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Paul Bradley

HMS Illustrious Camo Colours at Taranto

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So this is in response to a couple of entries in the HMS Indomitable colours thread, where the colours of her sister ship, Illustrious, and specifically her colours at the time of the Taranto Raid,  were briefly alluded to. 

 

I shall, hopefully, shortly be embarking on a project to build Illustrious at Taranto in time for the 80th anniversary next year, so I've been doing a little research. What I've seen is a rather confusing, as some sources state she was overall dark grey, while others state she had been given a disruptive camo scheme in time for the raid. So what is the consensus of opinion of the more learned members of this forum? 

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She commissioned in HF Grey and appears to have worked up in that paint over in Bermuda in July 1940. She was described as having a minor refit on the Clyde before going to Scapa Flow. By September she was sent to Force H.

 

I'm thinking that if she was repainted before Taranto, it happened at Alexandria in late October/first week of November 1940 when she was undergoing repairs for the hangar fire.

 

@dickrd your tags are now working. Do you have any insight in to precise timing of her receiving her first camouflage scheme?

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There are a number of photographs of Illustrious taking around the time she was bombed by Fliegerkorps X on January 10, 1941 during Operation Excess. The pattern of her camouflage in this scheme is now well documented, though there is disagreement over the colours used.  What is less clear is the scheme she was wearing during Operation Judgement for the attack on Taranto on November 11, 1940. It is known from photographs taken from Ark Royal that Illustrious was not camouflaged for Operation HATS (30 August – 5 September, 1940), so her camouflage scheme(s) were applied after she arrived at Alexandria in September 1940.

 

In Fleet Air Arm Camouflage and Markings, 1937-41 (written under the pseudonym Stuart Lloyd), I suggested that Illustrious was painted in a disruptive scheme during the Taranto attack. The key piece of evidence I cited in the book was a photograph of Hero escorting an Illustrious Class carrier. The carrier is in a low contrast disruptive scheme that shows some similarity in pattern to the scheme Illustrious was wearing in January 1941. This is an enlargement of the carrier in that photo:

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This photograph is important because it shows a Sea Gladiator parked behind the aft pom-pom mount. For Operation Judgement, Illustrious embarked 3 Sea Gladiators from Eagle’s 813F Squadron, which remained on permanent deck park for Operation Judgement. One of these Sea Gladiators, N5549, had a landing accident and I reproduce a photograph of this incident in the book, which also shows a camouflaged section of the rear of the pom-pom mount. Illustrious did not embark Sea Gladiators at any other point in her career, so Sea Gladiators on Illustrious = Operation Judgement.

 

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One difficulty with the Hero photograph, however, is the identity of the carrier. Neither of the two obvious distinguishing features of Illustrious during her first commission (the position of the main mast and the discontinuous bridge extension in front of the island) are completely clear in the photo, even under magnification. As it happens, Formidable also embarked 3 Sea Gladiators from 813F (for transit to Maleme) in part of Operation MC9 (March 19-23, 1941), and Hero was part of the escorting force for this operation too. So it is possible that the Hero photograph shows Formidable photographed in March 1941, rather than Illustrious in November 1940. Against this, is the likelihood that Formidable was painted in her own Alexandria disruptive scheme by the time of her deployment on Operation MC9.  I have not been able to confirm the exact date this scheme was first applied, but IWM film of the bombardment of Tripoli on April 21, 1941, shows Formidable in her own disruptive scheme.

 

Since the publication of the book in 2008, I have acquired several more photographs that demonstrate that the Hero photograph does indeed show Illustrious painted in a low contrast disruptive pattern for Taranto. This scheme is not the same as the scheme she was wearing in January 1941. The original disruptive scheme was of significantly lower contrast and painted to a somewhat different pattern (particularly on the starboard side). For simplification, I’ll refer to these as Scheme 1 and Scheme 2.

 

Here is a starboard side view of Illustrious in a low contrast disruptive scheme 1. Note that this image shows the discontinuous bridge extension and is therefore unambiguously of Illustrious. The  pattern and contrast matches the Hero photograph very well.

 

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Compare this with Scheme 2 

 

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This photo is from a private diary I own compiled by a member of Eagle's crew and was taken at Alexandria after her return from Malta.

 

 

I also have port side comparisons of Scheme 1 and 2. The earlier scheme is quite different, especially on the island.

Edited by iang

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Great stuff @iang!  Dare we ask you also for the dates in September 1940 that her log suggests she repainted from overall grey to the first (low contrast) patterned scheme and for images of the port side comparisons of Schemes 1 & 2?

 

Edited by dickrd

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Wow, I'll echo that - many thanks, Ian!! I, too, would be very interested in seeing a diagram of the Scheme 1  port side. 

 

So - as far as you know - was the disruptive scheme painted over the Home Fleet Grey, and what colour would it have been?

