DKM U-Boat Type VIIc 1941 - Hobbyboss 1/700,

Kriegsmarine U-Boat Colours & Markings (Part 2) - Doug Martindale

Camouflage patterns

Camouflage schemes were applied to a number of U-boats. Though it was not common, camouflage had been used in the U-boat fleet before the outbreak of war (U 25, U 33 and U 40 are three such examples). Though the use of camouflage gradually diminished during 1943, when U-boats were forced to spend most of a patrol submerged, a few still sported schemes in 1944.

Often this camouflage would consist of dark grey stripes, bands, patches, lines or jagged splotches over a lighter grey. Sometimes the camouflage would extend over the whole of the upper hull and conning tower, whereas in other cases the camouflage was limited to the conning tower only. Though feathered edges were used in the sprayed-on wavy striped camouflage schemes, it was much more usual for hard edges and straight lines to be used. Below is a list of the assorted styles of camouflage schemes that were seen upon U-boats of differing types. All schemes, other than those specified, had hard edges.

U 9
May 1943 - Middle section of hull plus lower area of tower dark grey; other areas light grey; edges feathered

U 25
Late 1939 - Zig-zags on tower, plus shark’s mouth

U 40
September 1939 - Splinter scheme of small triangles on tower

U 81
13th Nov. 1941 (sinking of HMS Ark Royal) - Squiggly lines on upper hull; two dark areas with jagged lines at top on port side of tower; weird shape on starboard side of tower
28th July 1943 - Triangle on tower, triangular-shaped lines (plus one round shape near bow) on hull

U 82
Late 1941 - 22 wavy feather-edged stripes on port side; 23 on starboard side

U 83
February 1942 - Mediterranean jagged splotches over tower and upper hull

U 119
Early 1943 - False silhouette deceptive camouflage

U 123
Sometime in 1941 - Assorted jagged shapes on tower, none on hull
June 23rd 1941 - Wavy stripes sprayed on with very feathered edges
Christmas 1941 - No camouflage

U 141
Sometime in 1941 - 8 straight feather-edged stripes on starboard side and tower; unknown number on port side

U 160
19th April 1943 - One line on tower, irregular shapes on upper hull

U 183
Summer 1944 - Three wide bands per side, plus one on either side of tower

U 201
8th June 1941 - 14 wavy feather-edged stripes on port side; 13 on starboard side
21st May 1942 - Similar but not identical to June 1941 pattern

U 204
Spring 1941 - Diamond on either side of tower, plus V at front of tower; some areas of upper hull also camouflaged

U 253
April/May 1942 - 3 irregular-shaped areas with sharp edges in RAL7016

U 453
1943 or 1944 - Inverted V on tower with patches on upper hull

U 556
30th May 1941 - 5 slightly wavy, feather-edged stripes of variable width on starboard side; unknown number on port side

U 561
5th September 1942 - Wide dark band on tower

U 596
1942 or 1943 - Mediterranean jagged splotches over tower and upper hull

U 711
30th July 1944 - One thin, very dark wavy line on tower, plus two similar lines on upper hull, over white or light grey

Standard camouflage schemes could be found in some theatres of operations. The schemes found on some Atlantic U-boats were often dazzle-type schemes, which used wide stripes to disrupt visual rangefinding. A few Atlantic boats sported the attractive wavy striped camouflage scheme. The Type IIs serving in the Black Sea often had the lower half of their conning towers, and a middle section of their upper hull, painted in a dark grey. The edges on this scheme were sometimes feathered, and sometimes hard-edged.

In the Mediterranean, the theatre where camouflage was most commonly found, a pattern of dark grey jagged splotches applied at regular intervals over the upper hull and conning tower was commonly used. Sometimes, as on U 453, there were patches with hard edges rather than jagged splotches. As the waters of the Mediterranean are much clearer than the Atlantic, U-boats could be seen from the air at a greater depth. A U-boat at periscope depth could be clearly seen from the air in daylight, so the pattern of dark splotches or patches was intended to break up the U-boat’s shape sufficiently to prevent detection from the air.

False bow and stern deceptive camouflage was used on several Kriegsmarine battleships. The “Baltic scheme” included a false bow and stern wave painted in white, and the dark grey Dunkelgrau 52 on the hull at the bow and the stern. The latter was intended to fool the enemy into thinking that a vessel was shorted than it actually was. Such was the intention of the deceptive camouflage on the large Type XB U-boat U 119. A false silhouette was painted in dark grey upon the Hellgrau 50 hull.

