U.S. Navy WWII Dazzle Camouflage from a Different Angle

Many ship modelers and others interested in ship camouflage are familiar with the drawings that the U.S. Navy produced and distributed during World War II to show how to paint the camouflage for a particular ship or class of ships. The most numerous were those that illustrated the designs for the Measure 31, 32 and 33 Camouflages. Typically these drawings illustrate the pattern and colors for the port or starboard side of the ship, but may also include various views of sections or ends of the superstructure. Very often, a drawing also provided a stern view to show the pattern seen from that angle. These stern views proved to be surprisingly confusing to the people who had to use the drawings to paint the pattern on the full-sized ship.

Because of the confusion about how to interpret the stern views of many drawings, in many cases, there were two different results when the drawing was applied to the full-sized ship. The confusion seems to be over how to use the stern view, that is, what projection should be used to interpret the drawing. The projection used for engineering drawings is called orthogonal (“right-angled”) or orthographic because the lines of sight from points on the object to the picture plane of the image are perpendicular to that plane. Thus, the lines of sight, called projectors, are parallel rather than convergent (as they are in the central projection of the eye, the camera, or in geometric perspective). *

* Definition of orthographic projection from www.britannica.com


The illustration above shows the two concepts: on the left is the orthographic projection from a top view that would produce a stern view and on the right is a perspective projection to produce a stern view from a close camera or eye position. This caused two different versions of how the stern might be painted based on each of those two different interpretations. Despite what may seem obvious to those who are familiar with three-dimensional plans, this dual interpretation was fairly prevalent.


The best representative example comes from Design 1D. The stern view of the 1D design drawing for the Evarts class Destroyer Escorts (NARA 80-G-172859 and 80-G-172871) shows what should be almost “edge-on” views of the aft-most camouflage panels as viewed from the stern. The enlarged section of the drawing is shown on left and we can see the two black panels on each side of the stern, that match the port and starboard black panels foreshortened as if viewed at a very oblique angle.


Thus, we should see the camouflage for Design 1D applied to produce a stern view like this view of USS John M. Bermingham (DE-530) left. In this photo taken in Boston Harbor on August 15, 1944 we see the aft-most black panels on each side “edge-on” with no black panels between.


The next photo is USS Whitman (DE-24) at Mare Island on April 21, 1944, also in Design 1D. Whitman clearly has painted “extra” panels on the stern as if the drawing was interpreted as a close-up perspective view. One can just imagine the possible discussions or arguments that took place in wardrooms or shipyards about which was the correct interpretation of these drawings.

These different interpretations of stern views were not limited to one particular ship class or type. All classes of Destroyer Escorts (DEs), many classes of Destroyers (DDs) and some classes of Cruisers had similar differences. For a modeler of any of these ships, what this means is that to accurately portray the camouflage, one cannot just assume that the applied camouflage looked exactly like the drawing. Views must be found that show some portion of the stern in addition to port and starboard in order to confirm the interpretation.

Some drawings either left out or did not show the pattern viewed from the stern and this seemed to cause confusion as well.


This photo shows the enlarged stern view from the drawing for Measure 31/9D for the Fletcher class destroyers (NARA 80-G-170932 and 80-G-170933 dated March 8, 1944) showing the stern blank and without a color label; possibly an oversight or maybe even the intention was for the side pattern to be continued and wrapped around the stern. There is a disconnect in the drawing since the last panel toward the stern on the port side is the light color while the last panel on the starboard side is the medium so, if continued, the two colors must meet somewhere on the stern. This obviously could lead to confusion about what to do.


The next photo shows the stern of USS Uhlmann (DD-687) taken off Hunters Point on August 10, 1944 showing the entire stern painted light gray (5-L) with no pattern continued from either side. Note: Uhlmann used Measure 32 colors; hence the lightest color is 5-L.


This photo shows the stern of USS Hopewell (DD-681) on an unidentified date at an unidentified Pacific base showing the stern with the ocean gray (5-O) panels from each side continued around the stern quarter and meeting near the middle. Whichever of these two interpretations is the “correct” one is anyone’s guess. Again there must have been many discussions about what to do since the drawing gave no hint of how to treat the stern.

The Camouflage Section, which was responsible for the drawings, appears to have tried to address the problem of confusing stern views. Some design drawings, especially for Destroyer Escorts, included the stern knuckles or “corners” possibly in an effort to make it clear how the pattern wrapped around the stern.


The photo left is an enlargement of the stern of the Design 14D drawing for the Buckley class destroyer escorts dated December 30, 1943 (NARA 80-G-163670 and 80-G-163671). This view shows the knuckles and the aft-most starboard black panel wrapped around onto the stern.


The next photo shows the stern of USS Hollis (DE-794) on January 28, 1944, near Houstan, Texas. The starboard black panel continues around the stern quarter and is a very good match for the drawing. Also, the aft port black panels can be seen almost edge-on.


However, some camouflage painters seemed to be still confused. The next photo above gives a view of the stern of USS William C. Cole (DE-641) at San Francisco on May 18, 1944. There are “extra” panels on the stern in an effort to match the drawing as if the entire width of the stern view were just the stern from one quarter to the other.

There was one particular design drawing that while trying to avoid confusion resulted in even more: Design 22D for the John C. Butler Class of Destroyer Escorts.


This photo shows two portions of that drawing enlarged and side-by-side. We see on the left side the depiction of the stern that is only from knuckle to knuckle or the width of the two depth charge racks. This shows only a black panel on the starboard side of this part of the stern. Together on the right alongside, I have included the aft portion of the starboard view in order to see the panel on starboard quarter. These two views seem incompatible since the curved stern should allow the side view to see some portion of the stern panel.


One interpretation is left: a photo of USS Oberrender (DE-344) in Boston on July 15, 1944, from starboard stern quarter. Notice how the black panel on the stern quarter does not wrap around the stern and there is an “extra” panel on the stern creating a gap.


Next we see a cropped aerial view of the stern of USS Oliver Mitchell (DE-417) showing a single dull black panel that wraps around the stern quarter; apparently the two panels have been joined into one.


There was a third option for interpreting the seeming conflicting views. This photo shows the stern quarter of USS Dennis (DE-405) showing no panels on the stern and a single panel on the starboard side. The camouflage painters in this case ignored the stern view altogether.

To show that this did happen on larger ships, I have included one example.


Left is the stern of USS Houstan (CL-81) in camouflage 32/1D on January 11, 1944; the stern of USS Miami (CL-89) was painted similarly.


This is the stern view from the drawing for 32/1D for the CL-55 class. Notice the “extra” black panel on the port stern quarter, which is really the edge of the aft most panel. Both Houstan and Miami had this “extra” panel on the stern port quarter.

In fact many camouflage drawings had more than one interpretation for how to apply the pattern; especially around the stern. This multiple interpretation probably was the result of having crews applying paint that were unfamiliar with reading plans or blueprints. My guess is that in some cases crews were handed paint and drawings and instructed, “Make it look like this.” The result was often a bit unpredictable. Thus, any modeler who wishes to accurately portray a ship in its camouflage should make sure to view photos of all sides and as many angles as possible.

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Site last updated: March 1, 2019
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