Sunday, December 3, 2017

Norman Wilkinson | Dazzle Plans for US Ships 2CX

Above Proposal for a British "dazzle camouflage" scheme (showing both sides of ship), probably designed by UK artist and camoufleur Norman Wilkinson (some are signed, others not). This appears to be one of a number of plans (as many as 180) prepared by Wilkinson and his team of British artists for use on US merchant ships c1917 in advance of the formation of an American Navy Camouflage Section. Labels omitted and image restored.


Nelson Collins, “Oh, About Average” in The Century Magazine (June 1918), pp. 230-231—

Camouflage at sea has become, I imagine, more diverse, and at the moment more experimental, than camouflage in the lines of artillery at the shore battle front, and we see it both in the making and in the bewildering finished product. The camouflage makes it astonishingly uncertain whether a ship is actually a ship or water and sky and little shifting waves, and if a ship, what her dimensions may be, the point of her actual bow, the curve of her actual stern, where the bridge is, the location of her life boats, which way is she headed. This becomes so even when your eye is on her not far away, and you are on guard against the expected deception and dissolvement. The appearance of the ships makes a sailor feel foolish and scandalized. How would you like to see a lady with whom your fate is mixed paraded for full public view in all the ill-sorted scraps of finery that could be pinned to her? Somebody, however, should invent a chemical compound for ship’s furnaces that will camouflage the smoke as it pours from the funnel tops. Incidentally, it is amazing how coal can be selected to make funnels almost smokeless and what smoke there is a transparent film.

All styles of camouflage are on the highways and byways of the sea. The average seaman in a port is impelled to say, “How do you think I look?” to a ship’s visitor, as much as any lady with her seasonal millinery selection. Some go in for color and some for line. Our own ship’s style is suggestive of the old court jester’s suits, with its party-colored diamond patches. Black-and-white effects are very fetching, however, with the lines caught up into unexpected turns and slashes and bows. The most satisfactory ship I have seen under camouflage was agreeable to the eye because the lines were allowed to follow their natural development, and there was some coherence and congruity in the course they took. It was a pleasure to look at the ship after the thwartings and quick distortions of vision that are more usual. It looked effective, too. Camouflage serves one purpose of screening the ship from vision altogether. This is the less important and the less successful accomplishment, though a cruiser and a destroyer apparently slid past us one of the first days we were out in our new suit and were well abaft the beam before the destroyer, seeming to have rubbed its eyes, slipped over the few miles between to investigate us.

Wilkinson's Ship Models at Imperial War Museum (2017)