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"Notes on Camouflage" from Tactical and Technical Trends

Various notes on German and Japanese military camouflage during WWII, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 32, August 26, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. 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.]


a. General

"Camouflage" as stated in Military Intelligence Service Information Bulletin No. 13, "is any and every means of hiding or disguising yourself from the enemy; misleading him as to your position, strength, and intention; confusing him so that he wastes his blows and falls into your ambush." A British source states, "not concealment, but invisibility is the object." These two quotations appear to cover the whole scope of camouflage. The following are some practical notes on a phase of military activity which can not be too firmly impressed upon troops in the field. Not only our own lives, but the success of a vital operation may depend on the intelligent understanding of camouflage and also upon strict camouflage discipline.

b. German Instructions for Concealment of a New Main Defensive Zone

The following directive, issued by the commanding general of the 164th Light Division on the 19th of October, 1942, in Africa, is of interest as an illustration of the pains taken to conceal the shifting of the main defensive zone to the rear. (Aircraft observation had however disclosed the movement to the British before the order was issued.)

164 Light Africa-Division.

Div Hq., October 19, 1942

Subject:- Concealment of the New Main Defensive Zone

To:       Regt. and Bn. Comdrs

The whole process of moving the main defense zone to the rear will only have served its purpose in the long run if we succeed in deceiving the English for as long as possible and in concealing the whole move from them. Otherwise the troops will have to suffer from enemy fire just as much in the present unfinished positions as they did before.

I therefore make regimental and battalion commanders personally responsible for doing everything in advance which will make the rearward move achieve its essential purpose.

To this end the following points must be observed:

(1) Prevention of obvious movement in sectors under enemy observation.

(2) Thorough camouflage and complete cessation of all movement on the appearance of enemy aircraft. Enemy fighters too have eyes and take photographs. In such cases every man will take full cover and will not come out and run around just to watch the performance in the air, as almost invariably happens at present.

(3) Good reconnaissance and judicious layout of the supply routes, as far as possible running forward over dead ground to the various sectors.

(4) Erection of notices "Caution," "Look out," "Enemy observation"; and if necessary, fencing off, or the posting of traffic guides.

(5) Camouflage of Hqs. No bunching to attract attention.

(6) In contrast with the main defence zone, no complete cessation of hitherto normal movement in the new main line of resistance. Since the troops in front in the old positions are now numerically weaker they will have to give signs of greater activity.

(7) Extremely close watch by all infantry and artillery OPs. Nothing which the enemy is doing must escape notice. Is the enemy intensifying his reconnaissance activity in the next few days?

(8) Observation of enemy shelling. Is he firing onto the new main defence zone? Where? How many rounds?

Only if every man in the Division follows these instructions will the better situation of the main defense zone be made to result in greater security at all points with consequent benefit to the troops.

Sgd. Lungershausen

Another order from Hq xth Corps (German) to the Pavia Division reads as follows:

We must give the enemy the impression that new forces have arrived from the south, and that we intend to take the initiative there. The following measures should be taken:

(a) All motor transport and a few tank units should move about day and night in the forward area.

(b) Bring motor transport at present in forward bases right up to the line, and make dummy transport and tank positions, using blankets and other material.

NOTE: According to another source the tanks of one tank regiment were camouflaged as trucks by means of steel frames and canvas-painted sides, and were well forward. Stationary dummies made of cardboard were well behind.

c. Camouflage of an Allied Advance Headquarters

A scheme for the camouflage of an advance division headquarters on the African desert which appears to have been completely successful illustrates the use of simple materials, locally available. The headquarters was far forward--within a mile of the front line, and consisted of a number of elephant iron* Quonset shelters dug in to ground level. (*Huts made of a half-cylinder of massive, corrugated-steel sections.)

Positions were chosen behind small rises, some no more than 2 or 3 feet high. Digging was done at night and the construction of 8 to 10 dug-outs was carried on at one time. By day, the holes were covered with a fully garnished net, consisting of about 30 percent of white rags, and the remainder of burlap. On each of these was sewn a patch of worn-out tentage large enough to completely shut out the shadow.

Part of the spoil was put into sandbags for office partitions, and part was carried away in bags to be laid out irregularly between low camel-thorn bushes where sand was sprinkled over them. [It is worth noting that, in this case, the freshly dug sand was not scattered out, since the difference of texture between the excavated material and the surface sand might have shown up on an air-photograph. The bagged sand resembled stones or sand hummocks.]

d. Field Works

Block-houses of heavy reinforced concrete have been found, designed to resemble the typical local North African house with a courtyard in the center. Two loopholes for machine guns were pierced low down at each corner. An antitank emplacement was designed to resemble a native well complete with the uprights and a pulley.

e. Tank Camouflage

Tanks have been observed in advanced areas camouflaged as trucks with steel frames and painted canvas sides, while dummy tanks made of cardboard were placed in the rear.

