RMS Olympic, like many other vessels during WWI and WWII, was adorned with dazzle camouflage, also known as dazzle painting, to camouflage ships from the enemy. At first glance, it looks as though the paint would draw attention to a ship rather than hiding it; however, it was used to confuse an attacker rather than to conceal a vessel.
The idea was developed by John Graham Kerr, who ou
tlined the design principle to Winston Churchill in 1914. He stated: “It is essential to break up the regularity of outline and this can be easily effected by strongly contrasting shades… a giraffe or zebra or jaguar looks extraordinarily conspicuous in a museum but in nature, especially when moving, is wonderfully difficult to pick up.
What worked so well about the dazzle camouflage is that when it wasn’t concealing a vessel, it made it increasingly difficult for the enemy to estimate the ship’s size, type, speed and heading. It would also be hard to decipher whether the stern or bow was in view, as well as identifying whether or not the shop was moving away or towards an enemy’s position.
The White Star Line planned to lay out RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic’s sister ship, in Belfast until WWI was over; however, she was requisitioned by the Admirality in May 1915, and was used as a troop transport, just like the Aquitania and Mauretania. While the Admirality was keen to avoid using large ocean liners to transport troops, they were given no option due to the shortage of ships available.
RMS Olympic was converted as a troopship and became HMT Olympic, transporting 6,000 troops. The ship’s speed was considered to be its best defence against a U-boat attack, despite the fact a ship of its magnitude would have made it an unmissable target. She made several naval voyages until early 1916, when the Gallipoli campaign was abandoned. Between 1916-1917, she was chartered by the Canadian Government to transport troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Britain, and was fitted with 6 inch guns and painted with a dazzle camouflage. Her dazzle colours were brown, dark blue, light blue and white.
Thanks to the dazzle painting, RMS Olympic safely transported 201,000 troops and other personnel, which earned her the nickname Old Reliable.