Why in the First World War they drew patterns on ships
Why in the First World War they drew patterns on ships

By “blind,” we usually mean that someone has lost their clear vision - for example, from looking at a bright light. And you can also dazzle with your beauty when what you see is admirable. However, this word has one more meaning, which has already been forgotten in our time. It's about blinding camouflage. During the First World War, this term was very common - this was the name for the courts, fancifully painted by artists. So bizarre that the ships began to look like paintings created in the style of Cubism.

By 1917, Germany's Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II had launched a hugely successful naval campaign: more than one-fifth of British supply ships were sunk by the Germans, whose submarines were ordered to destroy any ship - even hospital ships.

Wilhelm II

Hiding ships from enemies was extremely difficult, since the colors of the sea and sky were constantly changing. Ideas such as the use of mirrors, the use of tarps were discussed, and other options for hiding ships were considered, but they were all rejected and found to be impracticable. First of all - because of the impossibility to hide the smoke from the chimneys of the ship. Finally, a solution was found. It was designated by the word dazzle (to dazzle), and was proposed by the famous artist and head of the British Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve Norman Wilkinson.

The main difference between his idea and others was that you need to try to disguise not the ship itself, but its location and direction. Wilkinson found a solution: these should be ships painted with multi-colored geometric patterns.

The ship that "blinds"

In many war films, you can see that when a submarine attacks a ship, one person gives the coordinates of the ship using the periscope, and the other pushes a button, releasing a torpedo. In real life, everything is much more complicated. The submarine was supposed to be no closer than 10 feet and no further than 6 thousand feet with a little. The position of the ship and where it would be when the torpedoes were fired had to be estimated using the size, normal speed of the ship, and the direction in which it was moving. This is where dazzle comes into play.

Wilkinson, an artist, sailor and ingenious inventor

Bright colors, unusual shapes and curved lines made the enemy strain their eyes and confused them - it became very difficult to determine the shape, size and direction of the ship in this case. By the way, in nature, something similar can be observed in zebras - their stripes on the body also confuse the predator, which is not easy to understand in which direction the animal is moving, and even more so - the whole group.

Zebras can also be called blinding camouflage

In May 1917, the first "blinding" ship of the British Navy was sent for testing. Local sailing ships and the Coast Guard were to report its location. The dazzle worked brilliantly. After an initial test, about 400 warships were painted, as well as 4,000 British merchant ships.

Painted HMS Argus (I49) in the harbor in 1918. A little way off is a battle cruiser

The idea of ​​the artist and naval officer Wilkinson turned out to be so successful that such painting of ships was put on stream, even standard types of coloring for certain types of ships appeared. Other artists were also involved in the work, because the volumes were huge.

SS West Mahomet in blinding camouflage. 1918

The abstract drawings depicted on the ships were very reminiscent of the modernist wave of painting of the time, which became popular with artists such as Picasso.Some of the painters began to use "blinding", painting with the same technique, but not on ships, but on canvas.

Pablo Picasso. Harlequin (1909)

Interestingly, in the Second World War, such camouflage was practically not used, especially since more advanced methods for determining the coordinates and directions of ships (including electronic devices) gradually began to appear, which could not be influenced by such patterns. However, the Nazi troops sometimes nevertheless used some semblance of blinding camouflage - for example, they painted bright silhouettes of smaller ones on the sides of their large ships or painted over the ends of the ships.

In 1944, such ships were already a rarity

More than a hundred years later, New York artist Tauba Auerbach created another "blinding" ship: the New York Art Foundation commissioned the painter to paint the legendary fireboat John J. Harvey. This is one of the most powerful fire extinguishing boats ever built, which, incidentally, was also used in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.

Cutter John J. Harvey in camouflage

Artist Tobias Reberger also designed the dazzle, similar to the World War I-era ship now seen at Somerset House on the River Thames in London. He also painted an entire "dazzling" cafe, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale.

And the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez painted the ship Edmund Gardner in this style. It stands in dry dock in Liverpool as a city monument.

By the way, in the Imperial War Museum in London you can see posters, clothes, pillows, bags and other items made in the "blinding" style of the ships of the First World War.

We also recommend reading about why in the Second World War it came to an open war between England and France.

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