Monday, November 23, 2020

Paris is dazzle-mad, seemingly part of a futurist dream

USS Aniwa (c1918), Type 9 Design D

Other People’s Troubles: A Paris Letter in The Sketch (London), October 13, 1920, p. 412—

Paris is dazzle-mad. I think every woman who has the courage to wear these dazzle furs that I see deserves the Legion of Honor. They are striped with great slashing streaks of white on black. Hats are dazzle hats. Dresses are dazzle dresses. Pajamas are dazzle pajamas. Everywhere are to be seen these angular lightning effects. The decorations most in favor in the very private and particular room are dazzle decorations. I seem to be existing in a weird Futurist dream.

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The original of the black and white image above (US government, public domain) has been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.


it's not to fool the naked eye but the periscope instead

Above US merchant ship, the USS Boxley (c1918), showing its World War I dazzle camouflage scheme (Type 10 Design I), which consisted of four colors: Black, gray-white, blue, and blue-gray.


Helen Johnson Keyes, OUR MIGHTY SENTINEL CITY: She Stands with Naked Sword and Bayonet to Defend You and Me, in Farmer’s Wife, 1 July 1918, p. 31—

—what a strange object is that, over there! It is painted with curving, wavelike stripes of yellow, pink, lavender, blue, broken up by sudden splotches of other colors. 

It is a camouflaged vessel—a vessel to which has been applied what we call in the case of animals, “protective coloring.” It has been painted so as to blend with the sea and sky when seen at a distance through the eye of a submarine periscope. The camouflage does not conceal the boat from the naked eye which views it almost from its own level but to the periscope seeking it…the vivid, curveting stripes are thereby confusing…

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The above image, from a black and white US government photograph in public domain, has been "digitally colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

chalk lines used to mark out ship camouflage designs

USS Falmouth (camouflage unfinished)
Within earlier blog posts, including some in recent days, we’ve talked about the process by which World War I ships were “marked out’ with boundary lines to indicate color changes (using white or yellow chalk on a long stick, or, if within reach, a paint brush). The areas to be colored were then labeled with various letters to designate the paint colors to be applied.

We know this in part because a few of the people who painted camouflage on ships published accounts of the methods they used. There are also wartime photographs of ships, in the process of being painted, in which the linear boundary markings are clearly visible. There were times when ships departed from the docks while only partly painted.

USS Falmouth (detail)


Shown here, for example, are WWI government photographs of the USS Falmouth, showing the vessel's port side (two views with a close-up detail), with clear evidence of its markings and the unfinished painted design (Type 10 Design H).

USS Falmouth (alternate view)


Related Links
The Ubiquity of Camouflage in Human Experience
Perspective Distortion in World War I Camouflage
Other online sources

Marking out and painting ship

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

fad, fancy or illusion—camouflage is without limitations

Port side of USS Milton (1919)

Since yesterday, when we blogged about the camouflage of the USS Milton and reproduced a photograph of the dazzle pattern on its starboard side, I have received more information about the same ship. Aryeh Wetherhorn, an American Navy veteran, who is now based in Israel, has provided a photograph of the port side of the Milton (as shown above, although of course I could not resist tampering with it, in hope of revealing more detail), as well as photographs of the original camouflage plans. Reproduced below is a close-up detail of one side of that ship’s camouflage scheme.

When the initial plan was issued during World War I, it was designated by US Navy camoufleurs as Type 10 Design L. According to Wetherhorn, not only was this scheme applied to the USS Milton, but to three other ships as well: USS Alpaco, USS Baxley, and USS Botsford. The colors employed in its paint scheme were black, gray-white, and two variants of blue (distinctly different from the AI colorized version above). 

Colored renderings of this plan (as well as scores of others), prepared by Talya Shachar-Albocher, have been reproduced in a new book that Wetherhorn published earlier this month. Titled The Easter Egg Fleet, it is available through Amazon.


Mrs. J.D. Love, EL PASO WOMAN’S FORUM, in El Paso Times (El Paso TX), March 3, 1919—

Camouflaging in time of peace, as well as in war, appears to be without limitations. We hear it on every side; we see it where we look. Is it a fad, a fancy or an illusion, an imported fashion, a licensed privilege or a contagious disease?

Whatever it is, it has gripped the merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, the tailor, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The artists have gone mad and now that the musicians are under its spell—I dare not predict its fate.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

bewildering the camera's eye with dazzle camouflage

USS Milton (1919)

Photographic view of the dazzle camouflage scheme for the USS Milton, c1919, during World War I. As a closer look reveals, the ship had departed the harbor before its camouflage pattern had been completely applied. In the detail view below, one can see the unpainted regions, each of which has been marked with a letter to indicate the color that has yet to be applied. 

