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"German Methods of Camouflage" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on German camouflage in WWII was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 7, Sept. 10, 1942.

[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.]


Modern methods of air operations--including developments in aerial photography--have enormously increased the importance of camouflage.

In the last war the air was used more for reconnaissance than for bombing, and consequently troop movements were more important to conceal than factories and airdromes. It has needed the intense bombing attacks of this war to develop the art of concealing large structures such as railway stations and hangars.

The Germans have evidently studied the problem very closely, and with their usual thoroughness have resorted to elaborate schemes of concealment and deception wherever they consider such measures justified by the importance of the target. Thus it is now becoming the rule rather than the exception to see landing fields and airdromes presenting from the air the most convincing impressions of woods, roads, ditches, hedges and cultivation patches. Brown, light green, and yellow substances are sprayed over the ground to give the effect of plough or vegetation. Dummy farms and other buildings are disposed around airdromes to conceal workshops or isolated aircraft outside their hangars, while papier-mache cows and beds of real flowers are used to add a convincing note. Dummy cottages are erected or painted on the tops of hangars, the vertical sides of which are sloped off by a lattice of steel wires garnished with green-dyed jute, sometimes shaped possibly to resemble trees. Great attention is always paid to changing the color of the garnishing by spraying so as to correspond with the changing colors of the seasons.

It is well known that Berlin has been extensively camouflaged, not only the city itself but also the outskirts. One example is the most important distinguishing landmark in Berlin, namely the wide avenue running east and west through the city and called the "Axis." The pavement of this avenue has been sprayed with a dark green paint to blend with the trees in the Tiergarten (a large park), along the avenue and throughout the western section of the city. The Victory Monument (Siegesäule), in the center of a circle on the Axis, has been painted with a dull color so as not to reflect light. An overhead cover of wire matting, interwoven with green materials to resemble vegetation, covers the avenue for a considerable distance. The wire netting is about 18 feet high and is interspersed with artificial shrubs and trees. About every 30 yards the coloring and texture of the greenery has been changed. To eliminate shadows, netting has also been hung from the sides at an angle of about 20 degrees.

To create an opposite effect namely to simulate a street where in fact there is none, wire netting has also been used. These dummy streets are frequently connected with the real ones which then disappear into artificial woods. In one instance it is reported that a "woods" was created by fastening artificial sprigs about 1 foot high and about 1 to 2 inches apart to a wire net. Through these "woods" a system of "roads" was painted in brown on the mesh of the net.

In Berlin many important buildings have been camouflaged by covering them with nets, and by placing artificial barns, farm buildings, and trees on the roofs.

It has also been reported that dummy installations on a very large scale have been erected at a distance of about 40 kilometers from the center of Berlin in an area about 400 kilometers square. These dummies include not only structures simulating railway stations, etc., but also installations to give the effect of city lights, and for causing fires to give the impression of effective bombing.

The principal railway station at Hamburg had a complete false roof built over it in the shape of a small hill. This false roof was completely covered with material resembling green grass, and artificial paths were made over the "hill". A hangar at Rheine in Northwest Germany had no other form of camouflage than two dark patches painted on top of the northern edge. These patches combined with the shadow to break up the regular shape of hangar and shadow together. Painted disruptive camouflage of this type is very simple, and surprisingly effective when viewed under favorable lighting conditions.

Camouflage of a landing-field surface is begun at the earliest possible moment, even when extensive construction work is still going on. A good example of this is at Laval, south of Cherbourg, where the excellent camouflage of that area of the landing ground which is now finished could only have been carried out under considerable difficulty, in view of all the other levelling and drainage work involved.

Water is recognized as an easily distinguishable landmark, and lakes and canals in important industrial areas are covered by rafts and netting, painted to blend with the surroundings.

The importance of avoiding regular outline is appreciated, and applied not only to the breaking up of the form of large buildings, but also to the parking of motor transport.