Camouflage colours

It is exceptionally difficult to tell what colour was sprayed on over the light grey Hellgrau 50 or medium blue-grey Dunkelgrau 51 in the wavy striped camouflage schemes. The three most likely candidates would be Schlickgrau 58, Dunkelgrau 52 and Dunkelgrau 53. The 3-part decal sheet by U.L.A.D.-decal for the Revell 1/72nd Type VIIC U-boat kit suggests Dunkelgrau 52 for U 201 and Dunkelgrau 53 for U 82. However, on both these boats there is quite a contrast between the lower anti-fouling dark grey and the darker camouflage grey. This suggests to me that Schlickgrau 58 (which was lighter than Dunkelgrau 52) was used on these boats. As Schlickgrau 58 was slightly greenish, this accords with some reports (unfortunately of unknown origin) which state that green was used in U-boat camouflage schemes.

Sometimes the dark grey RAL7016 was extended up over areas of the hull and the tower, as was the case on U 81, U 253 and the Type IXC U 163. The question of whether this was the anti-fouling Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau or Dunkelgrau 53 is irrelevant for modellers as both were RAL7016.

On several of the photos I have seen of Mediterranean-based U-boats, the dark splotches look the same colour as the lower hull, RAL7016. But according to Robert C. Stern in "U-Boats In Action" (Squadron/Signal Publications, 1977), Italian blue-grey (Blu Scuro, Colourcoats RM03, FS35109) was used over the Kriegsmarine light grey (Hellgrau 50) on boats serving in the Mediterranean theatre. Not knowing Stern’s source, I am unable to confirm or deny this assertion. But as some of his comments on paint colours are inaccurate, I am not convinced that we can rely upon this contention to be accurate. I do acknowledge, though, that the use of a blue paint within a Mediterranean setting does make a lot of sense.

Insignia & tonnage markings

Many U-boats had insignia (bootswappen) painted on their conning towers. These insignia are often referred to as emblems. It appears that the first insignia was a metal Iron Cross mounted on the conning tower of U 9 during the pre-war period. This was applied to carry on the tradition of the famous U 9 of the First World War. As this was a plaque, it remained visible when it was over-painted at the start of the war. The first insignia to be painted on a U-boat conning tower was applied to U 30 on the 10th September 1939. It was a painting of a fox terrier called Schnurzl, who had often been on board during pre-war times.

Despite orders from the High Command for these insignia to be removed, no real effort was made to end this practice. As they had a morale-boosting effect for the crews, they became universally tolerated by the High Command. The insignia differentiated a boat from others in the U-boat fleet, so allowing the crews to have identification with their U-boats. Many crews even had metal insignias made, which they attached to their caps or uniform jackets. The use of these insignias was so widespread that boats without one were considered odd.

The insignias were inspired by a variety of sources. These included –

- Personal references to the commander. Examples include the “Snorting Bull”, which depicted the character of U 47’s commander, Günther Prien, and the snowman insignia of U 201’s commander, Adalbert Schnee (schnee means “snow” in German).
- Civic heraldry. Many German towns and cities sponsored U-boats, contributing money towards their construction. This scheme was called patenschaft. These boats often had the town’s crest painted, or mounted on a plaque, on the tower. U 201 had the crest of Remscheid on its tower, which indicated that it was sponsored by that city. Most of the boats in the series of twelve boats following U 201 were sponsored by cities. Often other personal insignia were applied in addition to these crests.
- Class symbols. A commander who had graduated from the Kriegsmarine’s Naval Academy would often choose insignia representing the graduating class. The Olympic Rings on U 20 and U 23 indicated that the commander of the boat had graduated in 1936. This was in reference to the Olympic Games held in Germany in 1936.
- Drawings mocking the enemy. U 34 had an elephant stomping on Churchill’s head and U 94 had a little animal taming a British bulldog.
- Patriotic imagery. Only in rare cases would swastikas be used as part of the insignia (U 123 and U 132).
- Good luck signs. U 99 actually had horseshoes welded onto both sides of the tower. U 48 had the opposite of having a good luck insignia – a black cat with “X3”, meaning “three times” - below.
- German folklore.

Some of the more famous insignia, or those belonging to the most famous boats and/or commanders, are as follows -

