An online database of camouflage used by 
United State Naval Warships during WWII

The Development of Naval Camouflage
1914 – 1945
Part I

By Alan Raven



(Article reprinted courtesy of  Plastic Ship Modeler Magazine issue #96/3)



opposite course.

            It was not until she was within one half mile that I could make out that she was one ship steering a course at right angles, crossing from starboard to port.  The dark painted stripes on her after part made her stern appear her bow, and a broad cut of green paint amidships looked like a patch of water, the weather was bright and visibility good; this was the best camouflage I have ever seen”.



October 1917


            “9:55 am, sighted HMS EBRO in the sound of Mull on the port bow, end on.

            She appeared to alter course to port immediately after and seemed to continue to do so, whereas in reality, she was altering her course to starboard.

            I should think confusion would be caused in aiming gun or torpedo.

            I was so sure that she was trying to cross my bows that I was on the point of stopping my engines and going full astern to avoid a collision, when I discovered that she was altering course to starboard.  After passing the vessel it was almost impossible to tell how she was steering”.



October 1917


            “Sir, - I desire to bring to your notice the following facts: - At about 9:30 am on Wednesday, October 17th, whilst proceeding up the Firth of Clyde in HMS MISCHIEF, I observed a convoy of eight ships, oilers etc, proceeding to the sea in a single line ahead.


            No. 6 in the line was dazzle painted, and appeared to me to be steering at least pointsdifferent to the other ships in the line.  So remarkable was this optical illusion that I sent for all of my officers and asked their opinion as to the course of the ship.  Not one officer agreed within four points.  This optical illusion remained until the ship in question was past our beam, when it was seen that she was steering the same course as the others”.



September 1917


            Vessels unknown.

            “In all cases, more especially when viewed at a distance of about three miles, the vessels presented an appearance of being grotesquely out of all proportion; infinitely more so when the sun shone directly upon them.  When approaching, it was not until the vessels were quite near that it was impossible to see their bows, even when quite close; atabout a mile the bows seemed to be directly under the bridge.  The deception as to distance between bows and bridge, which in all cases appeared extremely high, was indeed remarkable.”



August 1917


            “Convoy was observed by three destroyer officers running trials at distances varying between two to four miles.

            All three officers agreed that the dazzle painting  of HMS MILLAIS was a huge success.  They state that it was quite impossible to state her course, even approximately, except when the sun lit up her masts.  Lieut’ CommanderHarrison stated that he could not tell her course within 12 points”.




            “The dazzle scheme on the starboard of SS ASCANIUS is excellent.  The ship sometimes appears to be going in the opposite direction, and in misty weather her course cannot be judged within 8 points.


            On a bright moonlit night she was invisible at one mile.  I am strongly of the opinion that all ships should be painted on these lines”.


The above reports leave no doubt as to Dazzle’s ability to cause confusion, and by early 1918 almost every British merchant vessel of ocean going type was so painted. But by the end of the war in November 1918, after an analysis of ship losses due to submarine torpedo attack, the Admiralty came to the  following conclusion, one that held until well into WWII.


            “It must be remembered that the sole object of dazzle painting is to cause confusion as to the course and speed of a vessel, and that it is not designed to reduce visibility: in our opinion, from a careful examination of the whole of the evidence, no definitive case on material grounds can be made out for any benefit in this respect from this form of camouflage.

            At the same time the statistics do not prove that it is disadvantageous, and in view of the undoubted increase in the confidence and morale of officers and crews of the mercantile marine resulting from the painting which is a highly important consideration, together with the small extra cost per ship, it may be found advisable to continue the system, though probably not under the present wholesale condition”.


This opinion by the Admiralty was in contrast to that of the American navy who had no doubt as to its value as an anti-submarine measure as the following quote shows.


            “It is considered beyond doubt however, that camouflage painting was of distinct value, particularly in the case of large and fast vessels, which might be saved from disaster by the momentary confusion of the attacking submarine commander”.


The above two quotes illustrate the difficulty in placing value upon the use of such methods of deception.  Whatever the official British opinion at the end of thee war, the government made a handsome monetary award to Norman Wilkinson for his contribution to the war effort.


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