Friday, December 28, 2018

Charles Pears | Dazzle Camouflage Magazine Cover

Magazine Cover (1918)
The Independent was a prominent, influential American magazine that began in New York in 1848 and continued publication until 1928. It was especially contributive to the struggle to end slavery and the fight for women's rights.

Reproduced above is the restored cover of an issue of the magazine dated October 12, 1918. The image on the cover is a detail of a painting of a dazzle-camouflaged ship by British artist and illustrator Charles Pears (1873-1958). Titled A Dazzled Merchantman, the original painting is now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Newly Discovered Photo | Women Paint USS Recruit

Having blog posted, exhibited and written about the dazzle-painting of the USS Recruit by a crew from the Women's Camouflage Corps in Union Square in New York (1918), we were recently delighted to find yet another news photograph of that process taking place. It's reproduced above, in a cropped, carefully restored version.


Update on January 9, 2019: Attached to the back of this photograph, dated 7/12/18, is the following title and caption from Underwood and Underwood—
WOMEN CAMOUFLAGE LAND BATTLESHIP "RECRUIT" IN UNION SQUARE Dressed in their neat-fitting khaki uniforms, these women camoufleurs of the Women's National Service League are disguising the land battleship Recruit in Union Square, New York. They trained in Van Cortlandt Park on smaller objects, like rock and stumps, but this was the first big stunt they tackled. Henry Reuterdahl, the famous marine artist, was present with suggestions. The next best thing that the government could do would be to conscript all our futurist designers, poster-impressionists [sic], and artists of the neo-neo school and send them to work camouflaging vessels.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Chicago Skyline Camouflage | Merchandise Mart

Camouflaged Merchandise Mart (c1943), Chicago
In its May 23, 1943 issue, The Milwaukee Sentinel included an illustrated article on the “Newest Tricks of Camouflage” (p. 41). Among the featured topics was the application of disruptive patterns to buildings in urban centers like Chicago, to make it more difficult for enemy aircraft to recognize conspicuous landmarks. The article included the above image, a “doctored” aerial photograph of that city’s Merchanise Mart (which had been at one time the world’s largest building) to show the effects of disruption.

The caption with the photograph reads—

The Merchandise Mart in Chicago as it would appear after camouflaging by the Army’s hocus pocus artists. Through a Nazi’s bombsight the single large object would seem a number of smaller innocuous ones—all by the ingenious use of paint.

In the accompanying article, the following paragraph also appears—

If and when Nazis fly over an American city, say Chicago, our camouflage artists are ready for them, along with our anti-aircraft crews. Every large building, such as the Merchanise Mart, will be so camouflaged that even with binoculars from on high the Nazis will see only a crazy quilt confusion that will give their bombardiers trouble in distinguishing steel and concrete from mere razzle-dazzle.

Experiments in building camouflage had been used earlier in World War I, as seen in the camouflage pattern applied to the Victoria Hospital in the UK (shown below). The WWII proposal to camouflage the Merchandise Mart may have originated with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (founder and head of the New Bauhaus in Chicago) and Hungarian designer György Kepes (who taught camouflage at the same school). In 1969, Moholy’s widow, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, recalled the following in her book, Moholy Nagy: Experiment in Totality (pp. 183-184)—

On December 19, 1942, Moholy was appointed to the Mayor’s personal staff in charge of camouflage activites in the Chicago area.…[in the course of which] he pondered how to conceal the vastness of Lake Michigan with a simulated shore line and floating islands…As head of the Camouflage Workshop, György Kepes produced a wider range of new techniques and concepts. When they were displayed for the first time in 1943, they aroused wide attention.

Camouflaged Victoria Hospital (c1918)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Painted Battlefield Helmets during World War One

Above Allied soldier during WWI with a disruptively-painted helmet.


Anon, IN ART CIRCLES, in Long Beach Independent (long Beach CA), March 27, 1949, p. 10—

[A retired oil-field worker turned artist, Carl R. Walline’s] interest in painting dates back to the first World War, when he drummed up a lively business on a returning troop ship painting camouflage on the helmets of soldiers at a dollar a helmet.

