While barrels for small artillery pieces were easily cast as early as the 13th century, most larger cannon and the great bombards were constructed by the hoop-and-stave method. It was not until improved casting techniques and mature foundries were developed that large barrels could be made as single pieces of cast metal, first in iron and bronze, and later still in brass. By c. 1550 cast barrels of muzzle-loaders were cooled as a single, solid piece, after which the bore was reamed and a touch-hole drilled. Iron cannonballs were also being cast from greased, clay molds. Women from among the camp followers were frequently employed as laborers to dig the pit in which the mold was cast, gather faggots for the casting fire, dig out the gun after the metal cooled, and drag it to its siege site or for emplacement on the walls of a nearby castle or fort. During the 17th century Jesuit priests taught Chinese gunsmiths and generals up-to-date Western casting methods. English gunsmiths worked with local forges in India, and Dutch traders and governors brought the new technology to the Spice Islands, where guns of varying caliber were cast in local forges for use in Dutch fortifications and ships. Late medieval and early modern artillery varied greatly in size, caliber, and utility, but over time certain locales gained reputations as centers of quality gun manufacture. Permanent, large-scale foundries were set up and an international trade in cannon, it must be said, boomed. Northern Italy, Flanders, and Nuremberg were known for casting the best bronze guns. England and Sweden grew famous for casting cheap iron cannon in very large numbers that were nonetheless of excellent quality.

As cannon grew in importance in land and sea warfare in the mid-16th century the Spanish crown set up arsenals and foundries at Medina del Campo, Malaga, and Barcelona, and another at Seville in 1611. However, Spain lacked the skilled labor to meet its foundry needs-partly because its economy stagnated after expelling the Jews and Moors-and so remained dependent on additional purchases from the cannon markets of Flanders, Italy, and Germany. This lack of foresight and strategic planning cost Spain dearly as the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) led to an acute crisis in armaments that was compounded by war with Elizabethan England and later also with France. This lack of cannon hamstrung Spanish armies and fleets. Due to shortage of skilled labor, Spain’s foundry at Seville barely produced three dozen average caliber guns per year during the first half of the 17th century. In contrast, England, the Netherlands, and Sweden each had multiple foundries that cast 100-200 cannon per year. Spain was cut off from these northern markets by its wars with England and the Dutch rebels, although merchants in England sometimes sold to Spain in evasion of royal bans on exporting cannon outside the realm. Portugal also failed to develop a serious cannon production capability. Its chronic shortage of cannon for ships and fortified bases overseas was a significant factor in the loss of empire in Asia to the better armed Dutch and English in the 16th-17th centuries.

During the 15th and 16th centuries German foundries cast guns for use in Italy, by Spanish armies, and in the Netherlands. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) created a huge domestic demand for cannon, but so disrupted the metals trade and skilled labor markets that German production declined. English, Dutch, and Swedish guns were imported and dominated that war. German cannon foundries recovered quickly after 1648, however, and soon challenged England and Sweden in international gun exports.

Netherlands foundries supplied the Dutch army’s growing need for artillery, which was driven by its prolonged war with Spain, its ultimately very large blue water as well as coastal navy, and the huge requirements of fortifying border towns as well as a growing overseas empire. The Netherlands also became a major exporter of first-rate artillery pieces of all calibers. This was not the case at first. The Dutch rebellion cut off the northern provinces from the industries of southern Flanders and the important metals market of Antwerp, which the Spanish still occupied. Over much of the last four decades of the 16th century, until foundries were built north of the rivers and skilled labor imported or trained, the Dutch imported cast iron cannon from England that were happily supplied by Elizabeth I to a Protestant ally against Spain. By 1600, Dutch foundries were so efficient they met domestic needs and began exporting ordnance to other European markets. Eventually, the Dutch set up a system whereby bronze ordnance was cast at home while iron cannon were cast in Dutch-owned foundries in Germany and at overseas bases. In Asia, the Dutch cast bronze cannon in Batavia for local use using “red copper” from Japan, but cast iron cannon wherein sufficient ore was available and nearby forests provided charcoal fuel.

Sweden and Russia were late starters in the foundry business. Both had great natural advantages-large deposits of iron, copper, and tin, and rich and abundant forests to produce charcoal for the blast furnaces of their great foundries-but only Sweden took full advantage in the 16th and 17th centuries to catch up to the rest of Europe, once social and military-cultural inhibitions to the adoption of gunpowder weapons were overcome. In Sweden the crown played a central role in encouraging casting of guns. Wrought-iron cannon were made from the 1530s; casting of bronze ordnance began in the 1560s; cast iron foundries overtook the older method of making iron cannon after 1580. By the time of Gustavus Adolphus, Swedish foundries were among the world’s best. Using both local labor and imported “Walloons” (gunsmiths from the Low Countries), Sweden emerged as a leading maker and exporter of cast guns in the 17th century. Tolerance of imported Catholic master gunsmiths in Sweden contrasted sharply with Spain, where Protestant gunsmiths eventually refused to work because they were not exempted from torments and execution by the Inquisition. The Dutch brought iron casting techniques to Russia, establishing a foundry at Tula in the 1630s. As skilled labor did not exist in Russia at that time, gunsmiths were imported from the Low Countries and Sweden, while unskilled peasants hewed the forests and worked the charcoal pits. Despite foreign aid, Russia remained a minor power in terms of both gun casting and artillery deployment until the great military reforms of Peter the Great around the turn of the 18th century.

