Hugh B. Cott - Camouflage Research

Camouflage Research

As a military camouflage expert during the Second World War, Cott likened the functions of military camouflage with those of protective coloration in nature. The three main categories of camouflage in his book Adaptive Coloration in Animals are concealment, disguise, and advertisement. Within those categories, he studied, described and presented examples of such diverse effects as obliterative shading, disruption, differential blending, high contrast, coincident disruption, concealment of the eye, contour obliteration, shadow elimination, and mimicry. In his wartime lectures at Farnham Castle, he described nine categories of visual deception:

  1. merging, e.g. hare, polar bear
  2. disruption, e.g. ringed plover
  3. disguise, e.g. stick insect
  4. mis-direction, e.g. butterfly and fish eyespots
  5. dazzle, e.g. some grasshoppers
  6. decoy, e.g. angler fish
  7. smokescreen, e.g. cuttlefish
  8. the dummy, e.g. flies, ants
  9. false display of strength, e.g. toads, lizards

Cott's account of all this (illustrated by his own pen and ink drawings) is Adaptive Coloration in Animals. This 550-page classic continues to be one of the finest, most comprehensive discussions of the subject. His co-workers' first-hand accounts of his work in military camouflage can be found in the memoirs of two of his fellow camoufleurs: Julian Trevelyan and Roland Penrose.

Peter Forbes wrote of Cott's book:

Cott's Adaptive Coloration in Animals must be the only compendious zoology tract ever to be packed in a soldier's kitbag. The book also marks the apotheosis of the descriptive natural history phase of mimicry studies. Although Cott does report experiments on predation to test the efficacy of mimicry and camouflage, the book is essentially a narrative of examples plus theory.

In the sense of being a narrative, Adaptive Coloration could be thought obsolete, but Forbes continues:

But Cott's book is still valuable today for its enormous range, for its passionate exposition of the theories of mimicry and camouflage..

Cott worked to persuade the British army to use more effective camouflage techniques, including countershading. For example, in August 1940, with the Battle of Britain imminent, he painted two rail-mounted coastal guns, one in conventional style, one countershaded. In aerial photographs, the countershaded gun is essentially invisible. Cott was triumphant, announcing:

These photographs furnish most convincing proof of the effectiveness of countershading, and are especially valuable in that we have in them a direct comparison between the two methods.

Read more about this topic:  Hugh B. Cott

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