Friday, February 8, 2019

Ship Camouflage and Nature Talk / Hartman Reserve

Above Title slide for a richly illustrated talk that will take place this weekend at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. The 50-minute talk begins at 2:00 pm, Sunday, February 10, 2019* and is free and open to the public at the center's Interpretive Building. It focuses on the connection between turn-of-the-century studies of animal camouflage (called protective coloration then) and the development of military camouflage by artists during World War I.

*PLEASE NOTE This event has been postponed because of winter weather. It has been rescheduled for 2:00 pm, Sunday, April 14, 2019. Perfect timing in view of its Easter-themed title.


NEWS OF THE SCHOOLS: Navy Camoufleur at Manual. Brooklyn Daily Eagle. May 6, 1919, p. 14—

Alon Bement, a camoufleur, first class, of the United States Shipping Board, and formerly a teacher at the Teachers’ College, Columbia University, was the speaker at the Senior Assembly of the Manual Training High School yesterday. At the beginning of the war Mr. Bement, who had considerable reputation as an artist, was called to act as a naval camoufleur. He was sent to Washington where he worked out designs for camouflaging ships, using small models for the purpose. If the designers were found to be feasible, they were reproduced on a linen sheet, taken to a shipyard and painted on a ship.

Mr. Bement went into detail to show how portions of the ship were marked out for certain colors by means of a hand mirror when the sun was shining. The camoufleur would stand on the edge of the drydock and reflect the light along the lines which were intended to mark the borders of the various colors. In this way the apportioning off of the ship was readily accomplished.

Mr. Bement told of other schemes which were attempted to combat the submarine menace such as the construction of an outer hull to prematurely explode the torpedo. This means was hastily abandoned because such a hull would slow down the ship to such an extent that it would fall an easy prey to the U-boats.

He also explained why only the transports, freighters and destroyers wore camouflage and not battleships. The big fighters were not daily subject to submarine attack so that it was unnecessary to give them their “make-up” and since it costs $3,000 to paint a battleship, attention was confined to the first mentioned ships.

Mr. Bement told of how in a captured German U-boat, the British found fifty-eight pages of a leaflet in the commander’s cabin, telling what methods the Prussians were taking to combat the camouflage of Allied ships. With this find, the Allied camoufleurs were able to take new steps to offset the year’s calculations of the Germans.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Two New UK Dazzle Camouflage Exhibitions

Norman Wilkinson ship camouflage schematic (1917)
Above One of about ninety dazzle camouflage schemes designed by British artist Norman Wilkinson in 1917, and given to the US (which had just entered the war) for use on its own merchant ships. It appears that these were never used, but have been in storage since that war. Only recently have they been posted online at the NARA website. However, the online versions are not always in very good shape. We have digitally restored this one—it has been cleaned, its exposure and color adjusted, and water stains removed. The original digital version remains for verification of course, as does the paper artifact.


Thanks to British marine camouflage scholar James Taylor, we have learned about two current dazzle ship camouflage exhibitions at museums in the UK. They are listed with online links below.

DAZZLE: Continuing the Art of Disruption is currently on exhibit at the Southampton City Art Gallery. It opened on October 19, 2018 and continues through March 9, 2019.

A second exhibition will be available very soon. Titled DAZZLE & THE ART OF DEFENCE, it will open on February 18 and continue through April 25, 2019 at the Arts University Bournemouth.

Dazzle Camouflage Online Article on

Above Screen grab of the title for a recently-posted online article on WWI ship camouflage by Patrick J. Kiger for History Stories on more>>>


Paul V. Siggers, quoted in TELLS OF ENGINEER LIFE, P.V. Siggers, with 25th Abroad, Writes to His Father Here, PICTURES DAYS IN FRANCE, Queerly Camouflaged Convoy Boats…in Washington Post, February 7, 1918—

When we reached the war zone our convoy was increased by a number of camouflaged American torpedo boat destroyers. Camouflage on a boat means painting that vessel with variegated colors, as buff, blue, brown, black, green or white so as to make its appearance deceptive in every possible way. One destroyer was striped like a zebra. Another looked as though a cubist had been employed to paint it.

I can best describe the application of paint geometrically in rectangles, rhombohedrons, &c. It is something that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. These camouflaged destroyers were all doing service in the war zone. Back in home water our destroyers as well as warships are painted gray.


ANON, Blackwood’s Magazine Vol 205-208—

[Describing a small unidentified island] It consists of a rounded lump of hills, with three or four central conical peaks, seven hundred feet high. The lower parts, all completely barren, are striped, and patched, and barred with a geological “dazzle-painting” in ochre and red, brown, purple, and buff, with the surmounting cones, in strong contrast, are pure white.