Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook

SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012)

"To most people, the word 'camouflage' is synonymous with low visibility, mostly through background matching. But in World War I, when the primary threat to the Allies was the hugely successful torpedo attacks by German submarines (called U-boats), it was decided that low visibility was insufficient, and other approaches to ship camouflage were introduced.

Foremost among these was 'high difference' or 'disruptive' camouflage, a counter-intuitive method in which ships were painted in brightly-colored abstract shapes, which made them conspicuous but difficult to aim at. This is because the torpedo was slow, and the ship was a moving target. To fire a torpedo, the U-boat commander had to 'lead the target'; he had to aim not at the ship, but at the location the ship would reach by a given time. Accordingly, Allied camouflage artists made use of misleading shapes and vivid hues that made it difficult to determine the speed and direction of a distant ship.

This practice (which captured the imagination of the public) became known by various names, including 'dazzle camouflage,' 'baffle painting' and 'jazz painting.' This book is a collection of little-known writings about this and other approaches to ship camouflage during World War I.

Did dazzle camouflage actually work? It is often assumed that it did not because, if for no other reason, there is supposedly no scientific evidence from that era to prove it was effective. But among the documents in this book is confirmation that there were postwar 'laboratory experiments' at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that suggest that it almost certainly worked."