Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Glyn L. Evans | Dazzle-Painted Ships of WWI

book cover (2015)
Good news. You may remember British historian Glyn L. Evans, whose 2010 book on UK maritime artist Kenneth Denton Shoesmith we featured in an earlier blogpost. At the time, we reproduced a painting by Shoesmith of a WWI dazzle-camouflage ship, which the author had provided us with.

The good news is that the same author has now published a new full-color book on WWI ship camouflage, titled Dazzle-Painted Ships of WWI (see full-color cover above). It's a 76-page softbound book, with more than 50 illustrations, many of which are in color. It can be ordered directly from the author, with payment made through PayPal. The cost (with shipping and handling included) is $25 USD (or the GPB equivalent). Shipments to the US from the UK will be made by airmail, in a bubble-wrap mailing envelope. In making the PayPal payment (to evans19191(at)btinternet.com) make sure to include your name and shipping address.

Among the book's reproductions is a US War Bonds poster (1918) of a German U-boat in the act of surrendering to a US Navy four-stack destroyer (as shown below). Steaming safely past in the background is a large troop transport. The painting is by American artist L.A. Shafer (1866-1940), whom we've also blogged about.

L.A. Shafer poster (1918), public domain

Friday, September 18, 2015

Khaki Hunting Outfits in Camouflage History

Article on hunters' use of camouflage (1917)
The following is an excerpt from a syndicated article that was reprinted in newspapers throughout the US during World War I (see original page above).

SOLDIERS' KHAKI UNIFORMS CAMOUFLAGE RESULT OF HUNTERS’ EXPERIENCE in Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne IN), December 11, 1917, p. 16—

While the term camouflage may be applied in the world war to masking batteries and hiding troops from enemy fire, it only describes the tricks long in use among hunters for years, and even among the American Indians, according to Lester Pritchard of Battle Creek, who has won more than a local reputation as a hunter.

According to Louis Ebert, a well-known hunter, camouflage has been employed by Missourians for years. “At the Culvre Club and at the Lemp Club duck hunter used camouflage,” Mr. Ebert said, “Culvre Club members have built large tanks whose color is a dark brown and sunk them in the streams. The hunters hide in the tanks and wait for ducks to come close enough to be shot, then they poke their guns over the top of the tanks and fire. At the Lemp Club trenches similar to the kind dug by solders in France are being used as a hiding place for duck hunters. The hunters, garbed in khaki and squatting in the trenches are protected from the keen eye of the duck or goose because the brown of their togs and the surroundings harmonize."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Camouflage Artist | Robert Lawson

Vintage pencil sharpener (c1938). Private collection.
Above Vintage pencil sharpener by Walt Disney Enterprises, which produced an animated film of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf in 1938. Two years earlier, Robert Lawson had illustrated the original book version (New York: Viking 1936). Private collection.


The papers of American illustrator and US Army camouflage artist Robert Lawson (1892-1957) are in the University of Minnesota Children's Research Collections. Other materials (mostly illustrations, including Lawson's book mock-up for Ferdinand the Bull) are also housed in the Frederick R. Gardner Collection of Robert Lawson in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Among the latter materials are a sketchbook and several letters that date from 1917 to 1918, at which time Lawson was stationed in France, as a US Army sergeant, assigned to camouflage.

For a detailed account of the service of Lawson and others in the American Camouflage Corps, see Barry Faulkner's Sketches from an Artist's Life (Dublin, New Hampshire: William Bauhan, 1973). While in France, the American camoufleurs produced amusing theatrical shows for the French children whose mothers were aiding the war effort by constructing camouflage nets. According to Faulkner, "It was his [Robbie Lawson's] sense of fantasy and humor which made our musical shows successful."

A news article about Lawson (with excerpts from an interview) was published in the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston SC) on Sunday, November 30, 1930, on page 1 of the magazine section. Written by Rose Henderson and supplemented by Lawson's illustrations, the article was titled ROBERT LAWSON—MASTER OF FANTASY. The following are Lawson quotes, excerpted from the article—

In 1914 two great calamities occurred. The World War in Europe was one and my having to work and attempt to earn a living was the other. Europe's struggle is now more or less settled, but mine still continues.

From 1914 to 1917 I was a New Yorker and began to absorb things they hadn't taught in art school. My art activities were varied and pretty bad…

The French and English having by that time muddled the war all up, I joined the Camouflage Section of the Army which, as you are well aware, after a few years in France managed to get things straightened out. That being over, I really got to work, and have been doing illustrations and commercial drawings ever since, except for a period when my wife [née Marie Abrams] and I did nothing but Christmas cards.

Later in the article, the author (Rose Henderson) writes—

The Camouflage Section was composed of artists, architects, interior decorators, movie people, sailors, stage hands—loosely organized, quite comic and very efficient. He [Lawson] enjoyed long nights of talk with painters, sculptors, architects and musicians, in cafes, in dugouts, freight cars, tents or on the vine covered terraces of southern France. There were freedom and honesty in those conversations among artist soldiers far away from home and profession and conventional habits of thought and life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Did Native Americans Anticipate Camouflage?

Comparative camouflage photo by Abbott H. Thayer
Above American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer believed that modern military camouflage had been anticipated by the battle dress (both "war paint" and clothing) of Native American warriors, as well as other "savages." In this demonstration photograph, Thayer has positioned a model (it may be his son and co-author Gerald Handerson Thayer), dressed like a Native American in a forest setting. To the right of the model is a cut-out silhouette of a WWI-era foot soldier, in a single continuous color. It was Thayer's contention that the multi-colored disrupted attire of the Native Americans provided better camouflage than continuous khaki. This photograph was published in an article by Thayer, titled "Camouflage" in Scientific Monthly, Vol VII (1918), pp. 481-494.


Anon INDIAN SPORTS CAMOUFLAGE: Princess Astonishes Army Officers by Keen Sight and Quick Discernment, in Celina Democrat (Celina OH), February 22, 1918, p. 2—

Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg SC—Camouflage training at the military camp here was quickly detected by Princess White Deer [Esther Louise Georgette Deere], great-granddaughter of Chief Running Deer, the last of the Mohawk tribe of chieftains.

