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

Kriegsmarine U-Boat Colours & Markings (Part 1) - Doug Martindale

Introduction

The following article attempts to provide a general guide to the colours used upon the German U-boats of the Second World War. It was published complete with numerous photographs in the September 2004, December 2004 and March 2005 issues of the SubCommittee Report. This is a quarterly magazine published by the SubCommittee, a not-for-profit organisation of 892 members worldwide who share an interest in submarines, primarily the building of static and radio-controlled submarine models. Their website can be found at http://www.subcommittee.com/

Note: A 935KB pdf of this article (with 14 period colour photos) can be downloaded from -
http://www.rocketcopy.biz/models/rokket/uboat/ubrass.shtml

In the course of researching this article, two editions (November 1941 and July 1944) of Allgemeinen Baubestimmungen (Building Regulations Order) Nr. 31 - a detailed painting regulation which specified the paints that were to be applied to Kriegsmarine vessels - were kindly sent to me by David E. Brown. Primary data was gleamed wherever possible from these editions, and the U-boat section of the March 1940 edition, of this regulation. I endeavoured to find more primary sources by requesting copies of other regulations from the Bundesarchiv, but my request did not bear fruit. I also corresponded with gentlemen from the RAL Institute, Snyder & Short Enterprises and authors who have published material in relation to Kriegsmarine paint colours.

Difficulties in determining U-boat colours

Several combined factors hinder the investigation of the colours used upon Kriegsmarine U-boats, and prevent a resolution to fundamental questions such as the exact colour of standard Kriegsmarine paints. Although many of the same factors are present in the assessment of Luftwaffe colours, this subject has at least been resolved to a level which satisfies most modellers and Luftwaffe enthusiasts. The same cannot be said of the colours used upon the German U-boats of World War II.

Documentation

Many of the documents and regulations which would have been of help to us in analysing Kriegsmarine colours were destroyed by Allied bombing. Still more were deliberately destroyed at the end of the war. Luckily some material was captured by the Allies, and so survived. These were gradually returned to Germany over a period of time. The documents included Allgemeinen Baubestimmungen (Building Regulations Order) Nr. 31, a detailed painting regulation which specified the paints that were to be applied to Kriegsmarine vessels. Also included were three colour cards - TL-F1 to TL-F3 - which had been in use at the Wilhelmshaven shipyards in 1944. Though these colour cards are a great help, it is not possible to precisely reproduce the colour of the Kriegsmarine paints used upon World War II U-boats from them since the colour cards have changed in the many years since they were produced.

On the colour cards and the 1944 edition of Nr. 31, the colour of the Kriegsmarine paints were cross-referenced to the nearest RAL codes. The Reichsausschuss für Lieferbedingungen - RAL - (Committee of the German Reich for Terms and Conditions of Sale) had been founded by the private sector and the German government in 1925. RAL’s original task had been to standardise precise technical terms of delivery and sale of colours for the purpose of rationalisation. The initial range of 40 RAL colours was introduced in 1927, many years after the First World War Imperial High Seas Fleet had been using Hellgrau 50 and other German naval paints on their battleships. These same German naval paints were used in the Second World War Kriegsmarine. As the German naval paints pre-dated the foundation of the RAL, it follows that these paints cannot have had an exact RAL equivalent. The RAL codes that were cross-referenced to the German naval paints in the painting regulations were the closest match to them rather than a direct match.

By the late 1930s, the RAL Register numbered more than 100 shades. In 1939 and 1940 the Register was revised, and re-named RAL 840R (R = revised). This colour collection was re-examined in 1953, when many colours were scrapped. The scrapped colours included those which had been in military use in the Third Reich. A further review took place in 1961 and again in 1976, when an internationally used colour measurement system was laid down. Due to environmental issues, certain pigments in use in the 1940s are not allowed to be used today. Pigments are unique, and although RAL tried to obtain the best match for their older colours, certain slight colour changes between today’s RAL colours and those of the 1940s are inevitable. This, for us, equates to a further variance between the colour of the Kriegsmarine paints and today’s RAL colours.

Photographs

The assessment of vintage colour photos of Kriegsmarine U-boats is fraught with difficulties. The more primitive technology involved in colour photography of the 30’s and 40’s means that they were not even reliable documents when they were taken. They have also suffered with age during the sixty years that have passed since they were taken. Even modern colour photography has its traps. The same scene taken with the same camera under the same lighting conditions but with film from different manufacturers can produce different results. Some films can produce a green tone, whereas others can produce a blue tone. The colour film used in Germany during WWII, developed by Agfa, tended to produce a blue tone. It is also possible that some of these “colour” photographs may be black and white photos that have been coloured by hand.

