DEVELOPMENT OF NAVAL CAMOUFLAGE 1914-1945
primary questions to be addressed are, one; did painted camouflage work, and
two; if so, how effective was it? The subject, as the reader will have realized,
is so complex that there is no way of giving a definitive answer to the above
two questions, even if it was possible to enlist the aid of the enemy in
compiling an assessment. There is no doubt however that some types of
camouflage did work some of the time. Without doubt, the most successful
camouflage was the Western Approaches type used in the North Atlantic. Why was
this particular camouflage so effective? In simple terms the answers are as
It was designed to perform against only one type of enemy (the U-Boat).
D. With few exceptions, it was used on ships that worked exclusively in areas where the weather conditions suited the camouflage.
American Measure 12R that saw widespread use in the Atlantic in 1942 was an
example of not following the former principles. 12R fell between concealment and
disruption. In the Atlantic, concealment was necessary, not disruption. The
colors and tones ranged from very dark to very light, thus concealment was
extremely difficult to achieve, regardless of lighting conditions. Measure 12R
was supposed to work in a variety of conditions, but because of the preceding
aspects, the utility was greatly diluted. The variety of patterns, in size and
shape, produced different effects, which meant that the range at which
concealment did sometimes occur varied greatly. Consistence was lost. One of the
reasons for the failure of 12R was a combination of loosely worded instructions
which allowed camouflage officers responsible for individual ship painting to
exercise their limited degree of knowledge to a level that produced negative
the Pacific, the pre-war belief that a very dark color of blue tint was the best
for aerial and surface concealment was proved false, as the fleet actually
operated not in the Eastern Pacific and in Hawaiian waters (where the tests were
conducted) but in the South and Western Pacific, where light and weather
conditions were substantially different. This particular example of supposedly
correct choice illustrates the problem of peacetime experiments and ideas which
often led to false conclusions. The British did not conduct pre-war camouflage
experiments, but the Americans did (see part IV). On paper these experiments
could be perceived to be scientific and extensive. In fact they were extremely
limited in scope, especially in respect to location. Almost without exception,
these tests were carried out off the California coast or in Hawaiian waters near
Pearl Harbor. Not a single experiment was ever performed in the South Pacific or
in the Philippines. In the Atlantic it was not until 1941 when the American Navy
operated under near war conditions that large-scale experimentation began, and
when it did, many of the preconceived ideas developed earlier were discarded.
addition to schemes that were obviously unsuitable, some ideas that showed
promise were rejected. Admiral King’s attitude was a good example of personal
interest combined with prejudice. He correctly concluded that a straight lined
graded scheme was of use for concealment in the Atlantic, but refused throughout
1941 to even consider the proven Western Approaches scheme, or the highly
trusted Mountbatten Pink. It was not until he was promoted to C in C in early
1942, and somewhat removed from the subject, that the camouflage section began
to seriously explore and experiment with other types of camouflage on the ships
at sea in the Atlantic.
the Americans entered the war with a body of knowledge, albeit incomplete, the
British entered in 1939 with nothing. It was not until late 1940 that a
camouflage department came into being. In the interim and well into 1942,
amateur schemes abounded. Did any of these work? Yes, but only a few, Western
Approaches being the grand success. As for the others, they disappeared without
a trace, including Mountbatten Pink. In fact, it was not until 1944 that both
navies came to a set of similar definitive conclusions, which are given below.
The prevalence of a bright horizon sky in tropical waters implying the use of
light tones of paint to match it even in sunlight.
The harmlessness of light tones when seen from the air in tropical waters.
The fact that the visibility of landing craft is determined by their wake: hence
painting them a dark tone is useless.
That dark tones generally have high visibility.
That with a high sun ships appear dark however painted.
That at very long range the light tones in a pattern will disappear and that the
ship will only be visible because of the dark tones present.
That the dark parts of patterns increase the visibility of ships by night.
That white is the least visible tone on dark nights (and that many officers
still believe, on the contrary, that black is least visible).