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Flak 18/36/37: Germany’s Heavy AA and AT Gun
Germany’s most famous WWII weapon starts with WWI. Early heavy AA guns were derived from other artillery pieces. These early guns had a relatively low muzzle velocity, which meant they could not effectively engage enemy aircraft at high altitudes. Germany then developed the 8.8 cm Flak 16, with a 21 lb (9.4 kg) projectile fired at a velocity of 2,575 ft/s (785 m/s). Under the Versailles Treaty, Germany could not produce any new weapons, but Krupp worked around it by collaborating with Bofors in the 1920s. This collaboration produced a 75 mm gun, then an 88 mm prototype in 1928. The first 88 mm, the Flak 18, entered production in 1933 and was first deployed in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. It proved to be exceptionally effective in its intended AA role, but just as effective in the ground role against infantry, tanks, fortifications, etc. Reasons for its effectiveness in the ground and AA role include its heavy, powerful shell, and its ability to be trained under the horizontal. The war exposed a number of problems which were solved in the Flak 36. These included a two-piece barrel that made changing worn-out barrels easier, a gun shield for engaging ground targets (also added to Flak 18s) and a new trailer allowing it to be set up in less than three minutes. Further improvements produced the Flak 37, which had more efficient fire control equipment and communications. These three guns fired the same 88x571R mm case, a 20 lb (9 kg) HE shell at 2,690 ft/s (840 m/s) and parts for each were interchangeable, with guns often having a mix of parts. Since all three are essentially the same, we’ll focus on the Flak 36, but know all were essentially the same gun. Weighing in at 16,325 lb (7,407 kg), the Flak operates as follows: the loader loads a single round into the breech and closes it, raising the falling block. The gunner fires the gun, and as the gun fires, the barrel and breech assembly recoil rearward, the force of which is absorbed by a hydro-pneumatic cylinder. Continued below! 👇