WWI dazzle painting

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
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U-boats were an enormous problem for allied shipping in WWI. Camouflage patterns were tried, but because of endlessly changing sky and sea conditions none were successful. Instead, Norman Wilkinson, and English artist and naval officer, came up with the idea of breaking up a ship's outline with bold patterns.

German U-boat captains had to calculate a boat's course and speed to properly lead their torpedo shots to hit the target. Dazzle patterns made it difficult for a captain to accurately judge the heading of his target's bow. In addition, U-boaters refined their calculation of a ship's course and speed by aligning two mirrors inside of the periscope, and dazzle patterns made that difficult to do.

The effectiveness of dazzle painting is in dispute. Regardless, with the advent of radar and more sophisticated optics, the patterns fell into disuse. Besides, the Admirals never liked seeing their boats painted so garishly to begin with.

It is a shame all we have are black and white pictures of the boats because, as you can see in the sample below, they were often painted in very bright colors as well as bold patterns. There are more examples of ship's wearing dazzle patterns after the jump.