Monday, 27 February 2017

Facial Camouflage.

Recently I have read books by Tom Wintringham, Bert Levy and John Langdon-Davies. A topic common to all three of these is the visibility of the human face.

If a soldier hears an aircraft overhead it is understandable that he might look up at it. An uncamouflaged human face is visible from a considerable distance so a pilot may observe his observer. Now imagine a company of infantrymen all looking up at an aircraft. Effectively this would be a sudden white flash saying “here we are!”

I recently read that “the secret to invisibility is to freeze like a lizard on a rock”. If an aircraft or other potential threat appears one should take cover if there is any nearby, freeze if there is not. Keep your eyes down on the ground. Only one or two men should observe the aircraft, and then only with adequate face camouflage. In a previous blog post I described a simple framework that could be worn on the back or the pack. These were used by the NVA and Viet Cong when on the march. Any time an aircraft appeared overhead they would drop to the ground and become bushes. Incidentally this also illustrates that marching formations should be irregular.

The following image was scanned from Langdon-Davies’ book.

Langdon-Davies notes that eyes are very distinctive and that many animals have colour schemes that make their eyes less noticeable. Often this takes the form of a line, stripe or blob that runs across the eye. Logically, he advocates that a human soldier’s camouflage should do the same. The human nose is another prominent feature so this needs to be shaded to compensate for this. The scheme he proposes was using a single colour of camouflage, such a burnt cork. It was sufficient to disrupt the palest skinned face. Nowadays multi-coloured camouflage kits are common.
Camouflage creams may have advanced a bit but I have to question if the principles Langdon-Davies had described are being observed. It is not sufficient simply to get the face dirty or paint stripes across it. Prominent features such as the eyes and nose must be disrupted. Features that catch the light must be darkened and areas that are shaded must be lightened.
Langdon-Davies was writing for a primarily Caucasian audience but his comments also apply to other skin tones. Human skin can be reflective so needs dulling down. Blue eyes can be distinctive. Shade from suitable headwear can help.

While painting the face can be effective there may be situations where you will need to rapidly remove any facial camouflage. Face painting can be combined with other measures, of course.
A tight-fitting face-net can be distinctive, defeating the purpose of the item. Face-nets or similar devices should be relatively amorphous. In a previous post we saw a face-veil used by German troops. While this was effective it was apparently impossible to run with this fitted. Such factors need to be considered if you have a mobile role. At night a net across the eyes may hinder vision to an unacceptable level.
One of the simplest ways to conceal the face is a scarf or bandana across the nose and mouth. Folds in the material help disrupt the shape. Since the face area may be shaded by headgear I’d go for a relatively light coloured material with contrasting disruptive blobs. As I have suggested in previous posts, children’s clothing or cheap t-shirts can be an economical source of camouflage material.
Even if you have correctly painted your face a cloth across the nose and mouth has other advantages. Facial recognition software has become commonplace in the last few years and we will undoubtable see applications of it more lethal than the camera in your phone. A cloth across the nose and mouth also softens the sound of your breathing, which was one of the reasons the ninja favoured this. A ninja’s disguise might be a simple bandana and scarf. The bandana is folded diagonally and  worn over the hair. The scarf is pulled across the face and tucked up under the bandana. When not worn there would be nothing particularly suspicious about these items.

Make a web search of “ninja hood t-shirt” and you will find numerous sites and illustrations of how to make a ninja hood using a t-shirt or sweatshirt. Many of these are tongue in cheek but it should be apparent to the reader that if you use a shirt with a suitable camouflage pattern you may have the beginnings of something quite practical. Add some scraps of scrim and hessian to further disrupt the shape.

         If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books

Friday, 24 February 2017

Sasumata in the Modern World.

It has been a while since I have posted a martial arts themed blog. I thought that it might be nice to have a change of pace from the recent discussions on camouflage and fieldcraft.

Recently I was watching some episodes of “Bleach” and “Highschool of the Dead”. By coincidence, sasumata appeared in both series.

In Bleach, sentries in the Soul Society are often seen equipped with these. They are particularly obvious in some of the episodes involving the Kasumiōji clan. In Highschool of the Dead they are evident in the early episodes set on the school grounds.

I have written about sasumata elsewhere. They were one of the “three implements of arresting”. Below are some photographs of samurai equipped for police duties.

This next illustration is particularly interesting. Note that the “cops” wear headbands to prevent sweat getting in their eyes. This would also keep hair out of their eyes but I doubt that was a major problem with samurai hairstyles! The cross shapes across their backs represent cords used to prevent the loosely cut jacket sleeves hindering their actions. A sasumata can be seen top right. A sodegarami is bottom left and tsukubo menace the swordsman’s sides. Possibly the most interesting feature of this illustration is that ladders are being used to fence the swordsman in. Japanese firemen used ladders as high vantage points to track the progress of a fire. These ladders might be supported by sasumata-like poles. I believe each neighbourhood kept a number of ladders for firefighters to use. The policemen here have found another use for them.

