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The Razzle Dazzle Camo of World War I

Article #39 • Written by Alan Bellows

The Brits called it "Dazzle Painting," and the Yanks called it "Razzle Dazzle." It transformed ships of war from plain gray hulls into brightly colored, floating works of cubist art. British, American, and French forces adopted the wild, colorful designs, and the patterns became commonplace in World War I navies. Witnesses were heard to comment on the striking, dramatic scene that met the eye upon seeing a convoy of dazzle-painted ships. It must have been a sight.

The warship cubism was not intended as an artistic statement, however. Many attempts had been made to reduce the visibility of ships to help protect them from the German U-boats, which were sinking allied shipments at an alarming rate. But despite extensive attempts at camouflaging ships, constantly changing conditions in the sky and water made all such efforts ineffective. A nimble-minded British officer by the name of Norman Wilkinson suggested a different approach: use patterns and colors that break up the ship's lines, and make it harder to discern its speed and direction. Since World War I predated radar and air support, U-boat commanders had to aim their torpedoes manually, eyeballing the speed and distance of the target so the torpedo would be in the right place at the right time. These patterns made the bow unclear, in turn making U-boat commanders' jobs much harder.

Sadly, there are no known color photos of the Razzle-Dazzle warships. The photo attached to this article is a crudely colorized photo of the French warship Gloire.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 02 November 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

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Posted 03 August 2006 at 09:08 pm


Posted 05 February 2007 at 03:11 am

Too bad.

Posted 05 February 2007 at 12:02 pm

heh, clever clever! It seems that the external link is down though :-(

Posted 21 April 2008 at 03:17 pm

A color photo exists, check wikipedia or google search it.

Posted 03 September 2008 at 08:48 pm

Enter your reply text here. OK

Paint your ship a very bright pink. No enimy or pirate will ever come abord but playmate girls will.

Mostly Harmless
Posted 13 October 2008 at 04:53 am

So artistic. They should do this to all decommissioned battleships just for the fun of it!

Gerry Matlack
Posted 08 February 2010 at 08:12 pm

I just found a few more examples/pictures of this here:

Posted 26 May 2011 at 09:20 pm

on a similar note, in WWII the allies tried bright lights to hide aircraft in the sky during daylight hours.

Posted 19 March 2014 at 12:26 am

The USN tried painting several of its submarines pink in WWII on the theory that somehow the color pink would appear to take on the color of sky and sea around it. I doubt it did any such thing, but they DID try it...

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