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Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
Military Uses
1   2   3   4   5   6   Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
The Visibility of Airplanes

Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
Marine

Marine Camouflage. At the time of the Spanish-American war, our battleships were painted white, apparently with little thought of attaining low visibility. Later the so-called "battleship gray" was adopted, but it has been apparent to close observers that this gray is in general too dark. Apparently it is a mixture of black and white. The ships of the British navy were at one time painted black, but preceding the Great War their coats were of a warm dark gray. Germany adopted dark gray before the close of the last century and Austria adopted the German gray at the outbreak of the war. The French and Italian fleets were also painted a warm gray. This development toward gray was the result of an aim toward attaining low visibility. Other changes were necessitated by submarine warfare which will be discussed later.

In the early days of unrestricted submarine warfare many schemes for modifying the appearance of vessels were submitted. Many of these were merely wild fancies with no established reasoning behind them. Here again science came to the rescue and through research and consultation, finally straightened out matters. The question of low visibility for vessels could be thoroughly studied on a laboratory scale, because the seascape and natural lighting conditions could be reproduced very closely. General weather conditions, even, could be simulated. And small models were used to prosecute the experiments outdoors. Mr. L. A. Jones [Report of The Submarine Defense Association, L. T. Bates and L. A. Jones.] carried out an investigation on the shore of Lake Ontario, and laboratory experiments were conducted by others with the result that much light was shed on the questions of marine camouflage. This work confirmed the conclusion of the author and others that our battleship gray was too dark. Of course, the color best adapted is that which is the best compromise for the extreme variety in lighting and weather conditions. These vary in different parts of the world, so naturally those in the war zone were of primary importance. All camouflage generally must aim to be a compromise best suited for average or dominating conditions. For example, in foggy weather a certain paint may render a ship of low visibility, but on a sunny day the ship might be plainly visible. However, if ships are rendered of low visibility for even a portion of the time it is obvious that an advantage has been gained. Cloudiness increases generally from the equator northward, as indicated by meteorological annals.

In order to study low visibility a scale of visibility must be established, and it is essential to begin with the fundamentals of vision. We distinguish objects by contrasts in brightness and in color and we recognize objects by these contrasts which mold their forms. In researches in vision it is customary to devise methods by which these contrasts can be varied. This is done by increasing or decreasing a veil of luminosity over the object and its surroundings and by other means. Much work has been done in past years in studying the minimum perceptible contrast, and it has been found to vary with hue, with the magnitude of brightness, and with the size of the image, that is, with the distance of an object of given size. In such problems as this one much scientific work can be drawn upon. A simple, though rough, scale of visibility may be made by using a series of photographic screens of different densities. A photographic screen is slightly diffusing, still the object can be viewed through it very well. Such methods have been employed by various investigators in the study of visibility.

Owing to the curvature of the earth, the distance at which a vessel can be seen on a clear day is limited by the height of the observer and of the ship's superstructure. For an observer in a certain position the visibility range varies as the square root of the distance of the object from him. Such data are easily available, so they will not be given here. So far we have considered the ship itself when, as a matter of fact, on clear days the smoke cloud emitted by the ship is usually visible long before a ship's superstructure appears on the horizon. This led to the prevention of smoke by better combustion, by using smokeless fuels, etc.

The irregular skyline of a ship is perhaps one of the most influential factors which tend to increase its visibility. Many suggestions pertaining to the modification of the superstructure have been made, but these are generally impracticable. False work suffers in heavy seas and high winds.

