88 mm gun


88 mm gun

The 88 mm gun (eighty-eight) is a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. They were widely used throughout the war, and could be found on almost every battlefield. Developments of the original models led to a wide variety of guns that could be identified as "an 88".

The name applies to a series of anti-aircraft guns officially called the "8,8 cm FlaK 18", "36" or "37". FlaK is a German contraction of either "Fl(ugzeug)a(bwehr)-K(anone)" or "Fl(ug)a(bwehr)-K(anone)" (hence the capital "K", nowadays one word) meaning "anti-aircraft gun", the original purpose of the eighty-eight. In informal German use, the guns were universally known as the "Acht-acht" (8-8), a contraction of "Acht-komma-acht Zentimeter" ("German" 8.8 cm). [The Allied slang for anti-aircraft fire, "ack-ack", does not come from the German, but is a First World War term from the initials "AA" (or AAA) Artillerie Antiaerienne as defined by the Ecole DCA that trained US AA personnel; it may also come from the British Signallers' Alphabet [http://class.cyivs.cy.edu.tw/cutefish/warslang.htm] ] The name could also describe newer and more powerful models, the "FlaK" 41 and 43, although these were different weapons. In general terms the gun was less capable in the anti-aircraft role than the British QF 3.7 inch AA gun or United States 90 mm gun models. Unlike those weapons, however, the 88 was built in very large numbers, mounted on a versatile limber from which it could have been fired even when on the move and thus widely deployed in the field.

Success as an improvised anti-tank gun led to a separate line of guns for anti-tank use, the "Panzerabwehr-Kanone" (PaK) 88 (German: "anti-tank gun") and as the main armament for tanks such as the Tiger I, the 8.8 cm KwK 36. The introduction of the FlaK 41/43 led to a similar series of anti-tank conversions with even higher performance, under the name 8.8 cm KwK 43. These later models were capable of penetrating the frontal armor of any tank of the period at ranges over 1000 m.

Background

Most anti-aircraft guns of World War I were adaptations of existing medium-calibre weapons mounted to allow fire at higher angles of attack. These weapons were fairly useful, if only as a deterrent nuisance, against the vulnerable and slow-moving aircraft of World War I. But as the performance of aircraft increased during the inter-war period, their usefulness decreased dramatically. They could not reach the higher altitudes new aircraft could fly at, now regularly over 6,000m (20,000 ft) as opposed to half that, nor could they fire rapidly enough to be effective against fast aircraft. Many military planners concluded that anti-aircraft artillery would no longer be effective, and only limited development was carried out by most countries.

German planners instead developed more powerful guns with high muzzle velocity to reach high altitude, and much faster rates of fire. As Germany had been forbidden to produce new weapons of almost every sort after World War I, the German Krupp company developed the new guns in partnership with Bofors of Sweden. The original design that led to the 88 was a 75 mm model. During the prototype phase, the army asked for a gun with considerably greater capability than the 75. The designers started over, using another common German calibre, 88 mm.

FlaK 18, 36 and 37

Prototype 88s were first produced in 1928. These early models, the FlaK 18, used a single-piece barrel with a length of 56 calibres, leading to the commonly-seen designation 88/L56.

The FlaK 18 was mounted on a cruciform gun carriage that allowed fire in all directions, as opposed to split-trail designs, which allowed fire to the front only. The two "side" members of the carriage could be quickly folded up, allowing the gun to be lifted onto two wheeled chassis for high-speed towing. The weight of the gun meant that only large vehicles could move it, and the SdKfz 7 half-track became a common prime mover. A simple to operate "semi-automatic" loading system ejected fired shells, allowing it to be reloaded by simply inserting a new shell and pulling the firing lever. The gun would then fire, recoil, and during the return stroke, the empty casing would be thrown backward by levers, and a cam would engage and recock the gun. This resulted in firing rates of 15 to 20 rounds a minute, which was better than similar weapons of the era. High explosive ammunition was used against aircraft and personnel, and
armour-piercing and high-explosive anti-tank against tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Widespread production started with the Nazi rise to power in 1933, and the FlaK 18 was available in small numbers when Germany joined the Spanish Civil War. It quickly proved to be the best anti-aircraft weapon then available. Further, the high muzzle velocity and large calibre made it an excellent long-range anti-vehicle weapon. This experience also demonstrated a number of minor problems and potential improvements.

