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Artillery in the Desert, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 6, November 1942
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the wartime U.S. War Department publication. 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. Antitank Weapons

All German forces in the desert have a large number of antitank weapons. Antitank guns have accounted for most of the tanks which the Germans have destroyed. (The details of German antitank guns have been included in Appendix B, which may be consulted for available information on the more important German artillery pieces.)

b. 50-mm Antitank Gun (fig. 2)

Originally issued to the main units of the German Army in the spring of 1941, this 50-mm. antitank gun is steadily replacing the 37-mm antitank gun, which was formerly the standard German antitank weapon. Both high-explosive and armor-piercing projectiles are fired. The solid projectile fired by this gun weighs 4 pounds 9 ounces, and has pierced the armor of British infantry tanks and cruiser tanks, and of light and medium U.S. tanks. The carriage is provided with an armor-plated shield and has a tubular split trail. This gun is towed on its own wheels and has a detachable third wheel, which attaches to the lunette when the gun crew moves the gun by hand.

Nature of weapon: high velocity antitank cannon.
Weight: 2,016 pounds.1
Length of barrel: 62 calibers.
Traverse: 60°
Elevation: -13° to +22.5°
Initial muzzle velocity: 2,953 to 3,280 feet per second (900 to 1,000 meters per second).
Rate of fire: 16 rounds per minute.
Weight of armor-piercing shell: 4 pounds 9 ounces.
Weight of high explosive shell: 3 pounds 15 ounces.

[Figure 2: German 50-mm antitank gun]
Figure 2.--German 50-mm antitank gun

c. 50-mm Tank Gun (high velocity)

This gun is mounted in the new Mark III German tank. It has been very effective at ranges under 800 yards.

Weight: 421.5 pounds.
Length, over-all: 210 cm (12 feet 11 inches).
Length of chamber: 30.5 cm (12 inches).
Length of rifling: 162.2 cm (5 feet 4 inches).
Muzzle velocity: 3,444 feet per second.
Weight of armor-piercing shell: 3.9 pounds.
Rifling: polygroove plane section; uniform twist of 1 in 35 calibers; 16 lands, 3.5 mm wide; grooves, 6 mm wide, .75 mm deep.

d. 28/20-mm Antitank Gun M41 (fig. 3)

The barrel of this semiautomatic gun is constructed on the Guerlich principle; that is, it tapers from 28 mm at the breech to 20 mm at the muzzle. The gun uses the so-called arrowhead type of ammunition. The life of the barrel is thought to be not over 400 rounds. This gun, which has a welded carriage with a split trail, is served by a 5-man crew. It is normally towed portee on a trailer equipped with ramps and may also be mounted on a truck split into a 5-man load for transport, or carried by air.

Weight: 501 pounds.
Muzzle velocity: 4,555 feet per second.
Caliber at breech: 28 mm.
Caliber at muzzle: 20 mm.

[Figure 3: German 28/20-mm antitank gun M41]
Figure 3.--German 28/20-mm antitank gun M41

e. Dual-Purpose Weapons

More and more reports from the desert indicate the use of antiaircraft weapons for antitank purposes wherever such use has become necessary. The Germans have various dual-purpose weapons, the most famous in the desert and elsewhere being the 88-mm.

The German 20-mm AA/AT gun as used in the desert may be towed by a light tractor. There is a four-barrel type, called "Flakvierling" by the Germans.

In addition to the 88-mm, the Germans have two other types of dual-purpose guns which are used extensively. There is the 37-mm AA/AT gun, which is motor-drawn or self-propelled on a half-track vehicle, and the 47-mm AA/AT gun, which originated in Czechoslovakia.

f. 88-mm Dual-Purpose Gun (figs. 4 and 5)

(1) Development.--The German 88-mm dual-purpose gun was designed in 1934 as the standard semimobile antiaircraft gun. It is known that the plan of its designers was to construct a dual-purpose antiaircraft and antitank weapon. It was first used in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, with considerable effect, on the lightly armored vehicles of the Loyalist forces. The antitank purpose of the weapon was, however, veiled in some secrecy, and the German intentions in this regard did not become well known until the Polish campaign of 1939. The Germans produced large quantities of armor-piercing ammunition and designed a more mobile carriage. With these added improvements the gun was used successfully in the Battle of France, where it proved capable of dealing with the heavier French tanks against which the standard German 37-mm (1.45 inch) antitank gun was comparatively ineffective.

[Figure 4: German 88-mm dual-purpose gun on special trailer]
Figure 4.--German 88-mm dual-purpose gun on special trailer

Commencing in 1940, the Germans began to provide these guns with an armored shield in order to protect the personnel against small arms bullets and shell fragments, as well as smaller antitank gun projectiles. The Germans next provided the gun with a new mounting (designated Trailer 201) from which the gun could engage tanks without being taken off its wheels. Finally a self-propelled mounting has been produced from which the gun can be fired against ground targets but cannot be used in its original antiaircraft role.

