What do war and art have in common? Normally, nothing. But during World War 1 – or the Great War as it was originally called – art played an important part in the war.
Great Britain was at war with Germany, and struggling to keep enough food on their tables. The reason? The supply ships that brought food and pretty much everything the British needed were being sunk by torpedos on German submarines. So the Brits came up with a clever solution – get artists to design art for their ships that would confuse the enemy.
Students from the Royal Academy of the Arts were recruited to do the painting after the designs were completed. It was illusion art. The entire ship would be painted in wild pattern that made it difficult to tell which end of the ship you were looking at, and in which direction it was going. The eyes of the person looking through the German U-boat periscope could simply not figure out where to direct the torpedo.
Soon the Americans were doing the same thing to avoid having their ships sunk. Over 2,000 British and American ships were painted, and although there is no way to prove precisely how many ships and lives it saved, it doubtlessly increased the chances of a ship making it to its destination intact.
The colorful art and simple explanation of dazzle ships make for a wonderful short history lesson. It is not often that you find a war book that presents something positive and creative! Although the book is written for children, it can be enjoyed by people of almost any age.