Japanese police still use the sasumata, as can be seen. Note the “T” shaped handle on one example. This could be used to help rotate the head or could be used to push or trip like a tsukubo.

Incidentally, I would suggest approaching a target with the head of the sasumata held at about shin level. This reduces the change of a foe trying to grab the head before you make your move.

What I find most interesting about the modern sasumata is that they are not just issued to police. If a drunken, drugged or aggressive behavior occurs at a Japanese school the staff don’t just phone for the police and pray that they come in under twenty minutes. Japanese school staff have sasumata and other implements to deal with the threat. They hold drills and training sessions on how to use them too. This can be seen in the first episode of Highschool of the Dead, where a teacher carries a sasumata to confront the man behaving strangely at the school gates.

A radical idea that. Actually taking useful measures to protect children like they were valuable!

The Books

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Camouflaging Headgear.

A military helmet violates several of the “five S’s of camouflage”. They have a distinctive shape and silhouette. They may have a surface that appears shiny or unnatural under certain circumstances.

Both Levy and Langdon-Davis have points to make about helmets and their camouflage. Levy points out that in thick vegetation branches hitting the helmet can create noise. In such circumstances, the soldier is advised to carry the helmet rather than wear it. Both writers advocate that the best way to break up the shape of a helmet is by the application of local foliage. This garnish should be replaced when it ages and becomes unnatural looking.

Langdon-Davis notes that many soldiers that he taught assumed that their helmet was adequately camouflaged just because they had fitted the net-cover they were issued. More than half a century a century later and very little has changed! It is commonplace to see soldiers and marines that are wearing their issued helmet cover but have made no attempt to disrupt the distinctive shape of their helmet.

There are two ways commonly used to attach natural materials to a helmet.

One is the use of a rubber band that encircles the helmet. For the WW2 British army helmet Langdon-Davis suggest that two “s” shaped pieces of tin be shaped to keep this band in position. The use of a rubber foliage band is actually more commonly seen with German soldiers. Often the band was made from an tire inner tube.

The other method is to fit a net over the helmet. Some camouflaged cloth covers have loops or straps for the placement of natural foliage. Many do not!
In arid or urban environments plant materials may appear relatively rare. Turning your head into a bush might appear to be a good way to attract attention. However, in such conditions it is still important to break up the distinctive shape of the helmet. The use of natural materials is therefore supplemented by additional means.

Shown above is a competently camouflaged helmet. A competently camouflaged helmet looks nothing like a helmet.
A basic cover has been constructed from hessian, possibly a sandbag. This has a light, natural looking colour that creates the impression of negative space. Cheaper than a camouflage printed cover and more effective. You could paint disruptive blotches on this cover, but it is probably redundant given that the helmet will be garnished further. If you do paint the cover bear in mind the size of the object you wish to disrupt and paint appropriately large blobs of a colour that contrasts with the base colour.
A net has been placed over the hessian. In this instance it is green but the colour probably does not matter that much so long as it is a natural shade. If the enemy gets close enough to see the net colour the matter is probably moot!
A helmet sized net can easily be constructed if you do not have one. Several methods of net making are shown in my knot book. Below is another technique. A camouflage net need not be particularly near or regular. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The net is intended to hold any local foliage that is used. As can be seen, textile “garnishes” have been added too. An important point when added either natural foliage or textiles is not to overdo it. You are trying to disguise the shape, not create a new solid shape. Leave space for natural materials when applying textile garnish. 
Some of the garnish that has been added are strips of hessian. These are allowed to fray and go fuzzy. The owner has also used frayed cloth. He has used green but I would suggest a mid to dark brown to make a covering that will be more useful in urban and desert areas. If you are operating in a predominantly verdant area there will be plenty of local natural materials to prove greenery.
You could use strips of camouflage cloth for garnish. Bear in mind that your headgear may be used in a variety of terrains. Strips of British DPM or US woodland may work well in jungle but not so well elsewhere. Desert DPM, three-colour “coffee stain” or “chocolate chip” may be a more versatile choice. Incidentally, an economical source of camouflaged material for projects is children’s clothing. Camouflaged tee-shirts may be a cheaper source of materials than camouflaged bandannas.
You can tie your garnish directly onto the net. If that proves too fiddly an office stapler can speed the process up. If the staples go rusty and brown, so much the better.
Many of you reading this will have no interest in military helmets. The same techniques of camouflage can be applied to other forms of headgear if you are a hunter or prepper. My preference for such a project is a boonie hat. The brim creates shade, which is a component of camouflaging googles or eyeglasses.

