The history of camouflage use by humans is relatively recent. Camouflage is crucial in nature, both for hunting and for surviving being hunted. Almost all animals have evolved to use some kind of camouflage: chameleons have the ability to change the colour of their skin to match their surroundings; polar bears have white fur to hide them against the snow, and to avoid predators, stick insects have evolved to resemble – you guessed it – sticks. But what about humans?
The History of Camouflage: Ancient Times
Camouflage has been used in various forms for millennia. Before he came, saw and conquered Britain, Julius Caesar sent spy ships to gather information about the landscape. These ships were coloured blue and green (as well as the uniforms of the sailors aboard), to help disguise them from watchful eyes along the shoreline.
It was many hundreds of years, however, before camouflage became the norm in combat. For most of human history, combat was hand-to-hand. This meant there was little use for body camouflage, as soon or later opposing armies would meet face to face – and in the midst of a battle, you really needed to know who it was you were swinging your sword at. In fact, for many centuries the polar opposite of camouflage was the norm: knights and warriors would wear identifiable colours and patterns so they could discern friend from foe.
It wasn’t until the mid-1700s that camouflage began to appear. Firearms had been invented before this point, but a musket’s range was terrible, and their accuracy even worse. They were slow to reload, too, so battles were more of a ‘fire one shot and then sprint madly into the midst of it’ affair, rather than extended exchanges of small arms fire. By the eighteenth century, however, rifles had developed a longer range, and early British rifle units began to wear dark green uniforms to make them harder to distinguish.