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"Camouflage Against Air Observers" from Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on German camouflage measures against air observation was originally printed in the April 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



This section complements "Camouflage Against Ground Observers," an article which appeared in a previous issue of the Intelligence Bulletin (Vol. II, No. 5, pp. 25-32). As that article pointed out, a single camouflage undertaking may deceive both air and ground observers with equal success. However, although the Germans believe that camouflage against United Nations air observation is the primary consideration, they stipulate that at the front it must be closely tied in with camouflage against ground observers. In connection with the following German precautions against hostile air reconnaissance, it should be noted that German camouflage activity and discipline in Italy has thus far been notably good. The commander of any German unit, however small, is supposed to be capable of developing a successful camouflage scheme, using whatever materials he can find locally. The Germans leave much to the individual, who generally is expected to improvise his own camouflage devices. Aside from sniper suits and snow suits, little except ungarnished nets, helmet nets, and occasionally paint is issued to the individual soldier.


a. Although every effort is made to undertake general troop movements only at night or under conditions affording bad visibility, elaborate camouflage measures are observed when daytime movement is ordered for tactical or technical reasons. These measures are maintained through the night as well, for greater security. Units are brought in small numbers from camouflaged assembly areas to the point from which they are to move. No delay is permitted. In movement by rail, canvas-covered frames are erected on flat cars carrying guns, tanks, and so on, to duplicate the appearance of box cars. When movement is conducted on roads, halts and rests are timed with due consideration for making the most of natural cover. Motorized units often go some little distance in search of woods or orchards. If no natural cover is available, efforts are made to fit in with the natural pattern of the terrain, as seen from the air.

b. A night ruse prescribed by the German Army involves the spacing of partly dimmed lights at regular intervals along a road, to draw the attention of hostile night reconnaissance away from an actual German column which is moving in complete darkness.

c. To avoid conspicuous crowding at bridges, narrow passes, and so on, vehicles are stationed in readiness under the nearest cover, and then are sent through one by one or in small groups.

d. In order to deceive as to the exact places where river crossings are to be made, "false crossings" are initiated at other places either before or during actual crossings. A certain amount of actual bridging material, smoke, and sound effects is employed to make the ruse all the more convincing.

e. As part of track discipline, vehicles are prohibited from taking short cuts, and individuals are forbidden to shape fresh footpaths, in the vicinity of any area where movement is to halt and where a camouflage plan is to go into effect.

Emergency roads and paths follow close to ditches, the edges of fields, the banks of lakes, rivers, or creeks, and the edges of gullies.


a. In towns the Germans make a great effort to park guns, tanks, and vehicles under cover. When this is impossible, irregular dispersion is carried out in courtyards and gardens, beside walls and hedges, and under trees. Tents are similarly screened. Artificial camouflage material is used to improve weak points.

The Germans make good use of the camouflage opportunities presented by destroyed or burnt-out villages. Personnel, vehicles, weapons, and supplies are concealed in the ruins with great care so that very little artificial camouflage need be added.

b. Outside towns and villages, bivouacs are situated as far as possible in woods having thick foliage. Tree tops are bound together, and roofs of foliage are constructed, to conceal open patches.

c. In open country, bivouac tents are pitched in valleys, ditches, gullies, quarries, as well as under overhanging rocks, and beside any fairly high natural growth that can be found. If natural cover is totally lacking, tents are pitched far apart and irregularly, and vehicles are dug-in and camouflaged.

The Germans make a great point of not allowing equipment to remain in plain view. Similarly, all such items as empty tin cans, discarded bits of paper, and other waste are carefully kept out of sight.


In combat, responsibility for maintaining camouflage discipline rests almost entirely in the hands of the individual German soldier, who is very good at utilizing shadows, woods, ditches, scrub growth, gardens, and field crops for concealment. He uses local vegetation to camouflage his person, and is expert at advancing by crawling. Reports from Italy emphasize the ability of the German soldier to lie quietly in one spot for hours at a time, and then methodically to resume his mission.


a. To avoid creating new tracks, the Germans try to establish firing positions near roads. Existing opportunities for concealment are taken into account; thus the Germans make the most of buildings, courtyards, places damaged by fire, woods, and individual trees. In Italy the olive trees have proved especially useful for this. In open country, slopes, valleys, and gullies are favored. Abandoned infantry positions are sometimes used. When no cover is available, weapons are dug in and are camouflaged with garnished nets.

