Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period, and one of the most interesting tasks of a bygone era was that of making smoke, on purpose.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, May 10, 2017: All Vessels: Make Smoke!
Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Albert K. Murray; 1944; Framed Dimensions 20H X 24W
“The signal from the Admiral’s flagship. The sharp blasts of his ship’s whistle have indicated the approach of enemy aircraft in force. Almost immediately plumes of whitish smoke arise from all ships of any size in the anchorage. Speedy small craft race among them with smoke pots pouring out a thick screen. Beach battalion men get their pots going and presently all the waterfront operations will be swathed in a dense opaque fog to confuse and disrupt impending bombing.”
One of the most popular tactics for early steam navy forces was the newfound ability to make instant smokescreens, either by ordering the stokers to burn cheap coal in designated boilers; constricting the air flow to the boilers and thus creating billows due to the choking flame; or by adding oil to the coal or funnel. This common tactic was a hit by the turn of the century, with Edwardian/Great White Fleet era ships– destroyers in particular– practicing it regularly.
USS CUSHING (DD-55) Laying a smoke screen, prior to World War I. Print in the collection of the late Admiral C. T. Hutchins, USN, owned by Mrs. H. C. Allan. Courtesy of Lieutenant H. C. Allan, USN, 17 Dec. 1940. Catalog #: NH 55539
Destroyer laying a smoke screen, circa 1914 Description: She is probably part of the Second Division, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Torpedo Flotilla. This photo is one of a series from the collection of a USS Walke (Destroyer # 34) crewmember, a three-stack destroyer which was a member of the Second Division. Courtesy of Jim Kazalis, 1981. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99863
USS Woolsey (Destroyer # 77) Participates in laying a smoke screen, during Pacific Fleet battle practice in Hawaiian waters, circa mid-1919. Photographed by Tai Sing Loo, Honolulu. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1971. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 73608
By the end of the Great War, aircraft delivered smoke screens had been added to the lexicon as had purpose-made smoke generating devices.
This opaque white chemical smoke (titanium tetrachloride) was generally more effective than the sooty black boiler smoke of the Great War age, which tended to dissipate rather quickly. By the 1930s, the U.S. Navy used three different recipes for smoke: HC or hexachloroethane type smoke mixture, FS or sulfur trioxide in chlorosulfonic acid, FM or titanium tetrachloride, and WP or white phosphorus.
A Curtis H-16 flying boat lays a smoke screen near units of the U.S. Fleet at anchor near Panama, circa 1924. Ships include; a Tennessee-class battleship, under smoke, a Nevada-class BB, center, a New York-class BB, far left, a New Mexico-class BB, far right, and a Omaha-class cruiser, background center. Photo from the Library of Congress collection.
Aircraft lay a smokescreen over USS Langley (CV-1) during fleet maneuvers in 1930
USS Lexington (CV-2) Steams through an aircraft-deployed smoke screen, 26 February 1929, shortly after that year’s Fleet Problem exercises. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75714
Smoke Screen is laid by three T4M-type torpedo bombers, circa the early 1930s. Description: Courtesy of Chief Photographer’s Mate John Lee Highfill (retired) Catalog #: NH 94852
Destroyer Squadron Twenty (DESRON-20) emerging from an aircraft smoke screen laid down by planes of VP-7, VP-9, and VP-11, during an exhibition for Movietone News, off San Diego on 14 September 1936.Courtesy of Commander Robert L. Ghormley Jr., Washington DC, 1969 Catalog #: NH 67294
USS MONAGHAN (DD-354) foreground, USS DALE (DD-353), and USS WORDEN (DD-352) in the background to the right emerging from a smoke screen laid down by planes of VP-7, VP-9, and VP-11 during an exhibition for Movietone News, off San Diego on 14 September 1936. Description: Courtesy of Commander Robert L. Ghormley Jr., Washington DC, 1969 Catalog #: NH 67272
