Bismarck & Tirpitz

Paint Schemes

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The purpose of this section is to share knowledge from my comprehensive research regarding paint schemes used on Germany warships, in this case Bismarck and Tirpitz.

Most photos of the warships are in black and white (greyscale), but there also exist some colour photos. All together they help understand how the ships looked like and in many cases it is possible to find out what kind of colours that was used.

When I first published my paint schemes of Bismarck people was very critical to me and my work. But when I saw the wreck of Bismarck in 2002 with my own eyes it was very satisfying to see that the wreck confirmed my own research and I also got new information that was very useful.

Some people will always questioning my paint schemes, often because they believe more in other sources or dislike the colours that the Germans used. Some, especially ship modellers, want Bismarck to have yellow or red turret tops, some want Tirpitz and Admiral Graf Spee to be green and not grey, as it look better on a model. I strive to get as close to the truth as possible and not what looks best.

It will be too comprehensive and complicated to get into details about how I research all this, but it is a matter of photo analysis of black and white photos, colour photos and sometimes eye witnesses or other sources can support my results. I always start from scratch when I research this and then I see where it ends. I don't use information and paint schemes in other sources as I have no idea how or if they have researched it and mostly I disagree with them and often I can prove them wrong.

But having said all this it is always important that we must be prepared that these ships can surprise us. I'm not only talking colours here, but also camouflage pattern.

In many cases I can prove that I'm right, in some cases I base it on logic and what would be most likely. But I would never claim that my paint schemes are 100% accurate as this would be impossible. But they are as close as I can make them based on my material and knowledge. I see this work as a running process and always try to find new evidences so I can update the paint schemes to make them even more accurate.

If anybody can prove my paint schemes wrong I would be most happy to hear from them as it can only help me and the users of the websites and this is my aim with all this.

Technology and it's Limitations
Most of the available photographs are in black and white which makes it impossible to clearify which colours that where used.

Furthermore the photographs are very old and the photo technology at that time was not as good as it is today.

Additionally we have to be aware that people look at photographs in many different ways. Some people can see something in a photograph that others don't see.

The light and the shadows on a subject varies depending on the time of the day and the weather conditions when the photograph was taken, and the angle from where it was photographed from.

This website and it's material appear different depending on the configuration of peoples computer. Although I try to minimize these problems it's hard to avoid.

We also have to consider that it's possible to manipulate with photographs and that the same photograph may look different depending on the source we get it from. It's very important how a photograph was handled before it was printed.

Let me show you a couple of examples, see below:

Confusing Photographs
These photographs of Bismarck (from the day of commissioning) are from the book "Schlachtschiff Bismarck - Eine Technikgeschichtliche Dokumentation" by Siegfired Breyer. Both photographs appear on page 23.

Try to compare the rangefinder on main turret C (Cäsar) and the upper structure on both photographs. On the photograph to the left it seems quite dark.

It appears that the rangefinder has another colour than the rest of the turret. And the rangefinder and the upper structure seems to have more or less the same colour as the hull.

On the photograph to the right you can see that the rangefinder appear to have the same colour as the rest of the turret. And that the turret and rangefinder have the same bright colour as the upper structure. And on this photograph you can see that the turret and the upper structure have another colour than the hull.

These photographs are most likely taken by the same camera and by the same photographer on the same day and within a short period of time. Nevertheless the colours on these photographs appears different.

This photograph of Bismarck was scanned from the book "Sclachtschiff Bismarck - Eine Technikgeschichtliche Dokumentation" by Siegfired Breyer, page 119.
This photograph of Bismarck was scanned from the book "The Battleship Bismarck - A Documentary in Words and Pictures" by Ulrich Elfrath and Bodo Herzog, page 122.
The photographs above are the exacly same portrait, but they have been handled very different before it was printed. Notice that I have not corrected anything. I have scanned the photographs and resized them, that's all.

The lower photo is the most correct, but imagine your impression if you had only seen the upper photo. It would give you the wrong impression of how the ship looked like.

Therefore it is always valuable to have more than one photo of the ship from the same period or incident as then you have a better possibility to achieve a good result in your analysis of how the ship looked like at that time.

Paint Scheme Layout
Codes of color explanation
Light Grey
RAL No. 7001 *
RAL No. 7000 *
Dark Grey
RAL No. 7024 *
RAL No. 3010
RAL No. 8013 *
* RAL means " Reichs Ausschuß für Lieferbedingungen und Gütesicherung" and is the German Institute for Quality Assurance and Certification e.V.

Apperance of False Waves Painted on the Bismarck

© John Asmussen, 2000 - 2014. All rights reserved.