U 9 Black Iron Cross with a crown, W and 1914 in white
U 19 Rat with umbrella riding on torpedo
U 23 Olympic rings denoting Naval Academy class 1936
U 30 Fox terrier called Schnurzl
U 34 Elephant stomping on Churchill’s head
U 46 White outline of snorting bull (U 46’s commander Engelbert Endrass had designed this insignia when serving as IWO on U 47)
U 47 White outline of snorting bull (the Bull of Scapa Flow, became 7th U-Flottille insignia)
U 48 Black cat with 3X below
U 57 Red devil (Erich Topp)
U 69 Laughing cow with “La Vache Qui Rit” / Horridoh
U 82 Crest of Coburg – a sword on a shield divided into black and gold halves
U 83 Viking ship
U 94 Green creature tugging at roaring British bulldog
U 96 Laughing swordfish, created after 3rd patrol (became 9th U-Flottille insignia when U 96’s commander Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock took over the flotilla)
U 99 Real bronze horseshoes welded onto either side of tower
U 100 Large panther
U 107 Four playing cards
U 110 Fox terrier called Schnurzl (Fritz-Julius Lemp had commanded U 30)
U 123 German helmet with swastika / kettledrum
U 124 Edelweiss
U 141 Devil riding on torpedo
U 183 Japanese rising sun flag and Kriegsmarine flag
U 201 Snowman (Schnee) / Crest of Remscheid (sponsoring city)
U 203 Red turtle / Crest of Essen (sponsoring city)
U 253 Blowing man
U 333 Three white fishes
U 377 Laughing swordfish (9th U-Flottille insignia)
U 404 Large stylised Viking ship prow (became basis of 6th U-Flottille and 23rd U-Flottille)
U 441 Ladybird
U 505 Scallop shell
U 552 Red devil (Erich Topp had commanded U 57)
U 556 Parzival towing battleship Bismarck which it “sponsored”
U 564 Black cat with 3X below (U 564’s commander Reinhard Suhren had served as IWO on U 48)
U 995 Two figures from Fang den Hut game

Insignia & tonnage markings (continued)

One of the most famous insignia was the white outline of a snorting bull, which had been painted on U 47’s tower upon returning to Germany from its successful Scapa Flow mission. Following this, other U-boats belonging to the 7th U-Flottille (of which U 47 was a member) began to sport the snorting bull insignia. This identification symbol received an official sanction, and from April 1941 onwards U-boats of the 7th U-Flottille were requested to paint Der Stier von Scapa Flow – “The Bull Of Scapa Flow” – on their towers. Later stencils were produced to aid the application of the bulls.

Many of the U-boat flotillas developed their own insignias. Often a U-boat’s tower displayed both a personal insignia and a flotilla insignia. U 552, for example, had a red devil personal insignia next to the snorting bull insignia of the 7th U-Flottille.

If a U-boat survived until it was relegated to training duties, the insignia would often remain in place. Sometimes this would be seen next to tactical markings. However, the flotilla insignia would be removed, since the U-boat was being transferred from an operational flotilla to a training flotilla.

Sometimes insignia would be transferred from one boat to another. Reinhard Suhren spent a year as First Watch Officer aboard U 48, which had a black cat with “3X” below as its insignia. In April 1941 he took command of U 564, and used the same insignia on this U-boat. When Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock left U 96 to become the commander of the 9th U-Flottille, U 96’s laughing swordfish insignia became the insignia of the 9th U-Flottille.

The colour of U 96’s laughing swordfish is difficult to determine. Red, blue, green and black have all been cited as possible, with white painted around the border. The metal swordfish pennant which was sometimes attached to the top of the commander’s flagstaff of U 96 when the U-boat was in port is still in existence, having belonged to Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock until his death in 1982. This metal pennant is a lime green colour, and can be viewed at As it would not make sense for the painted insignia and the metal pennant to have been different colours, then the swordfish painted on U 96’s tower may also have been a lime green colour. This assumes, of course, that the pennant is still the same colour as it was in 1942. Since this is a very large assumption I offer this information as a matter of interest rather than proof.

The numerous laughing swordfishes used as 9th U-Flottille insignia may not necessarily have been the same colour as U 96’s swordfish, and there may have been variations in colour between these swordfishes. The colour guide in Georg Högel’s comprehensive book on insignia indicates blue as the colour of the 9th U-Flottille insignia. Also included in this book is a Canadian report stating that U 659’s swordfish was blue.

When conning towers were repainted the insignia were often slightly altered. U 47’s snorting bull, for example, was altered at least six times during the 18-month period when it appeared on U 47’s tower. Not only were some insignia designs improved, but on occasions they were replaced by completely new insignia. A change of commander was often the reason why a change of insignia occurred. When U 566 was commanded by Dietrich Borchert, a polar bear (due to U 566 being the first U-boat in the Arctic Ocean) and the crest of Lindau were present. Later, in 1943, when Hans Hornkohl was in command, U 566 had the head of a suckling she-wolf painted on the conning tower rather than the polar bear.

Crews took great pride in awards received by their commanders. When U 48’s commander received the Knight’s Cross, a cross was added around the black cat’s neck. Oak leaves were sometimes painted upon conning towers to celebrate that the commander had been awarded the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross. This was taken one step further by the crew of U 201. When Adalbert Schnee was awarded the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross, the crew celebrated his award by placing real oak leaves around the conning tower bulwark. (The placement of flowers and greenery on the conning tower bulwark or the railings behind was a traditional part of the greetings ceremony for a returning boat)

The total amount of tonnage sunk during a patrol or during a U-boat’s career so far was often painted on the tower during the early years of the war. Slogans were another feature that were sometimes added to the tower. At one stage early in its wartime career, U 48 has the names of the ships it had sunk pasted on its conning tower. Other examples include the motto On les aura – “we’ll get them” – on U 204 and messages painted on the tower of U 201.

