8.8cm serving with user nations other than Germany

The 8.8cm FlaK 18s on parade in this photograph are believed to be part of the batch sold to Argentina in 1938. The tractors are either Pavesi or Fiat/Spa models. 

American gunners emplacing a suitably marked captured 8.8cm PaK 43 for use against its former owners.

During the Second World War 88s served with several user nations other than Germany. Between 1936 and 1945 it was felt necessary to hand out or sell 88s to various nations that were either allied to or sympathetic to Germany’s war aims, despite the ever-increasing need to equip the German armed forces with as many anti-aircraft guns as could be manufactured.

One of the very first transfers of 88s came with the sale of a batch of about eighteen 8.8cm FlaK 18s to Argentina. This was a commercial sale negotiated directly with Krupp AG, which delivered the guns to Buenos Aires in about 1938. Once in Argentina, the guns defended the national capital for many years up to and after 1945 but apparently never fired a shot in anger.

Another pre-1939 transfer involved the guns taken to Spain by the German Condor Legion of ‘volunteers’ fighting alongside the Nationalists during the civil war. They initially took with them four four-gun batteries of 8.8cm FlaK 18s and a fifth battery arrived soon after to form what became known as the FlaK Abteilung 88, or F/88. Contrary to general belief these German-held guns were retained primarily for the air-defence role and rarely fired at ground targets.

More 88s arrived for issue direct to the Spanish Nationalists as the war progressed. It was the Nationalists, always short of up-to-date artillery, who pioneered the use of the 88 against ground targets – German observers duly made note of the fact and reported back to Berlin accordingly. When the Germans left Spain in 1939 they left all their guns in Spain to be adopted as one of the mainstays of Spain’s air defences. By 1945 their numbers, including 88 examples of the FlaK 36, had grown to 140. More were to be added later (see below).

Once Italy entered the war alongside Germany in 1941 it was found necessary to pass large amounts of German war materiel to their new combat ally since the equipment levels of the Italian armed forces were dangerously low and often of poor quality. This particularly applied to anti-aircraft guns for although the Italians already had a gun as good as the German 88 in production, they did not have enough of them and their ability to manufacture more was limited. The Italian gun was the Ansaldo Cannone da 90/53 CA, which was ordered into series production in 1939 but by mid-1943 only 539 had been delivered in static, towed, armoured vehicle and truck-borne forms. Once in service the guns were added to the array of somewhat ancient and varied guns already in the Italian anti-aircraft gun inventory and some were diverted to coast-defence duties. While numbers of Cannone da 90/53 CA did see field service in North Africa, the Germans saw fit to eke out their numbers by handing over a number of 88s to the Italians, who took them over as the Cannone da 88/56 CA modello 18-36. The exact number is not known but all remaining examples still in Italy reverted to German ownership after the Italian armistice of July 1943.

Once the German take-over of Czecho-Slovakia was completed during 1939 the new state of Slovakia came into being already aligned with Germany. The new state assumed their share of the old Czecho-Slovak military inventory, the heavy anti-aircraft gun park being largely made up of Škoda 8.35 cm kanon PL vzor 22/24 pieces from a previous design generation. As the Slovak Army was assigned to duties in support of Operation Barbarossa, the Germans decided to hand over 24 8.8cm FlaK 36 and 37 guns (along with a wide array of other military equipment), the first 4 of them arriving during March 1941, together with the first batches of what would become a total of 17,280 rounds of ammunition. By March 1944 the outstanding twenty guns, all of them /2 carriage static guns, had been added to the original four. Most of these guns were retained for home defence, and served on with the restored Czecho-Slovakian state after 1945.

Finland had a somewhat confusing war posture between 1939 and 1945, at times being allied with Germany and at other times being hostile. In 1941 Finland was on the side of Germany because of their desire to redress their defeat and loss of territory following the 1939–1940 Winter War with the Soviet Union. Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union gave Finland the opportunity to participate in what they termed their Continuation War. Over the years the Finnish air-defence arm had managed to accumulate a motley collection of anti-aircraft guns from all over Europe. During 1943 these were supplemented when the Finnish state purchased 18 towed 8.8cm FlaK 37 guns from Germany to equip 3 6-gun, anti-aircraft batteries defending Helsinki. These three batteries were controlled by three imported Kommandogerät 40 fire-control predictors, known locally as the Lambda.

A further seventy-two FlaK 37s were acquired during 1944, this time on /2 static mountings. Of these, 36 guns were assigned to the defence of Helsinki, with Kotka, Tampere and Turku each receiving 2 6-gun batteries. There was also a twelve-gun battery at Kaivopuisto, another part of the defences of Helsinki. All these guns served on until well after 1945. The Finns knew their guns as the 88mm: n ilmatorjuntakanuuna vuodelta 1937 mallia Rheinmetall-Borsig (ItK/37 RMB), for some reason allocating their provenance to Rheinmetall-Borsig (although reference has been found to an alternative RT).

