Painting Napoleonic Ships
Mounting - Create Waves
By Ray Trochim
Painting Fighting Top Armings
Painting National Ship Colors
Painting Bulwarks and Guns
A Book Note: An excellent book, _Navies of the Napoleonic Wars_
(or something like that), by Otto von Pivka, which has *every* major
ship of *every* power, when they were built, what their specs were,
and what happened to them. But it does not say one word about their
Essentially, privateers and some frigate captains painted their ships
any way they wanted, either out of necessity or for deception. Ships
could occasionally be all white, all yellow, all red, all black, all
slate gray-blue, and whalers and merchants were usually under no
During the periods of the American and French Revolutions, ship color
schemes were not very well defined. By the Napoleonic period, a set
of national patterns had emerged. The two key elements were the color
of the ship's hull, and the color of the stripe that ran across the
Nation Hull Stripe Nation Hull Stripe
Britain black yellow Holland black orange
French black white Spain black* red
U. S. A. black white or red Russia green white
Denmark red blue Ottoman ochre black
Denmark black red
There will always be exceptions to the rule. French ships for example
wouldn't all have white stripes. You can paint a few with red, light
blue, mid blue stripes. You can even consider a buff/pink color.
A notable exception for the Spanish was the Santissima Trinidad,
painted red. Other sources suggest that the Spanish had white
stripes, and that the S. Trinidad had red stripes. Another source
suggests that the S. Trinidad was actually white, with red stripes!
The Santa Anna was all black. A contemporary described the light
British yellow as "baby puke yellow." This color was used more and
more on ships of the Royal Navy when it became a standard.
The stripes with black gun ports seems to have been referred to
as the "Nelson checker" and became more common as he rose to
prominence. Prior to that, stripes were solid, or absent, or did
not necessarily run along the lines of the gun ports. Hulls were
often natural wood, but appeared black because of the tar.
While you are safe using natural wood colors when painting the rest
of the ship, the following information offers some alternatives, if
you want to be bold. This information comes from an article in the
January 1990 issue of Miniature Wargames.
BRITAIN OTHER NATIONS
Inside Bulwarks red or ochre red, yellow,green,blue, black, or brown
Gun Carriage red, yellow, wood ditto, and green
Outer Bulwarks dark blue, dark grey ditto, and red or brown
Fighting Top Armings blue, red green and white
BRITAIN FRANCE, USA
Masts ochre white
Mast Bands black
Again, don't take this information too seriously. Different shades
of natural wood colors will probably do just fine.
Now comes the hard part. First of all, do not attempt to copy the
running rigging. It is too difficult. Just do the standing rigging.
Second, use only black thread. While the model instructions may
suggest that you can use different colors, they won't look right.
Besides copying the historical rigging, you have to make sure that
the model's masts are supported. Adjust or add to the historical
rigging to make sure that each mast is pulled both forward and
When you run the rigging through the sails, don't just glue the
thread to a notch you made in the masts---it will pop out later. Wrap
the thread at least once around each point where it needs to be
glued. To keep the thread from going slack, alternate the direction
you rig the ship. Do the first line from front to back, the second
from back to front, and so on, alternating with each thread.
Overall, rigging is more of a personal thing. You can eat up a whole day
installing rigging on your 1/1200 scale ship and have it look bad. Just
the right amount in the proper places can get a good look. The ratlines/
shrouds are the trickiest to get right.
Don't waste your time trying to drill many tiny holes and running
your own ratlines/shrouds, one line at a time. Instead, for each shroud
section, use mesh-like black cloth or screen (like very thin window
screening). Finding the proper screening can be hard. Try finding brass
small wire screening or go to the fabric store and look into mesh like
materials. I hear you can buy special ratlines form a company in
England, but you will have to locate where. I have tried drilling holes
and running the thread through the holes and if done right, can look
quite good, but it can be very hard and time consuming for most. Also,
instead of trying to drill those wholes, try putting little notches in
the runner boards and attaching the lines at that point. Looks a bit
better I think and a LOT easier then drilling those holes.
Finally, small ship models leave out the "dolphin sticker" and spar
on the bowspirit. You have to add this yourself for a completely
Mounting and Colors
Make sure that you mount all of your ships on stands that project
past the ends of the model, to protect the model from damage. Cut
stands in sizes that are multiples of half an inch.
There are various putty and gel compounds you can use to create
waves, but a very nice solution involves the use of lighting fixture
panels. Buy a clear plastic lighting fixture panel with the irregular
pattern called "Crushed Ice." If you do not want to buy a 3' by 4'
section at the hardware store, D&J Hobbies has this same type of
plastic cut down into smaller pieces. Paint the smooth side of the
plastic with your favorite sea color. Then dry brush the very tops of
the rough side with off-white. Mount the ship on the rough side. The
result is a most marvelous imitation of the ocean.
