The 20 mm FlaK and the Flakvierling


20 mm FlaK Photo Album

A German soldier fires a 20 mm FlaK 38 during World War II. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

A German soldier fires a FlaK 38 during World War II. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

The most common German artillery piece of World War II was not the well-known FlaK 88, but its much smaller sibling, the 20 mm FlaK.

About 142,000 of these anti-aircraft weapons were produced between 1939 and 1945, though the total count is somewhat inflated because the Luftwaffe counted each barrel on multi-barreled mounts. The German Army, on the other hand, usually used the single-barreled version.

Germany’s first 20 mm anti-aircraft gun was the FlaK 28, which was fielded during World War I, but it was outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles.

As a way to circumvent the treaty’s ban on German weapon production, German company Rheinmetall, like other firms in the same situation, used its Swiss subsidiary Solothurn to produce a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun for the Kriegsmarine, the Solothurn ST-5.

The ST-5 was ultimately not adopted by the Wehrmacht, but its design was used for the 20 mm C/30, which was predominantly used on ships and U-boats. This weapon fired the “Long Solothurn” 20 x 138 mm belted cartridge that had been developed for the ST-5 at about 120 rounds per minute.

Rheinmetall soon adapted the C/30 for the German Army, resulting in the FlaK 30, which had a more compact mount and could fire in all directions. However, its comparatively low rate of fire for a weapon of its caliber remained a major weakness.

A FlaK 30 position at a French harbor in 1942. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

A FlaK 30 position at a French harbor in 1942. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

The next iteration, the FlaK 38, saw its rate of fire increased to 220 rounds per minute, and this version was accepted as the standard army anti-aircraft gun in 1939. The Kriegsmarine also used this weapon, labeling it the C/38.

A lighter version, the Gebirgsflak 38, entered service in 1942. This Mauser-built weapon was meant for airborne and mountain troops (its full name literally means “mountain anti-aircraft gun”), and its further simplified mount reduced its weight from 992 pounds (450 kg) to 608 pounds (276 kg).

Because of its low rate of fire, the 20 mm FlaK was constantly at risk of being replaced by a better weapon. One of its main competitors was the 37 mm FlaK, which had the same rate of fire but used a round that was eight times heavier, making it effective at more than twice the range of the 20 mm cartridge (4,800 meters vs. 2,200 meters).

The 20 mm FlaK stayed relevant with the Flakvierling 38, a four-barreled gun mount with a maximum theoretical rate of fire of 1,400 rounds per minute. However, because each cannon only held 20 rounds, the 10-foot-tall (when fully raised) Flakvierling could only fire about 800 rounds per minute, since each magazine was expended in about six seconds.

The Flakvierling gunner aimed manually with two hand wheels and fired the four cannons with two foot pedals, each of which controlled diametrically opposite barrels. The weapon was capable of both semi- and fully-automatic fire.

A quad-barreled FlaKvierling 38 with its seven-man crew. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

A Flakvierling 38 with its seven-man crew. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

In Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the anti-aircraft gun only appears in its single-barreled form and is always a static objective – it’s never seen being used. It also appears to be a FlaK 30, though the C/30 version appears (without an adjustment wheel) on the U-boats in the Trondheim sub pens, including on the U-529.

Lt. Mike Powell first encounters the German Army’s anti-aircraft gun in the bocage after D-Day when one must be destroyed to allow for continued air support. A couple of them are later seen as part of the scenery during Powell’s infiltration of the German command post in France.

It plays its most prominent role during the game’s final mission, when three FlaK 30’s in the forest along the Siegfried Line must be destroyed as Powell makes his way towards Fort Schmerzen.

During this part of the game, the guns are each guarded by two soldiers, and even the FlaK bunker is only manned by three. In reality, it took seven men to crew the 20 mm, though most WWII-era photos I found typically showed four to five men.

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~ by John on December 1, 2014.

One Response to “The 20 mm FlaK and the Flakvierling”

  1. Reblogged this on John Does Stuff and commented:

    If you play video games like me, you’re probably familiar with the terms “buff” and “nerf.” If not, here’s the short version: when parts of the game are improved, they’re “buffed”, and when they’re weakened, they’re “nerfed.”

    The 20 mm FlaK anti-aircraft gun was constantly at risk of becoming obsolete during World War II, mainly due to its low rate of fire for a weapon of its caliber.

    However, it frequently received “buffs” when it needed them most – first a higher rate of fire, and then its transformation into the FlaKvierling, a four-barreled anti-aircraft turret that could pump impressive firepower into the skies.

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