The German 88 mm Flak gun was one of the most highly publicized, famous and feared weapons of the Second World War. It was primarily an anti-aircraft gun adaptable to general artillery use where it performed with distinction, from the start to the very end of the war, against ground targets and in the anti-tank role.
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The best gun of the war, the 88 was a lethal and extremely versatile gun. It could appear on a tank, as an anti-tank gun, assault or as an anti-aircraft weapon. It proved able to knock out any Allied tank at ranges up to 2,000 yards and equally lethal as an anti-infantry weapon. From this, the 88 developed a mythos or reputation equaled only by the Tiger tank and perhaps the German 81-mm mortar. Any German artillery fire was usually attributed to the 88 gun, even if known to be otherwise. Cartoonist Bill Maudlin captures this level of respect it earned by way of his cartoon character G.I. Willie, eyes filled with revenge, is informed by an intelligence officer that: “I’ll let you know when we capture the inventor of the 88.” An Australian infantryman said it all in describing the 88 as “anti-everything”.
In the following text, extracts from the U.S. Military Intelligence document of February 8, 1943 “German Antiaircraft Artillery”, the point is well made. This weapons stout reputation is the dual result of a great design coupled with flexible and sound German tactical doctrine. The German military was flexible enough to allow the use of the 88 not only against aircraft but also on the ground, against tanks, infantry, other vehicles and even against major fixed fortifications.
” German Antiaircraft Artillery: 88-mm Dual-Purpose Gun”
I: OPERATIONAL USE AGAINST GROUND TARGETS
a. General: The basic principle of German combat methods has said to be a clever adaptation of fire to movement, with fire power increasing directly in proportion to the resistance encountered. Movement is normally from one piece of advantageous terrain to another, with maximum fire applied during the movement. Both fire and movement are applied with one basic purpose in view: To attain the objective of the unit. This principle is applicable to the offensive combat of all German units, from squads to armies. In defense the German commander chooses the most suitable ground for combined action by infantry, machine guns, antitank guns, artillery, and tanks. In such depth as resources permit, he will usually construct a series of defense areas capable of all-around defense against any form of attack. The artillery of all types will be placed where it can support either the defense area, or the tanks if these are launched in a counter- attack. In withdrawals, after skillfully thinning out most of the transport facilities and battle impedimenta, the German commander will usually launch some form of feint action to cover the withdrawal of the remainder of the force. This feint action often takes place in the evening; during the night the whole force withdraws, leaving only reconnaissance elements supported by a few guns to hold up hostile forces.
In any of the above general situations, full use in roles against ground targets can be expected to be made of any AA guns not specifically required for use in an AA role.
b. 88-mm Dual-Purpose Gun:
(1) In antitank roles. Using both HE and AP ammunition, the 88-mm Flak gun has been used on fronts with deadly effect against medium and heavy tanks. Its worth as an AT weapon was proved in the Polish and French campaigns. Since the beginning of the Russian Campaign, when it was used with much success against large Russian tanks the armor of which proved invulnerable to the then standard German 37-mm AT gun, the 88-mm gun has been considered by the Germans to be their heavy AT weapon. Wherever balanced AT support is considered necessary, it is now considered usual for German task-force commanders to allot a certain proportion of 88-mm guns for purely AT roles. This is especially true since the weapon has made its appearance on the new 12-ton half-track vehicle, which is armored in front and carries small supply of ammunition. When mounted on this self-propelled mount, the gun is used only for engaging ground targets, necessary AA protection being furnished from other sources. It should be remembered, however, that the gun can also be used in an AT role when mounted on the special trailer (No. 201), which is fitted with pneumatic tires and is drawn by a half- track vehicle carrying the gun crew and a small supply of ammunition. Such ground targets as tanks can be engaged while the gun is in this traveling position.