The princess was a guest at the camp during camouflage work and easily detected the men as they squirmed their way to a post held by an imaginary enemy. Army officers were greatly surprised by the girl's keen sight and quick discernment.


Associated Press INDIANS FIRST TO PRACTICE CAMOUFLAGE in Ada Weekly News (Ada OK), February 20, 1919, p. 1—

Chicago—"Camouflage is as old as the storm God of Indian folklore," said Chief Strongheart, who recently returned from France where he is credited with having done more for the fighting traditions of his race than any other American Indian.

"The Indians were the true inventors of camouflage," said the chief, who will go to his Yakima reservation in Washington State after a brief eastern visit. "They discovered its advantages in their earliest conflicts. When a battle was to take place in a forest in the summer months, the warriors would paint their bodies green, with a dash of other colors to produce the exact blend with surroundings. They even sketched birds and small animals on their bodies to make the effect more realistic. If the battle was to take place when autumn had withered the leaves and touched them into gold, splashes of brown and yellow made the warriors blend with the setting.

"The trick, when artfully turned, resulted in great victories. Many early settlers were taken into captivity by use of camouflage.

"The French were quick to visualize its enormous advantages in the war just closed and promptly carried the art to its peak."

Chief Strongheart was rejected by the army because as a leader of Indian scouts in the service of the United States in Mexico in 1910, he received a shot in the leg in a skirmish with the Mexicans. Before being wounded he killed two Mexicans and took seven prisoners.

Realizing his unfitness for military duty, the chief toured America for army recruits. After an address in the front of the New York Public Library one day 233 men enlisted. Two hundred more volunteered in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Heading due west from New York, he spoke in large cities for the Liberty Loan and War stamp drives. During his campaigns he wore his native dress, including the headfeathers.

Chief Strongheart said that 18,000 American Indians went to France with the American Expeditionary Force, most of them serving as scouts. He cited an incident where five Indians enabled the Americans to capture 13,000 prisoners.

Running Elk, Strongheart's father, was scout for General O.O. Howard in the Nez Perces war and aid to Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War; and Strongheart, when a baby, was carried about on the former president's back. His grandfather was Chief Standing Rock, who took part in "Custer's Last Fight," and who died at the age of 109 years.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Camouflage as an Agricultural Food Source

WWI workers applying ship camouflage (c1918)
Above Over the years, we've located perhaps a dozen World War I-era photographs of dazzle-camouflaged ships in the process of being painted. Here is yet another (source unknown), in which workers are shown applying various paint colors to large areas, as designated by chalk lines and, in this case, even the name of the paint color.


The following are edited excerpts from a humorous question-and-answer column, called ALL SORTS by Newton Newkirk, published in the Boston Post, September 17, 1917, p. 8. It begins with a spurious inquiry from an anonymous New England farmer and is followed by an equally fraudulent answer from the column's author—

QUESTION: …Is camouflage raised from seed or settings? How does camouflage compare in nutritive value with other vegetables? Can camouflage be canned and how? When is the best time to plant camouflage? Please tell me the etiquette of eating camouflage…

ANSWER: …It has been a long time since I sat down to a mess of succulent camouflage like mother used to cook. Your ignorance concerning this well-known vegetable amazed me—I was of the opinion that every agriculturist was familiar with camouflage.

Of course you know what ensilage is? Yes? Well, it will perhaps give you some idea what camouflage is when I say that ensilage bears no resemblance whatever to camouflage—you would never mistake one for the other. Neither does cabbage (accent on the last syllable) belong to the same family as camouflage. Camouflage—at least all the camouflage I have seen—grows more luxuriantly and is much more nutritious than persiflage. Some folks might prefer the flavor of persiflage, but give me camouflage every time.

Camouflage is grown from blubs—I mean bulbs. One pound of camouflage contains more nutrient than half a ton of baled hay. Yes, camouflage can be canned, but I can't go into the canning now. Never plant camouflage until after the frost is out of the ground. If you plant it in January your crop will be a failure. It is good etiquette to eat camouflage until you feel you have had a genteel sufficiency…

Cartoonist Otto Soglow | WWII Tree Camouflage

Otto Soglow (1942)
Otto Soglow (1900-1975) was a New York-born cartoonist and illustrator. His humorous illustrations (especially a comic strip called The Little King) were widely published in magazines and newspapers from 1919 until his death in 1975. In the early 1940s, he produced a series of multiple-panel cartoon ads for Pepsi-Cola, including the above (from Life magazine, December 21, 1942), which may have been the only one that pertained to camouflage. At the time, with World War II on-going, there were countless news stories about military camouflage, including soldiers dressed as trees. We've also published earlier posts on tree-like observation posts and Charlie Chaplin's film on WWI tree camouflaged called Soldier Arms. Author's collection.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Give 'Em Hell | Billy Sunday Camouflaged

Billy Sunday (Wikipedia)
William Ashley Sunday (1862-1935), better known as Billy Sunday, was an Iowa-born fire and brimstone preacher, who played professional baseball in the National League for eight years. He left that profession in 1880 to become a popular, well-known evangelist, whose eccentric preaching style was outlandishly athletic (see photos above and below). He was in part the model for the preacher in Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, and in Lewis' novel Babbitt, he was the inspiration for the boxer turned evangelist named Mike Monday, described by Lewis as "the distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America...As a prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more profitable."

Of Billy Sunday, the poet Carl Sandburg wrote: "You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all damned fools so fierce the froth slobbers over your lips...always blabbing we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it...Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance. Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your nutty head. If it wasn’t for the way you scare the women and kids I’d feel sorry for you and pass the hat. I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when he starts people puking and calling for the doctors." 

Sunday also wrote a syndicated newspaper column, a newsprint homily of sorts, in one issue of which he warned about the evils of camouflage. It makes sense. What better practitioner of duplicitous sales and deception?

