Camouflage Patterns and Designs From the Past

Abbott Thayer, an American artist, made an important discovery about animals in nature in the late 1800s. His observation became a useful tool in the development of modern camouflage patterns and designs.

Thayer noticed that several animals had colouring that graduated from dark on their backs to almost white on their abdomens. It is this property that is the most important in making modern camouflage useful. It is this graduation from dark to light that breaks up the surface of an object making it harder to see the object as one thing. Therefore, the object loses its three-dimensional quality making it appear flat.

Although camouflage has gone mainstream in recent years, it has been used as early as the 14th century by ninjas in Japan. Most of the camouflage clothes that they used were dark colours because they operate under cover of darkness. But ninjas are also known to use other materials that will help them blend in with their operating environment.

The military realized how camouflage would help them greatly in defeating the enemy. Armies used to wear colourful, flamboyant uniforms with intricate designs.

By the time that World War I came (around May 31 or June 1, 1916), military uniforms were in drab shades of brown or green.

It was during this time that the French established a Section de Camouflage (Camouflage Department). They were mostly painters, sculptors and theatre-set artists headed by Eugene Corbin in the beginning but later on Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola took over.

Other countries followed suit. England, the United States, Germany and Italy all set up their Camouflage Departments in the military.

Soldiers were made to wear hand-painted uniforms as added protection as well as to enable them to approach their enemies without being easily detected. In an effort to conceal snipers from their enemies, they were made to wear camouflage gloves.

In addition to military uniforms, false bridges, decoy tanks and even paper-mache horse carcasses were built for snipers, to be used as blinds.

Meanwhile, Norman Wilkinson, a British marine artist was responsible for “dazzle painting” where ships were covered with bold stripes and splotches. Instead of trying to blend ships into the horizon, they were made highly visible to the enemy but made it appear distorted. Enemies became confused about its size, direction and what armaments it had on board. Weapons were also painted with camouflage patterns, and sometimes they were covered by camouflage netting.

By World War II, camouflage was part of military tactics of most nations.

The US Military continued the use of camouflage uniforms during the Korean War. One such uniform was the Markaware Mitchell Camouflage Coat which was also use for shelter and helmet covers.

During the Vietnam War, US troops were made to wear a “boonie suit” that was dull green in colour, so that they can blend well into the jungle.

In 1981, the US Woodland pattern with enlarged splotches was developed. This enlargement of the design represented a shift in military tactics from close-range combat in Vietnam to more distant fighting. This is still being used by the US Military and the Navy SEALs today.

Although the “chocolate chip” tan and brown pattern that featured rock-like clusters of black and white was developed for camouflage uniforms for US troops in 1962 for the Arab-Israeli conflicts, it was used sparingly until the Gulf War. Although worn by US troops in the biennial Bright Star exercises in Egypt during the eighties, and by FORSCOM peacekeepers in Egyptian Sinai, the design proved to contrast too much with the terrain and since it had a six-colour pattern, it was expensive to produce. As a result, the Desert Camouflage Uniform was developed.

The Canadian military developed a digital pattern for their military camouflage uniform in the late nineties. These were not supposed to make the uniforms undetectable but they were supposed to “create ambient visual noise that an enemy would disregard when glancing in a camouflaged soldier’s direction. The US military adopted a similar design.

Other camouflage designs that came out were the lizard and tiger stripe patterns used by the French military in Indochina and the British army in Burma; and the ghillie suit or what is sometimes called the wookie suit, yowie suit or camo tent. This camouflage uniform is designed to look like heavy foliage. It was named for the Gaelic “lads who accompanied deer hunts in the Scottish Highlands. It is usually a net or cloth garment that is covered in loose strips of cloth or twine that are made to look like leaves and twigs, and sometimes, soldiers would add scraps of foliage from the area. Snipers usually wear the ghillie suit to blend into their surroundings and to conceal themselves from their enemies.