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Jan 18, 2022 | 10:14 am 3120 0

The role of night vision in military conflicts.


The role of night vision in military conflicts.

Many opinions and philosophies describe the art of war. It can be said with complete confidence that none of them answers the main question that has been of interest to human civilization throughout the entire period of its existence: how to win in a military conflict.
Of course, war is a boundless and infernal evil. But, unfortunately, the truth is that people still reduce all their relationships to war. So it was in those days, people fought with stone axes, so it is now when the nearest space is filled with satellites, and military tasks are performed by drones and robotic equipment. So, we need to think about minimizing human casualties and avoiding losses.
Well, this goal is not new, and the forces of engineers and scientists are directed towards it. The most optimal and shortest way to approach a future without wars and conflicts is to develop technology, weapons, and new methods of warfare. The system of checks and balances that arise with the success of such an algorithm provides a balance in the world's complex and vicious socio-political system. We can see vivid examples right now. Like North Korea's nuclear weapons, the Iranian nuclear program is forcing much more developed and civilized countries to talk to them, despite the barbarism of those countries' regimes. Or, look at Russia. This country, which considers itself the heir to a terrible communist empire, has long been following the path of Nazi Germany. The vile wars it wages with neighboring, weaker states and the frankly boorish, aggressive, and savage behavior in the diplomatic arena have long made civilized people look at Russia as the main villain of the modern world. By annexing the territories of other countries and threatening to annihilate others, Russia has long literally demanded to be reassured by resolute and tough ones. But, everyone continues to talk to her, and everyone tries to calm her down. Because they inherited nuclear weapons from the USSR, and besides, they have a large, albeit poorly armed, army. This is the modern reality - the balance is maintained due to mutual concerns. This is the world order.
But, nuclear weapons are not the only scary tool that can become an argument in negotiations. The modern military world is much deeper and more diverse. Ultimately, it provides the most terrible weapon - fear—moreover, this kind of atavism is an illusion and the embodiment of absolute evil from the distant past.
A striking example is the Battle of Khasham, when the US Army repelled an attack by Russian mercenaries and Syrian troops, killing almost 500 bandits in the process. There was nothing unique about that battle if you forget that our troops did everything remotely. Not a single soldier took part in the defense on the ground, only helicopters, drones, and aircraft. This played a decisive role. The Russians did not even think about going on such adventures anymore. After all, death from heaven is much worse than the usual fight they are accustomed to. The memory of that modest display of US power and technology will remain with the enemy for a long time. It's like training dogs - sooner or later, a reflex is developed.

Take cover in the night. Attack at night.

If you have paid attention, fear arises not from the weapon's lethality but the unknown. The enemy does not know when and how retribution will overtake him, but he knows that it is inevitable. And this fear becomes the main factor in the conduct of war. And the main factor in saving lives.
People are imperfect and weak. Therefore, there are many options to disorient a person and make him afraid. One of the lowest points was and remained a human vision. When night falls, or vision simply worsens, a person begins to get nervous and afraid because the unknown, as we found out, is one of the main enemies of a thinking creature.
Moreover, this statement was relevant both millennia ago and a hundred years ago, and it is relevant today. During this time, human vision has not changed in any way. It is still helpless at dusk and night. Moreover, our body is trying to compensate for the helplessness of one of its senses, namely hearing. But, this only gets worse since a person's hearing is no better than vision.
A striking example from history is an incident in the 11th century in Japan. In 1180, in Shizuoka Prefecture, two detachments opposed each other in the Fuji river area: Heike and Genji. The Heike detachment, which had camped on the banks of the river, was forced to flee from its camp one night in a panic, as the soldiers mistook the sound of waterfowl from the direction of the river for an attack by an enemy detachment.
This is a fantastic moment that is not alone in the long history of wars. But, it perfectly illustrates our point of view: the night causes a concentrated and uncontrollable fear of the unknown. Even nuclear weapons cannot compete with it. In this case, you perfectly understand the algorithm of the conditional bomb, as well as the consequences of using such a weapon. You are trying to find options to counter the damage. At least remember the "duck and cover" method. Yes, it may not help, but you feel much calmer having at least some kind of plan—especially today, with all the advanced air defense systems and preventive weapons.
It doesn't work at night. The night is always dark and hides many dangers and horrors. Whoever conquers the night, who will owe the night, will have an incredible, critical advantage. And people have always understood this.