Billy Sunday, THE ART OF CAMOUFLAGE, in The Delphi Journal (Delphi IN), December 9, 1920—

There's a Lot of Chatter, these days, about Camouflage! When your Uncle Bill first Harkened to the Word, he thought it was a New French Dish, probably Cooked in a Casserole, and, being the Kind of Geezer who will Try Anything Once in the Line of Eats, he came Pretty near Ordering it from the Dinge in the Diner.

But Camouflage is not that Sort of Thing, it Seems.

It is the Military Art of Kidding the Enemy—of making things Look like What they Ain't, so to speak!

The French Rig Up an old Tree to Pass for a Cannon, and let Fritz waste his Ammunition on This, while a Little Way down the Line, the Real Seventy-five is Blazing Away from what Appears to be an Innocent Domicile.

They can even Paint a Dummy Bridge on Canvas and Stretch it Across the River, and Fake a Rippling Stream to cover the Real Bridge, and Bunk the Flyers who Lamp it from Above.

As a Military Art, Camouflage is a great  thing!

But there is altogether Too Much Camouflaging being done in Ordinary Life. The Dame that Sails down the Boulevard in a Get-up which is the Last Holler in Vogue—and at the Same Time is Skinning Down on the Old Man's Bats, at Home—is practicing Camouflage.

And the Young Buck who Dolls Up like a Million Dollars and has Little More than the Return Fare in his Jeans, he's Trying the Art, too.

But Worst of Them All is the Old Deacon who Sits in the First Pew on Sunday and Pipes Up Strong in the Hymns and on the Amen Stuff, and then spends the Rest of the Week in the Gentle Game of Nicking the Poor Widow for Twelve Per Cent, on the Loan.

There are Enough Experts on Camouflage of This Sort in the USA to equip a whole Army Corps on the Western Front.

But they don't Get Away with it for Very Long. The World gets their Numbers, and the Big Guns of Honesty and Common Sense soon Shoot them to Pieces.

Leave Camouflage to the Military Men, where it Belongs and Does Some Good!

If you're only an Old Log, don’t Pretend you're a Rapid-Fire Field Gun!

Develop yourself, and Maybe you'll Get to Be One. Don't put yourself Higher up the Tree than you Belong, for there's Bound to Be a Fall—and usually with an Awful Bump.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Boston Common Camouflage | Artist Philip Little

Photo of Boston Common camouflage (1918)
In earlier postings, we've told the story of how members of the American Women's Service Corps painted a dazzle camouflage scheme on a navy recruiting station that had been built to look like a ship. The recruiting station, known as the USS Recruit, was constructed in Union Square in NYC, then dazzle-painted in July 1918. The purpose of the gaudy-colored pattern was the opposite of concealment: it attracted the attention of passersby, set off a storm of publicity, and thereby increased recruitment.

A few months later, a comparable strategy was used in Boston, not for navy recruitment, but for fundraising through the Liberty Loan Program. As before, it involved the application of a dazzle pattern to a building, using a design devised by Boston artist and ship camoufleur Philip Little. The effort was described and pictured (as shown above) in the Woman's Section of the Boston Sunday Post (October 13, 1918), p. 1, in an unsigned article titled THIS IS THE HOUSE THAT LITTLE DAUBED TO CATCH YOUR EYE AND SPARE CHANGE: Remarkable Example of the New Art of Reversed Camouflage, Now Aplash with Vivid Colors, on Boston Common as Aid to Liberty Loan Drive. Here is the entire text—

While common camouflage is more or less of a "now you see it and now you don't" proposition, reverse camouflage is coming into its own, and this time it's "now you see it first, last and all of the time," and hence the glaring structure of heterogeneous color known as Liberty Hall which has come into being on the Tremont street mall of the Common which is exciting the wonderment of thousands who daily pass that way. 

Philip Little, the artist, is the originator of reverse camouflage. Some time ago he was asked by the Liberty Loan committee to suggest a design for a new Library Loan building for the Common with an idea for the same to be camouflaged.

Mr. Little came forward with a new and startling scheme. He figured that since the committee wanted a building to attract all of the attention possible, camouflage, which primarily seeks to hide objects, was not what was really wanted, so he conceived the thought of reverse camouflage, and of having the building painted so that it would be the most striking thing in sight.

How well he succeeded can be by the Sunday Post's color photograph [not shown in color here] which has been reproduced according to the color that have been painted, or by a trip to the building itself.

It was planned to use the allied flags liberally for decoration of the building, but Mr. Little has utilized the color for the colors of his reverse camouflage only. They have been put on in the colors of red, blue, green, orange and black in great curving lines.

Throughout the scheme of decoration can be seen the colors of the five great allies in ever-varying combinations. No two designs are alike, yet it would puzzle one in many instances to describe their difference.

The entire Liberty Hall structure has been deluged with reverse camouflage in the wildest possible style. Inside and outside, Liberty Hall is a thing to look twice at. But with even one glance you can't forget it or evade its tenacious grasp upon your optical nerves.

Liberty Hall may not be a thing of beauty, but it is most certainly a joy to the eye and heart of those who care for bright color and bizarre effects.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Edison Shmedicine | Ship Camouflage Wizardry

Thomas A. Edison's camouflage for the SS Ockenfels
Above Two views (before and after) of an American merchant ship, the SS Ockenfels (later called the USS Pequot), a ship assigned to Thomas A. Edison for testing experimental camouflage (it is apparently not the SS Valeria, described below). He was also loaned the services of Naval Reserve Officer Everett L. Warner, who later made the comment below about Edison's fiasco.•

Everett L. Warner in a letter (no date) quoted in Nelson C. White, Abbott H. Thayer: Painter and Naturalist. Hartford CT: Connecticut Printers, 1951, p. 138—

[A ship camouflage proposal by Thayer] was no more visionary than Thomas Edison's scheme involving a big spread of canvas. But Edison was an inventor, so they let him try out his idea, and a very wild idea it turned out to be. I know because I had the job of doing the painting work on the vessel (SS Ockenfels). Part of the added camouflage structural work was so unseaworthy that it got carried away before the vessel got out of New York harbor.


