Friday, December 8, 2017

Norman Wilkinson | Dazzle Plans for US Ships 2B

Above Proposal for a British "dazzle camouflage" scheme (showing both sides of the same ship), designed by UK artist and camoufleur Norman Wilkinson (note signature). It 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.


MARINE CAMOUFLAGE: Use In Warfare in Kalgoorie Miner (Western Australia) April 1, 1919, p. 6—

On marine camouflage a widespread error exists. Most people suppose that its object is the concealment of ships, and wonder how it effects that purpose. Of course, it is nothing of the sort, but an attempt to break up the form of a ship in such a way as to make it difficult for an attacking U-boat to estimate the course. Though it is impossible to say how many ships have escaped destruction by means of “Dazzle,” strong evidence has been forthcoming of its value, together with grateful tributes from merchant captains. 

The originator of “Dazzle” is Lieutenant Commander Norman Wilkinson, the well-known painter of ships and the sea. In May 1917, he submitted his scheme to the Admiralty. At that time most transports were painted black, than which no color could be more favorable to a submarine on the look out for a prey. Commander Wilkinson’s argument was that if a ship could be broken up into strongly contrasted design her course could not be observed without longer periscope observation, and even then not exactly. This delay and uncertainty might prevent the submarine getting into firing position until the ship had obtained a chance of escape. 

The Admiralty store ship Industry was the first to be painted, and served well as an experiment. “Dazzle” was next tried on 50 transports, from which encouraging reports were received. Afterwards the scheme was extended to the whole of the mercantile marine under the Defense of the Realm Act, which meant that it became compulsory on shipowners to have their ships painted. 

A staff, mostly of artists and architects, was collected and trained at the Royal Academy; this being the start of the “Dazzle” section. This company sent out its members to the various ports, each officer being supplied with a complete set of the plans and design then in hand. From time to time new patterns were evolved, which were sent on to the scattered staff. As soon as a merchantman came into port she was painted under the directions of the “Dazzle” officer, in conjunction with the Director of Shipyard Repairs. 

Wilkinson ship models at Imperial War Museum, London

“Dazzle” did not make its way into the respect of the mercantile marine without a little struggle. In his room at Burlington House, Commander Wilkinson has a demonstration theatre which has brought conviction to some very great naval authorities; or, if they did not need convincing, has proved to them what odd tricks “Dazzle” can play even with experience eye. A model of a camouflaged ship is placed on a board behind a screen. In the screen is a periscope, to which the experimenting look-out man applies his eye. He is asked to indicate the course of the ship he sees on a compass dial by his side. This indication is then compared with the direction in which the ship’s bows are actually pointing; and the discrepancy between the two is found to be wide—as a rule, ludicrously wide. Similar demonstration theatres were set up at the ports for the persuasion of skeptical mariners, whose discomfiture was exceeding when they discovered how far 
“Dazzle” had led astray their wiliest perception. From the Academy school practically every maritime allied nation has been trained. All the American destroyers and patrol boats have been painted with designs supplied by Commander Wilkinson and his assistants. France sent over four officers for lessons, and then started a “Dazzle” section of her own in Paris. Italy was supplied with the British plans and designs. 

At the request of the United States Navy Department and the Shipping Corporation, Commander Wilkinson went to America to advise, with the result that his scheme was adopted. So almost every merchantman at sea in the last 18 months has been “dazzled” on British lines.