Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boeing Seattle Plant under Camouflage in WW II

The person I received this from said she got back an interesting story about someone's mother who worked at Lockheed, and she as a younger child, remembers all this. And to this day, it is the first pictures of it she's seen... Another person who lived in the area talked about as being a boy, watching it all be set up like a movie studio production. They had fake houses, trees, etc. and moved parked cars around so it looked like a residential area from the skies overhead.

Hiding in Plain Sight
The idea of deceiving the enemy as to what you are doing is not new. Trying to hide individual items from observation is not new, trying to hide whole factories from aerial bombing during The Second World War was new.

Boeing Seattle Plant under Camouflage in WW II
B-29s under construction inside - and under- camouflage on
the Seattle production line in late 1945(?).
Dozens of B-29s are lined up on the tarmac.
After December 7, 1941 the Lockheed and Boeing aircraft factories along the West Coast were put under netting to try and hide them from Japanese aircraft attack. The Boeing plant went even further with fake houses and trees over the factory. The effectiveness of this was never tested - no Japanese aircraft got anywhere near these factories, but it did instill the sense of the war, the collective threat, to the people not on the front lines in those areas.

The Germans went to elaborate lengths to hide factories with netting and smoke screens - even so far as to build dummy oil refineries with similar reference points to fool bombardiers trying to hit it instead of the real factory a few mile further on - it actually known to have worked once.

However, asides from that rare case, hiding a factory would ONLY work if no aerial - or any type of images - of the factory was in possession by the enemy before the pre-mission photo-recon picture had been taken. Hiding a SINGLE item this big never worked - the bridges, rivers, prominent intersections etc would all still be there to allow a proper bomb drop on the factory. You have to hide everything around it within a mile so that the person toggling the bombs could not be sure exactly where it is. Off by 10 seconds means you miss the whole target. Thus you need to fake the scale in the camouflage or shift it over by 1/2 mile by making a new complete factory along with roads, intersections etc to match the original.

Oblique view of Seattle Boeing Plant in World War Two
Looking East from around 1500 feet at the production plant.
A B-29 is on the tarmac, one on the runway a B-17
on the other side of the field.
Early in the war they may not have helped - 60% of American bombs dropped often missed the real target aiming point (a 1000 foot circle) and hit everywhere around it so doing the camouflage work then may have actually caused more damage. By late 1943 it had changed so that 60% of bombs dropped usually hit within the 1000 foot radius of the aiming point.

Early in the war a typical mission would have between 250 to 350 B-17s hitting a single target - which means anywhere from 3,000 to 4,200 individual 500 pound bombs exploding within 1000 feet of the aiming point - which would utterly destroy any target. This never happened. The longer the distance flown the less bombs carried. So a deep raid would have only eight 500 lb bombs in the bombay and the 1/2 filled with extra fuel tanks. With the accuracy so poor higher numbers of aircraft had to be sent so that statistics would ensure enough actually hit the target. By late 1944 they would send a single group - 56 a/c, to hit a single target and it would be destroyed. The accuracy had gone up due to better ballistic calculations and training of the bombardiers plus better bombing formation tactics employed.

Workers walking over the camouflaged Boeing plant
Under this detailed walkable camouflage roof of fake housing, Boeing B-17F Flying Fortresses were being produced in 1942-1945. The two women show the detailing done to make it look real.
John Stewart Detlie, a Hollywood set designer, helped "hide" Boeing's Seattle plant using his Hollywood design techniques with this camouflage. The fake housing development covered nearly 26 acres with netting, plywood and other material over the Seattle plant.

Boeing plant aerial photo taken from around 5000 feet.
This was taken in either 1944 or 1945. You can see the
B-29s on the tarmac and other aircraft around the field.
As bombing became more accurate deception techniques actually worked better since every second of flying meant at least a 227 foot error. A person at 25,000 feet looking through a scope cannot see both ahead to see what is coming up and the immediate view of the traversing ground at the same time. A bombardier had just 120 seconds to line up and drop after the IP. Thus if the target comes into view just 10 seconds earlier than he thought it would and he drops - and at this time of the war the whole group dropped on the signal of the lead plane's smoke marker - so the whole group drops early and you can save the real target.

B-17 Flying Fortress at Seattle on the tarmac
G model Flying Fortresses just off the production line in Seattle await delivery to the combat modification center in Kansas. You can easily read the B-17G tail numbers 297385, 297386, 297387 on these natural finish Flying Fortresses so an exact date can be obtained of the picture with a little research.
In January of 1944 a change in policy stated that all aircraft were to be left in a natural metal finish. This cut down the production time (no painting) plus it saved weight - which meant either more fuel or bombs could be carried. The weight of paint could reach 500 lbs or more on a Flying Fortress. Modern pigment paint weights up to 10 pounds per gallon and it takes only 2 mil of coverage at the high end to cover the surface. The primer that goes on first weights about the same. The real high tech modern paint (see ) weights 1/2 as much at 4.89 pounds / gal with a coverage 530 sq ft / gallon. This is the Endura paint which is a two-component polyamine primer. A B-17 has 1420 square feet of wing area on top, and for the bottom, about the same for the rest of the a/c so that puts it around 4200 square feet of surface. Modern paint would add around 100 lbs of extra weight if the $300 gallon type is used.

I have not been able to find an authoritative source as to the weight of paint used during WW II, though I have crewman reports anywhere from 65 to 500 lbs of paint. but if it was 20 lbs/ gal at around 200 sq feet a gallon, that would add in around 500 pounds of paint.
Hiding in Plain Sight

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