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

The Development of Naval Camouflage 1914 – 1945
Part II: United States Navy – World War I

By Alan Raven


(Article reprinted courtesy of  Plastic Ship Modeler Magazine issue #96/4)


“The AMAGANSETT could be seen much better than the HELEN EUPHANE, painted dark gray.  The KAJERUNA was sighted near the two above mentioned ships, under the same conditions.  She looked only as a dark painted boat”.


The U.S.S. PALMER, October 2, 1917, reports the KAJERUNA at 5 miles, 10 a.m., less prominent than the U.S.S. STRUVEN or the U.S.S. MC NEAL (Norfolk A) or the MARGARET (Norfolk A): “Strong sun was shining on sides of the ships.  The KAJERUNA at distances in clear weather shows less prominently than any of the other vessels listed so far”.


The U.S.S MONGOMERY, October 26, 1917, reports the KAJERUNA has a less degree of visibility than the MARGARET: “The bright stripes of the AMAGANSETT showed up more distinctly by day and particularly under searchlight.  It has been observed that vessels painted in larger patterns usually are most deceptive.  Frequently one ship would be mistaken for two, either alongside or some distance apart.  Marked contrast between the waist of a large vessel and the bow and stern creates the most deceptive effect”.


Unfortunately no reports were made, or have survived, on those few vessels painted in the Herzog or Warner systems, but the above selection dealing with the Brush, Mackay, and Toch systems amply illustrate that no one color, tone, type of pattern, etc., will produce consistent results.  In addition there was often no description of weather conditions, the absence of which makes almost any report meaningless.


As has been previously mentioned, there were over twenty suggestions proposed in 1917.  A selection of those that were rejected follows – the reader might find them “interesting”.


The Cassidy suggestion: “The tints and shades used to favor invisibility are so lacking in contrast that all these colors merge into one mass at about 1000 yards, (normal atmosphere and light) and that mass of one obtains up to the point of invisibility: so that from 1000 yards to the invisibility point of the vessel the variegated colors be contrasted in a sufficiently strong degree to involve the question of invisibility and become operative at this distance when doubt of vision could be imposed.


To this end the cuts and slashes breaking the sky line  of the vessel should be more marked and not in such a weak form that the colors blend quickly into a neutral gray.  The use of green should be forbidden as a color of great visibility, especially in fog”.


The Bates suggestion:  “Triplex, duplex, and wire glass sheet are now made so they are practically unbreakable.  These plates of glass can be made from 3/8 to ½ inch thick without difficulty and can be molded to any form desired.  My plan is sheath the hulls of vessels with such glass silvered on the back, like a mirror, which silvering is additionally coated with a waterproof treatment.  The plates are to be attached to framing made fast to the hull and to parts of the superstructure and used to conceal the funnels on the T.B.D.’s and could be easily fitted to submarines.


The effect of the glass mirror sheathing is to make the vessel absolutely invisible.  It is as effective in high latitudes with gray skies and green water as in the Mediterranean blue or in the tropics.  It is an adjustable, automatic reflective system of invisibility”.


The Wood suggestion” (This idea, a part of which is quoted below, was supposed to disguise a ship so as to make it appear to be a moving island.)  “Sketch No. 1:  The camouflage shown in red on this sketch consists in pieces of sheet iron supported by small angle irons to brace same, the sheet being painted on both sides to resemble trees.  The parts hanging from the stays fore and aft are all secured to the center of the ship and are hauled in place by means of small wire lines operating though sheaves.  The parts at the mast come down each side same as rigging except the top shown in sketch No. 5 which parts are on one side hooked together at the sides to brace them.  All the camouflage parts around the deck of the ship are hinged to the covering  board or scuppers so that when required to be out of the way for firing guns, lowering boats, laying at dock, etc., the hooks can be knocked away and the camouflage falls outward as shown in sketch No. 3.”


The Volk suggestion:  “The plan is to install on the sides of a vessel one or more lines of piping perforated at such an angle that water pumped through them would send forth, upward and slightly outward from the deck, a heavy spray  that would more or less envelope the ship and mask its lines.  This being a natural method of obscuring objects at sea, as in the case of mist, spray, rain, etc., it would seem as if it might be made effective, at least at certain periods of urgency”.


The Sarah Metazel sugestion: “My plan is this: Paint the ships the deepest black.  Everything, even masts, pipes, clothing, faces, every part of everything on the ship must be black.  This will become a mirror background and the periscope spy will see only his face in the glass, unless the ship appears so small in the distance that he outlines are visible and betray its nature.  Even then specks of his own face will confuse him.  Mercury or bright nickel would also mirror and because of its sky color might be better for masts.  I have found my greatest success with a deep black.  You will understand that anything white on the ship would not appear if a perfect black throughout.  Sliding screens of light canvas painted black might be arranged to hide the open parts between the masts and upper deck.  They might be in the nature of adjustable and latticed window blinds or porch screens that could be rolled up out of the way.  The chief thing is a perfect black mass and with a black face peering through the lattice I believe a perfect mirror back could be accomplished including the mounted guns”.


The author refrains from making any comments on the above suggestions.




Two other types of camouflage were developed in the last months of 1917.  The first was the forerunner of the British Western Approaches  scheme of WWII.  Conceived by Lloyd A. Jones, who at the time was working for the Eastman Kodak Company of New York City.  In tests at sea it was deemed to produce a high degree of concealment for a vessel in North Atlantic waters.  Jones determined  that the most suitable paint scheme for invisibility consisted of a very pale overall  gray, or a pattern of pale blue and white, which when resolved into a single tone, gave and overall light gray.

The patterns suggested and tried out in experiments consisted of a number of perspective distortion bands.  For vessels transiting the northernmost route of the North Atlantic, the color to be used was a very pale gray known as “Omega Gray”.  For those travelling transatlantic below a line of 45 degrees north, then a bluer gray, called “Psi-Gray” would be worn.  If the vessel was to carry a pattern, then the

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