Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Thomas P. Magruder, Commander, Squadron Four, Patrol Force, to Vice Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet

[Brest, France]

Squadron Four, Patrol Force

U.S.S. WAKIVA, Flagship

26 September, 1917.

From:     Commander, Squadron Four, Patrol Force.

To:       Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

SUBJECT:      Painting of vessels to reduce visibility; camoflouge [i.e., camouflage] painting.

     Reference:- (a) C-in-C’s letter 609-24 July, 1917.1

     1. The vessels of Squadron Four, Patrol Force, have been painted differently in order to reduce visibility, as follows:

The CARILL and JAMES in light vibrating colors with spots (Mackay system). The COURTNEY instripes and loops of dark green, dark red, standard grey, and white (Toch system). The HINTON is painted to flatten out the high lights and lighten the shadows, using grey, white, and black (Brush System). McNEAL is painted with cloud formations(Watson system). The DOUGLAS, BAUMAN, ANDERTON, LE__S, and REKOBOTH, are painted standard grey.2

2. Observations made at different times on the trip from the United States to this port as follows:-

On course east about 10.30 A.M. August 28th, at sea, no land in sight, vessels 800 to 2000 yards distant, dark boats (or those painted standard grey) were less visible with sea background then the light boats of the Watson, Toch, and Mackay systems. The light boats were less visible against sky background.

During the afternoon on course east, sun bearing south-west, calm day, vessels painted standard grey much more easily visible than the McNEAL (Watson system), both vessels bearing south-east from the observer.

On course east, sun bearing south-east, light breeze, cumulous clouds, comparison between the McNEAL (Watson system) and REKOBOTH (standard grey), showed that with the sun behind the clouds, visibility of the McNEAL and REKOBOTH was about the same. When sun was shining, REKOBOTH was less visible than the McNEAL. Both vessels bore north-west.

On Sept. 12th, the JAMES (Mackay system), distance from the observer about 2500 yards, bearing about 173º true, bearing of sun 240º true, DOUGLAS (standard grey) about 3000 yards, bearing 198º true, CARILL (Mackay system) about 1500 yards bearing 138º true, McNEAL (Watson system) 2500 yards away bearing 100º true, cumulus clouds, many white caps, strong breeze from north-east, choppy sea. The JAMES was least visible when sun was behind clouds, particularly against sky background. The DOUGLAS showed up very plainly. With sun shining on vessels, the DOUGLAS was least visible.

On Sept. 17th with an overcast sky about an hour before sunset, the JAMES (Mackay system) bearing 150º true, distance about 2000 yards, DOUGLAS (standard grey) bearing 200º true, distance about 3000 yards, McNEAL (Watson system) bearing 195º true, distance about 3000 yards, with strong breeze from the south-west, white caps and choppy sea, the JAMES was less visible, particularly against water background.

3. No report can be made in regard to the difficulty in focusing range finders on vessels observed, owing to the fact that the WAKIVA is not equipped with a range finder.

4. During moonlight and usually at night, the vessels painted according to the Mackay, Toch, and Watson systems, showed up more plainly than those vessels painted standard grey. This is also noticeable during most of the time during daylight. The examples given are those when the light vessels were least visible. General observation showed that standard grey is a much better color for vessels under ordinary conditions, although near sunset and dawn or in misty weather, the light vessels are less visible than those painted standard grey. The COURTNEY, painted according to the Toch system showed up plainly under all conditions.

5. These experiences lead me to believe that standard grey is by far the best color for the average conditions at sea. It is probable, however, that a slightly lighter shade of grey would be better than the paint now in use.

T.P. Magruder.    

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG45, Entry 520. The location is based on the fact that Squadron Four, Patrol Force, was based at Brest, arriving on 18 September. DANFS: ANDERTON, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/a/ANDERTON.html.

Footnote 1: This letter has not been found.

Footnote 2: For more on camouflage, or “razzle-dazzle” colors schemes, see: Abell to Tobey, 13 August 1917 and Sims to Bayly, 14 August 1917. For an explanation of the Mackay, Toch, and Brush Systems, see: https://www.history.navy.mil/content/dam/nhhc/browse-by-topic/War%20and%20Conflict/world-war-i/panels_16-21.pdf.

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