Night war in the Ancient times and Middle age.

In ancient times, the problem of night warfare was solved very simply - with fire. That is, the fighters had to either organize fireplaces or fight with torches, which, as you understand, is not very effective in a large-scale battle. As you know, there were no other options, only coverage of the war zone.
Even when conducting local operations at night, the situation looked unpleasant for both sides. Often, such missions were suicidal and led to the destruction of the attacking squads. Of course, the surprise effect helped the attackers, but they were as blind as their targets.
So it was during the legendary Battle of Thermopylae. According to the historian Diodorus, the Spartans, knowing full well that they were doomed in direct opposition to the gigantic army of the Persians, decided on a desperate step. They decided to sneak into the enemy camp under cover of night and kill the Persian King Xerxes. They succeeded, but the camp was so large that they could not find the king's tent. The result was a bloody battle that dragged on until the next day. All the Spartans died, but it is worth noting that they managed to kill many Persian soldiers.
The night, which did not allow an adequate assessment of the situation and the balance of power, often became a decisive factor, acting on the side of the underdogs. So, during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, thanks to the disorientation of the Roman legions, whose number was approaching 60 thousand people, the alliance of Germanic tribes could destroy them. Badly outnumbered and outgunned, they took full advantage of the Romans' attempts to operate at night.
The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains also went down in history as an exceptional example of how much darkness can affect the outcome of a battle, even with an army as trained and equipped as that of Rome. This battle went down in history as a vivid example of the chaos that the night brought. The Romans were so lost in the area that it was one of the short skirmishes they lost 30 thousand fighters. And the apogee of this horror was how an ally of Rome, Thorismund, son of king Theodoric, got lost and accidentally went to the camp of Attila the Hun. The commander was wounded but survived. What can not be said about the significant number of his warriors?
Obviously, no one had night-vision goggles or thermal vision devices in those days, and such attempts to use the darkness as an ally were relatively rare. At the same time, situational uses of such tactics were frequent, but the many deaths and questionable results did not make the idea sound. On the other hand, during protracted operations and castles siege, night operations were also used quite often, especially in the Middle Ages. But, it is hardly worth highlighting them, especially since they were situational and did not particularly affect the course of the operation, which was aimed at prolonged exhaustion of the enemy and a protracted process that could last for years.
But, we would like to tell one interesting, albeit well-known story. During a complex relationship between the odious Vlad The Impaler and Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, an incident occurred that went down in history as The Night Attack of Târgoviște. As the chronicles say, Vlad changed into Turkish clothes one day and made his way to the Mehmed II camp. While examining the enemy positions, Vlad heard about the order from the ruler of the Ottoman Empire not to leave the tents under any circumstances. This was done to avoid panic in the event of an attack. The Impaler decided to take advantage of this information and initiated a night attack on the Turkish positions. Historians disagree on the results of this raid, but most agree that the Wallachian lost three times as many fighters and won.
Night raids during the early and late Middle Ages were not uncommon, but they also rarely led to a positive result. This is not surprising, given that such operations included scouts with torches in the forefront of the attackers. As you understand, it is difficult to call such tactical decisions a well-thought-out night operation. In general, they turned into an ordinary massacre in low light as a result.
Military technology has evolved, becoming more deadly and practical. But, this did not apply to technologies that make it possible to conduct a night battle or, at least, to identify the enemy in conditions of insufficient visibility. Therefore, 19th-century cavalrymen differed little from the Vikings of the early Middle Ages when it came to night sorties or protection from enemy infiltrators. Everything was the same until the time of the Great War.

Night time operations during the Great War.

