back to article WW2 naval dazzle-camo 'could beat Taliban RPGs'

Researchers at Bristol uni say they have performed experiments indicating that if British troops were to use the "dazzle camouflage" favoured for warships in the World Wars on their vehicles in Afghanistan, this would make them harder to hit with RPG anti-armour rockets, a favourite Taliban weapon. Dr Nick Scott-Samuel, …


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  1. Tom_

    Sounds perfectly reasonable

    So long as you drive your tank at the implausible speeds that you have pointed out and your enemy aims for the rear 90cm of your tank and not somewhere in the middle.

    1. Bilgepipe

      Fleetwood Mac

      And don't stop.

    2. Neil Stansbury
      Thumb Up

      Or go as slow as you want...

      and get yourself one of these:

  2. rpjs

    WW1 Shurely?

    Invented by the artist Norman Wilkinson in 1917 if the wiki-fiddlers are to be believed.

  3. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    They should just

    Paint OBL's face on the sides of the vehicle - rare is a Mujaheddin whose hand will not tremble at the thought of shooting at the martyred hero...

  4. SpecialGray

    Dazzle camo warships

    I might be wrong, but I thought that the reason warships were painted with dazzle patterns was to disrupt the Uboat captains ability to detect it's bearing, by making it difficult to tell apart the bow and stern and their relative angles toward or away from him?

    Agreed though, that ground vehicles would likely be too slow, and critically, would be likely following a known bearing, that of the road/track they are running on.

  5. Sgt_V3n0m

    I think they're a bit wrong

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the Dazzle camo used mostly during the Great War, not WWII? I'm a massive WWII buff and I've never seen Dazzle camo used at all.

  6. Alister Silver badge

    As a former naval ossifer

    you should know better, Lewis:

    <The idea behind dazzle-cam is not to avoid being seen, but to make oneself harder to hit once one has been seen. It was originally meant to prevent German submarines getting an accurate idea of a warship's range, speed and heading, so causing difficulties in getting a hit with a visually aimed dumb torpedo.

    From this study it becomes apparent that it never worked in the matter of causing a speed-estimation error, as warships don't go fast enough for the effect to kick in.>

    It did work, quite well, in the middle of a large expanse of water with no other reference points, especially when viewed through a water streaked periscope lens 2 foot above the water line.

    However, I agree, it won't work very well on a small vehicle on land.

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      @Sgt_V3n0m: wot no Dazzle?

      The Force is not strong in this one...

      As a massive WWII buff, you haven't been looking very hard; many ships were covered in dazzle camoflage, from a few simple stripes to break up the Bismarck and Tirpitz (which may have been painted in and out depending on service conditions) to complex patterns on US and other vessels

      1. Sgt_V3n0m


        Well I mainly know about the Ostfront and the Western Front, not that much about the Battle of the Pacific and to a lesser extent, the Battle for the Atlantic. But it was such a massive war, and in some cases, a new kind of war (ME-262, anyone? And what about the Vampir, and the SdKfz 251/1 that supported Panther tanks that was equipped night vision devices?) that you'll learn something every time you talk about it.

        Also, as I said, "correct me if I'm wrong". Thanks though!

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Not just range and bearing.

      The idea was also to alter the silhouette, making the ship itself harder to identify. Probably the most successful case of this was the Bismark, which had dark areas painted to her bow and stern as well as over her superstructure. This made her look shorter from a distance. When the Bismark was breaking out into the Atlantic, she was steaming with the smaller heavy-cruiser Prinz Eugen ahead of her, when the unfortunate HMS Hood chased her down. Hood's crew opened fire on the Prinz first, being tricked into thinking the Prinz was the Bismark, no doubt partly due to Bismark's camo.

      I'm not sure there is much value to camo in the Afghan conflict - the vehicles are largely stuck on known tracks/roads, and will usually be accompanied by a large dust cloud when moving at any speed. Probably a far better idea to fit stronger spaced armour, or just use drone vehicles to head up a column and take the brunt of an ambush.

      1. Your Retarded

        Man, you know a lot about these ships

        but you are spelling 'Bismarck' wrong.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          RE: Man, you know a lot about these ships

          Sorry, I was spelling from memory.

          1. Marvin the Martian

            Hey Matt,

            Why bother replying to "you're misspelling Bismarck" [a personal noun, so spelling is arbitrary] by someone with a grammatical atrocity in their login name??

            Trolls and grammar nazis shouldn't be fed.

            1. Your Retarded

              Grammatical atrocity

              Indeed. Intentional, of course.

              You see, there are often more meanings to words than initially meets the eye.

            2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

              RE: Hey Matt,

              Surely not feeding the trolls amounts to neglect or animal cruelty?

      2. Graham Dawson

        @matt bryant

        Sadly not true, by the time Bismarck was making her break for the open ocean the dazzle camo and false bow-wave had been painted over. The confusion came because Prinz Eugen and Bismark were visually very similar silhouettes, and sailing in such a way that they looked the same size from certain angles.

