Home Forums WWII WW2 Soviet Use of Smoke

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  • #127274
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    The question of how much the Soviets made use of smoke in WW2 came up in a recent thread.  Does anyone have any good insight into the subject?

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

    #127276
    willz
    Participant
    #127359
    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.

    – – – – – – – – – cut here – – – – – – – – –

    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.

    #127366
    deephorse
    Participant

    Thanks for that John.  I have to ask, however, what sort of game, particularly for the defender, will the historically accurate use of vast amounts of smoke make?  “Hmmmn, I can’t see anything, therefore I can’t shoot at anything, and, oh look, I’ve just been overrun by the Soviet hordes”.  With apologies for the use of exaggeration for effect!

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #127373
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    I have to ask, however, what sort of game, particularly for the defender, will the historically accurate use of vast amounts of smoke make?

    A competitive game of WRG 1925-50 Armour & Infantry?

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

    #127374
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Many thanks for all that John and Willz, interesting and useful.

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

    #127390
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I have to ask, however, what sort of game, particularly for the defender, will the historically accurate use of vast amounts of smoke make?

    A competitive game of WRG 1925-50 Armour & Infantry?

    I was about to say the same thing, but for 1950-75. I remember shortly after these rules came out trying to play a game at the school club, and the result being two low-lying banks of cumulonimbus manoeuvring ineffectually against each other until both sides got bored.

    Then again I recall a game of SPI’s “Firefight” that utterly disgusted the American player, who had disposed his long-range anti-tank stuff in hull-down positions on a hill to cover a broad kill-zone into which he expected the Sovs to march. The Sovs declined to do so, and remained skulking behind a hill for the first half of the game. The American was fine with this, as the victory conditions depended on the number of elements the Sovs could get past him and off the board edge.

    Then the Soviet artillery came down. Eight batteries, all firing smoke, produced a corridor of obscuration along a road, which a battalion mounted in their BMPs motored along in column, and off the board. The Americans were still on their hill and waiting for something to shoot at when the game ended.

    Of course it’s always a bit tricky trying to make a fair game out of defending on a late-war Soviet breakthrough sector. It’s not so much a case of “Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you”, it’s more “Sometimes the bear gets you with his massive artillery preparation, sometimes the bear gets you with his colossal smoke screens, sometimes the bear gets you with his 10:1 force ratio”, with the rider that he will be using all three. No wonder the defenders used the “traditional German trick” of practically abandoning the first line of defence (I imagine Captain Mainwaring describing this as “a typical shabby Nazi trick”). In accordance with Rob Doel’s “Theatre of Cruelty” ideas, perhaps the real game for the German players would lie in deciding whether they have the better chance of survival by trying to surrender to the leading wave of Russian infantry, or by legging it and hoping to avoid the SS patrols in the rear looking for deserters and defeatists to string up.

    All the best,

    John.

    #127401
    MartinR
    Participant

    I would thought that, generally,  you fire all your pre planned artillery, mortar and SFMG concentrations into the smoke. Same as if the attack came in at night.

    However, not much of a game if you are playing the defender in the front line against a well prepared assault, be it 1916, 1945 or 1983. More fun being the brigade/div commander with some reserves to commit.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #127427
    DCRBrown
    Participant

    J,

    The problem of smoke is accurately replicating its use and effect in a wargame.

    Laying smoke is the easy part. Moving through smoke is the hard part, bearing in mind if the enemy can’t see through it neither can you.
    In a wargame its easy, as the player can see exactly where his troops need to go and just directs them that way, there’s no confusion, no bogging, no going to ground or moving off course because of disorientation, etc.

    Obviously sticking to the main road helps but then that’s exactly where the defender is going to bring in fire as well – or has placed his mines!

    So, perhaps it was a little harsh on the US player!

    DB

     

    #127607
    Brasidas19004
    Participant

    This is really a scenario design question, and the answer to it is “as much smoke as necessary for a good game”.

    In a typical game I run, there’s usually some smoke available, but I don’t make it a wall – I assume that there’s some dissipation and errors in the placement, so I have a graduated scale of success that dissipates a level each turn. Also, the batteries that deliver it have a limited number of fire missions, so if you spend them on using smoke to cross a kill zone you will have less for your attack onto the objective.

    So the person who designed a scenario with no fighting and the Soviets exiting under a cloud of smoke, didn’t do a good job of providing the players with a fun, interesting scenario.

    #127614
    John D Salt
    Participant

    This is really a scenario design question, and the answer to it is “as much smoke as necessary for a good game”.

    In a typical game I run, there’s usually some smoke available, but I don’t make it a wall – I assume that there’s some dissipation and errors in the placement, so I have a graduated scale of success that dissipates a level each turn. Also, the batteries that deliver it have a limited number of fire missions, so if you spend them on using smoke to cross a kill zone you will have less for your attack onto the objective.

    Mmmyes, but I’m afraid this just puts me in mind of all the typical wargamerisms that modern tabletop tactical games seem to suffer from. We only fight battles — usually meeting engagements — between fresh, well-supplied mobile forces in open, lightly-wooded, rolling terrain, in fair weather and in broad daylight. But what if you want to try a night armoured attack under “Monty’s Moonlight” (as in Tractable and Totalize), or panzers pushing through thick woods in the fog (as in the Ardennes), or a Konev-style river crossing under dense oil fog (from generators, not artillery)? I see no principle that says any of those situations cannot provide a “good game”, however defined.

    So the person who designed a scenario with no fighting and the Soviets exiting under a cloud of smoke, didn’t do a good job of providing the players with a fun, interesting scenario.

    The Soviet player had quite enough fun winning a massive victory with no loss. The American player no doubt didn’t have as much fun, but should a least have been interested to learn the massive consequences that flowed from his neglect to put a standing patrol in the town the main road went through.

    I don’t agree with the common wargamer’s belief that it’s no fun if there’s no fighting; I’m with Sun Tzu, “The best of the best is not a hundred victories in a hundred battles, the best of the best is to win without fighting at all.” A wargame with no fighting is admittedly unusual, but consider in particular the excellent “Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats” boardgame, where a job might be successfully completed without alerting the goons at any point.

    Getting back to the business of smoke, I find it’s one of those things that seems like a “secret weapon”, in that wargamers tend to forget that it exists (“There is no destructive power, innovative technology, nor any special warry romance”). I’ve noticed that the same thing tends to happen with torpedoes in naval games. Everybody knows that smoke and torpedoes exist, it’s just that they forget about them in the excitement of having a proper gunnery battle.

    One can perhaps sympathise with rules-writers who would rather forget about smoke, because it is quite difficult to model well.

    First, you need to fit it into the rules for visual detection, and that is something a lot of wargames rules skimp on. Having smoke block line of sight is simple enough, but how far can you see inside the smoke? As David Brown points out, there should be the possibility of disorientation if moving through smoke — how to tackle that? Martin Rapier is right when he points out that a smoke screen is an invitation to fire DF tasks (hence he Soviet emphasis on its use for deception), but do the rules allow for planned DF tasks? For MGs as well as artillery? Do the rules allow for speculative area fire in general? I have met very few sets of miniatures rules that deal with these questions convincingly, and quite a few sets in the past simply missed out smoke altogether.

    All the best,

    John.

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