The Great War was an incredible shock to everyone. The tragedy and irreversible consequences of this terrible page in the history of humankind still shock us. It should be noted that many were glad to start the war, which in Europe has long been overdue. Young guys happily went to war, hoping to receive military awards, new titles, and careers soon. Europe has not experienced large-scale hostilities for a long time, and many countries' very culture and political system were strongly associated with the institution of officers. Therefore, the beginning of the catastrophe practically did not frighten anyone. Instead, it excited and inspired quivering hopes.
It quickly became clear that the advent of the scientific process forever eliminated the veil of romanticism and heroism from the war. It was no longer the same war, with cavalry marches, drummers, and standard-bearers. It was an endless bloody hell that was concentrated in continuous trenches. The participating countries brought to the fighting all the advanced engineering and technical discoveries of the last decades, adapted to battlefield conditions. At this time, there was an incredible, crazy leap in the methods of murder.
Gas attacks, terrifying in their consequences, machine guns that turned any battle into a bloody meat grinder, the prototypes of tanks, which even then carried incredible power and deadly danger. In addition, there were fewer advertised innovations—for example, a new, unknown paradigm of air warfare. The German airships and aircraft that tormented London with night bombing, as it turned out, were just a prelude to the absolute nightmare of the Second World War. English land battleships, which became the forerunners of mobile, well-protected tanks. Even conventional small arms have jumped several generations, and let's say the handguns on the market today haven't changed much since then.
The role of night combat has increased many times over. Frankly speaking, all military science has revealed its inconsistency and archaism. New conditions immediately required urgent innovation. New challenges critically required an adequate response and changes. This process began immediately.
Under conditions of permanent threat, when you don't know what else your enemy has come up with, any opportunity to gain an advantage on the battlefields has become simply vital. It quickly became apparent that whoever figured out how to use the nighttime productively would be the winner. Since the technical capabilities were approximately equal for all the warring unions, this led to exhausted and pointless trench warfare. The main enemies of all soldiers were moisture, parasites, and endless despair.
The impossibility of conducting a productive battle at night did not stop the generals. While scientists could not offer practical methods for identifying the enemy on the battlefield at night and conducting covert surveillance of the location, a straightforward and unsophisticated alternative was proposed. Firstly, small arms received special ammunition, which made it possible to achieve effective fire in bursts.
Of course, it was a decision in the spirit of the times. It did not solve the problem but made it possible to create conditions for fighting at night. Illumination shells were fired from artillery pieces, including howitzers, and made it possible to illuminate the battlefield or maneuver zone. These projectiles were a structure filled with magnesium balls that rained down and produced a light effect. Their effectiveness was low and required significant improvement. Therefore, very soon, improved shells appeared in the arsenal of the troops, which were much brighter and descended to the ground more slowly due to parachutes.
At the same time, ground troops received tracer ammunition at their disposal. They made it possible to adjust the firing at night and during the day effectively. Such a cartridge was loaded into the store through three or four ordinary cartridges and visualized the line of fire and its trajectory with a luminous line.

Night time operations during the WWII.

The tragedy of the first large-scale and bloody world war, aggravated by the severe pandemic of the Spanish flu, dealt such a decisive blow to humanity that it should have been an inevitable lesson for everyone. And she became that lesson. But not in the way you would like.
While Germany was shackled by the crushing Treaty of Versailles, under which she was forced to pay massive reparations, other countries participating in the conflicts enjoyed the victory. All involved synchronously concluded. They were that it is necessary to create even more effective means of destroying the enemy and use all the strength and power of technology. Civilization has gone forward, guided by its vices.
Remember, we talked about the German zeppelins and the bombing of London? This is an essential part of our history. In 1914-1915, the British suddenly realized that their situation was complicated. Due to political and geographical reasons, the island became the most desirable target for German aviation. And Germany began to bomb them. These raids terrified the inhabitants of England, and, at the end of the war, it became clear that something had to be done about this vulnerability.
The UK is enlisting a group of Hungarian scientist Kálmán Tihanyi to build London's night air defense system. They create such a system in 1929. It is based on infrared technology, discovered in the 19th century. Time has shown the low efficiency of the invention and its low practicality. But it was the beginning, the first-night vision device in the history of humanity.
But, as it is not surprising, Germany has become the leading country in developing new promising technology. Despite severe restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles and painful indemnities that destroyed the economy, revanchist sentiment grew in the Reich. Enlisting the covert support of communist Russia, the Germans began building the Third Reich. The unlimited support and financial support from the communists made it possible to train officers to create equipment and finance secondary tasks.
So, in 1935, a team of Phillips and AEG developed prototypes of night vision devices based on Holt's glass technology. It took four years to refine and improve the existing technology, and by the beginning of WWII, in 1939, the first devices began to enter the army.
It is important to note here those night vision devices in those days did not quite correspond to our modern ideas. They were large, inefficient, and consumed a lot of energy. Such devices were installed on military equipment, primarily on tanks. The algorithm of their work was very complex and required the coordinated actions of almost the entire crew of the military vehicle. In this case, the detection range was no more than 600 yards.
The technology prospects were prominent, and human and financial resources were thrown into its development. For example, the Zeiss-Jena company quickly developed a system that allows you to identify objects at a distance of up to 4 kilometers. But, its size and exactingness turned out to be too large even for the German Tigers.
In other countries, developing night vision systems has also intensified. The allies of Nazi Germany the USSR also tried to do something. In any case, such conclusions can be drawn by studying the articles of modern Russian historians.
However, it isn't easy to believe scientists who announce that Russians invented the radio, cars, helicopters, and the Internet. According to them, the tsar's troops carried out successful night operations back in the 17th century, and in 1940 they had more than one or two night vision devices, moreover, both thermal imagers and converters. "Researchers" even cite photographs as evidence. True, these photos show people in incomprehensible equipment, hung with pots and flashlights. All this is infinitely far from reality.
But this is just speculation. The actual argument for the lack of communist equipment for combat at night was the battle at Lake Balaton in Hungary in 1945, which went down in history under Operation Spring Awakening.