      3. asiaseen

        Probably a far better idea

        is not to be there at all.

    3. Jason Hall


      What about wrapping all vehicles in copies of a certain book that can't usually be harmed/damaged without blood being spilled?

      You could also make lightweight 'armour' or pages pulled from same book for squaddies to wear?

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        neat idea!

        Reactive koran armour. Koran with packets of pigs blood overlayed.

        You dont want the two of them combined now mr muslim, especially if you did it by shooting the bags....

    4. Cunningly Linguistic


      ...wouldn't it really fuck them up if there was a giant cartoon of the prophet Mohammed on the side of the tank?

      "Should we, shouldn't we?"

      "oh bugger it's gone now"

    5. Anonymous Coward


      It was also meant to knacker the coincidence range finding gear warships carried at the time, who's use involved lining up two halves of an image.

      The idea was that the dazzle patterns would cause the operator would line up on the fake edges of the camo (or think that a misalignment was just part of the dazzle) and get the range completely wrong.

    6. gollux

      And easily trumped...

      by one Excocet missile now. Dazzle is so WWII and serves no purpose except possibly with confusing Somali pirates.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Not quite the whole story...

    At sea there was an advantage to it if you had a number of ships travelling in a flotilla, such as a capital ship and escorts.

    A mass of ships, at different ranges to the submarine, would find it much more difficult to identify the ship by its outline (similar to how a herd of zebras get protection by making it hard to identify individuals)

    Submarines used to have to identify the height-at-the-mast, by the elevation from the horizon, and knowing the ship type and class, to triangulate the range. Only then could speed be correctly identified, and a torpedo vector created.

    A ship on its own would see little benefit from this sort of camoflage, but it did offer some protection in numbers as outines of the ships become confused, and frankly, looked pretty damn cool.

    So probably totally useless for trucks and cars and aggressors with binocular vision, but pretty useful for a dumb-fired weapon shot through a mono-telescope...

    I did see a rather large lady in what looked to be a battleship blitter cammo patterned dress recently, walking at speed down through the crowd in the middle of Oxford Street, to my great amusement.

  8. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    The main purpose of dazzle camo on warships was to make them look smaller and nearer to the observer than they actually were. For this to work the camo pattern relied on long ranges and poor visibility and not on relative speed between the target and the observer.

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Did You...

      identify her as a viable target and were you tempted to deploy your torpedo?

      (I'm going, I'm going.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or was she?

      "I did see a rather large lady in what looked to be a battleship blitter cammo patterned dress recently, walking at speed down through the crowd in the middle of Oxford Street, to my great amusement."

      At great speed? Are you sure? Maybe she was going 7% slower than you thought she actually was?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dazzle them properly

    Why not have all of the vehicles chromed. If you want to dazzle the bad guys do it properly. Judicious use of glitter balls may also help.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    More impressed if you could get HMS Belfast to be used in Afghanistan to ferry about troops on patrol. Little Mo fires a RPG at it, Belfast responds with full broadside of six inch HE shells.

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      I'd be very impressed indeed

      ... considering Afghanistan is land-locked. Maybe they could fly it in, in pieces?

      1. NukEvil
        Black Helicopters


        There it went.

        Helicopter, because that's the closest icon I could find that depicts what AC's tongue-in-cheek statement did over Pete 2's head...

        1. nyelvmark

          You could have tried

          <--- this one.

    2. Richard 116
      Thumb Up

      Excellent suggestion

      And add a set of spinners to further mess with the mind of Johnny Foreigner and his fiendish perception of speed.

    3. perlcat

      insert gratuitous joke about


    4. Conrad Longmore

      Big guns

      Bear in mind though that the gun on the Belfast can reach 14 miles inland and a perfectly capable of blowing the London Gateway service station that they are aimed at into small pieces.

      The USS Iowa could reach 23 miles inland. Accurate firepower from heavy warships like these was rather useful in the invasion of Normandy which could blast targets far inland.

      Of course, the three previous wars we fought in Afghanistan went pretty badly for the British, in part because we couldn't bring naval forces into play.

  11. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Another "clever" idea....

    May be a myth, but I've heard several versions of an equally "clever" idea story from the Sixties. Some boffin decided that dust clouds made APCs much harder to hit with RPGs, so he talked the US Army into trying M113s with big leaf-blowers on the front. The idea was the blowers would blow a cloud of dust in front of and to the sides of the APC, and stop any Johnny Foreigner types getting an accurate bead on the vehicle. The story goes that it wasn't until presented to the more practical Brits/Australians/Israellis that it was pointed out the dust also made it impossible for the driver to see where he was going too!

    1. Desk Jockey

      Blowing smoke @ Bryant

      I suspect that is an urban legend, but there are so many types of these stories it is hard to tell.

