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"German Views on Russian Summer Camouflage" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. intelligence report translates a German pamphlet on Russian summer camouflage on the Eastern Front in WWII. The report originally appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 23, April 22, 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.]


The following is a translation of a German pamphlet on Russian summer camouflage, printed in the spring following the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. The Germans evidently found Russian camouflage methods disconcerting, and some were apparently new to them. The great care the Russians apparently devote to camouflage training is worthy of note; their success in effective concealment seems to have resulted from ingenuity and strict camouflage discipline.

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a. Preface

The following examples are taken from reports from the front and captured orders. They represent only a part of Russian camouflage methods, but are in some cases new and worthy of imitation. They can be used in improvised form by our own troops. A detailed knowledge of Russian camouflage and methods helps our own troops to recognize the enemy and his tricks without delay. In this way surprise is avoided and troops can operate with greater confidence.

b. Camouflage Material

The camouflage instinct is strongly developed in the Russian, and his inventive ability is astounding. This gift is systematically encouraged by thorough camouflage training which begins on the first day of military training and is continued throughout the whole period. Camouflage discipline is good even among troops who otherwise might be well below the average as regards weapon training. Infringements of camouflage discipline are severely punished.

(1) Prepared Camouflage Material

(a) Summer Camouflage Suit

The suit consists of a jacket and hood of green-colored material in which tufts of matting in various shades are woven. In appropriate surroundings, a man in a prone position in this clothing cannot be seen more than a few paces away.

(b) Summer Camouflage Smock

This consists of colored material with patches in dark shades, and is suitable for use with a broken background of woods and bushes.

(c) Camouflage Net for Rifleman

The net is about 5 by 2 1/2 feet and weighs about 1/3 pound. It is woven with natural camouflage material taken from the immediate surroundings and can be used either as a covering or spread out in front of the rifleman. By binding several nets together, rifle pits, machine guns, and entrances to dugouts can be camouflaged.

(d) Camouflage Mask for Rifleman

This consists of a wire contraption divided into several pieces, covered with material. In it is a hole through which the rifle can protrude. It represents a bush and is in use in three different colors. It can be folded up and carried on the person in a bag. The rifleman lies in such a position behind the mask that his body is fully hidden. In attacking he can move forward in a crouch and push the mask in front of him. The mask is only visible to the naked eye at a distance of 150 to 200 paces.

(e) Camouflage Cover for Machine Gun

The cover consists of colored fabric in which tufts of colored matting are woven. When moving forward, the cover will not be taken off. The machine gun with this cover can only be recognized when within about 100 yards.

(f) Camouflage Fringe

The fringe consists of a band about 3 yards long, from which grass colored matting is hung. On the ends are hooks for attaching the fringe on the object. The rifleman can fix the fringe on the helmet or shoulders. Five of these fringes are used to camouflage a machine gun, and six for an antitank gun.

(g) Nets

For covering gun positions and trenches, nets of various sizes are issued. The net is woven with shreds of matting or paper; when in use, additional natural camouflage is added, such as grass, twigs, etc. These nets are also used by tanks, tractors, trucks, and trailers. The standard net is about 12 feet square, and by joining several together, large surfaces can be camouflaged against aerial observation (see figure 1).

[WW2 Russian Camouflage, Eastern Front]

(h) Camouflage Carpet

This consists of shreds of various sizes into which colored matting and tufts are woven. It is used mostly for camouflaging earth works.

(2) Improvised Camouflage Material

(a) Observation and Sniper Posts

A tree stump is hollowed out and stakes are used as supports. Another method is to insert periscopes into a frame made to look like wooden crosses in cemeteries (see figure 2). Imitation hayricks are often used.

(b) Camouflage Against Observation from the Air

Shadows can be cast by fixing frameworks on the side of a house or on the roof so that the object cannot be recognized. Branches fixed on wire strung over the object can make it invisible from the air (see figure 3).

[Russian Vehicle Camouflage]

(c) Camouflaging Tanks and Tank Tracks

Tanks when being transported by rail or when on the road can be made to look like roofed freight cars or ordinary trucks.

When there are groups of trees, camouflage can be quickly obtained by bending the tops of the branches over the objects to be camouflaged (see figure 4). Nets can also be spread over and attached to the trees, with natural material laid on top. Among low bushes, tanks can be covered with grass, moss, or twigs. Freshly cut trees, one-and-a-half times the height of the object to be camouflaged, complete the camouflage. Tanks on a slope can be effectively and quickly camouflaged by the use of netting or other covers. Tanks in hollows can be made invisible by covers and, even without natural camouflage, nets or covers can completely alter the shape of tanks.

Tank tracks can be obliterated by dragging a fir tree behind the tank; rolls of barbed wire with an iron rod through them can also be used for this purpose.

c. Use of Camouflage

(1) On the March

As equipment being transported by rail cannot be fully concealed, the Russians attach particular importance to preventing the recognition of the type of equipment by making guns, vehicles, tanks, fuel trucks, etc., look like ordinary roofed freight cars. This is done by means of some sort of superstructure. Loading and unloading generally take place at night, often in open country.

Movement of large Russian units takes place either at night, with meticulous attention being paid to blackout regulations, or by day in wooded country. If the march must take place by day in country which offers only limited natural concealment, movement takes place by bounds from cover to cover. Motor vehicles are, where possible, diverted from main roads to side or wood roads. All bunching of vehicles on bridges, defiles, etc., is strictly avoided. A group of vehicles will halt under cover a distance from a defile; the movement through the defile will be made only by single vehicles or in small groups.