English gun casting declined in the 17th century as the countryside was badly stripped of forests to feed the blast furnaces of the foundries and the shipbuilding industry. England’s long continental peace also sapped innovation and profit from its military industries. France similarly went into decline after an early lead in gun design and manufacture. The great French siege trains of the early Italian Wars (1494-1559) were no longer seen in the 17th century, as royal armies declined and skilled workers left for better-paying markets or to escape religious persecution of the French Civil Wars (1562- 1629), during which Frenchmen killed each other mainly with imported cannon. This situation was not reversed until Richelieu reestablished the French cannon industry to meet the demands of the Thirty Years’ War on land, and of a vastly expanded French navy.

Suggested Reading: Carlo Cipolla, Guns, Sails, and Empires (1965).


420mm L/14 “Big Bertha”



Austria and Germany were particularly prolific in manufacturing such massive weapons. Owing to the design and production capabilities of the Krupp facilities, Germany produced the most famous heavy weapons of the war. During the 1890s, Krupp began a program to produce a heavy howitzer capable of destroying the massive concrete fortifications then being constructed in Belgium and France. “Alpha,” the first of a series of prototypes, was a 204mm weapon; it was followed in 1900 by the 305mm “Beta.” Completed in 1911, the 420mm “Gamma” H was the culmination of the firm’s program; weighing 175 tons, it required dismantling for transport on ten railroad cars and fired a 2,535-pound shell up to 8.8 miles. By 1914 the Gamma series had evolved into the more mobile Gamma M, also known as the “Big Bertha” gun.

Popularly named after Alfred Krupp’s daughter, the 41.3-ton, 420mm “Big Bertha” had a horizontal sliding block and fired a 1,719-pound shell up to 10,253 yards. Big Bertha required five tractors to transport its components, and it had to be assembled on site. In conjunction with a number of Austrian Skoda 305mm howitzers, the L/14 was first used with devastating effect against Liège in August 1914; it saw other action on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Owing to its relatively short range and vulnerability to Allied fire, Big Bertha was obsolete by 1917. Another heavy piece, the 211mm Mörser was adopted in 1916. It weighed 14,727 pounds and fired a 250-pound shell up to 12,139 yards.

420mm L/14 “Big Bertha”

Adoption date: 1914

Caliber: 420mm

Weight: 41.3 tons

Breech: horizontal sliding block

Barrel length: 231 inches

Elevation: 70°

Traversal: 360°

Projectile weight: 1,719 pounds

Muzzle velocity: 2,676.5 fps

Maximum range: 10,253 yards



Fall Of Constantinople – Ottoman Superguns






Ottoman superguns

It is not without some irony that bombards, all but abandoned as obsolete by most European powers by 1453, played a critical role that year in the fall of Constantinople, the last Christian stronghold in the East. For centuries the Byzantine capital’s great walls and defenders had repulsed invaders, including an earlier 1422 attempt by Sultan Murad II (r. 1421–1451). Although Murad had employed bombards against the city, they were rather ineffective, and he subsequently withdrew. His successor, however, Mohammad II, sometimes known as Mehmed II (b. 1432; r. 1444–1446, 1451– 1481), and also known as Muhammad the Conqueror, possessed an innate appreciation for artillery and its use in siege craft.

Muhammad, lacking technical experts among his own subjects, subsequently obtained the services of Christian gun founders to design and build cannons especially suited for the siege. Among these was reportedly a famed Hungarian cannon maker known as Urban. Urban (or Orban) had previously been hired by the Byzantines but had deserted their cause after they failed to meet his fees. Muhammad, unlike the Byzantines, appreciated Urban’s considerable, although mercenary, talents and “welcomed him with open arms, treated him honorably and provided him with food and clothing; and then he gave him an allowance so generous, that a quarter of the sum would have sufficed to keep him in Constantinople” (De Vries, X 356).

