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"German Attack Under Cover of Area Smoke Screen" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following translation of a German manual describes German methods of attack using area smoke screens. The report was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 18, Feb. 11, 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 translation of portions of a German manual gives some guiding principles for carrying out attacks in which area smoke screening is employed as an integral part of an operation. The term "area screen" is employed to mean the use of smoke to cover an extensive area so as to produce conditions resembling those effected by a thick natural mist. (See Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 6, p. 16, for certain details about the tactical use of smoke by the Germans.)

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a. General

Artificial smoke - used for area screening - is an important aid to an attack against an enemy prepared for defense on a stable front, in field works, or behind water obstacles.

The employment of area screening depends on the plans of the superior commander, the strength of the front to be attacked, the topography, and the weather conditions. In an attack on a wide front, the screening may be limited to a particular locality.

It creates a zone of decreased visibility in which and into which observation, and hence observed fire, is rendered either difficult or impossible except at the closest ranges. It therefore favors close combat. Given this chance, the attacking troops close with the enemy. Some units utilize gaps in the enemy's fire, disorganized by the smoke, to achieve a breakthrough; at the same time other units attack and neutralize those enemy islands of resistance that might hold up the breakthrough. In this way the attacker pushes his way through the entire depth of the hostile battle position.

The attack under the cover of smoke, with a constantly changing visibility, demands initiative and resolution from the leaders of the smallest units and even from the individual soldiers.

If the defender, ready in expectation of an attack, is blanketed by smoke, the resulting impossibility or difficulty of observation causes a material reduction in the effectiveness of his weapons. Hence, as long as the screen lasts, the defender's morale is subject to an ever-increasing strain.

Owing to the impossibility of maintaining observation in a battle waged in smoke, the superior commander of the defense will only be able to influence to a slight extent the course of the action. In an attack on a wide front this will seriously affect the commitment of enemy reserves. Without observation the planned defensive fire cannot be brought to bear with flexibility nor be maintained indefinitely. Organized control of fire will be quickly undermined. Gaps will inevitably appear in the curtain of fire. This will be the case particularly on a defensive front where the fire plan is based on enfilading cross-fire.

The attacking units must have available equipment which will enable them to maintain their direction in smoke, and they must be well trained in its use.

In order to reach assembly positions the use of smoke screens may be necessary. Area screening, however, should be reserved for the attack on the hostile battle position so as to enhance its effect by achieving surprise in its employment. Anything which will give the defender any indication, during the period of preparation, of the intended use of area screening must be avoided. The length of time consumed between reaching assembly positions and the beginning of the attack in the main battle zone is mainly determined by the scope of essential preparations, reconnaissance, the assembly of the attacking units and their ammunition, and the enemy counterattacks. In the case of limited local actions this will occupy at least one night. In the case of an attack on a wide front against a defensive position with permanent defenses, it may stretch over a period of several days.

The main objective of the attack lies in the enemy's artillery position.

As a general rule, area screening will not be employed beyond the rear edge of the hostile battle position. It may be advisable to blind the enemy reserve positions (i.e., by a smoke screen in the ordinary sense, which aims to curtain observation from one area into another rather than to reduce visibility within an area as does the area screen), and also in certain circumstances, the antitank defense on the far side of the battle position, as protection for the attackers as they emerge from the cover of the area screen.

If the hostile battle position is of great depth and strength, it may be necessary to decide upon intermediate objectives. Such a procedure makes it possible to coordinate the laying of the area screen with the progress of the attack. Only features of the ground easily distinguished in the smoke, i.e., roads running at right angles to the line of advance, intersecting streams, etc., are suitable as intermediate objectives.

The area screening is put down in zones 200 to 300 yards deep across the line of attack. The smoke will extend to adjoining areas by drift. Its rate of advance will be governed by the difficulties anticipated in the respective zones from the fighting and from the nature of the terrain. Two hundred yards every 15 minutes can be taken as a guide. A completely flexible control of the smoke screen - to suit the advance of the infantry - is not practicable. Once the screen has been set in motion to cover the ground to a particular objective, it must adhere to the time table laid down. The only possible change of the time table is at the point when the advance is resumed from one intermediate objective to the next.

In order to deceive the enemy, the screen must always extend over the flanks of the area of attack.

