
pilot Mai. Feoktistov, Sgzt. Blagov
266 NBAP, 242 NBAD
Summer 1943
Camouflage Colours:  AII Green/Dark Green/Blue

"Yellow 19" was the delightful personal mount of Regimental Commander Feoktistov of the 266 NBAP, then serving within the 242 NBAD. Feoktistov's gunner was Ivan Blagov, later to be promoted to Kapitan and pilot his own Po-2 in action.

This machine is wearing one of the superlative two-colour schemes from Zavod 471 (at Shumerla) from the summer and autumn of 1943. These invariably made use of AII lacquers Green and Dark Green, and the style of application was a delightful type of irregular and semi-faded disruptive pattern. The appearance of "19" is absolutely representative of this work. There is what looks to be a large number "1" on the fuselage (the meaning of this is unknown), in white, along with a lovely inscription which reads, "To the Victory of the Defenders of Socialism! In the Name of Marx, Engels, Lenin." The upper/lower colour demarcation is sharply applied across the lower cowling, but softly along the fuselage sides.

"19" wore plain red national markings in six positions. The finish of "Yellow 19" looked to be fairly new, and it appears that the machine was rather fresh in appearance when photographed.