Development of Naval Camouflage
1914 – 1945
reprinted courtesy of Plastic Ship
Modeler Magazine issue #96/3)
These writings had their origin
in the mid nineteen sixties when the author found it impossible to correctly the
camouflage colors of various warships for the purpose of model making. The subsequent search for information led to substantial
research into the subject and to the realization that some writing on the
subject was needed.
The previous thirty years have
seen a small number of writings produced, some by this author, but none could be
called major, or having in-depth coverage, and a percentage have been ambiguous
and badly inaccurate. It was
originally intended to deal only with British camouflage of the WWII period, but
subsequent thoughts, coupled with pressure from interested parties, meant that
the American story was added, and the development of WWI camouflage.
The great bulk of camouflage at
sea was employed by the American and British navies in the Second World War and
this is reflected in the writings. Although
having widespread usage, camouflage was generally felt to be one of the minor
aspects of the many wartime efforts and its effectiveness was very often
difficult and sometimes impossible to prove, and because it played a peripheral
role it is not surprising that definitive documentation on this subject is often
very sparse or frequently non-existent. On
the American side there is much more documentary data than for the British.
Instructions for American camouflage came from the Bureau of Ships, an
all-powerful body, and it was rare for their orders to be altered or ignored,
and even more rare for unofficial designs or color be used, so that one can
match up photographs to orders and prepared patterns in a logical manner with a
minimum number of unresolved questions. British
use of camouflage is a much more fragmented affair, due mainly to the fact that the camouflage section was part of a miscellaneous staff
department, and did not have anywhere near the authority
that its American counterpart had. The
resulting instructions became more a set of recommendations and advice, rather
than sets of orders, and when coupled with the independent nature of the average
British captain, resulted in a six year period that saw everything from strictly
correct usage to any number of individual ideas and colors being applied. Very
often the unofficial or amateur idea was carried by only one vessel, and then
sometimes by whole commands,
depending on the interest or whim of individual and group commanders.
So prevalent were these practices that the British story has been
extremely difficult to discover, and as a large percentage is without
documentation, the author has spent many years in correspondence and interviews
trying to find and piece the parts together.
The tracking down of the large
number of colors used was a long and great search, one that the author believes
has been successful in that almost every known color used by the British and
American navies in the WWII period has been located in the form of either
official color cards or written formulas.
These writings do not pretend
to be definitive; the very nature of the subject precludes this, but for the
first time the story is given some degree of depth and covers many of the side
branches that people have wanted to know for years.
Inevitably there are areas on which little or no information was
forthcoming, an example would be those colors and patterns worn by American PT
boats manned and operated by the OSS in the Pacific in the 1943-44 period.
These type of gaps aside, the story given here is reasonably complete
with a fair degree of accuracy and should answer most questions about this
somewhat esoteric but visually interesting subject.
PRINCIPLES OF SEA-GOING CAMOUFLAGE
Camouflage has been used by man
for as long as recorded history, with the most sophisticated forms employed in
the military theater. The type that
most people are familiar with is
where a static object is disguised with netting, leaves, etc. to the point that
it blends in with an unchanging background and becomes invisible.
Not surprisingly, this type of deception was and still is the most widely
used and the most successful.
The successful camouflaging of
mobile objects is substantially more difficult a task for the obvious reason
that movement attracts the eye. With
a moving object practically dictates that painted camouflage has the most
utility, because things such as netting, screens, etc., become loose, break-off,
and the effect is lost.
To conceal movement on land
against a background of some permanence such as desert terrain, where the range
of colors, tones, and light conditions are reasonably constant one day from
another, it is a distance that plays a major role.
The greater the distance form the observer to the object, the greater the
chance of concealment or invisibility. Generally
speaking, the same factors apply to aircraft camouflage, and as with land
camouflage, it is the need to achieve concealment to as close a range as
possible that usually matters.
When one addresses the question
of how to camouflage a ship at sea, the problems to be overcome in order to
achieve a measure of concealment are greatly increased, and very often one has
to deal with an infinitely variable two backgrounds; the sea and the sky,
changes that are produced by weather which affects light conditions. Because a vessel may be constantly moving from one area
of ocean to another, there will be attendant changes in general weather
patterns. For example, the
prevailing weather and light conditions in the North Atlantic are quite
different than those of the Arctic, and a ship crossing from one to the other in
the course of its operations will not have time to repaint into the camouflage
that best suits the new area. The
problems of achieving concealment of a ship at sea meant that many of the
camouflage types were designed so as to achieve one or more of a range of a
whole range of other aspects of deception.
types of sea-going camouflage are as follows:
Concealment or Invisibility – to make the ship completely blend in with the
sea and sky background.
Disruptive type – not necessarily to conceal the ship but make the enemy think he is
seeing a different size, type, or class of vessel; generally to make
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