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

The Development of Naval Camouflage 1914 - 1945
Part V: United States Navy - World War II

By Alan Raven  

(Article reprinted courtesy of Plastic Ship Modeler Magazine issue #97/3)

The Bureau of Ships request of December 1944 to have power to decide which vessels carried what camouflage was turned down by the Commander in Chief, thereby allowing the forces afloat to continue to make their own choices as to which of the many paint schemes would be suitable. This decision proved to be very important because almost immediately the Pacific Fleet authorized the painting of ships coming from the East Coast yards to be painted in Measures 12, 21, or 22. At the same time (December 1944) that the graded and solid measures were being re-introduced on a widespread basis, a new range of colors was introduced to go with them. The new colors were neutral grays and were introduced to replace the purple-blue range. It had by now been realized that color itself was not the most important factor, but tone which played the greatest part. Thus measures 12, 21, and 22 began to re-appear in the Pacific, but now they had the new neutral grays. There were exceptions in that stocks of 5-N Navy Blue were used to exhaustion in the re-introduced measures. On the practical side, the re-use of Measures 12, 21, and 22 along with neutral grays had the following positive aspects.

A. It simplified the application of paint.

B. It simplified maintenance,

C. It reduced the number of paints for almost all large vessels.

D. The paints would now be supplied ready mixed.

The new colors were as follows,

1. #7 Navy Gray 5-N (replacing 5-N Navy Blue).

2. #17 Ocean Gray 5-0 (replacing 5-0 Ocean Gray).

3. #27 Haze Gary 5-H (replacing 5-H Haze Gray).

4. #4 Deck Gray 20 (replacing 20B Deck Blue (revised).

Just as the new colors were being applied to vessels bound for the Pacific, the Atlantic Fleet began to paint their ships in Measures 31, 32, and 33, this in order to avoid re-painting when ships were transferred to the Pacific. This state of confusion between the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets intentions lasted for several months before Atlantic Fleet vessels began to revert back to Measures 12, 21, and 22 and there were still some escort vessels in the dazzle patterns up to the time of wars end in Europe.


Because of the radically different and special missions of the submarine force, it is not surprising that their camouflage was quite different from other major combatants. Up to early 1940, the entire submarine fleet was painted above the waterline in standard #5 Navy Gray, the same color as carried by the surface fleet. The exceptions were those boats engaged in experiments with Pearl Harbor Blue and Black. As described earlier in the text, Pearl Harbor Blue was the desired color, but problems relating to its durability had meant that black, the second choice color, was chosen to be applied to the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, except for the boats working out of Pearl Harbor. These boats formed a group that would continue to extensively test improved formulas of Pearl Harbor Blue. These tests continued throughout 1941 and the colors were still being worn by several boats at the outbreak of war in December. The use of Pearl Harbor Blue was dropped in the first weeks of 1942, and by the spring, black was the only color seen on the submarine force.

By March 1942, American submarines were extensively engaged in "special missions" which included supply operations to beleaguered garrisons, such as Corregidor in the Philippines, and movement and placement of men into Japanese held islands for covert purposes. For example, in August the ARGONAUT and NAUTILUS transported men for a commando raid on the island of Makin in the Gilberts.

These special operations demanded that the boats involved be surfaced at night in enemy held waters. The most unsuitable paint scheme was an overall black. What was needed was a much lighter toned camouflage that gave low visibility from surface observation. To this end, the boats involved were eventually painted overall above the waterline in 5-0 Ocean Gray. This particular use of 5-0 for submarines was called Measure 10 and was formally promulgated in June 1942. Along with Measure 9 (overall Black) these two schemes were carried by the entire submarine force until approximately mid 1944 when two new schemes were introduced.

Unfortunately the author has been unable to discover any documents that describe the evolvement of the 1944 schemes, and can therefore only describe the final patterns and colors used. The colors were Black and a range of neutral grays, and for the first time, counter shading was used. In Measure 32/3SSB (a light type camouflage) black was used for the horizontal surfaces, with the vertical surfaces having a graded series of grays, ranging from light to black, from bow to stern. The second measure, 32/9SSB was similar in principle, the difference being that it was a darker range of grays. 32/3SSB was supposed to be effective in surface operations at night and during overcast conditions, 32/9SSB was more effective for surface operations in clear weather and while submerged. These two measures supplanted overall black and overall Ocean gray, and by autumn of 1944, the two above mentioned colors had completely disappeared.


The camouflage story of the amphibious forces is one of the most confusing and complex, where there was an initial twelve month period of no official direction, followed by two and a half years of instructions, and all of this, accompanied by no less than five series of colors. When this is combined with paint shortages, and rapid movement of operations from one area to another, it is no surprise that confusion reigned.

When the war began, the Navy had no directives, colors, or patterns in hand for amphibious craft. All of the energies of the Camouflage Section had been directed towards the conventional combatants. As a consequence, for the whole of 1942, and well into 1943, those vessels involved in landing troops, landing craft of all types, and old destroyers converted to APDs, carried a variety of home made designs of a solid, mottled, blotched, and streaked character. Some of the colors used in this period (one without official direction or sanction) were taken from the range used by the Bureau of Yards and Docks. There is absolutely no documentation covering 1942, but in January 1943 the Camouflage Section officially sanctioned the amateur designs and colors. There were two colors used, Green 1A, and Green 4A. No Measure number was assigned, but they were officially described as "Tropical Green System".

At the invasion of Green Island in mid February 1943, observations were made of landing craft camouflage. Although all of the report is interesting, only the relevant parts are quoted below:


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