Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Horse Carcass Camouflage

Pictured above are US Government photographs showing the same subject from two camera angles. The top photo appears to be the carcass of a dead horse on a World War I battlefield, but the bottom photo shows that it is only a papier mâché simulation of a horse carcass, with a sniper hidden inside.  This kind of camouflage was described in a war memoir by an American soldier named Samuel Benney Benson titled Back From Hell (Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1918)—

The system of camouflage which the French have worked out in this war [World War I], is something new also. The word has come to mean in America "dodging," "deception," "bunk," or anything that is not out in the open and above board; and that is just what camouflage means in the war in France. It is a method by which things are made to appear to be what they are not, for the purpose of fooling the enemy. It makes an artificial thing seem to be a natural thing so that it will not excite suspicion and draw his fire. When the French place a battery of guns which naturally they do not want put out of commission by the enemy's guns, they have the camouflage artist get busy with his paint and canvas and create a whole lot of little trees or bushes just like the ones which grow in the ground and then under cover of darkness when the enemy can't see them, or when his attention is distracted, they plant the trees, place the guns behind them, and they have a concealed battery.

Snipers are also often hidden in this same kind of a manner. The camoufleur with his magic art of scenery makes a dead horse. He has his head stretched way out on the ground and his legs pointing up in the air, stiff and stark. A great hole or chunk has been torn out of his body, but as it happens, it is never right through the middle part of him because this would not leave protection for the sniper. The horse "conveniently" had the shell strike him on the side. He is placed wherever he will do the most good in the night time and Mr. Sharpshooter, with his noiseless rifle and plenty of ammunition and one day's food, crawls in behind him. There he stays till daybreak. Yes, and a long while after. He must stay there all day long until darkness again draws down a curtain of safety about him, for if he attempted to move out in daylight some sniper or machine-gun artist would instantly pick him off. If he lays low till dark he may fool them and get away all right.

But the camera sometimes discovers things which the human eye would not detect, and the camera is always busy. The air flier might soar above a spot in the enemy's lines and not notice anything wrong or see that there was any object in addition to what was there the day before, but when he snapped the shutter of his camera and the photograph was developed, by comparing it with yesterday's photograph of the same place, he might see that there was an extra horse's carcass lying there. Now he knows there was no cavalry charge through the night, and so he becomes suspicious. Consequently the horse is watched. Perhaps in time, some one sees the man's arm protruding a little, or perhaps a man is picked off without any apparent cause.

 Just for luck the enemy takes a shot at the old dead horse and suddenly a man rises and tries to run back. But he stumbles and falls. He is killed. Perhaps he has accounted for a half dozen Boches during the day and the Frenchman dies happy. That's what he's there for, to sacrifice his life for France in weakening Germany's cruel hold upon his country.

…Very often they camouflage roads with evergreen trees so as to hide the view of the motor lorries and camions which are so essential in taking supplies and ammunition up to the front. An old forlorn and battered gun may camouflage a fine new field piece, and sometimes a weatherbeaten, broken-down piece of farm machinery may be counterfeited in order to hide an observer, a listener, or a sniper. Such a man must be of a stout heart and not afraid to go over the Great Divide for it is full of hazard. If he is discovered it's all over for him.