November Club Night Talk - Dazzle Painted Ships of WWI

Posted: 27/11/2015

Conceal or confuse?  This was the dilemma facing the Admiralty facing huge losses at sea in World War I. A fascinating idea was brought forward involving bright, bold blocks of colour – dazzling! Glyn started with the definitions of camouflage and dazzle painting. Camouflage we all know is the art of concealment or disguise using the immediate surroundings whereas Dazzle in this context is to blind, confuse or bedazzle.

The idea of dazzle painting ships is sometimes attributed to Norman Wilkinson, well know marine artist among other accomplishments, but was first brought to Churchill’s attention at the Admiralty by zoologist John Graham Kerr. The idea was to use bold blocks of colour and abstract patterns, not to conceal the ship, but to confuse the periscope operators by making it difficult to gauge a ship’s heading and speed.

Some method of avoiding the destruction of Allied shipping was needed due to the heavy losses in the first years of WWI.

After some lobbying Wilkinson was allocated a studio room at the Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House where mostly women artists created the designs on model ships; these designs were subsequently scaled up to be applied to full size ships.

There were certainly doubts as to the efficacy of dazzle painting ships but the system was put into action. Over 4,000 merchant ships and 400 naval vessels were dazzle painted. The bold patterns did not give immunity from attack from surface enemy ships, but greatly increased the chances of escape from submarines.

Elektra dazzle finished articleThe 1953 built ex-US Transportation Corps tug "Elektra" now at St Helier Harbour, Jersey, Channel Islands after her Dazzle make-over by local artist, Ian Rolls.

This was a fascinating talk on a subject most of us knew little about.

Glyn’s book on the subject can be purchased for £11.20 including post and packing to addresses in Northern Ireland.
Payment via Paypal through his email address or cheque payable to G L Evans, posted to "Cambria", Peening Quarter Road, Wittersham, Kent TN30 7NP.

Back to News