I am very excited about dazzle camouflage

If you make a Venn diagram of my history nerdery and my design nerdery, you’ll find dazzle camouflage right in the center. Dazzle camouflage is a very cool real thing that came out of World War I–a ship camouflage that looks like crazy modern art.

SS Alloway Dazzle Camouflage
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph

The Allies (mainly Britain and the US) bedazzled thousands of ships. The designs were created by fine artists on both sides of the Atlantic (the US Navy at one point had a Dazzle Department staffed by painters and designers.)

I love dazzle both for the inherent design badassery of the patterns, but also for the medium. They painted giant merchant ships, ocean liners, even battleships in dazzle camouflage. Another thing I love about dazzle is the camoufleurs (camouflage designers) often used the most unlikely colors. Most images of dazzle are black and white, because mostly what remains is (b&w) photographic evidence. But if you look at original design schematics, ship models, or paintings from the period, you’ll see that many of the ships were painted in bright colors: pinks, blues, yellows, greens. What’s not to love about a pink battleship?

HMS Ramillies
Painting by Pears, Charles. Image credit: Imperial War Museum

If you’re wondering WHY—dazzle was devised to confuse the aim of German submariners. The dazzle patterns were very carefully designed to obscure a ship’s shape, direction, and speed. Submarine crews needed this information to accurately aim a torpedo, so any confusion could foil their attack. According to studies made at the time, the technique did indeed protect Allied ships (though postwar analysis is a little muddier.)

But who cares! Just look at these things!

USS Nebraska in Dazzle Camouflage
Photo credit: US Navy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s