General articles

Vehicle Painting Requirements as defined in 1959

The main changes were that now weapons (except 4.2 inch mortars) and general stores were to have a matt finish usually of olive drab, whilst all other equipment continued with high gloss, usually deep bronze green.

Gloss finish
Matt finish
Gloss finish needing repainting

1 coat brushing or 2 coats spraying.


1 coat brushing or 2 coats spraying

Lightly rub down then repaint.

1 coat brushing or 2 coats spraying.


Not used

Gloss paint

1 coat brushing or 2 coats spraying

Gloss finish

1 coat brushing or 2 coats spraying.

Matt finish

2 coats brushing or 3 coats spraying



Vehicle Marking Requirements as defined in 1959-1962

Marking regulations now included some degree of standardisation with other NATO countries, where this occurs it is expressed in a standardization agreement known as a STANAG. Under STANAG 2027 national markings of NATO countries were defined. These symbols were only to be used in theatres under NATO command where the forces of two or more nations are operating. The UK symbol is the Union Flag, applied to the vehicle via a transfer. The original size was 6 x 4 inches, but this was to later change. It was to be displayed on the front and rear of all vehicles of the British Armed Forces, except trailers, where it was displayed on the rear only, on motorcycles it was not to be displayed at all. There were no firm rules as to where the symbol was to be displayed, other than being in a prominent position, but in recent years its position has been more clearly defined.



Rectangular plate (or marking on combat vehicles) bearing registration number in BLACK figures on a WHITE background. Preceded by the national colours (BLACK, YELLOW & RED) in the form of a strip placed at the end and across the whole width of the plate.


Rectangular plate (on semi- or full-tracked vehicles the plate is painted on) showing a ‘Y’, a hyphen, a stamp, and registration number in BLACK on a WHITE background. The plate has a BLACK edge. On the left-hand side of the plate the national colours (BLACK, RED, GOLD) are shown in horizontal stripes.


GOLD Maple Leaf


WHITE crescent & star on RED background (as on Turkish flag)



WHITE, five pointed star



Rectangular plate bearing registration number in WHITE figures on a BLACK background preceded by RED lion on horizontally striped WHITE and BLUE background.



RED shield with WHITE cross


Tricolour flag (BLUE, WHITE, & RED)



Norwegian flag on a shield.


Rectangular plate (or marking on combat vehicles) bearing registration number in BLACK figures on a WHITE background, preceded by a WHITE Christian Cross on BLUE background.


Tricolour flag (GREEN, WHITE & RED)


WHITE square with Christian Cross


Tricolour flag (RED, WHITE, & BLUE). This symbol cannot be used in combination with the registration number.




Night Convoy Signs
All ‘B’ vehicles fitted with a lamp to illuminate the rear axle will have the rear differential cover plate painted white. Units with fixed serial numbers will paint the correct number in black on the white patch.

Bridge Classification Signs (STANAG 2010)
In addition to motorcycles, trailers will now no longer be required to display a Bridge Classification Sign if the rated capacity of the trailer was 1½ tons or less. The YELLOW disc was now required to be 9 inches in diameter.
On towing vehicles the front disc will have the letter ‘C’ inscribed above the classification to distinguish it as a towing vehicle. This signifies the combined load class of the train.


In addition, signs 6 inches in diameter will also be displayed on the right side of the towing vehicle showing the laden weight of the towing vehicle only. For example a tank transporter with loaded trailer the classification signs might be:


On front of tractor: On side of tractor: On right side of trailer:

Speed Limit Signs
In RED as before, but no longer required after about 1961.

Tyre Pressure Signs

Wheeled amphibians became a further exemption to this being marked after about 1961.

Transmission Lubricant Signs

The lubricant to be used on gearboxes, transfer and/or auxiliary gearboxes and axles will be marked in WHITE as near as possible to the filler plug e.g. OEP220, C600, etc. Where rear axles are painted WHITE for convoy purposes then the marking will be in BLACK.

Air/Ground Recognition Markings (STANAG 2027 & 2052)
These consist of a set of two fluorescent panels, each appx 6 feet by 2¼ feet, one RED and one YELLOW, fitted with tie cords. There are to be draped on vehicles in a standard unchanging pattern which will be different from displays for other recognition purposes e.g. front lines, targets, etc.