The area screen can only be put down by smoke units and artillery working together under the sole command of the artillery commander.

The area screen can be supplemented by the smoke equipment of the attacking units, such as smoke hand grenades, smoke candles (adapted for throwing), and smoke shells fired by the light and heavy infantry guns. For this purpose, it is essential that the attacking units be abundantly equipped, especially with smoke candles.

Rear areas of the battle zone which afford the enemy observation of the battle zone, but are outside the area screen, must also be blinded when the attack commences. Such additional tasks increase the number of smoke batteries and the munitions necessary, as does also a high wind.

Even though area screening is employed, the artillery must still carry out its chief task, namely to prepare the way across the battle zone for the attacking units and to give them the necessary fire support. The area screen supplements, but does not replace, HE bombardment with its destructive effect. The artillery must therefore be prepared to meet the unusual conditions. Since observation of the effect of artillery fire on individual targets is interrupted during the employment of the screen, the destructive artillery bombardment preceding the area screening acquires increased importance. The mixture of HE and smoke bombardment in the area screen makes it difficult for the infantry to orient itself and closely follow up the smoke.

Armored units can be and should be used in the attack; in the screened zone they must maintain the closest coordination with the attacking infantry. Their employment will be limited to the use of individual armored vehicles attached to attack groups for crushing nests of resistance.

b. The Attack

The following points relate to an attack on a wide front against a front provided with fixed works. They are also to be used in an attack against an enemy entrenched in field defenses or behind water obstacles.

The selection of suitable points of attack, and the time table on which the movement of the area screen depends, can only be based on careful preliminary planning. The attacking units themselves must have as clear a picture as possible of the particular ground and the defensive dispositions in their zone of attack; this is necessary in order to permit them to stage the attack in detail and to make proper use of their direction instruments, as well as to be able to re-orient themselves, under the difficulties which arise when fighting in smoke.

An attack embodying the use of smoke should commence when the infantry is within assaulting distance. For this purpose, the ground leading up to the battle zone must be already occupied and cleared of obstacles and minefields, so that no lengthy delay will occur during the approach and the occupation of assault positions.

The attacking units are brought into position the night before the attack. In order to avoid undue exposure to enemy artillery fire, they may be assembled for the attack in rearward positions, providing the approach to the battle zone is adequately patrolled. Pathways and roads in the approach zone must be so marked that an unimpeded approach is assured even when smoke is present. The attacking units come up to the line of departure in open order, to lessen the effect of the enemy barrage. The early morning hours are the most favorable for the commencement of the attack.

The approach of the attacking units can be preceded by a fairly long area-screening bombardment - even intermittently - on the forward approaches of the battle zone, in order to give the enemy no clue as to H-hour; this will also cause him to disclose his defensive barrage and artillery positions. A mixture of smoke and HE fire can be maintained until the infantry attack approaches the region of the area screening.

The attacking force can make systematic use of area screening in a degree proportionate to the thoroughness with which the artillery has destroyed defensive works, obstacles, and mine fields, and cleared out the pockets of enemy resistance in the hostile outpost position prior to the launching of the attack. The HE bombardment should be put into operation early and to a large extent be maintained with intensity, if the troops have been drawn up into final assembly positions, in order that during this period, when they are more defenseless than the defender, they should not be exposed to increased enemy artillery fire. While the attacking units are deploying into attack position, the artillery should put down harassing fire on the hostile outpost position. The neutralization of enemy artillery becomes a factor of particular importance at this point. At the commencement of the attack under cover of the area screening, all artillery unengaged and not firing smoke opens up on counterbattery tasks so as to assist the assaulting troops to cross the zone of the enemy barrage. The enemy artillery should be kept neutralized throughout the further course of the attack. Part of the artillery should continue to engage such of the enemy positions in the hostile outpost zone as have not been covered by smoke.

When the infantry is nearing the rear edge of the battle zone, the artillery takes up the task of rendering the necessary fire support to the spear-head of the attack as it comes into view out of the smoke, either because of the thinning out of the area screen or because they have left its cover prematurely. At this point, HE bombardment must neutralize enemy forces debouching on to the far side of the battle zone and must hinder the bringing up of enemy reinforcements. For this purpose, provision should be made for rapidly moving forward a number of batteries.