EDISON'S SHIP CAMOUFLAGE (reprinted from The Outlook) in Arizona Republican (Phoenix AZ), March 15, 1918, p. 4—

A scheme of camouflage for ships, attributed to Mr. [Thomas A.] Edison is described as consisting in cutting down the masts and funnels and covering the ship fore and aft with canvas strips painted in various colors. Lofty masts, it may be remarked, are a survival of the days of sails, and might be dispensed with altegther, as in the "monitor" type of vessels.


CAMOUFLAGE in Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania) May 6, 1919, p. 4—

How Edison, the famous American, invented one of the earliest and most successful systems of "camouflaging" merchant vessels has just been revealed by one who assisted in the experiments. In those days, before the convoy system had been so largely developed, and when merchant ships had to rely so much for safety upon their own unaided efforts, scientists of all countries were devoting much time to the question of the reduction of visibility at sea. Amongst them was Thomas Alva Edison, the American inventor. To aid him in his work the Cunard Company placed at his disposal for experimental purposes the Valeria, a 10,000-ton freight carrying steamer. Edison got quickly to work, and, before long, the result was seen in the Mersey, where an incoming vessel—squat, dumpy, barge-like—excited general wonder. It was the "camouflaged" Valeria. Her funnels had almost disappeared and her masts were cut right down; portions of her super-structure had been removed or concealed; and finally immense painted screens of canvas were hanged along the ship and "wrapped" around her top side like nothing else on earth—or at sea. She was almost invisible at a short distance and quite unrecognizable. It was the crew of the Valeria that had the thrill of feeling a shock in the vessel's bottom, and the subsequent pleasure of seeing a German submarine emerge with a broken periscope. The distance separating the two vessels was so small that the Valeria's guns had to be depressed to the fullest extent in order to fire on the intruder.


Benedict Crowell, "Marine Camouflage" in The Giant Hand: Our Mobilization and Control of Industry and Natural Resources, 1917-1918. Part 2. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, p. 502—

The cloth screen for breaking up the outline of a ship was popular with the inventors. No less a savant than Mr. [Thomas] Edison was intrigued by this notion. The Cunarder Valeria was turned over to Mr. Edison for experiment. Among other things that he did to the ship, he screen her upper work in canvas. The screen was blown off shortly after the ship left New York. The inventors, who were usually landsmen, appreciated neither the force of the Atlantic winds nor the psychology of the sailors, who scoffed at the screen contrivances and would not rig them up again if they below down.


Lindell T. Bates, The Science of Low Visibility and Deception as an Aid to the Defense of Vessels Against Attacks by Submarines. Submarine Defense Association, 1918, p. 31—

The new ships for the Emergency Fleet Corporation have been designed with low superstructure. A notable example of a vessel with superstructure reduced is the SS Valeria. The vessel was a Cunarder supplied to Mr. Thomas A. Edison by the Submarine Defense Association for this experimental purpose. The funnels and mast were cut short and the superstructure concealed by canvas screens. These measure appear to have rendered her less visible, but she has lately been torpedoed and sunk [while traveling in a convoy for the first time].

•  All this is somewhat confusing because on pages 498-499 of Crowell's The Giant Hand, the US Navy's official account credits Everett L. Warner with the camouflage of the SS Ockenfels (which is true in the sense that he carried it out), without any mention of Edison being the source of the camouflage plan. It reads as follows —

The dazzle system that was at length universally adopted originated in England. Yet we possessed in America an artist  who had not only advised distortion painting from the outset,  but had also applied his theory to several American vessels, which were therefore the first to carry dazzle designs to sea. This artist was Mr. Everett L. Warner of New York. On September 29, 1917, he brought to the Navy certain painted models which showed how he would break up a vessel's silhouette in order to make it hard for the enemy to get her range. This he did by using angular patches of whites and other colors in successive rows that overlapped each other and ran upwards from the water line at an angle of sixty degrees, covering hull,  structure, funnels, and masts, and bending around transverse surfaces, such as the ends of deck houses. The Navy adopted  the system and ordered Mr. Warner to paint the ex-German ship Ockenfels as an experiment. The pattern which he applied made the ship's water line elusive. He cut down the funnels and masts and stretched a screen of canvas from bow to stern,  the upper edge of the screen being on a level with the tops of  the truncated masts. He also affixed to the stern of the vessel a boom with trailing cordage, to equalize the two ends in appearance.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Camouflaged SS West Indian 1918

Portside, SS West Indian in camouflage (1918)
Above The SS West Indian painted in a dazzle-camouflage scheme in 1918. The ship's departure is noted in the news article below. Original photo courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 102523).


Anon, O.P. RANKIN COMMANDS PORTLAND BUILT SHIP in Oregon Daily Journal (Portland), June 2, 1918, p. 28—

Aboard the 8800-ton steel steamer West Indian, which left Portland recently, is Lieutenant Commander Oliver P. Rankin, USNRF, as commanding officer…With [him] on the camouflaged West Indian are a number of Portland young men who have seen and accepted the delights of service with the merchant marine. The West Indian, gay in her camouflage, is the product of the Columbia River Shipbuilding corporation, and is now upon the high seas headed into the big game of carrying stores to the allies and to our own soldiers.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Der Tater Tot | Dead Potatoes Camouflaged

Spurious butterfly species (top)
Above Two examples of the same butterfly, known as the Brimstone Butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). However, the one at the top has been altered. It was sent by British butterfly collector William Charlton to London entomologist James Petiver in 1702. Sixty years later, it was examined by Carl Linnaeus, who (not noticing that the large dark spots had been added with paint) concluded that it was a new species, which he named Papilio ecclipsis. Today, the hoax is known as the Charlton Brimstone Butterfly.


