WW1 Heritage / Dazzle Ship Scotland - 14-18 NOW
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Ciara Phillips

Dazzle Ship - Scotland


Image credit: 14-18 NOW and Edinburgh Art Festival unveil Every Woman by Ciara Phillips. Photo by Ross Attenburgh

WW1 Heritage / Dazzle Ship Scotland

The Battle of Jutland31 May – 1 June 1916

The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of the First World War. Approximately 100,000 men in 250 ships fought in the battle, which took place in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. Although Britain’s Royal Navy sustained heavy losses, British forces were crucially able to retain control of the North Sea in the wake of the fighting.

At the start of the First World War, the British navy was the strongest in the world. Its core was the Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow in Orkney, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. In spring 1916, Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, commander of the German navy’s High Seas Fleet resolved to attack Sunderland, far from the Grand Fleet’s base at Scapa Flow.

When poor weather led Scheer to call off the Sunderland attack, he instructed his forces to head north to Skagerrak, a 150-mile strait between Norway and Denmark. By attacking merchant ships, Scheer planned to lure British warships into an ambush that would destroy part of the British fleet. The British, however, suspected that an attack was imminent after intercepting and decoding German signals, and dispatched the Grand Fleet from Scapa Flow on 30 May 1916.

The two sides confronted each other on the afternoon of 31 May. The Germans had the better of the battle’s early exchanges, destroying two British battlecruisers and inflicting serious damage on HMS Lion, a British flagship. However, spearheaded by Jellicoe’s 28 powerful dreadnought battleships, the British fought back strongly as darkness fell, and the Germans eventually turned to retreat. Although Germany claimed victory on account of the greater losses suffered by their enemy (6,094 men and 14 ships, compared to 2,551 men and 11 ships lost by the Germans), the battle allowed the British to maintain control of the North Sea. As a result, the Allies’ maritime blockade of Germany remained in place and was never again seriously threatened, contributing to the Allies’ eventual victory in 1918.

What is Dazzle?

‘Dazzle’ is a style of ship camouflage characterised by brilliant, glaring geometric patterns. Widely used in the First World War and into the Second, ‘dazzle’ does not strive to make a ship invisible to its enemies, but rather to confuse their attempts to sink it by making it difficult to accurately gauge the distance, direction and speed at which it is travelling.

‘Dazzle’ was developed by the British marine artist Norman Wilkinson to counter the threat posed by German U-Boats. He employed techniques that resembled those of avant-garde British painters such as Wyndham Lewis and David Bomberg. Artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, later made a series of paintings on the subject.

The close relationship of ‘dazzle’ technology to British art extended right through its manufacture. Each British pattern was unique, and many of the designs were invented by women from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. These were then tested on wooden models, viewed through a periscope in a studio to assess how they would work at sea. Though the practice has largely (but not entirely) fallen out of fashion in the military, ‘dazzle’ remains a source of inspiration to artists today.

Further reading:



Map showing the movements of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet before the battle.


The interior of a cabin below deck with several wounded sailors, most swathed in bandages, laid out parallel to one another across the floor. They are tended to by three orderlies and one naval doctor who is standing on the right and has a stethoscope round his neck. Two of the orderlies are lowering a wounded man on a stretcher to the floor in the background.


HMS Chester, showing damage to the funnels and foretop sustained at the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916.


HMS Indefatigable. Blew up and sunk at The Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916.


HMS Warspite and Malaya seen from HMS Valiant at 2pm on 31 May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland.


A very large hole in the starboard side of the German battleship Ostfriesland sustained the day after the Battle of Jutland when she hit a mine, photographed in dry dock.


Damage to the starboard side of the forebridge of HMS Chester sustained during the battle of Jutland. Several sailors can be seen on deck whilst various merchant ships can be seen in the background. Boy (1st Class) Jack Travers Cornwell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for remaining at the forward gun on board the cruiser. The ship was badly shelled by four German cruisers and Cornwell’s position was hit four times, killing all the crew apart from Cornwell. The badly wounded boy sailor was taken back to Grimsby where he died on 2 June.


SMS Seydlitz on fire during the Battle of Jutland.


The Battle Of Jutland 31 May 1916: The gun crew of “P” turret of the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand posing for a group portrait after the Battle of Jutland. There is a sign in the middle of the group saying: “P” Turret, Heligoland 1914, Dogger Bank 1915, Jutland 1916. During the battle HMS New Zealand was hit on “X” turret but did not suffer serious damage or casualties. She fired more shells than any other capital ship but scored only four hits.

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