Monday, October 26, 2020

a sea-serpent with red and yellow camouflage stripes

SEEING SEA-SERPENTS in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Oahu, Hawaii) June 29, 1928—

Not one hawk-eyed person has seen a sea-serpent off the shore of any Hawaiian island for so long that we've forgotten just when the last time was whereas they're seeing them daily up and down the Atlantic coast.

Such a situation has no reason for being. As one of the most important pleasure resorts on earth, and growing more so, we can't afford to neglect the thrill of real old-fashioned sea-serpents.

In Florida, for instance, there are many persons who can see ocean monsters practically at will, and recently passengers on the liner Laconia, docking at Boston, declared they had glimpsed one with green eyes and a coarse, flowing mane.
To be sure, there was a fellow at Waikiki the other day who reported seeing a giraffe marked with red and yellow zig-zag camouflage stripes against a base color of bright green, wearing a little gold bell tied with a pink ribbon about its neck, but there were reasons in this case for doubting the substance of the vision, while reporters describing the spectacle of the Laconia passengers averred earnestly that all of them were apparently sober.

We can't afford to have the ancient custom of seeing sea-serpents done away with here, especially if visitors to Atlantic resorts persist in keeping it up.

Our sea-serpents are every bit as good as those on the east coast, if we will only buckle down to the job of seeing them.

Bud Fisher, Mutt and Jeff (October 14, 1953)


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pennsylvania: garages go ga-ga in camouflage here

Nearly ten years ago, in a blog post titled Who Invented Dazzle Camouflage?, we noted a few of the people who, during and after World War I, claimed to have been the first to propose disruptive or “high difference” camouflage, commonly referred to now as dazzle painting.

Ten years later, we continue to find competing claims. Quoted below, for example, is an excerpt from a 1939 article in a Lancaster PA newspaper, which reported that WWI disruptive camouflage was inspired by an interview (which we have yet to find) in 1916 with Howard Thurston, a famous American magician.

CAMOUFLAGE, ‘SHIP SAVER’ TESTED HERE: Garages Went Ga-Ga in Zebra Stripes Here Long Before the Dazzle Department Started Using Same Technique on Ships in Lancaster Sunday News (Lancaster PA), October 15, 1939, p. 13—

…Lancaster remembers the [First] World War years when local inventors were tinkering with odd gadgets and everybody with an old paint brush was experimenting with the technique of camouflage.

Corn cribs and outhouses and garages for miles around were streaked and blobbed with swearing color while warring nations were still pooh-poohing “dazzle-paint,” and just learning the rudiments of camouflage in brown-painted and branch-decked gun emplacements.

Lancaster had used up gallons of vari-colored paint before a single warship was docked for a camouflage job.

It all started in 1916 when Howard Thurston, the great magician, gave an interview while in Lancaster saying he thought the “illusion” of the magician could well be used in protecting ships at sea from submarines.

Lancaster liked the idea so much that every amateur magician with a couple of cans of paint and a little imagination immediately went to work hiding his tool shed from the neighbors with outlandish stripes.

Curiously enough, the idea wasn’t put to use until submarine warfare hit its peak in the middle of 1917. The seemingly meaningless experiments in Lancaster were suddenly formulated into real scentific formulas which successsfully deceived U-boat commanders about the size and course and speed of ships.

It didn’t seem reasonable that bright stripes would be less conspicuous than an even dull gray. In fact, they aren’t. But they do distort the appearance of a vessel so that its ordinary outlines are as completely hidden as a length of spaghetti in a can of fish worms.

When it finally did get going, however, England and then the United States set up “Dazzle Departments,” and by the end of the war some 4,000 merchant vessels and 400 warships were sporting stripes.

But futuristic barn-door art wasn’t the only contribution Lancaster made in the direction of life-saving in wartime.…

Many wartime ideas that actually worked out—camouflage, for one colorful example—looked at first like the sketches on the wall of the booby hatch. But history agrees that there’s never been an invention that’s crazier than war itself.


GOOD CAMOUFLAGE in the St Louis Dispatch, March 8, 1944—

Lancaster PA—A resident reported her automobile stolen from in front of her home. Police found it where she had parked it, but buried under a snow drift after a heavy snow.


Camouflage application process

Disruptive camouflage patterns

Further information

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dazzle camouflage | plan and photographs compared

In an earlier post, we talked about the ship camouflage diagrams of Washington DC designer Steve Morris. He continues to produce striking, exact interpretations of World War I “dazzle” ship camouflage plans. They are irresistable to the eye, as witnessed by those that are posted online. Easily, one of my favorites is the Type 2 Lake Class Design, the two sides of which (port and starboard) are shown below.