Artillery forward observers with field telephones accompany the most advanced elements of the attacking infantry, with artillery liaison officers at infantry battalion headquarters. During the advance in the smoke, they signal to the observation sections at a pre-arranged time by means of "vertical light signals," to indicate the progress of the attack.

The commitment of the assaulting troops is done by individual assault groups at points where the defenses, obstacles, and terrain offer favorable conditions for a thrust through the hostile battle position.

During the battle, the assault groups must rely upon their own resources. Their strength should be such as to ensure that they will be able to fight across the battle zone over the whole of their allotted sector, and to reach the far side as units strong enough to continue active fighting. It is most important for the attack that full advantage be taken of the enemy's lack of observation. The thrust through the battle zone is based on the assumption that the defensive works will also be subjected to attack at the same time. In an attack on a battle position of considerable depth, the assaulting units are organized in groups which carry out the breakthrough, and into those which are intended simultaneously to attack the centers of resistance.

The division commander designates the objectives to the infantry commanders. He assigns the artillery its missions and, subject to orders from higher echelons, arranges the direction and timing of the area screen. He informs the infantry commanders of the plans of the artillery and smoke units, and puts under their command the necessary engineer units, and, if required, antiaircraft guns and armored vehicles. He must make every effort to see that the attack, after the hostile battle position has been broken through, is carried into the enemy artillery position without delay. He relieves the assault infantry of the responsibility of finishing off the defensive positions remaining unattacked between the assault groups.

The commander of the infantry regiment gives the assault battalions their battle orders and organizes their coordination. To this end, he indicates the direction of attack and the objectives. He attaches to the battalions, to enable them to carry out their missions, such further weapons as are necessary--antitank guns, infantry guns, direction indicators, and special weapons. His further influence on the progress of the fighting is exercised by the prompt use of his reserves at the points where the attack can best be pressed forward. After the breakthrough, he quickly reforms those elements of the regiment which have become scattered during the attack, so that they may again be used as a muted whole.

The battalion commander splits his battalion in accordance with their missions. The troops assigned to carry out the thrust across the hostile outpost position must be prepared to overrun rapidly, or crush, the enemy troops occupying this zone. They should therefore be reinforced with heavy machine guns, reserve assault units, and, if the occasion requires it, heavy mortars and light infantry guns as well. The battalion commander tells them where to go and assigns guides to operate with them. Those forces which are sent out against the defensive works need, above all, engineer units with their specialized offensive equipment, individual armored vehicles, and weapons for the engagement of pillboxes. The battalion commander goes forward himself with the troops assigned to the main effort, i.e., the breakthrough, and is responsible for seeing that they succeed quickly in reaching the far side of the battle zone. There, he reorganizes his companies to continue the attack.

Besides the coordination of individual armored vehicles during the attack against enemy field works, armored units, after the battle zone has been successfully crossed, should continue the attack by breaking into the enemy artillery positions; the enemy reserves also should be attacked in order to facilitate the reorganization of friendly infantry for further attack.

By clearing away obstacles and minefields, the engineers make it possible to push forward almost up to the enemy front lines, the line of departure for the final breakthrough. During an attack in smoke, engineer units are attached to the individual assault groups for special purposes, chiefly for the demolition of the stronger field works. Their strength is determined by tasks to be performed.

As the area overrun increases, it is important to clear paths quickly across the battle zone and to mark those on which reinforcements can be brought up in order to exploit fully the success of the attack.

During the attack through the smoke-covered battle zone, it is unlikely that there will be any danger from enemy tanks, and yet the rapid organization of an adequately strong antitank defense in the newly acquired line is necessary when the smoke cover is left behind, especially after the objective of the attack has been gained. Since the antitank guns needed by the assault groups for the engagement of loopholed defenses are, for this purpose, drawn from the companies of the infantry regiments, division antitank units are given the mission of screening as quickly as possible, against enemy tank attack, the infantry which has broken through the battle zone.

The lack of observation in the smoke-covered area makes necessary the extensive use of radio, even for lateral communication. When the far edge of the battle zone is reached, communications with the artillery must be established by all means available. The increased requirement for means of communication makes it clear that additional signal units should be provided.

