Saturday, August 13, 2011

Was Arizona Blue?

I'm involved in an upcoming Battleship Arizona project and was asked if Arizona was blue or not; I get asked this on a somewhat regular basis and thought it would be good to put down my current thoughts and feelings.

Put simply, there is no definitive answer at this point, and anyone wanting to render the ship in her final configuration is rolling the dice no matter what they choose.

Now for the explanation.

Up until 1941, the Navy had painted their battleships in the #5 Standard Navy Gray that had come into use just after the end of the First World War. Starting in the mid 1930s there was a slow experimentation process that started to update the camouflage, but the experiments weren't completed and new orders finalized until January of 1941. For battleships of the Pacific Fleet, Camouflage Measure 1, using 5-D Dark Gray and 5-L Light Gray was the new standard.

Possibly because camouflage had not changed in twenty years, the Navy did not do a very good job of managing the transition. Only two Navy Yards were responsible for manufacturing paint for the entire Atlantic and Pacific Fleets (Norfolk Navy Yard and Mare Island Navy Yard respectively), and they had problems with procuring the necessary materials and equipment to suddenly switch hundreds of ships and boats from one color to another. Photographic evidence of battleships in the Pacific fleet in Measure 1 doesn't show up until June of 1941, for example, and not all of the battleships are repainted at that time.

In the meantime, the Navy had grown dissatisfied with 5-D Dark Gray and started looking for a replacement. One of the problems with 5-D had been that of supply chain; there were issues with finding the optimally sized containers and having a paint that was different from others; the two other colors used in camouflage, 5-L Light Gray and 5-O Ocean Gray came from mixing different ratios of the same white base and tinting paste together, but 5-D needed it's own separate containers and supply chain. As such, the replacement was to be made using the same base and tint in order to simplify the supply chains.

The official replacement was 5-S Sea Blue, and at the end of July the Navy ordered the paint manufacturing Yards to stop manufacturing 5-D and continue with the white base and tinting paste, with the mixing proportions for 5-S Sea Blue listed. Since this is roughly four months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the white base and tinting paste had been in circulation for a while, this should make it a fairly open-and-shut case, right?

Well, not exactly.

The battleships had originally painted in a 5-D that was based on a conversion paste from the pre-war #5 Standard Navy Gray, and even if they had painted their 5-L parts in 5-L from a the mixture, the quantities they carried on board were so limited as to be insignificant in terms of suddenly mixing and repainting an entire ship. The different ratios between 5-L and 5-S mean that nearly 18 times as much tinting paste was needed to make Sea Blue versus Light Gray (9 ounces versus 10 pints)

Additionally, the original order to transition to Sea Blue had been sent to the paint manufacturing yards and not the fleet in general; this means that the Yards had to flow the new directive out, something they did in a somewhat unclear way. We see here, for example, the order to Battleship Arizona to re-request paint to the new directives, but the directives as to how a battleship was painted didn't come from the yards, it came from the group commander.

In the case of the battleships, that would be "Commander Battleships, Battle Force," and we see a request, for example, from the Captain of Battleship Oklahoma to the Commander Battleships, Battle Force, as to what to do since the Yard is ordering them to use a paint they have no information about. Not that were are about two months away from the attack at this point; how long would it take the command to reply, and the ship to then fill out their requisition? How long would it take the Mare Island Navy Yard to fulfill it and ship it out?

We do know that the paint had been produced and that some ships had been painted in Sea Blue well in advance of the attack; Helena had been ordered into Sea Blue at the end of August and that by the middle of September the Bureau of Ships had ordered the yards to directly substitute 5-S for 5-D in any paint requisition.

Arizona was involved in a collision with Battleship Oklahoma on the night of October 22 and went into the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for repair from the 27th of October until the 12th of November. This is a month after the order to substitute 5-S on all requisitions of paint and about three months after the manufacture of 5-D had ceased. A revised SHIPS-2 was finished in September, but was not released to the fleets until the middle of October, just before Arizona was involved in the collision; this new revision did away with Measure 1 and the 5-L Light Gray above the top of the stacks that Arizona was painted in at the time of the attack.

This leaves us with the following questions:

  • What paint did Arizona and Pearl Harbor Navy Yard have on hand during her repairs in October/November and whose stocks were used to repaint her following the repairs?

  • What directives were in place at the time of Arizona's repair? If SHIPS-2 Revision 1 had come through after the orders for repair had been issued, but before the ship were actually painted, would they have performed a change order on the paint to be used?

  • Do we have all of the directives that were in effect at that time? We have a smattering of some from the Commander Cruisers and Commander Destroyers, Battle Force, but none from Commander Battleships, Battle Force. We have some from the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, but do we have them all?

  • For this reason I say that no one has the answer to the question of Arizona's final paint colors. I'm planning a trip to NARA II this fall to go through some records that haven't been explored before for this purpose to see what I can find. My hope is that we'll be able to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by finally being able to tell people how the ships actually looked as so many awoke to their last day on earth.