USS Hornet Deck Colors 1942
by Ron Smith
This photomontage article is in response to the raging thread about Hornet’s deck color at the time of the Doolittle Raid and the assumptions made and poor photo interpretation done in support of various arguments. Draw your own conclusions from what’s presented here.

All photos listed as “from the book” are scans from Carrier Air War In Original WWII Color by Robert Lawson and Barrett Tillman, ISBN 0-7607-1368-5. Of the two authors, Robert Lawson has very good credentials as he retired after 26 years in the Navy as a Senior Chief Photographer and has since worked as a photojournalist and consultant. All photos listed as “from the Web” are from various websites and can be found exactly as presented here with a little google searching. In no case have I done more than crop, resize or rotate an image; there have been no color, gamma or brightness corrections nor did I set any software used in the cropping, resizing, rotating or scanning processes to do any of the color, gamma or brightness correcting on it’s own. Scans were done at 300 dpi, 24 bit true color RGB mode, high quality photo setting (which turns off the descreen filter on my software). Unless otherwise noted all photos are owned by the US Navy. My comments will be below the photos with date indications per either US Navy sources or as stated in the book (all photos from the book can be found on the web but the scans from the book are used because I can make sure to scan with no color corrections and I cannot be sure web posters have done the same). My main point is to show why you cannot accurately base color decisions on B&W photos unless you know what colors it should have been to begin with and have something of similar tone or color in the right lighting conditions. Also you will see why you cannot always trust color photos, especially photos from the web as you have no idea what manipulations have been done.

The same picture of Enterprise CV-6 sometime during 1941 from two different sources. Notice the first photo has what appears to be a wood color deck……this a picture from the web, the second is from the book. Which is correct, probably the photo from the book due to one of the authors’ backgrounds. click images
to enlarge
From the web, this is the often claimed “color shifted” photo of Saratoga. Some people have argued it can’t possibly be color shifted. I can tell you something is wrong with this photo, look at the waterline…..why is there a streak of yellow there? Why are some portions of the upperworks also showing distinct yellow tones? Either someone diddled with this photo or there is something in the light that has caused that yellow streak and given the apparent angles of the streak and the deck, I’m thinking the deck color is showing a similar effect of the light. My conclusion is not to trust this photo for determining anything but the color of the water, if that.
A prewar photo of Saratoga with what is undoubtedly a mahogany stained deck. Can you actually tell the color, of course not, the date and the planes tell you what color the deck was…..using this photo to compare to others in determining deck color is silly. See the angle of light, see the glare? Photos with this much glare won’t do you much good, especially since there is nothing on the deck in the areas that aren’t in glare to compare tonaly, let alone something like a plane with known colors to compare the tone of the deck to.
From the web, obviously CV-6 Enterprise and if the colors are correct prewar from the planes. Looks to be in Ms11 for the ship. But something bothers me, the picture looks like a colorized B&W photo, it just has that “feel” to it….something about the tone of the water and the shadows under the stern remind me of the colorized photos in the WWII German magazine “Signal”. Her superstructure and entire hull just look a little too neutral. I’d believe the color of this one only upon seeing a color negative.
From the web, one of many color photos of CV-8 Hornet at Norfolk in February, 1942.  Some have argued that the yellowish patch above the liferafts is a section of deck, I doubt it…why would a section of deck be pulled up and placed at that angle? It could be either a crate or a section of canvas cheater hung over a rail, it really is hard to tell but it assuredly is not a section of her deck. This photo is printed in B&W in Warships Pictorial #9 (note the web photo has been cropped). One thing does standout quite clearly, the “golden wash” effect that happens to old Kodachrome films…..look at the white stripes in the flag, the sky and the haze grey portions of the picture…see a hint of golden yellow creeping in there?
From the web. A picture of CV-8 often claimed to be at Pearl Harbor. I somewhat doubt this, look at her waterline, there is no chipping of the paint (note there are two points midway along that are whitish, that’s her bilges being pumped). This certainly predates the Doolittle Raid where all photos showing chipping along the waterline. Photos after the raid, like the one below, show severe chipping. If this photo is from after she crossed into the Pacific it is either at San Diego or San Francisco. We can be pretty sure this photo is very commonly mislabeled as being at Pearl. There is also some that Kodachrome gold happening.