General Officer’s & Brigadier’s Vehicles (STANAG 2027)

British Army vehicles continue to be marked as before with up to 5 stars, but now must be SILVER stars on a SCARLET plate. Other nations may decide to use ‘X’ in lieu of a star.

Geneva Red Cross (STANAG 2027)
The WHITE background CIRCLE is now replaced by a WHITE SQUARE.

Traffic Control Vehicles (STANAG 2027)
RMP vehicles on traffic control duty may display a sign with the letters ‘T.C.’ painted in WHITE on a BLACK background.

Priority Vehicles (STANAG 2027)
A commander may authorise priority signs for use within his area of command, on any vehicle that requires priority over all other vehicles. The priority marking consists of a WHITE equilateral triangle with RED edges, and in the centre the symbol in RED of the commander authorising the use of the symbol.


The symbol will be displayed to the front and rear of the vehicle; a single sign is permissible if it is visible from both the front and the rear. The size of the symbol will depend on the dimensions of the vehicle. RMP escort vehicles may display the word ‘ESCORT’ in block letters above the horizontal side of the triangle.

Army Recruiting Staff Vehicles

With the exception of motor cycles, vehicles used by Army recruiting staff will bear a WHITE signboard, 46 inches long by 5 inches high, marked in RED letters, 3½ inches high ‘ARMY INFORMATION STAFF’.

Bomb Disposal Vehicles (STANAG 2027, sub-para (a) only)
Vehicles of bomb disposal units will be identified by:
All mudguards painted RED.
The letters ‘B.D.S.’ painted in RED letters, 4 inches high, on some suitable part of the front of the vehicle, but not the windscreen.
A blue light, maximum power of 7 watts, fitted on top of the cab in the centre line of the vehicle.

Bridge Load Classification (STANAG 2021) Introduced 1960-63

The bridge load classification was originally represented by the rounded up weight of the vehicle in tons. The new system relates to the characteristics of the vehicle which includes overall weight, number of axles, distance between axles, axle load (unladen & laden), tyre size, ground clearance etc and bears no direct relationship to the former system. The classification of bridges was also changed to take account of the effects that particular vehicles would have on the bridge. However the application of the system is the same as before, in that only a vehicle load class less or equal to the bridge load class number may cross the bridge. The load class number is based on vehicles travelling at normal convoy speeds at a spacing of 100 feet. The classification also relates to ferries, and takes into account an assessment of the state of the approaches to the crossing to produce an overall classification.
Note: The UK will not prepare classification signs for civilian bridges and ferries in UK territory in peacetime.

Infra-red Reflecting Paint
The Army embarked on trials of matt camouflage schemes in 1968/69 to develop a standard livery to be painted on vehicles and equipment (other than non-tactical vehicles, and certain prestige equipments). This brought about the introduction of a standard paint in the form of Infra-red Reflecting (IRR) NATO Matt Green.

Infra-red is part of the spectrum that is beyond red light, which is invisible to us, and has been utilised since World War 2 as a means of seeing in the dark. With image converter tubes and a light filtered to only allow the emission of infra-red energy it is possible to observe the enemy in the dark. These days most armies will also be equipped with night viewing equipment, and would be able to see the source of the beams of infra-red. Modern night vision equipment is passive and relies on the amplification of transient reflected light or moonlight that can be amplified many thousands of times, some of this light extends into the infra-red spectrum.

Just as foliage reflects some infra-red it is important that vehicles or equipment would reflect IR energy in a similar way, this is achieved by IRR paint. It is important that no other paints or pigments are added, as this will destroy the IRR camouflaging properties, although in visible light the paint may appear the unaltered. If required the only permissible additive is Thinner Paint (COSA No H1/8010-99-942-7564). The paint used is Paint Finishing Spraying NATO Green (COSA No H1/8010-99-224-8906) or Paint Finishing Brushing NATO Green (COSA No H1/8010-99-224-8907).

