Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bedlam Abounds | Shipshapeliness and Camouflage

USS West Bridge in dazzle camouflage
Above Photograph of the USS West Bridge, as photographed on May 25, 1918, with a dazzle camouflage scheme applied. This is a digitally colorized version, and does not literally represent the colors applied to the actual ship. The public domain photograph on which this rendering is based is in the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 65098-A).


Lewis Ransome Freeman [describing a dazzle-camouflaged ship], Sea Hounds. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919, pp. 112-113—

The fantastic pile of multi-colored slabs blotting out a broken patch of sky above the seaward end of the estuary, if it had been on land, might have been anything from a row of hangars, viewed in slant perspective, to the scaffolding of a scenic railway, or a "Goblin's Castle" in Luna Park…Distorted by the camouflage, the tumbled mass of jumbled colors continued to loom in jagged indefinitiveness as we closed in from astern, and it was only when we had come up well abreast of it that the parts settled down into "ship-shapeliness," and the silhouette of perhaps the most famous of the world's great steamers [USS Lymptania] sharpened against the sunlit afternoon clouds.


Below Digitally colorized version of a black and white news photograph of two members of the Design Subsection of the US Navy's marine camouflage unit near the end of World War I. On the right is Lieutenant Harold Van Buskirk, who was the officer in charge of two teams of artists and scientists (in Washington DC and at Eastman Kodak in Rochester NY, respectively) who designed ship camouflage plans.

US Camoufleurs R.J. Richardson and Harold Van Buskirk

On the left is Raymond J. Richardson, in charge of the drafting room, who had studied camouflage earlier in New York with muralist William Andrew Mackay. Van Buskirk is holding the drawn-up camouflage plans for a certain vessel, a camouflage-painted model of which is being held by Richardson. If the painted model passed the observation tests, the drawing was sent to the US Geological Survey and reproduced in multiples as colored lithographs. These printed plans were then sent out to District Camoufleurs at eleven coastal shipyards throughout the country, for use in applying the schemes to the ships. Nearly 500 different plans were drawn up, colored and printed, of which three complete or partial sets are known to have survived. One of those sets is at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, while another is at the National Archives and Records Administration.