Though there are many black and white photographs available to us, determining colour shades from them is not possible. Variances in the light conditions when the photograph was taken, the different types of film used, the exposure of the photo, and the variations in printing methods all make this exercise problematic. For those photos that are viewed on a computer, extra problems present themselves. The settings that were in place during the scanning process, the software used to view the photo and the monitor settings can all alter the colours.

Paint Quality

Due to the different ingredients, binders and production methods used, the colour reproduction of an established shade during the 30’s and 40’s did not have the quality we expect today. German paints during this period were commonly mixed with local pigments, and emphasised durability and chemical resistance over colour fidelity. Paint includes binders, solvents, colours (pigments and fillers) and additives, and variances occur according to how these ingredients are mixed, and how paint is applied. U-boats were needed at sea, and time spent in shipyards and harbours was minimal. The obvious conclusion is that during hasty refits paints would not always be mixed or applied according to established procedures. Such common practices as the regulation thinning might be overlooked, thus causing the resulting paint to vary in colour. Shipyards would only have been given a rough guide to the standard colour, which they would replicate with what colours were available to them at the time. Obtaining a colour match was of far less importance than protecting against corrosion, which was the primary reason for applying paint.

Another troublesome problem lies with the shortages incurred due to wartime conditions. These shortages, which became more acute as the war progressed, limited the choice of colours available. Though standard Kriegsmarine colours were often (but not always) used during the early stages of the war, painting became less and less of a priority as the war progressed. By 1943, the Kriegsmarine had far more pressing matters to attend to than maintaining a consistent paint scheme throughout its U-boat fleet. Given that the paint itself changed in appearance as the U-boat became weathered, the greys seen upon late-war U-boats would have varied so much that it might not appear as if the colours used on these U-boats were standardised at all.

The supply problems are evidenced in the 1944 painting regulations, which called for the greatest possible savings with respect to painting. Painting was only done where necessary at that time; it was not to be done merely to keep vessels looking pretty. The regulations also stated that when paint must be applied, it should be done at the smallest possible expenditure in terms of materials and work. The July 1944 painting regulations lifted the mixing prohibition, which had banned the mixing of batches of different coloured paints. They also called for the top coat of paint, relevant for appearance only, to be reduced from two coats to one. This affected the transition from a dark colour to a light colour, as the darker colour would show through from underneath.

Summary Of Identification Problems

When the above problems have been taken into account, it follows that a scientifically precise reproduction of the colours used upon the U-boat fleet is impossible today. Adherence to RAL or Federal Standard codes is neither practical, nor necessary, and modellers have a large tolerance when selecting the colours to use on their models.

Standard Kriegsmarine paints

The names of Kriegsmarine paints were, not surprisingly, in German. The translations below of the German terms for colours will help those of us who are unfamiliar with this language.

grau=grey, grün=green, blau=blue, braun=brown, oliv=olive, weiß=white, rot=red, schwarz=black, schlick=mud, hell=light, mittel=medium, dunkel=dark

The list below includes most of the Kriegsmarine paints that were used upon the U-boat fleet. The number after the name is the DKM (Deutsche Kriegsmarine) designation.

Hellgrau 50 (RAL7001, FS36375)
This light grey, also called Silbergrau (silver grey) or Hellgrau 4, was used upon the superstructures of pre-and early-war surface vessels.
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM01, JPS 91-004, X255 (RAL7001), X136 (FS16375), Humbrol 127, Revell 374, MM1728 (FS36375)

Hellgrau 50 (alternative) (RAL7038, FS36492) N.B. This alternative colour for the above Hellgrau 50 is explained later in the Hellgrau 50 section
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM13, X221 (RLM 63), Humbrol 147 or 166, Revell 76 (add white).

Dunkelgrau 51 (RAL7000, FS35237)
Even though Dunkelgrau means “dark grey”, this was a medium blue-grey. It has been referred to as Fehgrau (squirrel grey) and Dunkelgrau 3. It was used upon the upper hull sides of pre-and early-war surface vessels.
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM02 (too much blue), JPS 91-003, X126, Humbrol 145, Revell 57 (add white), MM1721 (FS35237).

