By: Mpho Khalo, Junior Curator – DITSONG: National Museum of Military History



Camouflage uniforms are clothing items designed to help the wearers blend into their

surroundings in order to avoid detection. They are commonly worn by military personnel in the army.


The camouflage patterns were designed and developed in 1914, during World War I (1914-18) in France by the French artist called Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola.


The camouflage patterns typically feature a combination of colours and shapes that mimic the natural environment in which the wearer is operating. Woodland camouflage patterns often featured shapes of green and brown to blend in with forested areas, while desert patterns may feature tan and beige colours to blend in with sandy environments.


Camouflage uniforms can be made from a variety of materials, including cotton, polyester and nylon.

They may also be treated with special coatings or finishes to make them more durable or water resistant.


Figure 1. A soldier in camouflage uniform, matching the surrounding environment.


The manufacturing of camouflage uniforms

The cost of introducing new camouflage uniforms in any defence force, including South Africa, is huge. However, it is necessary given the change in the environment of the surroundings during the time of war. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is working closely with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to improve the durability and the quality of a new camouflage uniform for the SANDF. The study of animals, birds and insects have contributed to the creation of this concept of a camouflage uniform, which was initially known as protective colouration. In 1914 (during World War I) France had a horrible loss of almost 127 000 soldiers, and this was a wake-up call for them to move away from the red and blue colours in their uniforms to protective colours. The first to use the camouflage were the Italians in 1929, but only on their tents to avoid detection by enemy planes.


 However, currently there are other external factors that give rise to the SANDF to change their camouflage uniforms. This is since the fabric of the old uniform has been exploited by civilians who have been using it as fashion cloth in their clothing designs. The artwork of camouflage is now moving into digital camouflage and technology. South Africa will definitely move to the new print as it is lighter and more user-friendly during combat.


Figure 2. Example of a camouflage uniform.


Figure 3. Bird feather patterns are used in the designing of new camouflage uniforms (DITSONG: National Museum of Natural History collection).                                                         



The cost of changing uniforms in any defence force is a huge financial constraint and must be budgeted for. However, it is important for organisations such as the CSIR to work together with NATO to improve the camouflage that will work for the South African Defence Force, and it will be difficult for the civilians to use as a fashion statement. The future of the camouflage uniform needs to be sophisticated technology to conceal body heat to be detected by infra-red cameras and have fibres that change colour.



Source Internet: Figure 1.

Source Internet: Figure 2 (New South African Defence Force Camouflage).

NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Ornithology Collection: Figure 3 Night Jar DITSONG: National Museum of Natural of History, custodian of the collection: Curator Ms Mpho Malematja.

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