Many of these were incorporated into the FlaK 36, which had a two-piece barrel for easier replacement of worn liners, and a new, but heavier, trailer that allowed it to be set up much more quickly, simply dropping the base while still mounted on the wheels. This made it much more suitable for fast-moving operations, the basic concept of the blitzkrieg. FlaK 36s were often fitted with an armoured shield that provided limited protection for the gunners, although this gave the gun a high profile and made it more easily seen.

The eighty-eight was used in two roles: as a mobile heavy anti-aircraft gun, and in a more static role for home defence. In this latter role the guns were arranged into large batteries, groups of four directed by a single controller, and were moved only rarely. The less mobile but lighter FlaK 37, using a simpler and lighter trailer design, was developed for this purpose, and included additional instrumentation to allow the gun layers to follow directions from the single director more easily. The parts of the various versions of the guns were interchangeable, and it was not uncommon for various parts to be "mixed and matched" on a particular example.Fact|date=February 2007

During the initial phases of the Battle of France, when the French and British counter-attacked, the eighty-eight was pressed into service against their heavily armored tanks such as the Char B1 "bis" and Matilda II, whose frontal armour could only be penetrated at point-blank range by lighter anti-tank guns. Anti-tank usage became even more common during battles in North Africa and the Soviet Union. The 88 was powerful enough to penetrate over 150 mm of armour at ranges of 2 km or more, making it an unparalleled anti-tank weapon during the early war, and still formidable against all but the heaviest tanks at the end of the war. It was arguably most effective in the flat and open terrain of North Africa and the Eastern Front, where the long-range performance of the 88 became decisive.

By August 1944, there were 10,704 FlaK 18, 36 and 37 guns in service. Owing to the increase in U.S. and British bombing raids during 1943 and 1944, the majority of these guns were used in their original anti-aircraft role, now complemented with the formidable 12.8 cm FlaK 40. There were complaints that, due to the apparent ineffectiveness of anti-aircraft defenses as a whole, the guns should be transferred from air defense units to anti-tank duties, but this politically unpopular move was never made.

Comparatively, the 88 was not as powerful as its Allied counterparts. In the anti-aircraft role it fired a 9.2 kg (20.3-pound) shell at a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) to an effective ceiling of 7,900 m (26,000 feet) (at maximum 10,600 m, 32,000 ft). Although this was useful during the U.S. daylight raids, which typically took place at 7,600 m (25,000 ft), many aircraft could fly higher than its maximum effective ceiling. In comparison, the British 3.7-inch Mark 3 fired a 13kg (28-pound) projectile at 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) to an effective ceiling of 10,600 m (32,000 feet), and the American 90 mm Mark 1 fired a 10 kg (23-pound) shell at 820 m/s(2,700 ft/s) to the same height. They also had the advantage of a higher rate of fire, a side-effect of their automated fuse-setters that raised the rate of fire to about 20 rpm, as opposed to the original 88 which could generally reach only 15 rpm in the anti-aircraft role. To this was added proximity fuzes. These weapons were much more useful against aircraft even during WWII, and continued to have some use into the jet age. On the downside, the Allies weapons were heavier and less mobile, as well as being almost useless in the ground-attack roles until numerous modifications were carried out. While the U.S. 90 mm would go on to serve as a powerful anti-tank gun in some roles, it was by no means as universally deployed as the 88.