      Certainly everyone uses smoke launchers and have done for a long time. Arm the drivers and gunners with thermal cameras and they can see fine, unlike the cannon fodder trying to use rocket launchers! I suspect that dust could also interfere with this kit, thus making smoke much more practical on several levels.

      Of course, many anti tank rocket launchers now have thermal sights and so tank/APC designers now have to try and reduce the thermal signature of those monsters. I believe even land rovers have smoke launchers, but there are only so many times you can use them and in Afghanistan that probably means you can't drive anywhere until the smoke clears.

      Using dazzle camo is sort of a nice idea in theory, but as 90% (or whatever the real statistic is) of vehicles are taken out by IEDs not RPGs, rather pointless. Also would not work against an RPG fired from the front or rear and from what I hear, some of those Taliban RPGers are pretty damn good shots. Putting your faith in a theory that the paint might make them miss more is not a good idea! Better armour that does not add crippling weight is the answer for RPGs and quite a few exist already, hence those grills on the side of trucks etc.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        RE: Blowing smoke @ Bryant

        As I recall, the argument for the dust-blowers was that it could produce a continuous dustcloud without the need to first spot a threat, whereas smoke grenade launchers only work the once for a short time, and then only after the threat has been spotted and the launchers triggered. If a tank had already used its smoke it was unable to hide until the launchers (all external) had been reloaded - not likely in a firefight. I think you'll also find that the smoke grenades used to produce the "instant" smokescreen on modern armoured vehicles also include particles to generate IR "fog", so your own thermal and IR kit is also blinded by them. Whether the dustcloud experiment story is true or military urban folklore is debateable, but I've heard it several times from different sources so I suggest there must be an element of truth in it.

      2. Danny 14 Silver badge

        smoke launchers

        were primarily used to disrupt laser range finders too. Smoke in hull down gets you away quicker too.

    2. Aaron Em

      Left out the 'no shit'

      Aren't all stories of that kind required by statute to include at least one such claim?

  12. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Didn't the Japanese try this with their factories?

    I saw a picture somewhere of a Japanese factory painted in a rather fetching orange and pink dazzle pattern. I guess the planes are going quite fast, but then they didn't have to use the factory as teh aiming point - so I'm not sure if it worked, or was even in widespread use.

  13. F111F

    Take a Page From History...

    Cut out pages of the Quran and paste them all over your vehicle, ala the Battle of Siffin on 10th Safar, 36...or 28 July 657 for you infidels. Voila, no more RPG threat. 'Course, if that fails, see icon, attached.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here is an idea

    Mount a rotating multi beam strobed search light on the vehicle so that as the vehicle passes Johnny Taliban, the strobe and high intensity light, causes him to misjudge the vehicles position or blinds him momentarily. A bit like the Matilda "canal defence system" but with a strobe.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: Take a Page From History...

      The Taleban gunners are likley to be far too far away to be able to identify the pages as those from the Koran. A large slice of the Taleban are also illiterate, so they wouldn't be able to tell what the pages were even if they did get close enough. You could announce that you are pasting bits of the Koran all over your vehicles, but that would upset the locals, leading to less support from them and probably the usual Muslim riots Worldwide.

      If we can fly Reaper drones over Afghanistan from the other side of the World, I don't see why we can't make drone APCs to scout out routes and act as sacrificial lambs to IEDs. RPGs I see as much less of a problem - spaced and reactive armour has been around for years and will stop most of the hollow-charge weapons the Taleban are likely to have, so why bother with silly paint schemes?

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Or crash their Mercedes into a tunnel wall

  15. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Paint them Yellow

    Since we have now brought peace and democracy to Afghanistan - that nice Mr Blair said so -

    and in most modern wars the main threat apparently comes from our friends in their jet fighters or from training accidents.

    Wouldn't the safest option be to paint them school bus yellow?

    It would be easier for soldiers (or even marines) to avoid being run over and those colonial chaps are trained to spot school buses when they first learn to drive.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      The Taliban would only retaliate with Toll Booths ...

      (c.f. Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles)

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Go-Faster Stripes...?

    "The mind boggles".

    I hope they credited earlier research conducted by the Daily Mail's Perishers cartoon characters.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Daily Mail???

      'The Perishers' were in the Mirror when it used to be a newspaper.

  17. Dave 62

    I'm a scientist me

    Seems like another case of arts academics pretending there is some hint of science about their work.

    Although we shouldn't necessarily discount the theory of camouflage patterns causing difficulties in tracking a target simply because this study was complete and utter bull, there is a possibility that it could maybe be useful, but I agree that it's better to not be seen at all, that said how easily can you hide a land rover in a big open desert? It's still got black tires, shiny windows, engine noise, tire noise and probably a plume of dust behind it, even at speeds below 90 kph.

    I'm sure our feeble defence budget could be better spent than researching this crap (i.e. on more proven armour).

    Another fine article from LP.

    bootnote: mfw El Reg is using crappy new icons. You even got the trollface wrong, it's only trollface if it's facing right, facing left is coolguy and "D'oh"? You best be trollin.


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