Now THAT’S Camouflage

Posted by Rebekah
Feb 15 2010

Once in a while, I come across stories from WWII that are just amazing.  Like the submarine that was sunk with potatoes.  Or this.

Most ship  camouflage was called “dazzle” and looked rather ridiculous, as seen here:

And Example of the "Dazzle" Camouflage on the Destroyer USS Charles S. Sperry in 1944

The idea was not to hide the ship.  It’s the open ocean, you can’t hide a surface ship.  The idea was to play with a lookout’s eyes.  If your enemy lookout can’t tell which end of your ship is the bow or stern, or which way you’re going because he can’t find the edges of your ship, then it’s really difficult to aim anything at you.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that was just an opening act.  The plan was to move as quickly as they could to attack a number of the colonized countries in the Pacific within a few weeks.  They started on the Philippines hours after Pearl Harbor, and worked their way south down to the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and Papua New Guinea with frightening speed.  Ships that fled Manila found themselves chased all the way south to Australia for weeks.

The Dutch minesweeper HNLMS Abarham Crijinssen was the last survivor of the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942, and ordered to escape to Australia.  But there was a problem: the Japanese air patrol cover was nearly complete.  Dazzle camouflage doesn’t work on planes, so what to do?

The Dutch sailors came up with a novel idea.  The archipelago they were a part of was riddled with thousands of islets, so many that not all of them showed up on maps.

So they became an islet.

The Crijenssen is in the center of this photo

Can you see them?  Try this view:

A close up of the ingenous disguise

Yup, Dutch sailors cut limbs and branches and fronds and liberally festooned their ship with them.  During the day, they anchored near a larger island, during the night, they kept moving south.  It took nearly three weeks, but she arrived unscathed in Australia on March 15, 1942.

She was transerred to the Australian Navy for the balance of the war, and following, she cleared mines in the East Indies, which became Indonesia in 1945 (recognized by the Netherlands in 1949)

Today, she is a museum ship at the Dutch Naval Museum along with the nineteenth-century  iron clad ram (the Schorpioen) and a Cold-War era submarine Tonijn.

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