Urban quickly established a gun foundry at Adrianople where he oversaw the casting of both a number of large iron and bronze guns. These included at least one huge bombard of cast iron reinforced with iron hoops and with a removable, screw-on breech. Typical of such large breechloading cannons, the gun was fitted with slots around the breech’s circumference to accept stout wooden beams. For loading and unloading, these beams were inserted in the slots to act as a capstan and provide the leverage to unscrew the heavy powder chamber. Weighing more than 19 tons, the gun was capable of firing stone balls weighing from approximately 800 to 875 pounds. The sheer size of the bombard, known as Basilica, required forty-two days and a team of sixty oxen and a thousand men to traverse the 120 miles to its firing site at Constantinople.

Muhammad began preparations for the siege in February and ordered the positioning of fourteen artillery batteries around the city. As a further preparation, he ordered his navy, also equipped with artillery, to cut Constantinople off from the sea. For his part, the Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI (b. 1409; r. 1449–1453), did possess some artillery, but it was for the most part obsolete and numerically insufficient to reply to Muhammad’s forces. The Byzantines had long lost the technological superiority they had held in previous centuries, and they soon found themselves reckoning with their shortsightedness in snubbing Urban the Hungarian.

Muhammad began the bombardment of the city on 6 April 1453. With a keen eye for the city’s weaknesses, he concentrated his guns against its most vulnerable points, including the Gate of St. Romanus, where they affected a breach on 11 April. His success was short lived, however, as the defenders counterattacked and repaired the damage. Muhammad also faced other setbacks when Urban was killed when a cannon he was supervising exploded, and when his giant bombard cracked after a few days of firing, necessitating repairs. The sultan, however, proved his own resourcefulness in the use of artillery and made much better use of his smaller guns—weapons that were capable of a much higher rate of fire than Basilica’s three rounds a day and were also more maneuverable. These included eleven bombards capable of firing 500-pound shot and fifty guns firing 200-pound balls.

The Ottoman barrage continued day and night, wearing down both the city’s walls and its defenders. A witness described its effect:

And the stone, borne with tremendous force and velocity, hit the wall, which it immediately shook and knocked down, and was itself broken into many fragments and scattered, hurling the pieces everywhere and killing those who happened to be nearby. Sometimes it demolished a whole section, and sometimes a half-section, and sometimes a larger or smaller section of tower or turret or battlement. And there was no part of the wall strong enough or resistant enough or thick enough to be able to withstand it, or to wholly resist such force and such a blow of the stone cannon-ball. (ibid., X 357–358)

Finally, on 29 May 1453, the walls on either side of the St. Romanus Gate collapsed, and the Turks stormed the city. The Emperor Constantine fought valiantly in the defense of his city, but he was killed as overwhelming numbers of Turkish troops rampaged through the city for three days, killing, looting, and raping. With the fall of its capital, the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and with it the last vestiges of the Roman Empire.


Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as his capital in 323. He occupied the former city of Byzantium, which for centuries controlled the straits separating Asia and Europe. It lies on the Sea of Marmara, flanked to northeast by the Bosphorus and to the southwest by the Dardanelles, two narrow passages linking the Mediterranean and the Black seas. The only direct route from Europe into Asia Minor is at Constantinople, so it has been an extremely strategic possession for land and naval warfare and trade.

Constantinople became the seat of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. It not only was the political capital of much of the Mediterranean and Middle East, but also the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church, rival to the power of the pope in Rome for the souls of Christians everywhere. In the end it was that religious rivalry that spelled Constantinople’s doom.

In the seventh century Muhammad the Prophet founded Islam. By coincidence (or divine intervention) he appeared in Arabia just as the two major Middle Eastern powers, Persia and the Byzantine Empire, had fought each other to an exhausted standstill. He therefore conquered a massive amount of land hand in hand with the spread of his faith. Both Persia and the Byzantines suffered major territorial losses as well as major losses of converts to Islam, who found it less oppressive than the ultraconservative Orthodox Church.

For seven hundred years the forces of Islam and Orthodoxy struggled, with both sides trading ascendancy. By the fifteenth century, however, the Byzantine Empire had shrunk to almost nothing: Constantinople and a handful of Aegean islands. An earlier Islamic threat to the city resulted in the Crusades in the twelfth century, but that too ended in further alienating the Catholic and Orthodox churches. When in 1452 Sultan Mohammed II, son of Murad II, decided to attack Constantinople, European responses to pleas for help were almost nonexistent. England and France were just winding down the very costly Hundred Years War; Germanic and Spanish princes and kings offered aid but sent none. Genoa and Venice, however, did not want to see Constantinople fall into the hands of Arab merchants, and Rome promised aid if the Orthodox Church would submit to papal will. The emperor did all that he could to prepare for the siege. Envoys were sent to Venice, Genoa, the Pope, the Western emperor, the kings of Hungary and Aragon , with the message that, unless immediate military help was provided, the days of Constantinople were numbered. The response was unimpressive. Some Italians, embarrassed at their government’s impotence, came as volunteers. Reluctantly Emperor Constantine XI Paleologus agreed to Rome’s demand, but it netted him a mere 200 archers for his meager defenses as well as the hostility of his people; many claimed they preferred Turkish domination to Roman.

