Camouflage - Defence Works

Pillboxes were camouflaged either by merging (into the background) or disguise.

Merging involved the use of a suitable material supported on a frame. Some basic rules needed to be followed:

  • The outline of the cover should not repeat the outline of the pillbox,
  • Operational requirements must be met – covering that cuts down on visibility or delays fire being opened was a danger.
  • The cover must be able to stand wear and tear.
  • The surface of the concrete should be first painted to match the background.
    •   Left: Merging a pillbox, MTP No 46. Above photos show two examples of paint. The left hand pillbox has been
        painted black presumably to held hide the loopholes/entance and no doubt would have had some sort of
        netting added. Middle photo shows traces of green and brown paint to help merge the pillbox into its background.
        Right photo shows turf added to the roofs of the pillboxes which combined with netting would help merge the
        pillbox.

      Merging was effective for distant ground observation but would unlikely to be effective against close observation.

      Disguise basically involved the impersonation of another object. It had the advantage of concealing the pillbox from close observation but its main disadvantage was that once the disguise was known it was easy to relocate (it would be more difficult to describe the location of a successfully merged pillbox).

      Any disguise chosen should:

      • Be appropriate to the surroundings
      • Be lacking in interest and be inconspicuous.
        • All disguises should ensure that loopholes would not become blocked if materials of the disguise became dislodged. Also they must be secured as firmly as possible. Loopholes would need to be covered and any such covers must be easily dislodged from inside. If trenches or other defence works were connected with the pillbox, they would have to be covered. Anti-tank gun pillboxes caused a problem as they were often sited at an oblique angle to the nearest straight line – hedge, road, canal etc. Such a deviation from the background was obvious and would need to be corrected e.g. by a roof extension.
           
          Materials for disguise included:

          • Paint to simulate building materials etc – advantage is that it economised on materials but did require a high level of skill.
          • Artificial materials such as plaster, foliage etc – advantage was often cheaper and more readily available but often not as durable and required maintenance. An artificial wall could be made with rough formwork, wire netting and a mixture of two parts cement, one part cow dung and two parts water.
          • Haystacks – many pillboxes were disguised as haystacks. They were often too large and contained two much hay/straw which was flammable! Correct way to disguise a pillbox as a haystack was to construct a framework onto which panels of straw sandwiched between two lengths of thin wire netting could be fastened.
          • Rubbish – correct way to disguise a pillbox as a rubbish heap was first paint the pillbox, then mould over with wire netting onto which rubbish could then be attached.
            •   Above: Two pillboxes in Felixstowe disguised by painting (one as a car and one as a petrol station). Left hand photo shows a Type 24 on the Eastern
                Command Line with a false roof added.

              There is little in the War Diaries of Home Forces in Suffolk detailing the camouflage of pillboxes. Lt Col Birchall, General Staff 55th Div notes that many beach pillboxes were still obvious and that some had been painted two brightly to merge in with the background. The War Diary of 2/4 South Lancs notes a diversity of camouflage from “rubbish heaps to innocent looking fishing huts.” There is mention in one War diary of a pillbox disguised as a haystack. Lt-col Ovey D.S.O notes pillboxes “were very cleverly camouflaged as teahouses, haystacks, bus shelters etc”. But the War Diary of 127 Brigade, 42nd Div notes that “most posts are so very obvious, both to the air and ground observation. The whole of the defences will have been well photographed by German recce aircraft.” This statement would also refer to Field Works as well. However the diary does note that useful work can still be done to camouflage defence works so they would be a surprise to German forces, especially if they landed some distance from the posts and also casualties and the noise of battle would cause confusion.

                Above: Left - pillbox built into a 13 Century Chapel, Minsmere. Right - An example of how not to disguise a pillbox, MTP No 46. The pillbox is disguised
                as a rubbish dump but one loophole has already become blocked.

              Trenches

              Military Training pamphlet No.46 part 2 makes the point that fire trench excavation usually makes a lot of mess, making observation from air obvious. In order to conceal earthworks, the pamphlet states good siting is fundamental. If possible, trenches should be sited to fit in with favourable backgrounds e.g broken ground or hedgerows. It also recommends turfing the parapet/parados, an irregular shaped parados to link in with the background and ensuring any loopholes are masked.

              Shell slits/slit trenches should also be concealed as they give away the presence and number of troops. A headcover constructed of a timber frame with netting for attaching brushwood, hessian strips etc can be constructed. Weapon-pits can be concealed in the same way.

              In the home forces war diaries of units defending Suffolk there are some references on concealment of earthworks. Lt-Col Birchall, 55th Div staff produced some notes on camouflage (23rd Aug 1940) and notes that some sections of trench have been covered completely. He also notes that isolated section posts should be linked with crawl or communication trenches as this helps conceal the actual location of the strong points.

                Above: Method of covering slit trench or weapons-pit (MTP No 46 Part II)

              References:
              Camouflage – MTP No 46 Part II Field Defences, WO, 1941
              55th Div papers, TNA
              127 Brigade papers, TNA
              2/4 South Lancs papers, TNA

Twin machine gun post, Blythbrough
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Camoufpaint
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felixstowe
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pillboxcamofelixstowe
Minsmere Pillnox (3)
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FWcamo

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