Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Your Stern Is Where Your Head Should Be

Directional distortion plan (1918)
Above Anon, detail of a colored drawing of a World War I dazzle ship camouflage plan in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In the original, there is a hand-printed caption that reads "example showing 'direction' of ship reversed." There is also a smaller notation that reads "SRNR 1918" or "SRHR 1918," which may be the originator's signature, or perhaps the "NR" means Naval Reserves. In the drawing, the front of the ship (the bow) is on the left, but it has been painted to look like the rear (the stern). The actual stern (on the right) has been painted to look like the bow. From a distant view through a periscope, an observer might conclude that the ship is heading toward the right, when in fact the opposite is true. At the bottom of this web page is a related drawing (artist unknown) that accompanied a magazine article by Lloyd Seaman titled "Masterpieces of Navy Camouflage" in Popular Mechanics magazine Vol 31, 1919, pp. 217-219.


Anon in "Admiralty's Humor" in the Breckenridge News (Cloverport KY), May 14, 1919, p. 7—

An old sea captain wrote to the [British Admiralty] complaining, more in sorrow than in anger, of the way in which the ship had been dazzle-painted: "First, you make me look like a parrot, and then you make me look like a haystack, and I don't want to look like either." He got back the official reply:

"We don't want you to look like either a parrot or a haystack, but we do want you to look as if your stern was where your head ought to be."


Mingo White, a former Alabama slave, from an interview by Levi D. Shelby Jr. in 1937, as part of the Federal Writers Project, now in the US Library of Congress

[Confederacy President] Jeff[erson] Davis was as smart a man as you ever want to see. During the [American Civil] war he sheared his horse in such a way that he looked like he was going one way when he'd be going the other.


A. Russell Bond in "Warriors of the Paint-Brush" in St. Nicholas magazine Vol XLVI (November 1918-April 1919), pp. 499-505—

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

Distortion of bow, stern and smoke stacks (1919)
additional sources