From the web. Hornet at Pearl shortly after the Doolittle Raid, notice the severe paint chipping along her waterline. Photos of her bow and stern areas show this chipping and the longer she is in the Pacific, the worse the chipping gets. No photos of her in the Atlantic show this chipping.
Hornet during her builder’s trials in Ms12. There are a few things we can tell, her deck is dark, it is wet, it has light stripes but there isn’t much else you can tell. Does the wetness make the deck appear falsely dark? Does the glare off the wetness have any effect on the exposure? Again since there is nothing on her deck of known color that is close to the tone of the deck, making inferences about deck color with this photo is pretty pointless.
From the web….a well known photo of Hornet in her death throes. By this time we know her deck was 250-N but the photo doesn’t tell us that. What we do see are a bomb hole with scorching, water streaks on her foredeck and light reflecting off the painted metal strips on her deck as compared to the stained wood surface. We do see her stern rounddown is much lighter than the deck but this could be glare. We also see that even though the light reflects a little differently from the painted metal and wood of her deck that the tone is almost identical. There is a good bit of glare on her deck but the very aft portion is clear enough make a decent guess that her deck is stained in a color close to the paint on the metal strips which would have been 20-B and thus the deck would be 250-N.
From the web…..this is a photo someone told me showed the B-25’s as much darker than the deck and thus the deck must be “wood colored”…..Could somebody point out to me a clear area of deck showing from the angle this photo was taken? What this photo is useful for is determining the starboard camo pattern and not much else for painting a model.
From the web….again used to argue the B-25’s were much darker than the deck as were the crews’ uniforms (to refute the uniform argument, see later color photos showing that in fact most dungarees were much darker than 250-N). Frankly, inferring that the B-25’s are much darker than the deck is flat out impossible in this photo.… either have glare off the tops or extreme shadow on the planes, nowhere is any surface of any plane shown at such an angle that the light is striking it at the same angle it strikes the deck….inference of deck color using this photo is ludicrous at best.
From the web…again used to argue deck color and a better candidate than the previous……but there are problems with using this one…..the aftmost B-25 wing and the deck have light striking at similar angle but there are crew in between the two…..there’s a better photo coming soon.

From the web….again used to argue deck color……again we have a problem with angles and light, not a good choice.

Here is a much better candidate for comparing tonal values between the deck and the B-25’s…..all this will give you is relative shades since olive drab and 250-N are vastly different colors. Notice the tail of the foremost B-25 and the area of deck just below it’s starboard leading edge, they are at roughly the same angle and there is no glare or shadow on either part (note the shadow is forward of the leading edge on the deck). The cropped photo below is this area.

Ignoring the black edge of the tail, notice that it and the deck just below it are very close in tone with the deck just a bit darker.  This is a fairly good indication that we are seeing a dark deck as the OD used on the early war USAAC planes was fairly dark.

Possibly the best B&W photo from the Doolittle Raid for determining the shade if not color of Hornet’s deck. Look at the forward B-25 and it’s port tail and upper fuselage and the deck right behind it. We again have very close angles and tones. The photo below is this area cropped.

We have an almost exact match in tone or shade here. There is no glare or shadow, the angles are very close to each other as well. Ignore the black leading edge on the tail…that’s a rubber deicer boot and is black.

Now we get into some serious color shots…..
From the web…An SBD taking off of CV-6 Enterprise sometime between May 12, 1942 and June, 1943. We can tell from the style of National markings on the plane. The plane colors would be USN blue-grey over ANA 602 Light grey. Notice the deck is a definite dark blue-grey color.
From the web… of planes preparing to launch from CV_8 during the Battle of Midway. That pretty much dates the photo as just after the Doolittle Raid, the deck is 250-N, no question.

From the web with no accreditation on the site as to the origin of the photo, … actual color shot of the Hornet’s deck with tied down B-25’s. Some might argue the foreground deck color shows it as mahogany stained but look farther aft, it turns grey about where the B-25’s main wheel is and stays grey further aft. Also notice the deck is greyer than browner to the left of the photo. Most likely the “wood” color in the foreground is an effect of the light and camera angle, not the true color of the deck. Later there will be some links posted and if you dig deep enough in the one to Todd Joyce’s site (son of the Joyce who was a Doolittle Raid B-25 pilot) you’ll find an excerpt from an interview with a Hornet deckape, he mentions that after coming through the Panama Canal they put into some bay and “repainted the deck blue with mops and buckets”. (NOTE- it does occur to me that this could be a still from that recent waste of film “Pearl Harbor” but having never seen it, I don’t know).

