Flakpanzer 38(t) auf Selbstfahrlafette 38(t) Ausf M (Sd Kfz 140)
During the autumn of 1943, Hitler approved the development of a 3.7cm Flakpanzer IV, but refused permission for the construction of the already available 2cm Vierlings FlaK auf pz Kpfw IV (2cm Quadruple AA Mounting on AFV IV). On 15 October 1943, because of the urgent need for a Flakpanzer, Hitler agreed to a makeshift solution which could be produced immediately on the basis of the Selbstfahrlafette 38(t). 150 Flakpanzer 38(t) were ordered, and were to be produced until the heavier Flakpanzer IV became available early in 1944. This vehicle was demonstrated to Hitler on 16 December 1943. Lack of firepower was a major drawback. The last ten vehicles of the order were used for the production of 15cm s1G33/2 Sf. 2cm FlaK38 with all-round traverse was mounted in the rear fighting compartment. A new superstructure was provided, the upper part of which could be folded down to allow easier access to the weapon and permit traverse at low elevation.
The threat of aerial attack during World War II was constant, but for the Germans, the danger increased steadily during the course of the war as the once-powerful Luftwaffe lost control of the skies. Long-ranging and heavily armed Allied fighters could wreak havoc on German armored formations long before their tank guns were useful, and even the heaviest armor was of little use against 250- and 500-pound bombs.
Not surprisingly, then, the German military sought to equip their units with specialized antiaircraft, or FlaK, vehicles. FlaK is derived from Flugzeugabwehrkanone, or aircraft defense cannon.
Initially, these vehicles were based on soft-skinned half-tracks, but in time the increased mobility offered by fully tracked vehicles led to the introduction of the Flakpanzers, or antiaircraft tanks.
The need to counter Allied air power, especially close air support which in 1943 destroyed many of the 9,357 AFVs lost by German armed forces (losses in 1942 were 3,301), highlighted the need for a Panzer Regiment equipped with a suitable armoured, fully tracked anti-aircraft vehicle. Once more, production of the Panzers took priority and in October 1943 Hitler halted the development of a PzKpfw IV chassis-based Flakpanzer, preferring instead that based on the chassis of the PzKpfw 38 (t). The result was the 20mm Flak 38-armed Flakpanzer 38 (SdKfz 140), which dramatically lacked firepower; 87 examples were produced in 1943 and 54 in 1944. Production of the first, real Flakpanzer on the PzKpfw IV chassis (the most suitable for carrying heavier weapons) started only in July 1944; the first attempt was the Flakpanzer IV ‘Mobelwagen’, at first equipped with the 20mm, four-barrelled Flakvierling 38/1 and subsequently armed with the 37mm Flak 43. Since this solution proved unsatisfactory, a new 20mm, four-barrelled Flakvierling 38/1 on a turret mount- equipped Flakpanzer IV ‘Wirbelwind’ was made by conversion of the PzKpfw IV tank bodies sent back for refitting. This too was undergunned, and so the 37mm Flak 43-armed ‘Ostwind’ version was subsequently produced. Production was always limited, with 205 examples of the ‘Mobelwagen’ in 1944 plus 35 more in 1945, 100 examples of the ‘Wirbelwind’ in 1944 plus 6 others in 1945, and 15 examples of the ‘Ostwind’ produced in 1944, plus 28 in 1945. The low rates of production seems to have luckily matched the low rate of losses; only 91 Flakpanzer of all types were lost in 1944 plus another 22 in January 1945. On 15 March 1945 there were still 159 Flakpanzer in service – 97 on the Eastern Front, 41 on the Western Front and 21 in Italy.
2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV
In May 1943, it was requested that Krupp develop a Flakpanzer featuring a quadruple 2 cm antiaircraft gun (Flakvierling) mounted on a Panzer IV chassis. This vehicle was to be issued to Panzer units operating the Panzer IV in order to provide organic antiaircraft protection from a vehicle with parts commonality with the units’ tanks.
The vehicle’s superstructure would consist of an open-top box with hinged double-wall sides of 12 mm armor. The sides were engineered such that crewmen on the inside could lower the sides, allowing the FlaK gun a 360-degree traverse as well as permitting it to engage ground targets.
The pilot vehicle was completed in September 1943, ahead of schedule. The vehicle was driven six and a half hours to Kummersdorf for testing, which was uneventful.
General Guderian was satisfied that the vehicle met the requirements of the Panzer troops, and in October series production was scheduled to begin in April 1944 at a pace of twenty per month.
However, in December 1943, the Panzerkommission decided to abandon this vehicle and instead pursue development of a vehicle armed with the 3.7 cm FlaK 43. The planned series production was canceled, and the single trial 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV was rearmed with a 3.7 cm FlaK 43.
