Sea vessels

What are dazzle ships?

Are you wondering what 'dazzle' ships are, and why the eye-catching style of camouflage has been used over the years? Well, you have come to the right place.

From 1905, the Royal Navy began painting their ships grey. 

Towards the end of the First World War, the 'dazzle' paint scheme style of contrasting shapes and colours at striking angles was first introduced by the service, with many navies across the world following suit. 

The concept was invented by Royal Navy officer and artist Norman Wilkinson during the First World War.

He came up with the idea during the height of the first Battle of the Atlantic in 1917, as Britain struggled to deal with the threat from U-boats.

The various shapes, angles and colours were intended to confuse enemy submariners peering through periscopes, making it hard for them to identify ships and confuse their calculations about the target's speed and direction.

Dazzle camouflage was quickly phased out by the Navy after the end of the Second World War in 1945 and the improvement of radar and other technology.

Navy aircraft carrier HMS Argus with dazzle camouflage in 1918 during WWI (Picture: Science History Images, Alamy stock photo).
Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Argus with dazzle camouflage during the First World War (Picture: Science History Images/Alamy).

Why was 'dazzle' camouflage used?

More than 2,000 British and allied ships received the livery before the end of the Great War and the camouflage scheme returned in the early stages of the Second World War until Japan's surrender in 1945.

The intention behind the geometric shapes was to make it difficult to visually assess the class, distance, position and movement of ships, and, most importantly, thereby making it difficult for an enemy to successfully target.

Funnels and gun turrets positioned near each other would be painted in contrast to make it difficult to recognise a ship by its profile.

Tops of gun barrels would be painted in darker shades than the bottoms.

White was usually used for masts because the colour would blend in with the sky in many situations.

The decks of ships were also painted, to offer disguise when the ship was listing heavily (when it takes on water and tilts to one side).

Dazzle has some similarities to another paint scheme, known as 'Western Approaches' which itself is a mark of respect to the sailors who fought and died in the Battle of the Atlantic.

As a development of earlier Royal Navy camouflages, the scheme was first used on World War Two destroyer HMS Broke.

It was then replicated for other destroyers and small ships engaged in anti-submarine operations, designed to "hide" the vessels.

HMS Severn is among contemporary Navy ships to be painted in Western Approaches.

HMS Tamar is the first Royal Navy vessel to get dazzle camouflage since end of WW2 (Picture: Royal Navy(.
HMS Tamar has revived the tradition with a new dazzle paint job (Picture: Royal Navy).

Contemporary 'dazzle' camouflage

The new Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Tamar recently received a 'dazzle camouflage' paint scheme makeover, featuring various shades of black, white and grey in a number of shapes, ahead of her deployment to the Asia-Pacific.

The Navy said the decision to repaint HMS Tamar is a nod to the Navy's heritage, rather than an operational move.

The dazzle camouflage is set to be extended across the entire Batch 2 River-class patrol ship fleet.

HMS President (1918), one of the last remaining First World War warships underwent a 'dazzle' makeover in 2014 to mark the centenary of the First World War.

The vessel was originally deployed as a submarine hunter tracking down German U-boats and is permanently moored on the River Thames, near the Victoria Embankment in London.

In the same year, a replica dazzle ship was commissioned for Scotland and docked in Leith as part of a project commissioned by the Edinburgh Art Festival and the 14-18 NOW World War One commemorations.

Another was also commissioned in Liverpool.

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