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John D Salt
Participant

If only there was an article explaining this in “Popular Mechanics”.

Oh, wait…

There follows a translation of parts of a piece published at a web-site TWW won’t let me cite, citing an article “Smoke to the rescue” published in “Popular Mechanics”, no. 1, January 2011.

I have left out the photo captions, and the part of the article describing post-war developments. The translation was done using Google Translate, with tweaks by me. If you want to translate the rest of the article, I’d say that Google Translate has now reached the point where it can reliably handle the straightforward technical language in this sort of piece without producing garble that will baffle the non-Russophone.

TL;DR summary: bags of smoke mandated by a Western Front order of 1943. Sovs put more emphasis on smoke-pots and oil-fog generators used by specialist chemical troops than do Western armies, but do not neglect smoke from air, arty, mortars and hand grenades. In accordance with Russian geography, stress is put on the use of smoke for forcing river lines; in accordance with the Russian idea of “maskirovka”, smoke is intended to be used for deception, as well as concealment.

All the best,

John.

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Smoke as a means of maskirovka: how it is used in the army

Smoke-producing weapons, of course, do not seem very impressive against tanks, guns and rockets. There is no destructive power, innovative technology, nor any special warry romance. However, for all their simplicity, smoke munitions saved many soldiers’ lives and allowed for many spectacular operations.

April 16, 1945 – the day the Berlin operation began – was marked by two important events. The troops of the 1st Belorussian Front attacked the positions of the German 9th Army in the area of ​​the Seelöwe Heights, and the 1st Ukrainian Front crossed the Neisse River. The troops of the 8th shock army went into the assault on the Seelöwe heights with the illumination of anti-aircraft searchlights shining behind them. Whatever considerations Zhukov was guided by, this was not a good idea. Not only that, the most powerful artillery preparation flattened the first line of trenches previously left by the enemy, almost without affecting the second – exploding shells lifted tons of soil into the air, creating a nearly impenetrable curtain of luminous dust in front of the advancing troops. But the defenders clearly saw the backlit Soviet soldiers marching to the assault. The forcing of the Neisse by Konev’s troops became a kind of mirror image of Zhukov’s offensive. Intelligence at the time discovered a traditional German trick, and artillery preparation did serious damage to the second line of trenches. Nothing highlighted the crossing of the river – on the contrary, assault bridges were built under the cover of a smoke screen.

Prepare to smoke!

“Chemists” did a great job at the final stage of the Great Patriotic War. Smoke curtains protected assault troops during the battles for Küstrin preceding the Berlin operation, and then in Berlin itself. An exceptional role was played by smoke masking during the bloody forcing of the Dnieper, although then, in 1943, not all Red Army commanders understood how effective it was to blow smoke in the eyes of the enemy. Evidence of this is the order issued on October 26, 1943 to the troops of the Western Front “on mass and daily use of masking smoke.” The order noted that “the use of smoke is episodic in nature”, and “smoke products in large quantities are maintained at divisional exchange points, army dumps.” The same document contained an exhaustive list of combat situations in which it was necessary to use smoke masking means.

The order instructed artillery, mortars and aircraft to use smoke aids to blind firing positions, observation posts and the enemy fire system, to mask combat formations of infantry and tanks when crossing water lines and to conceal troop maneuvers. Smokes also needed to be used to bring infantry closer to the enemy, while blocking bunkers, strongholds and resistance points.

Smoke hand grenades were prescribed to be widely used in battle by small infantry units, tank crews, gun crews, and sappers. These means were supposed to hide, and to simulate the burning of, tanks, defensive structures and artillery positions. Smoke obscuration was also required to cover the evacuation of military equipment from the battlefield. In order to distract and disperse enemy artillery, mortar and aviation fire, commanders should more often use dummy smoke screens, organizing them on a wide front, especially when attacking and forcing water lines. The composition of advanced and assault detachments from now on included detachments (sections) of “smokers”.

After the Second World War, many types of equipment and ammunition were developed in different countries of the world, including the USSR, to create obscurant screens. It’s worth mentioning right away that a smoke screen is not necessarily smoke. Smoke, that is, combustion products, spread obscurants based on pyrotechnics. Other devices generate liquid aerosols, that is, finely divided suspensions consisting of microscopic droplets.