Dazzle camouflage
Dazzle camouflage, also known as Razzle Dazzle or Dazzle painting, was a camouflage
Military camouflage
Military camouflage is one of many means of deceiving an enemy. In practice, it is the application of colour and materials to battledress and military equipment to conceal them from visual observation. The French slang word camouflage came into common English usage during World War I when the...

 paint scheme used on ship
Since the end of the age of sail a ship has been any large buoyant marine vessel. Ships are generally distinguished from boats based on size and cargo or passenger capacity. Ships are used on lakes, seas, and rivers for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing,...

s, extensively during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and to a lesser extent in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Credited to artist Norman Wilkinson
Norman Wilkinson (artist)
Norman Wilkinson CBE aka Norman L. Wilkinson was a British artist who usually worked in oils, watercolors and drypoint. He was primarily a marine painter, but he was also an illustrator, poster artist, and wartime camoufleur...

, it consisted of a complex pattern of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other.


At first glance Dazzle seems unlikely camouflage, drawing attention to the ship rather than hiding it, but this technique was developed after the Allied Navies were unable to develop effective means to disguise ships in all weathers.

Dazzle did not conceal the ship but made it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed and heading. The idea was to disrupt the visual rangefinder
A rangefinder is a device that measures distance from the observer to a target, for the purposes of surveying, determining focus in photography, or accurately aiming a weapon. Some devices use active methods to measure ; others measure distance using trigonometry...

s used for naval artillery
Naval artillery
Naval artillery, or naval riflery, is artillery mounted on a warship for use in naval warfare. Naval artillery has historically been used to engage either other ships, or targets on land; in the latter role it is currently termed naval gunfire fire support...

. Its purpose was confusion rather than concealment. An observer would find it difficult to know exactly whether the stern or the bow is in view; and it would be equally difficult to estimate whether the observed vessel is moving towards or away from the observer's position.

Rangefinders were based on the co-incidence principle with an optical mechanism
Optics is the branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light...

, operated by a human to compute the range. The operator adjusted the mechanism until two half-images of the target lined up in a complete picture. Dazzle was intended to make that hard because clashing patterns looked abnormal even when the two halves were aligned. This became more important when submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

A periscope is an instrument for observation from a concealed position. In its simplest form it consists of a tube with mirrors at each end set parallel to each other at a 45-degree angle....

s included similar rangefinders. As an additional feature, the dazzle pattern usually included a false bow wave
Bow wave
A bow wave is the wave that forms at the bow of a ship when it moves through the water. As the bow wave spreads out, it defines the outer limits of a ship's wake. A large bow wave slows the ship down, poses a risk to smaller boats, and in a harbor can cause damage to shore facilities and moored ships...

 to make estimation of the ship's speed difficult.

The demonstrable effectiveness of the bold Dazzle camouflage was accepted by the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, even without practical visual assessment protocols for improving performance by modifying designs and colours. The Dazzle camouflage strategy was adopted by other navies. This led to more scientific studies of colour options which might enhance camouflage effectiveness. Broken colour systems which present units so small as to be invisible as such at the distances considered are neither advantageous nor detrimental to the dazzle effect; the visibility of the camouflaged vessel at a given distance would depend entirely upon such scientifically measurable factors as the mean effective reflection
In optics and photometry, reflectivity is the fraction of incident radiation reflected by a surface. In general it must be treated as a directional property that is a function of the reflected direction, the incident direction, and the incident wavelength...

 factor, hue
Hue is one of the main properties of a color, defined technically , as "the degree to which a stimulus can be describedas similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow,"...

 and saturation of the surface when considered at various distances.

In the UK, the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 inaugurated its Camouflage Section at the end of 1916; while at sea, the marine painter Norman Wilkinson
Norman Wilkinson (artist)
Norman Wilkinson CBE aka Norman L. Wilkinson was a British artist who usually worked in oils, watercolors and drypoint. He was primarily a marine painter, but he was also an illustrator, poster artist, and wartime camoufleur...

 invented the concept of dazzle painting as a way of using stripes and disrupted lines to confuse the enemy about the speed and dimensions of a ship. Wilkinson, then a lieutenant commander on Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 patrol duty, implemented the precursor of "dazzle" on SS Industry; and HMS Alsatian became the first Navy ship in August 1917.

All British patterns were different, first tested on small wooden models viewed through a periscope in a studio. Most of the model designs were painted by women from London's Royal Academy of Arts. A foreman then scaled up their designs for the real thing. Painters, however, were not alone in the project. Creative people including sculptors, abstract artists, and set designers designed camouflage.

The Vorticist artist
Vorticism, an offshoot of Cubism, was a short-lived modernist movement in British art and poetry of the early 20th century. It was based in London but international in make-up and ambition.-Origins:...

