Use of Smoke during World War II

Discussion in 'Command Ops Series' started by GoodGuy, Dec 3, 2017.

  1. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    WORK IN PROGRESS Done

    Since I did not want to hijack/obscure the SITREP thread, I'm posting details and findings here, to put it up for discussion:

    Imho, yes.

    The report from 1942 is very interesting. It shows what information Allied intel branches had gathered, and also shows where German deception had at least partially worked:

    "German Smoke-Producing Units (Nebelwerferabteilungen)

    Six of these units have thus far been identified in the German Army. It is possible that eventually each Corps will include a smoke-producing unit. These have been identified in regimental chemical headquarters but only as administrative, non-operational headquarters."

    This reference shows that the Allies actually bought the pseudo purpose of the Nebelwerfer ("smoke throwers") units, as well as the whole Nebeltruppen (smoke troops) branch, which had already transformed into rocket artillery units. The US War Department's summary actually manages to pinpoint some of the details of the organizational structure of the (pre-war) Nebeltruppen (smoke troops), as it states that they were "regimental chemical headquarters", but then goes on and falsely identifies them as just administrative, non-operational HQs, where it then does not manage to reveal the general structure and the pre-war purpose of the Nebeltruppen as chemical warfare sections responsible for handling/firing chemical weapons and for decontamination. The major shift towards a rocket artillery role with the Nebelwerfer 41, and the fact that every unit in the German Army had a chemical appointee, was not gathered by the Allies either, at that point, obviously.

    There is another misconception: The report quotes a captured General order stating that the smoke cups on tanks were not successful. This is not entirely true. The external smoke cups (mounted on the side of the turret) were prone to damage caused by shrapnels and even rifle rounds, where then the electrical trigger could fail. Also, when empty, a crew member had to get out and reload the cups. While failed or damaged cups were not mass phenomenons, it was still disturbing for the tank crews, as smoke cup failures made tactical retreats somewhat more difficult. The new design envisaged the smoke rounds to be fired from inside, through a dedicated smoke cup hatch, which had a kind of flare gun attached to it on the inside (firing the same smokerounds as the external cups, iirc). The gun could be removed. At least the King Tiger received such a hatch.

    The report is from 1942, so - of course - Western Allies were less exposed to and less familiar with certain German assets or tactics than the Russians.
     
    #1 GoodGuy, Dec 3, 2017
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  2. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    PART TWO

    Such smoke projectors were also used by the Germans extensively in Norway, to curtain the Battleship Tirpitz before enemy bomber squadrons reached the area. I shortened the report (indicated with " [ ..] ", as it also described smoke canisters and hand grenades, which are not relevant for this discussion.
     
    #2 GoodGuy, Dec 3, 2017
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  3. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    Report from the 21st Panzer Division detailing friendly and enemy (British) tactics, recon level, German supply and recon situations, and early conclusions, written in summer 1942 and derived from Bernd Hartmann's book "Die Geschichte des Panzerregiments 05" (History of the Tank Regiment 05):

    I have added a couple of my thoughts, explanations and hints in brackets ( ..) for a better reading eperience
    (My translation)

    The Afrika Korps received some desperately needed material after Rommel had complained to Hitler, but - in general - Hitler denied to send more troops. A number of Panzer IV tanks with the long barreled gun were sent, indeed, as well as magnetic hollow charges (since those were eventually issued in the Russian theater, even though the Germans were reluctant to widely issue them for years, because they feared that the Allies would copy the design, as well as Brandflaschen (molotov cocktails), but - in the main - the promises made by Hitler and the OKW - did not keep their promises. Aerial (recon?) sorties were up'ed to some extent, but not to the level the African supreme command had wished for. After Rommels intel source (in Kairo) was silenced, Rommel virtually turned blind immediately regarding preparation and direction of British major offensives.

    While being early and even partially incomplete reports, the intel reports (from the War Department and from the German 21st Tank Division) above show how important smoke was.

    While for major offensives the Germans planned and allocated smoke cover (thereby artillery ressources) by using the Corps or Army (artillery) assets, the Russians used the large "Front" (= Army Group) artillery reserve groups (were they drawn from the STAVKA pool?).
    On the defense, German smoke screens could be laid down by artillery regiments or their elements (Bns, batteries), whenever a FOB or an infantry commander would order smoke screens.

