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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

The art of Dazzle Ships


margaretdufay

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Some idea of the colour schemes used, which can't be found in black & white photos, can possibly be gained (allowing, of course, for 'artistic license') from from looking at contemporary paintings of the ships using the BBC 'Your paintings' search feature with 'Dazzle' as the search term - a couple of Norman Wilkinson's should be included in the results. Although some of Edward Wadsworth's (the chap that supervised the application of dazzle according to Tate Liverpool) works can be found on the BBC site, there are none of his of dazzle ship available. (his work Dazzle ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919 can be found on the National Gallery of Canada website Here though)

NigelS

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Does history record where the name 'Dazzle' originated? I can think of more accurate terms to describe the bold geometirc patterns such as maybe 'Abstract'.

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According to Nicholas Rankin in 'A Genius for Deception' the term 'dazzle' was coined by the Director of Naval Equipment, Captain Clement Greatorex, who was an early backer of the scheme. Possibly the name was intentionally a bit of misdirection, in the same way paravanes were often referred to as 'otters'.

Regards,
Ralph

Edited by Ralph Currell
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All very well to look pretty but is there any evidence that it worked ?

According to the piece posted by Mags an 'official report' published after the war concluded there was no evidence it did, on the other hand as one of the interviewees said it probably made it more difficult for a u-boat captain trying to judge speed and distance. Have a listen it's fascinating stuff.

Incidentally here is the link to the ship being discussed http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/liverpool-biennial-dazzle-ship

Ken

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Even during the war there was some doubt as to whether dazzle painting was worth the effort.

Naturally its inventor, Norman Wilkinson, quoted reports and statistics suggesting it was effective, and after the war he received a tidy sum from the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors.

On the other hand an Admiralty committee reported in September 1918 that the case was at best ambiguous but recommended that dazzling be continued, citing "the undoubted increase in the confidence and morale of Officers and Crews of the Mercantile Marine resulting from this painting ..."

Regards,
Ralph

Edited by Ralph Currell
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  • 1 month later...

Very interesting, especially reading what it was used in the Second World War. Alan Raven has written 4 excellent pamphlets and the Floating Dry Dock 2, both explaining in what conditions it might work.

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  • 4 months later...

It's difficult to judge the effectiveness of Dazzle in WW1,as the threat environment was rapidly evolving. At the time when Wilkinson had his initial notion (in the early months of 1917) the recently announced decision of the German navy to adopt unrestricted submarine warfare was causing a great deal of concern - so Dazzle was an intriguing proposal that quickly gathered support.

It made sense to make it a more difficult job for U-boats to determine a the actual course speed and distance of their targets, because submarines of this period had limited speed and manouverability under water, and it wasn't at all easy for them to get in to an ideal position to fire their torpedoes (often their surface target was moving at a speed in excess of what the submarine could maintain under water). Having acquired its target, the U-boat would then have to calculate the relative track of both vessels (both travelling at different courses and speeds) and make necessary allowence for the running time of the torpedo - in other words fire at a point somewhere ahead of the target's current position so that the torpedo track intersects and hits. All this being done from optical input gathered from the periscope (restricted by wave motion and surface visability conditions).

The introduction of Dazzle (alone) cannot claim to have single-handedly brought down the number of Allied ships being sunk (particularly during that critical 10 month period between March and December, 1917), but it could probably claim to have played a part in some ships successfully being able to evade a torpedo attack (and it was particularly beneficial for larger ships sailing independently).

Other measures (like zig-zagging and the adoption of the convoy system, and the development of the depth charge) obviously had more obvious impact - not least, the arrival of large numbers of USN destroyer escorts after America joined the Allied cause. However, all things being equal (which they never were) Dazzle surely added something to the mix of effective U-boat counter-measures (albeit unquantifiable).

Michael

Edited by KizmeRD
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Shame that they did not attempt to reproduce a WW1 pattern. Actually the ship looks vey silly indeed.

Agreed. This scheme will leave many people with a misleading impression of what dazzle-painted ships actually looked like. It's pointless, distorting and self-aggrandising to try to put a modern spin on a historical practice.

Regards,

MikB

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Seconded!! - What they have done to the former HMS Saxifrage (President) on the Thames embankment has little to do with Wilkinson's Dazzle paint concepts (which are a lot more involved than simply painting seemingly random black & white patterns on the side of a ship).

But the old lady was in need of repainting - previously she was a shabby sight, now the ship is simply slightly odd and silly looking (but something for the tourists to see and remark on as they pass by).

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Whilst it is impossible to assess objectively - let alone quantify - the effectiveness of dazzle, I do, subjectively, think it was probably worthwhile.

It was obviously pointless to try to come up with a camouflage that would make a ship "invisible" - after all, the were usually belching out great plumes of smoke - dazzle, when seen at distance and not necessarily broadside, makes judging the outline, size, course, range and speed of a ship a lot more difficult.

If you see a zebra in a zoo, you may wonder what the point of dazzle is, but if you see a herd at distance in the savanna it certainly does not blend into the background, but - especially if it is resting in shade - you'll be hard put to make a head-count or recognise any details.

Or is it just my old eyes?

Cheers Colin

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Was HMS Saxifrage actually dazzle painted? Recent article in the papers about Zebra camouflage. It is now judged as ineffective. New theory is that the less white skin showing the fewer the insect bites inflicted on the animal apparently. I aint saying its so, just that its the latest theory.

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Was HMS Saxifrage actually dazzle painted? Recent article in the papers about Zebra camouflage. It is now judged as ineffective. New theory is that the less white skin showing the fewer the insect bites inflicted on the animal apparently. I aint saying its so, just that its the latest theory.

Yes, Saxifrage was indeed Dazzle painted during the Great War.

see link...

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Saxifrage_WWI_IWM_SP_1650.jpg

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