how the modernist movement made mariners miss

9 12 2008

I love Dark Roasted Blend. I could (and do) spend hours wandering and wondering through their vast archives of the bizarre, banal and sublime.

One particular entry, though has some crossover relevance to this blog – it’s all about the weird and wonderful dazzle camouflage designs painted on merchant and military ships during the World Wars, which provided effective deception against optical range-finding and target tracking, until seaborne radar was adopted.

USS Leviathan

Read all about it here.




5 responses

10 12 2008

Apparently, a slightly different pattern on each end of the ship was found to be most effective. That would be like wearing a jacket and trousers of two different camouflage patterns and not just wearing one camouflage pattern.

7 04 2010
Jon G

I don’t think you (or they) quite did your homework on this one. After WW1 the British Admiralty studied Dazzle painting very craefully and were unable to find ONE incident in which it threw off a U-boat’s aim. Thus they decared it a failure from a visual point of view.

They did, however, find that the crews had a major boost in morale because they felt they were somewhat better protected. So they kept it specifically for the morale boost.

8 04 2010
Dom Hyde

Not entirely true, Jon. The Brits couldn’t prove it worked, but they found it didn’t make the vessels more of a target, either, so as it didn’t do any harm, and could be said to be a morale booster, as you mention, it was kept. Proving its effectiveness was always going to be difficult though – the idea was to prevent or delay an attack in the first place, not throw the submarine’s aim off. Since a vessel would have had no idea it was being targeted until it saw torpedo tracks in the water, the Admiralty could only measure reports of actual attacks, not attempts.

Conversely, the US Navy decided Dazzle WAS effective!

8 04 2010
Jon G

I disagree. The report I am talking about worked with U boat records and U boat captains to look at incidents where a torpedo was fired- and why it missed. So it was done looking at it from the firer’s point of view as well, and if U Boat Captain’s who had fired at ships said they had no problem spotting and fixing and hitting the target- or felt they missed for some other reason (and would it not make them look better to actually blame it on the dazzle/) then I’d have to say it was not effective.

8 04 2010
Dom Hyde

Well, you have me at a disadvantage – I’m going by info available on the internet. Specific quotes from this ship camouflage website do not refer to dazzle as ‘a failure’:

“no definitive case on material grounds can be made out for any benefit in this respect from this form of camouflage. At the same time the statistics do not prove that it is disadvantageous”.

Whereas the US Navy said:

“It is considered beyond doubt however, that camouflage painting was of distinct value, particularly in the case of large and fast vessels, which might be saved from disaster by the momentary confusion of the attacking submarine commander”.

It would be helpful if you would provide some references, published either online or in print, that we can refer to for corroboration.

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