When Ships Used To Be Painted In Zebra Stripes, For Stealth

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Take a look at this WWI-era, 58,000-ton cruiser painted with magic-eye style black-and-white stripes! Doesn't it just blend right into the background? Well, no. No it doesn't. But there was a time when military scientists thought that it might.

After reading about a breakthrough in our understanding of zebra stripes, commenter LtCmndHipster pointed us towards this picture of the similarly-striped USS Leviathan from 1918.


The snazzy striping pattern on the ship is called dazzle camouflage and in the period around World War I, this ship and others like it, were painted in geometric designs to make them more difficult to track.


The project was the work of British artist Norman Wilkinson who came up with the idea in 1917. Although it was never thought that the camouflage would be strong enough to completely hid the ships from the eye, it was thought that the striping pattern (especially at a distance) would make it more difficult to tell the ship's type, size, and its traveling direction.

The idea eventually fell out of favor and by just after the war's end, the pictured USS Leviathan had received a re-paint, this time in staid grey.


Image: USS Leviathan / US Naval Historical Center