Development of Naval Camouflage
1914 – 1945
reprinted courtesy of Plastic Ship
Modeler Magazine issue #96/3)
The ratio of this pale grey was one part black to thirty parts white.
At the time of this change flotilla leaders became light grey overall,
(for easy identification purposes). Destroyers
stayed black until the middle of 1915 when they changed to overall light grey,
similar to the leaders, and remained this way until war’s end.
The idea of
reducing the visibility of objects upon which the enemy rangefinders took a cut
persisted, and in early 1917 the ships of the Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron had
their topmasts and yardarms painted white.
This measure was felt to have merit and during March of that year the
Battleships WARSPITE and VALIANT followed suit.
Very shortly afterwards almost all Royal Navy warships sported this
measure until the wars end, except those ships which were later dazzle painted.
In April or
May of 1917 the battleship RAMILLIES was painted up overall in a shade of pink.
The reason for this particular color being used was an attempt to provide
concealment during the hours of sunrise and sunset.
It is not known if this color had any special merit, but if nothing else
it certainly prompted many unkind comments.
RAMILLIES remained pink until painted in a special dazzle scheme in 1918.
In spite of
previous attempts at camouflage having failed, the Admiralty persisted, and in
1918 a design of a disruptive nature was applied to the battlecruiser REPULSE.
Unfortunately the records relating to this design are missing, so it is
not known if this type of camouflage was successful or for how long the pattern
worn by REPULSE was the last attempt at concealment and of confusing enemy
rangefinders by painted means during the First World War.
Looking back over the various experiments it can be seen that with
perhaps a little more persistence and a greater understanding of the problems
associated with sea-going camouflage, a reasonably successful concealment type
could have been conceived and put into use.
Of all the
many types and styles of painted camouflage ever applied to ships, the type of
painting known as Dazzle occupies a special place in the history of camouflage.
By early 1918 dazzle pattern was being worn by over four thousand British
merchant ships and approximately four hundred Royal Navy vessels of various
types. It was worn by ships of
other countries also, and was officially adopted by the American Navy in 1918.
style was invented by the artist Norman Wilkinson, his first thoughts happening
while he was serving on patrol in the English Channel in May 1917.
At this time, all merchant ships were in an overall black, and he
reasoned that of all the colors that could have been used this was by far the
most conspicuous under most conditions. Not
only is a black vessel easily seen
as a silhouette against the sky when viewed from low down, as from a periscope,
it also offers an image less liable to distortion under any given set of
lighting conditions. This ensures
the commander of a submarine the maximum possible advantage in determining the
correct course of a ship, and subsequently, a successful attack.
He believed that it was impossible to achieve concealment by painted
means and felt that the only way to deceive the enemy was to use strongly
contrasting colors to break up the lines of a ship.
If this could be done it might make it difficult for a U-boat to judge
the true course of a target. Stated
simply, the theory for dazzle design is as follows: take the starboard side,
divide roughly into two, and paint the fore part a dark color.
This is repeated in reverse of the port side, the fore part being light,
the after part being dark. This is
the basic principle but there are several points that have to be observed before
the design will work efficiently. A
color line must not follow or terminate with any line or break in the structure,
but do just the opposite and suggest a completely false line.
A good example of this is the bow line; taking the basic principle to
work from, the dark panel on the starboard side must not end at the bow but be
taken around onto the port side before it meets the light panel.
Working on these principles, Norman Wilkinson painted onto a small scale
model a paint scheme that in this form at least, seemed to work.
So serious was
the U-boat threat at this time that the Admiralty was willing to consider any
anti-submarine measure, however unusual it seemed under presentation.
Therefore Wilkinson’s idea was given a chance, and the SS INDUSTRY, (a
merchant ship employed on a regular run between Plymouth and Queenstown), became
the test ship for this radically new camouflage.
Wilkinson requested several more ships be painted so that the style could
have multiple reports made on it in as short
a time as possible. The
first reports came within days of the patterns being applied and suggested a
degree of success. Encouraged by
this the Admiralty decided that all merchant ships were to be dazzle painted and
this was so ordered under the “Defense of the Realm” Act.
At the same time a department was set up within the Admiralty dealing
solely with dazzle camouflage with Norman Wilkinson in charge.
As the use of
Dazzle patterns became widespread many dissenting voices were heard, saying that
these multi-colored ships were being made very easy to see. This was true but what took most people a little time to
realize was the fact that dazzle was only meant to do one thing – suggest a
false heading to an attacking U-boat. How
visible the vessel was had zero significance.
camouflage was initially only meant for merchant ships, but it was soon realized
by the Navy that it would also have value for certain types of warships, ones
whose duties made them vulnerable to U-boat attack.
These were mostly warships employed in convoy escort duty, blockade
patrol, and those such as seaplane tenders, which often had to proceed at very
slow speeds, and in the case of blockade ships, to remain stopped for long
periods. These last were sitting
targets for U-boats.
designs for the Royal Navy were worn by ships of the tenth cruiser squadron,
which consisted of Armed Merchant Cruisers engaged in blockade duties in
northern waters. The author can not
be certain, but believes that the very first Navy ship to be dazzle painted was
HMS ALSATIAN in August 1917. By the
end of the year approximately four hundred warships were dazzle painted from
battleships down to small patrol boats. The
effectiveness of any camouflage is always difficult to ascertain but the
following reports from sea are worthy of note.
the oiler SS CLAM about six miles, four points on the starboard bow, and for
some time I could not make nothing of her.
When about four miles distant, I decided it was a tug towing a lighter,
towing badly and working to the windward appeared to be steering an
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