Between 1939 and 1941 Panzer camouflage was quite standardized throughout with virtually all equipment painted in dark grey. Even by the time the Germans invaded the Soviet Union the vehicles were still painted in an overall dark grey camouflage scheme, which blended well with the local terrain. However, with the onset of winter and the first snow showers at the end of October 1941, vehicles were not camouflaged for winter warfare. With the prospect of fighting in Russia in the snow the Heer issued washable white winter camouflage paint in November 1941. The paint was specially designed to be thinned with water and applied to all vehicles and equipment where snow was on the ground. The white wash paint could easily be washed off by the crews in the spring, exposing the dark grey base colour. Unfortunately for the crews the supply came too late and the distribution to the front lines was delayed by weeks. Consequently, the crews had to adapt and find various substitutes to camouflage their vehicles. This included hastily applying a rough coat of lime white wash, whilst other crews used lumps of chalk, white cloth strips and sheets, and even hand-packed snow in an attempt to conceal conspicuous dark grey parts. Other vehicles, however, roamed the white arctic wilderness with no camouflage at all.
Following the harsh winter of 1941, the spring of 1942 saw the return of the dark grey base colour on all vehicles. It was during this period that a number of vehicles saw the return of pre-war dark brown and dark green camouflage schemes. Crews had learnt from the previous year the lessons of camouflage. Many crews began adding to their camouflage schemes by applying natural substitutes to the surface of their vehicles. These included the wide spread use of foliage and bundles of grass and hay. This was a particularly effective method used to break up the distinctive shapes and allow them to blend into the local terrain. Mud too was used as an effective form of camouflage but was never universally adopted by the crews.
For the first time in southern Russia, in the Crimea and the Caucasus, where the summer weather was similar to that in North Africa, many vehicles were given an application of tropical camouflage, with the widespread use of sand colour schemes, almost identical to those used in the Afrika-Korps. Because the terrain was very similar to that of a desert the vehicles were completed in the tropical colours of yellow brown RAL 8000, grey green RAL 7008 or just red-brown RAL 8017.
From 18 February 1943, olive green was being used on vehicles, weapons, and large pieces of equipment. A Red brown colour RAL 8012 had also been introduced at the same time. These two colours, along with the new colour base of dark yellow RAL 7028 were issued to crews in the form a highly concentrated paste. The paste came in 2kg and 20kg cans, and units were ordered to apply these colours in combinations and patterns over the entire surface of the vehicles. The paste was specially adapted so that it could be thinned with water or even fuel, and could be applied by spray, brush, or mop.
The dark yellow paste was issued primarily to cover unwanted colours or areas of the camouflage schemes, especially during changes in seasons. These new variations of colours gave the crews the widest possible choice of schemes so as to blend in as much as possible with the local terrain. The pastes were also used to colour all canvas tops and tarpaulins on the vehicles.
The new three-colour paint scheme was designed to improve combat vehicle camouflage at the front and gave each unit maximum flexibility in applying camouflage as dictated by the surrounding conditions. However, within months there were frequent problems with supply. Support vehicles carrying the new paste had to travel so far to various scattered units, usually far beyond railheads, that some Panzer units were unable to apply these new camouflage schemes for some time. Another problem was due to the fact that many Panzer units were heavily embroiled in bitter fighting and had neither the vehicles nor manpower to spare to withdraw for a repaint. Even rear area ordnance workshops were returning vehicles to action at such speed that they only found the time to replace parts, and then send them back to the front without a repaint. A great many vehicles never received any paste colours at all, and those that fought on remained in the basic, factory-applied, dark yellow, sometimes with crews adapting and enhancing the scheme with the application of foliage and mud.
However, of all the failings associated with the introduction of these new colours, the greatest of all was actually the paints themselves. These proved to be unstable when mixed with water, and even the lightest downpour could cause the colours to run or wash off the vehicles. Fuel, which was used to give the paste a more durable finish, was at such a premium during the later stages of the war, that units were compelled to use water, despite its unsuitability, a mix of paste and waste oil, or a mixture of paste and conventional paints in order to maximize coverage and enhance durability. All this caused immense variations in the appearance of the paint schemes and as a consequence unusual colours like brick red, chocolate brown and light green were seen on vehicles. In spite of these variations in colour and the fact that there was little standardization in the camouflage schemes, occasionally complete units did appear at the front properly painted and marked. But this was a rare occurrence, especially by 1944.
Throughout 1944, a further drain on German supplies and resources caused considerable disruption in the supply of all manner of materials. The paint for vehicles was just one of many deprivations inflicted on the already badly depleted Panzer units. During the last months of 1944, the paint supply situation became critical and lots of vehicles were seen in overall dark yellow or, later, in dark green, brown or whatever was available.
The use of foliage during the last years of the war was extensive. Most vehicles and a large range of weapons attached foliage to break up their distinctive shapes. The Germans were masters in the art of camouflaging their vehicles with branches from trees, grass and hay. In fact, some vehicles carried so much foliage that it was sometimes difficult to determine what type of vehicle they were or what camouflage scheme it had. In the last year of the war, foliage had become more important than paint schemes, especially on the western fronts. To the German soldier, successful concealment from aerial attack was the key to survival. As the remnants of the once vaunted Panzer divisions withdrew to the borders of the Reich the crews did not waste any time painting their vehicles. The widespread use of foliage helped compensate for this.