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Flugabwehrkanone aka Flak


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German Flak Battalions were owned by the Luftwaffe.    Reading accounts of RAF and US Army Air Corp Raids on Flak Protected Targets you read descriptions of "Vicious German Flak".   What is the opinion of the learned members of this forum reference the makeup and efficiency of the German Flak units?

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As an aside ...

The German ground forces (Heer & W-SS) also had antiaircraft battalions (the Heeres-Flakartillerie), also equipped with 20mm, 37mm, and 88mm guns, which were frequently integrated into the Luftwaffe controlled air defence. 

 

--
Leo

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9 hours ago, John_Ford said:

German Flak Battalions were owned by the Luftwaffe.    Reading accounts of RAF and US Army Air Corp Raids on Flak Protected Targets you read descriptions of "Vicious German Flak".   What is the opinion of the learned members of this forum reference the makeup and efficiency of the German Flak units?

Not very effective at shooting down aircraft, but very much to shake the crews and make them miss the target

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11 hours ago, John_Ford said:

What is the opinion of the learned members of this forum reference the makeup and efficiency of the German Flak units?

2 hours ago, RETAC21 said:

Not very effective at shooting down aircraft

The US Army Air Force at the time disagrees.

https://archive.org/details/AAFStatisticalDigestWWII/page/n271/mode/2up

Heavy bombers and fighters fared best, relatively speaking, though the 1945 percentage increase is probably best explained by the sharp decline in the Luftwaffe's fighter capability - pilots, machines, fuel availability. In 1944, almost 43% of all US fighters were downed by Flak, about 61% of all 1944 light and medium bombers, and 45% of all heavy bombers.

In total, 11,687 US aircraft were lost in the ETO, of which 5,380 (46%) were downed by Flak, 36% by fighters, 17% ot "other" causes.

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14 hours ago, Ssnake said:

The US Army Air Force at the time disagrees.

https://archive.org/details/AAFStatisticalDigestWWII/page/n271/mode/2up

Heavy bombers and fighters fared best, relatively speaking, though the 1945 percentage increase is probably best explained by the sharp decline in the Luftwaffe's fighter capability - pilots, machines, fuel availability. In 1944, almost 43% of all US fighters were downed by Flak, about 61% of all 1944 light and medium bombers, and 45% of all heavy bombers.

In total, 11,687 US aircraft were lost in the ETO, of which 5,380 (46%) were downed by Flak, 36% by fighters, 17% ot "other" causes.

The number for the heavies are quite understandable, but the numbers for the smaller bombers are surprising to me. Then again, Fortress Europe and all that. 

 

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38 minutes ago, Ivanhoe said:

The number for the heavies are quite understandable, but the numbers for the smaller bombers are surprising to me. Then again, Fortress Europe and all that. 

 

I think it may be because medium and light bombers were operating at low levels in day light and thus vulnerable not just to barrages from 88s and bigger like the heavies, but also 2 cm and 3.7 cm FLAK aimed directly at them.

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As far as Tactical bombers, there was barely a square mile of coast of Fortress Europe in the Pas De Calais that didnt have a 20mm, 37mm or 88 covering it, some of it even captured French or British (or in some cases even Polish) artillery pieces.From Belgium to Calais it was just wall to wall flak. Its only when you got south of Dieppe it started thinning out a bit, but hitting one of the bare spots in a tactical bomber in an era before GPS still took some luck. Many tactical mosquito's were fitted with Gee, which in theory meant they could hit the coast in the right place. However, I was reading a book on the Amien raid, and they described directly overlying a light flak battery on the coast, and avoided being shot at because they were pointing in the wrong direction. The pilot described looking down and seeing the crews frantically pumping the traverse gear to get them to turn round. :D

So going in at medium level was risky, because as already said, most flak guns could hit, including medium up to something like 12000 feet (or at least that was the operating altitude of the Short Stirling and they claimed to be hit by 3.7's). Ultra low level as the mosquito's did worked better, but you needed good navigation to make it work, and even then you could run into a flak zug that wasnt where you thought it was. High level was not perhaps quite as risky as has been made out, as long as you had the right suppression systems. Fly at night they cant see you without searchlights. And any radar directed searchlights dont work (Neither do radar directed guns for that matter) if you are successfully suppressing them. OTOH, you cant really chaff all your way from the English channel to Berlin.

Its probably a mistake to look at the Flak arm in isolation. You really need to look at it in conjunction with the Fighter and nightfighter forces, which used some of the same control and warning systems. Flak was really a backstop to the aircraft, and clearly by 1944, through lack of it increasingly having to take the brunt.