In the spring of 1452 Mohammed II sent 1,000 masons to the Bosphorus to build a fort to protect his army while crossing the straits. Constantine could do little more than lodge a protest. Among his populace were a mere 5,000 native and 2,000 foreign soldiers. The Venetian colony in Constantinople and many citizens in Pera, opposite Constantinople, also stayed, as did Orhan, the Ottoman pretender with his Turks. Some 30,000 to 40,000 civilians who rendered valuable service by repairing the 18-mile-long walls of the city before and during the siege. He had tradition on his side, however, for the triple walls that blocked the city from the landward side had survived twenty sieges, even though at this point they were not in good repair. As of January 1453, he also had the services of Italian soldier of fortune Giovanni Giustiniani, who brought 700 knights and archers. Giustiniani was well known in Europe for his talents in defending walled cities. Mohammed also had some European assistance in the form of a cannon maker named Urban from Hungary, who provided the Muslim army with seventy cannon, including the “Basilica,” a 27-feet-long canon that fired stone balls weighing upwards of 600 pounds. It could only fire seven times a day, but did significant damage to anything it struck.

As part of the Ottoman military preparations, some 16 large and 60 light galleys, 20 horse-ships and several smaller vessels were constructed in the Ottoman arsenal of Gallipoli. The sultan’s army of 80,000 to 100,000 men was assembled in Edirne, the Ottoman capita l, In the Edirne foundry some 60 new guns of various calibres were cast. Some of them threw shots of 240, 300 and 360 kg (530-793 lb), The largest bombard that the Hungarian master Urban made for the sultan fired, according to the somewhat contradictory testimonies of contemporaries, stone balls of 400 to 600 kg (800-1,322 lb), It was transported to Constantinople by 60 oxen.

A single wall that ran the circumference of the city’s seaward sides defended the rest of Constantinople. Mohammed sent his men across the Bosphorus north of the city, so the southern approach to the Mediterranean was open. A chain boom protected the primary harbor, the Golden Horn, across its mouth supported by twenty-six galleys. Thus, if anyone sent relief, the route was open.

Mohammed II arrived on 6 April 1453. He led 70,000 regular troops and 20,000 irregulars called Bashi-Bazouks, whose sole pay was the loot they might gain if and when the city fell. The premier troops were the Janissaries, slave soldiers taken captive in their youth from Christian families and raised in a military atmosphere to serve the sultans. They were heavily armored and highly skilled, and at this time they were beginning to use personal firearms. Mohammed first seized the town of Pera, across the Golden Horn from Constantinople. At first this action was little more than symbolic, but it had serious ramifications later. He then deployed his forces on the city’s western face and began the siege. A single wall near the imperial palace protected the northern end of the city. It was there, the Blachernae, that Constantine placed most of his men.

For twelve days the Muslim cannon pounded the city walls, and on 18 April Mohammed decided that had softened up the defenses sufficiently. The Byzantines easily defended a narrow breach in the walls, killing 200 attackers and driving off the rest without loss to themselves. On the 20th, four ships approached from the south: three Genoese transports with men and supplies from Rome and a Byzantine ship hauling corn from Sicily. After a hard fight with the Muslim fleet they broke through, cleared the boom, and entered the Golden Horn. Mohammed decided he had to control the harbor. He could not pass the chain boom, so he ordered ships dragged overland, through the town of Pera, to the harbor. It was a monumental engineering feat and on 22 April thirty Turkish ships were in the Golden Horn. An agent of the sultan betrayed the Byzantine counterattack, which managed to destroy only a single Turkish ship. In spite of this Turkish accomplishment, it had little effect on the siege.

Mohammed continued his cannonade against the walls. By 6 May it had opened a breach at the Gate of St. Romanus, where the Lycus River enters the city. Giustaniani built a new wall just behind the breach, rather than trying to repair the wall while under fire. The Turks attacked on 7 May but their 25,000 men were thrown back after three hours of fighting. On the 12th another force assaulted a breach in the wall at Blachernae; only quick reinforcement by Constantine and the Imperial Guard stemmed the tide. Mohammed then tried mining the walls. Constantine’s engineer Johannes Grant managed to locate each of the mining attempts and either undermine the mines or destroy the attackers inside with explosives, flooding, or the incendiary Greek fire. None of the fourteen mines succeeded.

Mohammed then determined to scale the walls. His men built a siege tower and rolled it into place before the Charisius Gate, the northernmost opening in the city walls. Muslim artillery fire had destroyed one of the defending towers, and the siege tower was able to provide covering fire for Turks filling in the moat. Constantine’s call for volunteers to attack the siege tower produced spectacular results. The sally surprised the Turkish guards and the Byzantines broke pots of Greek fire on the wooden siege tower. Meanwhile, their compatriots spent the night rebuilding the city wall and its destroyed tower. The next morning Mohammed saw the charred remains of his assault machine smoldering before the newly rebuilt tower in the city wall.

