Tuesday 13 October 2020
  • Design Technology
  • Age 9-11 (KS2)
    Age 11-14 (KS3)

Imperial War Museums tells the stories of ordinary people whose lives have been affected by war and conflict. This resource looks at how the terrible losses of ships and sailors in the First World War led to artists using their creative skills to create some of the most extraordinarily dazzling ships ever seen! Or rather, not seen as this was the ultimate goal behind these colorful and elaborate designs!

Art can save lives!

It certainly did in the First World War - watch this video to discover how.

Teacher notes:

This resource supports the Design and Science curriculum areas for students working at upper KS2 and KS3 and Expressive Arts 2nd and 3rd levels. However, it would also support the teaching of History and Literacy, Social Studies and Languages.

Download the Teacher Notes to give you all the background information you need to introduce your students to this resource with confidence!


Curriculum Links

Find out more about how this resource is mapped against some of the themes and content topics found in the curricula for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Suggested Activities

What form does camouflage take? Is it always about colour? What is its purpose and why is it effective?

Create scrapbooks of examples of Wilkinson’s art before 1917: What type of work did Wilkinson produce? How would you describe his subjects and use of techniques and colour?

Explore the examples of Dazzle on the original design sheets and the model ships in IWM’s extensive Collections.

After exploring the examples of the dazzle designs and the wooden 1:16 scale models ask students to respond to the Dazzle Section’s designs. What is their response to the way blocks of colour and patterning were used? Are they surprised by the forms the designs take?

How successfully do students think the artworks visually represent Wilkinson’s aims as expressed at the time?

I suddenly got the idea that since it was impossible to paint a ship so she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer … to paint her … in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she was heading.


The primary object of this scheme was not so much to cause the enemy to miss his shot when actually in firing position, but to mislead him, when the ship was first sighted, as to the correct position to take up.

Norman Wilkinson

Download and print the uncoloured reproductions of the Dazzle Section’s drawings – on the prerequisite white paper of course! – students can experiment with different colour combinations and dazzle patterns. Port and Starboard (left and right!) profile views of the ships could be made by tracing the outline and reversing it if students wanted to complete two designs; one for each side of the ship as would have been done originally.

For, as Wilkinson wrote in 1919 ‘A submarine… manoeuvring to get a general view of the ship would obtain an entirely different impression on crossing her bows.’

Port or Starboard designs could be cut out and placed on a static, or screen generated, seascape and students could make their own periscopes and view their designs to test the effectiveness of their disruptive dazzle. A similar effect can also be achieved by viewing the cut-outs through squinted eyes.

Explore more

Surrender of U-Boats at Harwich
IWM (SP 1052)
First World War

The U-Boat Campaign That Almost Broke Britain

From the start of the First World War in 1914, Germany pursued a highly effective U-boat campaign against merchant shipping. This campaign intensified over the course of the war and almost succeeded in bringing Britain to its knees in 1917.
Admiral von Spee's squadron, SCHARNHORST, GNEISENAU, LEIPZIG, NURNBERG and DRESDEN, in line ahead off the Chilean coast. All but the DRESDEN were sunk in a battle with the British High Seas Fleet off the Falkland Islands, 8 December 1914.
First World War

Voices of the First World War: War At Sea

Episode 11: In 1914, the prosperity of Great Britain and its Empire depended on control of the world’s oceans. Since the start of the twentieth century, Britain and Germany had been locked in a bitter rivalry to build bigger and better warships. 
An unnaturally bright sun blazes over a landscape with a river. There is an aircraft flying over the desert in the lower right of the composition.
©IWM (Art.IWM ART 4623)
First World War

Stunning Aerial Artwork Of The First World War

Brothers Sydney and Richard Carline were employed as official war artists by the Imperial War Museum during the First World War, each tasked with documenting aerial warfare. Between 1918 and 1920, the brothers produced dozens of artworks recording views over the Western Front, the Italian Front and the Middle East.