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"The Employment of Smoke in Cooperation with Combat Troops" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on the German use of smoke in WWII was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 11, Nov. 5, 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.]


The article translated below is another chapter from the latest edition of General von Cochenhausen's Tactical Handbook for the Troop Commander (1940 edition).

As far as is known, the German Army does not have a chemical warfare service as such. When smoke is required in limited areas, it is furnished generally by smoke-producing ammunition fired by the combat units' organic weapons, such as artillery and mortars. In operations involving the use of smoke in large quantities, motorized units specially trained and equipped are allotted by GHQ for this purpose. These units are commonly called "smoke-throwing battalions" (Nebelwerferabteilungen). Each battalion is organized, in general, into a staff, communication platoon, and three batteries, each composed of two platoons of four mortars each.

The translation follows.

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a. Purpose and Characteristics of Smoke

Smoke is used to conceal friendly troops and installations, and also to blind or deceive the enemy or hinder the effect of his fire. It is preferable to smoke the enemy, if the smoke mission in the given situation can be accomplished with the existing material. The enemy's fire effect is decreased if the smoke covers his riflemen and observation posts rather than his targets. Also, to smoke friendly troops restricts their action and draws the enemy's attention toward them.

Favorable conditions for the employment of smoke are: a steady moderate wind, humid atmosphere, clouded sky, falling temperature, early morning or late evening hours, and bare, even terrain.

Unfavorable conditions for the employment of smoke are: a very weak wind or a calm, a very strong gusty wind constantly changing its direction, dry atmosphere, sunshine, heat, and hilly or covered terrain.

b. Materiel

(1) Smoke Ammunition

Smoke may be produced by special ammunition for artillery and mortars, as well as by ammunition for special weapons. Smoke ammunition is most applicable for use against hostile troops and is least dependent upon the weather. A smoke cloud which is to blind the enemy should be built up as rapidly as possible and maintained with moderate fire.

Ordinary mortars and special gas mortars normally consume less ammunition than cannon or artillery of equal caliber.

(2) Smoke Sprayers and Smoke-Releasing Apparatus

Devices which release a smoke-producing fluid may be used to establish a smoke curtain or a smoke cloud.

The sprayers most commonly used are the small type carried on the back of the individual soldier, and the large type which is moved into position on a hand cart. The small sprayers produce smoke for a period lasting about 10 minutes, and the large ones, for periods lasting from 30 to 40 minutes. The small sprayers can be used by troops either while they are moving or in position.

These sprayers are suitable for rapid use within the combat area of infantry troops. The installation of the large sprayers in the forward parts of the combat zone is time-consuming, and possible only when the terrain is hidden from hostile observation.

Sprayers can release smoke effectively whatever the direction and speed of the wind, and any vehicles equipped with sprayers can release smoke effectively even in a calm atmosphere, providing the vehicles are moving at high speeds. However, if the wind is blowing away from the enemy, such a method should not be used to smoke friendly front-line troops. This method is applicable for smoking the enemy only at short distances (seldom more than 800 to 1,000 yards), and if there is a steady wind toward the enemy.

(3) Hand and Rifle Smoke Grenades

These weapons have a limited effect both as to time and space.

(4) Smoke Candles and Smoldering Material

These develop smoke which resembles fog. The material most commonly used includes small candles that are thrown, or placed, a few paces apart on the ground. They produce smoke for periods lasting about 2 minutes, and are used mostly in such small-scale operations as combat in the interior of a hostile position.

(5) Airplane Smoke Material

Airplanes may drop smoke bombs to screen the enemy for a short time in limited areas.

Airplanes may also be equipped with smoke sprayers, which, depending upon the type and size of the apparatus, can either lay a flat smoke screen about 300 yards wide and several miles long, or establish a vertical curtain about 200 yards high. Planes so equipped may be used to produce smoke in air combat, or they may release smoke to blind AA weapons or deprive the enemy of ground observation over friendly troops. Because of their rapid employment, and great extension but short duration, such smoke screens are principally suitable for concealing the movement of mobile units.

c. Issuance of Orders for the Employment of Smoke

The influence of weather conditions and the usually short duration of the smoke effect require quick decisions in its employment. Disadvantages are the restriction of observation and the interference with neighboring troops. Artillery and other troops that will be affected by the smoke should be informed of its contemplated use. Independent employment is permitted only in case 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 the higher commander.

The commander can normally withhold from his subordinate units the permission to use smoke; only armored vehicles may use smoke for sell-protection without restriction.

For large-scale smoke operations, army and corps commanders allot to their subordinate units smoke troops with projectors or sprayers, the necessary ammunition for artillery and mortars, and airplanes equipped with smoke-producing apparatus. In general, the division commander regulates the use of smoke and coordinates it with the fire and movement of his subordinate units. Recommendations are made by the smoke-troop commander. The combat order should prescribe what the smoke is to conceal and why. When used to restrict hostile observation, the direction and duration of the screen should also be stated. To insure close cooperation, smoke troops are usually attached to the units to be protected.

d. Use of Smoke in Large-Scale Operations

(1) Attack

Smoke conceals the movements made in preparation for attack and facilitates surprise. Smoke reduces losses, and its use is especially valuable in crossing open terrain and during the initial crossing of a river. Concealed hostile positions, suspected observation posts, and defensive weapons, such as machine guns, can be prevented from operating efficiently. When smoke is used for this purpose, it saves fire power and facilitates the establishment of the artillery main effort. Smoke serves to support the attack in the zone of the main effort, to veil weakness in adjacent zones, and to conceal gaps in the lines.