Dunkelgrau 52 (RAL7024, FS36076)
This dark neutral grey was a little lighter than Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau. It has also been referred to as Graphitgrau (graphite grey) and Dunkelgrau 2.
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM06, JPS 91-002, Humbrol 67, Revell 74.

Dunkelgrau 53 (RAL7016, in between FS36076 and FS35042)
This paint was the same colour as Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau, but did not contain any anti-fouling ingredients. It has also been referred to as Anthrazitgrau (anthracite grey) and Dunkelgrau 1.

Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau (RAL7016, in between FS36076 and FS35042)
The DKM number for this very dark grey anti-fouling paint was 23a and 23b. It was also known as Wasserlinienfarbe W.L. III Grau and Anthrazitgrau (anthracite grey). This was the same colour (RAL7016) as Dunkelgrau 53/Dunkelgrau 1, but included anti-fouling ingredients in the paint.
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM05, JPS 91-001, X802 (RAL7016), X128 (FS16076), Humbrol 123, Revell 78,
MM2101 (RAL7016).

The following three petrol-proof camouflage paints had no RAL equivalent codes given in the painting regulations.

Schlickgrau 58 (slightly darker than 36134)
Schlickgrau, which means “mud-grey”, was a medium to dark grey with a hint of green.
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM11, JPS 91-029, Humbrol 78 + 31, Revell 47

Blaugrau 58/1 (darker than 36152)
A medium to dark grey with a hint of blue.
Suitable paints: Colourcoats KM12, JPS 91-030, X254, Humbrol 79, Revell 77.

Blauschwarz 58/2 (35044)
A very dark blue.
Suitable paints: JPS 91-031, Humbrol 15 (add black), Revell 350 (add black).

The Colourcoats range was produced by John Snyder of White Ensign Models; their website is at - http://whiteensignmodels.com As he participated in producing the Snyder & Short Enterprises paint chip cards, the Colourcoats paints correspond directly to the Snyder & Short paint chips. The JPS Modell acrylic paints can be found at - http://www.jpsmodell.de/shop/jpswn_e.htm

NB. The Federal Standard codes are only the nearest codes to the RAL codes, which are themselves only cross-references to the original Kriegsmarine paints. It must again be stated that adherence to the RAL or Federal Standard codes are not necessary by modellers. Dunkelgrau 51, etc. were paints, not colours, and thus varied to a degree in colour. The variation in colour between the Dunkelgrau 51 paint used by one yard to that of another yard was much greater than we would expect today. The weathering suffered by a U-boat would further alter the colour.

I have been unable to ascertain whether the other Kriegsmarine colours below were ever used on U-boats. These colours were specified in the November 1941 painting regulations -
31/1 Hellgrau (light grey)
31/2 Dunkelgrau (dark grey)
32/1 Hellgrün (light green)
32/2 Dunkelgrün (dark green)
32/3 Olivgrün (olive green)
32/4 Hellbraun (light brown)
32/5 Dunkelbraun (dark brown)
32/6 Rosa (pink)
32/7 Blau (blue)

There were also three “Norwegian” colours which were based on Korvettenkapitän Dechend’s 1942 memorandum. Again, I have not been able to determine whether they were ever used upon U-boats. These were –

Dunkelblaugrau (dark blue grey, FS35044)
Mittelblaugrau (medium blue grey, FS35240)
Hellblaugrau (light blue grey, FS35488)

Kriegsmarine colours can be found in the two-part set of paint chip cards produced by Snyder & Short Enterprises. These are the best reproductions of the colours of the Kriegsmarine paints that are available to us at present. The cards, which are available from http://www.shipcamouflage.com and http://whiteensignmodels.com include actual paint chips rather than printed inks. They were produced from research materials generated by Flak Pletscher, the authors Dieter Jung, Arno Abendroth and Norbert Kelling and their book "Anstriche und Tarnanstriche der deustschen Kriegsmarine" (Painting and Camouflage of the German Navy) Second Edition (Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1997), and archival chips and material sent to the RAL Institute. The latter material had been in use by the Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven shipyard in 1944. The colours in the above book were based on an examination of colour cards that were returned to Germany by the Russians in the 1990s.

