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Lieutenant Norman Wilkinson, to Rear Admiral Clement Greatorex, Director of Naval Equipment



Burlington House.

Piccadilly W.I.2



     In accordance with your instructions, I am forwarding three typical plans of vessels painted under the “Dazzle” or Camouflage scheme for the information of the United States Navy Board; also a brief description of the general aims of the scheme.

(I) The painting of these ships in the manner shown on the plans, is based on the general assumption that it is impossible to obtain invisibility at sea, especially where as in the case of an attacking submarine, the object is seen against the sky with practically no sea to form a background.

(2) A submarine on the lookout for enemy ships will in all probability locate a vessel by her smoke, even when hull down, so that no colour scheme aiming at invisibility is likely to save a vessel from attack. Again, where the vessel is hull up or within attacking range, she is a definite shape with no deception as to her course, when painted an even tone all over whatever the colour used.

     Therefore the only course open is to paint her in such a way as to deceive the attacker as to her size and course; this can only be done by extreme contrasts of colour and shapes, which will so distort the vessel as to destroy her general symmetry and bulk.

(3) The pattern must not be too small,or the result will be recognizable at a short distance, nor too big, as in the latter some large proportions of the vessel will be definitely shown.

A mean between those two extremes must be arrived at which will have the desired effect.

(4) The size, length, and bulk of the vessel to be painted must be considered when designing a colour arrangement for her

(5) These conclusions have been arrived at as a result of many years of observation of the effect of light and colour on ships at sea, and extensive experiments during the present war.

     The following points are considered important:

(a) In order to prevent the enemy becoming accustomed to any particular design, the plan of painting each ship, and each side of a ship differently has been adopted.

(b) The process of lining out and painting ships has been found to be a simple matter providing the colour shapes are kept flat.

(c) Only colours easily procurable are used.

(d) In order to assist in the breaking up of actual lines and forms by the suggestion of false ones, the use of lights and shadows in accordance with Thayers Law3 is incorporated where necessary.4

Norman Wilkinson


To Rear Admiral C.Greaterex R.N. A.D.C.

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG45, Entry 520.

Footnote 1: That is, Directorate of Naval Equipment

Footnote 2: Burlington House is a former mansion in the Piccadilly section of London. The British government bought it in the mid-1800s.

Footnote 3: Abbott Handerson Thayer, an American naturalist and artist in the nineteenth century, wrote extensively on the ways in which animals’ coloring patterns helped them hide from predators. “Camouflage: Abbott Handerson Thayer's ‘Beautiful Law of Nature,’” Smithsonian Library, accessed 6 July 2017,

Footnote 4: The British Navy began using dazzle camouflage in 1917, at first only for merchant ships, but later for all vessels. The U.S. Navy adopted dazzle almost immediately upon entering the war, but it did not become widespread in either service until 1918. Its effectiveness is highly suspect. One leading authority, citing the inability to hide a ship’s wake, concluded that no German submarine was ever fooled by the dazzle design. Still, Crisis at Sea: 308-309.

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