Monday, January 7, 2019

The Process of Applying Ship Camouflage | 1918

USS Calala (1918)
Above Dazzle camouflage scheme as applied to the USS Calala (1918). In the photographs below that show the process of painting a ship, it is not the Calala but a transport steamer named the USS City of Atlanta.


Marguerite E. Harrison, THE RECORD OF THE FIRST DAY’S WORK IN THE SHIPYARD: Clad in Overalls, The Appearance of Sun Reporter at Sparrows Point an Event—Enrolled and Examined, She Tells the Story of Her First Day as a Shipbuilder. The Baltimore Sun, May 9, 1918 (p. 16) and May 10 (p. 4) [this is one of best eyewitness accounts of the process of applying dazzle camouflage to a ship in harbor]—

Camouflaging a Tanker
Mr. Champagne, the manager, assigned me to camouflage work that afternoon, as a large oil tanker was being camouflaged. First of all I was to help the camoufleur, an artist in the employ of the Shipping Board. When I arrived on the dock a goodly crowd was already assembled to watch the camoufleur, and when I joined him it increased in numbers. We were certainly a comic pair. Every time I stopped to think about us I chuckled. The artist, Dalton Murphy, of Boston [more likely, Hermann Dudley Murphy (1867-1945), painter and frame designer who served as an “inspector of camouflage for the US Shipping Board”], was exceedingly tall and thin. He had grizzled red-gray hair, gold-rimmed eyeglasses, and a long and painfully sunburned nose. He was dressed in gray tweeds, with a gray sweater pulled up around his throat, and slung over his shoulder he had a shiny new tan-leather document case, worn like a knapsack. In his hand was a bamboo fishing pole at least 24 feet long, and at the very end, fastened at right angles, was a dinky little paint brush dripping white paint. With this brush he was making fantastic and apparently aimless dabs at the hull. They were not aimless, however, for he was a skilled draughtsman, and he was laying it off for painting. He had already finished the masts and the deckhouses. I followed him in my overalls, carrying a sketch of the ship, drawn to scale and colored exactly as the ship was to be painted—in black, white, gray and blue.

It was the new dazzle system, invented by Norman Wilkinson, the British artist, who has just been in this country, and who so successfully camouflaged the Leviathan, our biggest transport, formerly the Hamburg-American Liner Deutschland [sic, Vaterland]. It consists of angles and curves designed to break up the perspective and make a perfectly new ship look like the veriest old derelict, or disappear altogether.

Labeling paint color areas

Found—A Use for a Cubist!
Mr. Murphy told me that he had already camouflaged three ships, and that he was one of 15 or 20 artists employed by the Shipping Board for this purpose.

“I was one of the first to offer my services to the Government,” he said, “and it took nine months to convince the Shipping Board of the practicability of the scheme. It is a wonderful way for us older fellows to help, and besides,” he added laughing, “it’s the only use that has ever been found for a cubist painter.” As he spoke he dabbed away at the sides of the ship, consulting the plan I held, and placing little dots here and there. Then he connected the dots with lines, and there was the outline of an irregular shape on the hull. Inside he marked “BG” for blue-gray and went on to the next figure.

After helping the artist for some time I was turned over to J.R. Esley, foreman of the paint shop. He took me through the beautifully neat shops where the paints are stored and mixed. There wasn’t a brush out of place, and not a drop of paint spilled on the floor. Then he went out to the ship.

“I’m sure you can paint,” he said. “I never saw a woman who couldn’t. My wife is a great painter, and once when she wanted to paint the vestibule and didn’t have a brush handy she made a great job with my shaving brush. The only thing is,” he continued, “You’ll have to climb a ladder.”

“That’s nothing,” I said promptly, but I thought differently when I saw the ladder.

Applying the colors

Worse Yet Coming Down
It rose almost straight up into the air—about 60 feet it looked to me—and at the top there was a most perilous feat to be performed. You had to climb over the railing. It was bad enough going up, but it didn’t take any nerve at all compared to coming down. However, I was most casual about it, and the foreman never knew. As for the men, they just gasped. Once on board the ship, I was given a big can of nice, smooth blue paint and I set to work to put weird shapes on the deckhouse and to obliterate the angles of hatch covers.

While I was working a man came up to me and watched me for a while. Finally he said:

“You certainly have got a nerve.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m blessed if I’d dress up like a girl and go where there were 7,000 girls working. I couldn’t stand the kiddin’!”

I laughed. “You’ve let me down so easy here,” I said, “that I haven’t minded at all.”

“You women gonna take our places?” he demanded.

“Not until we are needed, and then I think you’ll agree with me that we can.”

A finished painted wall

Crime to Stop Too Soon

The camouflage work was very interesting. I worked hard all afternoon, and only stopped when the whistle blew. One day I made the mistake of stopping a few minutes beforehand, and a man with a stern gleam in his eye walked up to me.

“Did the foreman give you leave to quit?” he asked severely.

“No,” said I, quaking inwardly.

“Docked an hour,” he said briefly. “Don’t do it again.”

The waster of time by stopping work before time is up is productive of much loss to the plant, and the company has a number of Sherlock Holmeses to watch for this very thing. Smoking is another practice that is taboo and it is very hard to stop. Many a time I came upon a fellow in a secluded spot enjoying the forbidden pipe or cigarette.

I always found the trip up on the train an unfailing source of information and amusement. On Tuesday I sat with a skilled mechanic who had worked for four years with the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit. He was a bachelor, he told me; he liked the work and wages, but housing facilities around Baltimore were “rotten.”

Gouging vs. Germans
“I’m perfectly willing to pay a good price, as high as $5 a week, for a room,” he said, “but I must have decent comforts. They just gouge you here, and the company does nothing to prevent it. I advertised and went to a number of places before I found a comfortable room. Then there were two German women in the house, and they talked so bad there’d a been murder if I stayed there, so I moved on.”

“Where I am now,” he continued, “there’s no privacy. The other day I come home and found three children sitting on the floor playing with my suspenders. That didn’t suit me. I’m a single man.”

He also told me that unless he could find better accommodations he would have to go to another city, and he said that many other respectable workmen had had the same difficulty. In the evening at home I took stock of damages. Besides two aching knees and a dab of blue paint in one eye I was pretty well off. I felt I was getting into my stride. I had gotten a glimpse at two of the important phases of shipyard work, and I had had a close range view of the new science of camouflage.…