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Design and deception in World War Two

At the start of the war, the Germans already knew where many of Britain’s important industrial targets were situated. The aim of the camoufleurs was to “confuse a pilot at a minimum of 5 miles distant and 5,000 feet up during daylight.” (Ministry of Home Security).

Camouflage officer Robin Darwin wrote in 1943 “the bomb aimer must rely on what he sees with his eyes and a moment’s doubt, the slightest hesitation may send his bomb far wide of the mark.” Concealment and Deception, The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945.

Stonebridge power station - composite imageStonebridge Park Power Station with camouflage

Initial Planning

All the work done by the camoufleurs came from the initial observations and jottings. These were made by the model designers when they flew over installations that were to be camouflaged.  Their work was vital to the camoufleurs. It meant they had the most accurate representations of how the buildings and their surroundings looked from the air.

Baginton Aerodrome

The pilots were from the RAF photo unit based at Baginton aerodrome in Coventry. The pilots were often too old for operational service, but had a great deal of experience in the air. This meant the designers could make notes at all the different heights and times of day that they required. These notes and photographs were then used by the camoufleurs to develop perspective drawings of the proposed camouflage schemes.

Baginton aerodrome Baginton Aerodrome Dec 1940

The Rink

The more complex camouflage schemes were tested on scale models in the Rink in Lemington Spa. Requisitioned by the government in 1939, the (Skating) Rink was located at the bottom of the Parade in Leamington.

As Colin explained many years later to his biographer, Chloe Bennett “You worked on a scale model and … there was a turn-table which you could put it on and a moving light, which represented the sun, and you got up on a platform, which was about the height that a bombing pilot would come in at, and turn the thing around to see how it reacted to different times of day.”

The turntable - Colin MossColin Moss “The Turntable in the Skating Rink, Leamington Spa, 1939-40”

Virginia Ironside (daughter of camoufleur Christopher Ironside) memorably described the Rink as “a giant studio” where “artists slaved away over enormous turntables on which they had constructed models of factories and aerodromes, lit by ever moving moons and suns attached to wires”.

Edwin La Dell “The Camouflage Workshop, Leamington Spa, 1940”

“The work in the Roller Skating Rink was supported by the presence of a map section and photographic archive. Staff used expensive, high-quality (German made!) Leica cameras on tripods to take photographs of the models before and after camouflage had been applied.” Concealment and Deception, The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945.

Once the camouflage design was finalised, the model, along with colour charts showing the tints of paint to be used, was sent to the site. Ground patterning was applied first.  Then representations of buildings in an overall disruptive pattern of dark and light shapes (that masked the entire area) were added.

The brushes the painters used consisted of rope, bound together by scrap tin to allow the painter to cover a large area with one stroke. There was an emphasis on practicality rather than finesse and not wasting materials; hence the use of scrap tin. The simple equipment allowed painters to work quickly, often able to cover 110 square metres a day.

Camouflage Scheme in Progress - Colin MossColin Moss “Camouflage Scheme in Progress”