Experts uncover 38 shades of grey as they restore Royal Navy’s last Jutland survivor

Experts working on the restoration of cruiser HMS Caroline have sliced through her history to reveal the exact paint scheme she ‘wore’ at the Battle of Jutland 99 years ago. Their research sheds fresh light on how the ships of the Grand Fleet looked – particularly as there’s no colour photography from the era to fall back on.

This is how the Royal Navy’s sole survivor of the greatest clash of dreadnoughts looked in that tremendous battle.

Experts working on the restoration of cruiser HMS Caroline have sliced through her history to reveal the exact paint scheme she ‘wore’ when she sailed for the Battle of Jutland at the end of May 1916.

Caroline spent 85 years of her Royal Navy career as the headquarters for Naval reservists in Belfast.

Before that, however, she was one of the greyhounds of the Fleet, scouting ahead of the capital ships on the hunt for the enemy.

She was one of more than 150 British warships which locked horns with the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet in the North Sea at Jutland, when she charged at the German lines on at least one occasion to unleash torpedoes.

Thanks to what we have found on HMS Caroline, we are able to review the entire colour history of the ship and accurately depict the paint schemes Caroline was painted in over 100 years

Captain Rees

Now no longer needed as a base for Royal Navy Reservists – they now meet at  Lisburn – the ship is being returned to her Jutland glory in a £14m revamp which will be completed in time for the battle’s centenary.

With no colour photography available from the earlier years of the ship’s life, it looked impossible to determine the warship’s true livery a century ago.

That was until expert Jef Maytom discovered paint samples close to Caroline’s bridge.

“This finding rewrites the rule book for historians specialising in naval and maritime history,” he says. “It is the equivalent of a palaeontologist being able to finally prove that dinosaurs were a specific colour or had feathers.”

The research shows the cruiser has enjoyed many paint schemes through her life (we counted at least 38 layers) anywhere from a beige-cream to a rather dark grey at her launch in 1914.

Their discoveries should lead to a better understanding of the liveries used by navies during World War 1 – and, crucially, they’ve also found that there are no toxins in the various layers of paint caking Caroline which could threaten wildlife in her home in Alexandra Dock or Belfast Harbour.

“HMS Caroline is easily the most historically significant ship in the UK and Ireland after HMS Victory," he says.

“The ship is full of curiosities and we are making discoveries of never before seen artifacts including important paint samples. says Captain Rees.

“Thanks to what we have found on HMS Caroline, we are able to review the entire colour history of the ship and accurately depict the paint schemes Caroline was painted in over 100 years.”