Time for some Razzle Dazzle!

Used extensively in World War I, Dazzle camouflage was a unique creation that saw the marrying of art with military strategy. At the outbreak of World War I the British Navy was having trouble hiding its ships from German U-boats because there was no sure way to conceal ships on the open seas. Due to constantly changing weather it was impossible to produce a camouflage that would consistently hide navies from the enemy sights. While painting ships grey did reduce visibility, ships would still leave a wake as they travelled and a revealing trail of smoke that resulted in British ships being sunk by the German Navy in devastating numbers.

To counter the extreme exposure and destruction that the British Navy was being subjected to, Dazzle Camouflage was created. Popular belief has Norman Wilkinson – an artist in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – creating Dazzle Camouflage in 1917, however there is a potential point of contest, with others recognising John Graham Kerr as pushing this idea forward three years earlier. On the 24th September 1914 after the destruction of several British ships in only one day, Kerr wrote to Winston Churchill outlining some ideas on how to camouflage large ships, including a form of paint application that was similar to the dazzle camouflage realised by Wilkinson. In this letter Kerr describes the following method of camouflage:

“It is essential to break up the regularity of the outline and this can easily be affected by strongly contesting shades. The same applies to the surface generally, a continuous uniform shade renders conspicuous, this can be countered by     breaking up the surface by violently contrasting pigments. A giraffe, or zebra, or jaguar looks extraordinarily conspicuous in a museum, but in nature when not moving, is wonderfully difficult to pick up. The same principle should be made use of in painting ships”.

This idea was well received by Churchill and passed to naval officers, however it was up to individual officer whether or not this principle was acted upon. In 1917 Wilkinson once again revisited the notion of disruptive colouring, and a much more organised and coherent effort was implemented across the navy to make use of, what is now known as, Dazzle Camouflage.

The purpose of this camouflage was not to hide the ship, but rather to utilise a form of obliterative colouring that confused and distorted its shape. This would mean that when German attackers sighted British ships in Dazzle Camouflage they would find it difficult to identify its type, size, speed and direction of travel, making it extremely difficult to target.

To commemorate this artist creation, as part of the ongoing events around the centenary of World War I the arts organisation, 1418 Now has commissioned the artists Tobias Rehberger and Carlos Cruz-Diez to recreate Dazzle camouflage in both London and Liverpool on the HMS President and the Edmund Gardner.

Image courtesy of 1418 Now: Dazzle Ships. Liverpool, Carlos Cruz-Diez, 2014. Image credit - Helen Hunt

Image courtesy of 1418 Now: Dazzle Ships. Tobias Rehberger, 2014. Image credit – Stephen White

 

Image courtesy of 1418 Now: Dazzle Ships. Dazzle Ship Liverpool, Carlos Cruz-Diez, 2014. Image credit - Helen Hunt

Image courtesy of 1418 Now: Dazzle Ships. Liverpool, Carlos Cruz-Diez, 2014. Image credit – Helen Hunt

 

You can see a time-lapse video of these ships being painted here.

As to the Glasgow School of Art’s role in camouflage, during World War I many students were appointed roles where their artistic talents were utilised in the creation and execution of different forms of camouflage to protect their fellow soldiers from enemy fire.

Resources used in this post, and interesting articles regarding Dazzle camouflage not already mentioned are:

Dazzle Camouflage in Space! Image courtesy of Jedi Council Forums

 

Opening Up Scotland’s Archives – Trainee Positions

Today the Scottish Council on Archives is launching an exciting new training scheme Opening up Scotland’s Archives in Edinburgh, Dundee, East Lothian and our very own Glasgow.

Scottish Council on Archives

Scottish Council on Archives

The institutions involved are:

  • Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow City Archives/Glasgow Life
  • Glasgow City Archives/Glasgow Life
  • University of Dundee’s Archive Services
  • University of Glasgow Archives
  • Edinburgh University’s Centre for Research
  • National Records of Scotland

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund this three year scheme offers six paid trainees the opportunity to contribute to the care and development of Scotland’s archival heritage.

As the keepers of public and personal memories, The Scottish Council on Archives are hoping to develop a diverse workforce that will bring new skills and perspectives to the table. Looking to attract those who may have never thought about undertaking a job in the archival profession this post will give each trainee the opportunity to work with some of the most unique collections across Scotland. Including ours!

A page from the Roll of Honour that detail the fallen soldiers in World War I. A part of our collection that will examined as part of this scheme

A page from the Roll of Honour that details GSA staff and students who were killed in World War I. The School’s Annual Reports from this period will be just one of the sets of records our trainee will get to work with.

Here at the Glasgow School of Art the trainee will be working with our collections on a project to commemorate the First World War while learning new skills. This project will look to highlight and explain the past to new audiences while ensuring that our documented national memory remains accessible for future generations.

If you would like more information on these traineeships and details on how to apply, please see The Scottish Council on Archives website and the attached advert: Scottish Council on Archives Traineeship Advert