Groups of derelict smashed tanks have been used for covering 88-mm guns, toward which British tanks were lured by weak German tank patrols. Incidentally, tank pennants are reported to have provided excellent sighting points in the dusk for enemy gunners.

f. Minefields

....In German minefields, the mines were so camouflaged that it was impossible to tell within 10 feet of where they lay--a fact confirmed by photographs on the spot.

From a recent German document, it is clear that air-photo interpreters take special note of army tracks or roads that twist and turn suddenly for no reason apparent in the nature of the ground. From such twists and turns the interpreters infer the probable existence of a minefield, and they warn their troops to avoid giving away the position of the minefield in such a manner. While there is nothing new in this ruse, it may provide a timely reminder that there is a simple, cheap and effective way of misleading the enemy as to the general plan of defense and the location of real minefields in the defended areas. Dummy tracks with these characteristic twists in association with lightly disturbed soil in plausible locations might be successful as decoys.

A British commentator complained that in the Western Desert, British minefields were not only identified by being surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, but even the location of individual mines was obvious, even by moonlight. He suggested that for each real mine placed at least two dummy mine-locations should be made by scratching up the surface of the ground.

g. German Training in Camouflage

Camouflage and concealment are given the greatest importance in all German military training. In defense, for example, it is even regarded as being preferable to use ground less favorable from a tactical point of view, if by so doing the intentions and organization of the defense become less apparent to the enemy than they would be in a more suitable defensive position.

Throughout training, special emphasis is laid on the individual aspect of concealment. It is stressed that the negligence of the individual rifleman may lead to the premature disclosure of his squad. Particular attention is therefore paid to squad training and dress.

During training, periods devoted to instruction in concealment and camouflage are usually spent teaching the use of natural materials, such as branches, rather than the use of artificial methods. An exercise has been observed in which the troops taking part were sent off individually to see how far they could go along a certain road before they were seen. The man who got the farthest was promised half a day off. Great stress was laid on realism in training. Even during an exercise, a squad leader was made to lead his squad through a ditch full of water if better concealment was obtained thereby.

h. Personal Concealment

The German steel helmet is camouflaged with leaves, grass, or whatever foliage is at nand. A rubber band is provided to hold these in position, as it is found, when a man is lying down on the ground, that his helmet reflects the light and is then the only part of him to be seen. Each soldier has a waterproof sheet, disruptively painted. Coloring of equipment and even of faces to blend in with the various types of background is encouraged.

Individual camouflage equipment which is much used by personnel of the Japanese Army consists of a body net and head net, either or both of which are used according to circumstances. The former consists of a net approximately 1 x 1 1/2 yards in size, made of a greenish-covered straw fiber cord or ordinary twine with a square mesh something under two inches in size. The head net is of a size which will allow it to fit snugly over a steel helmet or cap, and is of the same material, mesh, and color as the body net. In addition to those pieces of individual equipment, there is a net for the horses. Branches, leaves, grass, and other local vegetation are stuck into the nets.

i. German Attempts to Camouflage Cities

A huge structure was erected on the Charlottenburger Chaussee in Berlin, a broad avenue leading westward from the Tiergarten park into the heart of the area occupied by government offices, an ideal landmark for pilots. Along its entire length of 5 miles, wire netting covered with green cloth was installed. In an effort to lure British bombers away from Berlin, it is reported that the Germans have built a fake city to deceive the enemy pilots. Outside the city is a forest which has been cut through with lanes so that at night, from the air, it is apt to look like the Tiergarten. Fake roofs of cloth and paper are stretched between the trees and on the ground are low lights like those of a blacked-out city. Looking down at night, a flyer might think he was over the center of Berlin.

In their efforts to camouflage landmarks all over the city of Hamburg, the Nazis drained Binnen-Alster (a small lake near the harbor) and on it built imitation houses. Wooden bridges have been built on the Aussen-Alster Lake to simulate the well-known Lombards Bridge, which in turn, has been disguised to resemble the Jungfernsteig (a boulevard) complete even to a replica of the Alster Pavilion, Hamburg's most famous cafe.

Again, between Laufen an Neckar and Nordheim, it is reported that a large railway station, complete in every detail, was erected in a large field, about a mile and a half away from Laufen toward Nordheim. It was exceedingly realistic, and at night had dim, colored lights to represent signal boxes, signals, etc. Fires were lit to deceive the airmen after raids. It was ineffective, inasmuch as Laufen has suffered heavy air raids.

j. Decoy Town

The important Ploesti oil wells are situated on both sides of the Bucharest-Ploesti Road, and 3 miles before reaching the last named town. The distance of the oil wells from the road is about 600 yards. In an attempt to confuse the enemy airmen as to the precise situation of the oil wells, the Roumanians are reported to have camouflaged them by erecting a new town nearby, constructed of wood and fitted with the necessary electric installations to make it appear moderately lighted at night. The dummy town was situated about 4 miles southeast of the Ploesti railway station and is of the same size as Ploesti itself.


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