Hellgrau 50

In the many available photos of pre- and early-war Kriegsmarine battleships, there is often quite a contrast between the light grey Hellgrau 50 paint used on the superstructures and the medium blue-grey Dunkelgrau 51 paint used upon the upper hull sides. This contrast is usually greater than the contrast between RAL7001 and RAL7000, the RAL codes assigned to these paints in the 1940s. In addition, the light grey Hellgrau 50 looks almost white in photos where direct sunlight is present, and reports from early in the war noted that the light grey superstructure shined almost white in bright weather conditions. These points have caused me to wonder if the Hellgrau 50 paint was actually quite a bit lighter than the RAL7001 colour assigned to it. It should be noted that others who have studied Kriegsmarine colours have, independently of myself, come to ponder this same question.

During 1941 ships such as the Bismarck, the Prinz Eugen and the Lützow appeared in “Baltic stripes” camouflage. These ships had black and white stripes painted over their Hellgrau 50 superstructures and Dunkelgrau 51 upper hulls, plus dark grey areas at their bows and sterns. The S&S paint chip cards have separate chips for the colours used in this Baltic scheme. They are so much lighter than the normal 50/51 colours that I originally assumed that paints with completely different Kriegsmarine codes had been used. I came to learn, somewhat frustratingly, that Hellgrau 50 and Dunkelgrau 51 were used in this Baltic scheme, but that the colour of the Hellgrau 50 and Dunkelgrau 51 paints used in the Baltic scheme varied from the RAL7001 and RAL7000 codes normally associated with these Kriegsmarine paints.

The basis for the “Baltic” colours in the S&S paint chip cards came from two drawings. The first drawing, found in the Bundesarchiv by the author Hans Georg Prager, was of the Lützow, and the second drawing was of a Type 35/37 Torpedoboat. They both call for the Hellgrau 50 superstructure, which according to the official reckoning should be RAL7001, to be RAL7038. Though these are unofficial paint matches, they should certainly be taken into consideration as they accord with the very light grey often seen in colour and black and white photos of Hellgrau 50, and with the early reports of “superstructures shining almost white”.

Having carefully considered the above information, I believe that the Hellgrau 50 paint may have been as light as RAL7038 (FS36492) on occasions. It would surely have been somewhere close to RAL7001 (FS36375) on other vessels at other times since that was the RAL code cross-referenced to it. In the table above I have suggested RAL7038 as an “alternative Hellgrau 50” colour. I further suggest that the real Hellgrau 50 paint used upon numerous Kriegsmarine vessels could have ranged anywhere between, and including, this RAL7038 code and the more traditional RAL7001.

This variation in colour is much greater than I had expected. Falk Pletscher astutely notes upon the variation in the colour of the Hellgrau 50 paint that, “I am quite sure that the colour of the paint Hellgrau 50 was not exactly defined. Otherwise it would have been taken into the RAL register.”

If such was the case for Hellgrau 50, then we should not expect any less variation for any other Kriegsmarine paint. For this reason alone, modellers do not have to adhere exactly to RAL or FS codes. These codes are merely suggested as bases from which modellers and enthusiasts can gain an idea what general colour the standard paints were.

The two-tone grey U-boat colour scheme

Kriegsmarine U-boats were painted in two greys. The first grey was painted on the conning tower and the upper hull (above the waterline). The second darker anti-fouling 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. Early pre-war boats had this division line slightly lower than was common during the war. Some pre-war original Type VII boats (also known as VIIAs) had the tops of their saddle tanks painted in the upper colour, but most Type VIIs had the whole of their saddle tanks painted in the lower anti-fouling colour. Contrary to many illustrations in numerous publications, there was no bootline/boot-topping (the dark grey horizontal stripe between lower and upper waterline) on U-boats; these were only applied to surface units. The steel horizontal surfaces at the extreme bow and stern were either painted in the upper lighter grey or black. The wooden deck was coated with a wood preservative, and shall be discussed later.

Lower hull colours

A number of side profiles, drawings and illustrations show U-boats with red lower hulls and black bootlines, and these have sparked countless debates within the modelling community. Many commentators maintain that no U-boats, either before or during the war, ever had red anti-fouling paint beneath the waterline. Another opinion is that at the very start of WWII some U-boats had red lower hulls, but at the next dry-docking they were painted dark grey. Other opinions hold that while some pre-war boats may have been red, all wartime boats were dark grey.

