Monday, August 1, 2022

Camouflaged Aircraft Factories

Military-related camouflage attracted the attention of a number of artists, some of them well-known in their day, including Abbott Handerson Thayer, Solomon J. Solomon and Norman Wilkinson (a list of camoufleurs is here).

Their work mainly had to do with deceptive coloring.  Another approach was more architectural.  That was used to disguise large areas.

For example, above are reconnaissance photos taken of Hamburg, Germany during World War 2.  They show that the downtown end of Alster Lake was covered so as to suggest the city center was farther east than it actually was.  The nearby harbor industrial area was more difficult to disguise in this manner.  As it happened, much of the city was later wiped out by massive Royal Air Force raids.  

The main subject of today's post is camouflage of American aircraft factories on the West Coast.  At the time of World War 2, much of US aircraft industry was out of range from enemy attack.  The exceptions were vital facilities close to the Pacific Ocean, and within reach of potential Japanese attackers launched from aircraft carriers.

The form of camouflage selected in the weeks following the Pearl Harbor attack was making the factories appear to be innocent neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods were clearly fake when viewed at close range.  But that was thought to be good enough, because attackers in the heat of combat were under psychological strain while having little time for contemplating a target area.  That is, the hope was that attackers' bombs would be poorly aimed, missing many vital areas.

We now know that the Imperial Japanese Navy was essentially incapable of attacking the West Coast using aircraft carriers at the start of the war.  And after most of their large fleet carriers were destroyed at Midway in June 1942, such attacks were military impossible other than as suicide missions.

Nevertheless, those camouflage neighborhoods remained in place until after the war ended.  I remember seeing the Boeing factory camouflage when I was a young boy.

Below are photos of major West Coast camouflage projects.  The ones in California were more successful than the one in Seattle because their neighboring topography and settlement patterns were much easier to blend into.


View of the Douglas factory camouflage in Santa Monica.

Douglas camouflage at Long Beach.

Now for Lockheed camouflage in Burbank.  In those days, Burbank was at the edge of suburbs, not built-up as it is today.

Even the tarmac was painted to help confuse analysis of aerial reconnaissance photos.

Large areas of netting were used to cover non-structural areas that otherwise would have revealed aircraft that had rolled off the assembly line.  Above is a Constellation transport and a number of P-38 fighters.

Even the large parking lot was covered.

Boeing's Plant 2 in Seattle was another matter.  On the near side is the Duwamish River.  On the far side are the Boeing Field runway and storage areas for completed B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.  The nearest residential area is South Park, on the near side of the river.  Blending was not practical.

At best, this camouflage might confuse an attacker who hadn't been briefed that the factory was between the river bridge and the runway.

View of the roof camouflage.  That hip roof house in the center is typical of new housing construction in Seattle around 1940.

A Seattle Times photo of Riveter Rosies taking a sun break on the roof during Seattle's six-week July-August summer.

No comments: