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"German 88 MM in the Libyan Battle" from Information Bulletin

[Information Bulletin Cover: WWII German 88-mm Flak]   The July 1942 issue of the WW2 Information Bulletin contained a tactical study of the use of German 88-mm as an anti-tank gun in the battle in North Africa. Although more accurate information is now available, the article demonstrates the tactical information reaching U.S. soldiers on the German 88-mm gun in 1942.

[Note: The following article is WWII information on German weapons and equipment published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on German weapons is available in postwar publications.]


A Tactical Study
The Effectiveness of the German 88 MM Anti-Aircraft Gun As An
Anti-Tank Weapon in the Libyan Battle

Recent cables from American military observers in Cairo and at the front with the Eighth British Army in Libya stress the important role being played by the German 88 MM anti-aircraft gun in the ground phase of the desert battles now in progress.

The effectiveness of this weapon as a tank destroyer was rather clearly apparent in the course of the November and December British Libyan offensive. One of our observers at that time stated in an official report that the 88 MM was the most feared weapon which the British tanks had to face, and that the destruction wrought by it, on both chassis and turret of the British tanks, was incomparably greater than that caused by any other Axis weapon.

[German 88-mm anti-tank gun captured Russian Front]
Russians inspect captured Nazi tank gun -- Red Army soldiers are here shown giving the once-over to this Nazi 88-mm. anti-tank gun, mounted on tank treads, which was captured somewhere on the Russian front. It is probably this some type of anti-tank gun which General Rommel has used to great advantage in the recent Libyan desert fighting that has forced the British back upon Tobruk. [1]

The characteristics of this gun are as follows: [2]

Muzzle velocity2750 feet per second
Weight of shell19.8 pounds
Vertical range37,000 feet
Horizontal range16,000 yards
Weight in firing position5.2 tons
The gun is tractor drawn
It is provided with a steel shield of unknown thickness.

An American military observer who had many opportunities to witness this gun in Germany in 1940, speaks of this weapon as follows:

"The 88 MM is basically a gun for firing on moving targets. The crew is also specially trained for firing on highly rapid moving targets, primarily on airplanes. The whole control apparatus is designed for fast moving targets with a very rapid rate of fire: 25 rounds per minute. The gun is capable of great volume fire and extreme accuracy against moving targets of any type. It is equally efficient on targets on the ground as well as in the air. For attacks on armored vehicles, it is provided with a special armor-piercing shell."

The German 88 MM anti-aircraft gun was designed and constructed in secret in the ten year period prior to the advent of Hitler, when the German army was subject to rigid personnel and material limitations. It is known that it was the plan of its designers to construct a dual purpose anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapon. The anti-tank purpose of the weapon was, however, veiled in secrecy and the German intentions in this regard did not become known to the world until the Polish campaign of 1939.

However, so definitely was the Axis attitude offensive, not only in Poland but in the French campaign of 1940, as well, that United Nations observers did not grasp at the time the full significance and effectiveness of this weapon.

Commencing in 1940, the Germans began to provide these guns with an armored shield in order to protect its personnel against small arms bullets as well as smaller anti-tank projectiles.

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, than on the Russian battlefields.

In November, 1941, when Gen. Auchinleck launched his major offensive, Marshal Rommel, his opponent, created three tank proof localities along his front line: At Bardia, Sollum and in the vicinity of Halfia pass. The defenses of each of these strong points were built around a battalion (12) of 88 MM AA guns, so sighted as to provide all round protection. These guns were supported by a large number of smaller anti-tank weapons. So well organized were these strong points that they were never seriously attacked, and only fell when the British had pushed on to Benghazi and when the water and food stocks of the strong points became exhausted. The British ascribe the long resistance put up by these strong points to the difficulty they found in coping with these dual purpose weapons.

In the battle now raging in Libya, Rommel's offensive use of these weapons is of considerable interest. The anti-aircraft guns appear to follow closely his armored vehicles. As soon as the front begins to stabilize, the 88 MM AA guns go into position and around them is then organized a "tank proof" locality. The German tanks are then withdrawn for offensive operations elsewhere.

[German 88-mm. antiaircraft gun in action against British tanks in Africa]
German 88-mm. antiaircraft gun in action against British tanks in Africa. Apparently this weapon, obsolescent for the original purpose for which designed (AAA), has been modified so that it can be fired horizontally from the trailer. Note the big, thick shield. A most potent antitank weapon! [3]

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

One report includes the following statement:

"The German 88 MM guns penetrate the armour of all British tanks. British tanks dare not attack them. Up to now the British seem incapable of dealing with these weapons."
Another 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 anti-aircraft guns (12). 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 guns had checked the British all day and permitted Rommel to seize the initiative as soon as the British threat had vanished."

Still a third report reads as follows:

"The greatest single tank destroyer is the German 88 MM anti-aircraft gun. For example, on May 27th at 8:00 AM., Axis forces having enveloped Bir Hacheim, a German tank force of sixty 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 ten minutes the 88 MM German AA 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 sixteen fell victims without a single exception to the 88 MM AA gun."
Editor's Notes:
(1) This photograph is actually a 15cm sIG33, heavy infantry gun, on a modified Panzer I chassis.
(2) The Germans in North Africa provided armor-piercing ammunition (Panzergranate) for the 88mm flak guns. Penetration of the 88mm, expressed in millimeters of armor plate that could be penetrated at 30 degrees from vertical, was reported by the Germans as:
         Range      Penetration 
 100 m    98 mm    
 500 m    93 mm    
 1000 m    87 mm    
 1500 m    80 mm    
 2000 m    72 mm    
For armor-piercing ammunition, shell weight was 9.50 Kg, approx. 20.9 lbs, with muzzle velocity of 810 m/s, approx. 2657.5 fps. Source: Tank Combat in North Africa, Thomas L. Jentz, 1998.
(3) Photo is reversed in original.

For more information on the German 88-mm, see also: "The New 88 and Its Carriages" and The Battle of the Omars: Appendix A.

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