Based on established and reliable optical laws, the Navy’s World War II camouflage used black and white painted patterns on vessels, producing startling visual deception that was confounding even at a 50-foot range. Strongly contrasted stripes in the designs made accurate observation virtually impossible. False shadows created most deceptive illusions of shape. Sterns were ‘shortened’, gear was ‘hidden’, and entire ships were ‘heeled’ through the scientific use of paint.
Known as ‘Dazzle Camouflage’, the bold, painted stripes and angles at first glance seems counter-intuitive, an unlikely method of hiding a ship. Tied up, in port, a dazzle ship stood out like something dreamed up by a Hollywood designer. Out amidst the movement and corruscation of the seas, it became a completely different proposition. Rather than making the ship invisible, the dazzle ships technique made it difficult to identify the target, and the correct identification of a target could make all the difference between a successful attack, or failure. If the enemy sent a squadron out to attack what they thought was a group of battleships, which in reality turned out to be only a couple of patrol boats in motley, you can understand how correct identification was vital. Further, dazzle ship camouflage became an highly effective method of throwing off an enemy’s gunners. Enemy U-Boats needed to target torpedos at where a ship would be, the distortion of perception resulted in a reduction of accuracy by even the most experienced submariners.
With increased familiarity, and the use of radar and aerial observation, the dazzle ships technique became less effective.
Enemy U-Boats would simply target anything on the water that looked like licorice all-sorts, however, the thought of targeting something that reminded them of Ingrid Bergman undoubtedly demoralized many a German submariner.