A few days ago, while nosing on the internet, I ran across two WWI-era photographs of a particular American ship to which this pattern was applied. Shown below are two different views of the port side of the ship, the USS Lake Harney (c1918). I have yet to find photographs of the starboard side.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

as conspicuous as a barber pole, and equally illusive

B.B. Henderson, US Ambulance Service, in DODGING THE KAISERS’ U-BOATS: How a Honolulan Going to France Crossed the Atlantic—Convoy Fleet Changed Positions—Something About Camouflage—The Real Thing, in Honolulu Star Bulletin (Hawaii), February 16, 1918—

…[The armed escort of our ship convoy] is a cruiser, converted from a passenger boat, big, speedy, heavily armed and camouflaged [not shown here]. (That word is too new to know what part of speech it really is, so on board it is a matter of personal preference.) The color and form of the paintings on the side of that boat would make any “cubist” artist green with envy. 

USS West Galeta (c1918), digital coloration









It is the last word in camouflage and marvelously effective. It’s as conspicuous as a barber pole but at a very short distance its outline disappears and it is impossible to get a line on what direction she is traveling.

Norman Wilkinson, dazzle-painted ship ventilators


Friday, October 9, 2020

Dazzle patterns for Atlantic ships, but not for Pacific

WILL NOT USE CAMOUFLAGE: Zebra Stripes Not to Be Put on Vessels in Coastwise Trade, in The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland OR), August 25, 1918, p. 28—

Ships sailing from Portland for Pacific Coast points and which are not destined for the war zone will not have to wear the zebra stripes of camouflage, according to recent orders of the [US] government. The camoufleurs will be required to paint every ship intended to go the Atlantic, however, with the futuristic designs.

USS Western Maid (1918)

The United States Navy Department is to prescribe color and design of camouflage rather than the Emergency Fleet Corporation’s district camoufleur, says the Emergency Fleet News. Designs will be prepared and each district will use the type most suited to the style of ship to be painted.


The news article above might at first be misleading, as it sounds as if "dazzle camouflage" was applied to very few ships at Pacific Coast shipyards. But in fact some of the most striking examples of WWI camouflaged ships were built and their camouflage applied at West Coast ports. Many of these ships (those intended for service in the Atlantic) were given names that bore the words "West" or "Western." The USS Western Maid (as shown above) was built by the Northwest Steel Company at Portland OR, with its camouflage applied by Emergency Fleet camouflage artists, using a scheme provided by US Navy camoufleurs in Washington DC.


Camouflage application process

Disruptive camouflage patterns

Further information

Thursday, October 8, 2020

barber pole stripes, peppermint candy, prison stripes

Antoinette, STRIPES ARE A PET STYLE OF NEW FALL FASHIONS in The Spokesman-Review (Spokane WA) Woman’s Section, November 12, 1953, p. 8—

If you want your clothes to have a new look this fall, by all means consider something in stripes. It is one of fashion’s pet styles, just now, and stripes appear in many different interpretations.

Zebra stripes, harlequin stripes, prison stripes, barber pole stripes, peppermint candy stripes. On the other hand, there are muted sombre stripes which blend into the other through subtle shadings.…

Alfred Steiglitz photograph (1889)

Contrary to the general feeling, there is no law on figure camouflage by which stripes up and down will make you look slim and tall while stripes around the figure will make you look shorter and heavier. Yet, most saleswomen, most articles and books on how-to-dress, and many fashion “experts” are likely to advise you to wear vertical stripes if you want to look taller and avoid horizontal stripes if you need to look slimmer in your clothes. It simply is not true, and if you are not willing to believe it do what I did, try several striped styles on and see what they do to your looks.

One can’t tell in advance—it depends upon how the stripes are placed, how much spacing there is between them, how nearly the same width each alternate color is, the boldness of the contrast…

WWI camouflaged British ship in dock


BARBER’S POLE IN GERMAN COLORS EXCITES YOUNKERS, in Wilkes Barre Leader and Evening News (Wilkes Barre PA) April 24, 1918—

Yonkers NY—A barber’s pole, displaying the German colors, caused some excitement here, and the police were called.

Barber Fred Milazow explained that some of the stripes had turned black from the weather. He gave the offending pole a shampoo and all was serene.

a broken fragment of rainbow / a crazy patchwork quilt

J. Milo Courzy, A CLIPPER SHIPPER, in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 16, 1927, p. 6—

When the Buccaneer Club of New York combed the seas for a master worthy of their ship, Captain [Thomas Orlando] Moon’s adventurous achievements won him the coveted command. The clubship is the five-masted barketine Buccaneer, now docked in Brooklyn. The club is composed of men of means and artists and writers who have won fame.