 

Ive also found the Osprey book on 'Bombers vs Flak' significantly better than most of that particular genre.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/German-Defences-Allied-Heavy-Bombers/dp/1472836715/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1GFUSM7TYJ5EB&keywords=osprey+flak&qid=1640853030&sprefix=osprey+flak%2Caps%2C141&sr=8-1

 

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28 minutes ago, Stuart Galbraith said:

Flak was really a backstop to the aircraft, and clearly by 1944, through lack of it increasingly having to take the brunt.

That assessment simply isn't consistent with the statistical data. When 50% of all aircraft losses are attributed to Flak, this is more than just a "backstop".

I agree that one needs to look at air defense in WW2 as an integrated, multi-layered system. But great improvements were made between WW1 and WW2 with respect to Flak gun accuracy. We're looking at WW2 Flak through the lens of today's missile based air defense systems (whether they're launched from the ground or for a fighter airplane, ultimately it's all missiles), and it seems antiquated and inefficient; that's not entirely wrong, but then again, looking at it from the WW1 perspective, the progress made was awesome - both as far as airplanes and their capabilities are conserned, but also the defense against them.

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33 minutes ago, Ssnake said:

That assessment simply isn't consistent with the statistical data. When 50% of all aircraft losses are attributed to Flak, this is more than just a "backstop".

I agree that one needs to look at air defense in WW2 as an integrated, multi-layered system. But great improvements were made between WW1 and WW2 with respect to Flak gun accuracy. We're looking at WW2 Flak through the lens of today's missile based air defense systems (whether they're launched from the ground or for a fighter airplane, ultimately it's all missiles), and it seems antiquated and inefficient; that's not entirely wrong, but then again, looking at it from the WW1 perspective, the progress made was awesome - both as far as airplanes and their capabilities are conserned, but also the defense against them.

Yes, its true that shot down half of USAAF aircraft, but that also includes fighters that might have been shot down at low altitude by light flak. It may even include light machine gun fire, as every German tank was equipped with.  Its been written that RAF Bomber Command 'only' lost 37 percent of its aircraft to flak between 1942 and 1945, the same period the Eighth Airforce was operating. Which sounds like a lot, except that means 63 percent were lost to other things, such as bad weather, mechanical failure and most deadly of all, nightfighters.

I guess what im saying is, when Flak was successfully evaded, or was otherwise suppressed, such as operating by night, or chaffing/jamming, it seems to have had a lower PK. Aircraft were a higher cause of losses, not surprisingly. Yes, its tempting to say that this may be due to the USAAF flying by daylight in close formation which was inherently dangerous. I think it may also be a result of the RAF forcing through aircraft through in streams, causing saturation of defences and hence lower losses, as was the intent.

Im not saying its inefficient. Im saying that the primary tool of fighter defences should have been combat aircraft, not flak. Im pretty sure that the majority of losses in the Battle of Britain were due to fighters, not AAA. If Flak was getting 50 percent of the kills, its not lauding flak, its just saying the Fighter Arm wasnt up to the job of putting a roof on Germany. Which I think even Adolf Galland was latterly happy to admit.

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, seahawk said:

FLAK was much more effective than manned fighters if you look at the exchange rate of crews and the needed training levels. 

All that is saying is, the Fighter Arm failed, and hence Flak got an apparent higher proportion of the kills. What its not counting is the bombers that got threw that were not hit by either. Its not really lauding flak, its avoiding recognising that German Air Defence failed.

I seem to recall in Westermans book on Flak, there was an apalling low PK of Flak rounds killing bombers. It got less throught he war, but it was still a horrendous waste for a country so beset by lack of resources. By comparison, an FW190 might shoot down 2 or maybe 3 bombers before it got the chop. If the pilot survived, that is a considerably better return  than that for a flak gun.

 

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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1 hour ago, Rick said:

Just thinking out loud, but I wonder how German Flak efficiency compares to U.S.N. anti-aircraft fire. From my understanding the Japanese were impressed by this even at Pearl Harbor. 

Very much apples and oranges. German Navy triple-A was pretty bad even in 1941: no DP guns, manually loaded, semiautomatic 37mm guns and not a lot of 20 mils either. 

Army triple A was already using an automatic 37mm by that time. 

 

The Japanese had good and bad reasons to be impressed. USN AA was good and they had so far only experienced Chinese AA. The Japanese Army was a bit lightly equipped with heavy weapons by western standards but still way outgunned the Chinese. So I assume Chinese AA was pretty weak too. 

