Razzle Dazzle - Perspectives No. 435
British artist Norman Wilkinson (1878 - 1971) is credited as being the inventor of dazzle painting, or razzle dazzle, during World War I. Wilkinson was a prolific illustrator and maritime painter. During the war, he was assigned to submarine patrols and mine-sweeping at a time when German submarines were successfully sinking multiple British ships every day. Wilkinson’s brainstorm was not to try to camouflage the ships, but rather to create optical confusion. He wrote that a ship should be painted “not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she was heading”.
Whether the dazzle painting was more effective than conventional painting in saving ships is unknown. It has been unreliable to try to compare the damage sustained by dazzled versus conventionally painted ships, due to the high number of variables (such as differences in ship sizes and different maneuvering tactics used by the ships).
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