Saturday, June 14, 2014

Warship Camouflage as House Painting

SS Polladern (c1918) in dazzle camouflage
Above Port side view of the SS Polladern, a British Commonwealth cargo ship (c1918). The original photograph, made by Allan C. Green, is in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.


John A. Smith, ARTISTS AT SEA: House Painters Protect Ocean Life Lines in Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Queensland AU), April 17, 1939, p. 3—

Amongst the preparations against a possible war made by the Government are arrangements for every ship to be "dazzle painted" within a few hours. Landlubbers believe that ships are camouflaged in wartime in order to reduce their visibility. But a vessel camouflaged in the modern manner screams for attention. Its enemies, the submarines, cannot help but see it. It achieves a degree of safety not by becoming invisible, but by a more subtle method. There is a world of difference between the approach of the camouflage artist to the problems of a fixed object such as an aerodrome or a gun battery and of a sea-going vessel. The roofs of military aerodromes today are painted in order to make them blend as far as possible with the surrounding country. But when the artist attacks the sides of a liner with his air sprays and brushes his object is to make the commander of an enemy aircraft unable to believe his own eyes! "Dazzle-painting" is a more correct name than camouflage for the art as used on the sea; it is the term which was generally adopted before the Great War came to an end. 

…The mechanics of "dazzle-painting" were practically identical with those of mural decoration and scene painting, and hundreds of men who in civil life had followed these and similar crafts—including house painters—were enrolled at Devonport and hoisted like flies over the sides of sample vessels. They worked under the direction of naval officers and draughtsmen. They had the right to feel important for on the results of their work depended ocean-going mechanical miracles aggregating in value millions of pounds, the safety of thousands of lives, and the supply arteries of Allied forces.

Robert Gibbings (1921), The House Painters

Anon, "Compendium of Foreign Phrases" in Lansing Warren, En Repos and Elsewhere Over There: Verses Written in France, 1917-1918. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, p. 105—

The last place for a real artist is in the camouflage department. What is needed is a good cubist or futurist, or, in the finest and most delicate work, a house painter.

additional sources