Category Archives: History

Razzle Dazzle Camouflage

In WWI and WWII, over 6,000 Allied warships used camo to confuse the enemy.

By Taylor Welden


No, this isn’t a new Gobstopper flavor from Willy Wonka or a name of a wild 1970’s disco in Miami. Dazzle Camouflage is an innovative and controversial technique used by the British and US warships in World War I and into World War II. Not only was the name a bit odd (also known as “Dazzle Camouflage” or “Dazzle Painting”), the principal behind it was just as strange.

When you think camouflage, you normally imagine a set of colors or patterns that help conceal the object to which it is applied. Snipers wear natural-colored camo to match their surroundings, making them nearly impossible to spot, even in a flat field with a single shrub or two. Not here. Razzle Dazzle is quite the contrary.


The problem with ocean camo is, well, the ocean isn’t a single color. It varies from different factors, like weather, time of day, depth, and the water itself. So a single shade and/or mixture of gray or blue/green simply doesn’t work.

Razzle Dazzle Camouflage actually, counter-intuitively, makes ships more visible. Oddly, it works by boldly drawing attention, rather than hiding. However, due to the complex patterns of geometric shapes and bold contrasting colors, which interrupt and intersect each other, it was intended to simply mislead the enemy.


Though no color photos of these ships exist due to the photography equipment of the time, the colors used were primarily black, white, blue, green, and sometimes neons. When a German submarine spotted one of these flamboyant warships in their primitive rangefinders, it became extremely difficult to judge the speed and heading of the vessel’s course.

This made it nearly impossible to accurately make a successful torpedo hit, which were mathematically computed (by human) using factors of speed and course. Additionally, Razzle Dazzle Camo blurred the size, class or type of ship, which otherwise would be recognizable if painted in one solid color (this prevented the enemy from prioritizing their targets).


The wild camouflage was credited to British artist, Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971). His concept was adopted by John Graham Kerr, a Unionist Member of Parliament. Mr. Kerr outlined and proposed this radical idea in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1914, It is essential to break up the regularity of outline and this can be easily effected by strongly contrasting shades … a giraffe or zebra or jaguar looks extraordinarily conspicuous in a museum but in nature, especially when moving is wonderfully difficult to pick up.

Kerr’s letter was so compelling, Churchill quickly made a general order to the British fleet in November 1914, which advocated the use of Dazzle Camouflage. Following this directive and it’s success, the US Navy jumped on board, borrowing the technique from the Crown.




Though the camo was a massive aid in both World War I and World War II, it inevitably became obsolete as the technology of war developed, such as rangefinders, radar, and aircraft targeting systems. However, it still gave the Germany U-boats plenty of hassle, and frequently led to them giving up their positions to the Allied naval vessels.

In total, Razzle Dazzle was applied to over 2,000 warships and 4,000 British merchant ships. It’s still used today, as it’s frequently painted on car prototypes to prevent preying eyes from getting a clear view of the car’s lines/shapes via photo leaks. The Razzle dazzles on.







For a video on Dazzle Painting, visit YouTube. Or for further reading, see Amazon.

Image credits. 1:; 2: Naval Historical Center; 3, 5, 6, 7: 99% Invisible; 4: Mental Floss; 8: CosmoQuest; 9: Blaaargh; 10: WikiMedia; 11:; 12: Navsource Online; 13: OnSiteReview.


The Mona Lisa’s Twin Painting Discovered

The Mona Lisa is one of the most enigmatic and iconic pieces of Western art. It has inspired countless copies, but one replica at the Madrid’s Museo del Prado is generating its own buzz: Conservators say that it was painted at the same time as the original — and possibly by one of the master’s pupils, perhaps even a lover.

Juxtaposing the two paintings — and using infrared technology, which works like an X-ray, allowing one to see beneath the paint to see previous, obscured versions — conservators say that Leonardo and the painter of the replica made exactly the same changes at the same time.

“The changes mirrored the changes which Leonardo made on the original,” Martin Bailey, correspondent with The Art Newspaper in London, tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “[Conservators] concluded that the two pictures had been done side by side in the studio, and it was probably on easels which were two or three yards away from each other.”

The copy brings da Vinci’s studio to life — and stirs up questions. Who was this mystery painter? According to Bailey, the artist is likely to have been one of Leonardo’s main assistants: Melzi or Salai (who was rumored to have been da Vinci’s lover).

Side by side, the pictures look noticeably different: The copy is significantly brighter and more colorful; even Mona Lisa‘s famously coy smile takes on a new cast.

“The original Mona Lisa in the Louvre is difficult to see — it’s covered with layers of varnish, which has darkened over the decades and the centuries, and even cracked,” Bailey says. “What is wonderful about the copy is how vivid it is, and you see Lisa in a quite different light. I thought her eyes are enticing. And you see her enigmatic smile in a way that you don’t quite get in the original.”

Bailey says the find will be relevant to historians and laypeople, in that paradoxically, a copy might bring viewers to the original with fresh eyes.

“It is, after all, the world’s most famous painting, but people don’t look at it fresh,” he says. “They look at it almost as an icon. If you go to the Louvre, people aren’t actually really looking at the painting; they just want to be in the same room with it. For me, the beauty of the copy is that it actually makes us look at the painting as a painting, and I hope it will have that effect on other people, too.”