Saturday, June 28, 2014

Harlequin Crew | Inadvertent Camouflage Plan

Dazzle-camouflaged SS Australford (c1918)

Above (top) Port side and (bottom) starboard view of the SS Australford, a British Commonwealth cargo ship (c1918). Lower on this page is a starboard view of the SS City of Karachi, British Commonwealth transport ship (c1918). The original photographs, made by Allan C. Green, are in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.

Dion Clayton Calthrop, CAMOUFLAGE ABSOLUTE: Ship That Wasn’t There; Sailed with Harlequin Crew, in Queensland Times (Ipswich, Queensland AU), May 28, 1918, p. 6—

[In a shipboard conversation between Captains Holloway and Mason, the latter says] “…You remember last Thursday, when it was blowing up for dirty weather?”

“I was two hours overdue,” said Holloway.

“I was just about to turn in in to get a snooze before sailing in the morning when the officer in charge came aboard and says to me, ‘Mason,’ he says, ‘you’ve got to find room for Major Dash and his gear.’ That’s correct, ain’t it, Herbert?”

“The very words,” said he.

“Hell, I was full up in the hold and I’d got some goods stowed away on deck, and I tell you I was fair horrified when the major stepped into the light and says to me, ‘Captain,’ he says, ‘I’m a camouflage officer, and I’m just bringing by paints and canvas along with me.’ And there, sure enough, was about twenty kegs of paint on the quayside, and a great bundle of canvas. However, what with a war on and all that, I merely says ‘Yes, sir,’ and got the hands to work fixing these blistering kegs on deck and getting the gear stowed away snug and shipshape.”

“Twenty kegs?” said Holloway.

“Of paint.”

“Bad luck for a keg to come so low as paint,” said Holloway. “I’ve carried lily bulbs and parasols and dried cuttlefish in the China seas but never paint.”

“It was blowing nearly a gale, nor’ by nor’-east most of the night,” the skipper went on, “and, though the wind dropped towards daybreak, there was plenty of sea running. However, I had some stuff to get across, and out we went. The major was full of pluck, and stood it for the first hour, and then his face went all colors till it got blue, and then he gave it up…”

“I’ve seen them like that,” said Holloway.

“I’ve been like it once,” said Mason, “but I put it down to pork chops and stout followed by jam roll, but that’s neither here nor there. What happened next gave me the regular jumps. Them kegs [of camouflage paint] broke away, and then the fun began. One keg bashed up against another keg, and after a time when they was pounding away on deck they began to leak. Old man, it was awful, but it pulled the major together, and we got all hands what could be spared to lash ‘em up fast again. We done that, but the damage was done, and I believe the major would have cried if he’d been alone, not feeling strong at the time. The men was blue and green and yellow. I had one red boot and one purple arm. As for the major—well, if a rainbow could swear, that’s what he was. Lord, I did envy him his education.”

“And a gale blowing at the time?” said Holloway, incredulously.

“Hurricane,” said Mason…

“And the ship?”

“Camouflaged herself proper. Decks swimming with paint of all colors, and the paint streaming over the sides. Why, we was so invisible I could hardly see the ship myself. Come into port with one boat on the port side stove in and the men like a pack of harlequins. Took me and Herbert all our time rubbing each other down so’s we wouldn’t look like a sea-circus.”

“What did the major do?” asked Holloway.

“Him? He was a rare good ‘un. He finished the job when we fetched up our moorings. ‘Captain,’ he said, ‘I’m a superstitious man,’ he said, ‘and what Nature bean I’ll finish.’ And he done it.”

Holloway turned his eye seawards, and let his gaze rest over the crowded harbor. In the panorama before him were troopships, destroyers, lighters, mine-sweepers, motor boats, and fishing xxxx, with an airplane overhead.

“Your boat there?” he asked.

“She’s there,” Mason replied. “But you’ll never see her. She’s so camouflaged, she’s lost. I can’t see her with nothing but a kaleidoscope.…”

Dazzle-camouflaged SS City of Karachi (c1918), starboard
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