An AI colorization process has been used to add the color to this vintage black and white government photograph. While the effect is plausible, it is not literally correct.


ARTIST VS PHOTOGRAPHER in The Princeton Union (Princeton MN), March 25, 1920—

Early in the submarine campaign, one of our boats was given a coat of camouflage, and when the vessel sailed from its pier in the North River, New York, the owners sent a photographer two or three piers down the river to photograph the ship as she went by. He [the photographer] took the picture…but when the negative was developed, much to his astonishment, he found that the boat was not all on the plate. In the finder of his camera, he had mistaken a heavy band of black paint for the stern of the ship, quite overlooking the real stern, which was painted a grayish white. The artist had fooled the photographer and at a distance of not more than 200 or 300 yards. 


Sunday, November 15, 2020

immense saw teeth and cubistic stripes that were not

Louis Biedermann (1918)
Above I was so pleased to find this. It is a very rare full size two-page illustration spread having to do with World War I ship camouflage. Drawn by a phenomenal (if largely unknown) illustrator named Louis Biedermann (1874-1957), it was published as a center spread in the Los Angeles Evening Express, on Sunday, August 18, 1918, perhaps in an entertainment section. This is not its original color (I've colorized it), since presumably it was printed by a four-color halftone process (more or less equivalent to CMYK). Of the very few copies that may still exist, the colors have most likely faded by now, and the newsprint on which it was printed has degraded.

In an online posting by Geographicus, an antique maps dealer in New York, the Illinois Daily Free Express (no date) is quoted as having said—

[Louis] Biedermann is panoramic. He is panoramic in his thinking. His mental as well as his optical perspective presents a complete and extended view of all directions. The breadth of his understanding is more panoramic, perhaps, than his art.

Too bad this illustration cannot be seen more clearly here. It is fantastic and highly detailed, so does not do well at a very small size. See magnified detail below.

In the bottom left corner of the illustration is an explanatory box that reads—

CAMOUFLAGED! How the Erstwhile Merchant Fleet Looks in Its War Paint.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When we practice to deceive

—especially when the web is woven of shuttling ships, and the destined victim of the deception is some U-boat skipper squinting through a hastily protruded periscope and vainly trying to get the range of a moving target from which most of the horizontal and vertical bearing points have been eliminated, while whorls, saw-teeth and triangles of black, white, gray, blue, green and pink blend dizzily into the shifting wave outlines of the seascape. We are well past the practice stage, though, and there are days when the results of ship camouflage turn New York Harbor, for instance, into a floating nightmare. For the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of other readers who never see the waterfront, Mr. Biedermann has indicated here the general effect of the “motley rout,” though purposely avoiding any approach to a portrait of any actual ship.


HOW NEW YORK HARBOR IS PROTECTED FROM U-BOATS: Every Agency of Naval War Seen: Painted Ships and Weird Effects on Every Hand, but the Business of Getting Men and Supplies “Over There” Goes on as Though There Were No New Menace at Hand, in St Louis Post Dispatch (St Louis MO), January 23, 1918 [from an article published earlier in the Springfield Republican (Springfield MA), no date]—

It was in the lower harbor, below the Liberty Statue, that New York began to show as a port on a war basis. Here were the camouflaged ships at anchor. There were hundreds of them, steamers, schooners, tankers, all ages, shape and sizes. Blue, black and white, all shades of gray, occasionally green, the stripes ran up and down their sides. There were wildly zig-zagging stripes, stripes that spread outward and upward from the center of the ship’s side like a fan, stripes that curved upward, terminating in a superstructure of the bridge in lines like those of the bow; horizontal stripes jagged on their upper edge with immense saw teeth; cubistic stripes that were not, strictly speaking, stripes at all, but like the patterns of a crazy quilt.

But camouflage does not show to best advantage on gray mornings. It does not dazzle at near view, and at the first sight of the ships, coming among them suddenly from around the end of Governor’s Island, the definiteness of outline was a mild shock to preconceived notions. Nevertheless, the purring of the airplane motor overhead was not plainly audible. To the right of the course, off Staten Island, lay a group of old warships at anchor, but with steam up, lookouts posted and guns trained. Far down the harbor, between the anchored shipping and the Narrows, a squadron of patrol boats, lean of bow, square of stern and built for speed, passed leisurely back and forth across the water, one of them dragging with it a captive balloon of the sausage type which perked along with peculiar and rather ridiculous motions, as though resenting each tug of the rope. On nearer view the lookouts on these smaller craft were also seen to be posted, and at their neat little three-inch stern guns, a group of husky sailors invariably “stood by.” Whatever camouflage might be worth at that short range, it was plain that other precautions were all being taken.

