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"The Organization of German Antiaircraft Defense" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report on German antiaircraft units in WWII, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 28, July 1, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


a. General

Probably no (Allied) activity is causing Germany more acute military discomfort than the never-ending air attack on her factories, supply lines, and cities. These aerial attacks have forced the Germans to erect, in Berlin and elsewhere, sturdy concrete towers, 200 feet high, so that their heavy antiaircraft guns may be sited above the surrounding buildings; to build decoy streets, railroad stations, and even whole towns; to erect fake houses and streets over lakes; and, reportedly, to move whole industries into Czechoslovakia and other areas in the interior of Central Europe.

However, the basic air defense is "Flak." Below, from authoritative sources, is an outline of the whole German antiaircraft organization. For further information on this subject, see Military Intelligence Service Special Series, No. 10, "German Antiaircraft Artillery." For an account of the air-raid warning system, see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 21, p. 3. We now deal with the actual antiaircraft artillery and searchlight organization--the "counterbattery artillery," used against the United Nations' air assault.

German antiaircraft artillery (Flakartillerie) forms part of the German Air Force and is under the control of the Air Ministry, with the exception of:

Heeresflak (army antiaircraft) which, in addition to units organized on similar lines to German Air Force Flak, includes "Fla" (Fliegerabwehr, antiaircraft) units organized as motorized antiaircraft battalions and comprising light guns only.

Marineflak (naval antiaircraft) which mans a proportion of the defenses in certain ports and coastal areas.

b. Organization

(1) General Organization

The German Air Force antiaircraft artillery is organized into the following units: Korps (corps), Division (division), Brigade (brigade), Regiment (regiment), Abteilung (battalion), Batterie (battery), and Zug (platoon).

The units are denoted alternately by Roman and Arabic numerals. Thus corps have Roman numerals, divisions Arabic, brigades Roman, regiments Arabic, and so on. Independent Abteilungen (i.e., not belonging to specific regiments) have Arabic numerals and constitute the only exception. Units are sometimes designated by name, usually that of the commander.

Organizations thus far identified include 2 corps (first heard of in the Battle of France), about 20 divisions, and a similar number of brigades. The main series of numbering, approximately 1-1,000, covers regiments and Abteilungen under the following groups:

Numbers in the series 1-70 are regiments, consisting usually of a regimental staff, Ersatzabteilung (replacement unit), and three combat battalions (I and II being mixed gun battalions and III a heavy searchlight battalion).

Numbers in the series 71-99 are in most cases independent light battalions. In some cases there are regimental staffs of the same number, without subordinate battalions.

The regiments in the series 1-70 and the light battalions in the series 71-99 formed the peacetime organization.

Numbers in the series from 100 upward are units formed on or after mobilization. In the case of heavy, mixed, light, or searchlight units, they may be regiments, regimental staffs, or independent battalions. Other types of antiaircraft artillery units, numbered in parallel series, include transport, railway, and balloon barrage units.

(2) Organization of Higher Units

Higher units have no fixed organization. They consist of staffs which command a number of subordinate units varying according to tactical requirements.

(a) Corps

The corps staff, which is motorized, operates entirely in the field. It originally commanded a number of brigades, usually two or three. It now normally commands two to four divisions, with subordinate regiments.

(b) Division The divisional staff has been established since the outbreak of the war. There are two types, static and motorized. The former commands one or more brigades in static defense, the latter a number of regiments, usually two to four, in field operations.

(c) Brigade*

The brigade staff commands a number of regiments, usually two to four. It is now confined mainly to fixed defense.

(d) Regiment

The regimental staff normally commands four to six battalions in fixed defense positions, or, in the field, an average of four battalions. Parent regimental staffs seldom actually command any of their own battalions. The battalions are usually allotted to combat units or to defense areas.

Note: Searchlight divisions, brigades, and regiments are also known, but little information is available as to their composition or method of allotment.

