With the exception of certain test models, motorcycles procured by the War Office during the years prior to the outbreak of war in September 1939 were generally finished in the standard colour scheme of the majority of other service vehicles of that period. This comprised an overall colour of bronze-green (a somewhat deep shade of green), with quite a glossy finish. Normally, engine and gearbox casings were left in unpolished bare metal and ancillary components, such as control levers, exhaust systems, nuts, bolts and studs, were in such finish as supplied by the respective manufacturer, usually dull chromium plate, nickel plate, cadmium (dull) plate, enamel or 'coslettised' - a dull black. Certain machines, principally machines for evaluation purposes, were supplied to the War Office in standard civilian colours.

This colour cart is made by mixing model building paint with the use of New Old stock samples with the correct period paint.

The paint used on War Office machines was manufactured and supplied by external sources and complied with War Office guidelines, although in practice there existed a wide variation of the one specific colour and the shade could vary considerably. Following the outbreak of war, the peacetime parade-ground finish of vehicles was unsuitable for camouflage and concealment purposes. Manufacturers therefore began to apply paint, which incorporated a matt, non-reflective finish. Officially, this paint was a light khaki-green colour. In reality, due to wartime demands, the colour could vary from a distinct brown shade through to dark green. The paint was supplied to individual units for repainting pre-war machines already in use, and was applied either by brush or by spraying, particularly if the quantity of machines to be finished was considerable. Impressed civilian models, machines of 1940 specification waiting at factories and those in showrooms were grouped together and finished in the wartime service colour. The application of paint was often quite liberal, resulting in the saddle, engine and tyres being painted along with the rest of the machine. Two-colour camouflage schemes were both officially and unofficially applied to many War Office vehicles during the course of the war, notably between 1940 and 1943. The scheme usually consisted of a light khaki-brown base colour over painted with random areas of dark brown. Motorcycles were normally exempted from this practice because of their considerably smaller surface area. Examples bearing this two-colour scheme have been noted.

During 1942-3 some contracts of machines from manufacturers were finished in an earth-brown colour, a milk chocolate-brown shade, although khaki-green predominated throughout. During 1944, prior to the D-Day landings in June that year, motorcycles arriving from the manufacturers were finished in matt, non-reflective olive-drab. This was a medium depth colour, of a shade midway between brown and green, although there were many variations of the official specification. Those machines still bearing earlier finishes retained them until repainting was necessary, typically completed following a major overhaul or rebuild at base workshops. The olive-drab shade in reality was little different from the earlier khaki-green. Following the end of the war, most War Office machines retained their wartime finishes until repainting was necessary or until the instigation of peacetime directives, which demanded a reversion to semi-gloss bronze- or Brunswick-green colours, though of a lighter shade than previously.

Royal Air Force Colour Schemes

Prior to 1939 motorcycles employed by the Air Ministry were finished either in a gloss dark blue-grey or the bronze-green colour of the War Office.

The outbreak of war and the consequent reversion to camouflage colours affected the RAF perhaps to a greater extent than the Army, as the airfields where many vehicles were employed were considered prime targets for air attacks. Pre-war finished machines were hurriedly repainted with any suitable camouflage colour available. Frequently, this involved using paint intended for aircraft, usually matt green or matt earth-brown, or dark grey or dark brown paint intended for hangar camouflage. Other paint shades employed were similar, if not identical to those employed by the War Office.

Motorcycles supplied direct to the Air Ministry were finished by the manufacturers in exactly the same colour schemes as those supplied to the War Office, this trend remaining for the duration of the war.

During early 1946 certain RAF units repainted motorcycles and other vehicles in a gloss blue-grey colour, either utilizing old pre-war stocks of paint or locally mixed colours, which led to a wide variation in shade. Other machines retained wartime camouflage colours or were repainted in the post-war War Office bronze-green colour, until such time as glossy blue-grey finishes were officially reintroduced.

Royal Navy Colour Schemes

Prior to 1939 motorcycles employed by the Admiralty Department were finished in several different colour schemes. Whether these were applied by the manufacturer or completed by individual establishments is unclear. The colours noted, all of a gloss finish, were dark navy-blue, varying from a medium shade through to near-black, dark grey and light grey. The latter two colours may well have been the same paint used for warships, applied at the factory or locally. The pre-war War Office colour of bronze-green (most probably Royal Marine motorcycles) has also been noted. In accordance with the other services, machines were kept in a presentable condition.

Following the outbreak of war, machines were repainted in available camouflage colours, although perhaps to a lesser extent than the other services. A paint occasionally used on Naval motorcycles was a dockyard or battleship camouflage-grey colour, although it did not have a true matt finish.

As no special colour was supplied for machines destined for the Navy, motorcycles supplied to the Admiralty Department were finished in the standard camouflage colour of the period, which was whatever the manufacturers had to use.

After the cessation of hostilities Naval motorcycles, along with those from other services, continued to carry their wartime colours until a repaint was necessary. When this happened, the colour was usually changed back to the War Office bronze-green colour, although sometimes pre-war colours were used.

Overseas Colour Schemes for Motorcycles

Contrary to popular belief today, it was rare to find a motorcycle manufacturer finishing a machine in a colour scheme for service use outside the European theatre of war. Virtually all motorcycles were either collected from the manufacturer by the service concerned, or delivered to a specific ordnance depot or other such location of that service. Following delivery, the service then allocated specific machines for issue to units where and when required. Very occasionally, a batch of motorcycles destined for overseas service, for example North Africa, would be re-painted by the distribution depot in the appropriate desert camouflage colour, although urgency of delivery normally prevented this.

Refinishing was occasionally carried out by the unit receiving the machines on arrival overseas, although this time-consuming practice was not as commonly followed as is often thought today. The large proportion of the motorcycles sent to the Middle and Far Eastern theatres of war served there in their standard European colour schemes. In the case of a motorcycle this was considered acceptable because of its small surface area. In North Africa, the European camouflage colour of matt khaki-green soon faded under constant exposure to sunlight and desert elements. Likewise in the Far East the European green colour was equally effective in the tropical environment. Those machines repainted overseas, particularly in the Middle East, were usually painted a camouflage colour, matching the local terrain. In Malta, for example, all motorcycles (including solos) were repainted with the Island's distinctive colour scheme, which incorporated a crazy-paving pattern Paint was often mixed locally as a result of supply difficulties and was liberally applied to the machine's main surfaces, usually rather crudely. Dust and sand were frequently thrown on to the paint while it was still wet to further dull the finish. 

Source: British Forces Motorcycles