Monday, July 28, 2008

Stirring up the blue muck

This is a rough draft for a post I plan on making in a week or so.

So, when I was down in San Bruno back in May I spent some time looking for and then through World War Two Naval camouflage documents. There is an argument that the the battleship Arizona was not painted in Dark Gray as previously thought, but in a newer paint called Sea Blue and designated 5-S.

This has been a contentious and acrimonious viewpoint, and it hasn't helped that one of the proponents and researchers championing this view backed out of plans to publish his referenced findings in disgust over treatment he was receiving. It can be hard defending a view when you have no leg to stand on.

I was one of the researchers who went looking for documentation, since Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was where Arizona's last major overhaul was and where she was due for another one soon. It was not surprising that I didn't find anything as orders were found to destroy by burning all of Arizona's records when she was struck from the Navy's list of active ships. No direct information was found for Arizona one way or another in regards to the paint she wore on December 7th, 1941 when she and 1,177 of her crew were immolated by a magazine explosion caused by a japanese-dropped bomb.

So other methods were used. General orders were located and collected, and a piece of the carrier Enterprise, freshly painted, that had been found accidentally, was used as a comparison piece. When compared to color charts, the 5-D Dark Gray paint was found to have a darker Munsell value than the #82 camouflage black paint in use at the time.

Combined with orders found to phase out production of 5-D in favour of Sea Blue at the end of July, the theory was that by the time Arizona was under repair following a collision in October, stocks of 5-D would have been depleted enough, and orders have been found to paint other ships in 5-S by that time.

So, back to San Bruno. Buried within some unprocessed boxes I found some correspondence from Mare Island Navy Yard, which was the yard in charge of paint manufacture on the west coast at that time. I've been posting the relevant ones the last week or so, and am about ready to make a thesis statement of sorts.

On the 11th of July BuShips (The Bureau of Ships) sent a memo to the Shipyards at Norfolk, Mare Island, and Cavite, warning them that the manufacture of 5-D was most likely to stop soon and to not build up a stockpile. On the 30th of July the official word came down to cease production of 5-D and to start production of 5-S.

Mare Island complied, and I found a cluster of documents starting on the 21nd of August, 1941, where they returned outstanding paint requisitions with instructions to re-submit a requisition for the new two-part. Shipyards were responded to early on, with Pearl Harbor, Puget Sound,, and Naval Supply Depot San Diego having responses written on August 21st, then ships. Arizona's was sent out on August 22 and Pennsylvania's on the 29th. Another document referenced the same type of letter issued to the light cruiser Helena on the 18th of August.

This document is interesting in that it orders Helena to paint into Sea Blue on the 26th of August, but also that it references a letter from Mare Island to Helena similar to the above requisition resubmissions but dated the 19th (Ref (d), so obviously the 21st was not the earliest that Mare Island was sending out these orders. But, as we can see some ships were ordered into Sea Blue fairly quickly after the orders went out from BuShips to start using 5-S.

Now, in regards to Arizona, what do these documents prove? Only that Mare Island declined to provide Arizona with 5-D. She could have been painted in 5-D from stock Pearl Harbor still had; unfortunately the only paint and camouflage documents I found from Pearl Harbor were circa mid 1944 and later.

How likely is it that Pearl Harbor still had 5-D when Arizona was repainted following her collision with Battleship Oklahoma in October? We don't know the exact dates she was repainted, but there is a picture of her in drydock on November 8th and it's likely she was repainted around that time. So there is essentially three months between when 5-D production was stopped and Arizona was painted, and *roughly* two and a half months between when Mare Island first told Pearl Harbor to re-requisition 5-S, declining to provide 5-D.

What we don't know:
  • What the Pearl Harbor requisition was. Was it a regular, scheduled request for a set amount, or did they request only when stocks reached a certain level?

  • What Pearl Harbor's Paint Stocks were.

  • Would Arizona have repainted from ship's stocks or yard stocks. An order had been issued in late July to mid august (I don't have a copy) from Admiral King to the entire fleet to only keep enough 5-D paint for one touch up of the ship's hull, which excludes the superstructure. Superstructures were to be touched up in 5-O or 5-S, under the designation of "Measure 2 modified."

  • What orders were in effect when Arizona was repainted following repair? It has been pointed out that Admiral Kimmel ordered ships that had exhausted their supply of 5-D to repaint all over in 5-S, which Arizona doesn't match. However, his order took nearly a month to hit Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Only about a week of that would be surface transit if sent by ship. Is it possible that it took long enough for the paperwork to work its way through the system that it wasn't in effect when Arizona was repaired and repainted?

  • What other orders might there be out there from type commanders in regards to ship camouflage that would put a ship "outside" of what the documentation for the time would suggest, such as Helena.
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