Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sims' Circus | Checkerboards Meet Harlequins

Cover illustration by Gayle Porter Hoskins (1919)
Above Cover, The Ladies Home Journal (March 1919), with a stunning illustration by American artist Gayle Porter Hoskins (1887-1962). It depicts the dazzle-painted RMS Mauretania arriving in New York with the first returning American troops on December 1, 1918. It is evident why this checkerboard style of camouflage (mostly employed by the British) was compared to a harlequin's outfit. Public domain image.


Herman Whitaker, SIMS' CIRCUS: A Cruise with Our Destroyers Over There in The Independent (June 1, 1918), pp. 358-359—

From the train window approaching the base I obtained my first view of "Sims' circus" [in reference to its commander, US Admiral William Sims], as the flotilla had been named by the irreverent ensign…

…A convoy was ready to sail, a dozen or so of our destroyers were to be seen nestling like speckled chickens under the wings of the mother repair ships.

I said "speckled." It is, however, too weak a term for the "dazzle" paint with which they were bedaubed. No wonder the irreverent ensign dubbed them "brick-yards."

Barred, striped, blotched, smudged, ring straked with vivid pinks, arsenic greens, blowsy reds, violent blues, they looked like—like nothing in the world unless it be that most poisonous of drinks, a 'Frisco pousse cafe. All of the giraffes, zebras, leopards and tigers ever assembled in the "World's Greatest Aggregation" exhibit conventional patterns in comparison with this destroyer camouflage. The exception to this blazing color scheme, a recent arrival from home, looked in her dull lead paint like a Puritan maiden that had fallen by accident into a blowsy company of painted Jezebels.

The object of this wanton display is, of course, to fool Fritz of the submarines. That is might do so by hurting his eyes or the shock of his artistic sensibilities none would deny; but I found it hard to believe that these rainbow colors make a difference in visibility. Yet they do. Whereas, at sea the following day, the "Puritan maiden" showed a clear black outline at four miles with every spar clearly defined, the "Jezebels" presented at the same distance a blurred, wavering mass of color. It was difficult to tell bow from stern or judge their direction. They presented about as fair a target as a darting hummingbird.

Hypothetical dazzle schemes © Roy R. Behrens 2018