It appears that this weapon has played an important role throughout the Russian campaign. However, far more exact information is available as to its use in Libya.

(2) Tactics.--In November 1941, when General Auchinleck launched his major offensive, Marshall Rommel formed three tank-proof localities along his front line: at Bardia, at Salum, and in the vicinity of Halfaya Pass. Wherever these areas included 88-mm guns, the guns were used to provide the core of the all-around protection so necessary in the desert against tank attacks. These guns were supported by a large number of smaller antitank weapons. So well organized were these strong points that they were never seriously attacked, and only fell when the British pushed on to Bengasi and when the water and food stocks of the strong points became exhausted. The British ascribe the long resistance by these strong points to the difficulty they found in coping with these dual-purpose weapons.

[Figure 5: German 88-mm dual-purpose gun in action]
Figure 5.--German 88-mm dual-purpose gun in action

Rommel's offensive use of these weapons is of considerable interest. The antiaircraft guns appear to follow closely his armored vehicles. As soon as the front begins to stabilize, the 88-mm dual-purpose guns go into position and around them is then organized a "tank proof" locality.

The effectiveness of these weapons is clearly brought out by the following reports of observers formerly at the front in the desert battle around Tobruk:

One observer reports as follows:

At a point in the Knightsbridge area, the 4th British armored brigade faced some 35 German tanks of the Mark III and IV type drawn up in line and obviously inviting attack. These tanks were supported by a battalion of 12 antiaircraft guns. The commander of the 4th Brigade refused to attack at all because of the presence of these guns on the battlefield.

Slight firing occurred throughout the day. Towards evening the superior British tank force withdrew, and the German tanks attacked after nightfall in a new direction. Their 88-mm dual-purpose guns had checked the British all day and permitted Rommel to seize the initiative as soon as the British threat had vanished.

Another report reads as follows:

The greatest single tank destroyer is the German 88-mm dual-purpose gun. For example, on May 27th at 0800, Axis forces having enveloped Bir Hacheimn, a German tank force of 60 tanks attacked the British 22nd Brigade some distance to the northeast. The British moved to attack this force with 50 light and medium American tanks. It soon became apparent that this British force was inadequate and the Brigadier commanding ordered a second regiment of 50 tanks into action. In 10 minutes the 88-mm German dual-purpose guns destroyed 8 American medium tanks of this reinforcing regiment. All day thereafter, the British engaged the enemy half-heartedly and finally withdrew. Sixteen American medium tanks were lost in all. These 16 fell victims, without a single exception, to the 88-mm dual-purpose gun.

(3) Fire-control methods.--For field artillery tasks, and for use against armored vehicles, the following four methods of fire control are used: direct fire using a telescopic sight; predictor control; fire directed from an observation post (OP); and air burst HE.

(a) Direct fire.--This has been the most successful method against armored vehicles. Apart from the extreme mobility of the gun, the efficient telescopic sight has contributed largely to the success of the 88-mm gun in the antitank role.

The latest mark of telescopic sight used is the ZF. 20 E., which is a monocular type with a magnification of 4 and a field of view of 17.5°. The graticule of the sight is formed with two cross lines, interrupted at the center.

On the sight are a range drum graduated in 100-meter (109-yard) steps from 0 to 9,400 meters (10,340 yards), a target elevation drum in 1/16° from 0° to 12°, and vertical and lateral deflection drums. The layer lays on the target through the sight, and the range is set on the range drum, which automatically applies the necessary target elevation to the sight. Corrections from observation of fire or laying off for a moving target are set on the appropriate deflection drums.

(b) Predictor control.--With a predictor control, the data for the first round is calculated in the same way as for an aerial target. Corrections for line, range, and fuze length are made from observation of fire and set on the respective scales on the predictor.

(c) Fire directed from an OP.--When the target is below the horizontal, or at ranges greater than 10,340 yards (that is, beyond the limit of the telescopic sight), fire is directed from an OP. The OP officer takes bearing, range, and elevation from his shooting map. From these he calculates the gun data with a range table and forwards the information to the gun position by telephone. A director is sometimes used for giving the original line to the guns. Corrections are ordered from observation of fire and set at the gun.

(d) Air burst HE.--Fire for effect with time fuze airburst HE against troops in the open and against battery positions has also been reported. Ranging is carried out with a low height of burst. Fire for effect follows with the fuze length adjusted for the most effective height of burst.