A Hole in the Ship
By the time these details of the protecting fleet were visible, the virtue of the camouflage was apparent also. First a ship with a broad blue-gray band zig-zagging up its center through the smokestack seemed suddenly, at a range of perhaps half a mile, to have developed a hole in its middle. One seemed to be looking through it at sky, and, to ocular appearances, except under the closest scrutiny, it ceased to be a ship at all, but some naval monstrosity split in two. At about the same distance another ship which lay with its bow pointed toward us, suddenly appeared to have turned about and to confront us with its stern. So marked was the illusion in this case that no among of scrutiny could separate the real from the illusion. This was the case, too, of another ship whose stern suddenly began to appear as a broadside.

The ship with the bow curve painted on the superstructure demonstrated a unique merit. Instead of one big ship. it gave the illusion of being two smaller ones, the bow of the first—the real one—seeming to be crossing the bow of the second—a fake one—at a narrow angle. Across even this slightly choppy water the saw-tooth design seemed to sink the ship in the wave motion until only the masts and the superstructure had anything like definite form. Only the fan-shaped camouflage and the distinctly cubist patterns retained at a mile, still a very fair torpedo range—anything like their actual outline, and it was easy to believe that with the fan it would be different when the spray was flying, that the crazy-quilt pattern would puzzle the eye of the keenest observer when the sea was a dazzle of bright sunlight and wave shadows. On the whole, right in the harbor, lying at anchor, these ships would form no perfect target at anything like a sportsman’s range.

Monday, October 26, 2020

a sea-serpent with red and yellow camouflage stripes

SEEING SEA-SERPENTS in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Oahu, Hawaii) June 29, 1928—

Not one hawk-eyed person has seen a sea-serpent off the shore of any Hawaiian island for so long that we've forgotten just when the last time was whereas they're seeing them daily up and down the Atlantic coast.

Such a situation has no reason for being. As one of the most important pleasure resorts on earth, and growing more so, we can't afford to neglect the thrill of real old-fashioned sea-serpents.

In Florida, for instance, there are many persons who can see ocean monsters practically at will, and recently passengers on the liner Laconia, docking at Boston, declared they had glimpsed one with green eyes and a coarse, flowing mane.
To be sure, there was a fellow at Waikiki the other day who reported seeing a giraffe marked with red and yellow zig-zag camouflage stripes against a base color of bright green, wearing a little gold bell tied with a pink ribbon about its neck, but there were reasons in this case for doubting the substance of the vision, while reporters describing the spectacle of the Laconia passengers averred earnestly that all of them were apparently sober.

We can't afford to have the ancient custom of seeing sea-serpents done away with here, especially if visitors to Atlantic resorts persist in keeping it up.

Our sea-serpents are every bit as good as those on the east coast, if we will only buckle down to the job of seeing them.

Bud Fisher, Mutt and Jeff (October 14, 1953)


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pennsylvania: garages go ga-ga in camouflage here

Nearly ten years ago, in a blog post titled Who Invented Dazzle Camouflage?, we noted a few of the people who, during and after World War I, claimed to have been the first to propose disruptive or “high difference” camouflage, commonly referred to now as dazzle painting.

Ten years later, we continue to find competing claims. Quoted below, for example, is an excerpt from a 1939 article in a Lancaster PA newspaper, which reported that WWI disruptive camouflage was inspired by an interview (which we have yet to find) in 1916 with Howard Thurston, a famous American magician.

CAMOUFLAGE, ‘SHIP SAVER’ TESTED HERE: Garages Went Ga-Ga in Zebra Stripes Here Long Before the Dazzle Department Started Using Same Technique on Ships in Lancaster Sunday News (Lancaster PA), October 15, 1939, p. 13—

…Lancaster remembers the [First] World War years when local inventors were tinkering with odd gadgets and everybody with an old paint brush was experimenting with the technique of camouflage.

Corn cribs and outhouses and garages for miles around were streaked and blobbed with swearing color while warring nations were still pooh-poohing “dazzle-paint,” and just learning the rudiments of camouflage in brown-painted and branch-decked gun emplacements.

Lancaster had used up gallons of vari-colored paint before a single warship was docked for a camouflage job.

It all started in 1916 when Howard Thurston, the great magician, gave an interview while in Lancaster saying he thought the “illusion” of the magician could well be used in protecting ships at sea from submarines.

Lancaster liked the idea so much that every amateur magician with a couple of cans of paint and a little imagination immediately went to work hiding his tool shed from the neighbors with outlandish stripes.

Curiously enough, the idea wasn’t put to use until submarine warfare hit its peak in the middle of 1917. The seemingly meaningless experiments in Lancaster were suddenly formulated into real scentific formulas which successsfully deceived U-boat commanders about the size and course and speed of ships.

It didn’t seem reasonable that bright stripes would be less conspicuous than an even dull gray. In fact, they aren’t. But they do distort the appearance of a vessel so that its ordinary outlines are as completely hidden as a length of spaghetti in a can of fish worms.