With this leftover camouflage paint he did his first landscape.


Anon, SOLDIERS HUNT WAR TROPHIES, Camouflaged Helmet the Favorite But Another German Souvenir Will Do, COMING HOME LOADED DOWN, in Elwood Call Leader (Elwood IN), December 30, 1918, p. 1—

With the American Troops, Dec. 26—Pretty nearly every doughboy at the front has become a boche souvenir hunter and has annexed a quantity of excess baggage that in some cases is appalling.

The first impulse of a German soldier who decided to retreat or to surrender seemed to be to get rid of his steel helmet, beautifully or weirdly camouflaged. In any column of prisoners to be seen on any road behind the American lines not over five in any 100 are still wearing their helmets. All have donned the soft slouch cap that so detracts from their soldierly appearance.

Every Fighter Loaded Down
The helmets were dropped, thrown away in haste, and all but cluttered up the battlefield. Nearly every American soldier who has been fighting at the front either has a German helmet by now or has sent one home. For under a new rule by general headquarters it is now possible to paste a home address on a German helmet, drop the headgear into the mail box and send it to mother, sister or sweetheart. Just how many have gone home, ostensibly as the personal booty of the sender, it would be hard to say.

Many of the helmets are interesting to say the least. Many boche soldiers have in their idle hours painted and camouflaged their headpieces until they have a weirdly odd appearance. The German helmets have vastly more surface space than the American, the British or the French. It has protection for the ears and neck in the shape of a rim or extension, so that quite a little picture can be drawn on it.

Disruptively-patterned German helmet


Most Popular Camouflage
The most popular camouflage is a series of two-inch stripes that meet at the top of the helmet and extend like the ribs of a fan outward and downward to the edges of the hat. In other cases the entire surface space is painted into squares of yellow, green and gray, or in all the colors of the rainbow. The composite effect is startling. These are the most coveted of all souvenir helmets, and the doughbory who has not the opportunity of finding one on the battlefield gladly gives a sack of tobacco for one.

Shoulder straps make another interesting and portable souvenir though they are also a distinct military value because they help to identify the units that have been opposed to the Americans. Yet there are enough for this purpose and to spare, and they are eagerly sought by the solider who does not care to be burdened with a heavy helmet in addition to his own.


Anon, ORIZABA BRINGS LEATHERNECKS IN, Giant Troopship Has On Board 11th Regiment of Devil Dogs, in The Daily Press (Newport News VA), August 7, 1919, p. 3—

The transport Orizaba landed at the naval base yesterday with one of the largest groups of soldiers she has ever carried, when she brought home the 11th regiment of Marines. More than 4,000 men were aboard the transport…

Nearly all the Marines had their helmets painted with all the colors of the rainbow. The men said that a camouflage artist aboard was responsible for the tortoise-shell effects given to the tin hats.…

USS Orizaba in dazzle camouflage scheme

Architect J. André Smith and WWI Camouflage

On-site colored drawing by J. André Smith (1918)
With luck, however belated, we have just discovered an on-going exhibition about J. André Smith and the Art of Camouflage. It is currently on view at the Maitland Art Center, a museum that Smith himself established (as the Research Studio) in 1937 in Maitland FL. Unfortunately, the exhibit will only continue through January 6, 2019. For more information, see this online information page. Above is a wonderful drawing Smith made of dazzle-camouflaged ships at the port of Saint-Nazaire in France, dated July 1918.

J. André Smith (left) and Walter Jack Duncan (c1918)

Earlier, we put up a post about J[ules] André Smith, an architect and printmaker who was a major contributor to US Army camouflage in World War I, until he was reassigned as an American war artist. He has a biographical article on Wikipedia, but the photograph accompanying it is a portrait of fellow war artist Walter Jack Duncan. There is also an article about Duncan on Wikipedia, but a portrait of Smith is mistakenly shown. The corrected heads are shown above, while posted below is a print by Duncan titled "Newly Arrived Troops Debarking at Brest," dated July 22, 1918. It also shows a camouflaged ship. Public domain images courtesy NARA.