The practice of displaying victory pennant flags (erfolgswimpeln) when entering port after a patrol was extremely commonplace. Crewmen would often paint the tonnage of a vessel they had sunk during that patrol upon a white pennant. Each pennant would denote a ship sunk, and they would be hung in a line from the attack periscope to the tower railings behind. White signified a merchant ship, and red signified a warship. Usually the number of flags indicated how many ships had been sunk during the patrol, but sometimes a flag was flown for each ship sunk during the boat’s career. This practice originated from the First World War, when on one occasion 23 pennants were hung from Lothar Von Arnauld De La Periere’s U 35, which had sunk 23 vessels on a five-week mission. U 177 celebrated their victories with a cane inscribed with rings indicating each vessel sunk. Another celebratory feature that was sometimes displayed on U-boat towers was the hanging of trophies. For example, the lifering of a sunken vessel was hung upon U 124’s tower at one stage.

Lastly, pennants were sometimes attached to the commander’s flagstaff. U 203’s pennant had “MUBU” below the crest of Essen, the sponsoring city of U 203. The four letters were derived from the commander’s surname, Mützelburg.

Tactical markings

U-boats that were involved in training had yellow (Deckfarbe Gelb, RAL1003) identification bands around the conning tower (just above the spray deflector) and across the deck. In some cases red (Deckfarbe Kaiserrot I (RAL 3010) or Deckfarbe Rot (RAL 3011)) was used rather than yellow. U-boats that belonged to training flotillas each had an individual marking which would identify them from another boat.

Around 1940, U-boats began to have tactical markings applied to both sides of their conning towers during their trials at the Ubootabnahmekommando – UAK – (U-boat Acceptance Command). These were unnecessary during the pre-war period because the U-boat’s number had been painted on both sides of the tower. Tactical marks for Type VIIs originally consisted of four symbols – a circle, square, triangle or two small triangles; they were white if the boat had been built by Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft or black if it had been built by Deutsche Werke. As more shipyards were drawn into U-boat construction a variety of bars were added to distinguish U-boats built by different yards. Type IX U-boats used diamonds, hearts, clubs or spades as a means of identification, and the small coastal Type IIs used another totally different set of symbols. The same symbols were re-used by a number of U-boats. Colours included black, white and red.

Many men disliked the presence of the tactical identification marks as they distinguished a U-boat as a training boat that had seen no action. These signs would be happily and swiftly removed by the crew upon completion of training. At that point, a small Frontrief - “ready for the front” – symbol, with a red V underneath, was added to the conning tower to signify that the U-boat had completed the Agru-Front training programme (The name Agru-Front derived from Ausbildungsgruppe für Frontunterseeboote (operational training for boats going to the front)). The practice of applying the Frontrief was common, but not universal.

The following book includes a large number of personal and flotilla insignia, UAK and training symbols, and other drawings associated with the U-boat fleet –

"U-Boat Emblems Of World War II 1939-1945" by Georg Högel
Schiffer Military History, 1999
ISBN: 0-7643-0724-X

N.B. This book is an English translation of "Embleme Wappen Malings Deutscher U-Boote 1939-1945" by Georg Högel
Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft mbH

Miscellaneous colours

The colours of the following parts are suggestions only. Given that there were so many U-boats and that different metals were used at various times, it is not possible to state that certain parts were always one particular colour.

Conning tower

Horizontal surfaces – The horizontal surfaces such as the spray deflector and the upper half of the fairing in front of the conning tower (which housed the magnetic compass) were sometimes painted black or dark grey (regulations state black) for camouflage purposes. On rarer occasions the wind deflector was also painted black or dark grey. The dark grey, on occasions, may have been Dunkelgrau 53 (RAL7016), as it was common practice to paint the horizontal metal surfaces of Kriegsmarine warships with this paint (see Lfd. Nr. 31 and 31a in the July 1944 painting regulations). It could also be possible that the anti-fouling paint Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau (RAL7016) was sometimes used.

Wooden tower floor – The floor area behind the UZO was wooden, and coated with black wood preservative. The area of the floor which was ahead of the UZO was metal, and painted black or dark grey.

Wooden slats – The vertical wooden slats on the inside of the conning tower bulwark prevented the crewmembers from sticking to the bulwark metal in freezing temperatures. These were coated with the black wood preservative used on the wooden decking. Wooden slats were often also fitted to the periscope supports and UZO column.

Inside of bulwark – The inside walls of the tower bulwark were usually the same grey as the outside of the conning tower. However, in rarer cases (such as on U 552 at some point in its career) the inside walls were painted black or dark grey.