When it finally did get going, however, England and then the United States set up “Dazzle Departments,” and by the end of the war some 4,000 merchant vessels and 400 warships were sporting stripes.

But futuristic barn-door art wasn’t the only contribution Lancaster made in the direction of life-saving in wartime.…

Many wartime ideas that actually worked out—camouflage, for one colorful example—looked at first like the sketches on the wall of the booby hatch. But history agrees that there’s never been an invention that’s crazier than war itself.


GOOD CAMOUFLAGE in the St Louis Dispatch, March 8, 1944—

Lancaster PA—A resident reported her automobile stolen from in front of her home. Police found it where she had parked it, but buried under a snow drift after a heavy snow.


Camouflage application process

Disruptive camouflage patterns

Further information

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dazzle camouflage | plan and photographs compared

In an earlier post, we talked about the ship camouflage diagrams of Washington DC designer Steve Morris. He continues to produce striking, exact interpretations of World War I “dazzle” ship camouflage plans. They are irresistable to the eye, as witnessed by those that are posted online. Easily, one of my favorites is the Type 2 Lake Class Design, the two sides of which (port and starboard) are shown below.

A few days ago, while nosing on the internet, I ran across two WWI-era photographs of a particular American ship to which this pattern was applied. Shown below are two different views of the port side of the ship, the USS Lake Harney (c1918). I have yet to find photographs of the starboard side.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

as conspicuous as a barber pole, and equally illusive

B.B. Henderson, US Ambulance Service, in DODGING THE KAISERS’ U-BOATS: How a Honolulan Going to France Crossed the Atlantic—Convoy Fleet Changed Positions—Something About Camouflage—The Real Thing, in Honolulu Star Bulletin (Hawaii), February 16, 1918—

…[The armed escort of our ship convoy] is a cruiser, converted from a passenger boat, big, speedy, heavily armed and camouflaged [not shown here]. (That word is too new to know what part of speech it really is, so on board it is a matter of personal preference.) The color and form of the paintings on the side of that boat would make any “cubist” artist green with envy. 

USS West Galeta (c1918), digital coloration









It is the last word in camouflage and marvelously effective. It’s as conspicuous as a barber pole but at a very short distance its outline disappears and it is impossible to get a line on what direction she is traveling.

Norman Wilkinson, dazzle-painted ship ventilators


Friday, October 9, 2020

Dazzle patterns for Atlantic ships, but not for Pacific

WILL NOT USE CAMOUFLAGE: Zebra Stripes Not to Be Put on Vessels in Coastwise Trade, in The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland OR), August 25, 1918, p. 28—

Ships sailing from Portland for Pacific Coast points and which are not destined for the war zone will not have to wear the zebra stripes of camouflage, according to recent orders of the [US] government. The camoufleurs will be required to paint every ship intended to go the Atlantic, however, with the futuristic designs.

USS Western Maid (1918)

The United States Navy Department is to prescribe color and design of camouflage rather than the Emergency Fleet Corporation’s district camoufleur, says the Emergency Fleet News. Designs will be prepared and each district will use the type most suited to the style of ship to be painted.


The news article above might at first be misleading, as it sounds as if "dazzle camouflage" was applied to very few ships at Pacific Coast shipyards. But in fact some of the most striking examples of WWI camouflaged ships were built and their camouflage applied at West Coast ports. Many of these ships (those intended for service in the Atlantic) were given names that bore the words "West" or "Western." The USS Western Maid (as shown above) was built by the Northwest Steel Company at Portland OR, with its camouflage applied by Emergency Fleet camouflage artists, using a scheme provided by US Navy camoufleurs in Washington DC.


Camouflage application process

Disruptive camouflage patterns

Further information

Thursday, October 8, 2020

barber pole stripes, peppermint candy, prison stripes

Antoinette, STRIPES ARE A PET STYLE OF NEW FALL FASHIONS in The Spokesman-Review (Spokane WA) Woman’s Section, November 12, 1953, p. 8—

If you want your clothes to have a new look this fall, by all means consider something in stripes. It is one of fashion’s pet styles, just now, and stripes appear in many different interpretations.

Zebra stripes, harlequin stripes, prison stripes, barber pole stripes, peppermint candy stripes. On the other hand, there are muted sombre stripes which blend into the other through subtle shadings.…

Alfred Steiglitz photograph (1889)

Contrary to the general feeling, there is no law on figure camouflage by which stripes up and down will make you look slim and tall while stripes around the figure will make you look shorter and heavier. Yet, most saleswomen, most articles and books on how-to-dress, and many fashion “experts” are likely to advise you to wear vertical stripes if you want to look taller and avoid horizontal stripes if you need to look slimmer in your clothes. It simply is not true, and if you are not willing to believe it do what I did, try several striped styles on and see what they do to your looks.

