Warship Colours Pre-War

This information, supplied by David Prothero (rno@TGIS.CO.UK) was originally posted on MARHST-L in December 1998, and appears here by permission. Although "Warship Colour Schemes 1901" (as the thread was entitled) is not strictly of the World War One era, there is a great deal of useful information contained herein. In a supplemental message, the names of the warships themselves were included, and this information has been blended into the original posting.

(an earlier message stated)With regard to the Home Fleet, the relevant regulations seem to have remained silent on the issue until 1896, when the Home Dockyard Regulations state, (again rather vaguely) that ships should be painted a "light colour". In 1902, the list of overseas stations which were to have the hulls of their ships painted white was expanded to include the South American, East African, and Red Sea Stations. On the China station, however, white hulls were ordered to be limited only to those ships commanded by Commanders and below, (the rest, presumably to be painted the vague "light colour" -- which I interpret to mean light grey -- mentioned in other orders). Incidently, the segregation of such ships, I think, was less a mark of the rank of their commanding officer, than the fact that smaller ships, (ie., torpedo-boat destroyers) were typically commanded by officers of such lower ranks.

Here are the colour schemes described or painted, in the reproduction of an illustrated diary kept by a petty Officer who was aboard HMS OPHIR, when The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York made "a voyage around the British Empire", in 1901.

Channel Squadron. "...the MAGNIFICENT in full war paint black and grey, and she looked much more formidable than if she was painted in the ordinary Naval colours of black, white, yellow and red."

"War paint" drawing is red up to the water-line, black hull and the rest dark grey.

"Ordinary" is red up to the water-line, then a white line, the "black" hulls look more like very dark blue, a white line just below the top of the hull, white upper-works, yellow (I'd call it buff) funnels and ventilators, brown masts.
In "ordinary".
Escorting ships ST GEORGE and JUNO
Channel Squadron outbound 16th March 1901; DIADEM, NIOBE.
Malta 25th March ANDROMEDA, DIANA.
Suez Guard Ship
In New Zealand in June PYLADES(?), ARCHER, SPARROW, TORCH.
In St Lawrence September CRESCENT, DIADEM

Torpedo-boat-Destroyers in Mediterranean and in North America and West Indies Squadrons (HMS QUAIL), red underwater, white hull, buff/yellow upper-works and funnels.

Gunboat (RACOON) in Aden, painted white with yellow funnels and red underwater .

East Indies Squadron ; white hulls with one or more black lines just below differing deck levels; red below waterline POMONE. Black below waterline, HIGHFLYER and MARATHON which had very yellow funnels.

Cape Squadron. Red underwater, white hull, yellow funnels; GIBRALTAR, FORTE, TERPISCORE, BARRACOUTA, THRUSH, DWARFE, PARTRIDGE . Also NIAD, MONARCH in "ordinary". MONARCH in Simonstown had the dark hull colour taken up to fo'csle level to include the turrets, with a very narrow band of white upperworks, yellow funnels and ventilators, brown masts.

China Squadron in Singapore 21st April; AURORA and ARETHUSA, "ordinary", RASARIO, LINNET and ALGERINE like RACOON in Aden.

In Melbourne. Russian cruiser (GROMOBOI), black underwater, white, or very pale grey hull and upper-works, red ventilators, yellow funnels with black tops; US (BROOKLYN), black underwater, white or very pale grey hull to the level of the lowest upper-deck, everything above that pale brown; German cruiser (HANSA), black underwater, white hull, above that dull yellow; German corvette, red underwater; Dutch cruiser, red underwater, white hull, yellow ventilators and funnels with black top; Australian "Cerebos"(?) had brown funnel on British "ordinary"; Australian "Protector", "ordinary" but lower upper-works light grey and ventilators' interiors red.

Portuguese warship (SAN GABRIEL) and Spanish warship (INFANTA ISABELA)in Gibraltar much the same as British "ordinary". Portuguese gunboat in Cape Verde, black hull, white water-line, black-topped buff funnel

French cruiser (DE ESTREES)in St Lawrence, all white, with green underwater and black tops to funnels.

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Last Updated: 21 December, 1998.