Dazzle painting of ships in World War I
In World War the idea of camouflaging ships using natural principle to achieve invisibility was mooted by the Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr and the American artist Abbott Thayer. These ideas were tried half-heartedly but dropped in favour of a scheme devised by a marine artist and seaman Lieutenant Norman Wilkinson.
Wilkinson’s idea was that disruptive colour could make an assessment of a ship's course difficult for a submarine aiming to fire a torpedo after sighting by periscope. It was not intended to help a ship avoid long distance gun attack, which had been Kerr’s main aim. Indeed, Wilkinson admitted that dazzle painting might make a ship more visible in some circumstance and hence more vulnerable. He described the rationale behind disruptive patterning and confusing a submarine’s aim:
The whole aim was to use perspective and colour strength in such a way that the bow was pushed away from you and the stern was brought towards you.
In other words, the patterns had to create an optical illusion almost like the impression of motion you feel in a stationary train when a train beside yours moves off.
The ideas were developed in America by the artist Everett Warner. The principle of Dazzle Painting of ships in World War I. These two ships are on the same course, coming closer to the observer, but the bow of the dazzled ship seems to be turning away, out to sea. (Adapted from Everett Warner, Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society, 21 July 1919.)