In the book "Die Deutschen Uboote Geheim 1939-1945" (German U-Boat Secrets 1939-1945) by Richard Lakowski (Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, 1997), there are two editions of the building regulations form Nr. 31, which specifies the application of paints upon U-boats. These can be found at –

http://www.u-boot-archiv.de/dieboote/farben_maerz_1940.html
http://www.u-boot-archiv.de/dieboote/farben_juli_1944.html

The March 1940, November 1941 and July 1944 editions of this building regulation all state that the external sections of the lower hull were to be painted with two coats of anti-corrosion paint (see “Unexposed colours” section for the colour) followed by one coat of the anti-fouling dark grey paint Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau (DKM 23a, literally “ships bottom colour 3 grey”). This was called Wasserlinienfarbe W.L. III Grau (literally “water line colour W.L. 3 grey”) in the first two editions, but as previously mentioned this was exactly the same paint as Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau. Finally, another coat of Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau (DKM 23b) was to be applied. 23b was exactly the same paint as 23a; the letters were used to specify that two coats were to be applied. There is no mention anywhere in these regulations of Dunkelblaugrau (RAL 7026), which is included in the Snyder & Short paint chip cards and White Ensign Models’ KM paint range (Colourcoats KM03).

The otherwise excellent "Type VII U-Boats" (Brockhampton Press, 1998) by Robert C. Stern includes erroneous information on hull colours which directly contradicts the painting regulations. It is stated by Stern that, “the underbody was supposed to have been painted with a red anti-fouling compound but seems just as often as not to have been covered with the dark grey waterline colour,” and that, “the upper surfaces of the saddle tanks and the band on the boat’s side between normal trim waterline and lightest trim waterline were painted dark grey.” Both statements are unquestionably erroneous: the wartime regulations call for dark grey anti-fouling paint and no bootline. Given the quality of Stern’s book, it is very surprising that he should have made these obvious errors.

The artists who produced the drawings of wartime U-boats with red hulls and bootlines may have been influenced by the standard Kriegsmarine surface unit colours of red-brown hull - Schiffsbodenfarbe III Rot (DKM 22a and 22b, RAL8013, Colourcoats KM04) - and dark grey (Wasserlinienfarbe W.L. III Grau) bootline. Some artists may also have known that dark grey was the real colour used on wartime U-boats, but preferred to opt for red. The red hull provides a much more visually stimulating drawing than the drab, featureless grey, and artistic license may well have negated historical accuracy. The Amati 1/72nd U 47 kit is a perfect example of this. The model shown on the box has a red hull, yet the instructions specify that dark grey should be used. I suspect that marketing considerations may have taken precedence over accuracy.

The wartime painting regulations are thankfully available to us, but the pre-war painting regulations are, unfortunately, not in common circulation. These pre-war regulations would likely have shed light on the question of whether red anti-fouling paint and dark grey bootlines were applied to pre-war boats at any stage. It is especially regrettable because in black and white photographs it is impossible to distinguish with any degree of certainty between a red and a dark grey hull.

Since the U-boat arm had been experimenting with the colours above the waterline in the years leading up to the commencement of hostilities, could it have been possible that they also experimented with the colours below the waterline? A comment by U 35 veteran Kurt Grosser suggests to me that colours other than dark grey were used in pre-war times. He maintains that when he reported aboard U 35 in April 1939 the lower hull of this U-boat was dark green. We should be extremely careful when dealing with veterans’ memories of the colours used 60 to 65 years ago, but this comment is interesting in light of the fact that a green anti-fouling paint - Schiffsbodenfarbe I Grün (DKM 24a and 24b) - was mentioned in the 1944 painting regulations.

If some experimentation had taken place, and it appears that it did, then it may be impossible to disprove the possibility that some pre-war U-boats may have had red hulls. Although there is no positive confirmation of pre-war red hulls, how can we be certain without having access to every edition of the pre-war painting regulations that they did not exist?

There is a colour photograph in existence showing Joachim Schepke holding a toy model of a pre-war U 29 with a thick bootline and red hull. I am certainly not suggesting that this constitutes evidence of the use of red anti-fouling paint or bootlines on lower hulls. The manufacturer of the toy model possibly assumed, just as some people do today, that the red anti-fouling paint in common use upon other vessels of the Kriegsmarine was used upon U-boats. I mention this because I find it amusing that the possible erroneous use of red on U-boat models may have started as early as 1940 or 1941!