The cooperation of the air force is desirable: at the commencement of the assault, dive-bombing attacks are made against enemy battery positions, during the development of the attack, against the assembly and movement of enemy reserves. Reconnaissance aircraft are to be employed to observe the battle zone and the density of the smoke screen, and to reconnoiter the unscreened enemy rear area.

Reserves are to be held ready in such a position that the attack can be continued as far as possible without interruption until the objective of the attack - the enemy artillery positions - has been taken. After the objective has been reached by the assaulting units, larger units held ready for immediate use, especially armored divisions, are thrown in to develop the success already achieved into a full-scale breakthrough.

During an attack against an entrenched enemy position (without permanent fortifications), area screening is particularly effective in upsetting enemy defensive fire, since as a general rule it is not based on a rigid machine-gun fire plan. On the other hand; the attacker will have less information about the hostile dispositions and the effective zone of the enemy's fire than if he were attacking a permanent front. Under these circumstances, there will not usually be a grouping together of assault troops into special units.

In the case of an enemy defending behind a water obstacle, area screening is used as a general rule only where there is little or no current and the width of the stream is small. The peculiarities of smoke formation over an expanse of water (because of differences in temperature, etc.) must then be taken into consideration. The bringing up of ferrying equipment is carried out under protection of the smoke, which in the most densely smoked area should prevent observed fire or aerial observation of the crossing. The first wave should ferry over those attacking groups which will deal with the most forward positions commanding the water. The time table for the smoke barrage will consider the fact that the troops ferried across must assemble on the enemy bank before the thrust into the hostile battle position. If the strength of the current and width of the stream preclude the employment of smoke for the actual crossing, it may be practicable to employ area screening for the subsequent prosecution of the attack.

c. Direction Indicators for Attacking Units

Apart from the watch compass, the following are available for attacking units:

(1) A radio beam--a transmitter and several receivers working in conjunction with it. The transmitter is set up at the line of departure, and lays a radio beam about 20 meters wide through the smoke in the direction of the objective. By using the receiver, one can check at any time whether he is on the radio beam, i.e., in the line of the attack, or has deviated to a flank. This equipment is mainly intended for the leading units of the forces carrying out the attack. Transmitter, receiver, and service personnel will be provided by a special communications unit. For such employment they are attached to the attacking unit.

(2) Direction shells which scatter colored powders (red, yellow, blue) are issued as special ammunition to the infantry gun companies. These rounds are fired before the commencement of the attack at intervals of about 50 yards along the path of the attack, which is thus marked by colored patches.

(3) Direction tapes about 300 yards long, one end of which is attached to a rocket fired in the desired direction. Direction can then be maintained by following the tape along the ground to its far end, from which point another tape-trailing rocket can be fired, and so on. This system is recommended chiefly for marking the direction of advance of the attack groups to the most advanced positions.

(4) The gyro-compass serves as a refinement of the watch compass. It is not deflected by metals (e.g., tank turrets), and can be set for the direction of attack.

(5) Direction tapes in various colors serve to mark paths taken by staffs or units through the smoke. They facilitate report traffic, the maintenance of contact, and the forward movement of units subsequently committed. Markings on the direction tapes give the troops an indication as to how far they have penetrated into the smoke from their starting point.

The employment of direction indicators, the allocation of the individual colors, and the necessary instructions to attacking units, must be clearly laid down in orders.

d. Influence of Weather, Wind, and Terrain

Every smoke operation is fundamentally influenced by weather, wind, and terrain.

(1) Weather

The weather is considered favorable when there is an overcast, little light, and cool temperature; hence, in general, the early morning and evening hours. It is unfavorable under conditions of intense solar radiation, intense heat, frost, and snow.

(2) Wind

Up to a velocity of 8 mph, wind conditions can be considered as favorable for area screening. Where the velocity exceeds 12 mph, the smoke will be thinned; when it is over 16 mph, a continuous smoke effect can no longer be achieved even with the highest expenditure of ammunition. The stronger the wind, the more the smoke will be held down to the ground, and the lower will be the height of the screen.

(3) Terrain

Ammunition expenditure is lower in hollows, woods, bushy country, and thick undergrowth. The necessary ammunition expenditure increases in hilly or bare country. Pronounced ridges and hollows can only be screened with dense smoke under especially favorable conditions. For these reasons the breadth of the target sector allotted to a battery with a given ammunition expenditure must be adjusted according to the topography of the sector.


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