Print by Walter Jack Duncan (1918)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Phillip Little | Boston Common Camouflage

Philip Little (1918), Camouflaged Liberty Loan Building, Boston Common
In earlier posts, we reported on the World War I camouflage experiments of Salem artist Philip Little, including a colorful dazzle pattern applied to the Liberty Loan Headquarters building on the Boston Common in 1918. He called it "reverse camouflage" because its primary function was neither confusion nor concealment, but rather to drum up publicity for a series of fund-raising meetings for the Liberty Loan campaign. We've published news articles and black and white photographs of Little's building design here and here, but we've now just found a clearer one, as shown above.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Anne Lemanski Animal Posters Now Available Online

Online Selection of Posters
In recent weeks, we've been posting on this blog a selection of posters designed this semester by graphic design students at the University of Northern Iowa. This is the last post in that series. Instead, we've now designed a website (see screen grab above) which showcases about forty of the final posters, amounting to about a half of all the posters the students designed. Twenty-five of the actual printed posters will continue to be on exhibit through December 31, 2018, at the interpretive building at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. Coincident with my retirement after 46 years of university teaching, it was a pleasurable way to go out. More>>>

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hartman Poster Exhibit about Anne Lemanski's Art

Poster by Sabrina Wiebold (2018)

Here are a few more examples of various posters that were made by graphic design students at the University of Northern Iowa. They celebrate the animal-themed artwork of Anne Lemanski, an artist from North Carolina.
Poster by Amelia Duax (2018)

Twenty-five of the posters are currently on exhibit at the interpretive center at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA, where they'll remain up until the end of December.
Poster by Aimee Luksan (2018)
Poster by Hayden Klemme (2018)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dazzle Camouflage | Chicanery & Conspicuousness

essay by Roy R. Behrens
This essay on the "social repercussions of World War I ship camouflage," originally published about a year ago, has now been expanded and slightly reworded, with illustrations added. The full article can be accessed online here.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hartman Poster Exhibit about Anne Lemanski's Art

Animal Poster Exhibit (2018)
Very soon I will retire from university teaching. My final semester is nearly over, about four more weeks to go. It's been a pleasurable opportunity for me, as well as for my students, to design a series of posters having to do with the animal sculptures of a North Carolina-based artist named Anne Lemanski. We've blogged about her once before. At her website, you can see lots of examples of her current work. She also makes wonderfully colorful collages based on natural images.

Animal Poster Exhibit (2018)

The students designed about 90 posters. There isn't space to exhibit them all. At the moment, 25 are on display at the interpretive center at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA, where they'll remain up until the end of December.

On this blogpost are several installation views, showing some (not all) of the posters. Another fifteen are also on exhibit on the second floor of the north wing of the Kamerick Art Building on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. I'm hoping to post those and others on this blog in the coming weeks.

Animal Poster Exhibit (2018)

Poster by Wren Kress (2018)
Poster by Emily Schroeder (2018)

Making Dazzle Ships at the Tishman Auditorium

Public talk on ship camouflage (2018)
Above A guest presentation I gave on Thursday evening (November 15) at the Tishman Auditorium at The New School in New York City. The event, titled Making Dazzle Ships: Art, History and Design from WWI to Today, was focused on WWI dazzle ship camouflage in relation to that war's centenary (1914-1919). Of particular note has been the recent dazzle-painting of an historic fireboat, the John J. Harvey, which can be seen in New York harbor through May 1919.

Following my historical overview was a panel discussion, with insightful observations about that project (called Flow Separation) by Tauba Auerbach (the artist), Emma Enderby (project curator), and Jesse Hamerman (exhibitions director for The Public Art Fund), shown below in front of a detail of the vessel's dazzle design. It was a fascinating discussion, with new behind-the-scenes information about the challenges of designing the pattern, and the process of actually painting the ship. It was a great pleasure to be included.