Most of the metal ship models do not come with a flagstaff for the
national ensign. Instead, you have to glue your flags to the rigging,
or make your own flagstaff. Signal flags may stay on the rigging
fairly well, but gluing a large national ensign to a piece of thread
can be very difficult and the flag may come off later. Instead, get a
tiny drill bit and drill a wire-size hole at an angle in the rear of
the quarterdeck. Mount your flag to a bit of wire and place it into
If you don't glue the wire in place, you have an opportunity to avoid
locking in the nationality of your ship. Drill the hole deep enough
to hold the wire flagstaff up without glue. Then you can make a
series of flags of different nationalities, inserting whichever flag
you need for a particular battle. This will give you tremendous
flexibility to play a variety of scenarios with just a few ships.
This will also allow your French ships to switch from the Bourbon
white ensign to the Revolutionary Tricolor, depending on what year it
is. (Some people assert that the frequency with which the royalist
French surrendered caused the white flag to become associated with
Gamers/modellers will probably want to put some flags on your ship
models. Flags on ships not only look good, but identify the nationality
for gaming purposes (from a distance). Flags are best made out of paper
and can be painted or inked in the appropriate colors. I've seen other
materials used like metal foils but I find that paper is best to work
The use of flags by different countries and commanders varied
considerably. Ships usually went into action festooned with flags flying
from every mast, primarily to avoid costly mistakes in the heavy smoke
of a fleet action.
The ensign which flew from the spanker gaff was quite large (in model
1/2400 scale 1/4" x 3/16" would not be too big). The commission pennant
which (in model 1/2400 scale it would measure about 3/4" long and narrow)
was flown from the main peak. The jack or some personal flag was flown
from the fore peak. Older ships had a jackstaff halfway out on the
bowspite and this flew the national jack.
I will now try to do my best to describe the flags. Two note though,
the French tricolor was often used in the canton on a white field. Other
countries have been known to do this as well in different forms.
Pennants of all countries where fork tailed. The fork tails on the
pennants were prodominate.
Pre 1790 flags were all white (ensign, pennant, and jack). Post 1790
flags were the standard tricolor (ensign, pennant, and jack), but
sometimes the ensign would have the tricolor in the canton on a white
field. The tricolor would be Blue, White and Red.
/ B W R
|||| | | | | |
---- | | | | |
The ensign, pennant, and jack had Red, White and blue equal size bars
running along the flag. Top bar was red, middle was white and the bottom
Like Holland, Spains flags are in three horizantal bars, Red, Yellow and
Red from top to bottom.
The ensign, pennant, and jack were red with a white cross.
Like the pennants, the ensigh and jack had fork/swallow tails.
| / Swallow tail
The ensign, pennant, and jack were blue with a yollew cross.
The ensign, pennant, and jack were forked tailed but with three tails
instead of two. The center tail was as wide as the yellow stripe of the
The ensign, pennant, and jack were all red. The ensign had a star and
cresent moon in the upper conner at the staff.
the ensign and jack were white with a blue 'X' on it. The pennant was a
small square like the ensign and a long white runner.
1812 - ensign was the standard stars and bars with the proper number of
stars. The pennant and a blue field with stars and a red and white
|*****| stripes /
The jacks were either all blue square flags with stars or blue
forked/swallow tailed flags with a circle of stars in center. The
swallow tailed jack is also know as the commanders pennant.
The British system was somewhat complex. The field of the ensign and the
pennant was in the squadron color of the admiral commanding - red,
white, or blue. Unattached ships flew the red ensigh and mixed pennant.
The Union jack was carried at the forepeak by all but flagships.
Flagships flew the admiral's flag at the fore. Admiral - white with red
cross (like today), vice admiral - blue, and rear admiral - red
(Nelson was Vice-Admire of the white). Commadores flew the short swallow
tailed flag in the pennant column.
------------------------------------ __________ 1)Union Jack
|__|__| Squadron color / | 1 | 3 | 2)red cross
| | | \ |--------|<-2 3)white field
This should get you started, but gamers/modellers will want to look into
it a bit more for more detail.
If you are planning to put magnetic material on the bottom of your
ship stand and place it in a box lined with metal (or vice versa),
magnetic force may become a problem. A 1/1200 ship-of-the-line
typically has a 1" x 3" stand. It can be difficult to pry a
3-square-inch magnetic stand loose from its box without damaging the
ship. Consider putting the material just on the corners of the stand.
I hope this article helps you eager midshipmen out there to step up
and become captains and commanders. The nice thing about Napoleonic
naval wargaming is that you can start playing with just one ship. Try
one ship from each manufacturer and examine its quality and ease of
assembly before you go out and buy a whole squadron. See you on the
Special thanks to Ray Trochim
for providing this information!
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