Saturday, April 9, 2011

WWI Ship Camouflage Teams

Location of WWI Ship Camouflage Teams © Roy R. Behrens
When the US entered World War I, the design of all ship camouflage, including that of civilian commercial (merchant) vessels was taken over by the US Navy. The Navy's camouflage section, consisting of two subsections, was administrated by architect Harold Van Buskirk. Physicist Loyd A. Jones was put in charge of a science-based Research Subsection at Eastman Laboratories in Rochester NY, while artist Everett Longley Warner was in charge of a team of artists at a Design Subsection in Washington DC. In addition, ten groups of civilian camoufleurs were set up at various US ports, as shown by this map. Using lithographic painting plans that were prepared by Warner's team, it was the responsibility of these civilian artists to apply dazzle camouflage schemes to the actual ships. There is a post-war description of this in Everett L. Warner, "Fooling the Iron Fish" in Everybody's Magazine. Vol 41. November 1919, pp. 102-109—
[Early in the war] An arrangement was reached with the United States Shipping Board whereby all existing types of camouflage were to be discontinued. The Navy undertook to supply dazzle designs for all American vessels and the Shipping Board agreed to organize and maintain at the ports a force of camoufleurs whose duty it should be to supervise the application of these designs to the vessels.

The Navy worked so quietly and under such close censorship that few people were aware of the leading part that it was playing in the work. There exists even today a very widespread impression that the designs which the Shipping Board camoufleurs applied to the ships originated with them. This belief is entirely without foundation. All designs were supplied by the Navy, and while it is true that at several of the ports the camoufleurs built small testing theatres copied after ours and did a certain amount of experimental model painting, this was wholly for their own education or relaxation, and none of the dazzle designs so made was ever authorized for application to any ship.