It was also so gratifying to look out into the audience, and to see in attendance one of my favorite former graphic design students (at the University of Northern Iowa), NYC designer Amanda Chan. Less encouraging was the weather outside, a sloppy mix of snow and rain.

For more information about the historic context of WWI ship camouflage, here are links to two recently published online booklets here and here, as well as a wonderfully edited radio interview on 99% Invisible.

Panel discussion on ship painting project

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

An Evening of Dazzling Talks About Ship Camouflage

I am greatly looking forward to a talk I will be giving (about World War I ship camouflage) tomorrow evening (November 15) at 6:30 pm at the Tishman Auditorium at the New School in NYC. This is in connection with the recently commissioned "dazzle-painting" of a current ship by American artist Tauba Auerbach, as part of a means of recalling the centenary of WWI and the cooperative efforts of the UK and the US. The artist will be speaking, as will Daniel Palmer, Emma Enderby and Jesse Hamerman.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Lemanski Animal Posters | Julia Sippola 2018

Poster by Julia Sippola 2018
The animal sculptures featured in these three posters are the work of a North Carolina-based artist named Anne Lemanski. We've blogged about her once before. At her website, you can see lots of examples of her current work. She also makes wonderfully colorful collages based on natural images.

Poster by Julia Sippola 2018

The three posters were designed by Julia Sippola, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa (she is actually from Finland and is studying at our school as a visitor). She designed these in response to a problem in which 30 students (this was their first course in graphic design) designed a series of three posters about Lemanski's animals. Of the resulting 90 posters, 25 of them (including all three of Julia's) are being exhibited at the interpretive building of the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. The exhibit (curated by Roy Behrens) begins officially on Monday, November 5 and continues through December 31, 2018. It is free and open to the public. We will be sharing more of these on this blog in the days and weeks ahead.

Poster by Julia Sippola 2018

By fortunate coincidence, this poster exhibition will open in the same week (November 7-9) as the annual gathering of the Iowa Association of Naturalists, which means that these works will be viewed by a substantial number of wildlife and conservation advocates. The schedule of events and registration materials are available online.

Artworks shown are copyright © the artist, and the posters are copyright © by their designer. Our thanks to Katie Shelton and Anne Lemanski for enabling this project to happen. It has been entirely enjoyable.

Lemanski Animal Posters | Hartman Nature Center

Poster by Erica Scherer (2018)
The delightful bird sculpture in this poster is the work of a North Carolina-based artist named Anne Lemanski. We've blogged about her once before. At her website, you can see lots of examples of her current work. She also makes wonderfully colorful collages based on natural images.

The poster itself was designed by Erica Scherer, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa. She designed it as part of a problem in which each of 30 students (this was their first course in graphic design) designed three different posters about Lemanski's animals. Of the resulting 90 posters, 25 of them are being exhibited at the interpretive building of the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. The exhibit (curated by Roy Behrens) begins officially on Monday, November 5 and continues through December 31, 2018. It is free and open to the public.

Below is a second poster, designed by Kailie Hesner, that resulted from the same class project. We will be sharing more of these in the days and weeks ahead.

Poster by Kailie Hesner (2018)

By fortunate coincidence, the exhibition will open in the same week (November 7-9) as the annual gathering of the Iowa Association of Naturalists, which means that these works will be viewed by a substantial number of wildlife and conservation advocates. The schedule of events and registration materials are available online.

Artworks shown are copyright © the artist, and the posters are copyright © by their designers. Our thanks to Katie Shelton and Anne Lemanski for enabling this project to happen. It has been enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Assembly | The Work of Dazzle Camouflage

Above Details of the windows at the entrance of the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls IA. Translated into large-scale vinyl are schematic dazzle camouflage plans for the two sides of a World War I American merchant ship (c1918).