After adopting a suitable gray as a "low-visibility" paint for ships, perhaps the next refinement was counter shading; that is, shadows were painted a lighter color, or even white. The superstructure was painted in some cases a light blue, with the hope that it would fade into the distant horizon. However, the effectiveness of the submarine demanded new expedients because within its range of effectiveness no ingenuity could render its intended prey invisible. The effective gun-fire from submarines is several miles and torpedoes can be effective at these distances. However, the submarine prefers to discharge the torpedo at ranges within a mile. It is obvious that, in average weather, low visibility ceases to be very effective against the submarine. The movement of a target is of much less importance in the case of gun-fire than in the case of the torpedo with its relatively low velocity. The submarine gunner must have the range, speed, and course of the target in order to fire a torpedo with any hope of a hit. Therefore, any uncertainties that could be introduced pertaining to these factors would be to the advantage of the submarine's prey. For example, low visibility gave way to confusibility in the discussions of defense against the submarine and the slogan, "A miss is as good as a mile" was adopted. The foregoing factors cannot be determined ordinarily with high accuracy, so that it appeared possible to add somewhat to the difficulties of the submarine commander.

Many optical illusions have been devised and studied by scientists. In fact, some of these tricks are well known to the general reader. Straight lines may appear broken, convergent, or divergent by providing certain patterns or lines intermingled with them. Many of these were applied to models in laboratory experiments and it has been shown that confusion results as to the course of the vessel. The application of these on vessels has resulted in the grotesque patterns to be seen on ships during the latter stage of the war. It is well known that these optical illusions are most effective when the greatest contrasts are used, hence black and white patterns are common.

Color has not been utilized as definitely as pattern in confusibility, although there is a secondary aim of obtaining low visibility at a great distance by properly balancing the black, white, and other colors so that a blue-gray results at distances too great for the individual patterns to be resolved by the eye. Color could be used for the purpose of increasing the conclusion by apparently altering the perspective. For example, blue and red patterns on the same surface do not usually appear at the same distance, the red appearing closer than the blue.

Such apparently grotesque patterns aimed to distort the lines of the ship and to warp the perspective by which the course is estimated. This was the final type of marine camouflage at the close of the war. Besides relying upon these optical illusions, ships zigzagged on being attacked and aimed in other ways to confuse the enemy. No general attempt was made to disguise the bow, because the bow-wave was generally visible. However, attempts have been made to increase it apparently and even to provide one at the stern. In fact, ingenuity was heavily drawn upon and many expedients were tried.

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Fig. 92. - A primary stage in the evolution of the use of
geometrical-optical illusions on ships.

After low-visibility was abandoned in favor of the optical illusion for frustrating the torpedo-attack by the submarine, there was a period during which merely a mottled pattern was used for vessels. Gradually this evolved toward such patterns as shown in Fig. 92. In this illustration it is seen that the optical illusion idea has taken definite form. During the period of uncertainty as to the course the pattern should take, a regularity of pattern was tried, such as illustrated in Figs. 93 and 94. Finally, when it dawned more or less simultaneously upon various scientific men, who were studying the problems of protecting vessels upon the seas, that the geometrical optical illusion in its well-known forms was directly adaptable, renewed impetus was given to investigation. The scientific literature yielded many facts but the problems were also studied directly by means of models. The latter study is illustrated by Figs. 95 and 96, the originals having been furnished by Mr. E. L. Warner, [Marine Camouflage Design, E. L. Warner, Trans. I. E. S. 1919, 14, p. 215.] who among others prosecuted a study of the application of optical illusions to vessels.

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Chapter 15 - Camouflage: Marine
Fig. 93 and Fig. 94. - Attempts at distortion of
outline which preceded the adoption of
geometrical-optical illusions for ships.

 

Chapter 15 - Camouflage: Marine
Chapter 15 - Camouflage: Marine
Figs. 95 and 96. - Illustrating the use of models
by the Navy Department in developing the
geometrical-illusions for ships.

The final results were gratifying, as shown to some extent in Figs. 97 and 98, also kindly furnished by Mr. Warner. It is seen that these patterns are really deceiving as to the course of the vessel.

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Chapter 15 - Camouflage: Marine
Figs. 97 and 98. - Examples of the
geometrical-optical illusion as finally applied.

