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"Use of Smoke" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following intelligence report on German use of smoke in WWII was originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943.

[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.]



The fact that the Germans are fully equipped to utilize chemically produced smoke at any time cannot be too widely known.

Smoke may be used by any arm; in addition, regular smoke-producing units (Nebelwerferabteilungen) of varying sizes, as well as engineer units trained to handle smoke projectors, may be assigned to provide smoke support when it is needed.

Although slightly irritating, smoke is harmless, unless it is mixed with chemical warfare gas. Being practically the same color as natural fog, smoke is distinguished by its greater density and sharper outline, as well as its sudden rise and disappearance. Its density and extension depend upon weather and terrain. Favorable conditions for the use of smoke are: a steady, moderate wind, damp atmosphere, clouded sky, falling temperature, early morning or late evening hours, and bare, flat terrain. Unfavorable conditions for the use of smoke are: a very weak wind, a strong, gusty wind constantly changing its direction, or no wind at all; dry atmosphere, sunshine, heat, and hilly or covered terrain.


The normal marking for German smoke ammunition is a broken white line and white lettering, including the identifying abbreviation Nb.

a. General Equipment

The following types of smoke equipment are likely to be used by all arms:

(1) Smoke hand grenade 39.--This closely resembles a stick hand grenade in shape. The head of the 39 is filled with a standard smoke mixture, and its handle has three horizontal corrugations at the screw cap so that it is possible to distinguish by touch between this and the stick hand grenade. The discharge of smoke lasts from 1 to 2 minutes. The total weight of the smoke grenade is about 2 pounds.

(2) Smoke hand grenade 41.--This is a small smoke generator (very similar to the smoke candle 39--see below) in a cylindrical metal case. It weighs about 1 1/4 pounds.

(3) Smoke candle 39.--This is used to lay small local screens of short duration. Its airtight and watertight cylindrical metal container is filled with standard smoke mixture. The candle weighs about 4 pounds and is fitted with a carrying handle. It can be placed on the ground and ignited, thrown by hand, or hurled by means of a sling passed through the carrying handle. The candle burns from 4 to 7 minutes. Sometimes a number of candles are placed together to increase the density of the screen.

(4) Smoke generator 41.--In addition to using several older types of smoke generators, the Germans employ a new type, the 41, to screen long buildings, bridges, battery positions, and other vital areas for periods up to 2 hours. The generator, a strong iron drum strengthened by two iron bands, has a double bottom and a removable lid, and is fitted externally with a spigot and a steel projection tube. Several pieces of necessary equipment are attached to the inside of the lid. In operation, compressed air expels the smoke acid (20 gallons). The empty weight of the generator is 280 pounds.

(5) Improvised smoke projector.--The Germans also have an improvised smoke projector which can fire a special smoke generator (known as model 34) as far as 547 yards.

b. Equipment of Smoke Troops1

Troops especially designated and trained as smoke units use the following equipment:

(1) Smoke mortars 35 and 40.--These are two different models of a 4.14-inch smoke mortar. The 35 fires a stream-lined bomb a distance of about 3,000 yards, whereas the 40 has a maximum range of some 6,500 yards.

(2) Smoke mortar d.--Although the Germans speak of one of their weapons--the Nebelwerfer d--as a mortar, it actually resembles a small gun, and has six barrels set in a circle like the chamber of a revolver. The mounting consists of a pair of rubber-tired wheels and a split trail. The barrels are not rifled, but have straight grooves inside them. The projectiles are 5.91-inch rockets, shaped like artillery shells. The six rounds are fired electrically at 1-second intervals. The rate of fire, including the time required to reload, is 6 rounds every 90 seconds. This weapon has a maximum range of 6,670 yards and can accommodate H.E. (high explosive), smoke, or gas-charged shells.

(3) Smoke vehicle.--A special smoke vehicle, built on a 3-ton semi-tracked chassis, is equipped to carry a large number of smoke generators in racks, from which they can be removed rapidly for use.


Army and corps commanders allot smoke troops, equipment, and ammunition to subordinate formations for large-scale screening operations. It is customary for the division commander to decide on the use of smoke and how it is to be coordinated with artillery fire and troop movements. Concentrated effect, as in other arms of the service, is what the Germans usually aim for when they employ smoke. The extent, object, duration, and direction of the smoke screen are contained in the commander's orders. When smoke is required in limited areas, it is generally furnished by smoke-producing ammunition fired by the combat units themselves.

Captured documents indicate that the Germans fully realize how greatly the use of smoke may hinder the work of nearby friendly troops and supporting weapons. Independent use of smoke is permitted only when the effect of the smoke is limited to the area of the command using it. In other cases, the use of smoke is regulated by a higher commander than those immediately concerned.

Official German military doctrine outlines the following uses for smoke:

a. Attack

(1) Concealing the movements made in preparation for an attack, so as to gain surprise;

(2)Assisting movements which involve the crossing of open ground;

(3) Covering the initial crossing of a river in the face of the enemy;

(4) Blinding concealed enemy firing positions and suspected observation posts, preventing such defensive weapons as machine guns from operating effectively;

(5) Economizing on ammunition, and reducing the artillery's task;

(6) Taking the place of covering fire, to some extent;

(7) Assisting the main effort of the attack;

(8) Concealing weakness in the secondary attack or gaps in the attacking forces;

(9) Protecting the flanks.

b. Defense

(1) Blinding enemy observation posts;

(2) Concealing activities in the forward defense areas;

(3) Concealing troop movements to prevent observation from ground and air.

Throughout German training it is emphasized that smoke must always be laid on the enemy and not on friendly troops. An interesting suggestion is that screens sometimes be put down merely as a deceptive measure to mislead the opposition as to German intentions.

c. Miscellaneous Instructions

In the following miscellaneous instructions laid down for German troops to follow when they find themselves fighting in smoke, it should be noted that no distinction is made between hostile and friendly smoke:

(1) Smoke hinders defense more than it hinders attack;

(2) Route-finding by compass is essential;

(3) Units should be guided through preassigned sectors;

(4) Close combat is decisive; upon contact with United Nations forces, attack them immediately with the bayonet, hand grenades, and battle cries;

(5) Careful preparation of fire plans is essential in defense;

(6) Certain points of danger should be protected by units armed with the bayonet;

(7) Counterattack should take place, as a rule, after a smoke screen clears;

(8) Gas masks should be worn until it is definitely known that no chemical warfare gas is mixed with the smoke.

1 Other arms may be equipped with adaptations of the matériel mentioned in this article. German tanks, for example, are fitted at the rear with a rack which can hold 5 smoke candles. These candles are dropped into place from the interior of the tanks; they cannot be projected. Certain infantry and artillery weapons can fire smoke shells, and it is possible to fit several types of aircraft with smoke-producing installations.


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