Monday, November 23, 2020

Paris is dazzle-mad, seemingly part of a futurist dream

USS Aniwa (c1918), Type 9 Design D

Other People’s Troubles: A Paris Letter in The Sketch (London), October 13, 1920, p. 412—

Paris is dazzle-mad. I think every woman who has the courage to wear these dazzle furs that I see deserves the Legion of Honor. They are striped with great slashing streaks of white on black. Hats are dazzle hats. Dresses are dazzle dresses. Pajamas are dazzle pajamas. Everywhere are to be seen these angular lightning effects. The decorations most in favor in the very private and particular room are dazzle decorations. I seem to be existing in a weird Futurist dream.

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The original of the black and white image above (US government, public domain) has been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.


it's not to fool the naked eye but the periscope instead

Above US merchant ship, the USS Boxley (c1918), showing its World War I dazzle camouflage scheme (Type 10 Design I), which consisted of four colors: Black, gray-white, blue, and blue-gray.


Helen Johnson Keyes, OUR MIGHTY SENTINEL CITY: She Stands with Naked Sword and Bayonet to Defend You and Me, in Farmer’s Wife, 1 July 1918, p. 31—

—what a strange object is that, over there! It is painted with curving, wavelike stripes of yellow, pink, lavender, blue, broken up by sudden splotches of other colors. 

It is a camouflaged vessel—a vessel to which has been applied what we call in the case of animals, “protective coloring.” It has been painted so as to blend with the sea and sky when seen at a distance through the eye of a submarine periscope. The camouflage does not conceal the boat from the naked eye which views it almost from its own level but to the periscope seeking it…the vivid, curveting stripes are thereby confusing…

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The above image, from a black and white US government photograph in public domain, has been "digitally colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

chalk lines used to mark out ship camouflage designs

USS Falmouth (camouflage unfinished)
Within earlier blog posts, including some in recent days, we’ve talked about the process by which World War I ships were “marked out’ with boundary lines to indicate color changes (using white or yellow chalk on a long stick, or, if within reach, a paint brush). The areas to be colored were then labeled with various letters to designate the paint colors to be applied.

We know this in part because a few of the people who painted camouflage on ships published accounts of the methods they used. There are also wartime photographs of ships, in the process of being painted, in which the linear boundary markings are clearly visible. There were times when ships departed from the docks while only partly painted.

USS Falmouth (detail)


Shown here, for example, are WWI government photographs of the USS Falmouth, showing the vessel's port side (two views with a close-up detail), with clear evidence of its markings and the unfinished painted design (Type 10 Design H).

USS Falmouth (alternate view)


Related Links
The Ubiquity of Camouflage in Human Experience
Perspective Distortion in World War I Camouflage
Other online sources

Marking out and painting ship

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

fad, fancy or illusion—camouflage is without limitations

Port side of USS Milton (1919)

Since yesterday, when we blogged about the camouflage of the USS Milton and reproduced a photograph of the dazzle pattern on its starboard side, I have received more information about the same ship. Aryeh Wetherhorn, an American Navy veteran, who is now based in Israel, has provided a photograph of the port side of the Milton (as shown above, although of course I could not resist tampering with it, in hope of revealing more detail), as well as photographs of the original camouflage plans. Reproduced below is a close-up detail of one side of that ship’s camouflage scheme.

When the initial plan was issued during World War I, it was designated by US Navy camoufleurs as Type 10 Design L. According to Wetherhorn, not only was this scheme applied to the USS Milton, but to three other ships as well: USS Alpaco, USS Baxley, and USS Botsford. The colors employed in its paint scheme were black, gray-white, and two variants of blue (distinctly different from the AI colorized version above). 

Colored renderings of this plan (as well as scores of others), prepared by Talya Shachar-Albocher, have been reproduced in a new book that Wetherhorn published earlier this month. Titled The Easter Egg Fleet, it is available through Amazon.


Mrs. J.D. Love, EL PASO WOMAN’S FORUM, in El Paso Times (El Paso TX), March 3, 1919—

Camouflaging in time of peace, as well as in war, appears to be without limitations. We hear it on every side; we see it where we look. Is it a fad, a fancy or an illusion, an imported fashion, a licensed privilege or a contagious disease?

Whatever it is, it has gripped the merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, the tailor, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The artists have gone mad and now that the musicians are under its spell—I dare not predict its fate.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

bewildering the camera's eye with dazzle camouflage

USS Milton (1919)

Photographic view of the dazzle camouflage scheme for the USS Milton, c1919, during World War I. As a closer look reveals, the ship had departed the harbor before its camouflage pattern had been completely applied. In the detail view below, one can see the unpainted regions, each of which has been marked with a letter to indicate the color that has yet to be applied. 

An AI colorization process has been used to add the color to this vintage black and white government photograph. While the effect is plausible, it is not literally correct.


ARTIST VS PHOTOGRAPHER in The Princeton Union (Princeton MN), March 25, 1920—

Early in the submarine campaign, one of our boats was given a coat of camouflage, and when the vessel sailed from its pier in the North River, New York, the owners sent a photographer two or three piers down the river to photograph the ship as she went by. He [the photographer] took the picture…but when the negative was developed, much to his astonishment, he found that the boat was not all on the plate. In the finder of his camera, he had mistaken a heavy band of black paint for the stern of the ship, quite overlooking the real stern, which was painted a grayish white. The artist had fooled the photographer and at a distance of not more than 200 or 300 yards. 


