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By Martin Quinn

I was fortunate enough to view an exhibit called “Dazzle and Drab, Ocean Liners at War”, presented by the Ocean Liner Museum and hosted by the Seamen’s Church Institute, which is located by the South Street Seaport in New York City.  The exhibit ran from November 11, 2001 to February 28, 2002.

The exhibit covered the story of the sea going palaces that were converted for use as troop ships, hospital ships or armed merchant cruisers during both World Wars.    Dazzle referred to the brightly colored and camouflaged ships from the World War One era, while the drab refers to the grey painted ships of the Second World War.

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 The exhibit was one room.  As you entered the display, there were two large foam models of the RMS Olympic and the RMS Queen Mary, portrayed as troop ships.

RMS Olympic

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RMS Queen Mary

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While not extensively detailed, the models were very impressive, in both size and in their camouflage livery.

There were many interesting items on display, as well as many models.   A section of the handrail of the Queen Mary was on display.  When the ship was converted from a troop transport back to a liner, the entire handrail had to be replaced, since it was carved with the names and initials of many of her military passengers.

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Another interesting display was an item where you looked through a “periscope” and viewed a potential target.   The target was seen by turning a wheel, that brought up the Ocean Liner France in different paint schemes.   Based on what I could see, a U-Boat Capitan would have no problem seeing what his target was…the camo was not very effective.   Of course, there was no fog, wind, rain, zig-zagging, escorts, or any other factors involved.  I’m sure every U-Boat Capitan would have loved to have a target like this each time he raised his periscope!

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Some other items in the exhibit were a divers suit from the recovery effort on the wreck of the Normandie...

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...and the encrusted whistle from the Lusitania.

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Besides my fascination with Ocean Liners, I went to the exhibit hoping to find more information on the camouflage worn by the RMS Mauretania while she served as a World War One troop ship.   Mauretania apparently sported several different variations of a dazzle camouflage pattern during the war.   There was a model and a Cunard poster on her in the dazzle pattern on display.  

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Although this dramatic scheme appears in the print, research has been unable to find evidence that Mauretania actually wore this scheme. The original design sheet and few available photos references two grays and blue as shown in the models below.

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Models of other famous ships on display included the SS France as a hospital ship...

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...and the SS Leviathan (formerly the German liner Vaterland).

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Overall, it took me two hours to slowly wind my way through the displays in the exhibit.  The models alone were worth the visit, but the entire display was informative and interesting.