Anon, THIEF USED CAMOUFLAGE: Job Monaghan's Potatoes Were Stolen in Boston Sunday Post, October 14, 1917, p. 10—

When Job Monaghan, a Wellesley [MA] mason, went to his vegetable garden yesterday to spade up a plentiful harvest of potatoes, which he confidently anticipated to find beneath a luxuriant growth of potato vines, he was confronted instead with a camouflage in his potato patch.

Having prepared a storage for the tubers, Job took his trusty spade and proceeded to dig in the potato patch for the long-waited-for spud. The first vine dug out unearthed not a single "tater." Thinking they had grown to an enormous size and had by their sheer weight sunk deeply into the soil he excavated as far as the handle of his spade would permit. He failed to uncover a single potato. The second vine was excavated the same as the first and a similar result followed.

Excavating-and-discovering-nothing was kept up until 85 vines had been accounted for. At this stage he claims to have lost count, because of his perplexity in failing to explain the vegetable phenomena.

He leaned on his hoe and gave himself up to meditation. After a little reflection he concluded that somebody had deftly extracted the tubers and had spruced the vines that they might stand life-like and be a deception. Some expert in the art of potato camouflage had done the work after first poaching the highly-prized spud.

"It surely was a work of art," contemplated Job Monaghan. "That man has missed his vocation. He worked with high skill in the potato trenches and deceived me with the alluring idea that a wealth of tubers lay awaiting my spade under the stout vines. His place is in France and his line is placing camouflage as a delusion to the German riflemen."


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE REPLACES STRONG ARM IN UNDERWORLD in Logansport Pharus Reporter, November 24, 1919, p. 12—

NEW YORK, Nov. 24—Strong arm methods are considered antiquated in New York's thuggery circles. Camouflage and the double-cross have supplanted the "rough stuff."

This is the information gained by Assistant District Attorney John F. Joyce in an interview with Charles Gless and Joe Hylan, ex-prize fighters, held as material witnesses in the killing of Harry Issacs, a laundryman. The prisoners told Joyce:

"Nowadays when a guy's hired to do up another guy he goes to that guy, they makes a deal, the guy to be done up camouflages with court plaster and maybe an arm in a sling, and then the strong arm guy brings round the guy what hired him, points out the 'damage' to the camouflaged guy, collects the coin, and splits with the lad what's camouflaged. See?"

Muirhead Bone, Decoy Ships and Camouflage

Muirhead Bone, dazzle-painted ship (c1919)
Above Muirhead Bone, drawing of a WWI dazzle-painted ship, in David W. Bone, Merchantmen-at-Arms: The British Merchants' Service in the War London: Chatto & Windus, 1919.


Albert Tomlin (WWI soldier from Waltham MA), quoted in 90 HUNS KILLED BY BAYONET: Waltham Boy Back With Grim Tales of "Over There" in Boston Sunday Post, May 5, 1918, p. 24—

The transatlantic steamers are each convoyed by one cruiser and eight destroyers, and each convoy is accompanied by a decoy ship [aka Q-ships]. This decoy ship is camouflaged to look like a slow-going freighter. 

The eight destroyers accompany the liner half way across the Atlantic, circling around the vessel, while the decoy ship trails along behind. The cruiser is required in case an enemy raider should appear. The idea of the decoy ship is to lure the submarine up to destroy the slow-going craft. It has every appearance of a freighter that can only make a speed of four to six knots an hour. But simply by touching a button the false sides fall away. Then you have a 32-knot destroyer. If a submarine comes up, this destroyer throws off its disguise, turns about and rams the U-boat.

HMS Mauretania (1918), New York Harbor


Many ships resort to camouflage, but the most effective thus far employed is the camouflage adopted by the Standard Oil vessels. These are daubed with green and white painting, somewhat like a checkerboard. It makes the ship invisible except on a very clear day. You cannot see it until you are right on to it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Baseball Players Camouflaged as Camoufleurs

Fred J. Hoertz, two dazzle-painted ships (1918)
Above Fred J. Hoertz, "One of Our Largest Colliers Coaling a Warship," published as the cover of Scientific American Vol CXIX No 14, October 5, 1918.


At first, it may seem that camouflage has little if anything to do with baseball. In earlier posts, we've shared a couple of the moments when the two have overlapped.

But here's another one: In 1918, during World War I, the US War Department established a military service policy that became known as the "work or fight rule." It required that able-bodied, "draft-eligible" men must either be employed in work that was "essential" or risk being drafted. It was also decided that working as a baseball player was "non-essential."

So what does this have to do with camouflage? It seems that a scheme was developed by which certain baseball players (who played in a baseball league that was sponsored by various shipyards) would show up for work at harbors as ship camouflage painters, which was of course indisputably "essential." This was reported in an article with the headline BILL LAI IS CALLED TO WORK OR FIGHT in the Chester Times (Chester PA), July 9, 1918, p. 10. Here's an excerpt—

…State Senator Calvin Page, of Portsmouth NH [reported] that the ball nines [apparently, an alternate term at the time for baseball players] at the Portsmouth Navy Yard and the Shattuck ship-building plant in Maine were composed of college men who were down on the payroll as "painters." According to Senator Page these "painters" carried two pails of paint a day to workmen, and spent the rest of the time at baseball.

"I shall look into the ball nines situation at Hog Island and other plants in Delaware County," said [Emergency Fleet Corporation Vice-President Howard] Coonley, "and if I discover that there are any 'camouflage ship workers' on the ball nines such as Senator Page describes, they will have to go."

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. on God and Camouflage

Book Cover | dazzle camouflage
Above Book cover (including dazzle-camouflaged ship) for Robert Hudson, The Dazzle (UK: Jonathan Cape, 2013).


Anon, EPIGRAMS BY ROCKEFELLER: Tells His Bible Class Camouflage Never Works With God, in New York Times, November 12, 1917, p. 15—

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., told the members of his Bible class at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church yesterday that "you can paint a railroad station and make it look like a farmhouse; you can put up a program that fools the public for a time, but camouflage never works with God."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

DAZZLE | The Hidden Story of Camouflage

Dazzle: The Hidden Story of Camouflage
Above Coming soon is a wonderful Australian documentary called DAZZLE: The Hidden Story of Camouflage, produced by Jonnie & Kate Films.The updated trailer is online here.