    There was a march order issued by a German Infantry Division titled "Kampfführung im Nebel" (combat and leadership in the fog) which could also be seen as valid guideline for combat inside smoke screens (avoiding friendly fire, taking advantage of fog or smoke screens for surprise attacks, etc.), that was captured and translated by Russian intelligence, and which was recently published (in Russian), after decades of keeping this and other volumes labeled top secret.

    Laying smoke from mobile ground devices (artillery guns, mortars, etc.) or by vehicles (smoke cups on tanks, self-propelled guns) as deception, protective measure on the defense or when disengaging, as means to blind the enemy right before attacks, or to curtain FUPs, was a widely used method on the German, the British and on the Russian side, and US troops used smoke extensively when crossing rivers or building bridges. (see next post)
     
    #3 GoodGuy, Dec 4, 2017
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  4. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    Smoke was also vital for crossing rivers (eg. crossing of the river at the Nijmegen bridge, where 2 Coys could be ferried to the other side of the river, using a protective smoke screen).

    When building pontoon bridges, all Armies would also put up smoke screens, either by using mobile smoke devices or by using smoke generators that looked almost like power generators, as well as by firing (artillery, mortar) smoke grenades, first to protect the assault elements and then to protect the engineers actually placing the pontoons and laying the bridge, and third to deny observed fire.

    Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. (09/18/1947 - 02/28/1964)
    Title "Soldiers of the 161st Chemical Smoke Generating Company, U.S. Third Army, move a barrel of oil in preparation to refilling an M-2 smoke generator, which spews forth a heavy cloud of white smoke. These men are engaged in laying a smoke screen to cover bridge building activities across the Saar River near Wallerfangen, Germany" :

    [​IMG]

    The follwing picture of airborne operations was taken during the landing at Nadzab, New Guinea, in September 1943. The giant smoke screen completely "shielding" the para landing must have been laid by naval artillery. There seems to be no Japanese AA fire:

    Description: "Dwarfed by and silhouetted against clouds of smoke (created to provide cover), C-47 transport planes from the US Army Air Forces drop a battalion of the U.S. 503rd Parachute Regiment at Nadzab. A battalion dropped minutes earlier is landing in the foreground. General Vasey was in the plane from which the photograph was taken
    Date 5 September 1943".

    [​IMG]

    That said (and shown), it is self-evident, how important the use of smoke was. All Navies used smoke devices on their destroyers, not just for self-protection, but also to curtain or obscure capital ships. The Germans probably used fixed and mobile smoke devices to the largest extent. In Russia, both the Germans and the Russians depended on smoke screens to provide cover for troops in the open steppe.

    Even the small American and British boats and landing vehicles crossing the river Rhine and other rivers were equipped with smoke launchers that would lay down smoke on the opposite river bank.

    US tanks (gradually?) received smoke cups somewhere between late 1943 and 1944. There are several pictures showing large tank pools parked in Europe, where (on the pictures) every say 5th to 7th Sherman tank had smoke cups. There are also reports that crews removed their smoke cups (reason unknown, my guess would be that they suffered a similar effect as the Germans: the trigger mechanisms tended to fail if hit by shrapnels or bullets, or got triggered by these, resulting in getting blinded by their own smoke) again.

    Despite the technological progress that enables crews of tanks, planes, helicopters and other vehicles to see through smoke screens (eg. using FLIR), smoke screens still play vital roles today:

    "HAT YAO, Thailand (Feb. 4, 2010) Republic of Korea amphibious assault vehicles release a smoke screen before hitting the beach during a Cobra Gold 2010 amphibious landing demonstration at Hat Yao Beach during. Cobra Gold is a joint and coalition multinational exercise hosted annually by the Kingdom of Thailand. (US Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans/Released)":

    [​IMG]

    These look like the AAV-7A1 of the South Korean Marine Corps, where each one is equipped with a fuel-burning smoke generator. In addition, each AAV can fire smoke grenades from 8 smoke grenade launchers.
     
