Wednesday 15 October 2014

Seelow Spotlights

Many people have heard of spotlights being used to blind the Germans when storming Seelow Heights, but details are not as widely available. Lucky for you, I have you covered.

"The peculiarities of a nighttime attack to penetrate enemy defenses on the West shore of the Oder river

A distinctive feature of the Berlin operation was the use of nighttime artillery barrages and infantry attacks in order to achieve greater surprise.

Over two days (April 14th and 15th, 1945) before the attack, reconnaissance was performed to discover the true location of the enemy and the possibility of retreat to a second line of defense. Reconnaissance in the early morning forced the enemy to increase the level of caution and rouse the front line for deflecting attacks at dawn. In these conditions, attacking at night, before dawn, would achieve a complete surprise.

Among measures taken to ensure the success of a nighttime offensive, the use of spotlights in the breakthrough region deserves attention. According to personal orders from Front commander, Marshal of the Soviet Union comrade Zhukov, 140 spotlights were installed near the front lines. The spotlight units were tasked with lighting up the path of our infantry and blinding the enemy when the attack started (5:30 on April 16th, 1945).

Spotlight units arrived at their positions in the second half of April 15th and were subordinated directly to the artillery commanders of the infantry corps. Infantry division and regiment commanders were familiarized with the nature of the upcoming illumination, but did not participate in its execution directly.

12-15 spotlights were placed in the path of an advancing infantry corps (2.5-3 km wide), 200-250 meters apart, 1 to 1.2 kilometers away from the front line. The spotlights were removed from their trucks, and placed 2 meters above the ground. The control center for the spotlight companies was placed near artillery corps HQs.

It was impossible to create an even illuminated front due to the uneven terrain. Because of this, corps and division commanders took measures to ensure that infantry kept their heading. Special "azimuth men" were trained, one per infantry company. Special night units were formed for regiment and battalion commanders. These units were tasked with sending signals, illuminating terrain not covered by spotlights , and marking the direction of battalion movement with tracers. These units contained handheld machineguns with large amounts of tracer rounds, as well as flares. The boundaries between advancing regiments were marked with 76 mm tracer shells.

At 5:00 on April 16th, 1945, the artillery barrage began, lasting for 25 minutes. At 5:25, specially designated spotlights signalled "attack" with vertical beams, and the remaining spotlights turned on their horizontal beams.

Due to technical difficulties and damage from enemy machineguns, it was impossible to achieve full and simultaneous illumination on the area of attack.

The spotlights were placed 1-1.2 km behind the front line to provide illumination for 3 km into enemy territory. In practice, this could not be achieved on some sections of the front lines, as the artillery barrage kicked up a large cloud of dust and smoke that remained in the air for several hours (even after dawn). Spotlights could not penetrate this cloud, and the penetration of some was quite shallow.

Nevertheless, the desired effect was achieved. In most cases, the light from spotlights , even with gaps, helped infantry orient themselves and hold their heading. Tanks and infantry in zones lit up by spotlights moved much faster and with more confidence than infantry and tanks that advanced in darkness.

It must be noted that the sudden illumination of enemy positions demoralized his infantry and blinded machinegunners and artillery observers. The enemy was passive in areas illuminated by spotlights . Conversely, the enemy opened heavy fire from some darkened sections at advancing units. In order to minimize these dark regions, one infantry corps successfully panned their spotlights by 65-70 degrees (see attachment #1).

Despite some deficiencies in illuminating the terrain with spotlights , the rate of advance was sufficiently fast. In one hour, infantry and tanks moved 1.5-2 km into enemy lines.

The following conclusions can be made from studying the experience during the Berlin operation:

  1. Spotlights should create a continuous front. If there are not enough spotlights , spotlights should sweep back and forth to blind remaining enemies and prevent flanking fire from darkened areas.
  2. Divisional commanders should be tasked with coordinating spotlights units, placing spotlights before the attack, and directing the spotlights as infantry and tanks advance.
  3. In infantry units, despite the ability to signal with spotlights, practice directing infantry with beams and tracer trajectories.
  4. When illuminating terrain during attacks, keep in mind that spotlights cannot penetrate the smoke and dust kicked up by an artillery barrage. The brightness of a beam is inversely proportional to the distance; with increasing distance, the brightness is greatly reduced. Keep this in mind when calculating the brightness of spotlights necessary for illuminating certain positions."
And of course, here is the attachment.

CAMD RF 233-2356-775

Solid lines represent immobile spotlights, and dotted lines represent the area covered by spotlights that pan back and forth.

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