 

And would the deck also have been finished with a disruptive pattern? The one photo with the upturned Glad would suggest otherwise, but it's a relatively small area. 

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I'll scan those and send you the photos privately. The dates I'll look up and post later.

 

In the meantime, in case anyone was wondering what I mean by Illustrious having a discontinuous bridge extension during her fist commission, this photograph should make it clear. This was unique to Illustrious and only for her first commission.

 

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And just to reinforce how low contrast Scheme 1 was, here is another starboard side view:

 

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11 hours ago, iang said:

 

And just to reinforce how low contrast Scheme 1 was, here is another starboard side view:

 

spacer.png

 

Thank you again Ian.  I think this photo is Victorious however - the pattern matches her first disruptive scheme along with certain physical details hinted at.

 

I have not dug into Illustrious's paint schemes before so I am now very interested to know the nature of the debate re Illustrious's colours at the time of Taranto and then in early 1941. I would have thought it pretty obvious as you have suggested....?  

Edited by dickrd

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If there are any diagrams of the pattern still to be documented I'd be happy to assist with said illustrations.

 

I'd never noticed that nuance of the Illustrious bridge before, but it's a good nugget to have at the back of one's mind.

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2 hours ago, dickrd said:

 

Thank you again Ian.  I think this photo is Victorious however - the pattern matches her first disruptive scheme along with certain physical details hinted at.

 

I have not dug into Illustrious's paint schemes before so I am now very interested to know the nature of the debate re Illustrious's colours at the time of Taranto and then in early 1941. I would have thought it pretty obvious as you have suggested....?  

 

So it is. Victorious had her mainmast further forward and had full width, relatively deep, bridge extension with wind deflectors. I don't know how I missed that!

 

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As to the colours: 

 

I've never seen Scheme 1 illustrated, possibly because photographs are rare. I think most texts claim Illustrious was not camouflaged at the time of Taranto. My first guess at the colours would be 507A and a medium grey mix. For Scheme 2 I'd guess 507A/507C. Jamie will be able to tell us more, I'm sure. I note that the armoured carrier site gives B5/MS4a for Scheme 2. http://www.armouredcarriers.com/illustrious-malta-operation-excess-january-10-1941

 

The dates of painting from her logs are:

 

 1-5/7/40 (Bermuda); 13/9/40, 20-26/9/40 (Alexandria); 6-7/12/40, 9/12/40, 14/12/40 (Alexandria); 14-15/2/41, 17-21/2/41 (Alexandria).  

 

From this I'd say Scheme 1 was applied in September and Scheme 2 in December. 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, iang said:

I note that the armoured carrier site gives B5/MS4a for Scheme 2. http://www.armouredcarriers.com/illustrious-malta-operation-excess-january-10-1941

 

Hi Ian,

 

Given the quoted source I wouldn't trust that as far as I could throw it!

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14 hours ago, Paul Bradley said:

 

And would the deck also have been finished with a disruptive pattern? The one photo with the upturned Glad would suggest otherwise, but it's a relatively small area. 

Paul,

 

The deck was not camouflaged at the time of Taranto:

 

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8c70cebf-7012-4a39-87c4-2b306b5839ab.jpg

 

 

 

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16 hours ago, iang said:

I'll scan those and send you the photos privately. The dates I'll look up and post later.

Much appreciated, Ian!

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4 hours ago, iang said:

Paul,

 

The deck was not camouflaged at the time of Taranto:

 

8c70cebf-7012-4a39-87c4-2b306b5839ab.jpg

 

 

 

Great thread! Quick one; how did the Walrus/Seagull come to a stop when landing like this?

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Swordfish could easily stop without using the wires too (some pre-war veterans viewed it as a matter of professional pride to begin with) but it raised the risk of a barrier engagement or worse.  More importantly, using arrestor wires / barrier significantly sped up the landing cycle, and thus meant that Mum had to spend much less time welded to the flying course.  Win all round.

 

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I would like to return to the original question asked in this thread - the appearance of HMS Illustrious at the time of the raid on Taranto during the night of 10-11 November 1940. The nice new-tool Aoshima kit of Illustrious has been sitting in my stash for 21 months now while I have slowly accumulated references on the class, but the colour scheme worn by Illustrious at Taranto has been difficult to pin down.

 

It is clear that when commissioned in late May 1940, HMS Illustrious was painted overall Dark Grey (Home Fleet Grey, AP507A - though it could still have been AP507B at this time). She continued to wear this scheme throughout her work-up, which took place off Bermuda following the fall of France. One unusual aspect of her appearance during the trials period was a light-coloured panel extending the full width of her forward round-down, perhaps for identification purposes. Another was a false bow wave carried during her flying trials (shown in a photo of her at Bermuda on 5 July 1940, on page 88 of Fleet Air Arm Camouflage and Markings by Stuart Lloyd). Both of these features seem to have been removed before Illustrious entered the Mediterranean on 30 August 1940.

