Encyclopedia > Camouflage

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Camouflage is that which allows an otherwise visible object to remain unseen. Thus a tiger's stripes and the clothing of a modern soldier are both examples of camouflage. Camouflage is a form of deception.

Successful camouflage is often an essential part of modern military tactics. The first recorded large-scale use of camouflage was during World War I. At the beginning of the war the French experienced heavy losses because the troops wore red trousers as part of their uniform. The French established a section de camouflage in 1915. The camouflage experts were, for the most part, painters like Forain, Camoin, Villon and Marcoussis, sculptors like Bouchard and Despiau, and theatre set artists. This led to a new horizon blue uniform and various camouflage paint schemes for trucks, guns and planes. The idea was quickly taken up by the British, Americans and even the Germans, Italians and Russians.

World War I also saw the advent of ship camouflage. Although most gunships were still painted a uniform grey, five schemes were approved in the United States for merchant ship camouflage. Ships without camouflage were required to pay higher war risk premiums.

William MacKay, the creator of a popular scheme of camouflage approved by the Naval Consulting Board during World War I, wrote:

The structural and characteristic lines and angles of a ship can be either softened or destroyed. According as the ship is viewed through [a] red or green or blue filter the ship presents three different images and though none of them an image so definite as a ship painted with a flat pigment gray.

This remains one of the most crucial elements in the theory of camouflage - an exact match with the environment's colours is less crucial than the patterning of the regions of colour themselves. Ideally, camouflage should be made to break up and thereby conceal the structural lines of the object which it hides. Thus, the patterns often seen on camouflage clothing, masking cloth and vehicle paints are carefully constructed to deceive the human eye by breaking up the boundaries that define sharp edges and human silhouettes. Similarly, a tiger's stripes, when viewed in the context of long grass or deeply shaded forest, have the same effect - making it hard to differentiate the tiger from the background.

People with maskun or other color blindness have been used to detect camouflage, because they have heightened sensitivity to visual patterns and their visual sensitivity curve is different from that of people with normal sight.

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The opposite of camouflage is making a person or object more visible and easier to recognize, for example with retroreflectors and high-visibility clothing.

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