 Edward Wadsworth
Edward Wadsworth
Edward Alexander Wadsworth was an English artist, most famous for his close association with Vorticism. He painted, often in tempera, coastal views, abstracts, portraits and still-life...

 supervised the camouflage of over two thousand warships, and his post-war canvases celebrated his dazzling ships.

World War I

Dazzle's effectiveness is not certain. The British Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 concluded it had no effect on submarine attacks, but boosted crew morale
Morale, also known as esprit de corps when discussing the morale of a group, is an intangible term used to describe the capacity of people to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others...

. It also increased the morale of people not involved in fighting; hundreds of wonderfully coloured ships in dock was nothing ever seen before or since.

In a 1919 lecture, Norman Wilkinson explained:
During both World Wars, former ocean liners owned by British steamship companies like Cunard Line
Cunard Line
Cunard Line is a British-American owned shipping company based at Carnival House in Southampton, England and operated by Carnival UK. It has been a leading operator of passenger ships on the North Atlantic for over a century...

 were re-commissioned as an integral part of the British war fleet. These auxiliary vessels were re-fitted with armament and re-painted in the same manner as other fleet ships. For example, the Canadian Pacific Steamships RMS Empress of Russia
RMS Empress of Russia
The RMS Empress of Russia was an ocean liner built in 1912-1913 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland for Canadian Pacific steamships . This ship regularly traversed the trans-Pacific route between Canada and the Far East...

 and White Star Line
White Star Line
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company, today most famous for its ill-fated vessel, the RMS Titanic, and the World War I loss of Titanics sister ship Britannic...

 RMS Olympic
RMS Olympic
RMS Olympic was the lead ship of the Olympic-class ocean liners built for the White Star Line, which also included Titanic and Britannic...

 (sister ship of the ill-fated RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic was the third and largest of the White Star Line. She was the sister ship of and , and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner. She was launched just before the start of the First World War and was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months before...

), former passenger liners, were given the "dazzle" treatment when used as troopships.

World War II

American naval leadership thought dazzle effective and, in 1918, the U.S. Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 adopted it as one of several techniques.

However effective the scheme was in World War I, dazzle camouflage became less useful as rangefinders and especially aircraft became more advanced, and, by the time it was put to use again in World War II, radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 further reduced its effectiveness. However, it may still have confounded enemy submarines. The US Navy implemented a camouflage painting program in World War II, and applied it to many ship classes, from patrol craft and auxiliaries to battleships and some Essex-class aircraft carriers. The designs (known as Measures, each identified with a number) were not arbitrary, but were standardised in a process which involved a planning stage, then a review, and then fleet-wide implementation (see more at: Ship camouflage).

Not all USN measures involved dazzle patterns; some were simple or even totally unsophisticated, such as a false bow wave on traditional Haze Grey, or Deck Blue replacing grey over part or all of the ship (the latter being utilized to counter the kamikaze
The were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible....

Dazzle continued to be used until the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


In the British Royal Navy, dazzle paint schemes reappeared in January 1940; these were unofficial and competitions were often held between ships for the best camouflage patterns. The RN Camouflage Department came up with a scheme devised by Peter Scott
Peter Scott
Sir Peter Markham Scott, CH, CBE, DSC and Bar, MID, FRS, FZS, was a British ornithologist, conservationist, painter, naval officer and sportsman....

, a wildlife artist, which were developed into the Western Approaches
Western Approaches Command
Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches was the commander of a major operational command of the Royal Navy during World War II. The admiral commanding, and his forces, sometimes informally known as 'Western Approaches Command,' were responsible for the safety of British shipping in the Western...

. In 1942 the Admiralty Intermediate Disruptive Pattern came into use, followed in 1944 by the Admiralty Standard Schemes.

The German Navy
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

 first used camouflage in the 1940 Norwegian campaign
Norwegian Campaign
The Norwegian Campaign was a military campaign that was fought in Norway during the Second World War between the Allies and Germany, after the latter's invasion of the country. In April 1940, the United Kingdom and France came to Norway's aid with an expeditionary force...

. A wide range of patterns were authorised, but most commonly black and white diagonal stripes were used. Most patterns were designed to hide ships in harbour or near the coast; they were often painted over with plain grey when operating in the Atlantic.

Art history

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 considered deception in war to be an indispensable "element of léger de main
Sleight of hand
Sleight of hand, also known as prestidigitation or legerdemain, is the set of techniques used by a magician to manipulate objects such as cards and coins secretly....

, an original and sinister touch, which leaves the enemy puzzled as well as beaten."

In 2007, the art of concealment was featured as the theme for a show at the Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum is a British national museum organisation with branches at five locations in England, three of which are in London. The museum was founded during the First World War in 1917 and intended as a record of the war effort and sacrifice of Britain and her Empire...