80-G-463112: U.S. Navy destroyers lay fuel smoke screens the fleet to shield USS Lexington (CV 2), January 5, 1934
EMANUELE FILIBERTO DUCA D’AOSTA (Italian light cruiser, 1934-circa 1957) Caption: Photographed before World War II. Naval intelligence analysts marked the smoke screen projector and stern anchor, common to Italian cruisers and destroyers at this time, on the original photograph. Description: Catalog #: NH 85918
KIROV (Soviet heavy cruiser, 1936- circa 1975) Caption: The original caption of this illustration from a Soviet publication reads-roughly-“creation of a smoke screen curtain,” and is attributed to the photographer N. Verinuchka. The ship’s port battery of 3.9-in./56-caliber antiaircraft guns can be seen in the center and the three elevated barrels of the 7.1-inch main battery beyond. Description: Catalog #: NH 95483
Aircraft used for smoke screens would be fitted with the Mark 6 Smoke Screen tank (50 gal.), weighing 593 lbs. when filled with 442 lbs. of FS, which was capable of ejecting smoke for 15 to 50 seconds. Chemical smoke from aircraft, 1920s:
WWII saw perhaps the most extensive use of smoke screens by naval forces, especially on daylight littoral operations such as amphibious assaults.
During WWII, besides funnel smoke and smoke generators, the Navy used both the Mark 1 and Mark II Smoke Float, devices which were 165 lbs. when filled with 90 lbs. of HC. They were 30.7″ high by 22.5″ in diameter and produced smoke for 18 – 21 minutes for the protection of convoys against submarines. There was also the Floating Smoke Pots M-4 and M4A1 (13″ high by 12″ in diameter and weigh 35 lbs. when filled with 26 lbs. of HC. They generate smoke for 10 – 15 minutes and are designed for amphibious operations) as well as smaller M-8 Smoke Grenades and 5″ smoke projectiles (using WP).
A US destroyer lays a heavy black boiler smoke screen off the coast of Licata during World War II:
PT boats were standardized with the standard Mark 6 generator which used a commercial ICC-3A480 full spun steel Mk 2 ammonia cylinder tank with a capacity of about 33 gallons, filled with FM or titanium tetrachloride. German S-boats ran a similar setup.
Mark 6 Smoke Screen Generator used by PT boats
Salerno Invasion, September 1943 U.S. Navy PT boat laying a smoke screen around USS ANCON (AGC-4) off Salerno, 12 September 1943. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-87326
Night air raid, Naples, Italy. German flares lighting Naples Harbor, seen from USS BROOKLYN (CL-40). A smoke screen covers the water in the distance, laid by allied ships and shore units. Note tracers from anti-aircraft gunfire. BROOKLYN’s turret #2 is silhouetted at left. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-220333 National Archives Original Sat, Mar 11, 1944
German battlecruiser Gneisenau laying funnel smoke around 1940. NH 82411
“USS O’Bannon (DD-450) laying a smoke screen, as seen from her own bridge in the Solomons,1943.”
Although radar basically ended the usefulness of smoke screens in fleet vs. fleet operations, or in shielding a landing craft from a non-optically guided missile, fleets still practiced the maneuver well into the 1950s.
USS Caperton (DD-650) Lays a smoke screen during Atlantic Fleet maneuvers, 1956. The original print, dated 11 September 1956, carries the following caption: Most effective in World War II the smoke screen obscured the views of opponents gun and torpedo directors. Since radar is now widely used, the smoke screen has less use except in very close in engagements or in air attacks by small planes without radar. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 104045
And, of course, it still has usefulness today when it comes to kicking in a door by a maritime landing or raiding force and you are trying to shield incoming waves from the Mk 1/Mod 0 eyes of a machine gun nest or RPG operator.
Some things never go out of style as witnessed by these ROK Marine Amtracs firing smoke grenades on an amphibious landing exercise. As the Norks use a lot of optically-sighted weapons, this is likely a great idea to keep standard.
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