(2) In other roles. Since German military commanders are trained to utilize all available weapons to a maximum degree, it is not at all surprising that this gun has been used in other than AA and AT roles. Thus, in the battle for Sevastopol in the Russian Campaign, the German command was confronted with a narrow front barricaded completely with concrete, steel, and guns. In view of the mobility of the 88-mm Flak gun, an AA combat detachment manning one of these guns was ordered to support a local infantry attack. At short ranges and over open sights, this gun engaged pillboxes and other enemy centers of resistance which the infantry could not overcome, thus assisting the infantry in carrying out its mission. In many sectors, this gun has been used in normal field artillery roles. It has been used against fortified bunkers as well as against personnel. In the crossing of the Albert Canal in the Western Campaign, it was used in a ground role to cover the bridging operations being carried on by engineers.
(3) Fire-control methods. For use against armored vehicles and for field artillery tasks, the following four methods of fire control have been used: direct fire, using a telescopic sight; director control; fire directed from an observation post; and air burst HE.
(a) Direct fire. This has been the most successful method employed against armored vehicles. Apart from the extreme mobility of the gun, the efficient telescopic sight has contributed largely to the success of the 88-mm gun in an AT role. The latest mark of telescopic sight used is the ZF 20-E, which has already been described.
(b) Director control. With director control, the data for the first round is calculated in the same manner as for an air target. Corrections for direction, range, and fuse range are made from observation of fire and arbitrarily set into the director. This method has not proved very satisfactory.
(c) Fire directed from an OP. When the target is below the horizontal, or at ranges greater than 10,340 yards (i.e. beyond the limit of the telescopic sight), fire may be directed from an observation post. The OP officer takes azimuth, range, and elevation from his fire-control map. From these, he calculates the firing data with a range table and transmits the data to the gun position by telephone. A director is sometimes used for giving the initial direction to the guns. Corrections are ordered from observation of fire and are applied at the guns.
(d) Air-burst HE. Fire for effect with time-fuse air burst HE against troops in the open, and against battery positions, has also been reported. Ranging is carried out with a low height of burst. Fire for effect follows with the fuse range being adjusted to obtain the most effective height of burst. It is believed that this method is not used very often.
II: GUN DEVELOPMENT
Development. The German 8.8 cm gun was introduced in 1934 as the standard mobile AA gun. It was then known as the 8.8-cm. Flak 18. In 1936, during the Spanish War, it proved a very effective weapon against tanks, which were at that time relatively lightly armored. In order to develop still further this dual-purpose employment, the Germans produced armor-piercing ammunition for the weapon, a telescopic sight suitable for the engagement of ground targets, and a more mobile carriage. An HE shell with a percussion fuse was also produced so that the weapon could, when necessary, be employed in a field artillery role. The improved equipment was ready in time for the Battle of France, when it proved itself capable of dealing with the heavier French tanks, against which the then standard AT gun, the 3.7-cm (1.45-in) PAK was relatively ineffective. The next step was to provide the gun with a new carriage, from which the gun could engage tanks without being taken off its wheels, and to fit a shield. Still more recently, a self-propelled mount has been reported and while there is no precise information as to its design, it appears that from this mount the gun can readily take on ground, but not air, targets.
(a) General. For all practical purposes, the operating characteristics of the18, 36, and 38 models of this weapon are the same. The main characteristics of the 8.8-cm Flak 18 are as follows:
-Muzzle Velocity: 2,755 f/s
-Maximum horizontal range 16,600 ft
-Maximum vertical range 35,700 ft
-Maximum effective ceiling 34,770 ft
-Theoretical rate of 25 rpm
-Practical rate of fire 12 to 15 rpm
-Weight in 4.9 tons Weight in draft . 7.1 tons
-Elevation -3 to +85 degrees
-Traverse 36 degrees (limited to two complete revolutions of the handwheels,
either side of zero, to avoid excessive twisting of the data transmission cable)
-Length of barrel . 56 cals
(b) Gun data (8.8-cm Flak 18). The gun consists of a jacket, a sleeve, a removable tube in three sections, and a breech ring. The three section tube is held in place by the breech ring in the rear and by a locking collar in the front, both of which are secured to the sleeve. The sleeve is secured to the jacket by a locking ring at the breech end. One of the joints in the three section liner is in the chamber of the gun and is therefore sealed by the shell case, but the other occurs at about one-third of the distance to the muzzle. The breech mechanism is of the horizontal sliding wedge type, semiautomatic and self-cocking. As the gun recoils, the mechanism opens, ejects the empty case, and at the same time, compresses the striker and breechblock operating springs. Loading is by automatic rammer used in conjunction with a loading tray. Firing is by percussion. The withdrawal of the loading tray will operate the firing mechanism unless set to “Hand.” The breechblock may be opened and closed by hand if desired. The mechanism must be hand-operated for loading the first round. Safety arrangements are incorporated in the mechanism to prevent firing until the breech is in the closed position.