Most frequently, the attacker uses smoke shells to blind the enemy. Smoke sprayers are seldom used for this purpose, and then only as a temporary expedient, providing the wind is blowing toward the enemy. Sprayers are mainly used to conceal the movements of attacking troops.

[Smoke Used in Attack]

(2) Defense

In defense, the use of smoke in front of the friendly artillery observation posts is seldom advisable, because such use blinds their observation. The defender's use of smoke on critical parts of his own position in the event of a tank attack is generally not recommended.

Fire from smoke-producing ammunition is a suitable expedient for blinding hostile observation positions. When using smoke in the forward zone to conceal working parties or movements, previous arrangements should be made for observation, from the flank, of the terrain beyond the smoke cloud, and for fire protection against surprise attack by the enemy.

Smoke may be used in the rear of the defender's artillery observation posts, except when the wind is blowing in the direction of the enemy. Such use serves to conceal the shifting of strength, the movement of reserves, or changes in artillery positions; but it will fulfill its purpose only if it completely excludes all observation.

(3) In breaking contact during combat, smoke gives valuable assistance. By providing concealment, it facilitates disengagement from the enemy by day. Whenever possible, the enemy should be blinded by use of smoke-producing ammunition. Ordinarily, the withdrawing troops can also be covered by sprayed smoke, even if the wind is blowing in the direction of the withdrawal. In general, however, the timely employment of smoke sprayers is possible only in case of previously planned preparations for retirement. Naturally, the smoke apparatus will fall into the enemy's hands. The advancing enemy should be held up by observed or planned fire as soon as the smoking or retrograde movement begins, in order to prevent him from using the occasion to launch an attack on the withdrawing troops.

[Smoke Used in Retirement - 1st Stage]

[Smoke Used in Retirement - 2nd Stage]

(4) Concealment from air observation requires a great expenditure of smoke ammunition, and therefore is possible only for short periods of time. The establishment of a complete and effective smoke screen can be accomplished only under especially favorable weather and terrain conditions. Combat bridge construction and large ferries cannot be concealed from the air by smoke for long periods of time. Likewise, troop movements can be concealed only during short marches: for example, troops moving from a dispersed or camouflaged formation into natural cover. Smoke makes low-level air attacks more difficult.

(5) Smoke may be used deceptively to divert hostile attention and fire from important positions. For example, in river crossings, it may be used at several places in order to deceive the enemy as to the location of the contemplated crossing. The size of the deceptive smoke cloud must be such as to make it appear to serve an important purpose in the combat situation.

e. Use of Smoke in Small-Scale Operations

In local operations, smoke should be produced by the combat troops' organic facilities, which include smoke candles, hand and rifle smoke grenades, artillery and mortar smoke shells, and smoke sprayers on armored vehicles.

f. Combat in Smoke

Smoke hinders the defense more than the attack.

Troops moving across country in smoke maintain their direction by compass. In order to maintain control, it is often practical to move troops by bounds. In smoke, troops should advance silently and attack resolutely. The decision is secured in close combat. Upon contact with the enemy, attack him immediately with the bayonet, hand grenades, and battle cries.

In defense, the direction of fire should be definitely established and a fire plan prepared in advance, thereby guaranteeing effective fire even in case of a surprise attack supported by smoke. In case of hostile smoke, gas masks are used until it is definitely determined that the smoke is not mixed with toxic agents.

Front-line troops should open fire individually against hostile smoke only if it is directly in front of their own position; the enemy may be displaying smoke to divert fire from his own important positions. Combined fire will be ordered by higher authority. Friendly air reconnaissance should determine definitely what the hostile smoke conceals.

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Comments: In order to disperse the hostile fire that smoke attracts, it should cover the maximum area. However, the possible hindrance to friendly artillery observation, fire, and troop movements should always be taken into consideration in decisions to use smoke. Even if handicapped by smoke, artillery can continue to execute its prepared fires, but it cannot recognize or fire effectively upon new targets. In view of the above considerations, the Germans have not emphasized the development of smoke-spraying vehicles for use in support of front-line units, but prefer to use weapons firing smoke-producing ammunition.

The Germans believe that it is generally unnecessary for the defender to leave his cover and move into view of an attacking enemy. Therefore, the use of smoke by the defense is usually undesirable, since the strength of the defense depends mainly on the effectiveness of aimed and observed fires.

It must be assumed that the purpose of smoke during a daylight withdrawal will be immediately recognized by the enemy, who will increase his efforts to push after the retiring troops. Smoke alone will not hold the enemy away. Therefore, in such situations, German artillery and other heavy weapons supporting a withdrawal will increase their fires against favorable targets, previously selected and registered. These weapons will also be prepared to place aimed and observed fire upon the advancing enemy as he emerges from the smoke.

It has been noted in this and other texts, as well as in accounts of combat experiences, that the Germans frequently use smoke as follows: to conceal movements of armored and foot troops, especially from the flanks; to deceive the enemy, by placing smoke at seemingly logical and important points; and to reduce the ammunition expenditures required to neutralize hostile weapons, especially those which cannot be effectively engaged by armored vehicles, infantry weapons, or artillery,

Whether the use of smoke brings the intended results depends upon the ability of the commanders to achieve a skillful cooperation between the effect of the smoke and the fire and movement of the combat troops.


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