. The evolution of Dazzle was re-examined in this context. Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

 is reported to have taken credit for the modern camouflage experiments which seemed to him a quintessentially Cubist
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

 technique. He is reported to have drawn the connection in a conversation with Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.-Early life:...

 shortly after he first saw a painted cannon trundling through the streets of Paris.

In 2008, the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design
Rhode Island School of Design
Rhode Island School of Design is a fine arts and design college located in Providence, Rhode Island. It was founded in 1877. Located at the base of College Hill, the RISD campus is contiguous with the Brown University campus. The two institutions share social, academic, and community resources and...

 announced the rediscovery in its collection of 455 lithographic printed plans for the camouflage of US merchant ships during World War I. These documents were donated to the RISD library in 1919 by one of the school’s alumni, designer Maurice L. Freeman, who had been a camouflage artist for the U.S. Shipping Board in Jacksonville, Florida. Portions of the collection were publicly shown at the RISD library for the first time from January 26 through March 29, 2009, in an exhibition titled "Bedazzled."

Modern use

In modern times, dazzle camouflage is seldom used. In Austria, speed trap
Speed Trap
Speed Trap is a live jazz album by Peter King, recorded at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in September 1994, and released in 1996 under the Ronnie Scotts Jazz House label...

s have been camouflaged with dazzle to confuse drivers on the direction the radar is pointing. Many car prototypes also wear dazzle camouflage during testing to hide the "curves" of the vehicle before the manufacturer is ready to show it to the public.

Museum ship
Museum ship
A museum ship, or sometimes memorial ship, is a ship that has been preserved and converted into a museum open to the public, for educational or memorial purposes...

s HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast (C35)
HMS Belfast is a museum ship, originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, permanently moored in London on the River Thames and operated by the Imperial War Museum....

, moored in the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, HMCS Sackville
HMCS Sackville (K181)
HMCS Sackville was a Flower-class corvette that served in the Royal Canadian Navy and later served as a civilian research vessel. She is now a museum ship located in Halifax, Nova Scotia and the last surviving Flower-class corvette.-Wartime service:...

, moored in Halifax Harbour
Halifax Harbour
Halifax Harbour is a large natural harbour on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, located in the Halifax Regional Municipality.-Harbour description:The harbour is called Jipugtug by the Mi'kmaq first nation, anglisized as Chebucto...

 in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

, Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, and USS North Carolina
USS North Carolina (BB-55)
USS North Carolina was the lead ship of her class of battleship and the fourth in the United States Navy to be named in honor of this U.S. state. She was the first new-construction U.S. battleship to enter service during World War II, participating in every major naval offensive in the Pacific...

, moored in Wilmington
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. The population is 106,476 according to the 2010 Census, making it the eighth most populous city in the state of North Carolina...

, North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, are painted in the dazzle camouflage they used during the Second World War.

Dazzle makeup, or "CV Dazzle" (computer vision dazzle), to hamper automatic computer detection and recognition of faces, has been mooted as a response to mass surveillance
Mass surveillance
Mass surveillance is the pervasive surveillance of an entire population, or a substantial fraction thereof.Modern governments today commonly perform mass surveillance of their citizens, explaining that they believe that it is necessary to protect them from dangerous groups such as terrorists,...


See also

  • Nelson Chequer
    Nelson Chequer
    The Nelson Chequer was a specific colour-scheme adopted by vessels of the Royal Navy, modelled on that used by Admiral Horatio Nelson. It consisted of bands of black and yellow paint along the sides broken up by black gunports. Nelson, apparently, used the same style for all vessels under his...

  • William Mackay
    William MacKay
    William Andrew Mackay was an American artist who created a series of murals about the achievements of Theodore Roosevelt. Those three murals, completed in 1936, were installed beneath the rotunda in the Roosevelt Memorial Hall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York...

  • Everett Warner
    Everett Warner
    Everett Longley Warner was an American Impressionist painter and printmaker, as well as a leading contributor to US Navy camouflage during both World Wars.-Early years:...

  • Maximilian Toch
    Maximilian Toch
    Maximilian Toch was an American paint manufacturer and industrial chemist who developed a concrete filler method that was used in the construction of the Panama Canal. He was the co-owner of the New York firms Toch Brothers and the Standard Varnish Works, where he was head of research and production...

  • Abbott Handerson Thayer
    Abbott Handerson Thayer
    Abbott Handerson Thayer was an American artist, naturalist and teacher. As a painter of portraits, figures, animals and landscapes, he enjoyed a certain prominence during his lifetime, as indicated by the fact that his paintings are part of the most important U.S. art collections...

External links

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