It's a street-side advertisement for the center's current exhibition, titled ASSEMBLY: The Work of Dazzle Camouflage, on view from October 5 through November 25, 2018. So-called dazzle camouflage was widely used during WWI in an effort to throw off the calculations of German submarines (called U-boats) in their efforts to torpedo ships. The process is described in detail here and here, as well as on this multi-page website.

Using historic photographs, dazzle ship plans, and other artifacts from the collection of author and graphic designer Roy R. Behrens (UNI professor of art and distinguished scholar), the exhibition provides a look behind the scenes at the diversity of the people who enabled this odd approach to succeed. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Below During WWI, the Navy Reserve officer who oversaw the ship camouflage work of a team of artists, designers and architects in Washington DC was Everett L. Warner, an American Impressionist painter who was originally from Vinton IA.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Disruption Vs. Dazzle | Prevalent Misunderstandings

Above This essay has just been published privately as a full-color booklet. It discusses misunderstandings about the way in which World War I ship camouflage was intended to function. It also makes a distinction between figure disruption (as proposed in 1914 by Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr, who called it "parti-coloring") and dazzle-painting (as proposed in 1917 by British artist Norman Wilkinson). more>>>

Sunday, September 16, 2018

UK Art Historian James Fox on WWI Ship Camouflage

Above Posted only days ago, as part of a series of excellent videos called HENI TALKS: Stories of Art from the world's leading experts, is this on-site overview of dazzle camouflage, as applied to British and American ships during WWI. Titled DAZZLED! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI, it was written and narrated by Cambridge art historian and acclaimed broadcaster Dr. James Fox. Few talks on the subject are as clearly or richly presented.


It was the middle of the First World War, and the Germans were engaged in a highly destructive campaign against the British Navy. By the spring of 1917, German submarines were successfully sinking as many as eight British ships a day, crippling Britain’s defenses. A solution was urgently needed.

A dazzling suggestion came from an unlikely source: artist Norman Wilkinson, renowned for his marine paintings and illustrations. His idea was to paint Britain’s naval fleet with bright, disorientating shapes, so that the enemy would be unable to calculate the type, size, scale, speed, direction and distance of the ship in their sights. The authorities were so convinced by Wilkinson’s idea, they ‘dazzled’ 2,300 ships through the course of WW1. More>>>

OMD record jacket

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Camouflage | The Seafaring Circus of Admiral Sims

Sims' Circus
On April 16, 1918, an American artist named Childe Hassam was walking in Riverside Park in New York, when he saw a strangely painted transport ship, anchored in the Hudson River. We no longer know the name of the ship, nor do we know its color. The only surviving image is Hassam's black ink lithographic print that confirms that it was painted in a wartime camouflage scheme called dazzle painting.

An American Impressionist painter and a member of a group of artists called The Ten, Hassam had long been interested in natural camouflage, including the puzzling disruptions produced when streaks of light and shadow fall across an animal's form. On that particular afternoon, he could not resist the temptation to make an on-site sketch of this nautical curiosity.

But before he could finish the drawing he was interrupted by a New York policeman and taken into custody…>>more

Sunday, August 5, 2018

New York Times Article on WWI Dazzle Camouflage

NYC ship camouflage by Tauba Auerbach (2018)
We were quoted in The New York Times this morning in an interesting article by James Barron on the last of a series of ships that have been repainted in "dazzle camouflage" designs. The project, which began in 2014 and ends this year, was initiated by the British. This is the first American ship to be painted, as a reminder of the collaborative wartime camouflage work of the UK and the US during the Great War.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Dazzle-Painted USS Western Sea | A Bridge of Ships

USS Western Sea in camouflage (1918)
Above Government photograph of the USS Western Sea, wearing a dazzle camouflage plan, on May 25, 1918. Original source NH 65037.

WESTERN SEA IS LAUNCHED in Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) Mary 27, 1918, p. 10—

Seattle, May 27—Another ship in the "bridge of ships"* which the United States is going to throw across the Atlantic came out of the J.F. Duthie & Co. yards [in Seattle] late Saturday, when the 8800-ton steel steamship Western Sea was launched. The keel of the Western Sea was laid January 8. She is the eighth ship launched from the Duthie yards. The ship has the distinction of being the first to be launched on the [Pacific] coast painted in camouflage style.

