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Dazzle and Razzle Dazzle Painting

During World War I, the British and Americans faced a serious threat from German U-boats, which were sinking allied shipping at a dangerous rate. All attempts to camouflage ships at sea had failed, as the appearance of the sea and sky are always changing. Any color scheme that was concealing in one situation was conspicuous … Continued

During World War I, the British and Americans faced a serious threat from German U-boats, which were sinking allied shipping at a dangerous rate. All attempts to camouflage ships at sea had failed, as the appearance of the sea and sky are always changing. Any color scheme that was concealing in one situation was conspicuous in others. A British artist and naval officer, Norman Wilkinson, promoted a new camouflage scheme. Instead of trying to conceal the ship, it simply broke up its lines and made it more difficult for the U-boat captain to determine the ship’s course. The British called this camouflage scheme “Dazzle Painting.” The Americans called it “Razzle Dazzle.”
U-boats did not aim their torpedos directly at a ship to sink it. Because the target was moving, it was necessary to aim ahead of its path in order for the torpedo to arrive in the correct spot at the same time as the ship. If the torpedo was too early or too late, it would miss. The primary goal of dazzle painting was to confuse the U-boat commander who was trying to observe the course and speed of his target.

Artists were enlisted to draw up the camouflage designs. Early in the war, designs were drawn for individual ships, with each ship having its own distinctive pattern. As the war progressed, standard patterns were devised and applied to large numbers of ships. Even the great passenger liners were camouflaged for the duration of the War.
It is unfortunate that there are no color photographs of these WWI ships. People who witnessed convoys of dazzle painted ships reported that the scene was quite dramatic. Imagine sailing across the North Atlantic surrounded by dozens of brightly painted ships, each in different colors and patterns.

At the end of the the First World War, dazzle painting was discontinued, as the admirals had never really liked painting their ships in such an unmilitary fashion. Also, the introduction of effective air power made dazzle painting problematic, as it increased the ship’s visibility to aircraft. The US Navy reintroduced dazzle painting during World War II (after Japanese air power had been largely eliminated) to protect our ships from the renewed threat of enemy submarines. Examples include the US Navy cruiser “Alaska” and the destroyer “Yarnall.” However, continuing improvements in radar and sonar eventually eliminated any need for submarine commanders to actually sight their targets visually. This meant that by the end of the war dazzle painting no longer served any useful purpose, and US warships were quickly repainted to a “haze grey” color.

During the First World War, dazzle painting was quite widely publicized. The bold designs and bright colors caught the imagination of both artists and the general public, particularly in England.

Source: Jim and Jamie Richter: http://www.gotouring.com/razzledazzle/articles/dazzle.html

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