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Austro-Hungarian Battleship Colours

By: Falk Pletcher

With the recent release bv Thomas Weihs of the battleships VIRIBUS UNITIS and SZENT ISTVAN, I think the time is right for a short note on colors. Between 1900 and 1902 the standard paint of major warships in the Austro-Hungarian fleet changed from a Victorian style black and white pattern to a dark grey-green over all. In 1906 the first official regulations regarding this color were released The composition was slightly changed in 1910 and 1911 to improve its durability It was then a mixture of the following

46% gray chalk.
14% ocher yellow.
2% black.
9% permanent white.
1% ultramarine.
27% linseed oil.
1% turpentine oil.plans.

This olive color was also known as "Montecoccolin", named after the C in C who had introduced it. The dark gray-green color was carried over all external parts of the ship, including steel decks, masts, boats, and even canvas. The interior parts of steam and motor launches were also dark grey-green. The large pulling boats had gray-green interior, the small ones were white inside. Anchors and chains were only stained with linseed oil. Life rings were white until 1910, red-white-red-white thereafter.

In October 1913 RADETZSKY received an experimental light blue-gray paint It was tested during fleet exercises and was approved for the whole fleet on December 23, 1913 The official mixture was as follows:

30% permanent white.
30% zinc white.
5.25% black.
0 .75% ultramarine.
34% linseed oil.

This differed a little from RADETZSKY's experimental color, which had proven not durable enough. From 1914 onwards "Montecoccolin" was replaced with the new blue-grey color and at the start of WWI all battleships and major fleet units wore this paint. It was painted over all external areas except turret roofs, upper surfaces, funnel caps, and steel decks, which were painted dark gray. Boats were blue-gray overall. Some officers approved the painting of the ships boats in black below the waterline. However, the overall blue-gray was officially confirmed in November 1914 in order to maintain the low visibility effect of the whole pattern. From about 1914 searchlights, the foremast above the funnel cap, and mainmast above the searchlight platform were painted in black. In 1916/17 the fore mast and main mast above the lower yardarm became light gray. Bollards were dark grey.

To give credit that is due, I must admit that I have taken the color formulas for the paints from two articles by Wladimir Aichelburg. They appeared more than 20 years ago in the Austrian magazine "Marine Gestern -Heute" (Navy Yesterday -Today) and were based on his research in Austrian archives.

Although their components are known, it is very difficult to reconstruct these colors today. One problem is that the components are no longer available. Another is that permanent white was anything but permanent, having a strong tendency to darken. Furthermore, you must keep in mind that linseed oil gives a yellowish hue to color and linseed oil was added to the mixes as a thinner.

Nevertheless, I attempted to mix these paints from the old formulas and the results fairly closely matched the colors in contemporary paintings. Accounting for the necessary scaling down, I would suggest that Model Master 1728 would be a good match for the light blue-gray color and Humbrol 31 would give a good "Montecoccolin".

All Austro-Hungarian pre-dreadnought battleships had the dark gray-green pattern, and the first three ships of the TEGETTHOFF class were commissioned with this paint. Only SZENT ISTVAN had the light blue-gray from the start. SZENT ISTVAN also differed from her sisters in having her deck hatches painted dark gray. The others had light blue-gray hatches with the light blue-gray scheme.

The waterline (or boot topping) was painted in a color described as "pink". Not before March 1915 was a change authorized to a dark gray waterline to improve low visibility. I have not located specifications for these colors. Contemporary paintings show a rather orange tone with the dark gray-green pattern.

Below the waterline the hull had a green anti-fouling paint described as a "venomous green". Later in the war a gray paint was used for lack of supplies of the green. Again no specifications are known for these colors. But as they were merely anti-fouling colors it can be guessed that they would have resembled the anti-fouling materials and colors used in other navies.

After analyzing and interpreting photos and paintings I would suggest the following color chart:

Dark gray-green over all paint: Humbrol 31.
Light blue-gray over all: Model Master 1728.
Steel decks, turret roofs and upper sides: Humbrol 92 or Revell 77.
Wooden decks: Natural unpainted wood. Anchors and chains:
Gunmetal. Funnel caps; Black Waterline color until 1915: Revell 30.
Waterline color after 1915: Humbrol 125.
Green anti-fouling paint: 3-4 parts Revell 48 + 1 part White.
Gray anti-fouling paint: Revell 47 or Humbrol 167.

This article originally appeared in Plastic Ship Modeler 1997/2 and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and editor.

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