Let us get something off the table right at the start – the correct spelling: it is Battenberg, not Battenburg. And even though the second spelling is used widely, it still is wrong.. Because this livery, first widely used in the United Kingdom, is nicknamed after the Mountbatten family, not the Castlebattens …
The name “Battenberg livery” comes from the Battenberg cake, which is baked in a chessboard-like pattern and a true British classic (for an easy Battenberg cake recipe, and an image of the finished product, see Elaine Lemm’s fantastic food articles). And this in turn was named after a German aristocrat – it is said that the cake was named in honour of the marriage of Princess Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg, in the year 1884. Now the Battenbergs in England later changed their name to “Mountbatten”, having a German name was slightly uncomfortable in 1917. The cake, however, was not renamed.
Emergency vehicles in the United Kingdom had a long tradition of using a chessboard pattern as markings, sometimes to denote a special role in the service. Alternating squares of contrasting colours were often used for control units. Then in the 1990s the Police Scientific Development Branch took on the task of developing a new warning livery, this was requested by the motorway policing sub-committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The result was the highly conspicuous Battenberg livery, at first intended for use on traffic patrol cars. This was soon adopted throughout the emergency services, and the colours were adapted to denote the actual vehicle use.
Here are the main Battenberg liveries in use today:
The original Battenberg livery was designed for the police services, and blue was always regarded as the police colour in the UK (as it is in Europe now, even the Germans sacrificing the traditional green for it). Thus the first livery had day-glow yellow panels alternating with blue panels.
From police blue to fire red – the fire services were quick to adopt the Battenberg livery, with the inclusion of the traditional colour red. This livery can, however, also be seen in use by different services. In Ireland, blood transport vehicles are often using this pattern, as are the ambulances of the Order of Malta.
For the ambulance service, the normal course of action, however, was to include the “medical” colour of green. Which is the most common Battenberg livery seen on ambulances and other medical vehicles these days.
A variation of the Battenberg scheme that dispenses with the day-glow yellow, and uses white and orange instead, is popular with mountain rescue and related vehicles. Due to the lack of fluorescent colours it is slightly more low key, yet immediately catches the eye.
Also using orange is the Battenberg livery used by some sections of the Irish civil defence, in conjunction with blue (which comes in several shades).
And finally – the Battenberg livery most often used by vehicles in service of the highways department, day-glow yellow and black. These vehicles, however, rarely carry blue lights. Nonetheless, they are emergency vehicles and need to be especially conspicuous when deployed on motorways.
By the way, I may occasionally talk about “half-Battenberg” or even “stretched Battenberg” liveries when describing vehicles. A “half-Battenberg” would be just a single row of alternating squares …
… whereas a “stretched Battenberg” is an adaptation of the normal Battenberg livery, but using alternating colour fields that are wider than high.