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The Art of JAMA
April 9, 2014

Dazzle-ships in Drydock at LiverpoolEdward Wadsworth

JAMA. 2014;311(14):1382-1383. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279432

At the height of World War I, German submarines were sinking British merchant ships by the hundreds to prevent them from transporting food and raw materials to support the Allied war effort. Between October 1916 and January 1917, 1.4 million tons of British commercial shipping was sunk by German torpedoes and many seamen lost their lives. If the merchant ships could be camouflaged to blend in with the sea and sky, their chances of survival might improve, but they would still be detectable while under way because movement is the nemesis of concealment—so the British took a different approach. Instead of concealing their ships, they made them more conspicuous by covering them with high-contrast geometric patterns called “dazzle camouflage.” The idea was to disorient the submarine commanders and throw off their aim.

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