Sunday, October 07, 2012

CUROUS FACTS: Military Camouflage & Deception 3


Full-color reproduction in The Sphere magazine (3rd August 1918) of a World War I painting (by an artist named S. Ugo of British soldiers applying disruptive camouflage to the surface of a cannon. Source: camoupedia blog

This third post draws on material from the CURIOUS FACTS ARCHIVE - ‘Camouflage: A History of Concealment and Deception in War’ by Guy Hartcup [David & Charles 1979] and an article tucked inside it - ‘General Pattern Army’ by John Windsor [The Independent on Sunday [4th August 1996].The latter was partly based on the first comprehensive history of camouflage uniforms – ‘Brassey’s Book of Camouflage’ by Tim and Quentin Newark, published that month. The following year, the Imperial War Museum staged an exhibition entitled ‘Camouflage’. Read the BBC News account and listen to audio interview with the curator here. Tim Newark’s pictorial history ‘Camouflage’ was published by Thames & Hudson the same year.

Beginning in the First World War, British, French and Germans employed artists as camouflage designers. Windsor writes:

‘The German Expressionist Franz Marc…. was released from the German frontline cavalry and let loose on nine tarpaulins intended to hide artillery from spot­ter planes. He wrote ecstatically to his wife that he had painted them with pointillist designs and that they represented his artistic develop­ment "from Manet to Kandinsky!" Neither Marc nor the Kandinskys survived the war.

The leader of the first military camouflage section, the fashionable Parisian portraitist Guirand de Sceuola, was always seen in white kid gloves as he supervised the work of 20,000 painters in French camouflage workshops.


‘In order to deform totally the aspect of an object, I had to employ the means that cubists use to represent it.’ —Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola

‘I well remember at the beginning of the war,’ Gertrude Stein wrote in 1938, ‘being with Picasso on the Boulevard Raspail when the first camouflaged truck passed. It was at night, we had heard of camouflage but we had not seen it and Picasso, amazed, looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we who made it, that is Cubism.’ Stein went on to suggest that the entire First World War had been an exercise in Cubism.’

- Patrick Wright [London Review of Books/23rd June 2005]


Detail from "The 40 Camofleurs", a 1916 French cartoon on camouflage artists attributed to Drevill (Imperial War Museum)

A different account of the French camofluers in Wikipedia:

Lucien-Victor Scévola is considered one of the inventors of military camouflage during World War I, together with sub-officer Eugène Corbin and painter Louis Guingot. At the start of the war, in September 1914, de Scévola, serving as a second-class gunner, experimentally camouflaged a gun emplacement with a painted canvas screen. On February 12, 1915, General Joffre established the "Section de Camouflage"  at Amiens.  By the end of 1915, de Scévola became commander of the French Camouflage Corps, employing cubist artists such as André Mare, a specialist in camouflaging lookout posts. By 1917, de Scévola's team had grown to 3000, taking in artists including Jacques Villon, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, Charles Camoin and Charles Dufresne.

More interesting information from the French Wikipedia on Camouflage [amended translation via Google Translate].

* The French Camouflage Corps had a chameleon badge as their official symbol. One of these creatures – a master of natural camouflage -  lived freely in the workshop of Louis Guignot.

* It claims that Guirand’s camouflage factory employed 1,200 men and 8,000 women.

* The Guinness Book of World Records dates the first use of modern camouflage as February 12th 1915

* It was during the First World War that foreign armies began using the French word ‘camouflage’ – which didn’t exist in their native languages.

Camouflaged German steel helmet from World War I (image: Imperial war Museum)

Source: Imperial War Museum

* In 1916, German soldiers adopted a new steel helmet – the Stahihelm – which they painted with geometric shapes and bright colours in order to hide their silhouettes ‘when looking over the parapet’.




Plan for constructing an observation post tree. Source: Imperial War Museum.

According to Hartcup’s book, de Sceola was the first to disguise observation posts as trees.

Trees stripped of their branches by bombardment were cut down at night and dummy trees substituted in which men could sit protected by steel plate and connected to base by telephone. The first dummy tree was set up near Lihors in May 1915 during the Artois battle.’

The English artist Solomon J Solomon, a Royal Academician and portrait painter led Britain’s camouflage section. He was instructed to follow the French example and make an observation post on the Yver Canal. Hartcup writes:

The banks were lined with poplars, willow and birches and Solomon made some drawings, at the same time as undergoing his baptism of fire, eventually selecting a willow.

He then returned to England to supervise the construction of the OP. The steel core, made of sections bolted together, was just large enough to hold and observer who mounted a ladder to his perch from where he could observe the enemy. Solomon design it so that the part facing the enemy would appear too small for a man to ascend the tree…The outside of the core was now covered with bark from a  decayed willow in Windsor Great Park, after permission had been obtained from the King to cut down the tree. When ready for final assembly the trunk was screwed into a steel collar which would be embedded in the ground. The whole equipment weighed about 7cwt [355.6kg] and required twelve men to lift it.’


Solomon J. Solomon’s own painting of his first observation post tree which was erected on 22nd March 1916 [Imperial War Museum]


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