Dazzle Camouflage | John Abram

Dazzle Camouflage was composed in 2003 for the Australian group Topology. The title refers to a peculiar type of camouflage used on merchant and military ships during the first and second world wars. It was the brainchild of British artist Norman Wilkinson, who noticed that ships seemed to be at their most conspicuous when painted black (the norm at that time.) Since there were an alarming number of ships being sunk by German submarines, a solution was urgently needed. Wilkinson’s only aim with his so-called dazzle designs was to confuse the submarine commander sufficiently so that an attack would miss the target, or would not take place at all. The principles of this camouflage were that bold lines and colours were to be painted all over the vessel (the port and starboard did not match) in a way that would not reveal the contours of the ship–rather, the designs were chosen to suggest a false perspective. The point which is easy to miss is that this was not supposed to hide the ships or to blend in with a background (as is the aim of most other camouflage), but to mislead a potential attacker. The visibility of the ship is of no significance. That the designs were efficient is well documented from ships’ logs, which often mention that an unknown vessel has been spotted heading on a certain course at a certain speed. What is remarkable is that these observations of course and speed (and even the type of vessel) were very often far from the truth. Dazzle designs continued to be used on ships well into the second world war, but became obsolete with the advent of radar. It is amusing to note that the admirals were very much in favour of dropping dazzle camouflage (in the USA it was known as razzle-dazzle) as they were uncomfortable with their destroyers being painted up in bright fanciful designs. In England especially, dazzle design caught the attention of artists and fashion designers. There was even a Great Dazzle Ball at the Chelsea Arts Club.
Dazzle Camouflage has 5 movements.


© John Abram 2017