ELMRA Articles - Berlin Brigade Urban Paint Scheme

In 1982, the officer commanding the 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards tank squadron in Berlin felt that the normal Deep Bronze Green paint scheme of the British Army was incompatible with its urban environment. The green/black camouflage was a poor alternative when viewed against the contemporary urban backdrop of post-WWII Berlin. Straight lines are hard to find in nature and the standard patterns of black and green are equally unnatural amid the masonry, brickwork, timber and steel window frames of a city.

One influence in developing a solution was the paint scheme used by the Royal Navy in WWI, also known as the "dazzle" scheme. It was intended not only to merge and conceal, but also to mislead. Ships were painted with bold, bright and confusing shapes, which recognised the disruption created by wave structures in order to make it difficult to identify not only the class of ship but also it's direction, speed and range. Zebra stripes presented many potential bows to the enemy, making it hard to judge direction and false bow waves were painted on to imply different speeds. You need to know the distance, speed and direction of travel in order to target a ship. Before radar targeting was available, stereo optical range finders were used, similar in method to split view focusing in cameras. You had to spot a distinct vertical surface on the ship. This is harder to do if the outlines are broken up and the essential information is harder to obtain. In WWI the dazzle ships were targeted slightly more often than the grey or other camo scheme ships. However, they were hit much less often than the others. It seems to have worked at that time and the British actually hired professional artists such as Norman Wilkinson to design their dazzle schemes and tailor them to individual ships during WWI.

All these visual clues were important when trying to acquire a target at sea, now redundant by modern methods of long range detection. However, they are still valid on land in an urban environment.

The element of surprise can be seen as a force multiplier. The Soviet tank aimer would have invested many hours studying NATO vehicles but confronted with an unfamiliar silhouette, he might have lost the initiative. Shoot or be shot at - any advantage through deception and misdirection by simple application of paint was worthy of investigation.

The Major experimented with cardboard silhouettes of the Chieftain Main Battle Tank (MBT) in the windows of his office. He noticed the repetition of vertical lines and by careful placement of different size squares and rectangles was able effectively to disguise the shape of the tank. The colours chosen, grey, white, brown and black, resembled the shades found on buildings, windows and doors. Irrespective of the size of vehicle, whether it is an MBT, APC or Land Rover, the blocks of colour are approximately eighteen inches square and should not be scaled up or down for different vehicles. Antennae were also a giveaway. If you were to break the vertical length of the aerial up into sections of different colour, it almost disappears, the visual clues no longer available.

Initial reactions from his soldiers went from amusement to grudging acceptance. It was a similar situation with his fellow officers. However, all realised the advantage to be gained and how effective it was at the right distances. Certain camouflage patterns are ineffective when close up but improve as the distances increase. In our case, 50 to 60 yards was the minimum, as you got further away the target almost disappeared at 100 yards.

Following acceptance and encouragement by his Brigade Commander, the opportunity arose to show it to the Corps Commander. He came to Berlin to see for himself. Allegedly, he said "I can't see your f*****g tank, must be a good idea" The paint scheme was adopted by the squadron and subsequently by all British forces in Berlin. Each vehicle was to be painted to the same pattern; the same size blocks of colour and pattern would make it harder to determine the strength of the British Forces because they all looked the same.

The armoured squadron's barracks was next door to Spandau Prison, home of Rudolf Hess. The Four Powers in Berlin took it in turns to occupy the prison. When the Russians were in residence, they took many photographs of the British vehicles. Not long after that, I was told a similar scheme appeared on Warsaw Pact vehicles.

My interest in this scheme is in the two photographs of different Land Rovers. I have used the line drawings from a military Land Rover hand book to project how the scheme could be applied to the vehicle using the information available in the photographs. The colours in the drawings are there to help with the pattern only. I am especially interested in seeing more pictures of these Land Rovers in service, or in hearing from anyone who can shed light on them, assuming that there must have been at least two done as these pictures show. If you are wondering why I don't mention the officer by name, it is very simple, I spent some time tracking him down and when finally we spoke over the phone he was very helpful, if somewhat bemused, but specifically requested that his name be left out of this article. I am grateful to Clive Elliott for his help with identifying the name of the OC concerned in the first place thereby giving me the first clue in my search.

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Useful reference material and photographs:

World Tanks and Reconnaissance Vehicles since 1945 (Noel Aycliffe-Jones) Published 1984. ISBN 0 7110 1337 3

War In The Streets, the story of Urban Combat from Calais to Khafji (Colonel Michael Dewar) Published 1992. ISBN 0 7153 9477 0

The Art Of Deception In Warfare (Colonel Michael Dewar) Published 1989. ISBN 0 7153 9222 0

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"I wrote this article for the December 1999 issue of the EMLRA Newsletter. I am grateful to the Major responsible for the scheme who gave his support and assistance but who also requested his name not be attributed on the website. If you can help with further information and especially pictures of similar Land Rovers, I would like to hear from you. If this article inspires you to recreate the scheme, please get in touch. If you spot any mistakes etc, let me know as well."

Wayne Davies

Some useful links: (let me know if they don't work). I notice that there has been a lot of interest in this article from military modellers.

http://www.smallafv.nn.ru/amve/show/jiri_bednar_brdm2at.html (interesting Soviet version of the colour scheme)

http://www.ipmsstockholm.org/magazine/2004/05/stuff_eng_vaiano_chieftain.htm

http://www.lrdg.de/vehicles2.htm

http://www.armouredengineer.force9.co.uk/other/chief.htm

http://www.clubi.ie/exalted/chieftan.htm

http://www.ferretscoutcar.info/paint.html

http://www.vanlubeck.com/cars/opel.htm (this one has a binocular type pair of images of the same ship in plain colourse and also in dazzle)

http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Marina/8163/dazzle.htm

http://www.shipcamouflage.com/warship_camouflage.htm

http://www.globalatlantic.com/janes2.html

http://smmlonline.com/articles/kriegsmarinecamo/kreigsmarine.html

http://www.de220.com/Camouflage/DE%20Camouflage%20&%20Paint%20Patterns.htm