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.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

French Maritime Museum Exhibit | Installation Views

Views of dazzle exhibition in Brest, France (2018)
In an earlier post, we featured an Australian cruise boat that had been dazzle-painted by artist Katy Mutton. Launched in October 2016, it operated on Lake Burley Griffin (Canberra, Australia) for twelve months. Since then, Katy Mutton has moved on to other challenges. Most recently, as shown in the photos in her news update (above), she visited the Musée national de la Marine in Brest, France, to see the on-going exhibit about World War I ship camouflage.

Note in particular the photo at the bottom left, which shows an exquisite model of the port side of an eccentric camouflage scheme designed by Frank M. Watson, called the Watson-Norfolk System (c1917).

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tauba Auerbach | Dazzle Ship Camouflage in NYC

Above Publicity shots of an experimental dazzle camouflage scheme, newly designed by American artist Tauba Auerbach (2018), and applied to a decommissioned fireboat, the John J. Harvey. In an on-going World War I Centenary event sequence that began in 2014, this is the last of a series of ships to be dazzle-painted. The earlier ones have been British, and were unveiled at UK harbors. This is the first American ship, launched at a US location. Go here for additional photographs and detailed information.

Gerald Thayer Talks on Camouflage at Ithaca 1919

G.H. Thayer, Cottontail Rabbit (1909). Public domain.
Above Gerald H. Thayer, painting of a cottontail rabbit, first published as an illustration in his Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (NY: Macmillan, 1909). There are 16 full-color illustrations in the book, nearly all of which were collaborative paintings. In this example, Gerald painted the rabbit figure, while the background (as credited) was completed by Abbott H. Thayer and Emma B. Thayer.


CAMOUFLAGE ONLY NATURE IMITATION: Is Shown By Gerald Thayer in Lecture at Reorganization Meeting of Cayuga Bird Club in Ithaca Journal (Ithaca NY), Tuesday, March 18, 1919—

An unusual and enlightening lecture was given last night in Roberts Hall when Gerald H. Thayer, son of the famous artist, Abbott H. Thayer, spoke on “Camouflage in War and in Nature,” illustrating the talk with lantern slides showing birds and animals in their natural surroundings, in some cases so perfectly concealed that they could not be seen until pointed out, and concluding with illustrations of the use of camouflage in war. Not only did Mr. Thayer show what looked like trees, bushes and grasses and then prove that they were birds and animals, but he reversed the process, showing what looked like birds and animals, and proved to be only sections of trees, bushes, etc.

Mr. Thayer’s lecture was the first to be given this year under the auspices of the Cayuga Bird Club, and in introducing him, Louis A. Fuertes spoke of the success of the club in past years, of the wonderful opportunities for the study of birds offered in Ithaca and of the bird sanctuary with its recorded list of more than 200 different species of birds-and a wealth of flowers in the spring. He explained that the club is now entering upon a period of reorganization after the war, and asked all who were interested to renew their memberships.

“Abbott Thayer and his son GeraId have worked together on the wonderful problems of protective coloration,” said Mr. Fuertes “and the resuIt is the art of camouflage, which did not prove successful when presented to the military authorities of this country and of England, but which was eagerly taken up by the French and developed by them, stolen by the Germans, and given to their allies.”

“There are three principal kinds of camouflage in nature and in war,” said Mr. Thayer. “The first consists of hiding things, making them more or less disappear, and plays an important part in nature. The second type is [the] making of fake things, things which are made to look like something else.”

In ilIustration of this second type in war he spoke of the use of supposed stumps of trees, made out of iron and covered with bark, in which telephones and observers could be concealed, and which looked so exactly like the real thing that they were seldom noticed by the enemy. Another instance which he told as a true story of the war was that of the aviator who came back to headquarters and urged the captain in charge to train some guns on a cemetery just back of the enemy lines. When the captain objected to firing on a cemetery, he explained that when he flew over early that morning the “cemetery” was on the opposite side of certain field.

As a good iIlustration of this type of camouflage in nature he spoke of the walking stick, measuring worms and caterpillars which are made to look exactly like a twig.

“The third kind of camouflage can best be used with things that move around,” said Mr. Thayer “and has been developed during the past year, particularly on ships at sea, painting them in striking contrasts, making them harder to hit and sometimes making them look as if they were going in a different direction, an iIlusion which proved particularly deceptive when seen through the periscope of a submarine. He explained that the object in painting these vessels in stripes and blotches was not to conceal them, as so many supposed, but to make them look strange, so that they were hard to locate. In the early years of the war, he added, they did try to make vessels resemble clouds, sea horizon, etc., but were unsuccessful for nothing but the whitest white will disappear against the sky.

He spoke of the sinking of the Titanic when she struck an iceberg on a clear, starry night, and explained the catastrophe by the fact that the white iceberg must have been practicalIy invisible against the sky.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Camouflaged Bathing Suit | A Swimming Idea WWI


Have you seen it? What does it look like? Is it really invisible? How perfectly absurd!

But yet it’s a fact.

We’ve seen camouflaged ships and camouflaged tanks, and camouflage eats…but it took Leonore Bates at Atlantic City to develop the latest camouflage hit.

It is the camouflaged bathing suit. Hereafter when any of the beach policemen get after any girl who seems to have on not quite the regulation costume, they are more than half apt to be met with the reply:

“Why, of course, this is a ‘proper suit.’ Can’t you see, it’s camouflaged.”

It’s a great thing, the camouflage bathing suit, from many standpoints. In the first place, a person wearing one isn’t near so apt to be submarined by those German U-boats who have taken up their quarters on the coast.

Then again they are ideal for the naval spy, for he can sneak up right on top of a submarine and he can attach his depth bomb or anything else which he brought in his pocket with him without any fear of detection and it may be that through the medium of the camouflage bathing suit we may stop this sort of warfare. And how cheaply it can be done.

What do they look like?

The appearance of some of the milder designs is midway between a design cut from a crazy quilt and a futurist painting of the inferno.

Vivid reds, greens, blues and yellows, etc, mixed in a wavy medley of ghastly pale colors, in utter disregard to color harmony, etc., seems to be the general rule, but camouflage it is called, so why say more.


DULL DAYS ON SANDS in The Stars and Stripes (France), Friday, July 19, 1918, p. 1—

America, July 18—A lady police corps on the job at Coney Island gives stern moral instruction to lady bathers who think that man wants but little here below or above either.

They spend their time separating many warming embracing couples and altogether spoil the whole day for ardent sea bathers.

A lady camouflage corps has camouflaged the wooden battleship Recruit, in Union Square, New York City, in black, white, pink, green and blue.


CAMOUFLAGE BATHING SUIT IS LATEST STYLE in Boston Post, May 7, 1919, p. 17—

An art of war has survived to these times of peace. It is the art of camouflage which the summertime girl has made her own.  

Even the very bathing suit within which she promenades the sunny sands will not look quite what it is. Camouflaged bathing suits is to be the cry for 1919.

The hot wave brought a striking one to light. It is called the "Sunset" camouflage. This very new suit is black-figured on a white ground with an enormous red setting sun and rainbow colored rays in all directions. So this year the beach frequenters, already grown used to the unusual and the unexpected, may expect to see a hundred setting suns bobbing up and down at sea where once there was one.