The next four photos are from a John Ford film presented to families of the men of VT-8. This film has supposedly never been show in public and the 50 odd surviving copies all belong to descendants of the men of VT-8. This was made from films shot by Ford and Hornet’s crew, all arranged by Capt. Mitscher. These are all from the web and there will be a link at the end of the article, there are more photos there. Every one of these photos show a blue deck. These are all May to June, 1942 timeframe.

Some brown in the forward bit of deck but that’s the lighting.

Blue deck with some “leprosy” due to air operations and wear.
Ens. Gay, dated May,1942. Blue deck.
Now that’s really blue!
From the book, SBD between May, 1942 and June, 1943, we can tell by the national markings on the plane. Again USN blue-grey over light grey plane, deck is 250-N. Exact carrier unknown,
From the book…..CV-6 launching an SBD-5 into the sun. Plane markings show it to be post September, 1943 as it has white bars with a blue surround. Plane should be in tricolor camo of dark sea blue, intermediate blue and white. The lighting angle produces enough glare to make seeing the color demarcations on the plane very difficult and adds a false color to the deck in areas. We can see the deck is 250-N even with the lighting problem. There is also probably some of the Kodachrome gold happening.
From the book…CVL-26, post September, 1943. 250-N deck and you’ll notice the crewmen’s dungarees are much darker than the deck. If they’re darker in color, they will be darker in B&W.
From the book, CV-20 with planes preparing to launch. This is sometime during 1945 from the color of the planes. 250-N deck and again the dungarees are much darker.
From the book, CV-7 Wasp during August, 1942. 250-N deck showing some wear, USN blue-grey planes showing much lighter than the deck and again the dungarees are much darker than the deck.
From the book…CV-7 refueling Buchanan during August, 1942. Notice the blue gutter which is 20-B and the wooden portion of the deck which is 250-N. The wood is a bit lighter and greyer than the metal.
From the book…CV-7 anchored in San Diego harbor in June, 1942. The planes would have USN blue-grey topsides. The whole photo has too much brown to it, look at the water. In any event there’s just a little too much glare off most of the deck to make an accurate guess as to color. Combine the glare and the brown shift of the photo and this one won’t do you much good. 
From the Book, CV-10 Yorktown’s commissioning. Fresh 250-N deck and the dress uniforms are much darker than the deck.
From the book, CV-10 passing through the Panama Canal. 250-N deck and again the dungarees are much darker.
From the book, CV-10 sometime during 1943, we have two rarities here as well. First look the the lead Helldiver’s starboard wing underside, the plane is in tricolor camo with a plain cockarde (no bars)…this is one of the very few photos showing this combination of camo and national marking I’ve ever seen. The second rarity is the guy in the light shirt just in front of that plane, for once dungarees appear lighter than the 250-N deck.

From the book…CV-10 during her shakedown cruise. The decks looks brownish but look at the plane behind the 1, it’s kind of greenish and there’s some yellow creeping in to the point on the star to the lower right.  I think we’re seeing several things here, first is some of that Kodachrome “golden wash” beginning to affect the photo this was taken from, second some odd effect of the lighting angle and third the dreaded deck “leprosy”, which will become clear in the next photo.

From the book, again CV-10 on her shakedown cruise. 250-N deck but showing serious signs of “leprosy” Ignore the little bit of distortion to the right and the bright line, this photo crosses the binding of the book. 
From the book…CV-10 launching an Avenger, supposedly on the Marcus Island raids of August 31, 1943. The deck shows as badly faded 250-N with some wood tone apparent, or is it the lighting angle? Dungarees are much darker than the deck.
From the book, another CV-10 photo from the same day, an Avenger preparing to launch. The deck doesn’t look as bad here but there is some glare. Dungarees again much darker than the deck.
From the book, another photo of the same day launching raids against Marcus Island, here we see the F6F-3 Hellcat’s combat debut. In this photo the deck is much darker than the pervious two. The superstructure appears to be 5-N Navy Blue of Ms21.  Dungarees a little darker then the deck. Again ignore the slight distortion and bright stripe as this photo crosses the book binding.
That’s it for photos, draw your own conclusions about Hornet’s deck color for the Doolittle Raid, I’m pretty convinced from the photos that do exist of that day and looking at enough B&W and color photos that she wore 250-N.

Here’s a few interesting links:

The above is Todd Joyce’s page. Todd’s father was Richard O. Joyce, pilot of plane #10 of Doolittle’s Raiders.

The above has color stills from the John Ford film of Torpedo 8.


mwlogo.jpg (15469 bytes)