HMS President Repainted to Honor WWI

The HMS President, a ship used by the Allies during WWI, has been given a cosmetic overhaul. Now that almost one hundred years have passed since the Great War began, and numerous commemorations have gone underway, an artist from Germany has decided to pay tribute to former naval operations by repainting the HMS President in a type of camouflage which was created and used in the conflict to confound enemy ships.

Known as “dazzle camouflage,” the point of this style of painting was to confuse the enemy with bizarre black and white patterns that made it harder to pinpoint a ship’s precise distance and location. Tobias Rehberger, an established artist in Germany, was not acting alone. A project called 14-18 NOW decided to make the HMS President a part of its WWI centenary commemorations by renovating it to look like it actually would have during the conflict. The style of painting chosen was not only useful for confusing enemies as to the exact distance of a ship, but especially helped to confuse enemies in submarines due to the fragmenting of light upon hitting the water’s surface.

Rehberger was able to take some artistic liberties with the ship, as there is not just one way of portraying dazzle camouflage. The fact that every boat had its own unique design was a part of what made dazzle painting work. Rehberger has imbued the HMS President with a style reminiscent of pop art, with clear elements of abstraction. The painting style can make it difficult to differentiate one part of the ship from another from far away, which means that submarines viewing the ship from underwater or through a periscope would have trouble telling precisely what sort of ship they were facing, the Mail Online reports.

Because dazzle camouflage worked so well against submarines in particular, many ships adorned with this style of painting were used to track down and destroy German U-boats. The HMS President was commissioned in 1918 for this exact purpose, and is now one of the last Allied warships still in existence. Another ship, the Edmund Gardner, was given the same treatment by a different artist hailing from Venezuela.

The fact that the HMS President has been designed by a modern artist is particularly meaningful when considering that the concept of dazzle camouflage came about as the result of emerging art styles at the time. Without artists, the HMS President might have been less effective at its job. Now, artists are turning it into an effective tribute.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE