Dazzle ships

photo of a war ship painted diffreent colours in random geometric shapes

This year's advent calendar features items relating to the First World War from National Museums Liverpool.

Dazzle painting was introduced as a way of camouflaging ships during the First World War. Dazzle's contrasting stripes, curves and blocks of colour create an optical illusion that break up a ship’s shape and obscure its movement in the water, making it difficult for enemy submarines to identify and destroy it.

Painted in bright colours and a sharp patchwork design of interlocking shapes, the spectacular dazzle style was heavily indebted to Cubist art. The inventor of dazzle painting, Norman Wilkinson, was influenced by avant-garde British painters such as Wyndham Lewis and David Bomberg.

In 2014 Merseyside Maritime Museum's own pilot ship the Edmund Gardner was transformed into a contemporary dazzle ship by artist Carlos Cruz-Diez as part of events marking the centenary of the First World War.

There are lots of photographs of First World War dazzle ships in the Maritime Archives and Library's collection at Merseyside Maritime Museum. This photograph shows the War Cypress, built by Cammell Laird in 1917, just across the river from Merseyside Maritime Museum. The ship was re-named Leopold L D in 1920 and Aliki in 1932. Seized by the Vichy Government in 1941, it had another name change to Monaco, and was then taken by the Italians and re-named Bologna in 1942. The vessel was finally sunk by HMS Unbroken, a British submarine, off Cape Vaticano on 21 May 1943 on a voyage from Naples to Messina. 

Maritime Archives and Library reference McR/55/49