 Anon, WILL BE A CAMOUFLEUR: Harry D. Mapes May See Service in France Before Long, in the Ottawa Herald (Ottawa KS), March 13, 1918. p. 1—

Ottawa may soon have a representative in the ranks of the camoufleurs in France. Harry D. Mapes, now piano player at the Star theater, recently applied to the war department for enlistment in that service and has received word that, although there is not an opening now, he may be called in the near future.

Camoufleurs are the men who belong to the camouflage companies. It is their duty to conceal batteries of artillery and the like. Batteries sometimes are painted so that the colors will blend with the landscape. To deceive the enemy by making objects less conspicuous is the camoufleur's work. Mr. Mapes has been a painter.

Everett Warner WWI ship model (two views of same)

additional sources

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ship Camouflage Artist | More on Henry C. Grover

WWI dazzle-painted US ship [color added]
A couple of years ago, we posted information about World War I American ship camoufleur Henry C. Grover, but wished we knew more. Today, we are slightly better informed, having just found a newspaper article with the headline: HENRY C. GROVER CHOSEN CAMOUFLAGE SECRETARY. Boston Sunday Globe (February 3, 1918), p. 10—

A Boston commercial artist was yesterday appointed camouflage secretary of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. He is Henry C. Grover of 79 Mount Vernon Street, Melrose, who has a studio at 44 Bromfield Street. The first announcement of the appointment came yesterday afternoon, when Mr. Grover, as one of the guests at the Canadian Club luncheon at the City Club, was introduced by his new title. He leaves for Washington today to assume his new duties, which will take him to many American ports.

Mr. Grover was in the recruiting subcommittee of the Boston Committee on Public Safety, and through his work there he came to the attention of officials of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. The Globe of December 23, 1898 , printed a story of Yankee enterprise at Santiago [during the Spanish-American War], about a Boston boy who displayed a sign well known to Bostonians. It was about Mr. Grover, then a private in Company A, Second Massachusetts Regiment, USV, orderly for Brigadier General William Ludlow.

Mr. Grover says there's nothing new in camouflage. "The Indians used it," he says. "The French are doing the greatest tricks with it now. The Yankees ought to be able to show them all something about it."

"Camouflage is a new name for an old idea. Some folks camouflage with words, others with money, others with clothes. We'll try it with the brush and paint pot—and other things." Mrs. Grover and their three-year-old son will remain in Melrose for the present.

more info

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ship Camouflage and Alzheimer's

Burnell Poole, two views of HMS Mauretania (c1920)
Above For a long time we have known about a wonderful painting by American artist Burnell Poole of the starboard side of the dazzle-camouflaged HMS Mauretania (top). But only recently did we learn that he also created a companion painting (bottom), which shows the port side of the same ship. It clearly shows its camouflage. When dazzle ship camouflage was initiated during World War I, it was decided that no ship should have the same camouflage pattern on both sides. The original paintings are housed in the collections of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and the US Navy Art Collection, respectively.


The following is a brief excerpt from Roy R. Behrens' "Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): the ubiquity of camouflage in human experience" just published in Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds, Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance (Sydney University Press, 2015). Among its other contributors are Donna West Brett, Paul Brock, Ann Elias, Ross Gibson, Amy Hamilton, Pamela Hansford, Jack Hasenpusch, Ian Howard, Husuan L. Hsu, Bernd Hüppauf, Ian McLean, Jacqueline Millner, Jonnie Morris, Brigitta Olubas, Nikos Papastergiadis, Tanya Peterson, Nicholas Tsoutas, Linda Tyler and Ben Wadham

How is it that we experience "things" in contrast to surrounding "stuff"?… Like you, I even see my "self" this way. "I am I" and, to follow, I am not "not-I." We typically regard our “selves” as permeable identities in a bouillabaisse of ubiquitous “stuff,” a surrounding that seems to a newborn, in the famous words of William James, like “a blooming, buzzing confusion.”  One wonders if this might also explain, as Ernst Schachtel suggested, why we are all afflicted by “childhood amnesia,” leaving us with little or no memory of the first years of our lives, because we lacked the “handles” then—the linguistic categories—that enable us to “grasp” events. In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the various forms of “amnesia” at the opposite end of life, including gradual memory loss, senility, dementia, and the horrifying ordeal of Alzheimer’s. If the boundaries of our figural “self” are blurred when we are newborns, perhaps we should not be surprised that the limits of our “self” grow thin—once again—as we march to the end of existence.

As adults, we use hackneyed phrases like “dust to dust” to imply that at birth we somehow spring from naught; that we metamorphically evolve through infancy and childhood; live out our ritualistic lives as corporeal upright adults; then slowly—or, just as often, catastrophically—“deconstruct”; and (at last) are literally “disembodied” in the process that we dread as death. Instead of saying “dust to dust,” it may be more in tune to say “khaki to khaki,” since it seems as if our lives consist of time-based re-enactments of a spectrum of nuanced relations between figure and ground, some or all of which pertain to varieties of camouflage. 

additional sources

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Irvin Cobb and Camouflage: The SS Tuscania Sinks

Camouflaged SS Tuscania (c1918)
The following are excerpts pertaining to World War I ship camouflage from the wartime writings of American author Irvin S. Cobb. The text appeared initially in the Saturday Evening Post (August 1918), and was then reprinted in his book, The Glory of the Coming: What Mine Eyes Have Seen of Americans in Action in This Year of Grace and Allied Endeavor (George H. Doran, 1918). Cobb left for Europe with a convoy of twelve ships (the SS Tuscania among them), four of which were later sunk by German U-boats.

As described in Anita Lawson's biography, Irvin S. Cobb (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984), his daughter was there to wave good-bye as he sailed off on the RMS Baltic. She wrote: "I remember the shock of seeing that his ship was camouflaged and realizing that it was thus strangely striped and stippled because it was going into the most perilous places and with my father aboard it."

