Camouflage concealment and deception progresses in the 20th century's German military

If you can be seen, you will be spotted.
If you were spotted, you will be identified.
If you were identified, you will be shot at.
If you were shot at, you will be hit.
If you were hit, you will be penetrated.
If you were penetrated, you are dead.

Most of the probabilities attached to these steps have worsened considerably for the target over the last about 170 years (since practical rifles and explosive grenades were introduced).

This is the reason why there are submarines, why even tank crews use camouflage, why "stealth" aircraft exist and why huge air and armour forces were eradicated in several Arab conflicts in mere days.

The best countermeasure to keep this chain of events from culminating in your death is to stop it cold at the first or second step. This is about camouflage, concealment and deception.

As usual, military history knowledge should be able to help us to grasp the problem and to develop analogue new answers to the evolving problem. That's (in part) why I compiled a list of interesting camouflage, concealment and deception advances of the German military forces during the 20th century. Some of them were internationally normal, others were possibly world firsts and some were most definitively world firsts.

These advances are primarily technical advances, for the tactical ones are way too numerous for a mere blog post.

Pre-WWI (1901-1913):

Intentional use of artificial smoke (in addition to the normal amount) in order to block the line of sight in naval surface actions (usually for withdrawal). This had been in used throughout the 19th century, but was established as a standard tactic only in WWI.

1907: German armies adopted grey-green field uniforms instead of the coloured ones (only light infantry units had used less visible colours such as green before).

First submarines joined the imperial navy. Submarines seek stealth if not invisibility by diving below the sea's surface. The aerial counterpart would be flying in or behind clouds and the ground warfare counterpart is tunnel warfare.

WWI (1914-1918):

scissor scopes / trench scopes that allow the user to stay behind cover while observing.Ironically, these scopes became practice targets for snipers and had to be camouflaged and kept small themselves.

slit visor for rifle scopes (sniper scopes), meant to avoid compromising sunlight reflections.

multi-colour painting scheme for steel helmets. Steel helmets - once introduced - also created the problem of undesirably bright sunlight reflections, as do many curved surfaces.

multi-colour painting schemes for guns and vehicles

early aircraft camouflage painting scheme

merchant submarine (blockade runner)

artificial battlefield smok

military aviation at night

employment of high altitude photo reconnaissance aircraft (Halberstadt C.V and C.VII, Rumpler C.VII)

extended army camouflaging against aerial reconnaissance

Inter-War Years (1919-1938)

early netting for camouflage

directional radio antennas for army communication

multi-colour printing on quarter shelter tarpaulin (an ingenious design that required a huge leap forward in textile printing technology)

new submarines with an unusually small above-water silhouette (meant for nightly surprise surface attacks)

introduction of many different camouflage painting schemes for military aviation

WWII (1939-1945):

deliberate exploitation of dust screens in desert warfare

slit headlamps for automobiles and trucks (meant to minimise visibility to aircraft)

night bomber technology with exhaust flame dampeners and radio navigation (Knickebein)

extremely high altitude photo reconnaissance aircraft (Ju86P and R) for missions over England (soon to be intercepted due to radar employment) and the Soviet Union (undetected till a crash landing)

radar jamming

camouflage pattern printing on both sides (coveralls, helmet covers; adaptable to different environments)

snow camouflage (white coveralls and paint)

low altitude flying (below radar and observer coverage) by Do 17 (and Ju 88) bombers beginning during the Battle of Britain (1940), later (1942) with Fw 190 fighter bombers

emphasis on dawn period attacks with bombers, especially torpedo bombers (1942)

smoke screening for industry targets; ground-based, with rockets, with light aircraft

misleading flare rockets (meant to deceive night bombers)

decoy industry targets and even major landscape manipulation to mislead bombers (including landscape manipulation to make ground imaging radars less valuable)

snorkel for diesel-electric submarines

Bold; underwater bubble generators for false sonar echoes

radar absorbing materials for snorkels

rubber surface for submarines, equivalent to modern anechoic tiles

acoustic sensors and mechanical computer for blind torpedo firing; no necessity to expose even a periscope to enemy radars

Walther engine for submarines and "electro" high-speed submarines; countering active sonar techniques of the WW2 period with unusually high underwater sprint speeds.

marginally radar-reflecting aircraft fuselage designs (example Horten Ho IX / Gotha Go 229)

Despite all this: The Red Army enjoyed the utmost respect of the German army for its ability to camouflage quicker, better and more often!

Cold War (1955-1990):

MBB Lampyridae polygonal stealth fighter (actually more of an aerial air-air missile launch platform)

control of infrared signatures by mixing hot exhaust gases with cool air (helicopters, tanks)

warship countermeasures to sonar and radar detection (noise and echo reduction, decoys)

Post-Cold War (1991-2011):

AIP SSK Typ 212 submarine (air-independent propulsion - doesn't need to extend anything into the air for weeks)

infrared camouflage paints

- - - - -

There was certainly more that I did not remember, but the pattern ought to be obvious nevertheless: The German military seemed to make advances in camouflage and deception primarily during wartime. A logical consequence is that there's likely a lag of survivability technique implementation until war breaks out.
We saw this with counter-RPG, counter-mortar and counter-IED technologies during the recent wars as well.

This is deeply disconcerting.


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