Vertical stripe behind rungs – A rectangular area surrounding the area behind the rungs on the tower sides was very often painted black or dark grey on training boats. This practice may have been in place because the toes of the sailors’ dirty boots would smudge the grey paint when climbing up and down the rungs. On U 751 this area was silver in colour. This practice was less common on frontline boats, perhaps because the dark stripe would be visible against the lighter grey background of the tower.

Conning tower base - A thin black or dark grey strip was painted around the base of some U-boat conning towers.

Lifebelt – This red horseshoe-shaped lifebelt was held in place by a bracket on the outside of the tower bulwark. Front boats on patrol did not carry this lifebelt - only when a U-boat was manoeuvring in port would this be seen on the tower. Often U-boats did not sport these lifebelts even when in port.

Starboard navigation light – Clear green.

Port navigation light – Clear red.

Rear navigation light on tower – Clear white. On frontline U-boats the lenses and bulbs were removed.

Tower railings – Usually painted the same grey as the conning tower. However, in some cases (such as on U 552 at some point in its career) the tower railings were painted black or dark grey.

Tower railing seats – These seats were made of wood and usually coated with the wood preservative. The inside edges of the seats were prone to wearing away and revealing the wood underneath.

Insulated conduits for aft antenna wires – Located at the rear of many VIIC towers, these were grey up to the level of the tower deck, and black above. The very top, from which the antenna wires exited, were silver.

Periscopes – Grease marks (usually vertical) from the raising, lowering and swivelling of the periscopes were often visible on the stainless steel shafts. The tops of the periscopes were grey.

UZO – Uberwasserzieloptik (torpedo aimer) – From bottom to top - the base was grey, the compass heading ring was bronze, and the azimuth ring was black. Above this, the top removable part upon which the removable binoculars would sometimes sit was grey. Since it was removable and often kept inside the U-boat, this top part was usually less weathered than the tower bulwark.

Inside of tower hatch – White with a red circular handle. The circular rim which is visible when the hatch is open was bronze.

Commander’s flagstaff – This was often located on the starboard bulwark of the tower when a boat was in port, and would have varied in colour from boat to boat. The commissioning pennant, which was a thin white piece of material, was attached to the top of this flagstaff.

Flagpole – The flagpole holding the Kriegsmarine flag, which was situated at the rear of the tower railings, would have varied in colour from boat to boat.

DF aerial – The circular direction-finding aerial was located on the top of the right hand bulwark of the tower. It was black with a grey top and bottom, and an unpainted bronze stem.

Engine repeater dial – This dial was located at the front of the tower bulwark, ahead and to the left of the UZO (the torpedo aimer). It had black outsides and white insides.

Megaphone – A megaphone can sometimes be seen sitting on top of the UZO in some photos of U-boats. This seems to have been silver in colour.


88/105mm deck guns – The colours used upon the deck guns were not particularly consistent, and variations were common. The barrel, breech housing and main mounting body of the deck gun were often painted the same grey as the conning tower, but sometimes a darker grey colour was used. The base of the barrel (this was above the recoil tray), which slid back into a sleeve when the gun was fired, was heavily greased. The ring behind this, which acted as a guide for the barrel when it recoiled, was an unpainted metal which may have been bronze. The U-shaped padded gunlayer’s harnesses were either artificial leather painted black or waxed canvas. The adjustable stems below were stainless steel. The circular control wheels were often painted black on the outside and grey on the inside. The handles for the control wheels were wooden, and presumably coated with black wood preservative. The ring above the base (below the main mounting body), upon which the compass headings were marked, was an unpainted metal, perhaps bronze. The upper half of the barrel was sometimes painted black or possibly dark grey for camouflage purposes (just as the horizontal surfaces of the conning tower were painted black). Even though the regulations called for “gradual transition” ie. feathered edges, the horizontal divide between the two colours had hard edges rather than feathered edges. Sometimes the top half of the mounting upon which the removable elevation and traverse sights sat, the top half of the controls and gearing arms, and the horizontal surface of the breech housing, were also painted black or dark grey.

20mm Flak gun – The adjustable stem, which allowed the height of the gun to be altered, was stainless steel. Grease marks from raising, lowering and swivelling would be visible. The padded shoulder supports may have been artificial leather painted black or grey or waxed canvas. The barrel was gunmetal, and everything else was grey. The earliest U-boats, which had the 20mm Flak gun mounted on the aft deck, sometimes had a thin black strip painted around the 20mm mount.


Diesel exhaust outlet – An area surrounding the diesel exhaust outlet, which was located along the free-flooding holes at the top of the stern casing, was sometimes painted black or dark grey to disguise the staining that occurred due to the dirty exhaust gases which exited this outlet hole. The Type VIIs which had this feature tended to have the dark-painted areas around and below the exhaust outlet. On Type IIs and IXs this dark-painted area was very common, and was usually painted around and abaft of the exhaust outlet.