3.7cm Flak auf Fahrgestell Pz.Kpfw IV (sf) (Sd.Kfz. 161/3) Möbelwagen – late
Note the armored plates with flat profile – late version
Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV “Möbelwagen”
The decision that was made to abandon the quad 20 mm mount Flakpanzerkampfwagen in favor of a single 3.7 cm mount appears to have originated with Hitler himself.
In a January 1944 meeting the decision was announced that per a demand from Hitler, the interim Flakpanzer was to be armed not with the 2 cm quad mount, but rather with the 3.7 cm FlaK 43.
In order to expedite development, the 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV was modified to become the pilot for the new vehicle.
The quad mount was removed, as was its leveling frame, and in its place the 3.7 cm FlaK installed. The mount chosen was the standard 3.7 cm FlaK 43, with a shortened right-side gun shield and other minor modifications. By shortening the right-side gun shield, it became possible for the mount to traverse 360 degrees even without lowering the sides of the vehicle.
The folding sides of the vehicle had been modified when the vehicle was rearmed. Those sides had been shortened by 250 mm.
Per their February contract, Deutsche Eisenwerke AG Werk Stahlindustrie began production of one hundred of the new vehicles on chassis provided by Krupp-Grusonwerk and superstructure from Krupp-Essen, with the initial delivery being in March 1944. Production was to be at the rate of twenty per month.
The first forty-five vehicles had double wall folding platforms, first of 12 mm and later of 10 mm plate. After these were completed, the balance of the 240 Möbelwagens constructed had superstructure sides made of single-thickness 25 mm plates. The 25 mm-thick folding platforms were manufactured by a new contractor, Deutsche Rohrenwerke.
Troops dubbed the new vehicle “Möbelwagen” as its slab sides resembled those of a moving van. The Möbelwagen began to be issued to troops for training in April 1944, and was sent into combat in June.
While the Möbelwagen had from the outset been intended as an interim vehicles, delays in production of the Ostwind meant that additional production contracts for the Möbelwagen were issued. By the time Möbelwagen production ended in April 1945, 243 units had been produced.
Flakpanzer IV/3.7cm FlaK Ostwind I
From March 1944 the “leichte Flakpanzer (light AA tank) mit 3.7 cm Flak 43 auf Pz Kw IV Ausf J”, known as “Ostwind’; (East Wind), was produced by Deutsche Eisenwerke. As in the Whirlwind the crew was now housed in a strongly armoured (25mm all round) rotating turret. The combat weight with a seven-man crew and 416 rounds of ammunition was 25 tons. Forty of these vehicles were built. The Ostwind was also capable of engaging ground targets and served with the AA platoons of Panzer divisions until the end of the war. As with the other Flakpanzers this open-topped relatively tall vehicle was only an expedient.
On 18 August 1944, an order for 100 Ostwind (east wind) was placed, after successful trials had been held in July. Replacing the Wirbelwind, Ostwind I provided the Panzer troops with the more effective 3.7cm FlaK43. Both Ostwind I and the Möbelwagen were to be replaced by Kugelblitz, but because of delays, only two Kugelblitz were produced, and seven of the chassis were used to produce Ostwind I. While the Wirbelwind was built upon unchanged Panzer IV repair chassis, the Ostwind was built upon a changed superstructure of the Panzer IV which was built especially for the Ostwind.
For the Ostwind only factory fresh vehicles were used, except for the prototype. A six-sided open-topped turret was mounted, in place of the normal turret, on converted Pz Kpfw IV chassis. The turret could be traversed 360° to bring fast, effective fire on air or ground targets. Issued to the Flugabwehrzug (AA platoons) of Panzer regiments in Panzer divisions. Even Count von Seherr-Thoss, the designer of the Ostwind, doesn’t know exactly how many Ostwind were produced (although it probably was in the range of about 30 vehicles). We do know that some test vehicles saw troop trials in September 1944, but by the end of that year the production facilities were being moved constantly to keep them one step ahead of the Allied advance. Ostwind production Jentz (Panzer Tracts 12) refers to a 1st April 1945 report that six vehicles (completed March 1945), intended for Fla-Pz.Kp.z.b.V., were available for issue at Bielefld but does not say whether they were actually issued, let alone saw combat. Terlisten (Nuts & Bolts 13) gives the figure as seven but is also unclear on which unit received them. He does mention the production facility moving to Teplitz-Schoenau in January 1945 and speculates that if they did see action, it is likely that they did so on the Ostfront in this area. Seven Ostwind were produced in March 1945. s. Pz abt. 507 had some Ostwinds in 1945.