Sunday, November 15, 2020

immense saw teeth and cubistic stripes that were not

Louis Biedermann (1918)
Above I was so pleased to find this. It is a very rare full size two-page illustration spread having to do with World War I ship camouflage. Drawn by a phenomenal (if largely unknown) illustrator named Louis Biedermann (1874-1957), it was published as a center spread in the Los Angeles Evening Express, on Sunday, August 18, 1918, perhaps in an entertainment section. This is not its original color (I've colorized it), since presumably it was printed by a four-color halftone process (more or less equivalent to CMYK). Of the very few copies that may still exist, the colors have most likely faded by now, and the newsprint on which it was printed has degraded.

In an online posting by Geographicus, an antique maps dealer in New York, the Illinois Daily Free Express (no date) is quoted as having said—

[Louis] Biedermann is panoramic. He is panoramic in his thinking. His mental as well as his optical perspective presents a complete and extended view of all directions. The breadth of his understanding is more panoramic, perhaps, than his art.

Too bad this illustration cannot be seen more clearly here. It is fantastic and highly detailed, so does not do well at a very small size. See magnified detail below.

In the bottom left corner of the illustration is an explanatory box that reads—

CAMOUFLAGED! How the Erstwhile Merchant Fleet Looks in Its War Paint.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When we practice to deceive

—especially when the web is woven of shuttling ships, and the destined victim of the deception is some U-boat skipper squinting through a hastily protruded periscope and vainly trying to get the range of a moving target from which most of the horizontal and vertical bearing points have been eliminated, while whorls, saw-teeth and triangles of black, white, gray, blue, green and pink blend dizzily into the shifting wave outlines of the seascape. We are well past the practice stage, though, and there are days when the results of ship camouflage turn New York Harbor, for instance, into a floating nightmare. For the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of other readers who never see the waterfront, Mr. Biedermann has indicated here the general effect of the “motley rout,” though purposely avoiding any approach to a portrait of any actual ship.


HOW NEW YORK HARBOR IS PROTECTED FROM U-BOATS: Every Agency of Naval War Seen: Painted Ships and Weird Effects on Every Hand, but the Business of Getting Men and Supplies “Over There” Goes on as Though There Were No New Menace at Hand, in St Louis Post Dispatch (St Louis MO), January 23, 1918 [from an article published earlier in the Springfield Republican (Springfield MA), no date]—

It was in the lower harbor, below the Liberty Statue, that New York began to show as a port on a war basis. Here were the camouflaged ships at anchor. There were hundreds of them, steamers, schooners, tankers, all ages, shape and sizes. Blue, black and white, all shades of gray, occasionally green, the stripes ran up and down their sides. There were wildly zig-zagging stripes, stripes that spread outward and upward from the center of the ship’s side like a fan, stripes that curved upward, terminating in a superstructure of the bridge in lines like those of the bow; horizontal stripes jagged on their upper edge with immense saw teeth; cubistic stripes that were not, strictly speaking, stripes at all, but like the patterns of a crazy quilt.

But camouflage does not show to best advantage on gray mornings. It does not dazzle at near view, and at the first sight of the ships, coming among them suddenly from around the end of Governor’s Island, the definiteness of outline was a mild shock to preconceived notions. Nevertheless, the purring of the airplane motor overhead was not plainly audible. To the right of the course, off Staten Island, lay a group of old warships at anchor, but with steam up, lookouts posted and guns trained. Far down the harbor, between the anchored shipping and the Narrows, a squadron of patrol boats, lean of bow, square of stern and built for speed, passed leisurely back and forth across the water, one of them dragging with it a captive balloon of the sausage type which perked along with peculiar and rather ridiculous motions, as though resenting each tug of the rope. On nearer view the lookouts on these smaller craft were also seen to be posted, and at their neat little three-inch stern guns, a group of husky sailors invariably “stood by.” Whatever camouflage might be worth at that short range, it was plain that other precautions were all being taken.

A Hole in the Ship
By the time these details of the protecting fleet were visible, the virtue of the camouflage was apparent also. First a ship with a broad blue-gray band zig-zagging up its center through the smokestack seemed suddenly, at a range of perhaps half a mile, to have developed a hole in its middle. One seemed to be looking through it at sky, and, to ocular appearances, except under the closest scrutiny, it ceased to be a ship at all, but some naval monstrosity split in two. At about the same distance another ship which lay with its bow pointed toward us, suddenly appeared to have turned about and to confront us with its stern. So marked was the illusion in this case that no among of scrutiny could separate the real from the illusion. This was the case, too, of another ship whose stern suddenly began to appear as a broadside.

The ship with the bow curve painted on the superstructure demonstrated a unique merit. Instead of one big ship. it gave the illusion of being two smaller ones, the bow of the first—the real one—seeming to be crossing the bow of the second—a fake one—at a narrow angle. Across even this slightly choppy water the saw-tooth design seemed to sink the ship in the wave motion until only the masts and the superstructure had anything like definite form. Only the fan-shaped camouflage and the distinctly cubist patterns retained at a mile, still a very fair torpedo range—anything like their actual outline, and it was easy to believe that with the fan it would be different when the spray was flying, that the crazy-quilt pattern would puzzle the eye of the keenest observer when the sea was a dazzle of bright sunlight and wave shadows. On the whole, right in the harbor, lying at anchor, these ships would form no perfect target at anything like a sportsman’s range.