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)


complicated and may have been one of the Brown and Green type.  Her camouflage did not help her against air attack as she was hit by bombs at Dunkirk and drifted around the harbor living up to her name before eventually sinking.


Of the previously mentioned unofficial types, the first was a design seemingly based on WW I Dazzle types.  The colors used varied between ships, the range being black, 507A, MS3, 507C, and white.  There appear to be no surviving documents describing the origins of this type but the design and colors leave no doubt that its purpose was strictly to confuse the enemy as to the identity of the vessel in question.  It appears that this type of camouflage (which the author has named 1940 Dazzle) was worn by the destroyer IVANHOE and the “H” class destroyer HURRICANE in mid 1940.  At least three others in the class followed suit; HARVESTER, HIGHLANDER, and HESPERUS.  By early 1941 several other destroyers had adopted the 1940 Dazzle type and photos show it survived well into 1942.


Another unofficial type was of a style proposed by the captain of the battlecruiser REPULSE.  Conceived as a combined  concealment / identity type, designs were prepared for the REPULSE, Town class cruisers, the carrier FURIOUS, and NELSON class battleships.  Named “Contrast” camouflage, it used only two colors, 507A and 507C, and was only worn by three ships.  One was REPULSE and she wore this design  from late 1940 until she was sunk in December 1941.  The cruiser GLASGLOW carried this style from late 1940 until late 1942.  The last was a battleship WARSPITE from late 1940 to the end of her career.  WARSPITE was a bit different in that the colors used were 507B and 507C, and in late 1942 the pattern was simplified a little.


A further unofficial type that originated in 1940 in home waters was a singular idea thought up by Louis Mountbatten.  In the autumn of 1940 while escorting a convoy he noticed that one ship in the group vanished from view much earlier that the remainder.  The vessel in question turned out to be a Union Castle liner that was still wearing her pre-war hull color of medium lavender mauve grey.  So convinced was Mountbatten of this color’s effectiveness at dawn and dusk, often the times of greatest danger, that with only a slight variation in tone, he adopted the color and had it worn by all of destroyers in his flotilla.  At this time the ships of the fifth flotilla were all “K” class destroyers.  As originally worn, the color was a medium grey (507B) with a small amount of Venetian Red in the mix.  The red tint produced a very distinctive color and is one of the few camouflage types an observer never forgot once he had seen it.  No reports were ever received from sea as to its effectiveness but belief in its properties was strong enough to convince captains of other vessels, so that by early 1941 several destroyers and some cruisers were wearing this scheme, known by this time as “Mountbatten Pink”.


Though formal reports on the effects of the camouflage were absent there were no lack of stories.  One of these dealt with the cruiser KENYA.  In her Mountbatten Pink camouflage she, in company with four destroyers and two landing craft, covered a commando raid against installations on Vaagso Island off the Norwegian coast on December 24th, 1941 (Operation Archery).  Unknown to the British, the Germans had installed several captured French 9.2” guns on shore.  These guns opened fire on the KENYA which, although under fire for several minutes, sustained only minor damage from near misses.  KENYA’S good fortune was put down to her camouflage color blending in with the Pink marker dye the Germans were using in their shells, thus the German spotters were unable to distinguish between shell splash and ship.  The author has doubts about this story, but it remains a part of camouflage history.


In its original form, Mountbatten Pink was used as an overall one color design, but as ships other than those of the Fifth Flotilla started to take it up, a second lighter tone (of the same color) was introduced to make it a two tone scheme.  The cruiser KENYA used the darker tone for the hull and the lighter tone of the upperworks (KENYA’s wartime nickname was “The Pink Lady”).  The cruiser DORSETSHIRE was typical in that Mountbatten Pink was used on the hull in patterned form with 507C as the second color.  In some of these designs the use of white for break-up panels was employed, the cruiser BERWICK being a good example.


As Mountbatten Pink was believed to produced concealment at dawn and dusk it was regarded as particularly valuable to coastal forces and small ships involved in special operations such as MTBs, MGBs, and MLs, and many vessels of this type were so painted.  Of the special operation ships, the ex-American destroyer which became  HMS CAMBELTOWN was painted overall Mountbatten Pink especially for the St. Nazaire operation.  Several vessels stationed at Plymouth in late 1941 to mid 1942 (mostly small craft) were painted in a color known locally as ”Plymouth Pink”.  The author believes  that the probability is high that Plymouth Pink is in fact Mountbatten Pink.  By the end of 1942 all vessels of destroyer size and larger had dispensed with Mountbatten Pink, although it is believed that smaller vessels (MTBs, etc.) retained this color until well into 1944.


All of the unofficial schemes so far discussed had their origins in home waters, however during the 1940/41 period there was another area of combat operations, the Mediterranean.  This area saw a proliferation of local schemes that began in mid 1940 along with the entry of Italy into the war.  The story of these many schemes and designs is badly incomplete.  There is no surviving documentation in written form.  The photographic record, incomplete as it is, serves as the best evidence along with some contemporary paintings and sketches and a smattering of personal recollections.  All of the available evidence states that, despite a substantial variety of patterns spread over all types of ships, the only colors used were white, black, and graduations of grey.


Combat operations in the Mediterranean began in mid 1940 and increased in intensity, reaching a peak in May 191 with the evacuation of land forces from Crete.  By this time the Navy had been in a continual series of operations for about eleven months, and among the defensive measures taken, the use of camouflage was perhaps the most manifest.  Mid 1941 found most of the ships operating in the eastern Mediterranean from Alexandria wearing unofficial camouflage.  Without instructions or guidance from the camouflage department these unofficial designs reflected their amateur origins, generally in the simplicity of patterns.  A few however were quite complicated, the design carried by the cruiser AJAX being one of them.  It appears that no two vessels ever carried the same pattern which was quite often different port and starboard.  No documentation exists that comments of on these designs but local belief in them was strong to the point where they  were carried on into 1942, by which time official camouflage type and patterns had largely taken over.


By the early autumn of 1940 the proliferation of camouflage in Home and Mediterranean waters had reached   such a point that, coupled

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