In both camps officers debated the progress of the siege. The defenders were exhausted and running out of supplies. In Mohammed’s camp, some factions wanted to end the siege before a rumored rescue fleet could arrive. The sultan favored those who counseled continuation and decided to launch one more attempt before withdrawing. As the most serious damage to the walls had been inflicted along the Lycus River entrance to the city, it was there he proposed to launch his final assault. Constantine learned of the plan from a spy, but could his dwindling force survive another battle? The Bashi-Bazouks began hurling themselves against the Byzantine defenses at 0200 on 29 May. For two hours the Byzantines slew them with arrows and firearms, but grew increasingly tired in the process. With the first attack repulsed, Mohammed threw in a second wave before the defenders could recover. Even though these were regular troops with better discipline and equipment, the narrow breach provided the defenders with less area to cover and they threw back that assault as well.

After another two hours of fighting the Byzantine troops could barely stand. Mohammed sent in the third wave, made up of Janissaries. Constantine’s exhausted troops managed to repulse them as well. During this fighting, a small band of Turks discovered a small open gate and rushed a handful of men through before it could be closed. They occupied a tower near the Blachinae and raised the sultan’s banner, and the rumor quickly spread that the northern flank had been broken. At the same moment, Giovanni Giustiniani was severely wounded. Hearing of his evacuation, coupled with the report from the north quarter, the defenders began to fall back. Mohammed quickly exploited his advantage. Another assault by fresh Janissaries cleared the space between the walls and seized the Adrianople Gate. Attackers began to pour through.

Constantine XI led his remaining troops into the Turkish onslaught, dying for his city and his empire. Almost all his co-defenders as well as a huge portion of the civilian population joined him, for the Turks went berserk. Mohammed II limited very little of the pillage, reserving the best buildings for himself and banning their destruction. He claimed and protected the Church of St. Sophia, and within a week the Hagia Sophia was hosting Muslim services. Thirty ships of a Venetian fleet sailing to Constantine’s relief saw the Turkish flags flying over the city, turned around, and sailed home.

The looting finally subsided and the bulk of the population that was not killed, possibly 50,000 people, were enslaved. The bastion of Eastern Christianity fell after more than 1,100 years as Constantine the Great’s city. Mohammed II proceeded to conquer Greece and most of the Balkans during the remaining twenty-eight years of his reign.

Western Europe, which had done so little to assist Constantinople, was shocked that it fell after so many centuries of standing against everyone. In Rome, the Catholic Church was dismayed that they would now have no Eastern Christians to convert, for they were all rapidly becoming Muslim. The Eastern Orthodox Church survived, however, for Mohammed allowed a patriarch to preside over the Church. It remained a viable religion, now far from the reach of the Catholic Church’s influence. As such, its survival encouraged others who resented the Catholic Church. Within sixty years Martin Luther led a major protest against the Church, starting the Reformation.

The trading centers of Genoa and Venice feared having to deal with hard-bargaining Arab merchants who now controlled all products coming from the Far East. The major cities of eastern Europe began to fear the Turkish hordes approaching their gates, and for the next 450 years Austria and the Holy Roman Empire carried on the European/Christian struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks established themselves as the premier Middle Eastern Muslim power, controlling at their height almost as much as had the Byzantine Empire: the Balkans, the Middle East, much of North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.

The flood of refugees from southeastern Europe, especially Greece, brought thousands of scholars to Italy, further enhancing the peninsula’s Renaissance. Italian merchants, shocked at the prices the Muslims charged for spices and silks from the East, began to search for other ways to get those goods. Certainly the age of European exploration came much sooner because of Constantinople’s fall.




WWII-Era German Artillery Development I

From the days of Krupp’s first experiments with steel guns and breechloading, the German gunmakers have rarely been reluctant to try something new, and the years from 1933 to 1945 saw their vast inventive resources at their peak. Even the standard service weapons often incorporated refinements not found in the designs of other nations, and when anything extraordinary was requested the results were invariably brilliant and often awe-inspiring.

