Development of Naval Camouflage 1914 – 1945
Part II: United States Navy – World War I
By Alan Raven
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
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
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
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.
THE JONES SYSTEM
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
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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