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The Eighty Eight: ‘Anti-Aircraft, Anti-Tank and Anti-Social’

Discussion in 'Artillery' started by PzJgr, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    The most famous artillery piece fielded by any combatant during WWII is undoubtedly the German 8.8cm Flak gun.(1) The reputability of this gun’s all round performance started during the Spanish civil war, continued through the early war years and during Operation Barbarossa, and became especially legendary as an AT gun in North Africa against the British 8th Army. ‘Anti-aircraft, anti-tank and anti-social’ and ‘flak, pak and not nice’ is how the British Army described the 88mm Flak. It was an accurate description of the gun that the Allies referred to simply as ‘the eighty-eight (88)’ when they were’t swearing! The 88’s reputation was exemplified by a cartoon which appeared during the war in Stars and Stripes. It portrayed a US intelligence officer interrogating prisoners and reassuring a nearby GI ‘Don’t worry; if I find the one wot invented the 88, I’ll let you know’.

    In post-war literature it has become common to attribute the 88’s performance on its apparent technological superiority. It is commonly stated that the 88 was successful because “the German forces had plenty of them at a time when the Allies had little or nothing comparable; it was this fortunate circumstance that gave rise to all the legends”.(2) Is this true, or was the 88’s success due to other reasons?

    Read More: Operation Barbarossa: The 88-Flak

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  2. rprice

    rprice Member

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  3. rprice

    rprice Member

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    The 88 was a jack-of-all-trades. Using AP shells, a single gun could penetrate a Maginot pillbox or "infantry bloc" by hitting the same spot about seven or eight times.

    View attachment 18449
     

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  4. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Quite enjoyed reading that article. Thanx for sharing it! :)
     
  5. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    Glad you liked it Kai. :salute:
     
  6. 36thID

    36thID Member

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    Good Article, crews could fire 5-15 rounds a minute !
     
  7. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    I remember watching a youtube video of an Afrika Korps 88 Crew in action. They must have fallen under the proficient crew category. They were cooking!
     
  8. harolds

    harolds Member

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    I think the real reason that the 88 became such a wonder was that the Germans could think "outside the box". In too many other armies, if a gun was developed in one branch of service, say AA artillery, then the other services could NOT use it, nor would they let it be adapted for other uses. In the U.S. Army there was great resistance to using our 90 mm gun in the AT role. I remember a father of one of my friends who was in the AAA branch at the beginning of the war. He tried to get the army to mount 40mm Bofors on M3 chassis so they could protect tanks from air attack. The armor branch wouldn't hear of giving up armor assets to the AAA people even if it was for their own protection.
     
  9. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Interesting stuff. It's also interesting that the reputation of the "88" played such a big role in the psychology of the GI - every shell became an "88" which further played into the fear that you were under direct observation.

    In Fire Mission, Robert Weiss tells the tale of being surrounded on Hill 314 for several days under artillery fire. When the Germans do bring up a couple of 88's (Weiss knew the difference) and shift their other artillery to targets in the rear, they were actually much safer because the flat trajectory allowed them to use defilades that had been exposed to earlier artillery, but were quite safe from the 88 fire. I suppose that tale further illustrates that how a weapon is employed tactically, is as important as the capabilities of the weapon itself.
     
  10. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    One of Napoleon's more famous quotes was about the significance of the moral compared to the physical dimension to warfare. That applies to weapons as well. The 88 acquired a reputation from the North African desert.

    The Germans didn't build the flak 36 as a tank killer or artillery piece, but they did make sure that, like other artillery pieces it had an anti tank capability - one lesson learned in September 1916 and reinforced in Spain. During the early part of the war the Germans often had air superiority and some under employed HAA guns.

    At some point during the course of the war, each side had to face an enemy with tanks which were impervious to tank gun fire. The 88 was one Germans solution to Matildas Char 1 bis T34 and KV1in 1940-41. It wasn't the only solution. German field artillery played a part as well e.g. at Arras in 1940. The 88mm gun was large, and high, difficult to conceal and pulled by an unarmoured tractor. It was far from ideal as an anti tank gun.

    If allied reports from Normandy are to be believed every German antitank gun was an 88. But that was untrue. The 75mm guns of 1944 were perfectly capable of knocking out allied armour, with a lower silhouette easier to conceal. The Flak 88mm guns could be deployed in extremis to stop tanks, but their main role was as part of an air defence system against the allied air armada and for which they were fitted with specialist fire control equipment. General Pickert who commanded III Flak Corps in Normandy claimed his forces destroyed 500 aircraft and 100 tanks, which is small compared to the 3,663 claimed by Army and Waffen SS units - and 12 of the tanks claimed by III Flak corps were inflicted with hand held weapons.

    One significant ground role the Flak did undertake was concentrations of anti personnel fire. All WW2 heavy AA artillery had precise time fused shells, compared to a small proportion of time fuses for field artillery or howitzers.

    By Normandy, almost everything that can be said about the 88 can be said of the 3.7" gun in British and 90mm AA Gun in US service. Before D Day the BRA 2nd Army chose to give a higher priority to HAA than Medium artillery as HAA was more versatile, had almost the same range and would provide a last ditch defence of the Beachhead. In the Ardennes a US 90mm AA unit does well against KG Peiper - even if they do not do as well as after action report claims.
     
  11. m kenny

    m kenny Member

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    I note the claims for the 8.8cm being a 'highly accurate' weapon. Quoting theoretical performance figures is fine but far better is actual combat numbers. In the desert it was found the average ammo consumption was 11 AP rounds per claimed tank kill at medium ranges and 20+ rounds at long range. That is per tank claim not per tank knocked out as well!
    8.8cm AP shell production was in the millions. It was never a one-shot-one-kill weapon.
     
  12. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I suspect the kill ratio was much higher in Europe. In the desert, the terrain made extreme range the norm while in Europe the terrain would have made closer shots the norm. Yet, even an 11:1 kill ratio is very good since you're shooting at an enemy who can't shoot back. By the time the damage is done, you've moved your 88 to another location so that any artillery called in is landing on an empty emplacement.
     
  13. m kenny

    m kenny Member

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    The data clearly gives numbers for normal and long range. Moreover the ammo usage is per claim not per kill.
     
  14. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Didn't the later 88 have an updated optical sight?
     
  15. m kenny

    m kenny Member

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    The bottom line is in a wide open arena with unrestricted fields of fire it needed 11 shots before a kill was claimed.
    'Superior' sights really only come into play at extreme ranges and in NWE 700 yds was the norm.
     
  16. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I think, and I may be quite wrong, that the original sights were AA sights used for area fire. You really weren't trying to hit an airplane, just explode flak near an airplane. Using such sites against a tank would call for corrections - up, down, left, right, until you hit the target.

    The later sights (1944) had an optic for precision shots on small targets (tanks) with the goal of a one shot-one kill outcome.

    As I said though, this is just my vague understanding and I may be quite wrong.
     
  17. m kenny

    m kenny Member

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    I believe the '90% chance of a hit' is a misquote from Jentz. What he actualy says is a 90% chance (of a second shot hit) where a shell has been fired and the range known.
     
  18. harolds

    harolds Member

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  19. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Been having trouble getting my posts to post. KodiakBeer: I don't think they used a optical telescope to shoot at aircraft. They used radar, observers, etc. to get height, direction and location and sent that to a Fire Direction Center which produced a firing solution and that was sent to the guns. I believe all telescopic sights on 88s were for ground targets.
     
  20. rprice

    rprice Member

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