Dazzle camouflage, also known as Razzle Dazzle or Dazzle painting, was a military camouflage paint scheme used on ships, extensively during World War I and to a lesser extent in World War II. Credited to artist Norman Wilkinson, it consisted of a complex pattern of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other.
MechanismAt first glance Dazzle seems an unlikely form of camouflage, drawing attention to the ship rather than hiding it, but this technique was developed after the Allied Navies were unable to develop effective means to disguise ships in all weathers.
Dazzle did not conceal the ship but made it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed and heading. The idea was to disrupt the visual rangefinders used for naval artillery. Its purpose was confusion rather than concealment. An observer would find it difficult to know exactly whether the stern or the bow is in view; and it would be equally difficult to estimate whether the observed vessel is moving towards or away from the observer's position.
Rangefinders were based on the co-incidence principle with an optical mechanism, operated by a human to compute the range. The operator adjusted the mechanism until two half-images of the target lined up in a complete picture. Dazzle was intended to make that hard because clashing patterns looked abnormal even when the two halves were aligned. This became more important when submarine periscopes included similar rangefinders. As an additional feature, the dazzle pattern usually included a false bow wave intended to make estimation of the ship's speed difficult.
Dazzle camouflage was accepted by the Admiralty, even without practical visual assessment protocols for improving performance by modifying designs and colours. The Dazzle camouflage strategy was adopted by other navies. This led to more scientific studies of colour options which might enhance camouflage effectiveness. Broken colour systems which present units so small as to be invisible as such at the distances considered are neither advantageous nor detrimental to the dazzle effect; the visibility of the camouflaged vessel at a given distance would depend entirely upon such scientifically measurable factors as the mean effective reflection factor, hue and saturation of the surface when considered at various distances.
In the UK, the British Army inaugurated its Camouflage Section at the end of 1916; while at sea, the marine painter Norman Wilkinson invented the concept of dazzle painting as a way of using stripes and disrupted lines to confuse the enemy about the speed and dimensions of a ship. Wilkinson, then a lieutenant commander on Royal Navy patrol duty, implemented the precursor of "dazzle" on SS Industry; HMS Alsatian became the first Royal Navy to be dazzle painted in August 1917.
All British patterns were different, first tested on small wooden models viewed through a periscope in a studio. Most of the model designs were painted by women from London's Royal Academy of Arts. A foreman then scaled up their designs for the real thing. Painters, however, were not alone in the project. Creative people including sculptors, artists, and set designers designed camouflage.
The Vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth supervised the camouflage of over two thousand warships, and his post-war canvases celebrated his dazzling ships.