Having studied a number of photos of wartime U-boats coming off the slips and in dry-dock, I have not to date seen any evidence of any bootlines on any of these wartime boats. While an appreciable bootline might be difficult to discern in some black and white photographs, I have seen enough good quality images of exposed wartime U-boat hulls to convince me that bootlines were not applied to wartime boats. Neither have I discerned a bootline on any of the photos I have seen of pre-war boats with their lower hulls exposed. Some of these photos are of an excellent quality, and a bootline would certainly be discerned if present on the hull observed. However, I have not seen enough pre-war photos showing exposed lower hulls to be certain that bootlines were not present on some pre-war U-boats.

Lastly, due the increasing strain which the Ubootwaffe was under, and the sheer number of U-boats produced, the possibility of the odd exception cannot be discounted. It is plausible to suggest that adherence to the painting regulations became of a much lesser priority, particularly towards the end of the war. In some cases, paints that were to hand must surely have been used rather than the paint specified in the regulations.

To conclude, I find that although there is no positive evidence of the use of red on pre-war hulls, the possibility cannot be completely discounted. But I would suggest that it would be prudent of modellers who choose a pre-war U-boat not to use red unless positive confirmation comes to light. If a wartime U-boat is being modelled I would recommend a colour somewhere in the region of Schiffsbodenfarbe III Grau (RAL 7016) for the lower hull.

Pre-war colours

Pre-war U-boats had the following features –

- the U-boat number (without the U) was painted in large numerals approximately 1.5 metres tall on both sides of the conning tower. Any U-boat photographed without this number is therefore a wartime boat.
- a small oval plate inscribed with the U-boat’s number (with the U) was located just under the small free-flooding holes near to the bow, on both sides of the hull.
- an unpainted bronze eagle plaque was located on the front face of the tower, just below the wind deflector.
- the raised detail of the circle and square markers, both of which had crosses within them, were sometimes painted black. In other case they remained grey, while sometimes the background of the marker (the four squares within the larger square and the four squares within the circle) was painted white. These markers indicated the location of compressed air connections, and were found on both port and starboard walls of the tower. The raised detail of the square marker with a cross within it on either side of the magnetic compass housing was painted similarly. These markers indicated the location of connections to fill air bottles.
- the emergency rescue buoy, two of which were in place on U-boat decks, were red and white. On Type VIIs, the first was located forward of the 20mm Flak gun and the second was just aft of the capstan. Some of these red and white buoys had three white strips which curved in a circular pattern around the outside. Black text appeared upon these strips; the topmost strip read “Unterseeboot” followed by the U-boat’s number.
- sometimes during the pre-war years the red horseshoe-shaped lifebelts would have the name of the U-boat’s flotilla and the U-boat’s number marked in large white letters and numerals.

Just prior to the start of the hostilities the first three features were all removed, and the circles and squares with the crosses within were painted the same grey as the conning tower. Most of the emergency rescue buoys were moved inside metal deck hatches so they would be less obstructive to the crews working on the deck. On the wartime U-boats which retained these buoys, they were painted black rather than red and white.

During the pre-war years it was common to see U-boats sporting different colours to others in the harbour, since different schemes were being tried at this time. It is possible to determine their colours because in pre-war times several U-boats were often photographed next to their tenders. The Dunkelgrau 51 hulls and Hellgrau 50 superstructures of the tenders provide reference points which allow comparisons to be made.

Some of the earliest pre-war U-boat schemes included –

Dunkelgrau 51 upper hulls and Dunkelgrau 51 towers, with the numbers on the tower in white.
Dunkelgrau 51 upper hulls and white towers, with the numbers on the tower in dark grey.
Dunkelgrau 52 upper hulls and white towers, with the numbers on the tower in dark grey (rare).
Hellgrau 50 upper hulls and Hellgrau 50 towers, with the numbers on the tower in dark grey.

Later on a very dark grey colour that is likely to have been Dunkelgrau 52 was used on the upper hulls and towers. Then, immediately prior to the war, the most common scheme within the U-boat fleet consisted of Dunkelgrau 51 on the upper hulls and towers. In both these latter two cases, the numbers on the conning towers were in white.