Ship-shaped parade float (not the Buccaneer), 1918

…The Buccaneer now lies in a Brooklyn drydock, where she is donning a holiday dress—a dress of many colors, that looks like a crazy-patch quilt. She will be a floating rainbow, a carnival of color that will make the sea dragons pale. With hull painted in broad bands of white, yellow, black and red, with red and ochre sails and masts gleaming in olive and tipped with white, she will resemble a broken fragment of rainbow fallen to the surface of the sea—a chameleon ship, flying a pirate’s flag.

The idea belongs to Joseph Cummings Chase, artist and pioneer in the art of camouflage during the World War; Professor Ezra Winter, former Yale professor [and WWI ship camoufleur]; and Henry Killum Murphy, architect. These form a committee whose task it is to turn the ship into a masquerading privateer in harlequin garb, flying the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger.

…[Captain] Moon scorns the Buccaneer Club’s fantasies. “They’re turning a good ship into a cure for the color blind. The club’s notions have made us all as crazy as a cat without claws in hell!” he growls. 


Was there really a men's social club in NYC called The Buccaneer Club? Haven't found one so far. And did they dazzle-paint a ship? Don't know. But Joseph Cummings Chase, Ezra Winter, and Henry Killum Murphy were genuine people, although never before have I heard of contributions to camouflage by Chase.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Cover of a soldier's (or sailor's) wartime sketchbook

Below I cannot recall where I found this, perhaps ten years ago. It's the cover of a World War I American soldier's (or possibly sailor's) sketchbook, featuring a watercolor rendering of a wildly-patterned camouflaged ship.

Gestalt Psychology, Cubism, Art and Camouflage

In 1973, Fritz Heider, a Viennese-born American psychologist, published a memoir on "Gestalt Theory: Early History and Reminiscences." Near the end of the article, Heider talks briefly about Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer's research of "unit-forming factors" (or perceptual grouping tendencies) and the explicit use of comparable strategies, during roughly the same time period, in the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picassomore>>>

Thursday, October 1, 2020

French Women Employed Making Camouflage Nets

MAKING CAMOUFLAGE SCREENS. French Women are Employed in Making Nets for Disguising Gun Positions
, in The Watchman and Southron (Sumter SC). October 16, 1918—

Behind American lines somewhere in France. Seven hundred French women are employed in the American Camouflage station here making nets to screen from observation American batteries and machine gun sections. There was a burst of patriotic song as the Associated Press correspondent entered the large building where they work, for many of them sing as they sew.

The screening of artillery is the most imporant work of camouflage, as it is the main reliance in deceiving the aerial observer and camera and in preventing the enemy from locating our batteries.

For this purpose huge camouflage nets are provided of wire and fish-net, which cover the guns like a great horizontal tent. In the netting are tied bunches of green burlap, of the same color as the surrounding grass or foliage. And thus viewed from above, the overhanging green net merges the battery into the landscape of trees and turf.

Hundreds of these nets were being made by the women workers. The 75 millimeter takes an overhanging net, 30 feet square, the 165 millimeter gun has a 37 foot net, and the American machine gun gets an 18 foot net. The nets are graded inten colors of green and earth-brown, so that the shield may have the exact tint of the surrounding trees. The nets are shipped to the front in huge bundles, one for each gun.

It has been a problem to get the 700 women required for this deft work on the nets, and one of the chief means of drawing them is a Red Cross home for the babies of the married women, and a YMCA kitchen which gives them a good meal for 60 centimes (12 cents). Camouflage garlands are also made by the women. These garlands of green burlap are strung between the trees, in order to break up lines and diffuse edges so that the location of a convoy or battery will not show on an aerial photograph.

In the carpenter shop huge frames for green umbrellas were being made. The umbrellas open like an ordinary sun-shade, and camouflage a machine gun. In the blacksmith shop the men were turning out steel "cabins" which are sunk below the ground, for an observer. They have a front of bulletproof steel and are about as strong as a small safe. In one of these an observer is safe in the midst of a shower of shrapnel.

Laying on paint much as a scrub-woman wields a mop, an artist was walking about on a gigantic camouflage screen for an airplane hangar. The great piece of painting was spread on a field and covered an area of 1000 square yards. The artist was using a brush as big as a broom.

“Camouflage is making a constant battle against the aerial camera,” said the escort, "for with photographs made from airplanes the enemy gets a complete view of our positions unless they are obscured by some device of camouflage.” 


Film of scene described above

The role of American women in WWI camouflage

Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of  WWI Ship Camouflage