for the USN
Painting USN Camouflage Measures in 1:1250
by John Olsen
Well, the summer doldrums are here, the dollar is down below the Euro, message board postings have dried up, and everybody (Wiedling, Galerie Maritim, etc) is away on vacation. So what's a guy to do? Break out the brushes, paints, models and references, and start camouflaging! I've e-mailed some photos to Paul and Steve, so hopefully in the near future the results of my recent efforts will be up on one of the boards for all to see. For now, though, just a few thoughts on the subject in general and its application to 1:1250 models in particular.
There has been a lot of research done in recent years, and at least one fine website (www.shipcamouflage.com) deals exclusively with the subject. There are also several publications available: Naval Camouflage 1914-1945 and Liners in Battledress by David Williams, Alan Raven's 3 volume Royal Navy Camouflage series, and the Floating Drydock's Camouflage 1 and 2 are essential, as are the Snyder & Short color chips. The Colourcoats line of paints, available from White Ensign, is matched to the chips and for purists, is probably the best paint for the purpose out there, though, for those of us who prefer acrylics in jars, Pollyscale offers close matches for most of the USN colors. Floating Drydock also offers an extensive (though not yet fully comprehensive) range of camouflage design sheets that show commonly applied patterns in plan and elevation view for numerous classes of US ships. Modelers should be advised, however, that several of the patterns available in this series were mockups that were never applied.
The major need for the modeler attempting camouflage at any scale, however, is photographic coverage, the more exhaustive the better. There are three excellent photo websites (www.warships1.com, www.navsource.org, and www.history.navy.mil) and an astonishing variety of monographs available (W R Press’ Warship Perspectives series, Steve Wiper's Classic Warships Pictorials, the Profile Morskie and Gakken series to name only a few). There are as well, numerous hard cover books (Friedman's Illustrated Design Histories and anything by Alan Raven and R.A. Burt are absolute musts). As backup for the photos, references on ship movements such as the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships are also helpful in establishing dates for refits and yard periods and for confirming photo evidence. Of course, access to primary reference sources in the National Archives, Library of Congress, National Maritime Museum, Imperial War Museum, Musee de la Marine, etc, would be ideal, but let's be realistic...
Apart from a few minor errors in detail, Neptun models are usually accurate enough to fix the specific time period represented for any given ship down to the exact month. This is especially important for WWII ships because camouflage measures were frequently changed, particularly during yard periods, when other minor changes in radar and AA fits were made. Correlating the details of the model with those shown on photos is essential in determining whether, for instance, Neptun's CV Ticonderoga should be painted in a MS32/10A pattern (carried in late 1944) or the solid Navy Blue of MS21 (applied at Puget Sound in April, 1945). The Neptun model portrays the ship after her refit of Jan-Apr, 1945, during which, among other changes, the sponsons for the 40mm AA on the starboard side of the ship below the island had been removed; therefore my model appears in MS21. However, 10A is such a neat pattern that I took my old Trident/alpha Ticonderoga (the 1944 version) and painted her up as the Shangra La, which also carried 10A at that time.
Other decisions are less straightforward, as in US ships depicted early in the war when Navy Blue replaced Sea Blue as the dominant "dark" color, and late in the war, when the fleet gradually went over from a blue range of colors to neutral grays. Analyzing these shifts requires keen photo interpretation skills and careful evaluation of a host of variables including light conditions, sun angles and type of film used These are difficult and often impossible to interpret from black & white photo evidence, since the tones of these color ranges are so similar. For example, BBs New Mexico and Idaho, both modeled by Neptun in late war versions, carried a solid Navy Blue MS21 during early to mid 1945. In July 1945 Idaho was repaired in the Philippines from kamikaze damage received off Okinawa, at which time she was probably repainted, but it remains unclear whether a blue or a gray MS21 was used. I decided in favor of the Navy Gray MS21 to set her off from my Navy Blue New Mexico, but the basis for my decision is not on as sound a foundation as I would normally prefer.
Neptun has offered camouflaged versions of its German and Italian ships for some time now, and has recently issued impressive editions of HMS Rodney in disruptive pattern and USS Santee in MS17. I camouflaged my Sangamon to Santee just before the Neptun model came out. Neptun's colors are airbrushed, and, when done properly, add another dimension to the model. I've seen other Neptun examples however, that where fuzzy edges and overspray ruined the effect. I prefer brush application simply because it is easier for me to control and allows me to detail the tiny areas that airbrushes can't reach.
Apart from my Trident/alpha Ticonderoga/Shangra La, the only other non-Neptun model I've done in this series has been the Optatus Gambier Bay, a dead ringer for Neptun's Casablanca (which I painted up as Guadalcanal) and was probably produced from the same master, like other Optatus-Neptun duplicates (Taiho, Katsuragi, etc). Gambier Bay is sold already camouflaged, but the colors are not correct and the pattern is slightly off. I've repainted mine to bring it more into line with the rest of my fleet. As for "scale effect" (lightening the colors to compensate for the implied distance at which models of this small size are perceived- does that explain it right?), I prefer to use my colors at full strength. Perceived saturation varies with distance. Viewing the models close (say one-inch) implies a distance of 100ft and color saturation pretty close to full strength. Viewing at mid distance (say six-feet) implies a distance of 600ft and a reduction (lightening or neutralizing) of saturation according to that specific distance. This can be determined mathematically but nobody has yet bothered to do this. Changes in the viewing distance of small models are multiplied greatly by scale. A scale effect formula to correct for, say, a 1000 feet observation distance would be meaningless, since an observer would have to view the model at a consistent distance of ten-feet away. We know of course that this is never the case, except for dioramas under glass. Any closer or farther than ten-feet and the true effect would be off. So why bother?
In spite of the difficulties in research and photo interpretation, the US WWII fleet is about the easiest group of ships to camouflage. A lot of documentation is readily available and the rules were followed with remarkable consistency from ship to ship. Much information is also available for the German, Japanese and Italian WWII fleets. The British fleet is a major challenge both in terms of the complexity of the patterns, the range of the color palette used and the inconsistencies that prevailed in the application of the various early war patterns. Then there are the WWI and pre-WWI periods, which still await the level of research so lately devoted to WWII. Doldrums? What doldrums???