For all the inventors’ brilliance, the strategic direction of the higher command (which gave the gunmakers their specifications) was less certain of its aim: thus weapon development, which promised much, frequently got side-tracked or spent too much effort travelling in the wrong direction. It was this as much as anything, aided by a certain amount of ill-advised pursuit of better designs, that was responsible for the vast range of weapons deployed by the Wehrmacht. An example of this changeable attitude was the controversy over the standard support weapon of the division-should it have been a 7.5cm gun or a 10.5cm howitzer? During World War I the army had started with a 7.7cm gun and later augmented it with a 10.5cm howitzer, so long postwar discussions took place to try and discover which of the two was the more useful weapon. Towards the end of the 1920s the argument had been resolved in favour of the 10.5cm howitzer and this duly became the standard field support weapon-but by 1943 the argument was raging once more. This time the gun triumphed at the howitzer’s expense, leading to designs of a new model that never saw fruition owing to the end of the war. Yet, at the same time as this decision was reached, development was still proceeding on improved versions of the 10.5cm howitzer. This particular line of research can be cited as one of the superfluous efforts. The original 10.5cm howitzer was massively built, but it has since been reliably estimated that over 80% of its ammunition was fired with the various less powerful charges: a gun of half the original’s weight would still have been strong enough. An improved weapon was demanded to meet an exacting specification, but it achieved little better results and consumed 20% more propellant into the bargain.

The principal lines of development in prewar guns were much the same as those followed by any other nation-intended to provide an output of reliable and proven weapons in a rational range of guns from light antiaircraft to heavy siege types, all conventional in concept and also simple and robust. While this aim was reached in most cases, there was still sufficient design capacity to allow development of more advanced weapons to be slowly pursued; much of this effort showed results during the war, when unorthodox solutions stood a better chance of being accepted.

At the end of World War I the Versailles treaty thoroughly disrupted the German armament industry. The two principals, Friedrich Krupp AG and Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik (later Rheinmetall-Borsig AG), were limited in the designs they could produce: Krupp were restricted to weapons above 17cm calibre, and RM&M to weapons below 17cm. Moreover, only a very small number of guns of the permitted calibres were allowed to be made. In order to evade these regulations Krupp came to an arrangement with Svenska Aktiebolagst Bofors of Sweden, whereby Bofors acquired the foreign rights of Krupp guns while Krupp sent a number of designers to work in the Bofors factory and thus keep their skills alive. RM&M set up a company in Switzerland called Waffenfabrik Solothurn AG, and designs originating in the German drawing office were marketed as Solothurn weapons. Through this company too, a link with Osterreichische Waffenfabrik-Gesellschaft of Steyr was maintained.

Once the National Socialists came to power most of this subterfuge was abandoned overnight, though it was not until 1945 that the details became plain -which accounts for some amusing Allied wartime intelligence reports in which Rheinmetall-Borsig designed and built guns are described as copies of Solothurn weapons. Rheinmetall also received a boost when they became part of the Reichswerke Hermann Goring `paper corporation’, which accounts for a number of cases where their design was taken into service in preference to a Krupp model.

When the war began the German high command made a serious planning error in assuming that the war would be of short duration. With this opinion firmly fixed, they then ruled that long-term development should not begin if the result could not be brought into service within one year. This had the most serious repercussions in the electronic and radar fields, but it also stifled a good deal of development in artillery. A number of promising projects were abandoned by their developers and when, later in the war, the error was appreciated and the ban removed, it required vast efforts to make up for the time that had been lost.

Once wartime development began, however, it was usually along lines laid down by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW-forces’ high command) in an attempt either to solve some particular problem or to produce an equipment to fill a specific need. In this respect artillery development was more tightly controlled than in other weapon fields; there appears to have been few cases of individual designers pushing pet theories, resorting to political string-pulling, and scheming to obtain raw materials and production capacity so well seen-for example-in the guided missile field in 1944-5.

At the outbreak of war the artillery equipment of the Wehrmacht was standardised on a few calibres, and the weapons were in general of sound and well-tested design. The army’s field weapons were of 10.5cm, 15cm and 21cm calibres, and the design philosophy ensured that a gun of given calibre and a howitzer of the next larger calibre were interchangeable on the same carriage, thus simplifying production, supply and maintenance. Anti-aircraft defence was built around the 2cm and 3.7cm light guns, the 8.8cm medium gun and the 10.5cm heavy gun; anti-tank weapons were the 3.7cm gun and a 7.92mm anti-tank rifle for infantry use. One or two improved designs were undergoing routine development with the intention of bringing them into service as and when the need arose.

The demands of war soon spoiled this arrangement. When it came to forecasting the future, the OKW was no more visionary than any other comparable body and the appearance of new weapons in the hands of the enemy frequently led to sudden demands on designers to develop powerful antidotes. An example of this was the sudden flurry of activity in the anti-tank field consequent upon the appearance of the virtually unstoppable Soviet T34 tank. The users’ demands on the gunmakers were always the same: improve the performance of the gun, increase its range, increase its velocity, but please do not increase its weight. How these demands were translated into reality will be seen on subsequent pages but, as a general rule, the paths open to the designers were well-defined. The only way to improve the performance of a conventional gun is by increasing the muzzle velocity, and this can be done m a variety of ways.