There are certain exceptions to the requirement for IRR painting:

  1. Motor scooters, coaches, road and runway sweepers. (I was once ejected from a Royal Naval Air Station for attempting to photo a runway sweeper painted in NATO Green, but presumably the RN have different painting requirements.)
  2. Saloon cars and light utilities in the UK. The standard of paintwork was to be well maintained in order to achieve the highest possible resale value.
  3. Commercial vehicles for which there is no operational requirement for the use of IRR paint and the expense is not justified.
  4. Engineer construction plant other than truck or trailer mounted equipments is painted the commercial equivalent of Deep Bronze Green.
  5. Depot mechanical handling equipment is painted in the normal commercial colour with safety black and yellow diagonal stripes.
  6. UN vehicles, some Police vehicles, some ambulances, some coaches, some EOD vehicles, some food delivery vans, and medical X-ray equipment vehicles are white.
  7. Fire engines are red.
  8. Trucks for dogs, horses, EOD, sewage disposal, postal deliveries, trenching equipment, dumpers, refuse collection, and mobile laboratories are commercial green.

To achieve 100% IRR effect, two coats of IRR paint are required. Provided the old paintwork is not damaged, the old IRR paint should not be stripped off before repainting, new vehicles are supplied already painted in IRR Matt Green. Where appropriate a disruptive pattern is applied.

IRR paint is more expensive than normal paint; its specification demands a shelf life of one year. This can usually be extended to four years provided it is stored properly. It should be stored under cover, the temperature of the store should not fall below 7 °C, and from time to time unopened containers should be inverted. The date when a vehicle is painted or repainted with IRR paint is often stencilled on the vehicle body, but it must be recorded in the vehicle logbook.

The purpose of painting of large disruptive patterns with contrasting colours is to make vehicles and equipment less easy to detect. The greater the distance between the observer and the object, the more difficult it is to discern the pattern and the outline of the object. Certain colours and shades, that through better contrast produce more effective and confusing patterns at longer ranges, cannot be used because they would make the object more discernible at shorter ranges. The usual colours used are green and black, which in the appropriate proportions are intended to assist concealment in North West European woodland. The basic colour is either of the two types of green IRR paints, the disruptive pattern is provided by Paint Finishing Brushing Black (COSA No H1/8010-99-224-8908). The spraying and brushing green IRR paints have very similar infra-red reflectance, but the black paint has a very much lower near infra-red reflectance, equivalent to shadows and areas of other foliage.

There are no exact requirements for the type of disruptive pattern used, but must follow some general principles:

  1. Units must not reproduce patterns exactly from vehicle to vehicle as this could identify their unit.
  2. For maximum effectiveness at long ranges large bold patches should be used, in general only five to six areas are needed on a smaller vehicle. Little is to be gained from painting patterns on objects as small as a two-wheeled trailer.
  3. Intricate patterns are not necessary, and bold rounded patterns without straight lines or angles should be applied.
  4. Patterns should extend over corners and edges and disrupt the appearance of recognition features such as turrets and lockers. Areas of the vehicle that contain a shadow can give a characteristic appearance to the vehicle; these areas should be distorted by extending them with black paint.
  5. Approximately two-thirds of each vehicle should be green and one third black, this gives the optimum protection at extreme ranges.
  6. The black paint is only available as a brushing paint applied over the green. If the green/black boundaries are merged by the use of sprayed green paint there is a slight benefit at very short ranges, but this is not encouraged as brushing of black paint is considered to be quite adequate.

These paints cannot be used on canopies, as they are harmful to canvas, only relatively recently has special canvas paint been developed that is IRR. This is Paint, Emulsion, Brushing, NATO Green (COSA No H1/8010-99-225-0094), the latest COSA I have is dated 1993 and does not list an IRR black canvas paint, it
only lists Paint, Emulsion, Brushing, Black (COSA NoH1/8010-99-224-4891).

Under snow conditions, unless all white painting is authorised by HQ UKLF, vehicles and equipment may be painted white with disruptive patterns of IRR green or black, in the ratio two-thirds white to one-third green or black. There is no specific white IRR paint for vehicles or canvas, presumably the infra-red properties of ordinary paint and snow are similar and besides the vehicles and equipment may well have acquired a covering of snow. However the greatest concern are the shadowy areas close to the ground which would give contrast in the snow, the special paint for these areas is Paint, Finishing, Heat Resisting, Brushing, White (COSA No H1/8010-99-943-4747). Canvas is painted with Paint, Emulsion, Finishing, Brushing, White (COSA No H1/8010-99-224-4894).

It is emphasised that despite the degree of concealment obtained with IRR paints it in no way reduces the need to adhere full camouflage drill whenever possible. Vehicle signs are to be kept to a minimum. Picking out details on the vehicle, such as the maker’s name in white or a bright colour is forbidden.

Examples of disruptive pattern painting:

© Clive Elliott 2000