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.)
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
(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.
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.
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.
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.