The first and most simple technique is to increase the size of the propelling charge or to develop a more efficient propellant, while still operating the gun at the same pressure. This, in round figures, demands a four-fold increase in propellant quantity to obtain a 60% increase in muzzle velocity, and contains several disadvantages in the shape of erosive wear, redesign of the chamber and cartridge case, and economic production of the propellant.

The second simple method is to increase the length of the barrel, thus keeping the projectile exposed to the accelerating effect of the exploding propellant for a longer time. To obtain the 60% increase in velocity would demand a 300% increase in barrel length-scarcely a practical measure.

An increase in chamber pressure combined with a moderate increase in barrel length will also increase velocity. The standard 60% increase could thus be achieved by a 50% increase in pressure coupled to a 50% increase in barrel length, but again this is scarcely a practical answer. One solution, increasingly adopted by many nations towards the end of the war, was a 50% reduction of projectile weight which increased the velocity by 40%- but the ballistic coefficient (the `carrying power’ of the projectile) was proportionately reduced. Deceleration in flight was hence more rapid, leading to less range than a full-weight projectile would have achieved at the same velocity.

Owing to these conventional design limitations, the war initiated the examination of more and more unconventional solutions. One of the first, which had been developed well before the war, was the production of high-velocity guns in which the rifling consisted of a few deep grooves into which fitted curved ribs on the outer surface of the shell, imparting positive rotation. This was developed because the conventional copper driving band was incapable of transmitting the enormous torque of high velocity projectiles’ excessive radial acceleration without shearing. The ribbed or `splined’ shell solved the problem of transmitting spin, but a copper band still had to be fitted to provide the gas-seal necessary at the rear of the shell. This was an expensive and complicated solution, suited only to large weapons produced in limited numbers, and much research was begun to try and overcome the torque defect of the copper driving band, with the additional incentive of trying to find a material in less critical supply.

The first development was the Krupp Sparführung (KpS) band-a bimetallic band of copper and soft iron, although zinc was sometimes added to dilute the copper and to assist in effecting the iron/copper joint. There was little or no performance advantage, merely an economy of copper. Next came the Weicheisen (FeW) soft iron band, the use of which was restricted to large calibre high-velocity guns. It could withstand torque very well, but the process of putting the band on the shell (by a powerful radial press) work-hardened the metal to the point where it became difficult to `engrave’-or force into the gun’s rifling. It was this defect that restricted Weicheisen bands’ use to high-pressure large-calibre weapons.

The final development was the Sintereisen (FeS) wintered iron band, formed from small iron particles bonded together under intense pressure to form a malleable band. This engraved well, resisted shear stresses, and was economical of material in short supply, but in its first application was found to wear out the gun barrels faster than a conventional copper band. Further development evolved a new form of barrel rifling with wider lands and grooves, and this-together with the reintroduction of increasing twist-improved matters to a degree where the German technicians opined that even if they had sufficient copper available they would still prefer to use sintered iron, particularly at higher velocities. One interesting result was the discovery that, while copper bands resulted in the gun barrel wearing out first at the chamber end of the rifling, FeS bands promoted wear at the muzzle since the coefficient of friction was directly proportional to the velocity.

When the increases in performance made available by increasing the barrel length and the size of the charge, and the provision of improved rifling and banding, had been taken to their extremes, it became necessary to explore less well-trodden paths. The first unorthodox solution offered was the `coned bore’ gun, the theory of which predicated that if the barrel was made with a gradually-decreasing calibre (and if the projectile was designed to adapt to the diminution) then, since the base area of the shot is reducing while the propelling gas pressure either remains-depending on the cartridge design-constant or increases then the unit pressure on the shot base will increase and the shot will be given greater velocity. The original idea was patented in 1903 by Carl Puff and the drawings accompanying the specification (British Patent 8601 of 27th August 1904) show a projectile almost identical to those later developed in Germany. Puff, however, does not appear to have pursued his ideas as far as a working gun, and the idea lay dormant until taken up by a German engineer named Gerlich in the 1920s. In co-operation with Halbe, a gunmaker, he developed a number of high-velocity sporting rifles with tapered bores and flanged projectiles, marketed in limited numbers during the 1930s under the name Halger, while at the same time attempting to interest various governments in the possible use of these weapons as high velocity military rifles. He also worked for both the United States’ government and the British Army on taper-bore rifles, but neither felt that there was much virtue in the idea; Gerlich returned to Germany c. 1935, and his subsequent activities have escaped record.

By this time others were exploring the idea: Rheinmetall-Borsig, Krupp, Bochumer Verein and Polte-Werke all had experimental programmes varying in degree of involvement. Rheinmetall-Borsig eventually became the most involved; the firm’s Dr Werner Banck, who took charge of development in late 1939, continued to work on it throughout the war and ultimately became one of the most knowledgeable men in the world on the subject of taper-bore guns.

