Sunday, July 5, 2015

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.