    #4 GoodGuy, Dec 4, 2017
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  5. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    Considering the extensive use of smoke on the German (maybe starting in 1941 or 1942), the Russian (used throughout the war afaik), the British (mainly in North Africa, and during Cobra - afaik), the Russian and the US side (maybe starting around fall 1944, especially during Market Garden and in the Hürtgenwald battles), it is clear that defensive and offensive smoke was a vital tool.

    Yes, the game is an operational level game.

    Large scale smoke screens, just like large-scale artillery attacks, both as preparative strikes right before the actual ground offensive, were ordered, requested, approved or facilitated by the operational commander/command. While local commanders could request smoke (from attached and subordinated units or from units held back by higher echelons) as tactical aid, large scale smoke was definetely a tool available to (and used by) the operational commander.

    Rommel ordered smoke (when enough smoke rounds were available) to allow German infantry troops to approach enemy positions (desert terrain is pretty flat and rarely offers cover, in the main at least, so an infantry soldier is a pretty easy target in the desert) at all.
    The Brits in the desert did the same (and - thanks to their excellent supply situation - they used smoke excessively, as the translation of the report of the 21st Panzer Division above demonstrated), or shifted to night attacks, as daylight attacks without smoke produced a lot of casualties in the open terrain. Later in the war, Russian pincer movements and attacks with multiple waves would have turned out to be the bone crusher attacks performed by the Russians in 1941 and 1942, without proper use of smoke.

    On top of that, the game allows for detaching units. While the friendly AI performs best at the Regimental level, imho, the game allows to control individual Coys.
    This actually makes the game more realistic, of course, since WWII-armies did not deploy their regiments in a "napoleonesque" manner, means where whole regiments in rectangle formations were facing each other, with arty guns firing from behind, - in WW II - single Coys needed to cover sectors or strongpoints, were on occupation duty or sent to screen enemy lines. Very realistic, IF the player makes use of the feature.

    But since there are these underlying tactical elements in the game, the game needs to cater for (some of) these, too as there are not just entire divisions or regiments roaming on the screen.

    While each flare fired from units on the frontline was probably able to illuminate a strip of say 80-150 meters (descending from a height of 150 meters), which would be my personal guess, a flare dropped from planes or fired from artillery pieces (height 150-300 meters) probably illuminated a larger strip. While this can be abstracted to some extent (it doesn't have to be rendered, a glow/illumination circle on the map would be some "luxury" thing), the game could actually still consider visibility changes in the "nightfighting code", means there could be a routine that would change the modifiers when flares would be fired (say on enemy contact and if the enemy INF unit is inside the effective weapon range; duration 15 seconds and 30 seconds, with an X amount of flare rounds carried by the troops). Flares fired (or ending up) over dense woods would only illuminate the edges, but not the soldiers inside the woods.

    Except for say encounters between US and Japanese forces, and between US and British paras and the Germans during the initial para landings in Normandy, where in quite some battles only muzzle fire, tracers or explosions illuminated the scenes, night encounters - in the main - were not affairs where two opposing elements wandered around blindly.

    There are documents/infos detailing how many flare guns and how many rounds a given German Coy had as initial loadout, and there are probably similar documents from other Armies.

    Now, smoke can't be abstracted. It would have to be rendered, and imho it should be in the game.
    The absence of smoke is like a missing function, to me.

    When people started to ask for "off-board" smoke in the Matrix forums, back then, I was not a fan of the idea, as I also doubted that an operational game would need smoke.

    After research, stumbling over veteran accounts and documents, during the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that smoke is a desired and important feature that should be in the game.
    The creators of the Close Combat series put in smoke from the get-go, if I am not mistaken, as smoke was also a vital tool on platoon level (single tanks or tank platoons, infantry platoons, mortar platoons, etc.), where the tools ranged from stick and egg hand grenades, cans, to even larger canisters (almost the size of a German fuel canister), in all armies. You might say now that CC is a tactical Coy or even platoon level game. Yes, that's correct, but smoke was deployed on all levels, historically.

    If smoke should ever get into the game, it should not be off-board smoke (maybe except for coastal landing scenarios, say Normandy, Pacific, etc.), because the artillery pieces firing smoke were occupied and busy with laying smoke barriers, and did not have the capacity to fire HE at the same time, usually. So, HE bombardment, smoke screen, infantry attack, in that order (for offensive tasks), and for defensive tasks smoke and then HE right after, to disrupt and tear apart attacking enemies (maybe even a mix of smoke and HE, like the germans did, occasionally).
     
