Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dazzle Camouflage

by Anita Mae Draper
HMT Olympic in dazzle camouflage at Pier 2 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, painted by Arthur Lismer. Public Domain wikipedia
Dazzle camouflage came to my attention during family research into letters written during WW1 and sent home to the family. One letter noted that Olympic was still in harbor. The thought of a luxurious liner serving as a troop ship sent me into research mode. I was amazed to find the above image by war artist Arthur Lismer that shows the HMT Olympic in Halifax Harbor at the end of the First World War while still painted in dazzle camouflage. Further research led to the discovery that the Olympic was sister ship to the Titanic and the Britannic. 

Titanic (right) had to be moved out of the drydock so her sister Olympic (left), which had lost a propeller, could have it replaced. March 6, 1912. Public Domain, wikimedia

The Royal Mail Ship Olympic was the first of three British ocean liners of the White Star fleet and the largest vessel of its kind until the Titanic was launched with slightly more interior furnishings thus adding to the overall weight. The RMS Titanic sailed her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 and sank five days later on April 15 after hitting an iceberg giving her five days in service.

HMHS Britannic was completed on December 23, 1915 and began service less than a month later. She served as a hospital ship for eleven months before sinking in the Aegean Sea after hitting a mine on November 21, 1916.  

His Majesty's Hospital Ship (HMHS) Britannic. Public Domain, wikimedia

After the Titanic went down, the Olympic was taken out of service for a refit. Her lifeboats were increased from 20 to 64 and major modifications were made before she returned to mail and passenger service. In May 1915, the Admiralty requisitioned the Olympic as a troopship and installed 12-pounders and 4.7-inch guns. On 24 Sep 1915, the newly designated HMT Olympic (Hired Military Transport) began its military service with 6,000 soldiers on board. ​From 1916 to 1917, HMT Olympic was chartered by the Canadian Government to transport troops from Halifax to Britain. In 1917, she gained 6-inch guns and was painted with the dazzle camouflage scheme. 

HMT Olympic in dazzle camouflage while in service as a troopship during the First World War. Public Domain, wikipedia

The dazzle paint scheme is credited to Norman Wilkinson, a British marine artist whose geometric patterns made ships visible, yet distorted the perception of them so that their size, number and heading couldn't be easily discerned. An example of this is the USS West Mahomet when she was photographed in port in November 1918. 

USS West Mahomet In port, circa November 1918. Public Domain, wikipedia

In 1922 the Encyclopaedia Britannica published this plate which illustrates the dazzle camouflage effect as seen through a U-boat, or submarine, periscope.

Plate illustrating the "dazzle painting" method of camouflaging ships to make their orientation less apparent, by Norman Wilkinson.  Originally published 1922 Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Public Domain wikimedia

The dazzle camouflage paint scheme was received with mixed reactions, depending on how one perceived what they were looking at, and the multitude of factors at the time. 

As November 11th draws near, we remember the men and women who served in military conflicts for the sake of freedom. 


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at www.anitamaedraper.com


  1. Very interesting post. I was not aware of this kind of camouflage. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome, Linda. I appreciate you stopping by. :)

  2. How interesting!! These boats should be memorialized with a photography display. Thanks for posting about this!

    1. You're welcome, Connie. Yes, a photography display...with the addition of paintings! Due to the lack of color photography at the time, the color scheme didn't catch my eye until I saw it in vivid blues. It makes me wonder what other treasures we miss for the same reason.
      Thanks so much for dropping by this morning. :)

  3. A great post. Really intersting and well written. Thank you for sharing your research with us1

    1. You're very welcome, and thank you for stopping by and letting us know you saw it.

  4. I'm not sure I'd want to board the USS West Mahomet. It hardly looks seaworthy with that paint scheme!

    1. I know, eh, Terri. It has the best dazzle effect I've seen yet.
      Thanks for commenting. :)