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"German Smoke Tactics for Support of Combat Troops" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report on German smoke tactics in 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.]


"The fire power of modern automatic weapons is so great that it is almost impossible for infantry to advance across open terrain without prohibitive losses, unless the advance is preceded by an intense artillery preparation, or is screened with smoke. It will usually be desirable to use a combination of methods; artillery, mortar fire and flame throwers to disrupt the enemy plan of fire, and smoke to screen the friendly operations.

"The use of smoke to screen infantry operations came into extensive use during the First World War. Its value is now so well recognized that no attack of importance can be undertaken without first considering the possibilities for its employment."*

The significance of this quotation is highlighted by the fact that the Germans have made extensive and effective use of smoke for support of ground combat operations and may be expected to continue to do so. For this reason, German tactics in the use of smoke is important. These tactics are set forth in a chapter of a German handbook written by General Friedrich von Cochenhausen and entitled "Tactical Handbook for the Troop Commander". While this is not an official German military manual, it is thought to be authoritative in that it is known to have been extensively used as late as 1942 by German army personnel, especially officer candidates and junior officers, and there is no reason to suppose that it is not similarly used today. Although the translation is extracted from the 1940 edition of this handbook, it is nevertheless believed to embody current German thought on the subjects treated.

Before going further, a brief description of the organization of German "smoke troops" (Nebeltruppen) should be given. In this connection it must first be pointed out that, as far as is known, the German army does not have a chemical warfare service as such. However, it is believed that these smoke troops are general chemical warfare troops, who are trained for both smoke and gas operations, and in the event of chemical warfare breaking out, the offensive role will be borne primarily by them. Specifically with reference to the use of smoke, it should be borne in mind that when smoke is required in limited areas it is produced 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 the specially trained and equipped, smoke troops are used.

The German smoke troops are a separate arm of the service, under an "Inspectorate of Smoke Troops and Gas Defense"', which is concerned with the offensive use of gas, and gas defense. Smoke units are organized, in general on artillery lines, in regiments, battalions, and batteries. The smoke regiment consists of a headquarters company, a signal platoon and three smoke battalions. The battalion contains a headquarters platoon, a signal platoon and three batteries. Each battery consists of two platoons, each with three 105-mm (4.14 in) mortars. The total armament of the normal regiment is thus 54 smoke mortars. Batteries of 8 mortars are known, thus a regiment may have as many as 72 mortars.

Great importance is attached by the Germans to the primary role of the smoke troops, which are GHQ units and normally allotted to corps as required, for purely smoke purposes. In any large scale operation smoke will be fired by smoke and artillery troops, under the control of an artillery commander.

The basic weapon, as noted above is the 105-mm mortar.

The following smoke units have been reported:

(1) Eight smoke regiments, including one SS regiment, in the GHQ pool.

(2) Three heavy smoke regiments equipped with rocket weapons.

(3) Ten independent smoke battalions.

(4) Two experimental smoke regiments.

(5) A mountain smoke battalion.

A number of these units have been reported destroyed at Stalingrad. Three smoke batteries have also been reported in North Africa.

It is now known that the Grossdeutschland Division and probably 20 divisions formed since December 1941, include an organic smoke battery.

It is well to point out here that the Germans distinguish between the blinding screen and the area screen, a distinction not specifically made by General von Cochenhausen. The blinding screen is laid to blind hostile observation. The area screen is laid over an extensive area and fighting is carried out within the screen under conditions similar to a natural thick fog. For details on the tactics involved in the use of an area screen see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 18, p. 39.

The translation from General von Cochenhausen's handbook follows

*          *          *


a. Purpose and Characteristics of Smoke (Artificial Fog)

Smoke is used to conceal friendly troops and installations; to blind or deceive the enemy or to hinder the effect of his fire. Smoke is also used to cover the enemy. Or, in case it is desired to cut out hostile observation, it may be used to cover friendly troops. It is preferable to smoke the enemy if the smoke mission in the given situation can be accomplished with the available material. The enemy's fire effect is decreased if the smoke covers his riflemen and observation posts rather than his targets. To smoke friendly troops will restrict their action and draw the enemy's attention toward them.

Although slightly irritating, smoke is harmless. Being practically the same color as natural fog, it is distinguished by its greater density and sharper outline, as well as its sudden rise and disappearance. Its density and extension depend upon weather and terrain.

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

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

b. Smoke Materiel

(1) Smoke Shell

Smoke may be produced by special ammunition for artillery and mortars, as well as ammunition for similar special weapons of foreign countries (for example, the American 107-mm gas mortar, having a 2,250-meter range**). Smoke shell is most applicable for use against hostile troops and it is least dependent upon the weather. For the relation between the point of impact and the target with respect to different wind directions, see figure 1. A smoke cloud which is to blind the enemy should be built up as rapidly as possible and maintained with moderate fire.