    #5 GoodGuy, Dec 4, 2017
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
  6. TMO

    TMO Member

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    Hi Gunnar, just wanted to add something published by the War Office in 1951: The Development of Artillery Tactics and Equipment. Brig A.L.Pemberton, M.C., 182-183; Tunisia:

    "Hitherto artillery smoke shell had not been extensively used: in the desert, because H.E. shell and even normal troop movements produced more than enough obscurity in the form of dust clouds; in Tunisia because of the tendency for the smoke canisters to roll down the mountain sides; and in both because of metrological conditions, which sometimes made the behaviour of smoke unpredictable. With the transfer of operations to the European theatre, the opportunities for using smoke would be much greater."

    Regards

    Tim
     
  7. TMO

    TMO Member

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    Same source regarding attack on the Gustav Line, pp214-215:

    "... In these circumstances it became more important than ever to blind the enemy observation posts on the Monastery feature and to neutralize the machine-guns and mortars that lay behind it. From first light 12th May onwards, continuous smoke screens, which could be stopped at call, were put down on its north-western and south-western slopes by the 3rd Carpathian and 4th British Divisional Artilleries; and four separate heavy battery concentrations were fired by 7.2-in., 8-in. and 240-mm. hows. during the attack of 2 Polish Corps and subsequently at hourly intervals during daylight. In addition, smoke generators, operated by a L.A.A, regiment, were used to screen the river crossings, artillery positions and supply routes. Altogether some 800 tons of smoke were used on these two corps fronts between 12th and 18th May, and 135,000 smoke shells were fired in five days. But the complete screening of so commanding and steep-sided a feature was impossible to achieve. As so often before, the smoke canisters were found to roll down he mountain side and thus create unpredictable gaps in the screen."

    Regards

    Tim
     
  8. TMO

    TMO Member

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    Same source, pp237-238:

    "... One of the quickest and most economical ways of achieving results was the use of smoke screens, as was demonstrated by the First Canadian Army when it resumed its thrust towards Falaise in mid-August. The plan was to by-pass the resistance astride the main road and come down on the town from the N.E., and at 1200 hours on 14th August, as the massed armour moved to the assault, both its flanks were covered by smoke screens, and in the barrage that preceded it, smoke was mixed with the H.E.

    The results, even allowing for some exhaustion and lowered morale on the part of the enemy, were distinctly encouraging. The casualties suffered by the attacking troops were light and all objectives quickly taken. By the end of the day an advance of some five miles had been made and the Canadians were only four miles short of Falaise itself.

    Similar results were obtained at the crossing of the Seine and of other rivers, where enemy defences were not very strong and were quickly rushed with the aid of a judicious mixture of smoke screens and feint bombardments.

    Smoke screens were also frequently used in Italy at this time. During the advance to the Gothic Line, 13 Corps, in course of a hard fight at Arezzo on 15th July, recaptured with the aid of a smoke screen, a key feature that had fallen to an enemy counter-attack. The feature in question, known as "Hill 501", was quickly enveloped in a blanket of smoke and the enemy ejected by a second attack by 1st Guards Brigade.
     
  9. TMO

    TMO Member

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    Continuing:

    "During the September fighting on the right flank of the Eighth Army, 1 Canadian Corps found itself attacking strong enemy positions on the Fortunata Ridge at Rimini, from which its own troops were completely overlooked. Once again artillery smoke screens provided a satisfactory solution to the problem, their effectiveness being ensured, as usual, by observation - and if necessary correction - from air O.P.s. During this month the 25-pdrs. of the 1st Canadian Division fired 25,000 rounds of smoke out of a total of 262,000.

    Yet in the opinion of at least one senior artillery commander, the overall use of smoke in N.W. Europe was less than had been anticipated; and this he attributed to the fact tat, in spite of all the attempts to simplify the procedure, the production of a quick and accurate smoke screen was still a bit too difficult for the average gunner of this period.

    At the other end of the front in Italy, the American Fifth Army halted at the river Garigliano for the winter and depended, for the maintenance of its forward positions, on the use of bridges that were in full view of the enemy. During daylight, therefore, a continuous smoke screen was maintained and behind it movement was able to go on with impunity."

