WW1 tank camouflage design

A WWI tank model, demonstrating early tank camouflage, is to go on display in the forthcoming Tanks for the Memories: the Tank in Popular Culture exhibition.

The French word ‘camouflage’ had not been used in Britain before the First World War, but soon became known not just to the military, but to the general public.

Camouflage became a popular topic in magazines and Punch cartoons and the British military felt that tank camouflage could be beneficial for their soldiers as a defence mechanism and tactically advantageous.

Canadian colour-theorist Percyval Tudor-Hart whilst teaching in London at the outbreak of the war, offered his painting services to the military to assist the war effort ‘in the realm of scientific camouflage, based on reflection, absorption, and refraction of light.’

After much experimentation and aided by students, Tudor Hart came up with the dazzle pattern you can see on the tank model. The ground breaking designs submitted were ultimately rejected by the Army, Royal Navy and Air Force. A design for a sniper suit camouflage was trialled at the frontline, but another design had already been accepted.

Tudor-Hart’s art school was forced to close at the outbreak of hostilities when the students were called up to military service. After the war, he continued to paint, sculpt and teach, he then moved back to Canada where he died in 1954.

'WW1 Tudor-Hart design model with 'dazzle' pattern
Curator David Willey with Tudor-Hart model

David Willey, curator of The Tank Museum, said: “The word camouflage wasn’t in use in Britain before the First World War and the science, if not the idea, was new.

“Tudor-Hart was something of a visionary with many of his camouflage theories being looked at again in later years.

“Unfortunately none of his designs were adopted for the military although his paintings with their emphasis on colour tones can be seen in some museums.”

“He used zig-zags and herringbone patterns to deceive the eye and we are extremely fortunate that this wooden model tank has survived.

“It is thanks to Lord Montagu who donated it to us after the last war that we have it – and it is some years since it was last on public display.

“It is a quarter-size model of a ‘female’ Mark I tank and it’s lovely to be able to see this original design that Tudor-Hart created.”

Tank painted in Tudor-Hart camouflage on the right

“Ultimately, camouflage on tanks proved pointless on the Western Front because the mud was so abundant all tanks were covered in it, rendering any camouflage useless. Therefore, all tanks ended up being painted brown with no camouflage scheme.

“In the exhibition we have a section on model tanks and this example is the oldest, having been made months after the tank was invented.”

Tanks for the Memories: The Tank in Popular Culture opens to visitors on 1 April.

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