- Parkin, Ray
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I
- March 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
(This short account of camouflage in the Royal Australian Navy was written by Ray Parkin some years ago and throws a little light on the devious art.)
I DID NOT DESIGN the camouflage of Perth as commonly believed. The story as I remember it was that the captain instituted a competition for anybody in the ship to present an idea. This was done and the Captain, Sir Philip Bowyer-Smythe, went through them and from them selected one with possibilities. Then he called me in to see how this could be modified as it seemed to be based on concentric circles. What the Captain finally settled on was to project the fore- and main-masts down below the keel and to use this projection as the centres for the two sets of interlocking concentric bands of dark and light grey. This is readily apparent in any broadside photos. That is about all I can tell you about that.
The Royal Navy grey before the war varied according to the Station. The RAN adopted what was close to the Mediterranean grey of the RN, though individual commanders varied it according to their taste, particularly Harry Howden, who introduced more and more blue into it. When the Duke of Gloucester came out in Sussex and we were to meet her in the West, we went up to Shark Bay for a week’s paint ship. And I believe, at Harry’s own expense, we painted from truck to waterline in pure enamel, with a gilded ball on each truck, and we were more blue than grey.
Sussex was a drab grey by comparison added to which were the inevitable rust streaks of her passage from Ceylon. Relations between the two ships became strained because of this humiliation we had put them under and they did hesitate to call us a pack of pansies and powder-puffs and worse. This gave rise to a number of fights in the pubs where the accusations were made but which, in the end led to mutual respect for each other and all ships were on the best of terms before Sussex left the station as a whole-heartedly admired ship by the rest of us for always giving us the toughest of competition in sport and evolutions.
A halt had to be called to the amount of blue that commanders were sneaking into their paint as if to outdo each other in modifying the paint as supplied from the store. But during the war the greys were all much of a muchness, allowing for the fact that each ship’s camouflage was made up of light and dark variations and contrasts of greys and blacks to that there was no basic standard that a ship had to comply with.
After Perth came back from the Mediterranean and after refit and repair at Sydney she was given two new camouflages at one time so that her port side was different from her starboard side – and so she remained until sunk. These were experimental camouflages designed by Professor Dakein, zoologist, then in charge of the Camouflage School at Middle Head where the Captain sent a couple of us for a short course. This was an excellent idea because it gave the ship two separate appearances changed by any alteration of course which must have been more confusing to any enemy.