[German Smoke Tactics for Support of Combat Troops - FIG. 1]
FIG. 1

Ordinary mortars and special gas mortars normally consume less ammunition than guns of equal caliber. For example, the American gas mortar requires a maximum of only four rounds per minute to build up and maintain a smoke cloud 200 meters wide.

(2) Smoke Sprayers and Smoke Releasing Apparatus

Devices which squirt out a smoke-producing fluid may be used to establish a smoke curtain (see figure 2) or a smoke cloud (see figure 3).

[German Smoke Tactics for Support of Combat Troops - FIG. 2]
FIG. 2

[German Smoke Tactics for Support of Combat Troops - FIG. 3]
FIG. 3

The types of sprayers most commonly used are the small sprayer carried on the back of the individual soldier, and the large sprayer 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 while they are in movement, 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 foremost parts of the combat zone is time consuming, and possible only when the terrain is hidden from hostile observation.

Italy and Russia possess vehicles which release smoke during periods lasting from 60 to 70 minutes. These vehicles are used generally while in motion to conceal the movements of large units of mixed forces or to conceal motorized troops. Sprayers may release smoke effectively, irrespective of the direction and speed of the wind. Unarmored and armored vehicles equipped with sprayers may 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. Nevertheless, this method is applicable for smoking the enemy only for short distances (seldom more than 800 to 1,000 meters), if there is a steady following wind blowing toward the enemy.

(3) Smoke Hand and Rifle Grenades

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

(4) Smoke Candles and Smouldering 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 two minutes, and they are used mostly in such small-scale smoke operations as in combat in the interior of the hostile position. The French infantry is equipped with a smoke candle which weighs 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and burns about 10 minutes. These candles are used also in large-scale smoke operations.

(5) Airplane Smoke Material

Airplanes may drop smoke bombs to cover or 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 meters wide and several kilometers long, or establish a vertical curtain about 200 meters high. Planes so equipped may be used to produce smoke in aerial combat, or they may release smoke to blind antiaircraft weapons or deprive the enemy of ground observation over friendly troops. Due to the rapidity with which they can be laid, and great extent but short duration, such smoke screens are suitable, principally to conceal the movement of cavalry and motorized units. According to the American opinion, these screens are unsuitable for concealing infantry. However, according to the Swedish viewpoint, they are practical even for concealing infantry, providing there is a slowly moving wind and a damp atmosphere.

c. Issuance of Orders for the Employment of Smoke

The influence of weather conditions and the usually short duration of the smoke effect, require rapid and determined action in the employment of smoke. The following disadvantages should be taken into consideration in making decisions to use it: restriction of observation; interference with neighboring troops and with the operations of weapons. Troops, especially artillery, that will be effected 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 common higher commander. The commander can withhold from his subordinate units the permission to use smoke. Only armored vehicles may use smoke without restriction for self-protection.

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

d. Use of Smoke in Large-Scale Operations

(1) Attack

Smoke conceals the movements made in preparation for attack and it facilitates surprise. Smoke reduces losses and its use is especially valuable in crossing open terrain, and during the initial crossing of a river in the face of the enemy. Unobservable hostile positions, suspected observation posts, and defensive weapons such as concealed machine guns, can be prevented from operating efficiently by the use of smoke. Smoke troops so employed reduce the required fire power and facilitate the establishment of the artillery main effort. According to American opinion, attacking troops concealed by smoke may even forego fire protection.

Smoke serves to support the attack in the zone of the main effort, to veil weakness in adjacent zones, to disguise gaps in the line in front of thinned-out positions. Most frequently, however, the attacker uses fire from smoke-producing ammunition to blind the enemy; smoke sprayers are seldom used for this purpose, and then only as a temporary expedient when the wind is blowing toward the enemy. Sprayers are mainly used to screen friendly attacking troops in order to conceal their approach, their position of readiness, the filling-in of the foremost lines, and similar movements. For illustrative examples see figures 4, 5, and 6.

[Smoke on hostile defense area, attacking it from flank and rear.]
FIG. 4

[Hostile OPs and suspected defense weapons smoked during a tank attack.]
Hostile OPs and suspected defense weapons smoked during a tank attack.
FIG. 5

[Smoke protecting an attacking flank.]
Smoke protecting an attacking flank.
FIG. 6

(2) Defense

In defense, the use of smoke in front of artillery observation posts is seldom advisable, because such use blinds their observation, thereby weakening the fire.

The defender's use of smoke on critical parts of his own position in case of a hostile tank attack is recommended only by the French. Such use is regarded by other countries as disadvantageous.

Fire from smoke-producing ammunition is a suitable expedient for blinding hostile observation positions, The defender should make prior preparations, if he intends to use smoke in the forward parts of his combat zone, in order to conceal working parties or other movements from hostile observation. Smoke also furnishes protection for such operations against surprise advances 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 observation post itself.

Such uses serve to conceal the shifting of strength (such as the movement of reserves, changes in artillery positions), but it will fulfill its purpose only if it completely excludes all ground and air observation. In a delaying action, smoke, facilitates disengagement from the enemy.