* During World War I, the phrase "bridge of ships" referred to the US use of passenger liners, ships loaned by the British, and seized German ships to transport men and cargo to Europe.

Friday, July 6, 2018

UK Camoufleur Norman Wilkinson Visits as Advisor

Reginald Higgins (1919), The Dazzler
Above For the February 1919 issue of The Bystander magazine, Reginald Higgins created this satirical portrait of UK artist and ship camoufleur Norman Wilkinson, with the heading "The Dazzler." The text beneath the caricature reads: LIEUT-COMDR N. WILKINSON, RNVR, AT WORK IN HIS STUDIO: The success achieved by this gallant officer in beating the U-boats was entirely due to the copious experiments carried out regardless of personal comfort to his own studio furniture. The extreme secrecy of the work, moreover, proved an incessant strain. As reproduced in James Taylor, Dazzle: Disugise and Disruption in War and Art (Oxford: Pool of London Press, 2016).


BRITAIN’S MASTER CAMOUFLEUR SAILS: Lieutenant-Commander Wilkinson Is Originator Of “Dazzle System” For Protecting Ships: CAME HERE TO CONFER WITH U.S. CAMOUFLEURS: Applied System To Liner Leviathan, Then Took Honeymoon Trip On The Vessel in The Evening Sun (New York), Tuesday, April 30, 1918, p. 9—

New York, April 30—It is not often that a foreign officer slips into and out of the United States on an important errand without the public hearing anything about it. But that is just what Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, of the British Navy, has done. He sailed the other day for England, after several weeks in this country on a mission that vitally concerns the safety of the great merchant fleet that is now in construction in United States shipyards, as well as the vessels, naval and commercial, that are already carrying American men and stores through the U-boat zone to Europe.

Commander Wilkinson may be called the originator of the “dazzle system” of ship camouflage, for the protection of vessels against submarines. The British Government lent him to this country for a few weeks in order that he could meet the members of the recently organized Camouflage Bureau in our Navy Department, given them his ideas, and pick up any suggestions for his own benefit that he might get as a result of seeing the work and talking with the men who have been developing camouflage in this country.

Seeks To Confuse Submarines

Right here it may be interpolated that the “dazzle system” of camouflage does not aim primarily at making a ship invisible. Considering the many kinds of weather and the varying backgrounds that vessel has to encounter, Commander Wilkinson has come to the conclusion that the “invisible ship” is an impossibility. His system seeks by the application of large contrasting masses of light and dark paint to confuse the submarine in regard to the oultine and the direction of the ship chosen as a target, and so make it likely that the torpedo will go astray.

USS Leviathan (1918)

Commander Wilkinson has at least the courage of his convictions in regard to camouflage. Just previous to his trip to America he was asked to apply his system to the world’s largest steamship, the [USS] Leviathan—which used to be the German liner Vaterland—when she reached Europe at the termination of her first transatlantic trip under the American flag. Another thing that Commander Wilkinson did just previous to his trip to America was to get married. Equally satisfied, apparently, both with his wife and his newly decorated German ship, he engaged passage upon it for his bride and himself, and combined a honeymoon trip to America with the trial run of the big liner under his own camouflage design.

Was Artist Before War

Commander Wilkinson  is an artist who had attained distinction by his painting—particularly his marine scenes—before the war. At the outbreak of the conflict he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and was first assigned to minesweeping in the North Sea. When the Dardanelles expedition was dispatched he was sent along, and remained until the forces were recalled from Gallipoli.

In the meantime he had conceived his idea of ship camouflage, and upon his return to London he asked the Admiralty to let him experiment with a transport. He was personally so persuaded of the success of this that without waiting to note the experience of the vessel he begged for more work. The plea was granted, and he soon had designed the patterns for and supervised the painting of some 50 transports.

