Roggenwolf - next generation digital camouflage
Indonesian peacekeepers. articles

23 November 2006: Indonesian soldiers at Sukarno Hatta airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, prepare to leave for their United Nations peacekeeping assignment in Lebanon. More than 700 Indonesian soldiers joined the UN peacekeeping force monitoring a cease-fire between Israel and the Hezbollah. [Image: AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana.]

a brief history of camouflage uniforms

The use of uniforms arose with the creation of standing armies. Whether for personal, regional, or national service, those who raised these armies recognised the need to distinguish friend from foe. For this reason they dressed their soldiers alike in clothes that featured distinctive colours and emblems.

Even after the introduction of firearms rendered armour obsolete, colourful uniforms remained in use. Few armies in history have been more gorgeously attired than Napoleon Bonaparte's Grand Armeé, which established a tradition so strong that it was reflected in the French uniforms of 1914.

Indeed, many of the armies that went to war in 1914 boasted flamboyant uniforms — with the noteable exceptions of Germany and Great Britain.

The colour worn by German riflemen of the First World War was feldgrau ('field-grey'). It was probably descended from the grey-green colour that was worn by German foresters and huntsmen, many of whom were recruited into the army. It was not intended to function as camouflage, however; rather, it was symbolic of their former occupations.

The colour worn by British soldiers was khaki. Like German feldgrau, it was not actually meant to act as camouflage, but was more a relic of colonial campaigns in India and Africa.

However, the First World War soon taught that these drab uniforms were much better suited to the conditions of modern warfare, under which concealment became just as important to survival as identification ever was.

Anyone who has undertaken military service should know the six basic factors that can betray any soldier's presence: movement, sound, silhouette, shine, shape, and shadow. Movement, of course, is a matter for training and extraneous sound can be reduced through discipline, while silhouette and shadow alike may be avoided simply by being aware of light sources. Even shine is relatively easy to eliminate, by smearing dirt, dust, mud, or paint onto reflective surfaces.

Of course all of these methods were applied, during World War One. However, soldiers were left with the problem of shape: that is, how best to break up the familiar human outline and make it less recognisable? No matter how good the solid colours — feldgrau or khaki —, were, in assisting concealment, they still lacked the disruptive element, which is crucial wherever there is available cover and ranges exceed those that are typical for built-up areas …

Many ad hoc solutions to this problem were implemented during World War One and afterward. Yet it was the Germans, just before World War Two, who pioneered the widespread application of camouflage patterns to military uniforms. After much trial, the Oberkommando Wehrmacht (OKW) issued Heeres-Splittermuster 31, more commonly known as 'splinter pattern', in the 1930s. The SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT, renamed Waffen-SS in 1940) designed, trialled and issued its own distinctive patterns, not long after.

Although most modern camouflage uniforms have been influenced by these successful German patterns, few of them could be called direct copies. In fact, as more countries adopt or create patterns for their armed forces, it seems that camouflage uniforms are as distinctive as flags, and that they naturally continue to fulfil the original purpose of military uniforms — that of distinguishing friend from foe.

Copyright © 2005, 2008 Brad Turner. All rights reserved.

Web site © 2004–2010 Brad Turner. Images copyright © Brad Turner or their respective owners, as indicated.

All rights reserved. Except as provided by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part of this Web site may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Brad Turner. is a Web site dedicated to the subject of military camouflage patterns and camouflage uniforms. It does not endorse political or religious extremism, subversive or terrorist activities, civil disobedience, or any unlawful action. Neither will it incite, assist, or otherwise participate in the persecution of any individual or group for reasons of age, disability, gender, race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or sexuality. Links to other Web sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.