 

It is reasonably certain that Illustrious was given an "Alexandria" style disruptive camouflage scheme soon after joining the Mediterranean Fleet, along with the rest of the fleet. Whereas many ships adopted high-contrast schemes using 2 or 3 colours, Illustrious was painted into a fairly dark and low-contrast scheme, probably using 2 colours. The Stuart Lloyd book (page 141) gives the periods when Illustrious was repainted at Alexandria as:

20-26 September 1940,

6-9 December 1940,

14-18 February 1941.

The last of these periods is after Illustrious' career had come to an abrupt end on 10 January 1941, when she was severely damaged by Luftwaffe Stukas and put out of action for over a year, leaving only 2 periods when Illustrious was repainted during her active service in the Med

 

The discussion of Illustrious over on the Modelwarships site includes links to films of Illustrious on the Australian War Memorial website, dated 29 September and 8 October 1940, that show the low-contrast disruptive scheme, so it was most likely applied during the 20-26 September repaint. I have also found a photo of Illustrious that shows her in the similar high-contrast scheme referred to earlier in this thread, but before the damage inflicted on 10 January 1941. This high-contrast scheme was therefore probably applied over 6-9 December 1940, after Taranto.

 

There are a couple of pieces of evidence that support the theory that Illustrious was wearing the low-contrast disruptive scheme at the time of Taranto. One is a photo of her and HMS Hero claimed to have been taken during the operation, again reproduced in the Stuart Lloyd book (page 140). Another is a short film sequence included on the DVD Know Your Own Navy that shows Illustrious being cheered by a group of servicemen on her return to Alexandria after the raid (though the commentary says that she is the Ark Royal!).

 

If we can be reasonably confident that Illustrious wore a low-contrast disruptive sheme at the time of Taranto, probably in 2 colours, we are left with two questions:

1. What colours were used?

2. What did the disruptive pattern actually look like?

The first is easier to answer. Since Illustrious entered the Med painted overall Home Fleet Grey (AP507A), it is likely that this colour was retained as the darker of the two colours. The second colour is too dark to be Mediterranean Grey (AP507C) and is probably a medium grey, formed by mixing AP507A and AP507C. In the absence of any other evidence, I will opt for a 50/50 mix of the two colours since it would have been easy to specify (and to re-mix later whenever some touching-up was needed), and is mentioned in later official documents. The flight deck colour may have been some shade of dark grey, but Bronze Grey (AP631) seems more likely during 1940. The flight deck markings could have been either white or yellow, but I have found no evidence either way.

 

The second question is more of a problem. I have now just about found enough pictures of Illustrious in the low-contrast scheme to piece together the pattern on her starboad side, but for some reason good clear pictures of her port side are much more elusive. Are there any pictures out there that show the low-contrast disruptive pattern clearly, especially of her port side?

 

 

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If you go back to Ian Gazeley's (=Stuart Lloyd) posting on 8th August you will see that he has "comparisons" of the port side in Scheme's 1 and 2. I have not seen these. Ian, please can you share these?

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Posted (edited)

I meant to do this a while ago. Thanks for the nudge.

 

Here's Scheme 1 (Operation Judgement) - at Alexandria

 

 

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And here is Scheme 2 (Operation Excess) at Malta

 

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Note the completely different pattern on the island. The hull looks similar in both schemes, except perhaps for the bow section.

 

 

On the subject of colours, I assume 507A and 507C for Scheme 2.

Scheme 1 is a bit more puzzling. Given that for Operation HATS, Illustrious was in 507A, it would seem likely that for her first repaint at Alexandria, camouflage was applied by using one colour over this scheme. In most photos the camouflage scheme looks to have quite a low contrast.

 

This low contrast scheme also seems to have been applied to Formidable, for her first scheme, albeit to a different pattern.

Edited by iang

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Thanks for the post, Ian, but I can't see the photos. Can everyone else see them? 

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Not initially, no. It appears Village Photos security certificates are outdated, if you add an exception for them in your browser they become visible.

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Hi Ian, thanks very much for posting those photos of the port side. It took some effort but I was eventually able to view them - the image of the low-contrast scheme is particularly helpful.

 

Is there any evidence as to whether the Mediterranean Fleet would have been using ready-mixed paints by September 1940, or still mixing them onboard ship or in the dockyard from individual ingredients? If the former, then a 50/50 mix of AP507A and AP507C may well have been the simplest way to obtain large quantities of a medium grey paint quickly. If paints were still being made up when required there would have been more opportunity for variations, but the result would presumably still have been a slightly bluish grey.

 

Peter.

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