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The idea of camouflage, literally meaning 'disguise', probably occurred to Man as a result of his observation of those animals that are able to blend with their surroundings. Some of them-for example, the chameleon-take on a variety of colorings to suit different locations, which is invaluable in protecting them from attack.
For Man the purpose of camouflage is twofold: protecting him from attack and allowing him to make a surprise attack. The use of these tactics in association with military activity is comparatively recent; prior to this, the idea of deceiving the enemy as to one's whereabouts or intentions was little used. However, warring groups have been known to disguise themselves with such naturally existing objects as grasses and reeds; in Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macduff launches his attack by disguising his men as the trees of Birnam Wood. Until the late nineteenth century, war was not usually conducted in this ingenious manner. Soldiers were brightly dressed and fought only in daylight; the battle was a straightforward matter of charging into the fray with banners waving and trumpets blowing.
In modern warfare there are many modes of deception. Before World War I camouflage was necessary only for deceiving the ground observer, but with the advent of aircraft and aerial photographic reconnaissance, the use of camouflage extended to disguising everything that could provide information on troop movements, concentrations of military equipment and strategic targets (factories, airfields and so on) and also the setting up of decoys. Other aspects of landscape that had to be taken into account by camouflage experts were the presence of unusual vehicle tracks, conspicuous bodies of water, variations in texture, shadows and any other disturbances to the natural pattern of the landscape. The colors of military uniforms were changed to make them less conspicuous, jungle green and khaki becoming common colors. Military installations were disguised, and perhaps the most successful example of deceptive tactics was General Montgomery's El Alamein offensive in October 1942.
This was a large scale maneuver that was intended to deceive the enemy as to both the time and place of attack.
Technological advances such as the development of radar and guided missiles have rendered methods of camouflage obsolete and security must now be sought in different ways.