Operation Spring Awakening.

If we talk about the starting point for the introduction of night vision technology into the military industry, this point will be the last offensive operation of Germany in WWII.
By the beginning of March 1946, things were going very badly for the Nazis. The allies pressed them from all sides, and the former allies, the communists, advanced from the East. To stop the Red Army on its way to Vienna and return the last remaining oil fields were the tasks of the German command.
Initially, the Germans would launch an attack on March 5, but complex logistics did not allow them to transfer sufficient forces to the Lake Balaton area. In conditions of complete secrecy, it was possible to do this only the next day. The stakes were incredibly high. Everyone understood that this was almost the last chance. Therefore, all likely forces were involved, including the 6th Panzer Army and subordinate divisions of the Waffen-SS, which failed the offensive in the Ardennes.
German troops divided the attack into three directions. Until March 16, the attack proceeded according to plan but was stopped. After that, the communists went on the offensive in the direction of the capital of Austria.
This operation has been in preparation since January. In many ways, it could be described as an all-in tactic. The successful outcome of the offensive was to push back the Soviet troops and secure the two most important assets - the Hungarian oil fields and the path to Austria. If with oil and its importance, everything is clear, especially since in 1945, it was the only region from where the troops could get raw materials for fuel and lubricants. That Osterreich had not only strategic but also sacral value. As the birthplace of Hitler and the most critical region for the Third Reich, this country was a value comparable to the Hungarian deposits. That is why the operation was prepared with special care, and the troops participating in it received the most modern weapons and equipment.
This protracted operation was not critical in the context of a long and bloody war. Its significance was enormous, but it is difficult to say that Operation Spring Awakening turned the course of history. But, this page of history is interesting to us when the first mass use of night vision devices in combat was recorded.
It would be more correct to talk about the massive and successful use of night vision devices since German troops began to use them in the war back in 1944. Then the calculations of the Pak 40 guns were completed with the production systems of the already mentioned AEG company. They were weak and demanding to maintain and operate, but their advantage was impressive.
That is why the vast interest in technology quickly transformed into practical solutions. One such solution was the Sperber FG 1250, a night vision device based on infrared technology. These devices were infinitely far from modern compact and functional devices. They had such low sensitivity that the tanks with the Sperber FG 1250 were escorted to the SdKfz 250/20 armored personnel carriers, on which the most powerful six-kilowatt Uhu ("Owl") infrared searchlights were installed. One support vehicle provided NVD for five tanks. In addition, the commander's Panthers were separately equipped with two hundred watt infrared searchlights.
This all sounds incredibly complicated given modern realities when you have a smartphone in your pocket that is more powerful than an Apollo 11 computer. At the same time, such a complex scheme of tank formations and escort vehicles gave an excellent result. Even though such complex manipulations did not even double the identification range of the enemy, the effect was simply incredible.
The problems of maneuvering in such a complex paradigm, the increased sensitivity of the phosphor, due to which flashes disabled equipment, all this threatened to make all the efforts of engineers meaningless. But, the communists were not ready to use the enemies of the night. The situational defeat was devastating. Even the limited resource provided by primitive night vision devices was enough to bring infernal horror to the Red Army. They could not oppose the Nazis and did not understand how to deal with enemy tanks that they had learned to see at night.
This operation looks especially funny against the backdrop of the official position of modern Russian history, which seriously claims that the Russians were the pioneers of night vision technology and had been successfully using it almost since the 20s of the twentieth century. But, forget about the usual manipulations of Moscow propaganda. In Operation Spring Awakening, the USSR was defeated in local night battles without any chance. The Russians found the option of counteraction only during the storming of Berlin and the crossing of the Oder. And it was very technological - anti-aircraft searchlights.
The communists actively used anti-aircraft searchlights to illuminate German equipment. As we already mentioned, due to the fragility and imperfection of the technique, it became useless when in contact with intense light radiation. And, sometimes - it simply failed. Even though the Russians quickly found a way to counter the latest invention (primitive and ineffective, but compelling), they would not be Russians if they did not continue to lie. The use of the most potent anti-aircraft searchlights for a ground operation was explained by the desire to demoralize and frighten the enemy.

