Dazzle ships that fooled German subs in WWI

Similar artistic principles reused in modern-day France to improve road safety

22 November 2017
By Connexion journalist

Dazzling designs mark an unusual exhibition for the centenary of artistic World War One ingenuity at Brest’s Musée National de la Marine.

Called Razzle Dazzle by the French, ships such as the Tit­an­ic’s sister ship Olympic were painted in bright geometric shapes to confuse German submarine commanders who were terrorising Atlantic shipping lanes in 1917, threatening desperately needed supplies and troop transports.

British and US ships were painted in the different coloured designs – period black and white photos do not do them justice – with the aim not being to hide the vessels but to distort their form, so U-boats could not tell the bow from the stern.

By creating false perspectives, it was difficult for the submar­iners to calculate their target’s heading and speed accurately.

Dazzle ships like Maur­­itania, Leviathan and Olym­pic carried a million soldiers from the US but while Picasso said they were based on his Cubist art, they were invented by British naval artist Norman Wilkinson.

A similar principle is being used on a road crossing in a northern town as the use of colour and perspective gives a 3D effect... drivers see what looks like a row of blocks floating on the roadway.

It aims to make drivers slow down as they approach the 3D crossing in Cysoing, near Lille, Nord.

Made by Groupe Helios subsidiary T1 in Santes, near Lille, the 3D crossing costs twice as much as a normal crossing. It is being tested in France for the first time after already being successful in towns in India, Iceland and Belgium.

The Brest exhibition runs until the end of next year and combines archive and modern-day art inspired by camouflage.

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