Modern warfare: camouflage tactics (‘Tarnung’) in the German army during the First World War
Christoph NuebelView the article abstract
This article takes camouflage as an example in considering the First World War as a conflict that fundamentally transformed the conduct and face of the military, ultimately witnessing the breakthrough of modern warfare. The war was shaped by the large-scale implementation of technology and a permanent reassessment of tactics. Already contemporaries shared the view that these developments signified something new that distinguished this war from all other previous wars and thus made it modern. Camouflage tactics are an example of the influence of modernity on the military as they were premised upon scientific principles and were created on the basis of contemporary technology and tactics. Camouflage tactics were an object of continuous reconsideration throughout the conflict. While working on positions, aerial photographs were taken to test the effectiveness of their camouflage. By examining camouflage, the paper argues that the First World War was a caesura, as it saw a large-scale implementation of camouflage which fundamentally changed the appearance of the armies and their tactical layout. The article deals with the three principles of camouflage: to render invisible, to obscure and to feign. The First World War, which can be labelled a scout war, made it necessary to make entire armies and their infrastructure vanish in the field. Due to their inferiority on the Western Front since 1915, the German Army was under intense pressure to quickly develop efficient and innovative camouflage techniques. But it remains clear that perfect camouflage could rarely be realized in the actual conditions of war. Rather than concentrating on soldiers whose trenches already provided adequate cover, camouflage mainly focused on military positions such as artillery emplacements, equipment and infrastructure which were highly immobile and hard to replace if lost. During the war, camouflage featured on an unforeseen scale and became everyday practice on the front line as early as 1916.
Key Words: Germany, modernity, tactics, deception, landscape,