The only information I know so far is that sPzAbt. 507 received a few or at least one of them at the end of the war. But at that time they haven’t been a sPzAbt. anymore, but were reorganized to a PzJgAbt, if I remember correctly. There is one photo taken at Nove Benatky, which probably shows one of them. Possibly at that time they might have been part of KG Milowice. The Ostwind destroyed in Nove Beatky belonged to the Kgr. Milowitz indeed. This Kgr. was made up from the garrison of the Military area Milovice and trainees and instructors of a Panzerjaegerchule which was located there. Personal of sPzAbt 507 (redesignated into PzAbt 507) was among them too.
Flakpanzer IV/ 2cm FlaK Wirbelwind
Karl Heinz Prinz, the Kommandeur of II./SS-PzRgt 12. and Karl Wilhelm Krause from the Flakzug of II./SS-PzRgt 12, who invented FlaK-Panzer IV “Wirbelwind”. The plans for this vehicle were brought to Hitler by Max Wünsche and then it was decided to build it in series.
The design for an open-topped, nine-sided turret to house the Flakvierling was completed by June 7, 1944.
The Wirbelwind was developed as a mount for anti-aircraft guns on Pz Kpfw IV chassis which had been returned from the front for major overhaul. They were intended to supplement production of the Möbelwagen.
Interestingly, to produce the vehicle, the army did not turn to industry, but rather set up their own shop to produce the Flakpanzers Located in Schlesien and known as the Kommando Ostbau-Sagan, the facility would produce the vehicles utilizing rebuilt Panzer IV chassis and the new specialized turrets, which were produced by Deutsche-Rohrenwerk.
The turret was removed from normal Pz Kpfw IV and replaced by an open-topped turret, in which the Flakvierling 38 was mounted. Some vehicles had only 50mm frontal armour since early Ausf F to G were converted for use as the chassis.
A further advantage offered by the Wirbelwind was the protected position of the crew. The Möbelwagen crew was totally exposed to ground and strafing fire when in firing order, while the Wirbelwind’s crew was protected from small-arms fire as well as shell fragments from all sides except directly above. Beginning in September 1944, four Wirbelwind (as well as four Möbelwagen) were issued to Flakpanzer platoon.
In the autumn of 1944, production of the Wirbelwind ceased, since the 2cm Flakvierling was not proving so effective as the 3.7cm FlaK.
Inventor of the Flakpanzer
Karl Wilhelm Krause: He was a SS-Hauptscharfuehrer and later SS-Untersturmfuehrer in SS-Panzer Regiment 12. He had the idea for mounting the Flakvierling 38 (four barrelled 20mm antiaircraft gun) onto a Panzer IV chassis. He presented the idea to his regimental commander Max Wünsche, and Wünsche showed Hitler the plans when the two celebrated their mutual birthday on April 20, 1944. Hitler then ordered the design to be mass produced, making Krause the inventor of the Wirbelwind Flakpanzer. It was with his homemade prototypes of this vehicle that Krause achieved his success against Allied aircraft.
“Kugelblitz” Leichter Flakpanzer IV mit 3 cm Mk 103 als Zwiling Waffe
By January 1944, the Allies had achieved air superiority, and the need for a Flakpanzer capable of delivering a high rate of accurate antiaircraft fire was reaching desperate proportions.
As an interim solution, it was proposed to mount the 3 cm FlaK gun with turret, originally developed for use on U-boats, on an unmodified Panzer IV chassis.
Further investigation showed that this was impractical, but, with the concept still appealing, Daimler-Benz was contracted to design a similar new turret as well as the alterations to the Panzer IV chassis necessary to accommodate it.
The new turret, which somewhat resembled an oversized aircraft ball turret, mounted twin 3 cm M103 belt-fed aircraft autocannons.
The new turret required a larger turret ring, and accordingly a Tiger I turret ring was incorporated in the chassis, which required relocating the driver’s and radio operator’s hatches.
In June 1944 three hundred of the vehicles, which were named Kugelblitz, were ordered, with Krupp to produce the chassis and Deutsche Roehrenwerke the superstructure. The first five vehicles were scheduled to be assembled by Stahlindustrie in September 1944, with production to ramp up thereafter.
As was the case with many of Germany’s armament programs, and in September when the first vehicles were to be rolling off the production line, instead there was a meeting which forecast that the first two vehicles would not be completed until October. Those two would be built by Daimler-Benz, with Stahlindustrie beginning production the next month.
Further delays led to the estimate of initial Stahlindustrie production to be changed again, to February 1945.
As Germany came to its knees, in February 1945 the decision was made to move Kubelblitz production to Kommando Ostbau. Records indicate that two of the vehicles were actually produced in March.