To preserve the total effect of a camouflage plan, the Germans have been known to withhold all fire when there has been a possibility of reconnaissance by hostile aircraft—but observance of this precaution has generally depended on how much the Germans have had at stake in the ground situation.


a. The Germans make every effort to study air photographs of the terrain before devising a camouflage scheme of any appreciable size. The resulting over-all plan includes the following precautions: warnings regarding all places especially vulnerable to air and ground observation, selection of good positions for which natural local cover is already available, allotment of artificial camouflage material to positions where it can be used to advantage, disposition of dummy positions, and decisions regarding control of movement. Whenever possible, the Germans take air photographs at progressive stages of the work, to make sure that the terrain pattern is not undergoing any change—or, if it is, to make sure that its former appearance can be restored.

b. Trenches are covered, wherever possible. The Germans use various methods. For example, they garnish wire-covered frames with scrub growth, straw, and so on, to blend with the terrain, and lift them during an attack, to permit observation and fire. Similarly, they bind branches and straw together with wire or string, place them across the trenches—with openings provided for observation and fire—and secure these mats to the ground by stakes at regularly spaced intervals, to prevent sagging. To allow light to enter a covered trench, the Germans sometimes leave openings every 8 or 10 yards, which they cover with translucent cloth, such as gauze, suitably colored.

c. The Germans maintain that complete camouflage of concrete emplacements is as much of a safety measure as the concrete itself, although in a different sense. The possibility of fitting such defenses into existing terrain cover is always considered at the outset. Excavations fit into irregular terrain patterns, and straight lines and edges are avoided. Entrances are kept as small as possible. When it is essential for the emplacement to project above ground level, the walls are covered with a mixture of tar and asphalt, with earth or straw stuck to it. The enemy frequently camouflages the roofs with turf in which natural vegetation is growing.

German pillboxes on the edges of villages are usually camouflaged as houses and sheds, and in open country as farm cottages and outbuildings. This is relatively easy in Southern Europe, because of the widespread use of whitewashed terra cotta for civilian buildings.

d. The Germans remove excavated earth at night or in bad weather. It is either removed a considerable distance, or is used in the construction of dummy emplacements. (See paragraph 8.) If it is left near the site, it is made to conform with the ground pattern.

e. Wherever possible, wire obstacles are erected on covered ground, but if they are erected in exposed areas, the Germans often take the precaution of painting wooden stakes to match the terrain or of smearing the tops with earth.

Minefields, too, are laid with an eye to possible air observation. True minefields are planned so as to disturb the terrain pattern as little as possible, whereas dummy minefields are left sufficiently exposed to permit detection.


It is a German policy to establish motor parks and food and ammunition dumps in woods whenever it is possible to do so. The Germans recommend that these be established about 100 yards from the edge of the north side of the woods if circumstances permit. Trees are felled only when necessary. Even in thick woods, dumps are camouflaged with undergrowth.

In occupied localities dumps are kept under cover. A favorite ruse is to situate them in courtyards and to disguise them as woodpiles. In open country, groves of trees, clumps of bushes, and overhanging ledges are widely utilized. The Germans do not permit a concentration of vehicles to stand in the vicinity of a dump in the daytime; instead, the vehicles are grouped under cover, and proceed singly to the dump.


a. The Germans attempt to devise dummy constructions which will divert the opposition's attention and upset its fire plan. They are erected at the same time as actual installations, and are given an almost convincing camouflage treatment. The Germans do not place them at random, but, rather, make them appear to have been erected for tactical purposes. They are situated far enough away from genuine installations so that fire directed against the former will not harm the latter. Dummies are maintained, and are visited from time to time, to add to the illusion that they are in use.

b. Whenever possible, a dummy position is so planned that any ground attack against it can be counterattacked on the flank from a genuine position. Dummy trenches are usually of normal width, but are only a few inches deep. Sometimes the Germans burn straw in them to blacken the interior and make them more convincing when seen from the air.

c. Dummy dugouts are generally suggested by nothing more than an entrance.

d. Dummy paths leading to dummy positions are prepared. In fields the grass is mown down the width of the path to leave a flat surface for texture contrast. In bare country, paint or natural materials are sometimes used to give paths the light color of a flat surface.

e. The Germans regard dummy figures as useful in completing the illusion of dummy machine-gun positions.

f. Dummies are used to suggest the presence of tanks in an area. As a rule, the construction of these is very simple (see fig. 1), but sufficiently appropriate positions are chosen to heighten the reality.

[Figure 1. German Dummy Tank]
Figure 1. German Dummy Tank

g. The Germans simulate minefields merely by digging up sod and replacing it unnaturally. (There are usually a few true mines in the enemy's dummy minefields. A proportion of 5 to 10 percent is not uncommon.) For added effect, wire and warning notices are often erected.

h. Dummy lights, suitably placed, are used to suggest railroad stations, factories, and airdromes. Partly dimmed lanterns are stretched across open country to suggest the presence of troop columns, and dummy bivouac areas are represented by camp fires.

i. The Germans have been known to cover dummy positions with smoke screens. The purpose of this is not only to deceive air observers, but to draw fire and thus determine hostile gun positions.


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