Cubism for wartime
February 8, 2010 10:28 PM   Subscribe

The Rhode Island School of Design has a set of beautiful designs for dazzle ship camouflage. Dazzle Camouflage was a way to confuse submarine operators as to the heading and speed of warships, so that they could not effectively fire torpedoes to sink them. Certainly a lot more colorful than today's camo! (previously)
posted by that girl (35 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool. I wish the images were larger.
posted by desjardins at 10:31 PM on February 8, 2010

The point was to confuse the enemy and make it difficult for their rangefinders to coincide.

But, yeah, it's a terrible shame that something like this is presented as tiny fucking blow up images. A nice archive of the full-resolution images would be so much nicer.

That's the museum / academic preservation mindset for ya though. Be thankful that there are some small exceptions here and there.
posted by Sukiari at 10:35 PM on February 8, 2010

Jeff Koons yacht
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:43 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like that very much.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:48 PM on February 8, 2010

It turns out that in some cases it effectively was invisibility. There was at least one case where a surface ship ran into another that was painted that way because the pilot didn't see the other ship at all.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:50 PM on February 8, 2010

Zebras figured all this out long ago.
posted by eye of newt at 10:55 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I haven't read the article because I learned everything I need to know about dazzle from Jesse at college. He used to say that 'dazzle' was the most effective pick up method. "Straight or gay, everyone loves dazzle", he used to say, "so make it shiny, baby!".

So I'm a little surprised to find that the best way of hiding a boat is to dress it up with diamonds, sequins and mascara.
posted by Sutekh at 11:09 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to start wearing dazzle camouflage while biking. At night.
posted by battlebison at 11:28 PM on February 8, 2010

I love these too. A while ago I was briefly tempted to dazzle-paint my car, but then I decided the coolness was not worth the fiery death.
posted by hattifattener at 11:34 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are beautiful.

When someone first told me about camouflaged ships, I imagined pointy little waves airbrushed on the hull, with a dolphin breaching like it's straight from the side of a van. I was only slightly let down when I saw this was not the case.
posted by brundlefly at 11:56 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've seen these before but the vivid color schemes are a bit of a surprise. I had always assumed that, like everything else in the olden days, the ships were just black, white and gray.
posted by klarck at 12:04 AM on February 9, 2010

brundlefly: You may also enjoy Mountbatten Pink.
posted by hattifattener at 12:15 AM on February 9, 2010

THis is a bit of a military porno fetishist's ultimate dream website: Full color prints of and photographs of badass Naval ships with cannons and armor and expressionistic lines and perspectives drawn on them.

And this beautiful print has the Beatles in it.
posted by Skygazer at 12:30 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love the "For educational purposes only" warning... like I was going to pinch the designs to do up my own battleship...
posted by pompomtom at 1:34 AM on February 9, 2010

Chocolate Pickle I'd love to see a citation for that, as I'd always understood that the effectiveness of dazzle was never really proven. Do you know the names of the vessels involved?
posted by pompomtom at 1:37 AM on February 9, 2010

On a slightly related note… In 1942, following the Allied defeat by Japan in the Battle of the Java Sea, the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen successfully crossed Japanese lines and escaped by camouflaging itself as a small island.

[Not dazzle camouflage, but an interesting tidbit. Apologies for the derail.]
posted by skenfrith at 1:47 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

pompomtom, It was tested in the field and then adopted enthusiastically , according to my skimming: (via previously)


September 1917

“Sighted the oiler SS CLAM about six miles, four points on the starboard bow, and for some time I could not make nothing of her. When about four miles distant, I decided it was a tug towing a lighter, towing badly and working to the windward appeared to be steering an opposite course.

It was not until she was within one half mile that I could make out that she was one ship steering a course at right angles, crossing from starboard to port. The dark painted stripes on her after part made her stern appear her bow, and a broad cut of green paint amidships looked like a patch of water, the weather was bright and visibility good; this was the best camouflage I have ever seen”.


It made it very hard to figure out the speed and direction of the ship, which made it much more difficult for u-boats to hit them with torpedoes.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:05 AM on February 9, 2010

Nice one, thanks for that.
posted by pompomtom at 2:29 AM on February 9, 2010

I think I've previously seen this quote (from your link) from the Admiralty report, which gave me my original impression:

in our opinion, from a careful examination of the whole of the evidence, no definitive case on material grounds can be made out for any benefit in this respect from this form of camouflage.
posted by pompomtom at 2:32 AM on February 9, 2010

There's enough anecdotal evidence to be confident that dazzle camo was useful in the era of optically sighted weapon. There were certainly better options, but all of them had the problem of either only working sort of well all the time, or working very well at times and spectacularly badly other times. Tests either showed it work incredibly well or not at all -- but it was easy to design tests to make either of those results happen. It was probably very effective against short baseline rangefinders (read, submarines.)

In the era of coal and oil fired ships, you couldn't really be truly invisible at optical ranges without weather -- your camouflage may confuse them as to where the hull is, but the smoke from your stacks pointed right at you. But when guns and torpedoes were optically aimed, even having someone misjudged your course by ten degrees could lead to a miss -- never mind if they swapped bow and stern!