Depth markings – Three sets of depth numerals were marked upon both sides of the hull. These small white numerals were aligned vertically. The top numeral, 9, started roughly at the division between the two greys, and the markings continued down the hull to the bottom numeral, 0. They were situated a few feet aft of the bow, on the saddle tanks, and a few feet forward of the stern.

GHG (Gruppenhorchgerät – group listening apparatus) - These were acoustic listening devices that looked like a series of dots arranged in a semi-circle above both of the bow plane guards. They were bronze and usually left unpainted.

UT (Unterwasser Telegraphie - underwater telegraph) – The underwater telephone transducers consisted of two circles above the hydrophones, and two a few feet to the rear of the first pair. There were eight in total - four on each side of the hull. As with the GHG, they were bronze and usually left unpainted.

Propellers – Early U-boat propellers were made of bronze. Bronze propellers are bright and shiny when new, but turn darker and lose their shine with age. A slight greenish tint can accumulate in the corners. From about January 1942 the propellers were made of steel.

Propeller shafts - Anti-fouling dark grey.

Deck parts

Bollards – When a U-boat was being moored to a harbour or pier, ropes were attached to extended bollards. The sides of the bollards were usually grey, and the tops were the same black or dark grey colour as the metal parts of the deck. The sides would often be rusty because the ropes would wear away the paint.

Capstan – This retractable electrical winch was situated on the forward deck casing. The sides were often grey and the top was the same colour black or dark grey as the metal parts of the deck. The sides would often be rusty because the ropes would wear away the paint.

KDB – (Kristalldrehbasis Gerät – rotating hydrophone array) – The stem was usually grey, but sometimes red.

Wooden poles on deck – These would usually be painted with the same black wood preservative as was used on the wooden deck.

Rear navigation light – Clear white. On frontline U-boats the lenses and bulbs were removed.

Inside of galley hatch – White with a red circular handle. The circular rim which is visible when the hatch is open was bronze.

Insulators – These porcelain insulators were attached in groups of three to the jumping wires, and prevented electricity in the wires from short-circuiting on the metal parts of the deck. They were either brown or bottlegreen. One either side of each group of three insulators were tension adjusters, and these were grey.

Jumping wires – Unpainted steel. In port, the wires were sometimes charged with electricity. When the wires were carrying current, a yellow plate with a red lightning flash hung from fore and aft cables to warn of the threat of electrical shock.

Wooden deck

The colour of U-boat decks has been a puzzling subject for many modellers. The horizontal deckcasing was made of thin steel, over which wooden planking was applied. The primary reason for using wood was that a metal surface ices up much more quickly in freezing weather than wood. Teak was too expensive to be used, so cheap local wood was used in its place. This explains why the wooden decks on U-boats did not exhibit the silvery appearance of weathered teak.

The painting list for U-boats in "Anstriche und Tarnanstriche der deustschen Kriegsmarine" (Painting and Camouflage of the German Navy) by Dieter Jung, Arno Abendroth and Norbert Kelling (Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1997) states that the wooden deck was treated with a black wood preservative (Teerfirnis Tf 99). A U-boat deck started out as jet black in colour then quickly became charcoal in colour. As it was exposed to the elements, the deck developed a brown tinge. The more the deck was subjected to weathering, the lighter and browner it became. On the surfaces that were frequently walked upon, the wood preservative would wear more heavily and reveal more of the natural wood beneath. The deck would also become bleached by saltwater and the sun, causing small patches of white to appear. If a U-boat had not been serviced for many months, green algae would start to grow on the deck. As this plantlife was slippery, and therefore hazardous to the sailors walking on deck, the algae would not have been allowed to accumulate. It would have been removed before any serious built up took place.

The watertight ready-use ammunition hatches and some of the square-shaped hatches on the deck were not wood but metal. These were usually painted black or dark grey to match the treated wood. For the possible colour of the dark grey, see “horizontal surfaces” in the miscellaneous section. In rarer cases the square-shaped hatches were painted the same colour as the conning tower. The extreme bow and stern sections were also not covered with wood; they were either painted the same colour as the conning tower and upper hull, or they were painted the same black or dark grey colour as was used upon the watertight hatches and the square-shaped hatches. These metal areas were prone to rusting, whereas the wooden areas obviously were not.

During the loading of supplies before a patrol, numerous boxes would be seen on deck. The careless manhandling of these would have scraped and scuffed the deck. Also, when U-boats were in harbour or in dry-dock, their decks would be prone to paint and oil spills.

It is very important to recognise that a U-boat deck changed colour as it became more weathered. U-boats lying side by side would often have decks displaying different colours. These colours varied due to the conditions a deck had been exposed to, and the time since it had been last coated with preservative. This makes it difficult for a modeller to determine what a deck looked like at a certain point in time. The modeller must judge how weathered the deck had become by trying to establish when the U-boat was last given a major overhaul. A large degree of guesswork is required in this exercise.

