Dark Blue and other ‘lost' colours of the US Navy 1941 – 1943
Scale Aircraft Modelling|August 2021
Unlike the majority of the ColourConundrum articles that have appeared in Scale Aircraft Modelling over the last few years, which have been almost entirely based upon the author’s own research, this article is more of a compilation of research carried out by other people that has been published in a number of places over the last forty years or so. Their names and publications should become self-evident upon reading.
Paul Lucas

The questions relating to the use of a colour called Dark Blue by the US Navy first came to the author’s attention as a result of the research carried out into the colour schemes of the Malta Spitfires of 1942 that subsequently appeared in SAM under the title ‘A Malta Story’. The first of these articles briefly examined the idea that some of the Spitfires that were deployed to Malta from the USS Wasp might have been repainted whilst aboard using some sort of paint that was provided by the US Navy. Following the publication of ‘A Malta Story’ in the December 2016 and January 2017 issues of SAM, a discussion on the Britmodeller website under the title ‘Malta Blue Spitfires’ led to US aviation historian Dana Bell posting the following on 9 April 2017.

‘I can’t claim to have seen Paul’s SAM articles from last year, but Wasp was one of two carriers sent supplies of an experimental USN paint called Dark Blue, which was a supposed near match for Deck Blue stain. Half of Wasp’s air group was supposedly painted in the new color. If the Spits matched the F4Fs, they could have all been using the new Dark Blue.

That is just another possibility – and I’m not claiming that this happened with any certainty – but it’s a strong ‘cudda-bin’.

Mr. Bell went on to make three further contributions relating to Dark Blue in two further Britmodeller threads. The first of these was entitled ‘Some interesting air crash finds and trace of Blue paint on a Spitfire Aileron’ and contained two posts dated 19 November 2019. The first of these read as follows

I still suspect the US Navy camouflage colour named Dark Blue – an interim color used between the days of Blue Gray and those of the Sea Blues. Dark Blue was considered superior for hiding aircraft on carrier decks. Significantly, it was tested onboard USS Wasp.’

In the second post he continued ‘… the paint had been in use for months, and Wasp had already painted half its air group to compare the effects against Blue Gray. And second, the camouflage was designed to make the aircraft less visible against the carrier deck. In tests, Blue Gray aircraft made the entire carrier more visible; Dark Blue became the replacement color of choice.’

Finally, in a thread entitled ‘Help needed: Malta Spitfire Mk Vc reference pics’ Mr. Bell returned to the subject of Dark Blue on 5 April 2021.

‘Dark Blue was far more common than any of our secondary publications would suggest. Blue Gray was listed as a problem (too light) in December 1941. By the end of 1942, the Navy issued orders to paint aircraft in Blue Gray, but that the Blue Gray paint was to be matched to Dark Blue. In 1943 thousands of gallons of Dark Blue were shipped to the South Pacific alone.’

It would therefore appear that a colour called ‘Dark Blue’ had been developed for use on the upper surfaces of US Navy aircraft that for some reason has subsequently been ‘lost’ to history despite seeing some use, particularly in the Pacific Theatre.

Flight Decks and Wasp’s Wildcats

In order to take this matter further, it is perhaps necessary at this point to say a few words about the finish applied to the Flight Decks of USN Aircraft Carriers drawing on the information contained in Del Palmieri’s ‘USN Camouflage of WW2’ articles that were published in Scale Models magazine between April 1979 and June 1982.

Up to and including the Second World War it was American practice to use Firwood to cover the Flight Deck and to finish it with a mahogany-colored wood stain that preserved the wood whilst imparting a non-slip surface. During the Autumn of 1941, an extensive range of officially sanctioned experiments were carried out aboard USS Ranger in the Atlantic Fleet to develop a new camouflage finish that would effectively conceal the existing mahogany-stained flight decks of Aircraft Carriers while preserving their existing non-slip texture. The ultimate outcome of these experiments was a finish that was designated Norfolk 250-N, a wood stain that was of a blue-grey colour that approximately matched 5-S Sea Blue, one of the camouflage colours in the Measure 12 camouflage scheme that had been introduced for the Atlantic Fleet in July 1941. It was immediately authorised for use by the Atlantic Fleet and following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Norfolk 250-N Flight Deck Stain was also introduced in the Pacific Fleet.

Originally, metal decks were supposed to be finished with a dark grey colour designated 5-D but these instructions were revised in September 1941 when the horizontal metal surfaces had their colour changed to a new colour designated Deck Blue 20-B. This is difficult to describe in FS 595 terms as it is something like FS 36099 but more blue. At some point, the 250N Flight Deck stain was modified so as to match Deck Blue 20-B with the new finish being designated No.21 Flight Deck Stain. Exactly when this occurred and how quickly it began to be used is not known for certain, but the new finish is said to have been promulgated to both Atlantic and Pacific Fleets in June 1942.

The illustrations of the two F4F-4 Wildcats of VF-71 aboard USS Wasp (CV-7) in April / May 1942 given here are based on photographs that show the Wildcats in question in close proximity to Spitfires on their way to Malta. They are based on the assumption that the Spitfires were in either Dark Mediterranean Blue or the Temperate Sea Scheme, both of which were relatively darker than the currently accepted hue of Blue Gray, approximately FS 35189. F4F-F ‘24’ has been shown in standard Blue Gray because it appears to be lighter than the adjacent Spitfire while F4F-F ‘19’ has been shown as being Dark Blue, represented by FS 36099 because it appears to be as dark as the adjacent Spitfire. Because there is no way to know exactly what colour these aircraft actually were, the illustrations should be regarded as provisional.

An old Colour Conundrum

Assuming that Mr. Bell is correct in his assertion that Dark Blue was far more widely used than is currently thought, this raises several questions such as how widely was Dark Blue used, which aircraft was it applied to and what happened to it?

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