(4) Service of the piece.--The 88-mm unit, which is under divisional control for tactical purposes, goes into action from the ammunition line. Here the ammunition trucks are left, and the battery commander, the chief of section, and the driver reconnoiter the assembly point, usually within 225 yards of the gun position, in march order, and the crew prepares it for action when the command is given at the assembly point.

The gun crew is composed of a gun commander and nine men. The service of the gun for antitank fire is divided among them as follows:

Gun commander:  
No. 1  _ _ _ _ _  Lays for elevation
No. 2  _ _ _ _ _  Lays for line
No. 3  _ _ _ _ _  Loads and fires
Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7   _ _ _ _ _  Handle ammunition
No. 8  _ _ _ _ _  Sets range (vertical deflections)
No. 9  _ _ _ _ _  Sets lateral deflections

(5) Characteristics.--The German 88-mm dual-purpose gun, which was used in such effective fashion in the desert, was designed primarily as an antiaircraft weapon, but like many German antiaircraft guns, it may also be employed against ground targets as explained. The high muzzle velocity and the resultant striking power of this weapon make it particularly effective against armored targets and fortified gun positions, even at considerable ranges. Using HE and armor-piercing ammunition, it is employed with deadly effect against medium and heavy tanks.

(a) Gun.--The barrel is jacketed, with easily detachable breech rings, a supported, interchangeable A tube (the rifled part of the tube), and a removable guide ring. It is 16 feet long and has 32 rifling grooves. The breech is semiautomatic and self-cocking, opening when the barrel runs out after the shot has been fired, ejecting the cartridge case, and at the same time compressing the striker spring.

(b) Carriage.--The carriage consists of a mounting built into the platform of the chassis, the upper carriage with a protective armor shield, a buffer fitted into the barrel cradle, a hydropneumatic recuperator fitted above the barrel, two balancing springs to distribute the excess weight of the barrel and cradle, and the traversing and elevating mechanism.

(c) Sight.--The standard German antiaircraft sight, modified to give range readings in meters rather than elevation angles, is normally used, but the armor shield also has a loop-hole for the wide-angle (emergency) sight. With the telescopic sight, the line of sights is parallel to the axis of the barrel when both deflection and range drums are set at zero. Since, however, the sight is 28 inches to the right of and 8 inches below the barrel, the aiming point must be taken low and to the right if direct hits are to be obtained.

The elevation field is determined by fixing an attachment on the sextant from -3° to +15°. The traverse field is limited by the striking of the upper carriage against the armor of the driver's seat. The traversing arc is 151° to the right and 181° to the left, or a total traverse of 332°

(d) Mobility.--Two methods are still used to give the gun its well-known mobility: (1) some of the guns are mounted on the special trailer (No. 201) which is fitted with pneumatic tires and drawn by a half-track vehicle which carries the gun crew and a small supply of ammunition. Ground targets can be engaged while the gun is in this traveling position. (2) the newer development is the self-propelled mounting consisting of a 12-ton half-track vehicle, armored in front and carrying a small supply of ammunition. The gun mounted in this position is used only for engaging ground targets.

Rules on the selection of a firing position are as follows: the angle of impact should be not greater than 60°; the range should generally not exceed 2,000 yards; the gun level must slope downward with the wheels nearer the target lower (the gun level varies from -3° to +15° from the horizontal of the muzzle); the position should be concealed and as near to the target as possible to insure maximum accuracy and surprise in opening fire; the lanes of approach and withdrawal must be as firm and level and as wide as possible.

The prime mover can knock down trees up to 3 inches in diameter, and the self-propelled carriage can level 5-inch trees. The minimum widths, which must be considered in choosing lanes of approach and withdrawal, are: with barrel at right angles, 20 feet; with side supports in rest position, 16 feet; and with side supports in march position, 10 feet. If narrow points have to be negotiated on the way to the firing position, the side supports are not put down until these points are passed, nor is the barrel swung free until there is sufficient room. At all times, however, the barrel, with its armored shield, is directed toward the enemy.

(e) Summary.--Following is a list of characteristics of the German 88-mm dual-purpose gun (on towed carriage):

Muzzle velocity  _ _ _ _ _  2,690 feet per second
Maximum ordinate  _ _ _ _ _  36,000 feet
Maximum horizontal range  _ _ _ _ _  16,200 yards
Effective range against tanks  _ _ _ _ _  3,000 yards
Effective ceiling  _ _ _ _ _  34,000 feet
Elevation  _ _ _ _ _  -3° to +85°
Traverse  _ _ _ _ _  360°
Weight of piece in firing position including outriggers  _ _ _ _ _  11,354 pounds
Weight of tube  _ _ _ _ _  3,175 pounds
Caliber 88-mm
Length in calibers  _ _ _ _ _  56
Height of tube over outriggers  _ _ _ _ _  52 inches
Height of tube over earth  _ _ _ _ _  63 inches
Longest recoil  _ _ _ _ _  41 inches
Shortest recoil  _ _ _ _ _  28 inches
Weight of trailer  _ _ _ _ _  16,426 pounds
Tread  _ _ _ _ _  70 inches
Diameter of wheels  _ _ _ _ _  36 inches
Weight of projectile  _ _ _ _ _  21 pounds
Weight of propelling charge  _ _ _ _ _  20 pounds
Weight of bursting charge  _ _ _ _ _  1.5 pounds
Rate of fire  _ _ _ _ _  15 to 20 rounds per minute

g. 75-mm Sturmgeschütz (Assault Gun)