    Regards

    Tim
     
  10. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    Hey Tim.
    EDIT :
    That section is interesting. According to German unit reports, the British forces used smoke often in North Africa, whenever they saw fit, but the section above suggests that (British? US?) forces didn't feel like having to use it, due to the large dust clouds created by vheicle movement, or even found it to be counterproductive with the slopes in Tunisias mountain ranges, according to your find, it seems.
    This contradicts the German reports, but there is a chance that the Author only has the few major operations in mind (eg. El Alamein, Tobruk's defense and it's recapture) where smoke was used, and then comes to the conclusion that overall (for the entire desert campaign) smoke didn't play a major role.
    I am not sure what to conclude here. Just the summer 1942 report of the 21. Panzer Division paints a different picture. And I could probably dig up more German sources stating the opposite regarding British smoke. If that section refers to the amount of German smoke, then that would hint towards the possibility that the German smoke rounds supply situation did not improve after the report was sent in. (The report complained about a general lack of smoke rounds).

    That is quite some expenditure. That's almost 10% of all shells fired.

    That's basically what i suspected during my research and from what I gathered from German sources, that Allied forces in NW Europe did not use Smoke excessively, except for some US units during particular missions, unlike the Germans and the Russians.

    EDIT: On the other hand, that's just the input from one or another senior commander, some Army sectors might have used some more smoke.
    German unit war diaries report about enemy smoke screens that were laid before strategic hills (overlooking the respectice areas) in France, in the Hürtgenwald and in or right behind the Ardennes (the metereological tower) on that one hill - forgot the name - that provided far sight of up to 30-40 kilometers overlooking the Ardennes , were attacked.

    The attack on Hill 400 (near the town of Bergstein, and called Burgberg - "castle hill"), with 1 bigger Bunker and Arty obs elements on top, in the Eifel Region, overlooking the complete Hürtgen Forest area, was recreated in either one of the Call of Duty Series, or in a Medal of Honor Game, with the massive smoke screen that prepared the infantry attack uphill.
    Despite the Allied suspicion that the Germans had put artillery pieces up there, as US units in the forest kept getting hit by really accurate arty fire, the Germans had never placed artillery pieces on the hill top, there was a just a mobile Arty observation detachment that guided multiple artillery units able to cover the entire forest area.
    While the Americans had ignored the hill for the longest time (since aerial recon never found/observed artillery pieces on there), a number of bomber strikes were ordered (which did not keep the germans from using the hill). The arty obs post was on the roof top of the bunker near the hill top, the bunker is still intact and the roof top still serves as viewing platform for the public today.
    Eventually, the 2nd Ranger Bn was dispatched to eject the germans. The long range artillery observers were evacuated before the attack started, afaik. At the time of the US form-up, the other bunkers at the hill served as posts for the different staffs of the Grenadier-Regiment 1055 (of the 89. Infantry Division) and as shelter and barracks for the 2nd Bn of Grenadier-Regiment 980 (272. Volksgrenadier-Division), afaik.

    Generally, in the Hürtgen Forest, major Allied attacks (through clearings, canyons and small rivers, where the Germans had good LOS/LOF) had to be carried out with smoke cover, to reduce casualty numbers (which were extraodinarily high, already) - to some extent, at least.

    That backs up my statement in one of the previous posts, that US forces put quite some effort into protecting completed bridges, bridge building missions and crossing of rivers by laying smoke screens with projectors.
     
    #10 GoodGuy, Dec 5, 2017
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  11. GoodGuy

    GoodGuy Member

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    That's a massive amount of shells.

    That's actually what the Germans did, too, but more often with a somewhat different twist, as I outlined before: First the smoke screen, and then a full HE barrage into the bulk of the attack waves of the Russian troops.

    That's evil. But unlike the US troops in Tunisia, the Allied forces at Monte Cassino kept trying to maintain the screens.
     
    #11 GoodGuy, Dec 5, 2017
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  12. TMO

    TMO Member

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    Not tactical, but don't forget Operation Plunder crossing of the Rhine where extensive use of smoke was used to hide Allied preparations.

    Regards

    Tim
     

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