Flakvierling Field Modification on Panzer IV Chassis

These vehicles were the brainchild of Untersturmführer Karl Wilhelm Krause, the C.O. of “HJ’s” Flakzug of II./SS-PzRgt 12 who had the Company Workshop Chief graft a 2 cm Flakvierling Flak 38 onto a Pz.IV G/H hull as a field mod with full support of his superiors.

The new invented Flakpanzer IV “Wirbelwind” which was build following the instructions of SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Heinz Prinz Kommandeur of II./SS-PzRgt 12 and Krause from the Panzerregiment of the Division. The plans for this vehicle were brought to Hitler by Max Wünsche and then it was decided to build it in series.

According to Count von Seherr-Thoss for this conversion the turret of the Pz. Kpfw IV was removed and the Flak was built in the opening of the turret horizontally in the center of the traverse ring of the chassis. To fulfil the conversion the top carriage of the Flak had to be modified, as can be seen later on with the Wirbelwind. The main change was the removal of the gun shield. It was the first attempt to integrate the Flak into a revolving turret. As a result the vehicle was said to have received an armoured turret, comparable to the later Wirbelwind, but in a more primitive way. The exact number of those conversions isn’t known anymore, but probably it could have been up to 3.

One of the gunners of this Zug which consisted of three Panzers, i.e. twelve 2-cm Flak, was Sturmmann Richard Schwarzwälder. He wrote in a report:

On 14 June 1944, when you were being chased by a fighter-bomber, I already had downed seven aircraft and been awarded the Iron Cross II. I had a total of fourteen kills … At the start of the invasion it was still easy to shoot them down, the guys were flying low and were inexperienced. However, this was to change soon.

Schwarzwälder was wounded during the Ardennes offensive on 15 January 1945 in the Eifel mountain range. His right upper arm had to be amputated.

There’s a shot of one on p.83 of Schiffer’s “The 12th SS Panzer Division HJ” by Herbert Walther who claims it allegedly “shot down 27 aircraft and gave good support during armoured attacks”. Apparently Hitler was so inspired by its success he ordered all armoured units to be equipped with such a vehicle (ie. what was to become the “Wirbelwind”), as quickly as possible.

It’s also seen in a few other sources – and is a front/LHS 3/4 view with the guns at about 10 degrees elevation, 6 crewmen visible and with some foliage hanging off it.

It does appear from some photos that the gun is perhaps sitting down on the fighting compartment floor due to its low overall height above the hull top.

The only photo I’ve seen of it or the other 2 done by “HJ” for that matter, note it has the old style flat spoke drive sprockets. and notched smooth tread bar tracks, so its more likely to be on a late Ausf. G hull.

The caption in Hiemdal’s “HJ” album on p.224 dates it around 14 June 1944 as the author Hubert Meyer’s vehicle, and says the idea for the Wirbelwind sprang from this vehicle created by the 12.SS under Max Wunsche.

The SS.Pz.Rgt.12. had the “standard” 1944 organization, ie.:

The I. Abteilung was equipped with Panthers (Kompanies 1-4) and the II. Abteilung with Panzer IVs. (Kompanies 5-9) – [ie. each Battalion(Abt.) having 4 and 5 Kompanies respectively]

Together with the tanks belonging to the Battalion and Regiment staffs, this gave a total of 79 Panthers and 101 Panzer IVs (3 of which were field converted to “Wirbelwinds”, thus back to 98 ‘gun tanks’).

Authorized strength was:

17 tanks per the 4 Kompanies in I. Abteilung (= 68 total + 11 Staff = 79or), and;

17 per the 5 Kompanies in II. Abteilung (= 85 total + 16 staff = 101 – 3 Wirbelwinds = 13 staff and 98or) [vs. the expected 22 x 4 Kompanies (=88 total + 13 staff = 101 -3 = 10 staff and 98or).

Previous Experimental Development

2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV

Krupp was informed that the Panzertruppen urgently needed Flakpanzers to escort the Panzers. At the request of Dipl. Ing. Klein of L Flak 4 on 2 September 1942, Krupp began to design a leichte Flak auf gepanzerter Sfl. (light anti-aircraft gun on interim solution, a 2 cm Flakvierling was to be armored self-propelled chassis) based on automotive-mounted on a normal Pz. Kpfw. IV chassis with eight components from the Pz. Kpfw.”Luchs” and mounting either the 2 cm Flakvierling or the 3.7 cm Flak 36. On 1 October 1942, both the VK 13.05 (Luchs) and the VK 16.02 (Leopard) were to be considered as the basis for the Versuchsflakwagen Leichte (VFW L light experimental anti-aircraft tank).  Due to the Pz. Kpfw.”Leopard” being canceled, a decision was made on 20 January 1943 to use automotive components from the Pz. Kpfw. IV for the VFW L.

On 22 February 1943 Krupp was asked to mount various Flak guns (including the 2 cm Flakvierling, 3.7 cm Flak 36 and 43, and 5 cm Flak 41) on a flat platform with double-walled (2×10 mm) December 1943, a decision was made to continue folding sides. The chassis with 500 mm wide Kgs 61/500/130 tracks and six steel-tired rubber-cushioned roadwheels per side was hardly recognizable as belonging to the Pz. Kpfw. IV family.

In meetings held from 29 May to 1 June 1943, Krupp was informed that the Panzertruppen urgently needed Flakpanzers to escort the Panzers. As an interim solution, s 2 cm Flakvierling was to be mounted on a normal  Pz Kpfw. IV chassis with eight 470 mm diameter rubber-tired roadwheels per side. Krupp was awarded contract DE 0084/6307/43 by the Luftwaffe to design the superstructure with double-walled (2×12 mm) folding sides.

The single experimental 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Pz. Kpfw. IV was completed on schedule at the end of September 1943 and shown to General Guderian at Kummersdorf on 16 October 1943. Guderian stated that this Flakpanzer represented his demands and ordered series production to start at 20 per month in April 1944

At a meeting of the Panzerkommision on 21 development of a 3.7 cm Flak 43 on the Pz. Kpfw. IV chassis instead of the 2 cm Flakvierling. Series production of the 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fgst. Pz Kpfw. IV was canceled. The single experimental chassis was converted to mount a 3.7 cm Flak 43.

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