‘HMS Belfast’ | ‘Museum Ship’ | ‘River Thames, London’
A bamboozling predator of the sea, the HMS Belfast painted in ‘Admiralty Disruptive Camouflage Type 25’ sits proudly moored along the side of the South Bank. In the midst of London Art & Design culture, with The Tate Modern and Design Museum flanking either side, I took a moment to consider the functional and aesthetic merit of the HMS Belfast’ paint job.
Lieutenant Commander and marine painter Norman Wilkinson invented the concept of disruptive colouration combinations and stripes in 1917. Named Dazzle Camouflage, it is a paint scheme used primarily on ships extensively during WWI and to a lesser extent WWII. A constructed chaos of complex patterns and geometric shapes in harshly contrasting colours interrupting and intersecting each other.
Its purpose was confusion rather than concealment. Making it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed and heading An observer would find it difficult to know exactly whether the stern or the bow is in view; and it would be equally difficult to estimate whether the dazzle camo vessel is moving towards or away from the observer’s position.
“… an original and sinister touch, which leaves the enemy puzzled as well as beaten.” Sir Winston Churchill.
The vortistic nature of the dazzle paintwork has an essence of familiarity with the previous posts but with a greater practical effect;- shape form and pattern not as decoration or art, but to be used as a deterrent for war engagement.