Hiding in Plain Sight: The History of Military Camouflage

The Purpose

Camouflage is one of the most iconic aspects of the US Military. Although soldiers, sailors, and airmen stationed in the US fortunately never have to use their uniforms to blend in with their surroundings, many service members in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other intense locations rely on their uniforms to protect them against detection from enemy forces.

Camouflage’s purpose is to distort a person’s image so that they are hidden from prying eyes. It uses disruptive coloration, which can be also known as “planned randomness” or “mess with a purpose.” Nature is never completely orderly. Picture a forest path on the side of a mountain: each tree is different in color and size, some have vines encompassing them, and branches lay randomly on the ground.  Twigs are scattered around, rocks are sitting in the dirt at different angles, some with green moss, others with yellow, and bushes of different shapes stick out from the forest floor. If someone dressed in a mustard colored shirt and green pants were trying to hide from an enemy in this scene and sat with his back to a tree or a rock, he would most certainly be discovered and caught.

In order to completely blend in with the terrain, one would have to imitate in your dress many of the details, specifically the colors, of the surrounding area. That is why today’s camouflage uniforms have at least 3-4 colors on them. Every camouflage type is designed to interfere with enemy detection methods, whether the naked eye or more enhanced electronic systems.

The History 

In early years, many uniforms consisted of flashy red, blue, green, yellow, or any other fancy color. These were acceptable in the day when armies would simply stand in a line and fire at each other, like the Civil War era.

However, the benefits of more discrete coloring were displayed in the French and Indian War. Part of the reason why the French and Indian alliance won many battles against the greatest army of their age was because of their uniforms. Most French and Indian warriors wore brown clothes, enabling them to escape the eyes of the British. The British, however, wore blaring red coats which looked very fancy–and targetable.

Thus, as battle tactics matured into modern day guerrilla warfare, camouflaged uniforms became essential for stealth and other tactics.

The first use of camouflage was for snipers in the 18th century. They were clothed in drab colors such as green, gray, or brown. In both World Wars, the main type of camouflage was one color that matched the terrain it would be used in, usually a dull green/tan color. However, some Marines in the Pacific Theatre used a reversible green and brown blotchy “frog” camouflage. In the Vietnam War, the tiger stripe pattern was issued to soldiers and was suited extremely well to the jungle environment. In 1980, the BDU—Battle Dress Uniform—became the standard for a large period of time, though the Gulf War saw the use of the “chocolate chip” uniform. Finally, in 2004, the least effective camouflaged uniform of them all was introduced: the UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern). It was said to be compatible to any terrain, but it ended up failing in all of them.  By 2018, however, all US Army soldiers are required to have the newest camouflage pattern, the OCP. (Operational Camouflage Pattern.) This is a great improvement from the last version and will hopefully better protect soldiers in future wars.


Pacific Theatre Reversible Camouflage:







“Tiger Stripe” Vietnam War Camouflage:








BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) 







“Chocolate Chip” Gulf War Camouflage: 








UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern: 







OCP (Operational Camouflage Pattern) :







Other Branches 

The Navy

The Navy also uses camouflage, although not to the same extent as that of the army. Sailors have the “blueberry” uniform pattern which, although very pleasing aesthetically, does not provide any real benefits to them in today’s modern age. There is no terrain other than water on the ocean—obviously—so most ships stand out to a certain degree. If there’s a ship, then there will most definitely be sailors on it. No amount of camouflaging will hide you.

Well then, why not hide the ship? In WWI ships were painted with a “razzle-dazzle” patterns. This was in the age when submarines—more commonly known as U-boats—were new, and no ships knew how to defend themselves from them. Thus, when a U-boat’s periscope spotted a ship, the razzle-dazzle would hopefully confuse the submarine, making its basic features—such as the bow, the stern, and where its guns were positioned—indistinguishable. In this manner, the U-boat’s crew would think that the ship was sailing one way. After attempting to follow the ship, they would discover that the boat had sailed the other direction.

However, with today’s modern technology that uses satellites and radar and other electronic systems, it is nearly impossible to completely conceal a ship’s position.  Therefore, few US Navy ships have camouflage.



Air Force 

The Air Force, formerly the Army Air Corps, uses a throwback version of the Vietnam War’s Tiger Stripe Camouflage. Both the Navy’s and the Air Force’s camouflage is slightly unnecessary, since it is difficult to conceal the vehicles they use and the type of missions they are assigned simply with a pattern of colors. For one thing, aircraft are very loud, so no amount of coloring will hide them.


The Marines probably have the best camouflage of all the branches. Their camouflage is the MARPAT (MARine PATtern). It has a woodland and desert version.


“Blueberry” or Aquaflage Naval Pattern







Air Force Camouflage:






MARPAT Desert Camouflage: 







MARPAT Woodland Version: 












Works Cited:

  • Davis, Jon. “How Well Does Army Camouflage Work?”, 27 July 2013,

How-well-does-army-camouflage-work. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.

  • Durrando, Jessica. “A Brief History of US Military Camouflage.” USA Today, 1 Aug. 2014,

13485491/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.

  • Shinkman, Paul D. “Navy Secretary Criticizes Blueberry Camouflage Uniforms.” US News, 13 June 2013,

Accessed 23 Sept. 2017.


(All images are found on Google Images unless otherwise noted.) 


  1. Great job writing this report on military camouflage! Some of those patterns, especially the tiger stripes, look very fashionable. My favorite one is the blueberry camouflage; it has the same color scheme as one of my favorite t-shirts.

  2. I know! I potentially will join the Navy and the thought of wearing that uniform really excites me!

  3. Very well done my dad is in the army and he said that he used some of those