An interesting point raised by Jeff LaRue is whether the colour characteristics of the deck preservative changed over the course of the war. Another related question is whether preservatives produced by different companies varied in terms of both colour and consistency. Yet another consideration is whether, late in the war, the supply difficulties reduced the availability of specified preservatives, and lesser quality alternatives were used in their place. Being unable to answer these questions, I can only speculate as to the variations between the preservatives used upon U-boat decks. But if there were variances, might the differences in the colour of U-boat decks in colour photos be due not only to weathering but the type of preservative itself?

Another aspect to consider is that a wet U-boat deck looks much darker than a dry one. A B&W photo of a weathered deck that is wet would look uniform and very dark – close in fact to the appearance of a clean, recently maintained dry deck in a B&W photo. This may confuse someone into believing a U-boat’s deck had recently been scraped and coated with wood preservative, when it actually was a weathered deck that was merely wet.

Weathering below the waterline

The question of what U-boats looked like below the waterline after they had been exposed to the sea for a period of time is a difficult one to answer. Many of the illustrations depicting the lower hulls of U-boats are inaccurate. Rust, dirt and paint peeling can be completely out of scale, and barnacles and other plantlife can be completely neglected. The black and white photos of U-boats in dry-dock do give us some clue, but it can be difficult to tell what we are looking at. The following points should give a modeller a starting point from which they can weather the lower hull of their model. Though this requires thought and imagination, it does benefit from the fact that a great deal of artistic license is allowed in such an endeavour.

Anti-fouling paint - As the primary purpose of anti-fouling paint is to inhibit corrosion, the main ingredients in these paints are rust inhibitors. The secondary purpose is to discourage the growth of marine organisms such as algae and barnacles. Lots of this growth can actually reduce the speed of a ship by a few knots, thus reducing the vessel’s fuel economy. This is addressed by the inclusion of a poison, which gradually leeches out of the paint and kills anything trying to live on it. The poisons used in the Second World War were mainly suspended tin or copper particles. U-boats were often put straight into the water after a quickly-applied coat of anti-fouling paint so that the paint had not had enough time to dry. This was because a hardened coat of anti-fouling paint would inhibit the release of the poisons. When anti-fouling paints lose these poisons to the water, they tend to fade, often quite quickly. Therefore, the hull of a U-boat that has been in the water for a period of time would be lighter than RAL7016.

Grassweeds line - Algae, moss and seaweed often float on the surface, and tend to attach onto hulls at the waterline more heavily than elsewhere on the hull. This creates a “grassweeds” line (or “grass-skirt”) for up to a foot in width just below the normal waterline. It takes about a month or two in warm water, and perhaps six months in cold water, for a foot-wide fringe of algae to appear at the waterline. The Type IXs that sailed to the Indian Ocean on patrols which lasted several months would have accumulated a wide grassweeds line on each side of the hull by the conclusion of their patrol. By way of contrast, early war U-boats returning from the more usual five or six week duration Atlantic patrols would only have had a little amount of plantlife on their hulls.

The grassweeds line can vary in colour from green to umber (dark-brown to green-brown) to ochre (moderate yellow-orange) or even white. As this line accumulates more plantlife, strands can hang down the hull in varying lengths. In very general terms, warmer waters produce greenish colours (algae) and colder waters produce whites and browns. Also, a grassweeds line that has built up in salt water will fall off in fresh water, and a grassweeds line that has built up in fresh water will fall off in salt water.

Algae and barnacles - If a U-boat was immersed in water for a long enough period, algae would also accumulate on other areas of the hull. Generally, there would be no algae on the bottom of any horizontal surfaces or the dive planes.

U-boat hulls also attracted barnacles. These are round-shaped shells of white or brown-white colour. They are usually ¼ to ¾ inch in diameter but can grow to up to two or three inches in diameter. Since they feed on plankton, barnacles like to be in an area where there is current. They don’t attach to a ship much while underway unless a boat is travelling at a slow speed. When this happens, the barnacles attach randomly to a boat’s hull almost anywhere except the propellers and the leading edges of the rudders, dive planes and bow, where the passage of water is too fast for them to hold on. Whenever a boat is in port barnacles will attach onto the hull. When dead they tend to fall off the hull, leaving a faint white ring where they were located.

Paint peeling - As with the paint above the waterline, the anti-fouling paint was prone to flaking or peeling away when worn. This would to expose the older paint or even the anti-corrosion undercoat beneath.

Dry-dock - When a U-boat returned from an operational patrol the Engineering Officer passed on a list of defects to a representative of the shipyard, who would then see to it that the defects were rectified. The amount of time that this would take would be one of the most important factors in deciding when the U-boat would depart on its next patrol. If there was any damage to the hull through grounding, or any damage to the hydroplanes, UWT, hydrophones, diving valves or propellers, this would necessitate work being carried out in dry-dock. The harbour locks and U-boat pens allowed for regular dry-docking opportunities. That said, dry-dock facilities would only be made available if work had to be carried out on lower sections of the hull.