One can’t tell in advance—it depends upon how the stripes are placed, how much spacing there is between them, how nearly the same width each alternate color is, the boldness of the contrast…

WWI camouflaged British ship in dock


BARBER’S POLE IN GERMAN COLORS EXCITES YOUNKERS, in Wilkes Barre Leader and Evening News (Wilkes Barre PA) April 24, 1918—

Yonkers NY—A barber’s pole, displaying the German colors, caused some excitement here, and the police were called.

Barber Fred Milazow explained that some of the stripes had turned black from the weather. He gave the offending pole a shampoo and all was serene.

a broken fragment of rainbow / a crazy patchwork quilt

J. Milo Courzy, A CLIPPER SHIPPER, in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 16, 1927, p. 6—

When the Buccaneer Club of New York combed the seas for a master worthy of their ship, Captain [Thomas Orlando] Moon’s adventurous achievements won him the coveted command. The clubship is the five-masted barketine Buccaneer, now docked in Brooklyn. The club is composed of men of means and artists and writers who have won fame.

Ship-shaped parade float (not the Buccaneer), 1918

…The Buccaneer now lies in a Brooklyn drydock, where she is donning a holiday dress—a dress of many colors, that looks like a crazy-patch quilt. She will be a floating rainbow, a carnival of color that will make the sea dragons pale. With hull painted in broad bands of white, yellow, black and red, with red and ochre sails and masts gleaming in olive and tipped with white, she will resemble a broken fragment of rainbow fallen to the surface of the sea—a chameleon ship, flying a pirate’s flag.

The idea belongs to Joseph Cummings Chase, artist and pioneer in the art of camouflage during the World War; Professor Ezra Winter, former Yale professor [and WWI ship camoufleur]; and Henry Killum Murphy, architect. These form a committee whose task it is to turn the ship into a masquerading privateer in harlequin garb, flying the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger.

…[Captain] Moon scorns the Buccaneer Club’s fantasies. “They’re turning a good ship into a cure for the color blind. The club’s notions have made us all as crazy as a cat without claws in hell!” he growls. 


Was there really a men's social club in NYC called The Buccaneer Club? Haven't found one so far. And did they dazzle-paint a ship? Don't know. But Joseph Cummings Chase, Ezra Winter, and Henry Killum Murphy were genuine people, although never before have I heard of contributions to camouflage by Chase.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Cover of a soldier's (or sailor's) wartime sketchbook

Below I cannot recall where I found this, perhaps ten years ago. It's the cover of a World War I American soldier's (or possibly sailor's) sketchbook, featuring a watercolor rendering of a wildly-patterned camouflaged ship.

Gestalt Psychology, Cubism, Art and Camouflage

In 1973, Fritz Heider, a Viennese-born American psychologist, published a memoir on "Gestalt Theory: Early History and Reminiscences." Near the end of the article, Heider talks briefly about Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer's research of "unit-forming factors" (or perceptual grouping tendencies) and the explicit use of comparable strategies, during roughly the same time period, in the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picassomore>>>

Thursday, October 1, 2020

French Women Employed Making Camouflage Nets

MAKING CAMOUFLAGE SCREENS. French Women are Employed in Making Nets for Disguising Gun Positions
, in The Watchman and Southron (Sumter SC). October 16, 1918—

Behind American lines somewhere in France. Seven hundred French women are employed in the American Camouflage station here making nets to screen from observation American batteries and machine gun sections. There was a burst of patriotic song as the Associated Press correspondent entered the large building where they work, for many of them sing as they sew.

The screening of artillery is the most imporant work of camouflage, as it is the main reliance in deceiving the aerial observer and camera and in preventing the enemy from locating our batteries.

For this purpose huge camouflage nets are provided of wire and fish-net, which cover the guns like a great horizontal tent. In the netting are tied bunches of green burlap, of the same color as the surrounding grass or foliage. And thus viewed from above, the overhanging green net merges the battery into the landscape of trees and turf.

Hundreds of these nets were being made by the women workers. The 75 millimeter takes an overhanging net, 30 feet square, the 165 millimeter gun has a 37 foot net, and the American machine gun gets an 18 foot net. The nets are graded inten colors of green and earth-brown, so that the shield may have the exact tint of the surrounding trees. The nets are shipped to the front in huge bundles, one for each gun.

It has been a problem to get the 700 women required for this deft work on the nets, and one of the chief means of drawing them is a Red Cross home for the babies of the married women, and a YMCA kitchen which gives them a good meal for 60 centimes (12 cents). Camouflage garlands are also made by the women. These garlands of green burlap are strung between the trees, in order to break up lines and diffuse edges so that the location of a convoy or battery will not show on an aerial photograph.