FlaK 41

These problems were not unknown to their operators, and as early as 1939 the Luftwaffe, now in charge of anti-aircraft defences instead of the army, asked for newer weapons with even better performance. Rheinmetall responded with a new 88 mm L/74 design with a longer cartridge. It fired a 20.7-pound shell at a muzzle velocity of 3,280 ft/s, giving it an effective ceiling of 11,300 m (37,000 feet) (maximum was 15,000 m, 48,000 ft). It also featured a lower silhouette on its turntable mounting than did the 8.8-cm FlaK 18/36/37 on its pedestal mounting. Because of the high cost and complexity of this FlaK gun, the Germans manufactured relatively few of them (556 in all) and, in February 1944, fielded only 279. Improvements in reloading further raised the firing rate, with 20 to 25 rounds a minute being quoted. Two types of gun barrel were used, with three or four sections. Krupp's proposal was the 8.8 cm "Gerät" 42, but it was not accepted for production as an anti-aircraft gun. However, Krupp continued development, resulting in the dreaded PaK 43 anti-tank gun.

The FlaK 41 had the disadvantage of complexity, and was prone to problems with ammunition, cases often jamming on extraction. The first guns produced were used in Tunisia, but because of problems in service they were afterwards used almost exclusively in Germany where they could be properly maintained and serviced. Only 157 FlaK 41 guns were in use as of August 1944, and 318 in January 1945. A final adaptation, known as the FlaK 37/41, mounted the FlaK 41 on the FlaK 37 carriage, but only 13 were produced.

PaK 43 and KwK 43

A dedicated anti-tank gun, the PaK 43 was developed from Krupp's Gerät 42, mentioned above. This used a new cruciform mount with the gun much closer to the ground, making it far easier to hide and harder to hit. It was also provided with a much stronger and more angled armour shield to provide better protection. The standard armament of the Tiger II, the KwK 43 tank gun, was essentially the PaK 43 externally modified to fit into a turret. There were also self-propelled versions of the gun, including the Nashorn and Jagdpanther tank destroyers. All versions were able to penetrate about 200 mm of armour at 1,000 m, allowing it to defeat the armor of any contemporary tank.

Combat history

The forces of the Third Reich employed the 88 extensively in World War II, not only in its original role as an anti-aircraft gun, where it performed well, but also as an anti-tank gun. Throughout the war the gun had few rivals.

The German Condor Legion made extensive use of the FlaK 88 in the Spanish Civil War, where its usefulness as an anti-tank weapon and a general artillery piece exceeded its role as an anti-aircraft weapon. Erwin Rommel also used the 88 as an anti-tank weapon, first in France and later in North Africa. His timely use of the gun to blunt the British counterattack at Arras ended any hope of a breakout from the blitzkrieg encirclement of May 1940. In Libya and Egypt, he lured British tanks into traps by baiting them with apparently retreating panzers. When the British pursued, concealed 88s picked them off at ranges far beyond those of the 2-pdr and 6-pdr guns of the British tanks. The unparalleled penetration of the 88's shells destroyed many Allied tanks and other armoured vehicles. The British 8th Army eventually learned to coordinate their heavy artillery with their ground advances, destroying the relatively immobile 88s in their emplacements once they revealed their positions.

The weapon saw continuous use on the Soviet Front. It played a crucial role in the early months of Operation Barbarossa. The appearance of the outstanding T-34 shocked the Wehrmacht Panzer Truppen, whose 37 mm and 50 mm tank guns could only penetrate the Soviet tank's steel armour at extremely close range. Until the Panzer IV Ausf. F2 and the Tiger reached the front, the 88 was the only weapon that possessed the punch to stop the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks.

The less open terrain in Italy and Northern France was less suitable for the 88; it was used successfully, but with less spectacular results. During Operations "Overlord" and "Cobra", Allied artillery and airpower often neutralized the 88's impact on the tide of battle, although a few well-positioned German guns often hindered the Allied breakout from Normandy.

