The camouflage 'Dazzle': a painter and his artwork ... in the wars!

(To David Bartoccini)

If you can't hide an aircraft carrier from 30,000 tons that it crosses in the middle of the Atlantic, at least try to disguise it in the waves, the horizon and the clouds; or the exact opposite. This was more or less the basic concept of camouflage Dazzle: captivating idea of ​​a British artist, the Royal Navy reservist Norman Wilkison. Committed to defending the Dardanelles, off Gallipoli with an anti-submarine unit during the First World War, he developed the brilliant idea to exploit the 'colors' in a complex pattern of lines and waves, geometric and violent designs chromatic contrasts, which are interrupted and intersect to confuse the observer to the point of rendering him incapable of estimating with any certainty the tonnage, the type, the distance, and the speed of the ship that one tries to identify behind the lenses of a binoculars or, worse, a periscope.

In fact, Wilkinson - a talented artist and illustrator for the Illustrated London News - proposed to the Admiralty in the 1917 to protect the Allied ships by affirming the opposite of what anyone (free from the peculiarities of human genius) would have stated: make them as visible as possible but at the same time totally 'indefinable' for the enemy. A ship cannot be hidden from the commander of a submarine, this is certain, but through the art of confusion it can cause him to give up the blow by not understanding what lies ahead, or even making him make a mistake: because he is confused about speed and distance, can launch its torpedoes in a vacuum.

The idea of ​​the Cambridge artist intrigued the British Admiralty that after testing the schemes on painted scale models and observed at the periscope from a distance, he applied to convoy ships, light cruisers and even the first Royal Navy aircraft carriers, such as the 'HMS Furious (picture at the bottom) e Nairana, the camouflage patterns designed by Wilkinson convinced of his sensibility. Among the painted ships, the former transatlantic RMS also stood out Olympic (in the photo on the right - twin of the plurinoto Titanic), required by the Navy and used as a troop transport vessel.

Il Dazzle, also renamed Razzle Dazzle, was also adopted by the US Navy, intervened in the world conflict precisely in the 1917, which repainted numerous units according to the schemes suggested by the artist. Wilkinson developed hundreds of types of duzzle patterns, which included colors like pink, yellow and blue, plus the more classic black and white combined with different shades of gray.

The drawings of Wilkinson, a modernist painter fascinated by seafaring landscapes, attracted attention, as well as the commanders of the German u-boot unable to distinguish what the hell they had in front of, of numerous artists among which the names of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque stand out, fathers of the Cubist movement. Another was the artist Edward Wadsworth, founder of vorticism - a British art movement developed from Cubism.

At the end of World War I, the Royal Society awarded Wilkinson with a sum of 2,000 pounds; his dazzle schemes in addition to saving the lives of tens of thousands of sailors and allied soldiers, survived the modernizations of the '20 and 30' years and continued to stand out on numerous war units of the allied military marines even during the second world war. Regarding the effectiveness of camouflage Dazzle it can be said that it has never been scientifically proven despite repeated observations, neither in the First World War nor subsequently. In this regard, however, since it is a 'camouflage', one could already state that the statement itself is a success. However, recent research conducted by the University of Bristol suggests that the Dazzle it could still be a valid mimetic scheme to be used on contemporary battlefields now crossed by paints stealth and MARPAT mimetic schemes. In fact, according to a study, the Razzle Dazzle disorientate the perception of speed: making the subject estimate two different speeds by observing the same objective, one devoid of camouflage and the other painted according to the dazzle scheme, which moves at the same speed. This highlights the importance of camouflage if one thinks of the calculation that preceded, for example, the launching of a salvage of torpedoes by a submarine intended to hit a warship in motion.

According to the dt. Scott-Samuel, who led the research at the University of Bristol's psychology division, camouflage Dazzle applied to a simple Defender (off-road Land Rover, nda) used by the British Army would be enough, distorting the sense of speed, 'to miss the target by throwing a grenade of about one meter': and that could be the difference between living or dying.

The art of Norman Wilkinson, lover of the misty sunrises spent on the docks of Porstmouth and Cornwall to observe the ships that sailed to the ocean, or warm seas of the Tropics, now finds a place in the collections of the National Maritime Museum, of the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society of British Artists. The service brought to the homeland instead, is imprinted in the frescoes of history, and in the lives of the sailors to whom he saved his life.