In WWII, two factors made it less useful. The first was simply better optics, which made finding the real edge of the ship easier, and the second was radar, which in the early ships would give you a quick hint to the actual range and bearing, letting your optical systems quickly establish a lock, and in the later wars, could completely supplant the optical systems completely

Example: The Battle of Suriago Strait, in WWII, happened at night. West Virginia spotted the Japanese Fleet 23 miles out on radar, had a firing solution when they were 18 miles away, and opened fire at 13 miles away -- all in the dark, all on a moonless night, and had two hits on the first salvo. California and Tennessee joined in - the other three US battleships, and none of the Japanese warships, could get a plot going, much less a firing solution. Mississippi became the last battleship to fire her guns at another battleship, but could only target on the splashes from the other US ships, and missed with the one salvo she managed to fire.

So, radar providing bearing and speed information, dazzle became useless, and now everyone either uses haze blue or haze gray -- and works on technology to "dazzle" radars instead.
posted by eriko at 4:09 AM on February 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

During WWII, the German navy occasionally used a fake bow wave painted on a ship's flanks. (Graf Spee seen here) When you think of it, viewed through a submarine periscope it could be a pretty effective way of giving the captain of an attacking submarine a total misread of the ship's surface speed.
posted by Mike D at 4:35 AM on February 9, 2010

My new favorite job title: "camofleur"
posted by underthehat at 5:13 AM on February 9, 2010

"The flaw of the RISD ships was that they were only available in wintersession, spring break and summer. They were also the first ships to charge sailors $50,000 a year to become crew members. Sailing was hampered by the daily classes for all crew, where people discussed where 'they felt like going' before the ship would set off. A further problem was very few of the crew were aware a world war was taking place, was not the name of a band concert or that various caribbean islands were not under threat. "

very interesting article, thanks.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:06 AM on February 9, 2010

Here are some larger pics.
posted by adamvasco at 6:08 AM on February 9, 2010

OMD's Dazzle Ships
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:16 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

OMD the band were apparently big history freaks, especially for WWII (can't find cite - evidence song and album titles like this one and "Enola Gay"), and in addition to the dazzle cover of the Dazzle Ships album, all the maxi-singles thereof had different dazzle covers of their own.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:24 AM on February 9, 2010

"Dazzle website": an online gallery full of fade transitions, lightbox.js, and no usable web navigation.
posted by Nelson at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2010

(OMD's Dazzle Ships is one of my favorite albums ever. The track that's nothing but short wave radio "the time is..." channels in different languages, with their second-counting beeps synced up, blew my teenage mind. )
posted by dnash at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2010

The other day I was reading the wiki article on the word lozenge (witch, by the way, is surprisingly interesting. )

And it turns out that there is a similar aviation camouflage called Lozenge Camouflage.
posted by Widepath at 8:48 AM on February 9, 2010

Yes, I wish they made the site easier to search too. I'd like to know if they have the original design for this ship. One of my relatives served on her and I have a bunch of pics.

But the patterns on that website are too hard to search through to find it.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:55 AM on February 9, 2010

But, yeah, it's a terrible shame that something like this is presented as tiny fucking blow up images. A nice archive of the full-resolution images would be so much nicer.

That's the museum / academic preservation mindset for ya though. Be thankful that there are some small exceptions here and there.

Method behind the madness is on the associated blog:

We are offering ten of our dazzle plans as high quality archival prints. They are available online, through risd|works (under “Fine Art”). International orders please call risd|works at 401-277-4949.

The library plans to release an edition of ten plans (five sets of starboard and port sides) annually. This year’s edition is selections from Type 1 and Type 2 representing Tankers and Standard Steel ships. Proceeds benefit the Fleet Library at RISD’s special collections and exhibitions. The dazzle collection is housed in special collections and the funds raised will help preserve this collection.

I worked at a maritime museum that did something similar. Digitizing and hosting the large hi-res documents of ships plans is expensive, and the staff time for handling the project was hard to come by. It needed to be a self-supporting project, so they started making prints available for a fee, and you could view them online only by thumbnail. Otherwise, they would be preserved but would just sit in the library, available only to visiting scholars who made an appointment to see them. It's not that the library is being stingy or having the wrong mindset - it's that the project needs to be funded somehow. At least this way anyone can see what's there and enjoy the views that are available.
posted by Miko at 10:59 AM on February 9, 2010

It's not that the library is being stingy or having the wrong mindset

RISD library is stingy in the extreme, sorry - even their students get 1.5 hrs in the week when they are allowed to view things like photos. I'm not going to argue about it, just try booking a slot yourself.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2010

[site gripe]
Ach, lightbox! I can't believe OR stand the amount of crap modal windows these days.

Client (to designer): I want the images to pop up, but, like, really slooooowly....
Designer: I've got just the thing!
Client: Is it slow?
Designer: hideously
Client: It'd be great if it had one of those spinny things.
Designer: Got it.
Client: Can it, you know, maybe unecessarily resize itself between images?
Designer: Sure! It'll even prevent any other navigation while the user is forced to wait for the "close" to draw.
Client: PERFECT!
[/site gripe]

posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:26 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought OOH! OMD! on first glance... (you want an all-day earworm, listen to "Genetic Engineering" from the album Dazzle Ships...)
posted by at 3:39 PM on February 9, 2010

even their students get 1.5 hrs in the week when they are allowed to view things like photos.

Why is that?
posted by Miko at 7:19 AM on February 10, 2010

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