The success of the 88 caused the Allies to take steps to defend against it in new tank design. Stopgap measures included adding more armour, or even using sandbags, to defeat the 88's projectiles. The Germans took advantage of this effective design in the armament of vehicles such as the Tiger tank and the Elefant tank destroyer (with an 88 mm Pak 43/2 anti-tank gun).

In the civil war in Yugoslavia various FlaK guns were used mainly by the naval artillery of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).

The 88 "family"

*8.8 cm FlaK 18 New semi-automatic breech, high velocity gun. Entered production in Germany in 1933. Produced by Krupp.
** Mod 1938 I: Many upgraded to "Sonderanhänger 201" trailer. Weight 7 tonnes. Rate of fire 15 to 20 rounds per minute.
*** Mod 1940: Fitted with a gun shield to protect the crew when engaging ground targets. Produced by Krupp.
** Mod 1938 II: Approximately 50 guns modified so a single man could adjust elevation and traverse.
* 8.8 cm FlaK 36 Entered service 1936–37. Redesigned trailer "Sonderanhänger 201" enabling faster time to action from the move. Could engage ground targets from its travelling position. Weight 7 tonnes. Rate of fire 15 to 20 rounds per minute. Produced by Krupp.
** Mod 1940: Fitted with a shield to protect the crew when engaging ground targets.
** Late model: Fitted with an improved trailer the "Sonderanhänger 202" with twin wheels.
* 8.8 cm FlaK 37: An anti-aircraft only gun, fitted with "Übertragungser 37" (a data transmission system). Produced by Krupp. Last of the versions with the shorter 571 mm cartridge case.
* 8.8 cm FlaK 41: Entered service 1943. Improved development, longer barrel and cartridge case. Fitted to the Sonderanhänger 202 as standard. Produced by Rheinmetall-Borsig.
* 8.8 cm "Gerät" 42: Krupp design to fill the same role as the FlaK 41; did not enter service as an anti-aircraft gun. Further development of the weapon led to the PaK 43 anti-tank gun.
* 8.8 cm PaK 43: Anti-tank model developed from Krupp's 8.8 cm Gerät 42. New gun carriage similar to the "Sonderanhänger 201". Developed by Krupp and manufactured in its different versions, including KwK 43, by at least Dortmund Hoerder-Hüttenverein, Henschel, Weserhütte and Fr. Garny. A 71 caliber barrel and a 822 mm cartridge case.
** 8.8 cm PaK 43/41: Pak 43 mounted on single axle split-trail field gun carriage produced as a stop-gap measure due to scarcity of materials. Weight 4.9 tonnes.
** 8.8 cm PaK 43/1: Pak 43 as mounted in the Nashorn tank destroyer.
** 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 Pak 43 as mounted in the Ferdinand/Elefant tank destroyer. On occasion referred to as "StuK 43/1".
** 8.8 cm PaK 43/3 and 43/4: Pak 43 as mounted in the Jagdpanther tank destroyer. Falling wedge breech block.
** 8.8 cm KwK 43: Pak 43 modified as a tank gun. Main gun of the Tiger II heavy tank. Falling wedge breech block.

ee also

* Flak Tower

Notes and references

Further reading

*
* Gander, Terry and Chamberlain, Peter. "Weapons of the Third Reich: An Encyclopedic Survey of All Small Arms, Artillery and Special Weapons of the German Land Forces 1939-1945". New York: Doubleday, 1979 ISBN 0-385-15090-3

* Hogg, Ian V. "German Artillery of World War Two". 2nd corrected edition. Mechanicsville, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997 ISBN 1-85367-480-X

External links and further reading

* [http://wnet.suomi.net/kotisivu/harri.kaarre/88series.html History of the 88 mm series of guns]
* [http://efour4ever.com/88.htm US Military Intelligence document on the 88 mm gun]
* [http://www.lonesentry.com/new88mm/index.html The New 88 and Its Carriages]
* [http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwii/woundblstcs/chapter10.htm Detailed examination of the effect of 88 mm FlaK on B-17 and B-24 bombers]


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