Hidden Women Update: WWI Camouflage in Action

You may remember our July 2016 post about the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps, made up of women artists who developed camouflage for use by American troops in Europe during World War I. The website Atlas Obscura also featured the story and photos in October 2016.

The women’s reserve camouflage corps of the National League for Women’s Service. Local ID: 165-WW-599G-1.

The Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps photos held by the National Archives show women designing and testing the camouflage in New York City parks, but what did that camouflage look like in the theater of combat? Thanks to Flashes of Action, one of many films digitized as part of a donor-funded digitization project, we now have the answer.

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The snipers above are wearing the “rock suits” that were developed by the Camouflage Corps. Watching the sequence below, you can understand how difficult it would be for the enemy to detect a motionless camouflaged soldier.

The Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps was also enlisted to design and apply “dazzle” camouflage to ships. Below you can see an image of the women at work, as well as one of their finished products—the troop transport ship SS Leviathan.

Flashes of Action shows the Leviathan both as it leaves Hoboken, N.J., and during its arrival in Brest, France.

You can watch Flashes of Action: Actualities of the World War in its entirety below. The silent film contains footage covering U.S. involvement in the war, spanning the years 1917 and 1918.

This film was digitized as part of a broader project to make available films and photographs of World War I and World War II. Check the National Archives Catalog for the films and photographs that have been digitized.

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