In his book “British Military Uniforms” (Hamylyn Publishing Group 1968), the military historian W.Y. Carman traces in considerable detail the slow evolution of red as the English soldier’s colour, from the Tudors to the Stuarts.
The adoption and continuing use of red by most English soldiers after the Restoration (1660) appears to have been a historical accident, aided by the relative cheapness of red dyes.There is no basis for the historical myth that red coats were favoured because they did not show blood stains. Interestingly, blood shows on red clothing as a black stain.
The reasons that emerge are a mixture of financial (cheaper red, russet or crimson dyes), cultural (a growing popular sense that red was the national English colour) and simple chance (an order of 1594 is that coats “be of such colours as you can best provide”).
The formation of the first standing army, that of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1645, saw red clothing as the standard dress. As Carman comments (p24) “The red coat was now firmly established as the sign of an Englishman.” )
Dazzle painting emerged in the 1910s as design solution to a very dire problem: American and British ships were being sunk left and right by German U-Boats. England needed to import supplies to fight the Central Powers, and these ships were sitting ducks in the Atlantic Ocean. They needed a way to fend of the torpedoes.
Conventional high-similarity camouflage just doesn’t work in the open sea. Conditions like the color of the sky, cloud cover, and wave height change all the time, not to mention the fact that there’s no way to hid all the smoke left by the ships’ smoke stacks.
The strategy of this high-difference, dazzle camouflage was not about invisibility. It was about disruption. Confusion.
Red coats make it easy for the enemy to see you, and once we get into the age of accurate rifle fire that's bad.
One day we'll stop fighting wars, or at least stop showing up for battle in tacky monochrome outfits.
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