This is the method I use based on a lifetime at sea haze grey and under weigh – the sea is never the same colour and neither is ‘Battleship Grey’! So before looking at technique, let’s get into the right headspace for painting your fleet.
Remind yourself you are a naval wargamer, not a modeler. Whilst you want a result you are proud of, these models will be viewed at three foot distance, and, if like me you are a gaming megalomaniac, you will want a whole fleet, fast! So we need a workmanlike paint job done fast.
A word about colour schemes. I spent the first part of my career, whilst in harbour, ‘chipping and painting’ – removing and replacing paint. Salt water is acidic to paint and steel, and the action of the ship through seawater, wind and spray exacerbate the constant attack of salt water on the ship.
A ship’s paint work is never ‘done’! Paintwork fades fast at sea, and schemes change all the time – the more operational the ship, the more random and slapdash the paintwork. For example, most schemes you google for this period show the timber deck extending right to the tips of the focsle and quarter deck. These are the parts of the ship most susceptible from salt, ice, wear and tear from heavy, rusty anchor chains and cables, or filth and mud caked berthing lines. Most skippers, short on time and crew, would have ordered these parts of the deck painted out with battleship grey lead paint rather than time consuming, morale sapping daily scrubbing and polishing.
Speaking of anchor chains and hawse holes, realistically, these should be covered in black graphite grease and rust…Similarly, most Chief Engineers would have negotiated with the First Lieutenant to have any part of the structure above and abaft the funnels to be painted matt black – so the soot they will be covered with within an instant of raising steam won’t show up as much!
OK, hopefully now we are in the seamanlike frame of mind to approach this task to quickly produce a model that is shipshape and ready for sea! The basing. To prevent warpage, glue the model, to an MDF base that’s a couple of mm thick, just the same as you would any other miniature. This also makes handling easier so you don’t have to varnish your model on completion. First glue the model down with PVA, using clips to hold down the fore and after parts to overcome any warpage in the model. ‘Once the glue is dry and the model secure on the base, rattlecan, airbrush or conventionally brush the model itself with the first, darkest shade of overall grey paint you are going to be using – more on this below. While that is drying, download and print out the template baseplate provided, carefully cut out the overall baseplate for the ship and then cut it exactly in half lengthways down the middle of the ship shape. Then carefully cut out the black ship shape area and discard so that each remaining half can then fit around the model on the MDF base. Check and fit first, and once happy, glue down. Paint up any gaps and around the base with any suitable sea coloured paint.
Now to continue painting the model itself… Paint colours. You have heard of paint scale, right? Essentially, the smaller the model, the less the effect of light on the paintwork, which has to be compensated for using lighter, so more reflective, paint. That said, don’t lose sleep over getting the exact shade of grey or wooden deck. The original ships were painted in wartime, have been exposed to smoke and weather, and are being ‘seen’ through fog and mist! Even ships in the same squadron might have different shades depending on how much of a Tartar the First Lieutenant is, or the availability of time and paint!
British Royal Navy ‘Battleship Grey’, or Home Fleet Dark Grey, was a ‘neutral’ mid-dark grey made purely from black and white paint mixes (Dark grey paint, Admiralty Pattern 507B). You’ll be safe with pretty much any mid-dark grey or mix up your own – the official formula boils down, after you get rid of antifouling substances, to 3 parts white to 1 part black. Blue ingredient only crept in after WW1. Generally, Royal Navy dark grey should be several shades darker than Imperial German Navy mid-grey.
The Germans painted their hulls and upperworks differently – mid grey for the hull, lighter grey for the upperworks. Main gun turret tops were black, with a large white air recognitions circle (represented on the models). Shading. To repeat, the first coat of grey paint on the model should be the darkest shade you want to use. Then apply a wash of black shade such as Nuln Oil, just to the ‘dirty bits’ – around the funnels in the depth of the superstructure recesses – also torpedo nets and any gun casement recesses. Then, once dry, using a lighter shade of your grey paint pick out any raised detail: main guns, superstructure edges, projecting rangefinders etc. For German ships this is when you apply their superstructure ‘Light Grey’, but go sparingly to produce depth. Paint any ships boats an even lighter shade of grey, verging on white. In my day, external survival equipment that needed to be highlighted just short of the point of breaking cam were painted ‘Ash Grey’ – almost a dirty white colour.
Deck colours. My approach is to be fairly slap dash in applying the deck colour, then revisiting to touch up any deck fittings, hull or superstructure that get splashed with grey. The timber was scrubbed daily, so think a very light timber colour, almost a cream colour. This time though it’s the British Royal Navy that should be slightly lighter in colour than the German shade, owing to different timbers used.
Sea colour. I use Derivan Matisse Southern Ocean Blue as it dries with a nice gloss effect to reflect sun on water, but you may prefer a matt blue/green. Where you may have an imperfect match between the model’s hull and the baseplate, fill the gap in with a mix of gloss and matt white to reflect surging seawater against the hull.
Detailing. Paint the muzzle ends of the main gun barrels matt black, and the canvas breech housings that join the gun to the turret white. Anchor chains gun metal with rust effects (red brown drybrush). Anchor hawsehole should be black for the recess picked out in rust, and maybe some rust streaks down the hull… And your done! But before assessing your work, leave the model and do something else. Then revisit by holding the model at arms length!