In the carpenter shop huge frames for green umbrellas were being made. The umbrellas open like an ordinary sun-shade, and camouflage a machine gun. In the blacksmith shop the men were turning out steel "cabins" which are sunk below the ground, for an observer. They have a front of bulletproof steel and are about as strong as a small safe. In one of these an observer is safe in the midst of a shower of shrapnel.

Laying on paint much as a scrub-woman wields a mop, an artist was walking about on a gigantic camouflage screen for an airplane hangar. The great piece of painting was spread on a field and covered an area of 1000 square yards. The artist was using a brush as big as a broom.

“Camouflage is making a constant battle against the aerial camera,” said the escort, "for with photographs made from airplanes the enemy gets a complete view of our positions unless they are obscured by some device of camouflage.” 


Film of scene described above

The role of American women in WWI camouflage

Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of  WWI Ship Camouflage

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The gift of seeing resemblances

Jacky Bowring, “Revealing Concealment: The Strange Case of the MoMA Roof Garden” in Thresholds (MIT Press). Fall 2005, p. 17—

Camouflage and mimicry are predicated on concepts of simulation and resemblance, and the desire to produce and discern likeness is ingrained in human experience. In his 1933 essay, “On the Mimetic Faculty“ Walter Benjamin aligned mimetic imitation, or mimicry, with all of the “higher functions” of humanity, and pointed to a time when the “law of similarity” governed life, ruling both “microcosm and macrocosm.” Benjamin conceived of mimesis as a powerful impulse, and a desire to assimilate the self into the other, a social practice, as a foundation for art and language, stating, “nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.”

Horsehead / Mole and Thomas

The Living Photographs of Mole and Thomas
Mimicry, Metaphor, and Mistake
Embedded Figures in Art, Architecture and Design
Khaki to Khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience

Monday, September 28, 2020

Everett Warner and WWII Disruptive Ship Camouflage

Reproduced below is an extremely rare photograph of a small team of US Navy ship camouflage artists during World War II. In the center foreground, holding a ship model, is Everett Longley Warner, who was the Chief Civilian Aid in charge of ship camouflage. Warner had served in a similar capacity during World War I. The person in the top left background is unidentified, but the remaining five staff members are (l to r) Bennet Buck, Sheffield Kagy, William Walters, Arthur Conrad, and Robert R. Hays. It was Hays who provided a scan of this photograph when we corresponded with him in the 1990s.

In researching naval camouflage, I have typically emphasized WWI, largely because, as an artist and designer, it is far more intriguing to me than WWII, and, more generally, because I am less interested in military technology than in parallel form developments in camouflage (natural and military) and Modern-era art and design.

Related to that, it has always puzzled me to find that, when I speak to audiences about WWI dazzle ship camouflage, a common response is for people to say that such “high difference” confusion patterns must only have been used in WWI, because (or so they assume) non-visual means of detection (such as radar) were predominant during WWII.

Yet, if I look through my archive of ship camouflage photographs (see examples of WWII below, c1944-45), I easily have as many or more examples of “disruptively patterned” ships from WWII as I have from WWI. An additional consideration is that the same person (Everett L. Warner, as noted above) was responsible for ship camouflage in both World Wars.

USS Passig
USS Lenoir
USS Breckenridge

This is not to say that pattern disruption in WWI and WWII were the same. They were not. As I tried to explain in an earlier published essay, titled Disruption versus Dazzle: Prevalent Misunderstandings about World War I Ship Camouflage (2018), disruptive patterns were still widely used in WWII, but with an important distinction. 

WWII ship camouflage was no longer addressed solely or primarily to the viewpoint of a U-boat periscope, but to multiple observation points, such as the view from the deck of a ship, or from an airplane’s overhead view. As a result, as shown by WWII ship camouflage plans, it became essential to apply disruptive patterns to the horizontal surfaces of a ship, surfaces that would not have been visible during WWI from the viewpoint of a German submarine.

Unless I’m mistaken, this issue has largely been ignored by others who research the subject. But there is at least one exception. It is discussed in an online paper titled Naval Camouflage and its Application on HMC Ships REGINA and MONCTON: A Brief History, published in March 2020. Its author, Timothy Choi, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies.


Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook

Khaki to Khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience

Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of World War I Ship Camouflage 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Steve Morris | World War I Ship Camouflage Plans

In recent weeks, we've been very fortunate to have found out about the dazzle ship camouflage images of a Washington DC-area graphic designer and toy-maker named Steve Morris. He has recently been "translating" World War I ship camouflage plans into wonderfully crisp, diagrammatic ship images, with the intent of replicating the original color schemes as closely as possible. Three examples are shown below, but you can access others online here. Earlier, he also created a series of ship camouflage icons, which are available online here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

More on WWI camoufleur Frederick Alexander Pawla

At the end of May 2019, we posted a lengthy article on British-born artist Frederick Alexander Pawla (1876-1964), who was in charge of the US Army’s Embarkation Service during World War I. In that capacity, he oversaw the camouflage of “many of the army transports, particularly cargo carriers.”