As described in the article, near the end of the voyage on February 5, 1918, the SS Tuscania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of England, with the result that 250 passengers died. Cobb's own ship was close enough to witness the sinking.

Shown above is a contemporaneous illustration of the SS Tuscania, which was painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme. Other ship camouflage illustrations from 1918 (all of which were published in the Saturday Evening Post) are interspersed throughout the text.

Because she was camouflaged with streaky marks and mottlings into the likeness of a painted Jezebel of the seas, because she rode high out of the water, and wallowed as she rode, because during all those days of our crossing she hugged up close to our ship, splashing through the foam of our wake as though craving the comfort of our company, we called her things no self-respecting ship should have to bear. But when that night, we stood on the after-deck of our ship, we running away as fast as our kicking screw would take us, and saw her going down, taking American soldier boys to death with her in alien waters, we drank toasts standing up to the poor old Tuscania.…

We had known in advance that there were guns in great number disposed about the surrounding terrain. Walking about under military guidance in the afternoon we had seen sundry batteries ensconced under banks, in thickets and behind low natural parapets where the earth ridged up; and had noted how cunningly they had been concealed from airplanes scouting above and from the range of field glasses in the German workings on beyond.

But we had no notion until then that there were so many guns near by or that some of them were so close to the village where we had stopped to eat. We must almost have stepped on some of them without once suspecting their presence. The ability of the French so well to hide a group of five big pieces, each with a carriage as large as a two-ton truck and each with a snout projecting two or three yards beyond it, and with a limber projecting out behind it, shows what advances the gentle arts of ambuscade and camouflage have made since this war began. Seen upon the open road a big cannon painted as it is from muzzle to breach with splotchings of yellows and browns and ochres seems, for its size, the most conspicuous thing in the world. But once bedded down in its nest, with its gullet resting upon the ring back of earth that has been thrown up for it, and a miracle of protective coloration instantaneously is achieved. Its whole fabric seems to melt into and become a part of the soil and the withered herbage and the dirt-colored sandbags which encompass it abaft, alongside and before. It is the difference between a mottled snake crawling across a brick sidewalk and the same snake coiled and motionless amid dried leaves and boulders in the woods. Nature always has protected her wild creatures thus; it took the greatest of wars for mankind to learn a lesson that is as old as creation is.… 

But the quarters of the flying machines, through their vastness and isolation, acquire a certain quality of catching the eye that is entirely lacking for the rest of the picture—the big hangars in the background, suggesting by their shape and number the pitched encampment of a three-ring circus; the flappy canvas shields at the open side of the dromes, which being streaked and daubed with paint camouflage, enhance the carnival suggestion by looking, at a distance, like side-show banners; the caravans of trucks drawn up in lines; and in fine weather the flying craft resting in the landing field, all slick and groomed and polished, like a landed proprietor's blooded stock, giving off flashes from aluminum and varnish and steel and deft cabinetwork in answer to the caresses of the sunshine.…

Master of theatrical trick and device that he is, none the less David Belasco could learn lessons at our camouflaging plant. He probably would feel quite at home there, too, seeing that the place has a most distinctive behind-the-scenes atmosphere of its own; it is a sort of overgrown combination of scenery loft, property room, paint shop and fancy-dress costumer's establishment, where men who gave up sizable incomes to serve their country in this new calling work long hours seeking to improve upon the artifices already developed—and succeeding—and to create brand-new ones of their own.

As a branch of military modernism camouflaging is even newer than the trade of scientific salvaging is and offers far larger opportunities for future exploitation. After all there are just so many things and no more that may be done with and to a pair of worn-out rubber boots, but in the other field the only limits are the limits of the designer's individual ingenuity and his individual skill.

We came, under guidance, to a big open-fronted barracks where hundreds of French women and French girls made screenage for road protection and gun emplacements. The materials they worked with were simple enough: rolls of ordinary chicken wire, strips of burlap sacking dyed in four colors—bright green, yellowish green, tawny and brown—and wisps of raffia with which to bind the cloth scraps into the meshes of the wire. For summer use the bright green is used, for early spring and fall the lighter green and the tawny; and for winter the brown and the tawny mingled. For, you see, camouflage has its seasons, too, marching in step with the swing of the year. Viewed close up the completed article looks to be exactly what it is—chicken wire festooned thickly with gaudy rags. But stretch a breadth of it across a dip in the earth and then fling against it a few boughs cut from trees, and at a distance of seventy-five yards no man, however keen-eyed, can say just where the authentic foliage leaves off and the artificial joins on.

For roadsides in special cases there is still another variety of camouflage, done in zebra-like strips of light and dark rags alternating, and this stuff being erected alongside the open highway is very apt indeed to deceive your hostile observer into thinking that what he beholds is merely a play of sunlight and shade upon a sloped flank of earth; and he must venture very perilously near indeed to discern that the seeming pattern of shadows really masks the movements of troops. This deceit has been described often enough, but the sheer art of it takes on added interest when one witnesses its processes and sees how marvellously its effects are brought about.

In an open field used for experimenting and testing was a dump pile dotted thickly with all the nondescript débris that accumulates upon the outer slope of a dug-in defense where soldiers have been—loose clods of earth, bits of chalky stone, shattered stumps, empty beef tins, broken mess gear, discarded boots, smashed helmets, and such like. It was crowned with a frieze of stakes projecting above the top of the trench behind it, and on its crest stood one of those shattered trees, limbless and ragged, that often are to be found upon terrains where the shelling has been brisk.

Here for our benefit a sort of game was staged. First we stationed ourselves sixty feet away from the mound. Immediately five heads appeared above the parapet—heads with shrapnel helmets upon them, and beneath the helmet rims sunburned faces peering out. The eyes looked this way and that as the heads turned from side to side.

"Please watch closely," said the camouflage officer accompanying us. "And as you watch, remember this: Two of those heads are the heads of men. The three others are dummies mounted on sticks and manipulated from below. Since you have been at the Front you know the use of the dummy—the enemy sniper shoots a hole in it and the men in the pit, by tracing the direction of the bullet through the pierced composition, are able to locate the spot where Mister Sniper is hidden. Now then, try to pick out the real heads from the fake ones."

