A few weeks ago I took a photo of an old ship which was being readied for a new paint job down in the harbour at Leith, half covered already with a fresh coat of primer, the floating scaffolding for painters moored next to the hull:

repainting the Fingal 02

I looked up the ship, MV Finagal, and found it was an old lighthouse tender for the northern lighthouses, long retired. And it wasn’t just getting a new paint job as such, it was being primed for Edinburgh based artist Ciara Phillips to work on, with a modern interpretation of the WWI dazzle camouflage as part of ongoing events around the UK for the 14-18 Now campaign marking a century since the Great War.

Dazzled 01

Since you can’t camouflage a ship on the high seas the way you can a tank or an infantry position on the land, the idea, developed by Norman Wilkinson, was to use vivid colours and abstract patterns (informed by then modern art) to break up the outline of vessels. Imagine looking at this through the periscope of a U-Boat as it heaved up and down on the open seas, struggling to make out what type of ship it actually was, its size, direction, bearing, distance… I’ve only ever seen dazzle camouflage in old photographs, quite remarkable to see it on an actual vessel with my own eyes. Part war memorial, part art installation, this is also a part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and will be moored in Leith for several weeks.

Dazzled 04

Achtung! Destroyer!

Cramond 3
Many of the islands – or inches as they are known – in the Firth of Forth sport structures to fortify them from throughout our long history, most notably additions for the two World Wars to protect the vast, strategic river opening into the North Sea and the important Rosyth Naval Dockyard a little further upriver. You can see structures from 12th century abbeys to 1940s blockhouses on the various islands. Legend has it that this particular one just off Cramond had its buildings specifically arranged to create the illusion of the silhouette of a Royal Navy destroyer. On a murky, overcast, misty day like this one it has to be said it does look remarkably like a destroyer in profile and its hard to believe that’s coincidence. I’d imagine a U-Boat captain peering through a periscope, probably at night or under cover of fog, seeing this would probably reversing engines schell! Which was probably the idea.