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)  

with increased pressure from captains, the Admiralty decided to form a camouflage section which could at the very least evaluate the existing schemes, formalize them if necessary, and prepare designs that were thought out on a more rational and scientific basis.


As Norman Wilkenson’s offer of help had already been rejected, the Admiralty turned to advice from other artists and painters in the hope they could help.  One of these was an artist named Claude Muncaster who took charge of preparing camouflage designs.  The section came into existence in October 1940 and formed part of the TSDS department, a multi-staff department that dealt with various miscellaneous matters. Having a unique function and with nobody else really understanding what they were trying to do, the camouflage section enjoyed a substantial degree of autonomy in what it produced and how camouflage should be employed.  This lack of understanding by others (and quite often lack of interest) meant that their instructions and ideas did not carry the same authority as their counterparts in the United States Navy.


The camouflage section began to study the problems with no definitive direction from above and with no real idea of what was required of them except that designs should be produced that “did something”.  In fact, one of the reasons for using camouflage at this time was the desperate need for “something”, indeed almost anything, that might help defend ships at sea.  Although much was in the works to help ships such as extra close range AA guns, better air coverage, radar, etc. these things were not yet available and camouflage was something that could be applied on an immediate basis – so better this than nothing at all.  It was decided that designs should be drawn up that put the emphasis on concealment but should contain a degree of disruption which would forestall identification at medium ranges.  After some preliminary work with small scale models the section produced its first designs.  These were for individual ships and not for class application and used, in addition to the existing colors of 507A, 507B, and 507C, several new ones in the blue, green and grey range.  These were MS1, MS2, MS3, MS4, MS4a, B5, B6, and White.  This new range covered the spectrum of light conditions prevailing at any one time at sea so that at least two of the tones would blend in with the sea/sky background.


To guarantee a blending of colors with the background the first designs employed up to six colors, resulting in very dramatic, beautiful, and complicated patterns.  The very first vessel to wear one of these designs, which the author has named “First Admiralty disruptive Type” was the battleship QUEEN ELIZABETH in January 1941.  Further patterns for individual ships were issued as the months passed so that by the end of 1941 many vessels were wearing on of these official patterns.  Among them were the following:



Battlecruiser: RENOWN.





By late 1941 it was realized that these first generation designs were not really effective in that the small size of the paint panels blended into one overall tone even at short ranges, thus negating concealment and disruption at medium ranges.  This realization showed in major differences of the 1942 designs in name and in effect.


It is necessary at this point in our story to go back to mid 1940 and recount the introduction of another amateur design, one that was the most famous and certainly one of the most effective camouflages of the war.


Peter Scott, a naturalist by interest and one of the officers serving on the destroyer BROKE in 1940, believed that the dark of medium grey worn by so many ships at this time was probably the least effective in producing concealment.  He believed that by using a range of light colors, greater concealment was possible, especially for ships operating in the North Atlantic and the North Sea, areas where the prevailing overcast skies gave a very light sea and sky background.  His ideas translated into a design using light grey, light green, light blue, and large areas of white.  When the BROKE’s camouflage first appeared in June 1940 she was the talk of all who saw her.  Questions were raised by the Admiralty about this radical camouflage as to its merit or lack of it.  Many felt that an extremely light toned ship would stand out like a spider on a white washed wall.  In the beginning of course, few understood the rationale behind the design, and its high value against being seen at anything but close ranges.  However, an incident occurred after a few months that went a long way towards convincing people of the design’s effectiveness.  The BROKE while operating in low visibility overcast weather conditions was accidentally rammed by another destroyer.  At the resulting courts Martial of the other destroyer captain, part of his defense was that the BROKE’s camouflage was so effective that he did not see her until it was too late to take avoiding action.  What the courts thought of this line of defense is not known, but it had a positive effect upon other ship’s captains with the result that by early 1941 several Flower class corvettes engaged in convoy escort duties in the North Atlantic were painted up in this radical camouflage, know by this time as the “Peter Scott” type.  Details of the patterns worn by these corvettes are not available.  So visually unusual was the Peter Scott type that questions were tabled in the British Parliament as to – did the Admiralty know about this practice, and were they going to allow it to continue ?  Despite this reaction, the Admiralty and the newly formed camouflage section began to appreciate that they were the first documented reports of any camouflage type that were positive.  Its gradual acceptance and increased usage at sea was helped by the personal interest that Prime Minister Winston Churchill took in anything that could help in the war against the U-Boats.  In late 1941 Peter Scott described his camouflage in some detail, and this is quoted below.


Camouflage of Vessels Operating Against U-Boats


1.      The most important aspect of camouflage is its operational object. In this case it is to avoid being seen at night by a U-Boat on the surface (or an E-Boat).

2.      Previous camouflage schemes have been designed to protect ships from torpedo attacks and from accurate gunfire by attempting to upset the enemy’s inclination estimate with confusing dazzle painting, realistic bow waves, etc.  These considerations are held, at the present state of U-Boat tactics, to be irrelevant.

3.      The scheme in question is intended to allow a closer approach to a U-Boat on the surface at night by the escort before being seen.  The scheme is offensive rather than defensive in character.


4.   A measure of comprise is unavoidable in a camouflage scheme,


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