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German Antiaircraft Artillery, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series 10, Feb. 1943
[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.]

13. Operational Use Against Air Targets

a. General

It is a frequently repeated axiom in the German Army that every combat unit is responsible for its own AA defense against low-flying aircraft. Every man armed with a rifle is trained to use it against such aerial targets, it having been found that concentrated fire by rifles is very effective against attack by low-flying or strafing planes, up to slant ranges of about 500 yards. Machine-gun fire is considered effective up to about 800 yards; light- and medium-caliber AA cannon, up to a slant range of about 2,000 yards. Heavy AA artillery is considered as being effective for fire up to about 9,000 yards, but is not generally considered as being available for use against planes flying directly over the battery at altitudes of less than 400 yards. For this reason each heavy battery is supported by two 20-mm AA cannon, which are an organic part of the battery organization. Figure 15, which is taken from an authoritative German military manual used extensively by German junior officers, gives an analysis of the slant ranges of responsibility for defense against enemy aerial targets. It should be noted, however, that the maximum slant ranges shown in the figure are less than the actual maximum capacities of the weapons concerned.

b. Protection of Columns on the March

(1) Panzer divisions.—German Panzer divisions on the move are trained to keep a considerable distance between separate units and groups, and where possible the division generally marches in several columns along parallel roads. Usually the majority of AA guns will be found well forward in the columns, and all defiles, bridges, and stopping places will be well defended by AA units. The columns usually halt after 2 hours for 20 minutes' rest, and after 4 or 5 hours' movement a halt of at least 3 hours is normal.

[Figure 15. Slant-range chart.]
Figure 15.—Slant-range chart.

In the event of air attack, the column continues its march, and machine guns and the light and medium AA gun crews open fire. If the air attack proves to be of such weight that casualties to truck-borne troops will be severe, the column halts and the troops take cover. The drivers, however, remain with their vehicles. When air attack threatens in open country, the tank columns deploy in open formation, usually V-shaped.

(2) Other units.—As mentioned above, all German troops are trained to use their rifles and machine guns for mass fire-power against low-flying and strafing airplanes, while on the march as well as in other situations. Antiaircraft artillery units, both organic Heeresflak units and attached Luftwaffe AA units, furnish the necessary AA protection in essentially the same manner as when operating with armored divisions, the only difference being that slower-moving units and supply echelons may require a special type of defense. It should also be remembered that, in cases Where the AA artillery is defending supply echelons, AA emplacements along prescribed routes of supply may be more or less static in nature.

c. Use in Forward Areas with Attacking Units

(1) General.—The use of AA units attached to Army divisions and corps will vary with the situation and in accordance with the higher commander's views as to how the AA artillery under his control can best be used in carrying out his attack mission.

(2) Example of use with an attacking Panzer division.—An order of the 15th Panzer Division, dated May 25, 1942, gives an interesting insight into the divisional commander's employment of the AA forces at his disposal. The order is for the assembly of the division in preparation for an attack. The 15th Panzer Division occupied a central position, the 90th Light Division being on the right and the 21st Panzer Division on the left. The 15th Panzer Division was organized into four groups as follows: an armored group, a reconnaissance group, a supporting group, and an infantry group mounted on trucks.

(a) Disposition of AA forces.—The AA forces at the disposal of the 15th Panzer Division by this order consisted of—

(1) An AA battalion staff;
(2) One heavy AA battery (6 heavy and 2 light guns),|
(3) One light AA battery (12 light guns),| Luftwaffe
(4) One light AA battery, less one section (9 light guns);| AA troops
(5) One AA company (12 light guns) of organic Heeresflak troops.

These forces were distributed as follows:

  Allocated to
(1) AA battalion staff Staff of 15th Pz Div (in the supporting group).
(2) Heavy AA battery 8th Tk Regt (in the armored group). Prior to the commencement of the operation, the heavy AA battery was ordered to protect the assembly against air attack.
(3) Light AA Battery (12 light guns):
     Battery staff and 1 section (3 light guns). Field artillery and engineers of the armored group.
 One section (3 light guns). Field artillery of the supporting group.
 One section (3 light guns). Heavy AA battery ((2) above) for local defense against low-flying aircraft.
(4) Light AA battery, less 1 section (9 light guns):
 Battery staff and 1 section (3 light guns). AA battalion staff (in the supporting group).
 One section (3 light guns). Engineers of the supporting group.
 One section (3 light guns). Staff of the 15th Pz Div.
(5) AA Company (12 light guns):
 Company staff and 2 sections (8 light guns). Mounted infantry group.
 One section (4 light guns). Reconnaissance group.

(b) Analysis of dispositions.—The following points of interest arise from an analysis of the order and the above dispositions:

(1) The chain of command is from the AA battalion staff (attached to the staff of the Panzer division), through the heavy and light battery staffs with the armored group and the light battery staff with the support group.

(2) The heavy battery is seen in a dual role. In the approach to battle it provides AA protection; it turns to the ground role in support of the tanks when battle is joined.

(3) The light batteries protect the divisional and AA battery staffs, the field artillery, the engineers, and the heavy AA battery against low-flying attack. The ground role is secondary.

(4) The organic AA company gives protection against low-flying attack to the mounted infantry and reconnaissance groups.