The convoy system is well known to the reader. This saved many vessels from destruction. Vessels of the same speed were grouped together and steamed in flocks across the Atlantic. Anyone who has had the extreme pleasure of looking down from an airplane upon these convoys led by destroyers and attended by chasers is strongly impressed with the old adage, "In unity there is strength."

Before the war began, a Brazilian battleship launched in this country was provided with a system of blue lights for use when near the enemy at night. Blue was adopted doubtless for its low range compared with light of other colors. We know that the setting sun is red because the atmospheric dust, smoke, and moisture have scattered and absorbed the blue and green rays more than the red and yellow rays. In other words the penetrating power of the red and yellow is greater than that of the blue rays. This country made use of this expedient to some extent. Of course, all other lights were extinguished and portholes were closed in ocean travel during the submarine menace.

Naturally smoke-screens were adopted as a defensive measure on sea as well as on land. Destroyers belch dense smoke from their stacks in order to screen battleships. Many types of smoke-boxes have been devised or suggested. The smoke from these is produced chemically and the apparatus must be simple and safe. If a merchantman were attacked by a submarine, immediately smoke-boxes would be dumped overboard or some which were installed on deck would be put into operation and the ship would be steered in a zigzag course. These expedients were likely to render shell-fire and observations inaccurate. This mode of defense is obviously best suited to unarmed vessels. In the use of smoke-boxes the direction and velocity of the wind must be considered. The writer is unacquainted with any attempts made to camouflage submarines under water, but that this can be done is evident from aerial observations. When looking over the water from a point not far above it, as on a pier, we are unable to see into the water except at points near us where our direction of vision is not very oblique to the surface of the water. The brightness of the surface of water is due to mirrored sky and clouds ordinarily. For a perfectly smooth surface of water, the reflection factor is 2 per cent for perpendicular incidence. This increases only slightly as the obliquity increases to an angle of about 60 degrees. From this point the reflection-factor of the surface rapidly increases, becoming 100 per cent at 90 degrees incidence. This accounts for the ease with which we can see into the water from a position directly overhead and hence the airplane has been an effective hunter of submerged submarines. The depth at which an object can be seen in water depends, of course, upon its clarity. It may be surprising to many to learn that the brightness of water, such as rivers, bays, and oceans, as viewed perpendicularly to its surface, is largely due to light diffused within it. This point became strikingly evident during the progress of work in aerial photometry.

A submerged submarine may be invisible for two reasons: (1) It may be deep enough to be effectively veiled by the luminosity of the mass of water above it (including the surface brightness) or, (2) It may be of the proper brightness and color to simulate the brightness and color of the water. It is obvious that if it were white it would have to attain concealment by submerging deeply. If it were a fairly dark greenish-blue it would be invisible at very small depths. In fact, it would be of very low visibility just below the surface of the water. By the use of the writer's data on hues and reflection-factors of earth and water areas it would be easy to camouflage submarines effectively from enemies overhead. The visibility of submarines is well exemplified by viewing large fish such as sharks from airships at low altitudes. They appear as miniature submarines dark gray or almost black amid greenish-blue surroundings. Incidentally, the color of water varies considerably from the dirty yellowish-green of shallow inland waters containing much suspended matter to the greenish-blue of deep clear ocean waters. The latter as viewed vertically are about one-half the brightness of the former under the same conditions and are decidedly bluer.



Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
Military Uses
1   2   3   4   5   6   Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
The Visibility of Airplanes

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About This Book Preface Chap 1, Introduction Chap 2, The Eye Chap 3, Vision Chap 4, Geometrical Chap 5, Figures Chap 6, Angles Chap 7, Depth/Distance Chap 8 Brightness/Contrast Chap 9, Color Chap 10, Lighting Chap 11, Nature Chap 12, Painting/Decorating Chap 13, Architecture Chap 14, Magic Mirror Chap 15, Camouflage

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