Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

The "Real" German 88

Discussion in 'German Heavy Weapons' started by KodiakBeer, Apr 30, 2017.

  1. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    It's become a truism that American troops tended to call any German artillery an 88. I don't think that holds water at all, and may be a fiction created by correspondents or perhaps green troops in their first fighting encounters. Repeat anything often enough and it becomes "truth" and this particualr wisdowm has been repeated so often it has become cemented in place. In my reading down at the nitty-gritty level (mostly based on 30th ID accounts), it's rather obvious that the GIs in fighting divisions certainly knew the difference between direct fire weapons like the 88, and long range artillery like the 10.5cm and 15cm guns.

    What they did do is tend to call most direct fire weapons (whether mounted or towed) an 88 even though the great majority were in fact 75's, and even that may have been because they hoped counter-battery fire would prioritize their particular fire mission if the target was an "88." In any case, I doubt anyone could reliably tell the difference between a 75 and 88 when it's sniping at you from a kilometer away. This becomes particularly evident in accounts from Mortain, in August 44. In the early morning hours of 7 August nearly the entire line began taking sporadic direct fire from across a shallow valley. Reports going back to battalion and regimental headquarters were very clear that the flash and report of the guns was followed by the hit of the shells a moment later and often this fire is reported as an "88" which may have just been shorthand for direct fire. In the darkness it was unknown whether these were panzers or towed guns, but since outposts and fleeing French civilians coming through the lines had reported tank noises, the fire was generally reported as coming from tanks (and likely most of it was in that opening contact).

    Later in the day as German probes more clearly revealed the American positions, the Americans began taking indirect shells from heavier German guns much further away, and this too is reported correctly as "heavy" artillery from unknown locations. As the light came up, the observer on Hill 314 (Lt. Weiss) began directing a complete symphony of fire from an enormous amount of batteries (as they came online), to a variety of German targets, both fixed positions, attacking units and more distant fixed artillery revealed by flash. Weiss was certainly not confused about direct fire guns vs traditional artillery, though he too referred to the direct fire he took among the rocks on the crest of the hill as "88' fire. It may have even been fire from an 88, though it's far more likely it was a 75 (tank, towed, mounted, take your pick).

    To my annoyance (as an amateur historian) the 30th moved on from Mortain immediately following the battle, and as is usually the case, little of the post-mortem of the guns and vehicles found at the site is associated with the division, that info being the within the purview of various clean-up and ordnance units, and thus lost. There are a lot of photos of the panzers (mostly panthers and Mark IVs) found right at the line are available, but there is nothing on the various (less photogenic) guns destroyed further back via long range direct or indirect fire.

    Yet, in the following weeks as this division and others followed up the retreating German army into Belgium, Holland and Germany itself, a number of lset-piece battles occurred in little towns and crossroads. The Germans would leave a gun and an unlucky company or platoon to slow up the advancing American forces. Most commonly, the "88" was a 75mm PAK 40 (or similar variant), though a surprising number of these encounters would also, or solely, involve one or more 20mm flak guns which could be very tricky for ground troops.

    Anyway, here is the German "88" most often encountered.

     
    TD-Tommy776 and George Patton like this.
  2. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2008
    Messages:
    10,920
    Likes Received:
    1,770
    What's the velocity difference between the 88 and 75? I ask because veterans have mentioned that the 88 was higher pitched, indicating the round was moving faster than what they usually heard.
     
  3. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Effectively the same, depending on the type of projectile fired - 700 to 900 fps.
     
  4. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2008
    Messages:
    10,920
    Likes Received:
    1,770
    Sounds like the fear factor kicked in at least part of the time.
     
  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    I meant to write 700 to 900 METERS per second.

    As for fear, I suspect a direct fire (no matter the caliber) weapon brings with it the knowledge that the enemy gunner has eyes on you. That has to be a chilling thought. And I think too, that calling in an 88 was often just a way to get your counter-battery fire prioritized, even though the caller might well know it was probably a 75.
     
  6. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    I'm sure you know (but for the benefit of others that might not grasp this), any of these high velocity guns, whether ours or theirs, is effectively an enormous sniper rifle with a reach of a mile or more, though they could also arc in a shell from much further out. It has to be a terrifying thought that some guy is looking at you through a scope with his finger on a 'trigger' ready to shoot an explosive shell aimed at your liver. If they had the range (and they always did in any fixed position) that shell could be placed within a meter of the aiming point. No infantryman had an effective weapon to shoot back, and even tanks (with the low velocity 75) were at a severe disadvantage. You could only walk in artillery, but in the delay you had a pretty hairy 15 or 30 minutes. By the time the artillery came in, the gun was usually withdrawn to a new position (and the new ground you had to traverse measured by the gunners for a new fight), and you had to do it all over again.
     
  7. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2015
    Messages:
    1,867
    Likes Received:
    679
    Sorry, but they are similar when firing AP, but HE is different.

    7.5cm Pak 40 fired HE at 548 mps
    8.8cm Flak 18/36/37 fired HE at 820 mps
    8.8cm Pak 43 and 43/41 fired HE at 750 mps

    So, in theory, it might have been possible to tell the difference.

