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Dazzle Camouflage on Troop Ships

Note: This item is currently in storage.

Troop ships crossing the oceans during World War I were under constant threat of attack by German submarines. To combat this threat, dazzle camouflage was applied to sea-going vessels. Utilizing complex geometric patterns and contrasting colors, the goal was not to conceal a ship, but to make it more difficult to estimate the ship’s size, speed and position in the water. No two dazzle paint schemes were the same and could be particularly deceptive when seen through a submarine periscope.

The USS Charleston carried some of the first troops of the American Expeditionary Forces to France after the United States entered the war in 1917. This postcard image belonged to Hugh E. Simpson, who served with the 147th Aero Squadron during the war. Simpson returned to the United States aboard the Charleston in 1919. 

To see more examples of ships painted in dazzle camouflage, explore the online photo collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

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