Since algae and barnacles can actually slow ships, all the plantlife would be removed when a U-boat was in dry-dock. This would be done as soon as the water was pumped out of a pen or harbour lock because once a hull becomes dry, the algae and other forms of plantlife are much harder to remove. A fresh coat of paint would usually be applied during a visit to dry-dock. However, the anti-fouling paint, being much more expensive, would only be applied if necessary.

Since dry-docking facilities were not always available, maintenance and repainting were sometimes carried out when a U-boat was still in the water. The cleaning of a scum line or the removal of plantlife at the normal waterline level could be done by trimming the U-boat to a high level, thus raising the normal waterline clear of the water. The lower hull, still being in the water, would not be available for maintenance at this time.

Interior colours

The 1/125th Revell Type VIIB U 47 kit has cutaway sections that reveal the interior of the U-boat. Modellers of this kit may find the regulations in the following addresses to be of use since they include details of which colours were to be used on U-boat interiors –

A brief summary

Wartime Kriegsmarine U-boats were painted in two greys. The lighter grey was painted on the conning tower, the upper hull (above the waterline). The second anti-fouling dark grey was painted on the lower hull, below the waterline. The horizontal division between the two greys took place just below the free-flooding holes on the hull. Some boats had the tops of their saddle tanks painted in the upper colour, whereas most had the whole of their saddle tanks painted in the lower anti-fouling colour. The steel horizontal surfaces at the extreme bow and stern were either painted in the upper lighter grey or black. Bootlines were not applied, and the wooden deck was coated with a black wood preservative.

Adherence to the RAL or Federal Standard codes are not necessary by modellers because the Kriegsmarine paints varied in colour. The weathering suffered by a U-boat would further alter the colour.


I would specifically like to thank David E. Brown, Falk Pletscher, Hans Mair, Jeff LaRue, John Snyder and Randy Short of Snyder & Short Enterprises, Dr. Helmut Wigger of the RAL Institute, Pat Crowley, Sam Reichart and Rainer Bruns for their assistance in matters pertaining to this article. I am also grateful to all the modellers and enthusiasts who offered their advice in a series of highly informative discussions.

Primary sources

Allgemeinen Baubestimmungen (Building Regulations Order) Nr. 31 (March 1940)

Allgemeinen Baubestimmungen (Building Regulations Order) Nr. 31 (November 1941)

Allgemeinen Baubestimmungen (Building Regulations Order) Nr. 31 (July 1944)

Secondary sources

7th U-Boat Flotilla by Jak P. Mallmann Showell
Ian Allan Publishing, 2003
ISBN: 0 7110 2957 1

Anstriche und Tarnanstriche der deustschen Kriegsmarine (Painting and Camouflage of the German Navy) by Dieter Jung, Arno Abendroth and Norbert Kelling
Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1997
ISBN: 3-7637-5964-6

Black May by Michael Gannon
Aurum Press, 1998
ISBN: 1 85410 588 4

Iron Coffins by Herbert A. Werner
Cassell Military Paperbacks, 1999
ISBN: 0-304-35330-2

Luftwaffe Colours 1935-1945 by Michael Ullmann
Hikoki Publications Ltd., 2002
ISBN: 1 902109 34 1

Second U-Boat Flotilla by Lawrence Paterson
Leo Cooper, 2002
ISBN: 0850529174

Type VII U-Boats by Robert C. Stern
Brockhampton Press, 1998
ISBN: 1 86019 8554

U-Boat Emblems Of World War II 1939-1945 by Georg Högel
Schiffer Military History, 1999
ISBN: 0-7643-0724-X
N.B. This book is an English translation of Embleme Wappen Malings Deutscher U-Boote 1939-1945 by Georg Högel
Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft mbH

U-Boats In Action by Robert C. Stern
Squadron/Signal Publications, 1977
ISBN: 0-89747-054-0

U-Boats In Camera by Jak P. Mallmann Showell
Sutton Publishing, 1999
ISBN: 0 7509 1557 9

Kriegsmarine Camouflage 1939-45 by Daniel H. Jones (from

Photograph source

The photograph on the main menu of Part 2 is of U 253 and U 335 during their training period at Hela in the Baltic at the end of April or the beginning of May 1942. U 253 (front left) is painted in Hellgrau 50/RAL7016 camouflage, and U 335 (front right) is painted in Dunkelgrau 51. The light grey Hellgrau 50 paint on U 253 is shining almost white under the strong sunlight. It has been scanned from -

Vom Original zum Modell: Uboottyp VIIC by Fritz Köhl and Axel Niestle
Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1997
ISBN: 3-7637-6002-4

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