The Germans have mounted their 75-mm Kw. K.2 (used also as the main armament of the Pz. Kw. IV)3 on the chassis of their Pz. Kw. III. The turret is removed and replaced by a squat superstructure housing the gun. The gun compartment is roofed, but there is no rotating turret. The gun is fitted with a dial, not a telescopic sight. The gun commander has a scissors telescope. Two wireless receivers and one transmitter4 are carried. There is no mounting for a machine gun. The armor is 55 mm (2.17 inches) at the front, 30 mm (1.18 inches) at the sides, and 12 mm (0.47 inches) on top. Inside this moving pillbox, a crew of four are required: the commander (on the left), the driver, gunner, and leader (on the right).

This gun is employed in independent battalions. It is possible that these assault guns have now become organic parts of the motorized and Panzer divisions, as well as part of the front-line infantry divisions. Normally only direct fire is used. It is believed that this low-velocity 75-mm gun is being replaced by a high-velocity 75-mm gun with a reported length of bore of about 43 calibers.

An assault gun of this type captured in the Middle East has been described as follows:

The gun and mount weigh about 20 tons. The gun itself is the short-barreled 75-mm tank gun originally mounted in the Mark IV tank. The range drum is graduated for HE up to 6,550 yards and for AP up to 1,640 yards. Elevation and traverse are hand-operated. The hull is that of the standard German Mark III tank with normal suspension system. The turret has been removed. The length is 17 feet 9 inches, height 6 feet 5 inches, and width 9 feet 7 inches. In general, the armor is 51 mm (2 inches) at the front and 32 mm (1.25 inches) on the sides and at the rear. An added 53-mm plate is fitted to the rear of the vertical plate, apparently between the driving and fighting compartments, and is braced to the front plate by two 31-mm plates, one on each side of the opening for the gun. The sides of the hull enclosing the driving compartment appear to be vulnerable to the British 40-mm antitank ranges. The engine is a Mayback V-12-type rated at 300 horsepower. The gears provide for six speeds, and steering is hydraulically controlled. The capacity of the gasoline tank is 71 gallons, which is consumed at the rate of about 0.9 miles per gallon at a cruising speed of 22 miles per hour. As in German tanks, this vehicle is equipped to carry extra gasoline in a rack on the rear of the vehicle, which should hold about 10 standard 5-gallon gasoline cans. The captured vehicle contained metal boxes for 44 rounds of ammunition, and 40 rounds were stacked on the floor at the loader's station. Ammunition is also carried in an armored half-track vehicle which tows an armored ammunition trailer. There was also a rack for 12 stick grenades, and the usual smoke-candle release mechanism for 5 candles was fitted to the rear. For communication there were two radio receivers and one transmitter. For observation a scissors telescope was provided. As spare parts the 11-mm sloping plates over the track guard carried two spare bogie wheels on the right side and one on the left side. Two spare torsion rods were also carried, one in each side of the hull above the bogies. Some other details are—

Length of bore: 23.5 calibers.
Muzzle velocity (estimated): 1,600 feet per second.
Elevation: 20°.
Depression: 5°.
Traverse: 20°.
Weight of projectiles: HE, 12 pounds 9 ounces; Smoke, 13 pounds 9 ounces; AP (with ballistic cap), 13 pounds 9 ounces; AP (hollow charge), not known.
Estimated penetration of AP: 55-mm (2.16 inches) with ballistic cap at 60° at 400 yards.

h. Russian 76.2-mm Gun (fig. 6)

It is reliably reported that the Russian 76.2-mm field gun is being used in Libya by the Germans for antitank purposes. Published photographs of this weapon indicate that it is a practical high velocity weapon.

[Figure 6: Russian 76.2-mm guns. (The Germans have captured large quantities of this gun and have used them in Libya.)]
Figure 6.--Russian 76.2-mm guns. (The Germans have captured large quantities of this gun and have used them in Libya.)

1 The gun mechanism alone weighs 698 pounds.
2 Kraftwagen Kanone, tank gun.
3 Panzer Kraftwagen, armored vehicle, tank.
4 Type B. UA2.

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