Though considerable effort is apparently devoted to training the individual soldier to camouflage himself by the use of whatever material he may find, comparatively little information has come in concerning the methods adopted by German troops in European campaigns. There are two reasons for this: first, they have almost always been on the offensive, so that the necessity of constructing and concealing defensive positions has not arisen very frequently; and second, they have, at least until recently, enjoyed air superiority, so that the need of concealing themselves from air observation has hardly been felt.

Considerable ingenuity was shown in Poland and France in concealing minefields and artillery, but disruptive painting of motor transport and armored vehicles was apparently little practiced. The use of dummy positions appears to have been very common. Field guns were concealed in dummy haystacks, antitank guns and limbers were disguised as carts and even driven by soldiers disguised as civilians. On the other hand parachutes with straw dummies attached and canisters with bogus instructions were dropped to create alarm. There appears, in fact, to have been a frequent offensive use of camouflage to enable all kinds of ruses to be carried out.

German practice in Libya was affected by lack of unchallenged air superiority and by the fact that they have had to engage in positional warfare. Much ingenuity in concealing weapons, war materials, and minefields has been shown, aided very frequently by the favorite German method of using dummies.

In the desert more attention has had to be devoted to concealment from the air, which has been achieved in two ways. Either vehicles and war material are camouflaged with nets or local material, or else resort is had to wide dispersion. At first dispersion was bad owing to lack of training, but lessons have been quickly learned and dispersion is now generally excellent. The use of dummies is very frequent and popular.

In Section II of this publication, the report of the encirclement of Kiev mentions the use of this stratagem and its importance in the tactics adopted. Here, it is to be observed that dummies simulating boats and bridging equipment were constructed by the Germans in the crossing of the Dnieper in order to deceive the Russian observers as to the area chosen for the initial crossing.

Near Capuzzo in July 1941 guns were located among abandoned Italian artillery which had been left there from previous battles. These guns were not noticed until they opened fire. It is reported that at Derna planes destroyed in previous fighting had been recovered and placed on the airdrome as dummy targets. Dummy motor transport parks and coast defense guns had been constructed. A minefield was recently camouflaged by tracks made with a spare wheel between the mines, and a British armored car was lured into it. In an Italian sector a post was found manned with straw-filled dummies in German uniforms stripped from corpses.

Most important is the use of dummy tanks. According to a prisoner these are cardboard structures built over a motorcycle, but a photograph has been captured showing one mounted on a light Volkswagen. Probably both are used. They are, of course used only at a distance, and their purpose is to draw fire, to confuse the enemy as to the probable point of attack, to conceal the fact that a real tank unit has moved, or to give an exaggerated idea of tank strength.

Disruptive painting of guns, vehicles, motor transport, and tents is apparently not very much used. There has been a report that both motor transport and tanks are painted light khaki and sometimes smeared with grease and sand. There have, however, been reports of armored cars painted dark green with yellow turrets. This, however, may have been some form of unit marking. Tents are reported to be the standard dark green color. Guns are painted yellow; the only concealment is provided by their sun-covers. Nets have recently been reported in use by the Germans, stretched over vehicles, and either pegged down or else extended outwards on poles. These nets are garnished with small bushes, and the like. A net or screen has also been used to disguise the presence of armored cars lying in ambush. Food and fuel dumps are concealed in pits about 18 inches deep, which are dug well away from any landmark, are well dispersed, and covered with nets and brushwood.

A recent report mentions a large gasoline dump camouflaged by a net or screen, behind which an enemy patrol, consisting, it is thought, of three trucks mounting guns, lay concealed. When the gasoline was fired on, the screen disappeared and fire was returned.

A report written by the commanding officer of a German infantry battalion throws interesting light on the difficulties caused by excessive orderliness of mind and lack of practice in individual concealment. He complains of the necessity of combating the herd instinct--"Not only man and beast fall victim to it, tents and vehicles do so also". He enlarges at considerable length on both the bunching and symmetrical dispersal of tents and motor transport, practices to which the Germans are addicted. He also gives careful instructions on the construction of narrow and deep trenches, which must have no parapet and must be covered over, citing British positions as examples to be imitated.


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