(c) Mount data. The mount has a platform which rests squarely on the ground when the gun is in the firing position. The platform has four legs, with jacks at the outer ends of each for approximate leveling. In the traveling position, the two side legs fold upward. The pedestal is secured to the platform and supports the body through a gimbal ring and body pivot housing. The body, which contains the azimuth and elevation gears, supports the cradle on its trunnions and rotates in the housing for azimuth traverse. Accurate cross leveling is accomplished by rocking the body pivot housing in the gimbal ring by means of cross-leveling handwheels on the platform. A 5-degree movement is possible by this means. The gun slides on the cradle, to which it is connected through the recoil mechanism. The recoil system incorporates a hydraulic buffer below the barrel, and a hydro-pneumatic recuperator above. Both cylinders are secured to the cradle, and the pistons are connected to the breech ring. The buffer contains 18.8 pints of buffer fluid. The recuperator contains about 4.5 gallons of fluid and an approximately equal volume of air at 39 atmospheres. Length of recoil is variable, being about 1,050 mm at 0 degrees quadrant elevation, and 4700 mm at 85 degrees quadrant elevation. The automatic milliner operates with the return cylinder, loading-tray, and actuating mechanism. The internal construction of the return cylinder resembles that of the recuperator on a smaller scale. A hand-operated fuse setter with two openings is fitted to the left side of the body. To put the gun in traveling position, the side legs are folded upward and secured. A limber and carriage are attached to the platform, which is raised by winches and secured. Some modifications of this gun are capable of being fired from the traveling position at ground targets, and there is also a model on a self-propelled mount.
(3) Ammunition & Penetration The three types of ammunition used with this weapon are as follows :
(4) Fire control. The gun may be laid on the target by three methods :
(a) Indirect laying, by matching the pointers of the data receivers, which are controlled by the director (the Kommandogerat)
(b) Direct laying, by means of the Flak ZF 20-E telescopic sight. Vertical and lateral deflections are applied to the telescope, and the man at the azimuth handwheel puts the cross hairs on the target. The gun is elevated by the man on the elevation handwheel, who follows an indicating arm which moves with the sight.(c) The dial sight may be used for laying the gun in azimuth, while the quadrant elevation is set in by the elevation man as ordered.
(5) Mobility. This gun is normally towed by two types of half-track vehicles. These vehicles, which are respectively of 140 and 185 horsepower and weigh 11 1/2 and 14 1/2 tons loaded, carry the gun crew, as well as a supply of ammunition in lockers at the rear of the vehicle. T he exact amount of ammunition carried is not known, but seems to be at least about 35 rounds.
(6) Personnel. (a) For action against aircraft. The gun detachment consists of a detachment commander and nine men, with duties for antiaircraft action as follows: Detachment Commander, No.1 Elevation setter, No.2 Azimuth-setter, No. 3 Loading and firing number, No.4, & 5 Ammunition numbers, No. 6 Fuse-setter, No. 7, 8 & 9 Ammunition numbers
(b) For action against ground targets. For the engagement of ground targets, the duties of this gun detachment are as follows: Detachment Commander, No.1 Elevation setter, No.2 Azimuth-setter, No. 3 Loading and firing number, No.4, 5, 6 & 7 Ammunition numbers, No. 8 Range setter, No. 9 Lateral deflection setter