An online database of camouflage used by 
United State Naval Warships during WWII

The Development of Naval Camouflage 1914 – 1945
Part III: British Camouflage in World War II

By Alan Raven



(Article reprinted courtesy of  Plastic Ship Modeler Magazine issue #97/1)



The interwar years found ships of the Royal Navy wearing one of four different paint schemes depending upon which command they were attached to.  For vessels of the Home Fleet the colors were Home Fleet Dark Gray.  Ships of the Mediterranean Fleet wore an overall light gray (named Mediterranean Light Gray) as did those serving on the West Indian and South American stations.  Vessels attached to the Indian Ocean were usually painted overall white, while ships of the China and Far East commands had white hulls and upperworks with buff funnels.


The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 saw no immediate change to ship’s colors.  It was not until several weeks later that some of the Home Fleet’s ships began to adopt an overall medium grey color as being more useful for concealment purposes.  There was no official sanction for this change, just a belief that the lighter tone would produce better results.  It was about this time that Norman Wilkenson proposed the adoption of Dazzle camouflage, the style that he had originated in the First World War.  As the Admiralty had produced a post WWI report that placed the Dazzle system in a negative light, his proposal was therefore rejected and it was not until December 1939 that the first camouflage appeared.  The destroyer GRENVILLE was the very first ship to carry camouflage, to be followed by a handful of destroyers a few weeks later.  Unfortunately only the poorest of photos exist showing these early paint schemes, poor to the degree that the patterns cannot be ascertained.


During the early months of 1940 there arose fears that the ships of the Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow could be identified by German aircraft or by German spies watching from nearby Kirkwall.  It was therefore proposed in April by the commander in Chief  Home Fleet that suitable camouflage be devised and worn.  Being of a land background type, it was different from a sea going type in that it employed a dark brown as one of the colors. The others were light grey, light green, with an occasional touch of black and white.  Documents state that the entire 13th cruiser squadron was so painted from April to August 1940.  Visual evidence exists for the patterns on NEWCASTLE and SOUTHAMPTON but not for the rest of the squadron.  Verbal reports state the EDINBURGH was painted overall medium grey in this period and did not wear camouflage.  Photographic evidence shows that other ships wore the brown and green type camouflage including the cruiser NAIAD and the battleships NELSON and RESOLUTION.  Reports from the sea on the brown and green type (officially known as the Flotta Scheme) were generally negative.  This is not surprising as a land background type is not going to perform well out in the ocean.  These reports, coupled with the large scale and frequent attacks on ships of the Home Fleet during the Norway operation in the spring and summer of 1940 caused the Flotta scheme to be dropped.  By the beginning of December it had entirely disappeared with vessels reverting back to overall medium grey. (507B).


The Brown and Green scheme was not the only camouflage to be worn by ships pf the Home Fleet in 1940.  In April the captain and commander of the cruiser DEVONSHIRE (along wit the participation of the Admiral) devised a particularly striking  camouflage, one that they believed would offer a degree of concealment and disruption of identity.  It consisted of a series of interleafed parallelograms running along the hull and into the upperworks.  The colors employed were 507A and 507C.  The captain of the cruiser NORFOLK believed that the DEVONSHIRE scheme had some merit.  Norfolk used some of the design but added the shape (in dark grey 507A) of another vessel painted onto the hull to give the impression that the NORFOLK was a much smaller ship.  The effectiveness of the DEVONSHIRE type is not known, but it was carried by the name  ship from April 1940 to the end of 1942 without hardly any change.  The NORFOLK however began to change her pattern son after the Norway campaign.  These changes were progressive to the point that by the time of the BISMARK operation (in which she took part) almost the entire ship was in 507A dark grey with just a few stripes on light grey across the upperworks.  The cruiser YORK also wore the DEVONSHIRE scheme from the spring of 1940 and was so painted at the time of her loss in May 1941.


The cruiser PENELOPE also carried a striking camouflage during the Norwegian campaign.  Unfortunately only one photo exists to show it and that was taken from the floor of the drydock in which she was being repaired.  To show just how some of the patterns were devised and applied, the PENELOPE pattern was conceived by the captain and commander while she was operating in the Norwegian fjords in May 1940 and during lulls between fighting the Germans and while the ship was at anchor, the vessel was hurriedly painted in tones of light and dark grey.  The gunnery officer then climbed to the top of a nearby hill and upon viewing the desired effect, pronounced it satisfactory.  This is probably one of the most hastily thought out and applied camouflage schemes; there is no evidence as to whether it worked or not.


Other unofficial designs sprang up in home waters during 1940, ones that employed disruptions of light and dark grey panels, and a number of destroyers and sloops employed these designs during the spring and summer.  In addition to the small ships, at least three “C” class cruisers, CAIRO, CURLEW, and CARLISLE, wore striking dark and light grey camouflage patterns in this period.  It is not known just how long the first two were painted but the CARLISLE was wearing essentially the same pattern into mid 1942.  In some respects the patterns bore a resemblance to that carried by the battleship INDOMITABLE in late 1914 early 1915.  It is very possible that other C & D class cruisers were painted in the above manner.  Surviving documentation on all of these designs are the merest wisps as are supporting photographs.


By the autumn of 1940 most ships on home station were back to wearing overall medium grey (507B) but such was the interest in using camouflage as a passive defense measure (regardless of its level of effectiveness) that at least four more amateur types were conceived, with one of them going to become very successful and widely used.


One of the major operations that the Royal Navy carried out in 1940 was the evacuation of British troops f4rom the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France.  From the few photos taken in this period it appears that the destroyers taking part were painted overall medium grey (507B) or had 507A hulls and 507C upperworks.  Two destroyers that took part did wear camouflage; GARLAND and GRENADE.  GARLAND’s design employed a pattern that used a color described in documents as “stone”, while GRENADE’s design was more

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