On the approach of German aircraft, vehicles of all descriptions take cover without delay. If single vehicles are forced to remain on the road, they either remain stationary, or, failing any camouflage protection, they take up positions diagonally on the road in order to look like broken-down vehicles.

Track discipline is carefully carried out. When tanks have to leave the main road, they travel in single column as far as possible so as not to give away their numbers by leaving many tracks.

(2) Quarters and Bivouacs

All evidence of the occupation of a village is avoided. Tanks, guns, and vehicles, if they cannot be brought under cover, are placed in irregular formations and camouflaged in yards and gardens, and against hedges, bushes, walls, and trees.

Special care is taken to see that movement from one place to another is limited to small groups; this rule applies also when issuing food, gasoline, etc.

Destroyed villages and burned-down premises are preferred for quartering men, weapons, equipment, and vehicles, as these areas lend themselves easily to camouflage.

Bivouacs are cleverly camouflaged against houses, hedges, gardens, etc. If possible, thick woods are used, and use is made of branches. In open country, hollows and ditches are used to the utmost, and bivouacs spread out in irregular formations. Tents are covered with natural camouflage material; if this is lacking, no use is made of tents. Instead, holes and pits are constructed. When bivouacs are taken up, tracks are obliterated in order to give the enemy no indication as to strength.

(3) Battle

Stress is laid on the necessity of being able to crawl for long distances at a quick pace. Patrols are well equipped with camouflage suits, and make full use of darkness and bad visibility.

When working forward, the Russian moves in short, quick bounds, and is capable of moving through the thickest undergrowth in order to work his way close to the enemy position. If the defense is on the alert, he is able to lie still for hours on end.

Russian tree snipers are particularly difficult to recognize. Tank-destroying sections with Molotov cocktails, grenades, and mines, are distributed in wheat fields and at places several yards from the edges of woods and fields.

In defending built-up areas, the Russians make use of positions outside the area. These consist of many rifle pits, organized in depth and well camouflaged with fences and bushes. When firing from houses, machine guns are placed well back from windows and doorways to prevent the flash being seen, and also to smother the report.

When German aircraft appear, every movement ceases.

After firing, any discoloration in front of a gun is covered with suitable camouflage material. When the gun remains for some time in one position, a board of sufficient size, and colored to match the surroundings, can be laid in front of the muzzle.

As the presence of tanks leads to definite conclusions regarding the main effort of the attack, the Russians are very careful to camouflage their armor.

(4) Layout of Defense Positions

Reconnaissance patrols are instructed not only to study the ground from the tactical point of view but also as regards possibilities for camouflage. This includes shape of the ground formations, the background, the coloring, the available natural camouflage, and what suitable artificial camouflage material can be used. Positions are selected to conform to the natural contours of the ground, and comfort is of secondary importance. As much use as possible is made of reverse slope positions. Parapets are kept as low as possible and are carefully camouflaged with grass, etc. Positions are often camouflaged with covers made of boards, fir branches, or straw. If time does not allow, only single portions of the trench system will be covered, so that to an observer they look like connecting trenches. Provision is made to conceal vision slits. Antitank ditches are either entirely covered, or partially covered in such a way that they look like narrow, easily passable ditches (see figure 5). Pillboxes are carefully camouflaged with nets or covers. The open walls are painted with a mixture of tar and asphalt, and covered with earth or hay. Wire obstacles can be made invisible by passing them through hedges and fences.

[Russian Trench Camouflage WW2]

In woods, thick undergrowth is preferred in selecting a position. Cutting down trees to give fields of fire is avoided for reasons of camouflage.

Russian signalmen use telegraph poles, with the bark still on, and set them up at irregular distances. The line of poles is laid to conform with the country. Earth at the foot of the poles is carefully camouflaged, and trampling of the earth along the line of the poles is strictly avoided. Wire is also laid to conform with the general contouring.

Camouflage discipline in occupied positions is very good, and one seldom hears talking, rattling of weapons, or sees the glimmer of a cigarette. In order to prevent the enemy realizing that a position is weakly held, single riflemen keep up strong fire activity at various points.

d. Dummy Positions

The Russians often use dummy positions.

Dummy trenches are of normal width, but are dug only to a depth of about 1 1/2 feet. The bottom can be made dark with soot or pine needles. Dummy dugouts can be made by the use of props, with the entrance made of cardboard or paper. Dummy loopholes and observation slits can be made out of black paper or felt. Dummy gun positions can be arranged by turning over grass, or burning it in order to imitate discoloration from muzzle blast. Dummy gun positions must be at correct distances. The representation of dummy tracks leading to the dummy positions must not be forgotten. The desired result is achieved by mowing grass to the normal width of a track, and letting the mown grass remain, or rolling it. When the ground is open, color must be used in order to make the tracks light and trenches dark.

Dummy obstacles can be erected by mowing grass and making little heaps out of the cut grass. On a ploughed field, it is sufficient to plough at right angles to the furrows to the width of the particular obstacle it is desired to represent. Dummy mine pits can be made by taking out sods of turf and laying them down clumsily. The dummy minefields should be two to four times as obvious as the normal. In dummy minefields 5 to 10 percent of live mines are generally laid. Dummy light installations are used a great deal in order to portray a station, industrial plant, or airfield. Lanterns, dummy bivouacs, and camp fires are often arranged to give the impression of the presence of troops.


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