(5) The forces mentioned in the orders of the 15th Panzer Division do not comprise an entire mixed AA battalion, the missing elements being two heavy batteries and one section of a light battery. In this connection, it is known that a considerable force of heavy AA guns (no doubt accompanied by a few light guns for close protection) was operating as an independent antitank group in this operation, and the missing elements of the battalion were undoubtedly assigned to the separate ground-target mission.

d. Protection of Rear-Area Installations

In operating with task forces, certain of the attached AA units are allotted for protection of Army and Air Force installations. Even in moving situations, AA must be designated to defend important semipermanent installations such as depots, parks, railheads, bridges, airdromes, etc. No hard-and-fast set rule is laid down for this use of AA artillery. The size of the AA force defending such areas will depend to a large extent on the AA artillery which is available for this assignment. Another consideration is whether or not superiority of air power has been attained.

Employment of the available AA forces will vary. In the western campaign in May, 1940, the AA defense of the German forces in the main attack over the Meuse River from Dinant to Sedan remained in the hands of an AA corps commander. The AA corps was composed of a number of AA divisions, each organized into regiments and separate battalions. Once the crossing was affected, the AA units comprising the corps were attached to other forces advancing on their missions. In later stages of that campaign, it was customary for the AA artillery to protect forward elements by attaching one battalion of three 88–mm gun batteries to each army corps, and one battalion of the same size to each army.

e. Defense of Railway Trains

(1) General.—The mounting of AA materiel on railway mounts for the protection of railway trains and as a means of furnishing a mobile defense of lines of communication has been highly perfected by the Germans. It should be noted that AA guns mounted on railway mounts can be used either in rear areas for protection of trains operating therein, or for the protection of trains carrying troops or supplies to forward combat areas. For example, the Germans use these mounts for the protection of important trains operating in Germany, but they also have had these mounts in large numbers throughout Russia during the Russian Campaign. Although the 20-mm Flak single- or four-barreled gun is normally employed, it is known that the 37-mm, the 88-mm, 105-mm, and possibly the 75-mm and 150-mm Flak guns are also used for this purpose.

(2) Method.—A German manual lays down certain rules for employment of AA guns on railway mounts. A flatcar known as the R-Wagen is the truck prescribed by the German manual for use with the 20-mm gun. The gun is mounted on one end of the car. The crew is carried under a removable roof on the other end. Safe defenses are put up around the gun for "safe" firing zones. The manual prescribes three general methods in which protection may be given to trains:

Three cars mounted with a machine gun on AA mounts and situated respectively one-fourth, one-half, and three-fourths of the way along the train;

Three trucks carrying 20-mm light Flak guns, one in the middle of the train, one at the rear, and one immediately behind the locomotive. The gun behind the locomotive is usually not manned, being a spare to permit reversing the train without shunting the guns.

On especially important trains an additional 20-mm gun may be carried on a truck in front of the locomotive.

On the move, the guns are continuously manned, priority areas of 180 degrees being allotted as follows:

Forward: To the front machine gun and the center 20-mm Flak guns;

Rearward: To the center and rear machine guns, and the rear 20-mm Flak guns;

Forward: To the 20-mm Flak gun (when carried) in front of the locomotive.

These means of defense of railway trains are not necessarily the only ones possible, as it is known that the position (or sequence of the positions) of AA guns protecting the trains may be changed at any time to comply with particular requirements.

Since care must be taken that the AA guns are not struck by obstructions such as passing trains, tunnels, signal posts, etc., lookouts are detailed to observe on each side of the train. When not firing, the 20-mm guns are pointed directly to the front or rear depending on their sector of fire.

Since no warning of attacks can be expected, all AA personnel must be kept in a constant state of readiness. There are two aircraft watchers, one observing an arc of 180 degrees to the front, the other to the rear. These watchers are selected from among the best-trained men and relieved frequently.

When the train is moving, where possible only tracer ammunition is used, since the motion does not permit accurate sighting. Care is taken not to shoot up signal posts and other installations, and where there are overhead powerlines, no firing is done even under attack.

f. Searchlights

Searchlight units consisting of heavy searchlights are normally assigned to task forces only in those cases where the assigned mission may require their use. With field forces engaged in offensive operations, the employment of heavy searchlights will be rare. Their use would normally be confined to rear areas, under circumstances where the situation has become static and it is necessary to employ heavy AA protection. Inasmuch as light searchlights are an organic part of the light AA battalions, a certain number of light searchlight batteries will be found moving into forward areas with the field forces. As their use will be limited, however, the tendency of German commanders is to leave the bulk of the searchlights in rear-area positions for defense of those areas. As these light searchlight batteries are highly mobile, it should be remembered that the commander can also use them in a variety of ways other than against aircraft, such as defense against parachute troops and in night ground attacks.

g. Antiaircraft Warning System

For warning against hostile aircraft both in the field and in rear areas, the Germans have a troop-warning service of the AA artillery which is similar in principle to the Antiaircraft Artillery Information Service (AAAIS) of U.S. AA units. Every active German AA unit observes the air in the area under its jurisdiction with specially trained personnel known as air guards. Through a system of communication facilities, these air guards submit detailed reports of hostile aircraft in their vicinity. Under normal circumstances the AA battalion headquarters is responsible for forwarding appropriate warning reports to the air-arm commander at higher headquarters.

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