During the Spanish Civil War, fifteen U-boats – U 14, U 19, U 23 and U 25-U 36 – were deployed as part of the “Non-Interventionist Committee”. This involvement lasted from November 1936 until May 1939. U-boats serving in this conflict had vertical stripes of black, white and red on both sides of their conning tower, as well as the front of their conning tower. They also had these black, white and red stripes on the fore and aft deckcasing, perpendicular to the deck. Sometimes a pattern other than stripes was used on the bows and conning towers. U 33 and U 34 engaged in clandestine patrolling in the Spanish Civil War in November and December 1936. Due to the secretive nature of their patrols, all identification markings were painted out on these U-boats during this period.

Wartime upper greys

Immediately prior to the war, the most common scheme within the U-boat fleet consisted of Dunkelgrau 51 on the upper hulls and towers. Very soon after the start of hostilities the Dunkelgrau 51 paint on a few U-boats such as U 30 was replaced by Hellgrau 50. Over the course of the winter of 1939, the Hellgrau 50 paint gradually became as common as Dunkelgrau 51. Many of the U-boats which were completed in 1940 (such as U 69, U 94, U 99 and U 552) sported this light grey Hellgrau 50 colour during their commissioning ceremony.

The contention by some that most wartime U-boats were the light grey Hellgrau 50 is wholly inaccurate, as both Hellgrau 50 and Dunkelgrau 51 were commonly used upon wartime U-boats. The common use of both these colours is supported by the well-researched 3-part decal sheet by U.L.A.D.-decal for the Revell 1/72nd Type VIIC U-boat kit.

Another colour which was used was Schlickgrau 58. Blaugrau 58/1 and Dunkelgrau 52 were much less common, and Blauschwarz 58/2 was hardly used at all. According to Randy Short of Snyder & Short Enterprises, Blauschwarz 58/2 was not used at all upon Type VIIs. Dunkelgrau 53 was used in camouflage patterns, but was rarely (if at all) used as a sole upper colour.

It would have been somewhat helpful if the painting regulations had stated which of the Kriegsmarine paints were to have been used upon the upper hulls and conning towers of U-boats. Unfortunately they don’t, and so are of limited use to us. The painting regulations stated only that shipyards had to ask the High Command for instructions on painting the upper colour of each individual boat, and that the U-boat’s planned operational area would often influence the shade of grey used. The latter does help us with the boats which served in the Arctic and in the Mediterranean, and shall be discussed shortly.

The regulations offer absolutely no help to us on the question of which of the three most common colours - Hellgrau 50, Dunkelgrau 51 or Schlickgrau 58 - was used on boats serving in the Atlantic or training in the Baltic. All we can do is attempt the difficult and often frustrating task of photographic interpretation. It is very difficult to differentiate between Hellgrau 50 and Dunkelgrau 51 in black and white photos where no reference point is available. In general terms, the Hellgrau 50 paint looks very light – even white – in photos where the sun is shining upon the surface in question. Dunkelgrau 51 can look light when there was a lot of light present in the photograph, but does not ever look white like the Hellgrau 50 sometimes does. For modellers attempting to determine whether their chosen subject was Hellgrau 50 or Dunkelgrau 51, it is advisable to study photographs of warships where these colours are known to have been used (as previously mentioned the superstructures of pre-war and early wartime vessels were Hellgrau 50 and the upper hulls were Dunkelgrau 51). Although a marked contrast between these colours can be seen in photos of Kriegsmarine warships, it is still very difficult – sometimes impossible – to distinguish whether one or the other was used on a U-boat merely by photographic interpretation. Such an exercise is often extremely frustrating and highly subjective.

It has already been mentioned that the painting regulations stated that shipyards had to ask the High Command for instructions on painting the upper colour of each individual boat. Since some U-boats served in different locations during their career, some sported different colours at various times. It is quite likely that the commanders and the bosses at the shipyards would also have had an influence over which upper colours were used. Such individuality between boats can be illustrated with U 47 and U 99. Both these famous U-boats served in the Atlantic, were based at Lorient toward the end of their careers, and were sunk in March 1941. The upper colour of U 47 was Dunkelgrau 51 until the summer of 1940, when it was changed to a darker shade that may have been Schlickgrau 58. U 99, on the other hand, was Hellgrau 50 throughout its illustrious career. This was perhaps because at the time U 47 was launched Dunkelgrau 51 was the prominent colour, and when U 99 was launched it was more usual for Hellgrau 50 to be used.

