The ‘dazzling’ camouflage color applied to a new Royal Navy patrol vessel was originally used on a range of ships in the First and Second World Wars in the hope that it would confuse enemy German U-boats and ships.
Military leaders have revived the color scheme on HMS Tamar, which will be heading to the Asia-Pacific region later this year.
It has shades of black, white and gray in strange, shocking shapes added by shipbuilders at the A&P yard in Falmouth, Cornwall.
Dazzle camouflage owes its existence to Royal Navy officer and artist Norman Wilkinson and the culmination of the first Battle of the Atlantic in 1917.
While Britain struggled to cope with the U-boat threat, Wilkinson came up with the idea of confusing boatmen on patrols from Plymouth.
He couldn’t make ships invisible – the smoke coming from their funnels was an obvious gift – but he could make them much more difficult to identify, or to judge their course and speed.
The paint job was used on WWI ships including HMS Furious and HMS Nairana before appearing on HMS Badsworth and HMS Trinidad, among others, in WWII.
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The ‘dazzling’ camouflage color applied to the Royal Navy’s new patrol ship HMS Tamar was originally used on a range of ships in World War I and World War II in the hope that it would confuse German U-boats.
Dazzle camouflage was originally used in World War I. Pictured: the paint job on the aircraft carrier HMS Argus from the First World War
Historian Simon Stevens, the curator of the National Maritime Museum, told the BBC it was ‘intriguing’ that the Navy chose to repurpose the historic paint job.
Since submarines no longer rely solely on periscopes to spot ships, the color scheme has far less value than ever and has therefore not been used since World War II.
However, Royal Navy commander David Louis, who heads the Overseas Patrol Squadron, said the new camouflage is about supporting his unit’s ‘unique identity’.
In WWI and WWII, the different shapes, angles, and colors were intended to confuse submariners peering through periscopes.
Dazzle camouflage owes its existence to Royal Navy officer and artist Norman Wilkinson and the culmination of the first Battle of the Atlantic in 1917
While Britain struggled to cope with the U-boat threat, Wilkinson came up with the idea of confusing U-boat skippers on patrols from Plymouth. Pictured: WWI ship with HMS Nairana with the paint job
In WWI and WWII, the different shapes, angles, and colors were intended to confuse submariners peering through periscopes. Picture: ship HMS Pegasus from WWI
It was also hoped that the paint would make their calculations about the speed and direction of targets incorrect – meaning any torpedo could miss.
Commander Wilkinson’s idea was first tested on miniature model ships before being approved by the Admiralty and used on the real naval fleet.
More than 2,000 ships received the strange livery before the end of the Great War.
Although better rangefinders and later radar had come into use during World War II, the glare scheme remained in use until the fall of Japan in 1945.
Mr Stevens said on BBC Radio 4’s PM program: ‘Lieutenant Commander Norman Wilkinson, who was a naval artist, came up with a plan where he would design these patterns and paint the ships to confuse the ship’s profile so that when you looked through the periscope of a submarine you could not determine the outline of a ship in terms of “what kind of ship it was, the direction of travel and also the speed”.
Commander Wilkinson’s idea was first tested on miniature model ships before being approved by the Admiralty and used on the real naval fleet. Picture: ship HMS Furious from WWI
More than 2,000 ships received the strange livery before the end of the Great War. Picture: ship HMS Kilbride from WWI
They are critical in determining your calculations as to where and when you would fire your torpedo to sink that ship. ‘
Commander Wilkinson set up a unit in the basement of the Royal Society in London where artists and draftsmen worked on models placed under special lighting conditions to test the patterns.
“They didn’t just use shades of gray, they used pink and blue because they were doing an experiment with all the different lighting conditions,” added Mr. Stevens.
‘This is very strange, it’s quite new to me that they have gone back to this system.
Modern stealth warships are built without planar surfaces, so their radar signature is reflected off so it cannot be read.
Submarines still use periscopes when looking at warships today. But it’s intriguing that they’ve reverted to this system used in World War I and World War II. ‘
Lieutenant Commander Michael Hutchinson, Tamar’s captain, said: “We are very proud of our new color scheme and the historical significance that comes with it.
Although better rangefinders and later radar had come into use during World War II, the glare scheme remained in use until the fall of Japan in 1945. Pictured: WWII ship HMS Badsworth
“Different styles of glare were used by the Royal Navy on ships at various stations around the world and were delighted to have an iconic new look before deploying it in the summer.”
Commander Louis said that before sending Tamar on its Pacific patrol, the Navy had decided to give the River-class ships a clear identity to recognize their extensive missions.
Deployed for several years in a row, the squadron’s ships operate from overseas bases and ports in areas critical to the UK’s interests, national security and prosperity: the Caribbean, the Falklands, the Mediterranean and West Africa , and now Asia-Pacific.
“Dazzle has much less military value in the 21st century, although there is still value in coastal environments against the background of land,” explained Commander Louis.
“It’s much more about supporting the squadron’s unique identity within the Royal Navy as part of their forward presence mission.”
HMS Trinidad on an Arctic convoy in 1942. Historian Simon Stevens said, “This is very strange, this is quite new to me that they have gone back to this system.”