Warship treated to Second World War paint job used to ‘dazzle’ submarines

Michael Drummond
·2-min read

A Royal Navy warship has been treated to a “dazzle camouflage” paint job for the first time since the Second World War.

New patrol ship HMS Tamar will head to the Asia-Pacific region covered in shades of black, white and grey in strange, jarring shapes.

The bizarre colour scheme was made famous during the world wars as a way to confuse submarines in the hopes of making torpedoes miss.

“We’re really proud of our new paint scheme and the historical significance that it comes with,” said Lieutenant Commander Michael Hutchinson, Tamar’s commanding officer.

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“Different styles of dazzle were used by the Royal Navy on ships in various stations throughout the world and we are pleased to have been given an iconic new look before we deploy in the summer.”

Dazzle paint/camouflage owes its existence to Royal Navy officer and artist Norman Wilkinson and the height of the first Battle of the Atlantic in 1917.

With Britain struggling to deal with the U-boat threat, Wilkinson came up with the idea of confusing U-boat skippers during patrols out of Plymouth.

He could not make ships invisible, the smoke belching from their funnels were an obvious give-away, but he could make it much harder to identify them, or judge their course and speed.

The paint scheme, introduced by the Royal Navy towards the end of the First World War, was adopted by many of the world’s navies at the time and repeated again between 1939 and 1945.

Dazzle-painted cruiser HMS Trinidad on an Arctic convoy in 1942 (Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright/PA)
Dazzle-painted cruiser HMS Trinidad on an Arctic convoy in 1942 (Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright/PA)

The different shapes, angles and colours were intended to confuse submariners peering through periscopes, making it hard for them first to identify ships and confuse their calculations about the target’s speed and direction, hopefully causing a torpedo to miss.

With the end of the war and the improvement of radar and optical devices, dazzle camouflage was quickly phased out by the Royal Navy after 1945 until now.

Now shipwrights at the A&P yard in Falmouth have added the dazzle scheme to Tamar’s hull, 200 litres of paint in four shades of grey, plus black, during a maintenance period, at the same time retaining the distinctive lion emblems.

Commander David Louis, Commander of the Overseas Patrol Squadron, said: “Dazzle has much less military value in the 21st Century although there is still value in littoral environments when viewed against the background of land.

“It is very much more about supporting the unique identity of the squadron within the Royal Navy as part of their forward presence mission.”

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