(3) In Breaking Contact During Combat

For this purpose smoke is of valuable assistance. It facilitates disengagement from the enemy by day, because it is a substitute for insufficient terrain cover. Whenever possible, the enemy should be blinded by smoke-producing ammunition. Generally, the withdrawing troops can also be covered by sprayed smoke, in many cases even if the wind is blowing in the direction of the withdrawal. However, in general, the timely employment of smoke sprayers is possible only in case of previously planned preparations for vacating a position. Possibly, the smoke apparatus may fall into the enemy's hands. The advancing enemy should be held up by observed or planned fire as soon as the smoking or rearward movement begins, in order to prevent him from using the defender's smoke to maintain pressure on the withdrawing troops (see figures 7 and 8).

[Use of smoke to facilitate a withdrawal. Several smoke screens established successively. A - Initial phase, B - Continuation.]
Use of smoke to facilitate a withdrawal. Several smoke screens established successively. A - Initial phase, B - Continuation.
FIG. 7

[Rear guard, concealed by released smoke, withdrawing from the heights A-B. Smoke is prepared to be released on line C-D. R is the rearward or assembly position.]
Rear guard, concealed by released smoke, withdrawing from the heights A-B. Smoke is prepared to be released on line C-D. R is the rearward or assembly position.
FIG. 8

(4) The Blocking Out of Air Observation

This requires a great expenditure of smoke ammunition. Therefore the exclusion of air observation by smoke is possible only for short periods of time. The establishment of a complete smoke cover that cannot be seen through from above 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. Where such attacks are to be expected, it is recommended by the Italians as a preventive measure to smoke troop formations, for example, when the troops are emerging from a defile. According to American opinion, large installations cannot be defended against aerial bombing attacks by the normal service smoke materiel.

(5) Deceptive Use of Smoke

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

e. Smoke in Small-Scale Operations (Limited Areas)

In such situations, smoke operations should be carried out with the combat troops' organic facilities, such as smoke candles, smoke hand and rifle grenades, artillery and mortar smoke shells, as well as smoke sprayers on armored vehicles (see figures 9, 10 and 11).

[Use of smoke in an attack against a machine-gun nest. Mortar smoke shells used against M. Rifle smoke grenades used against R.]
Use of smoke in an attack against a machine-gun nest. Mortar smoke shells used against M. Rifle smoke grenades used against R.
FIG. 9

[Machine-gun section under hostile fire changes position while screened by smoke from smoke candles.]
Machine-gun section under hostile fire changes position while screened by smoke from smoke candles.
FIG. 10

[Tanks withdrawing while screened by their own smoke. The flank vehicles are screened by smoke produced by an artillery battery.]
Tanks withdrawing while screened by their own smoke. The flank vehicles are screened by smoke produced by an artillery battery.
FIG. 11

f. Combat in Smoke

Smoke hinders the defense more than the attack.

Troops moving cross country in smoke maintain their direction by compass. In order to keep troops in hand it is at times practical to move them 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 loud yells.

In defense, the direction of fire should be definitely established and a plan of fire should be prepared in advance, thereby guaranteeing effective fire even in case of a surprise attack supported with smoke. Upon the appearance of smoke, do not fire until it is established that the enemy is actually attacking. On threatened positions, keep detachments close at hand for counterthrusts with bayonets. Counterattacks generally should be launched just after the disappearance of the smoke.

When encountering hostile smoke put on gas masks and keep them on until it is definitely determined that the smoke is not mixed with other chemical 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 display 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.

*          *          *


(1) It is interesting to note the German conception of American, Swedish, and Italian opinion on smoke employment. This and similar German texts indicate a detailed study of American experiments and conclusions concerning the use of smoke.

(2) In order to disperse the hostile fire that it attracts, smoke should cover a maximum area, if it is to be placed on terrain in which friendly troops are operating. However, the possible hindrance to friendly artillery observation, friendly 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 previously 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. They prefer to use weapons firing smoke-producing ammunition instead.

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

(4) 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 upon. These weapons will also be prepared to place aimed and observed fire upon the advancing enemy as he emerges from the smoke.

(5) It is noted that in this and other texts, as well as in accounts of combat experiences, the Germans frequently use smoke as follows: to conceal movements of armored and foot troops, especially from the flanks; to deceive the enemy, by judiciously placing it at seemingly logical and important points; to reduce the ammunition expenditures required to neutralize hostile weapons, especially those in threatening positions that afford good natural concealment and at the same time cannot, be efficiently combatted by armored vehicles, infantry weapons, or artillery.

(6) Whether the use of smoke brings the intended results, depends upon the ability of the commanders concerned to achieve a clever cooperation between the effect of the smoke, and the fire and movement of the combat troops.

* Quoted from "Chemical Warfare Intelligence Bulletin No. 15," dated 1 June 1943 and published by the office of the Chief of Chemical Warfare.

** This and other references to U.S. materiel are part of the original German document.


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