The ship seen here is USS Nebraska (BB-14), painted in a common WWI paint scheme called “dazzle,” also known as “razzle dazzle.” The idea of this camouflage was not to hide the ship, but to try to make it hard for enemy ships or submarines to pinpoint the ship’s location, speed, or heading. In theory, this would prevent the ship from being accurately targeted by enemy guns or torpedoes. While not all paint jobs were quite as elaborate as this one, the dazzle scheme was a popular one for warships and merchant ships alike.
This particular picture was taken in April 1918, while Nebraska was in Norfolk for repairs. A participant in the Great White Fleet in 1908 (after joining the fleet in San Francisco), the obsolete battleship mostly conducted training during World War I, but also protected convoys in the last few months of the war.
(This blog post was written by HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer.)