In the case of the U-boats serving in the Mediterranean, the theatre of operations did make a difference since it was commonplace for camouflage to have been used in that area. The same can be said for the Arctic, where conning towers were sometimes painted white. U-boats operating out of Norway frequently had the upper half of the conning tower, above the spray deflector, or all of their conning tower, painted white. This was intended to allow the boat to blend in better with the sea mists and fogs that often hang close to the surface of the water in high latitudes.

An order was placed by the High Command on the 7th May 1943 to the effect that only the petrol-proof camouflage colours Schlickgrau 58, Blaugrau 58/1 and Blauschwarz 58/2 were to be used as upper colours on operational U-boats. This was the only order specifically pertaining to U-boat colours. The reason given is that the High Command was worried at this time that the Allies were using infra-red sensors to detect the U-boats. Presumably these paints did not reduce the infra-red signature of a U-boat. Instead, the High Command, who were alarmed at the number of U-boats being sunk at that time by aircraft, must have deemed that these darker colours would render a U-boat less visible to enemy aircraft. This order seems not to have been adhered to, as the light and medium greys were still used until the war’s end.

Early in the war standard colours had been commonly used within the U-boat fleet. However, as the war progressed non-standard greys were being used due to the wartime shortages. By the end of the war, darker colours were more common than had been the case at the start of the conflict. The colour photographs of U 505, U 805 and U 858 all show medium blue-grey (probably Dunkelgrau 51) upper hulls and very dark blue conning towers (possibly Blauschwarz 58/2?)

Conning towers and upper hulls were sometimes different colours, especially later in the war. Such was the case on U 995, which at some point in its career had a medium-to-dark upper hull and a white or Hellgrau 50 tower, and U 162, which had a Dunkelgrau 51 upper hull and a Hellgrau 50 tower. In rarer cases such as U 302 in the summer of 1942, the upper and lower halves of the conning tower were different colours.

The following U-boats may have had these upper colours. The colours are merely educated guesses, and can in no way be guaranteed –

U 30
Pre-war - Dunkelgrau 51
November 1939 - Hellgrau 50
1942 (training flotilla) - Schlickgrau 58

U 35
3rd November 1936 (commissioning) - Hellgrau 50
1937 - Dunkelgrau 52
5th February 1938 - Dunkelgrau 51 + Spanish Civil War stripes
17th June 1938 to October 1939 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 37
Pre-war - Dunkelgrau 51
1942 (training flotilla) - Dunkelgrau 52 or Dunkelgrau 53

U 47
December 1938 to July 1940 - Dunkelgrau 51
August 1940 to March 1941 - Schlickgrau 58

U 48
September 1939 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 69
19th September 1940 (launch) - Hellgrau 50

U 73
April 1941 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 86
Summer 1942 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 94
12th June 1940 (launch) - Hellgrau 50
18th April 1941 - Hellgrau 50
1942 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 95
24th February 1941 - Schlickgrau 58

U 99
Throughout career - Hellgrau 50

U 128
May 1941 (UAK trials) - Hellgrau 50

U 162
August 1942 - Dunkelgrau 51 upper hull and Hellgrau 50 tower

U 163
April/May 1942 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 203
4th January 1941 (commissioning) - Dunkelgrau 51

U 267
April 1943 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 302
Summer 1942 (training) - Dunkelgrau 51 upper hull; Dunkelgrau 51 on lower half of tower; Schlickgrau 58 on upper section with yellow training band
September 1943 - Hellgrau 50

U 335
April/May 1942 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 362
30th July 1944 - Weiß 30 upper hull and lower half of tower; upper half of tower dark grey
End of 1944 - Weiß 30

U 405
April 1943 - Hellgrau 50

U 438
May 1943 (sinking) - Schlickgrau 58

U 441
21st February 1942 (commissioning) - Hellgrau 50
Summer 1942 (5th U-Flottille) - Hellgrau 50 upper hull and Dunkelgrau 51 tower

U 442
12th January 1942 (launching) - Hellgrau 50

U 505
4th June 1944 (capture) - Dunkelgrau 51 upper hull and Blauschwarz 58/2 (?) tower

U 552
Throughout operational career - Hellgrau 50

U 558
June 1942 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 564
11th July 1942 - Dunkelgrau 51

U 673
Flak-trap - Schlickgrau 58 (?)

U 751
Late 1941 - Hellgrau 50

U 805
14th May 1945 (after capture) - Dunkelgrau 51 upper hull and Blauschwarz 58/2 (?) tower

It is essential to recognise that these boats were not necessarily these colours throughout their careers.


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