(3) Organization of Lower Units

(a) Abteilung (battalion)

Heavy--four heavy batteries
Mixed--three heavy and two light batteries
Light--three or four light batteries**
Searchlight--three or four (heavy) searchlight batteries.**

(b) Battery

Heavy--equipped with four or six heavy guns (usually 88-mm (3.46-in)) and two light guns (20-mm (.79-in)) for close protection.

Light-- usually equipped with twelve to sixteen 20-mm (or nine to twelve 37-mm (1.45-in)) guns. (It may be that only twelve 20-mm or nine 37-mm guns are the usual or normal equipment).

Searchlight--usually equipped with nine or twelve 1,500-mm (59-in) searchlights and an appropriate number of sound locators. (It may be that only nine searchlights are the usual or normal equipment).

Note: Light searchlights (600-mm (23.6-in)) are provided for cooperation with light guns and are normally allotted on the scale of one per platoon.

(c) Platoon

This is the smallest operational unit; it consists of either two heavy or three light guns.

c. Strength

The identifications made up to the outbreak of war show that the Germans were organizing for an establishment of 100 regular units (70 regiments and 30 independent battalions). In addition there were two independent regimental staffs (101 and 102) and Regiment General Göring (103) which was developed from Göring's personal bodyguard, and eventually came to be regarded as the "crack" antiaircraft artillery regiment. There was also a training regiment (Lehrregiment), offshoots of which have since been employed in an operational capacity.

Since the outbreak of war the need for protecting Germany and, subsequently, the occupied territories from the growing strength of the United Nations power, together with the necessity of providing for active theaters of war, has resulted in an enormous expansion in the antiaircraft artillery organization.

Although the highest numbered unit identified is 999, this does not presuppose the existence of 999 units. Units are formed in series, possibly on a regional basis, and many series are undoubtedly either completely or partially unused. Up to the present some 550 Abteilungen have been identified, apart from miscellaneous units. The total antiaircraft artillery strength, including staffs and administrative personnel, is believed to be well over 1,000,000, and equipment employed to be in the neighborhood of 9,000 heavy guns, 30,000 light guns, and 15,000 heavy searchlights. A proportion of the equipment used in Germany and in some of the occupied countries is manned by Heimatflak ("Home Guard" antiaircraft artillery), a new branch believed to have been introduced early in 1942 (see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 20, p. 4).

d. Employment for Home Defense

Antiaircraft artillery employed for fixed defense in Germany and occupied territories is administered and supplied through the Luftgau (Air Force Administrative Area), subdivision of the Luftflottenkommando (Air Corps Area).

Originally, the Luftgau was also an operational command, exercising its function through antiaircraft artillery regimental staffs, of the antiaircraft artillery units in its area. Since the introduction, some time after the French Campaign, of antiaircraft artillery divisions and brigades employed for static defense, it is believed that the Air Corps Area has exercised its operational control through these units instead of through the Air Force Administrative Area, though in relatively unimportant areas the old system has probably remained in force. An Air Force Administrative Area is divided into Flakgruppen (antiaircraft artillery groups), commanded by regimental staffs, and Flakuntergruppen (sub-groups), commanded by Abteilung staffs. Gun and searchlight sub-groups are allocated for the defense of ports, towns, factories, etc. according to their importance.

e. Gun Layouts

Heavy guns are usually sited in fours (in the form of a square), or in sixes. The command post, comprising director, heightfinder, and radar equipment, is located to one side, and there is often an additional or alternative subsidiary instrument pit for emergency fire-control equipment in the center of the gun layout.

Light guns are usually sited in threes, though sometimes singly.

f. Methods of Fire Control

(1) Heavy Antiaircraft Artillery

Whenever possible, heavy gun positions engage visually, either by day, or with searchlight cooperation by night. The next most popular method of engagement is "deterrent fire," which involves firing at the visual or imaginary intersection of searchlight "cones" and for which broken cloud conditions are, the most appropriate. "Unseen" fire (fire at invisible targets) with the aid of radar data is frequently employed both by night and in cloudy weather by day; less common methods of "unseen" fire control are instrument-directed concentrations or salvoes. Barrage fire, which may be in almost any shape (box, cylindrical, layer, etc.), is occasionally resorted to against particularly heavy and concentrated attacks. Barrage fire is used mostly at night or under conditions of bad visibility; the development of modern instruments has made its use secondary.