More recently, we have found out more about Pawla. Specifically, we have located a series of photographs that document the process of applying a dazzle camouflage pattern that (most likely) Pawla was the designer of. The name of the ship was the USS City of Atlanta. It is shown above, with its camouflage in process of being applied.

As is evident in the photograph, the design makes use of a traditional artist’s illusion. The camoufleur has inserted a sharp white upright line on the starboard side of the bow, which will make it appear from a distance that the ship is headed at an angle to the right. He has strengthened that illusion by painting a trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) anchor to the left of that white line, then aligning it with an actual anchor on the right. A second actual anchor, which can be seen faintly from an angle on the port side of the bow, was probably painted to disappear, to blend in with that side of the ship.

The process of painting the ship is documented by a series of three photographs, two of which show the camouflage artists in the process of applying the dazzle designs on an upper section of the ship (identified in government records as the City of Atlanta). Earlier in the process, a camouflage artist had used chalk to mark out the color boundaries, while also using symbols to indicate which paint colors to apply (K designates Black, W indicates White) in which areas.

In the first photograph in this series, two men are strengthening those chalk boundaries, using white paint. In the second photograph, white paint is in process of being applied to an area that was labeled W. In the third photograph, one can see the finished result, with the black (K) and white (W) areas having been filled in, as has another color area (designated as 11) that cuts across the window, which is painted black.

Two clarifications should be noted: (1) We can see the light/dark value of color that cuts across the window, but the color itself is not identifiable. This is because this is an AI digitally-colorized version of a grayscale photograph (there are no color photographs of WWI ship camouflage), and current AI colorization cannot yet determine the hue that was actually used on the ship.

(2) Notice also that the camouflage pattern does not extend onto the floor of the deck. In WWI ship camouflage, it was considered unnecessary to apply the pattern to the deck because the design was addressed to the low-level viewing angle of a U-boat periscope. From that position, the deck surface was not visible. In contrast, during World War II, disruptive camouflage patterns were applied to the deck surfaces of ships, because other viewing angles (such as aerial views) had to be addressed as well. For more on this, see Disruption Versus Dazzle (online access).

The last of the five US government photographs included on this blogpost shows two American camoufleurs (the Army officer on the left may be Frederick Pawla), standing beside a dazzle-camouflaged ship (identified in the caption as the City of Atlanta), looking at a diagram for a ship camouflage plan, and most likely discussing the progress.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

British Steamer: Is she coming or going, which Is it?

FREIGHTER RAMS AND SINKS SUBMARINE  in The Austin American (Austin TX), May 3, 1918—

An Atlantic Port, May 2—A British freight steamer fresh from the yards of her builders celebrated her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage by running down and sinking a German U-boat off the Irish coast, her crew reported upon their arrival today.

USS Louisville in camouflage (1918)

The freighter was equipped with the latest anti-submarine devices, which proved very effective.

The submersible came to the surface suddenly a short distance off the ship’s bow and was caught by the British helmsman’s quick work almost before the U-boat commander could puzzle out through the steamer’s remarkable camouflage whether she was going or coming.

Dazzle-camouflaged USS Lake Clear (1918)

Friday, August 14, 2020

Frenchmen shore is wonders with a bucket o' paint

Fletcher Chenault, “The Camel Flagger” in Collier’s Magazine (March 30, 1918), p. 24—

…“I see by the papers,” Lige was saying, “whar’bouts the Gov’ment is sendin’ over some painter fellers to Yurope to put camel flags on our army.”

“Camel what?” I inquired, puzzled. “What kind of flag is that?”

“‘Tain’t no flag a-tall, “ Lige said. “It’s a art. You take a cannon, mebbe, an’ you paint it to look like a plowbeam, so to speak, an’ a common ord’nary waggin will look like a hayrick. It’s easy ef you know how.”

WWI French Army truck camouflage


“Oh!” I exclaimed, a light dawning on me. “You mean camouflage.”

“No, I don’t,” Lige insisted. “I mean camel flags. It’s a French word mean’ to kiver up. Them Frenchmen shore is wonders with a bucket o’ paint or a skillet, although the only painters which I ever see was Irish an’ b’longed to a union.”

“House painters?”