There were three of us, and we all three of us tried. No two agreed in our guesses and not one of us scored a perfect record; and yet we stood very much nearer than any enemy marksman could ever hope to get. The lifelikeness of the thing was uncanny.

"Next take in the general layout of that spot," said the camouflage expert, with a wave of his hand toward the dump pile. "Looks natural and orthodox, doesn't it? Seems to be just the outer side of a bit of trench work, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. Two of those stakes are what they appear to be—ordinary common stakes. The other two are hollow metal tubes, inside of which trench periscopes are placed. And the tree trunk is faked, too. It is all hollow within—a shell of light tough steel with a ladder inside, and behind that twisted crotch where the limbs are broken off the observer is stationed at this moment watching us through a manufactured knothole. The only genuine thing about that tree trunk is the bark on it—we stripped that off of a beech over in the woods.

"The dump heap isn't on the level either, as you possibly know, since you may have seen such dump piles concealing the sites of observation pits up at the Front. Inside it is all dug out into galleries and on the side facing us it is full of peepholes—seventeen peepholes in all, I think there are. Let's go within fifteen feet of it and see how many of them you can detect."

At a fifteen-foot range it was hard enough for us to make out five of the seventeen peep places. Yet beforehand we understood that each tin can, each curled-up boot, each sizable tuft of withered grass, each swirl of the tree stump—masked a craftily hidden opening shielded with fine netting, through which a man crouching in safety beneath the surface of the earth might study the land in front of him. That innocent-appearing, made-to-order dump pile had the eyes of a spider; but even so, the uniformed invader might have climbed up and across it without once suspecting the truth.

For a final touch the camouflage crew put on their best stunt of all. Five men encased themselves in camouflage suits of greenish-brown canvas which covered them head, feet, body and limbs, and which being decorated with quantities of dried, grass-like stuff sewed on in patches, made them look very much as Fred Stone used to look when he played the Scarecrow Man in The Wizard of Oz years ago. Each man carried a rifle, likewise camouflaged. Then we turned our backs while they took position upon a half-bare, half-greened hillock less than a hundred feet from us.

This being done we faced about, and each knowing that five armed men were snuggled there against the bank tried to pick them out from their background. It was hard sledding, so completely had the motionless figures melted into the herbage and the chalky soil. Finally we united in the opinion that we had located three of the five. But we were wrong again. We really had picked out only one of the five. The two other suspected clumps were not men but what they seemed to be—small protrusions in the ragged and irregular turf. Yes, I am sure Mr. Belasco could have spent a fruitful half hour or so there with us.

Thanks to yet another crafty and deceitful artifice of the camouflage outfit it is possible to make the enemy think he is being attacked by raiders advancing in force when as a matter of fact what he beholds approaching him are not files of men but harmless dummies operated by a mechanism that is as simple as simplicity itself. The attack will come from elsewhere while his attention is focused upon the make-believe feint, but just at present there are military reasons why he should not know any of the particulars. It would take the edge of his surprise, even though he is not likely to live to appreciate the surprise once the trick has been pulled.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

USS Sturgeon Bay in Camouflage at Green Bay WI

USS Sturgeon Bay in dazzle camouflage
What colors were used on World War I American camouflaged ships, and in what combination? It seems we can never be certain, since apparently no color photographs were made of them. Some hand-painted models exist. There are also several hundred color lithographic plans (including one full set at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design), but they state that the colors shown on the plans are merely placeholders and may not be the actual colors applied. There are also dozens (probably more) of artists' on-site portrayals of dazzle-painted ships, c1918-1919.

Never before have we seen a hand-tinted photographic postcard of a dazzle-painted ship, of which there are two versions (above and below on this blogpost: NH 105922-A-KN and NH 105922-KN) on the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command. These are cropped and uncropped photographs of the USS Sturgeon Bay at Green Bay WI, two postcard versions of the same view, c. 1919 .


Associated Press, SCHOOL FOR CAMOUFLAGE ARTISTS AT GREAT LAKES, Janesville Daily Gazette (Janesville WI), August 26, 1918, p. 1—

Great Lakes, Ill., Aug. 26—A school of camouflage artists is the newest feature of the art officer school of the Great Lakes naval training station. The instructor is Karl O. Amend,• formerly a theatrical scenic artist in New York. Courses in the school will take 12 weeks to complete and graduates are to be given opportunities for advance rating in the service.

USS Sturgeon Bay in dazzle camouflage

From CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009) and other sources: Karl (Otto) Amend (1885–January 2, 1944). Originally from Ohio, Amend was trained as a set designer. He designed stage sets for various Broadway plays, including Smile at Me, I Must Love Someone, and Vanities, and was founder and proprietor of Amend Scenic Studios. In 1982, an exhibition of his work, titled Behind the Scenes: The Theater Art of Karl Amend, was held at the New York Public Library.

more info

Reed College Dazzle Camouflage

Dazzle-painted USS Lake Charlotte (c1918)
Above There is an unrestored version of this public domain postcard on the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, where it is identified as the USS Lake Charlotte or the USS Lake Silver (NH 105954). In other sources, the same ship is referred to as the War Cymbal.


Anon, STUDENT ON HIGH SEAS in Morning Oregonian (Portland OR), November 30, 1917, p. 8—

In the soldiers' mail to Reed College this week is a letter from Hugh Broomfield, the last Reed man leaving for France. The letter was written from New York and says: "When this letter reaches you I will probably be out on the high seas. I am on board the steamer now and our quarters are quite comfortable. Our ship has been undergoing the 'camouflage' treatment and has been painted with blotches of blue, pink and green. It is a funny sight. I wish the scheme success and hope it deceives the 'subs'…"

The steamer on which Hugh (Dent Garvin) Broomfield crossed the Atlantic did survive that voyage. He became a member of the US Army Air Service, and was shot down in France on October 21, 1918.