    Yep, it reminds of Mac MacDonald's reaction when I chided him for misidentifying the Jagdpanzer IV of 12. SS-Panzer that overran his company as "Tigers" in the first edition of Company Commander and "Panthers" in a later edition. He said, "Rich, to an infantryman on the ground it makes little difference. If its got armor and a big gun, it's a tank."

    Otherwise, you are quite correct I think. "88" became short hand for any large caliber direct fire weapon, whether towed, SP, or on a tank. Indirect fire weapons were either light, medium, or heavy in SHELLREPS and often a good S-3 officer would identify it specifically by later recovering fragments of driving bands, shell fragments, or even unexploded rounds (Trevor Dupuy did so in Burma to prove to Stilwell's G-3 that the Japanese had moved up 15cm guns through the jungle after he told Dupuy it was impossible). The complication was that the Germans often used the 8.8cm Flak in programmed artillery plans, often as a counter-battery weapon, just as we used the 90mm M1 AA Gun. You see that especially in the Italian campaign early on, in the artillery program that opened the Battle of the Bulge, and, to a lesser extent, in Normandy. The further complication is that the 8.8cm Pak 43 was used as an antitank gun and as an artillery piece (also in the Battle of the Bulge) as well as being nearly identical to the 8.8cm KwK 43 in the Tiger II and Nashorn.
     
    OpanaPointer likes this.
  8. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2008
    Messages:
    10,920
    Likes Received:
    1,770
    I don't do subtle, so I would have prefered a Katyuska. :p
     
  9. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    I think, as you suggest, and as I suggested earlier, that it made little difference to the man on the ground. The difference between a direct fire gun and a long range artillery gun was that you heard both the report of the gun and the explosion of the direct fire shell in quick proximity, and that is true whether it's at 540 mps or 820 mps - partly because a direct fire weapon is only 1 kilometer away instead of 15 or 20 kilometers. To the man on the ground it meant he was in the cross-hairs of some gunner rather than in a general area under bombardment. That is both a real and a psychological difference.

    And though it may not apply in all cases, the 88s did have a higher priority with artillery batteries (or it might be perceived as so, whether true or not) and a smart man on the ground would likely call it an 88 even if he knew it was another PAK 40.
     
  10. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2015
    Messages:
    1,867
    Likes Received:
    679
    Oh, I agree and was just clarifying the response to Opana's question regarding relative Mv. In theory there would be a notable difference in sound for the 75mm HE versus an 88mm HE coming in, but practically I doubt anyone really noticed. It is similar to the German Landsers describing the Soviet 76.2mm guns as the "Crash-Boom" because the sound of its firing was immediately followed by the explosion. I think the Brits had a similar expression in World War I for the German 7.7cm guns?

    The Flak 88 had very high priority in counter-antiaircraft programs intended to support USAAF operations. You will frequently seem them prominently reported in artillery AAR's.

    I forgot to mention the similar "every tank a Tiger" myth. Both Tankers and Tank Destroyermen were pretty decent in their vehicle recognition skills. The usual difficulty was discerning between a Panzer IV and a Tiger I at distance, given the similar silhouette. The other difficulty was telling the difference between a hit, a damaging hit, and a hit destroying the target.
     
  11. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    That's an interesting point. I suppose the profiles shown men in training were prior to the IV adopting the skirting around the cupola? I'd guess the average GI was much less sophisticated about these changes, compared to a tanker or TD man. And the Tiger II blurs the line further with a profile similar to a Panther. Even at my desk here, a distant photo of a German armored vehicle requires some study on my part.
     
  12. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2013
    Messages:
    1,476
    Likes Received:
    375
    Location:
    London UK
    Good post.

    In Guns of Normandy Canadian artillery officer George Blackburn wrote several pages on the weapons most feared by him and other Canadians in Normandy.
    troops
    Guns of Normandy

    This is the sound of a supersonic round. The 88mm had a muzzle velocity of mach 2, while most German field guns and howeitzers had a maximum MV of over Mach 1, thus firing a supersonic round. I suspect its hard for the recipient to distinguish between 105mm 88mm or 75mm incoming supersonic rounds. Its a crash bang


    BUT howitzers use a multi charge system to optimise accuracy and avoid crests, For much of the range the optimum round is likely to be subsonic. Nor am I sure whether a projectile from a field gun or howitzer with an MV of over Mach 1 will be supersonic through its trajectory.

    Air resistance will provide a significant force on the projectile in flight. A round that left the muzzle at just over the speed of sound would fall to below mach 1 failry soon in its trajectory? At what point in its trajectory would a 105mm round flung at Mach 1.5 by the standard German field howitzer 10.5 cm leFH 18 drop below mach 1? Will it make a different incoming sound to the target?
     
  13. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    You often read of hearing a dull 'roar' before 105 or 150mm shells hit. I suppose the high arc of the shell allows the sound to reach the target before the shell plummets down. I suspect also, that since this type of artillery fires in battery or batteries, the pattern of numerous shells would clearly differentiate it from direct fire guns which are more often single in nature.
     