“Shore—the stepladder kind. But when it comes to that, this here Lee Starr was the best camel flagger which I ever see,” Lige added reflectively. “Whensoever he got through paintin’ a thing it warn’t what you thought it was a-tall—not even hisself.”…

Monday, August 10, 2020

Fighting the U-Boat with Pattern, Disruption and Paint

Waldemar Kampffert, Fighting the U-Boat with Paint: How American and English artists taught sailors to dazzle the U-boat in Popular Science Monthly. Vol 94 No 4 (April 1919), p. 17ff—

When the German U-boats began their depredations, it became desperately necessary to provide some protective coloration for transports, food ships, and the hundreds of vessels that were carrying munitions to Europe.

Battleship gray having proved utterly useless, naval officers turned instinctively to artists for advice and assistance. If an artist, with his trained eye, knows how to apply color, knows how to trace lines on canvas so that they become the counterfeit presentment of the thing he sees, couldn’t he reverse the process and devise some way of blotting out the thing to be looked at?

Above Camouflage pattern applied to USS Chibiabos (c1918), US Shipping Board.

It so happened that American artists interested themselves in devising schemes of protective coloration as soon as the U-boat began to sink on sight. The pioneers among them were William Andrew Mackay, Maximilian Toch, Gerome Brush, Everett L. Warner, and Lewis Herzog.

Above Dazzle camouflage applied to USS Beaumont (c1918), US Shipping Board.


Lindell T. Bates, MARINE CAMOUFLAGE BROUGHT TO PERFECTION IN AMERICA: First Authentic Account of the Development of Illusion in Foiling Hun Pirates Written by Leader in the Work Here—Scientific Explanation of Colors, Curves and Lines Used. The New York Sun. January 19, 1919, p. 11—

In the course of the war several American artists, noting the rapid development of land camouflage, became interested in its marine possibilities. William A. Mackay and Lewis Herzog, both of New York, appear to have been the pioneers of elaborate camouflage both of this country and abroad, although in 1917 attention was beginning to focus on this question simultaneously in many quarters. Gerome Brush, Maximilian Toch and Everett L. Warner soon entered the new field. Mr. Mackay even established a marine camouflage school in New York City, the first of its kind.

Above Dazzle camouflage applied to USS La Forge (c1918), US Shipping Board.

• Note Restored black and white US Government photographs have been colorized using AI digital coloring (not literally accurate).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

1918 pandemic spitting image | deja flu all over again

Above A poster issued by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (Philadelphia), as a means of controlling the spread of the “Spanish Flu” in late 1918. Source: Free Library of Philadelphia.•

The narrative at that weblink describes conditions that are disturbingly parallel to those of the current spread of COVID-19—

[The flu epidemic] reached Philadelphia by early September 1918, after infected sailors from Boston came to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Once patients began appearing, it became apparent how ill-informed and ill-prepared the City was. World War I created demands for increased labor at home and doctors abroad. This resulted in overcrowding in the city, and critical shortages of the doctors, hospital space, morgues, and burial services necessary to handle an out-of-control crisis. Accelerating the devastation was the City’s refusal (against the advice of the medical experts) to cancel a rally for the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign, which brought 200,000 Philadelphians together on Broad Street, on September 28. Within three days (the incubation period of the virus), the number of cases skyrocketed. The epidemic in Philadelphia claimed 16,000 lives altogether, with 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the five-week period immediately following that war bonds rally.


Here is more information about that pandemic from the Wikipedia article on the Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people–about a third of the world's population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.…

While systems for alerting public health authorities of infectious spread did exist in 1918, they did not generally include influenza, leading to a delayed response. Nevertheless, actions were taken. Maritime quarantines were declared on islands such as Iceland, Australia, and American Samoa, saving many lives. 

Social distancing measures were introduced, for example closing schools, theatres, and places of worship, limiting public transportation, and banning mass gatherings. Wearing face masks became common in some places, such as Japan, though there were debates over their efficacy. There was also some resistance to their use, as exemplified by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.

Vaccines were also developed, but as these were based on bacteria and not the actual virus, they could only help with secondary infections. The actual enforcement of various restrictions varied.…

• Thanks to Claudia Covert for alerting us to this image.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Camilla Wilkinson article on WWI dazzle camouflage

HMS Osterley (c1918)
Above Near the end of World War I, British ship camouflage (called "dazzle painting") increasingly made use of stripes, as shown in this photograph of the HMS Osterley (c1918).


The person most commonly credited with the development of dazzle painting, as a means of camouflaging ships, was British artist and poster designer Norman Wilkinson. His granddaughter is British architect Camilla Wilkinson, who teaches at the University of Westminster in London. Only recently we were delighted to learn that she has published an important scholarly article on her grandfather's contributions to ship camouflage.

Titled Distortion, Illusion and Transformation: the Evolution of Dazzle Painting, a Camouflage System to Protect Allied Shipping from Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917–1918, the article was published in Studia de Arte et Educatione, Number 14 (Krakow, Poland), 2019. Below is a screen grab of the title page, but the entire article can also be accessed online.