Then Commander Wilkinson turned his attention to the merchant marine, particularly to the mail ships which travel without convoy and rely chiefly on their speed and armament to protect them from the submarine. Before coming to America Commander Wilkinson was credited with having designed the camouflage for some 800 merchant vessels, including nearly all the British liners that run to and from New York.

Norman Wilkinson (1917)

…While Commander Wilkinson was here an effort was made through one of the officer’s friends to get him to talk for publication. Commander Wilkinson threw up his hands in alarm.

“The last thing they said to me at the Admiralty before I came away,” he responded, “was, ‘Now for Heaven’s sake, don’t go and get yourself interviewed.’”

These lines were written to certify to the Admiralty—with regret—that Lieutenant Commander Norman Wilkinson, RNVR, traveling in America on his Majesty’s service, carried out the orders of his superiors and did not go and get himself interviewed. They are also intended to suggest that if the ships that Commander Wilkinson decorates slip into and out of the submarine zone as noiselessly and as secretly as he slipped in and out of the United States, then he should be awarded, if not the VC, at least the companion order of MC—Master Camoufleur. 


EYE-WASH FOR U-BOATS: DAZZLE-PAINTING AND ITS HISTORY in Wanganui Chronicle (New Zealand), Friday, February 28, 1919, p. 5—

When Coleridge, in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” wrote of “a painted ship upon an painted ocean,” he had no prescience of the day when the dazzle-painted ships of an English artist mariner would leave Prussian submarines “all at sea.”

In an underground studio at Burlington House the inventor of paint-disguise for the vessels of the Allies, Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson RNVR, got to work in May 1917 on the designs which discomfited [German Grand Admiral] Tirpitz and the Hun pirates.

When I asked him how he had hit on the primary idea of successful camouflage for sea craft, he said: “It just came. I was sitting in a railway carriage deploring the fact that the black of our transports was an ideal color for the guidance of enemy submarines when the idea of a protective color scheme came into my head.”

Not Invisible

The developments of that idea have been extraordinary and multitudinous. Contrary to general belief, dazzle-painting is not an attempt to make vessels invisible. It is a sheer impossibility to do so. No matter how light in color the paint so used, there would always be parts of a vessel in deep shadow which would give her position away in almost every condition. The opposite effects would hold also.

Invisibility being ruled out by the laws of optics at sea, the scheme of Commander Wilkinson was to devise such paint patterns for the protection of ships as to break up their accepted lines and forms and render the estimation of their course and speed confusing to the men looking through Hun periscopes.

Norman Wilkinson (1917)

After infinite experimenting, marine camouflage became an exact science. Concealment of bow lines and sterns by strips of paint that presented false outlines was one of the first things aimed at, but the scheme of distortion extended to the whole vessel. At first many colors were used, and all kinds of curves and kinks employed in the patterns.

In the final evolution of [British] dazzle-painting four salient colors have been adopted—blue-gray, strong blue, black, and a pale gray which stands for white. Lines took the place of curves. The effects of slanted lines in dazzle-paints leave the brain jangled.

"Battered" Warship

The Admiralty, finding that camouflage saved ships from Hun torpedoes, countenanced its use on fifty merchant ships, and then on the whole of the mercantile marine. It was used on fighting ships also. When Admiral [Reginald] Tyrwhitt’s flagship came into Harfleur [Normandy] under “dazzle” onlookers thought that she had been badly battered in action and was sinking by the head.

The French followed England’s example. They tried a number of systems, but reverted to the Wilkinson method.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

WWI Camouflage Illustrations by Algernon Black 1918

Algernon Black (1918)
At this point, we have no information about a WWI-era British illustrator named Algernon Black. But several days ago, we ran across a two-part magazine article by Raymond Raife titled Camouflage and Q-Boats: Telling the Splendid Story of the VC's of our Mystery-Ships. Published in the annual compilation of a London-based periodical called The Boy's Own Paper (Vol 41, 1918-1919), the lengthy article is accompanied by about ten drawings pertaining to camouflage, signed by Black. We've reproduced a few of them above and below on this blog post.