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December 22, 2016

22 Vintage Photographs of Unbelievably Dazzle Camouflage Ships in World War I and World War II

Dazzle camouflage, also known as razzle dazzle or dazzle painting, was a family of ship camouflage used extensively in World War I, and to a lesser extent in World War II and afterwards. Credited to the British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, though with a rejected prior claim by the zoologist John Graham Kerr, it consisted of complex patterns of geometric shapes in contrasting colors, interrupting and intersecting each other.

Unlike other forms of camouflage, the intention of dazzle is not to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target's range, speed, and heading. Norman Wilkinson explained in 1919 that he had intended dazzle more to mislead the enemy about a ship's course and so to take up a poor firing position, than actually to cause the enemy to miss his shot when firing.

Dazzle was adopted by the Admiralty in the UK, and then by the United States Navy, with little evaluation. Each ship's dazzle pattern was unique to avoid making classes of ships instantly recognizable to the enemy. The result was that a profusion of dazzle schemes was tried, and the evidence for their success was at best mixed. So many factors were involved that it was impossible to determine which were important, and whether any of the color schemes were effective.

Dazzle attracted the notice of artists such as Picasso, who claimed that Cubists like himself had invented it. Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the camouflaging of over 2,000 ships during the First World War, painted a series of canvases of dazzle ships after the war, based on his wartime work. Arthur Lismer similarly painted a series of dazzle ship canvases.

USS Mahomet (ID-3681) in port, circa November 1918. The ship has a "dazzle" camouflage scheme that distorts the appearance of her bow.

CSS Atlanta, 1901. The first Atlanta was an iron-hulled, schooner-rigged, screw steamer in the Confederate Navy, later captured and served in the United States Navy.

Narkeeta (Harbor Tug No.3) with an experimental "brickwork" camouflage scheme in 1917. Black stripes on the white background produced a soft gray effect at moderate distances. Larger black patches were applied to those areas which usually reflected light. Visibility of the ship was reduced when the light was behind the observer.

HMS ADVENTURE in dazzle camouflage during World War I.

Nebraska (BB14). Port bow, camouflaged, Norfolk, 04-20-1918.

USS Nebraska in camouflage paint during World War I.

RMS Mauretania, dazzle camouflage, c.1916.

The transatlantic Olympic-class ocean liner RMS Olympic, the brother of the Titanic and Britannic (launched in 1910, used as a troopship between 1915 and 1919. Retired in 1935.)

R.M.S. Empress of Russia, c.1915.

USS Leviathan of New York City, 8 July 1918.

USS Leviathan in camouflage, 1918.

USS K-5 showing its stripes near Pensacola, FL in 1916.

British Aubretia class sloop HMS Polyanthus, as a Q ship in World War I.

HMS Rocksand, c.1918.

HMS Argus in harbor, 1918.

Aircraft carrier HMS Argus in 1918.

S.S. Alloway, 1918.

Aerial photograph of British minelayer HMS Adventure, February 1943.

The U.S. heavy cruiser USS Northampton (CA-26) at Brisbane, Australia, 5 August 1941.

Photograph of French cruiser FFS GLOIRE, in dazzle camouflage, with ship's company on deck saluting King George VI as he passed by in the anchorage at Naples, c.1944.

HMAS Yarra in the Persian Gulf, August 1941.

The German battleship Tirpitz in Bogen Bay in Ofotfjord, near Narvik, Norway, during World War II.


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