We first wrote about dazzle camouflage in 2010 (it was one of the Sifter’s first viral posts). In this episode of Vox Almanac, Phil Edwards explains why dazzle camouflage was a surprisingly effective defense against torpedoes.
World War I ships faced a unique problem. The u-boat was a new threat at the time, and its torpedoes were deadly. That led artist Norman Wilkinson to come up with dazzle camouflage (sometimes called â€œrazzle dazzle camouflageâ€). The idea was to confuse u-boats about a shipâ€™s course, rather than try to conceal its presence. In doing so, dazzle camouflage could keep torpedoes from hitting the boat â€” and that and other strategies proved a boon in World War I.
This camouflage is unusual, but its striking appearance influenced the culture, inspired cubist paintersâ€™ riffs, and even entered into the world of fashion. Though dazzle camouflage lost its utility once radar and other detection techniques took over from u-boat periscopes, for a brief period in time it was an effective and unusual way to help ships stay safe.