Perhaps the most unusual end-users of the 88 during the war years were the Allies. By late 1944 the Allied land forces in Europe had advanced so far from their cross-Channel supply resources that front-line supply stocks often ran dangerously low during bad weather or when shortages of transport arose. Those supplies included artillery ammunition so it became a common expedient for front-line units to turn the considerable quantities of captured artillery equipments against their former owners and use up any available stocks of captured ammunition.

Both British and American batteries employed such measures, the US Army going as far as forming ‘Z Batteries’, specifically to utilise captured artillery and ammunition, within their field artillery battalions. At one stage, in November 1944, the US First Army’s 32nd Field Artillery Brigade created two provisional battalions that were fully equipped with captured German artillery equipments. Included in the captured haul were 8.8cm FlaK and PaK guns, 10.5cm and 15cm field howitzers and French 155mm GPF guns previously adopted by the Germans. This impressment of captured 88s by the Allies was a battlefield expedient that usually lasted only as long as the captured ammunition stocks lasted. However, as early as June 1943 the US Army did go to the extent of preparing and issuing a service manual for the 8.8cm FlaK 36 (TM E9-369A) following extensive technical studies carried out on equipments captured in Tunisia.

Post 1945

Once the Second World War was over most German 88s were either scrapped or relegated to being war trophies or museum pieces. Yet some European nations, having inherited heaps of weapons once the German armed forces had left the countries they had formerly occupied, decided to arm their newly emergent armed forces with German weapons, at least until something better could be obtained (usually via American military aid). These weapons included the 8.8cm FlaK 18/36/37 series – no PaK 43 series weapons seem to have been adopted by any nation after 1945, although many of their technical innovations were studied and often utilised.

Numerous nations fell into this category. This included Norway, which took over no less than 360 88s out of a total of 505 left behind when the Germans departed, the balance being mostly scrapped before the Allies decided that they might be useful to defend post-war Norway. The Luftwaffe had organised these guns into four FlaK Brigades headquartered at Oslo (173 guns), Stavanger (86 guns), Vaernes (86 guns) and Tromsø (158 guns). Some of the guns involved had a dual air-defence/coast-defence role and where possible the Norwegians simply took over the existing installations.

The Norwegian total of 360 guns included 141 towed FlaK 36, plus 15 in static installations. There were also 55 towed FlaK 37s and 139 static. These guns served on until the early 1950s when they began to be supplemented and then replaced in the air-defence role by numbers of American 90mm Gun M1A1 and M2s. Even then the 88s soldiered on because in 1957 125 88mm guns were transferred to the coast artillery. In this role they lasted only until the mid-1960s when they were withdrawn as part of a policy to limit Norwegian coast-artillery equipments to those with calibres of 105mm, 127mm and 150mm (all former German naval guns) to ease the training and logistic situation. Norway investigated the adoption of the 8.8cm PaK 43/41 (possibly for employment as a coast-defence gun) but it does not appear to have been accepted for their service.

Other post-war user nations included Yugoslavia, where some guns were assigned to coast defence installed in specially constructed concrete bunkers having overhead protection. Another post-1945 user was Czecho-Slovakia, which took in any remaining FlaK 41s in addition to the other FlaK models; all were eventually replaced by Soviet equipments. A few Yugoslav 88s reportedly survived to see limited action during the Balkan Troubles of the 1990s.

France also adopted 88s abandoned once the Germans had left France, sending numbers of FlaK guns to be used in their post-war Indo-China campaigns along with an array of ex-Second World War (and even First World War) artillery relics, including former Japanese artillery pieces. The French 88s had nothing to do with air defence once they got to Indo-China as the local opposition did not have any aircraft assets, so the guns were employed in the direct- or indirect-fire artillery role. As such they were probably the last 88s to take part in a full-scale, live shooting war.

Other nations adopted the 88 as a long-term measure, one of them being Finland. By 1945 that nation had accumulated numerous types of anti-aircraft gun but they regarded the ninety FlaK 37s they had acquired during 1943 and 1944 as the best in their inventory. The guns emplaced around various Finnish cities were retained until 1969 as air-defence weapons (the last personnel assigned to them were trained during 1967) and even then their service careers continued. The guns were passed to the Coast Artillery arm where they soldiered on until the end of the twentieth century. At first they were installed as mobile, low-trajectory coast-defence weapons but gradually they were relegated to training duties and eventually to simply firing during exercises to conserve ammunition that would otherwise have been fired by more modern weapons, a role an ever-decreasing number of 88s is still performing to this day. Many guns are still held in storage as reserve weapons, although their possible utility as such seems more unlikely as the years progress. Ammunition for these guns was manufactured locally by the concern that, after several name changes, became Patria Vammas.

Perhaps the most involved user nation of the 88 after 1945 was Spain. By 1945 the numbers of FlaK 18 and 36 guns sent to Spain, in attempts to keep Spain’s General Franco at least sympathetic to the Germany cause, had reached 140. An additional ploy to keep Spain on the German side was to offer manufacturing licences for various German weapon designs, among them being the 8.8cm FlaK 18. Licence negotiations commenced as early as May 1941 but it took time to establish the required manufacturing facilities, not the least difficulty being obtaining the necessary raw materials and machine tools at a time when Europe was at war.

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