 

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Especially IJN destroyers had quite anemic AAA. Add to that the sub-par 25 mm 2- or 3-barrel AAA. Plus directors were often not up to task.

Shattered Sword has lot of info about these deficiencies in Battle of Midway.

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3 hours ago, Stuart Galbraith said:

All that is saying is, the Fighter Arm failed, and hence Flak got an apparent higher proportion of the kills. What its not counting is the bombers that got threw that were not hit by either. Its not really lauding flak, its avoiding recognising that German Air Defence failed.

I seem to recall in Westermans book on Flak, there was an apalling low PK of Flak rounds killing bombers. It got less throught he war, but it was still a horrendous waste for a country so beset by lack of resources. By comparison, an FW190 might shoot down 2 or maybe 3 bombers before it got the chop. If the pilot survived, that is a considerably better return  than that for a flak gun.

 

No, because Germany did not run out of guns, but did run out of fuel. In addition FLAK forced the bombers higher, making them less precicse and also making them easier to fight for the fighters. Which is also to be found in British archives about the BoB.

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The British didnt have much in the way of low level anti aircraft artillery. They had bought some 20mm guns (I think it was a polish design) and lost a lot of them at Dunkirk, and there was some pom pom guns that were also adopted by the army, which subsequently were used by the Wehrmacht to fit out the Atlantic wall. There is a reason why the Erprobungkomando enjoyed some success in the Battle of Britain. If they had done all low level attacks, im willing to bet the Battle of Britain would have been a lot more costly for us, because it would have denied us most of the advantages of radar, not just for Fighter Command, but also warning AA Command.

It wasnt fuel that meant Germany lost the air defence battle. It started the war without enough Fighter Wings, and never had a program to replace pilots to the degree they needed. They kept them in service till they were wounded or died.  It didnt help either that RLM botched the replacement for the Me110 and the Me109.

Im not suggesting flak was useless, far from it. Germany had some great designs and got a lot of use out of them (Im particularly admiring of the 128mm Flak 40 Zwilling). But it cant be seen as the ideal solution, because neither Britain or the Soviet Union seem to have relied on it to the degree the Germans did.

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2 hours ago, Stuart Galbraith said:

The British didnt have much in the way of low level anti aircraft artillery. They had bought some 20mm guns (I think it was a polish design) and lost a lot of them at Dunkirk, and there was some pom pom guns that were also adopted by the army, which subsequently were used by the Wehrmacht to fit out the Atlantic wall.

I think you are selling yourself short. It was your army that got interested in the Bofors well before your navy and 2pdr guns had been used by ze Germanz az early az WW1. 

 

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True, but I don't think they were using them for defence of airfields in 1940. There seems to have been an unseemly rush in the late 30s when they realised there wasn't enough guns to cover the country, hence the reason why the Army for Admiralty pom poms.  Buying abroad may just have been a symptom of indifference between the wars.

Incidentally, if you do a search for flak on archive.org, there is a nice book on captured flak guns as used by the Wehrmacht. They seem to have used a lot of Bofors, and there was a battery of British 3.7 inches South of Boulogne. Not clear if they were using them as at guns though, it was a rather strange linear installation.

 

 

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18 minutes ago, Stuart Galbraith said:

 

Incidentally, if you do a search for flak on archive.org, there is a nice book on captured flak guns as used by the Wehrmacht. They seem to have used a lot of Bofors, and there was a battery of British 3.7 inches South of Boulogne. Not clear if they were using them as at guns though, it was a rather strange linear installation.

Captured Polish 40s? And some British Army ones too? 

Defending airfields? Why? Pre-40 you assume the attacker to take off from bases in Germany. That is far enough away to ensure only "heavy" bombers can make it and you don't need any guns with a sub 15k feet ceiling to deal with them. 

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I've a history of AA command somewhere, and they figured out in the late 30s they had neglected low level air defence. Possibly a growing realisation of the possibilities of Paratroopers perhaps, I'm not sure. I do vaguely recall by the Battle of Britain there was a major shortfall in light AA.

Yeah, they were certainly using polish guns. They were also boring out Soviet 85mms to 88 and placing them on the Atlantic wall. French 75mm guns too.

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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Yes, very true. Although that was largely because the RAF Commander there was wholly inadequate, and refused to ask for Spitfires, even though they were available if he asked for them.

Im not deprecating AA defences, they were very useful (particularly when the V1 threat emerged). But I would argue our primary defence against enemy aircraft was Fighter Command. It was anywhere that had enough fighter aircraft to do the job.

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