Japanese WW II Camouflage

When you finish reading this section you may want to visit some  of my blog entries that support it:


The navies of almost all countries participating in the war used some kind of camouflage. The size of the navy involved is usually proportional to the coverage their camouflage got. The big exception is the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Japanese tended to not use camouflage at all for most of the war. The warships were painted an almost uniform overall grey. battleships and carriers had wooden decks (mostly) while cruisers and destroyers used a brown linoleum except where the decks were left as painted steel. Japanese merchant ships and naval auxiliaries were initially painted overall grey. Later in the war some standard camouflage was devised to help protect merchant vessels from American submarine attack. The flight decks of aircraft carriers were painted to help confuse attacking dive bombers. The original overall grey came in several shades. each one was specific to the ships built or maintained by a specific shipyard. The yards involved were Sasebo, Maizuru, Kure, and Yokusuka. A few years ago (2007) John Snyder at White Ensign models published a very good, but not complete, listing of which ships used which shade.

Here are examples of the difference in shades of these greys, but must be taken with a caveat that color reproduction, whether on a computer screen or on a printed page, is not always perfect. Most modelers, including myself, work from a premise that a good approximation is close enough to make the color look correct.

Kure                 Maizuru                 Sasebo                Yokusuka

Snyder and Short and made sample paint chip sets and Lifecolor made a set of paints for modelers to match the colors used by Japanese ships.

There were a few navy ships that carried patterned camouflage. The ones I know are; CL Tama, CL Kiso, DD Mutsuki, AV Kimikawa Maru,  AV Akitsushima, AMCs Aikoku Maru, Hokoku Maru, and AS Heian Maru. Heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro were given camouflage patterns specifically only for the time they spent in port in Singapore. Pictures of these are shown below

Type 1                 Type 2                 Type 21                Type 22

Finally, it should be mentioned that the deck of the ill-fated Shinano was actually pink. The non-slip material used on her flight deck included  crushed red bricks.

After putting up pages on my original blog with pictures of Japanese WW II camouflage I realized that a better description of the background to Japanese ship camouflage was probably needed. So, here is the first part.
At the start of the war the navy ministry handled warships and merchant vessels requisitioned for use as naval auxiliaries. The navy really was not convinced that any kind of disruptive camouflage beyond overall grey was necessary. As a result, with the exception of aircraft carriers late in the war (a subject to be discussed later) ships belonging to the navy rarely had camouflage. There were a very few notable exceptions:
1)A few warships involved in Aleutian operations were painted with white splotches. These were the light cruisers KISO and TAMA and the destroyer MUTSUKI. There is also a photo of light cruiser YURA in similar camouflage but she was not part of that operation and I am unable to date the picture.

CL Tama_in_1942


CL Kiso


Mutsuki 1941
DD Mutsuki


CL Yura

2) Merchant cruisers that were to operate as raiders were given camouflage. This includes AIKOKU MARU and HOKOKU MARU who both were painted in two different patterns. LCDR Shizuo Fukui was reported to be responsible for their second pattern. AWATA MARU and KIYOZUMI MARU also carried camouflage patterns/

hoikoku Maru in Singapore, 7-42
XCL Hokoku Maru


XCL Aikoku Maru

These are my patterns for the 4 ships, followed by an example of US WWI Pattern Type 9 design K which, except for the colors, was copied for HOKOKU MARU.

AIkoku maru 48 -kiyozumi maru 76Hokoku maru 48 -

awata maru 114

Type 9 K stbd 2007-025-017
US Type 9 K stbd side. NHHC acquisition number 2007-025-017

3) some seaplane tenders were camouflaged, also by LCDR Fukui. These included AKITSUSHIMA and KIMIKAWA MARU. SAGARA MARU also was given an experimental pattern while in Singapore. The pattern used captured stocks of Royal Navy paints in dark blue and either white or light grey.

akitsushima pic


kimikawa maru navypedia jap_au76
XAV Kimikawa Maru

Akitushima stbd patternAkitushima camokimikawa maru 73sagara maru 83

Submarine tenders HEIAN MARU and YASUKUNI MARU also were camouflaged.

yasukuni maru 62
4) Heavy cruiser Myoko was camouflaged while in port late in the war, but was never expected to set sail without being repainted in overall grey

jap CA Myoko

5) Finally, the fleet oiler IRO began the war with a camouflage pattern as shown below. She was later repainted in a different manner under the direction of LCDR Fukui. The Naval History and Heritage Center has a sketch of her new pattern from the postwar US Navy Technical Mission report. But that sketch has her misidentified as an oiler named Oshiro.


iro 1941.

As the war came closer to a conclusion the Japanese were running out of aircraft carriers, and trained pilots. The Navy ministry decided to design some camouflage for the decks of aircraft carriers with the hope that some of these vital ships might survive to be used in a final decisive battle. The designs were printed in the US Navy Technical Mission Report, section X-32 on ship camouflage. Colors, once again, became a problem. The report is printed in black and white, so the verbal description of the colors used is still open to some interpretation. It is certain, however, that the deck patterns, except for the army assault ship AKITSU MARU were not done in shades of black, grey, and white. The carriers receiving deck camouflage included Zuiho, Chitose, Zuikaku, Junyo, and escort carrier Chuyo, The carrier hulls usually used either type 1 and type 2 or type 21 and type 22 colors. Those colors were also specified for merchant vessel hulls. The deck patterns for the carriers were included in an American Intelligence report prepared immediately after the end of the war

Here are some of the patterns.

akitsu maru deck photoakitsu maru deckryuho DECKchiyodaChitose deckzuikaku decals 2400

cve unyocve chuyo

There is more to see. Check my blog entries mentioned in the top paragraph.