SMHS project: Camouflage


08 Aug 2013

Camouflage

Research in the National Archives by SMHS member Peter Hibbs revealed a lot of fascinating information about the construction of the Cripp's Corner defences. From this we knew that the dragon's teeth had been built by civilian contractors and had been completed in September 1940. However, it was a brief phrase in a document from October 1940 that said that some of the dragon's teeth had been sprayed with camouflage paint!

We couldn't resist taking the project to a further stage by painting one of the blocks as a nod to this exercise in concealment. Turning to the wartime military manuals for guidance, a scheme was researched that would help merge the block into its surroundings using a two-tone scheme of black and green.

The purpose of the paint was to break up the shape of the block and reduce the shine. New concrete would have shown up as brilliant white on the Luftwaffe's aerial photographs and dragon's teeth have straight lines that are rarely seen in Nature. A further challenge would be to camouflage the block when seen from ground level and from the air.

The block was brushed down and cleaned and a base coat of green paint applied. Not having spray equipment, brushes were used instead.

Camouflage

The green was left to dry overnight before the hard part - applying the black. We had already devised a camouflage scheme on paper and printed it out for reference during the painting. The scheme was designed to imitate the shadows of the overhanging tree branches being cast across the concrete, thereby helping to merge it into the background.

However, it was hard to resist the temptation to "ad-lib" and deviate from the plan as the black went on. There is a very fine line between effective camouflage and overdoing it - get it wrong and the block would stick out like a sore thumb!

We were very pleased with the results, however.

Look at the photograph at right. This was taken from about 20m away and already the camouflaged block is disappearing into the background! If you stare at either of the unpainted blocks you can still see the other out of the corner of your eye - but the camouflaged one just vanishes!

The fresh paint had a slight sheen to it, but subsequent site visits have confirmed that natural weathering has now toned this down.

In many ways our camouflage scheme is probably too elaborate as we only had one block to paint and so we focussed on it intently. In reality, and with numerous dragon's teeth to paint, the Royal Engineers would not have lavished so much care over each one.

One thing that is not lost on us however, is the irony of the situation - we stripped off layers of ivy and cut down trees to uncover the block and then we went and painted it to conceal it!


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