(2) Light Antiaircraft Artillery

By day or by night, light guns engage visible targets by means of their antiaircraft artillery sights (Flakvisiere) or by observation of tracer. By night, they often fire up the searchlight beams or at the apex of searchlight "cones" in the hope that an aircraft is in or near the beam***. Barrage fire, which has a purely deterrent value, is infrequently employed.

g. Searchlights

Great reliance is placed on searchlights, which are deployed in very large numbers in gun-defended areas. Spacing of lights varies considerably, but averages about 1,500 yards in heavily protected areas. Control is maintained in general by means of sound locators, with which a high degree of efficiency has been achieved. A certain measure of radar control is being introduced, but this is not believed at present to be very widespread.

In addition to searchlights in gun-defended areas, a large number of searchlights used to be deployed in belts to assist in night-fighter interception. This policy has recently been modified, possibly as a result of improved methods of radar interception; the main belts have been dissolved. Searchlight cooperation with night fighters is, however, still in evidence in some areas.

h. Balloons

Balloon barrages are found at many of the most important target areas in Germany and occupied territories, as well as around relatively isolated, vulnerable points, such as a single factory. The average heights at which they are flown is about 6,000 to 8,000 feet, although reports of balloons operating at 11,000 to 12,000 feet are occasionally received. Operation at higher levels, however, involves weaker cables and consequently a reduction in defensive value. A new balloon, smaller than the normal type, is believed to have been introduced recently. It is designed specially as a counter to low-level attack and probably cannot be flown higher than about 4,500 feet.

i. Employment with the Field Army

In the field, antiaircraft artillery is operationally subordinate to the commander of the army to which it is attached, while remaining subordinate to the German Air Force for administration. Its use in cooperation with the army is extremely flexible, the scale and method of employment being varied, frequently at very short notice, according to the tactical situation. In general an antiaircraft artillery corps works with an Army Group, the chain of command being exercised through antiaircraft artillery divisional and regimental staffs down to the battalions. Although no hard-and-fast rule can be laid down, an antiaircraft artillery division generally works with an army, and a regiment with an army corps; individual battalions are allotted to army divisions, preference usually being given to armored and motorized units. All antiaircraft guns, up to and including the 88-mm, are dual-purpose and, when attached to the field army, units carry AP and percussion as well as time-fuze ammunition. In all campaigns of the present war, antiaircraft artillery units have been found in the forefront of the battle, where the heavy guns in particular have been used more and more in a ground role, successfully engaging Allied armored units, artillery positions, and fortifications.

j. Primary Role

In spite of the increasing use of antiaircraft artillery with the field army, its chief function remains that of defending Germany and occupied territories from air attack, and it is lavishly employed for this purpose. However, to ease the strain on manpower imposed by Germany's war effort, large numbers of trained antiaircraft personnel have been transferred to ground combat units to serve as infantrymen, field artillerymen, etc. This transfer has been made possible without appreciably weakening the antiaircraft defenses of Germany and occupied territories by the use of railway antiaircraft artillery, which can be transferred rapidly from place to place for the temporary reinforcement of threatened areas, and by the introduction of Heimatflak (home defense units) involving the partial replacement of regular antiaircraft artillery personnel by factory and office workers and more recently by 16- and 17-year-old boys.

*One American Army authority doubts the existence of the AA Brigade. The British source of this article is quite definite as to its existence.
**There is evidence indicating that normally there are only three batteries in the light and searchlight battalions.
***In view of the limited range of these light weapons it is probable that this is done only in conjunction with light (600-mm) searchlights or against low-flying aircraft.


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