  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    12,312
    Likes Received:
    1,231
    Location:
    Michigan
    Wiki at:
    15 cm sFH 18 - Wikipedia
    gives the mv of the German 15cm gun as 540 m/s
    Navweapons at:
    Germany 15 cm/60 (5.9") SK C/25 - NavWeaps
    has a striking velocity chart for the 15 cm/60 (5.9") SK C/25
    it's mv was 960 m/s so almost double the above round although the shell weight is close 100 lbs vs 96 lbs for the howitzer.
    At 5,000m about 1/3 the velocity is lost striking velocity is 673 m/s
    at 10km it's down to 445 m/s (under half).
    at 15 and 20 km it's almost the same 314 and 318
    at 25 km it's actually picking up velocity again 332 m/s

    I'd expect the howitzer to loose velocity a bit slower but looking at the numbers perhaps loosing 1/3 of it's mv in the first 5km or so and down to about half after 10km and not much change after that. Since the speed of sound is ~340 m/s I'd expect both the 105 (mv ~520 m/s) and the 150 to be subsonic somewhere between 5 and 10 km. Of course sound traveling in a straight line and the shells in an approximation of a parabola would mean the sound of firing would arrive well before the shell.

    I could be way off base though.
     
  15. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    I think you're right, though the sound vs shell arrival is going to vary widely depending on the distance, and thus the height of the parabola needed to reach the target. And of course, at long ranges the sound of the actual gun (vs the sound of the shell travel) might not even be audible, or lost in other background noises (war being a noisy place).

    In any case, shells from direct fire weapons fired from much shorter ranges would sound very different. As you note, an 88 would likely see the detonation arrive before the sound of the gun going off. With the slower German 75mm guns at 540 mps (see Rich, above) the projectile is still about 50% faster than the speed of sound, though again, it's going to depend on distance. Perhaps at 1km, the shell lands ahead of the sound of the gun, at 2km they might be simultaneous, at 3 you might hear the gun just ahead of the shell (or something like that).
     
  16. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    12,312
    Likes Received:
    1,231
    Location:
    Michigan
    1/3 of 540 is 360 which is still above the speed of sound so I'd expect that for direct fire the explosion would be heard before the weapon firing at anything under 5km. Especially since the average speed over that distance would be around 440 m/s. As the ranges increase so do the arcs (as you noted) and the velocities drop as well (at least to a point). My guess is the gun firing would be heard ahead of the detonation starting some where around 9-10km but that's just a rough guess based on mental arithmetic assuming a non linear problem is linear.
     
  17. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,200
    Likes Received:
    1,621
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Check your math. Speed of sound is about 2/3rds of 540 mps. You'd need the ballistic coefficient and other imponderables to determine where such a projectile would drop below speed of sound, but certainly it's bleeding velocity for the entire trip and at 1 kilometer it's likely dropped close to the speed of sound (343 mps).
     
  18. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    12,312
    Likes Received:
    1,231
    Location:
    Michigan
    I meant to say 2/3. The table I mentioned above showed a German artillery shell of ~15cm loosing about 1/3 of it's velocity in the first 5km and then 1/3 of what remained in the second 5km (where it was in the region of howitzer shells). I know the one was a naval round and the other a howitzer but those are the numbers I had. Looking up some more on navweapons.
    hears a US 4" gun
    USA 4"/50 (10.2 cm) Marks 7, 8, 9 and 10 - NavWeaps
    it looses about 1/3 of its mv in 4,000 yards.
    Here's a 5" round
    USA 5"/51 (12.7 cm) Marks 7, 8, 9, 14 and 15 - NavWeaps
    Again it looses 1/3 or so in the first 5,000 yards and another 1/3 in the next 3,000 yards or so (where it's in the same velocity range as the German howitzers.
    Here's a 6" gun
    USA 6"/47 (15.2 cm) Mark 16 - NavWeaps
    looses about 1/3 in the first 6,000 yards and 1/3 of what's left in the next 6,000 yards.

    Note that in every case they are taking several thousand yards to loose 1/3 of their velocity. Also consider what it means in regards to range if you loose 1/3 of your velocity in the first km.
     
    KodiakBeer likes this.
  19. harolds

    harolds Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2011
    Messages:
    1,548
    Likes Received:
    232
    Remember too, that the Germans had another high velocity weapon intrinsic to both their infantry and armored divarty regiments: the schwere 10cm Kanone 18. This was actually a 105mm gun that could fire an HE projectile with a MV of 827mps/2713fps and had a range of over 18,000 meters. For much of their range they too would be supersonic and have the same effect. I doubt the average Allied soldier could tell the difference between one of these and an 88.
     
  20. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2015
    Messages:
    1,867
    Likes Received:
    679
    Minor correction Harold. The 10cm sK 18 was only used as a divisional field piece by the late-war Panzer and Panzer Grenadier divisions in a battery of four pieces paired with the 15c, sFH. Otherwise, it was employed in homogeneous battalions as Heerestruppen.
     

Share This Page