Hit Them With The Razzle Dazzle – WWI British Navy Ship Cammo


The Father of Dazzle Camouflage, Norman Wilkinson

When you are interested in design, technology, perception AND history? (As I am.)  Sometimes a story comes along that feeds all 4 things.

This post, borrowed from Twisted Sifter does just this. And rather than blab on about why this is so damn cool, I’ll just let you check out an abridged version here and hopefully, marvel like we have at this ingeniuous and extremely cool graphic solve to a fatal problem of war.

For the full blog post with many more photographic examples, please visit Twisted Sifter or click on any image.


You are the Fleet Admiral of the Navy in WWI what do you do?


You’re the Fleet Admiral of the Navy in World War I. Your ships are being sunk at an alarming rate by the devastatingly effective German U-Boat. The traditional camouflage isn’t working because your environment (sea and sky) changes with the weather. What do you do?



World War I occurred from 1914–1918; back then sinking an enemy battleship was a three-step process:

Step 1: Locate your target’s position and plot its course.
Step 2: Determine the ship’s speed and confirm the direction it is heading
Step 3: Launch torpedo not directly at the ship, but where you think it’s going to be by the time the torpedo reaches the ship.

*Remember this is early 20th century warfare, weapons don’t travel at the speed they do today

So what’s your solution Fleet Admiral?



Forget about not being seen, that only solves their first problem. Focus on confusing them so they don’t know where you’re going. Then their torpedoes will be shot in vain because they thought you zigged when you really zagged.

British Artist and naval officer Norman Wilkinson had this very insight and pioneered the Dazzle Camouflage movement (known as Razzle Dazzle in the United States). Norman used bright, loud colours and contrasting diagonal stripes to make it incredibly difficult to gauge a ship’s size and direction.

It was cheap, effective, and widely-adopted during the War. Check out the incredible photographs below.


*NOTE: Unfortunately the images are in black and white, being from the early 1900s and all, so the loud, bold colours will require a little imagination. Can you picture a fleet of electric yellow, orange and purple ships coming to get ya!




La Muette, a time capsule of French advertising posters

Old advertisements revealed at La Muette. (Photo: Paul Shamble. Click for more info or to read the article 'History dans le Métro'.)

Thanks to a friend who alerted me to this link posted on the AIGA site, (thanks Dave C!) I have a cool little moment in design to share here.

Like all cities, civilization and history continually build on top of itself. One really lovely case in point is the renovations as we would say in English, also known as décarrossage in French, to denote the deconstruction of a previous style or building, of parts of La Muette Metro station in Paris, where for a short time in 2009, demolished walls revealed layers upon layers of old posters and advertisements.

Lovely decay of several posters revealed at La Muette Metro station. (Photo: Paul Shamble. Click for more info or to read the article 'History dans le Métro'.)

It seems that simply pasting up new posters was so the norm when something new came along, that this system even went so far as to work for the construction of the typical Parisian white-arched tile and rather than bother to remove these posters, they were simply walled over.


These posters and ads, long since forgotten probably just a few short years, if not months, after being enclosed behind sparkling white tile walls in the 1950’s & 60’s, were a surprise to a new generation of contractors and architects (under the direction and employ of the RATP’, Paris’ transportation organization) apparently when the tiled walls were broken down and these gems from the past were revealed. At times, the layers of posters were incredibly thick, as you can see below.

Dense with poster and board and posters. (Photo: Paul Shamble. Click for more info or to read the article 'History dans le Métro'.)

The article, History dans le Métro’, written by Gene Tempest, a doctoral history student currently studying in Paris can be read in it’s entirety here. It’s a very cool read with neat clues about the ages of many of the posters based on cultural changes, such as the one-time use and eventual discarding of Parisian phone numbers having a place name prefix, a bit like old-fashioned American ones. While ours were more created out of neat sounding memes (PENNSYLVANIA 6500!), the Parisian name-number combinations were geographically linked to the subscriber’s location.

Plus, the article mentions Haussmann’s impact & influence on Paris, a force which can never be overstated nor over-discussed in any of its positive or negative aspects. These photos are really beautiful, and as a designer and history geek…it’s pretty dang neat to see two loves linked together in Paris, even if it was fleeting.

A torn ad for a modern design school sat hiding behind seats for decades. (Photo: Paul Shamble. Click for more info or to read the article 'History dans le Métro'.)