Night vision during WWII.

Operation Spring Awakening is the most significant and emblematic moment in the history of night vision goggles. This incident showed how decisive an advantage the ability to navigate at night can be. But outlined the vector of development of the entire military industry for the future. It became apparent that the one who owns the technology becomes the winner.
Agree. But, you should not take the failed attack of the German troops as the first attempt at the practical use of NVD. Already in 1944, military engineers offered prototypes of the latest devices. For example, infrared sights Zielgerät 1229 (ZG.1229) "Vampir" were created for standard MP-44/1 assault rifles. It sounds intimidating and promising until you find out some of the technical specifications of the system.
The scope of this night vision kit weighed over 5 lb. But, it wasn't the worst. The battery, which was stored in a wooden case and carried by the soldier in a rucksack on his back, weighed 30 lb. This battery powered the infrared searchlight directly, but there was another battery that was in a separate bag and was designed to power the sight itself. At the same time, the range of the device did not exceed 100 yards. But, the advantage that the system gave was so great that the troops actively used them during night raids. Despite the fact that the first batch consisted of only 300 units of systems. In general, their prospects were recognized as high and the German command determined further developments in this direction as a priority.
It is also worth clarifying that these devices were tested on the Eastern Front and adapted for MG34 and MG42 machine guns. Sniper groups also actively used the novelty, terrifying the communists. Reports from that time include references to "snipers who hunted opponents at night with large non-luminous headlights mounted on equally huge telescopic sights." The effect of such groups was not only deadly, but also psychological.
The Germans did not limit themselves to high-tech solutions and used simpler methods of warfare at night. For example, there was a popular tripflare system, a pyrotechnic charge that was installed as a stretch and, when interacting with it, illuminated the area, warning sentries. The Tripflare was easy and cheap to operate and often saved soldiers. As, for example, at the Rapido Rivers, when these systems literally thwarted a surprise attack.
When we talk about the features of night combat, we cannot but mention the Japanese army. They were not pioneers of high-tech solutions, but, thanks to their thoroughness and ingenuity, they were able to develop unique night combat tactics that were actively used in the Pacific theater of operations. The so-called " Red Books " collected these tactics, and methodological recommendations were contained in the so-called "Red Books." They were considered the ultimate algorithms for confronting the enemy in bad weather and in low visibility conditions. The Japanese jealously guarded these secrets, it was believed that they had developed a universal way of conducting night combat. But it turned out that this is not so. When Japan lost a significant part of the combat and trained personnel, all the advantages of the imperial army disappeared at night. This once again emphasized the need to improve technical devices for object recognition in low visibility conditions.

We touched the very first pages of the glorious history of technology that turned the world upside down and completely changed the rules and strategy of warfare. We talked about the formative period of this incredible technology, which is classified as "zero generation." Even at the dawn of the invention and its implementation, it impressed with its prospects and capabilities and went a glorious path to the fantastic devices of our time. About which we will continue the story in the next part.

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