As can be seen, the band around the hat is designed to take natural foliage. On my first day on a certain Caribbean island I brought a cold drink, drank it and then inserted the ice cubes into the pockets of my boonie’s hat bang. Portable air conditioning!
Note that some desert pattern boonies lack a foliage band, which is a mistake in my opinion.

A net can be added to a boonie and textile garnish applied. You don’t actually have to have a camouflage printed boonie as a starting point for this project. Use a single coloured one if it is cheaper. My preference is for lighter colours such as sand or to use desert patterned examples. A company offers “sniper boonies” with a fringed rim. This is a feature that can be emulated.

         If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Camouflaging Boots

Another Home guard themed book that I have read recently is the excellent “Home Guard Fieldcraft Manual” by John Langdon-Davies. As you might expect, this book has a lot to say about camouflage.

Langdon-Davies notes that there are several features that give away a British soldier or Home guardsman attempting to conceal themselves. These are the helmet, the gasmask bag (worn on the chest), hands, face and boots. I will discuss some of these areas further on another day. Yesterday’s blog touched on the importance of footwear so let us examine this area today.

Langdon-Davies notes that boots have a distinctive shape. He comments that the only thing in nature that might resemble there shape is a pile of horse droppings. The boots worn by British soldiers at this time were black and often shiny. Nice for parades, horse droppings for camouflage.

It has been said that it takes at least half a century for the collective military mind to get an idea out of its head. Certainly for the rest of the twentieth century most soldiers were issued black boots. While the military favoured black boots most civilian hiking boots were brown. Only in the first few decades of the twenty first century have we seem a wider use brown or tan coloured military boots.

While brown or tan boots are less distinct than black boots they are still noticeably “boot-shaped”. Is it possible to make our “field boots” less noticeable?

A quick websearch reveals that camouflage patterned boots can be purchased. Unfortunately many of this are fashion items or for children. Many of the patterns used are less than ideal. Patterns with a large number of colours often have less contrast between the elements so at a distance “blob-out” to resemble a homogenous single colour shape.

Many modern boots are constructed from several different pieces. Some, such as the Vietnam jungle boot and my beloved Magnums use a combination of nylon and leather for the uppers. Inspired by two-tone shoes (below) a friend of mine suggested that field boots have the uppers constructed with each piece of a different shade or colour. This would break up the distinctive “boot-shape”. Note how the boots in the topmost photo use two shades of green nylon. The second photo below shows some footwear made from a variety of browns, and also orange, which is not so good!

Using suitable gaiters will partially cover a boot. Using items such as scrim to break up the shape may not be that practical since it is likely to catch on underbrush and soak up water.

When I was a young man there was a brief trend in spray painting Doc Martins. I visited one of the street market areas of the city recently and saw numerous hand painted boots and leather jackets on sale, many of them true works of art.

The nylon areas of a boot are probably easy to pattern. Acrylic model paints come with a warning that if they dry on clothing the colour will be near impossible to get out. Thin the paint a little with water so that it coats the nylon fibres rather than collecting in the pores. Permanent marker pens could be used instead.

Painting the leather areas of a boot may be a little more involved. Applying colour is easy enough. What we don’t want to do is affect the permeability of the leather.

Firstly, you may need to remove the existing finish of the leather on the areas you wish to paint. There are products called “leather deglazers” for this purpose. I have also seen acetone and iso-propanol suggested, although the former came with a warning not to use nail-polish removers. Rubbing the surface with fine sandpaper before removing the finish will help the new colour adhere and produce a more matt effect. The previous steps are unnecessary on suede.

Once deglazed the boots can be recoloured. There are acrylic paints specifically marketed for colouring leather or you can use leather or suede dyes. These are fairly reasonable in price and you will only need one or two colours. These products are designed to produce a gloss or semi-gloss finish. Shine is one of the enemies of concealment. A product called “duller” can be added to paints and dyes to give them a more matt effect. It can also be added to the final finishing treatment.

The actual pattern you apply to your boots should disrupt their shape. The different colours should contrast  and elements be of one to two inches width. Rather than “camouflage clothing” think “RAF aircraft pattern”, as shown on the Hurricanes below.

The Russians use a similar patterning for many of their military vehicles. A light sand/ yellow colour is used with darker shade of green or brown. Note that on one of these photos below the pattern uses three colours, but there is very little contrast between two of them. If you shrink the photo size you will see that at a distance this effectively becomes a two-colour pattern.

If your boots are already sand-coloured you will need to add bands and blobs of a darker brown. If they are already a darker brown you will need to add lighter sections. The trainers below give a good illustration of what to aim for, but bolder.

Once you are happy with your boots and everything has had a chance to dry you will need to apply an acrylic finisher solution. Most of those available give a gloss, satin or semi-gloss finish. If you cannot locate a matte finish use semi-gloss or satin and mix in some of the duller you used earlier.

I have yet to try this myself. Yet another project for when I have more funds.
         If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books