Two classes of weapon were eventually categorised: the taper bore, in which the barrel tapered evenly from breech to muzzle, and the squeeze bore, in which the barrel was parallel for some distance and then tapered sharply to effect the `squeezing’ of the projectile, finishing as a parallel bore of smaller dimension. An alternative design of squeeze bore was one in which a tapered extension was placed on the muzzle of an otherwise conventional gun. The projectiles used with these two classes were much the same in design, though experience showed that the taper bore shot had to be somewhat stronger in construction than the squeeze bore models owing to the different times throughout which the shells underwent stress in compression.

Towards the end of the war the taper bore concept was gradually discarded in favour of the squeeze bore designs, since these were a good deal easier to manufacture. Making a tapered and rifled gun barrel was no easy task, even with sophisticated machine tools, whereas production of a smoothbore `squeeze’ extension to fit the muzzle of an otherwise standard gun was much less exacting and less wasteful of time and material. Weapons as large as 24cm calibre were fitted with such extensions (in this case reducing to 21cm) and were fired quite successfully.

The only active-service use of the taper or squeeze systems was in the anti-tank class, where three weapons (2.8cm/2.1cm, 4.2cm/2.8cm and 7.5/5.0cm) entered service. In the anti-aircraft field, while the velocity increases gave promise of considerably improved performance and where many experimental weapons were built and fired, no guns were ready for service before the war ended. There was a rule of thumb that said a squeeze bore adaptor could be expected to increase velocity and maximum range by about a third. Velocities of as much as 1400mps (4595fps) had been achieved but it was felt that, bearing in mind wear-rates and dispersion at extreme ranges, service velocities of 1150-1200mps(3775- 3935fps) might be consistently reached. The design of projectiles was an involved business and will be discussed elsewhere.


WWII-Era German Artillery Development II

While the taper and squeeze bore experiments were progressing, another system of improving performance began to attract attention. The French ordnance engineer Brandt had been experimenting for some years with discarding sabot projectiles, a system in which the gun fired a projectile of less than its own calibre-a 10.5cm gun, for example, might well fire an 8.8cm projectile. In order to make the smaller shot fit the larger bore it was first fitted into a sabot (a French term for `shoe’ or `tub’) of full calibre, so engineered that upon leaving the muzzle the sabot was discarded and fell clear to leave the sub-calibre projectile free to proceed to the target. The advantages of this system were manifold; the gun did not require any special adaptors or methods of construction (although subsequent experience has shown that the twist of rifling can be fairly critical), the composite projectile and sabot was lighter than a standard projectile for the gun and thus accelerated faster in the bore to develop a high muzzle velocity, and the full-calibre base area enabled the charge to develop its full potential. Yet the sub-projectile in flight had a favourable sectional density and thus retained its velocity, giving longer ranges, higher terminal velocities and consistent accuracy. As with almost all ordnance ideas, the discarding sabot was far from new; it had been patented as far back as 1862 (British Patent 2064 of 19th July 1862. granted to W. E. Newton as agent for A. A. Emery) but, as with Puff’s taper bore, the idea was well in advance of contemporary ballistic knowledge and engineering technique-and had lain unused for a long time.

When the German Army occupied France in 1940 many of Brandt’s experimental projectiles were discovered: these and the idea were taken back to Germany for development, which was done to good effect. Krupp were particularly interested and active in this field, and a wide variety of discarding sabot projectiles were produced on an experimental basis together with small numbers that were issued to service more or less in the nature of user trials.

Another weapon discovered in France, and which was considered to hold promise, was the Bassett gun. The brainchild of a French engineer of the same name it was a hyper-velocity 3.7cm gun whose principal feature was the burning of propellant at hitherto unconsidered pressures. Instead of the usual order of 20 to 25ton/in2, Bassett proposed operating his gun at 95 to 100ton/in2. Since normal rifling and driving bands could not hope to cope at such levels, the barrel was shaped internally into a twisted octagon that, as it approached the muzzle, blended into polygonal (perhaps 16- or 32-sided) shape. The shot was provided with multiple sealing bands of soft iron and Buna rubber, and was of octagonal section to match the barrel; thus it attained spin, a reversion to the Whitworth system of rifling which was briefly touted in the 1850s and 1860s. In order to utilise the expansion of the propellant gas, and thus develop the utmost efficiency, the barrel was 175 calibres long (21ft 3in/6.48m). Bassett signed a development contract with the German Army but progress was slow, since much basic research had to be done before manufacture of the weapon could begin; nobody, for example, was quite sure what would happen to a conventional smokeless propelling powder when it was burned at such high pressures, and special pressure chambers had to be designed in which samples could be ignited and their performance studied. All this took time; and in 1944, before the work was completed, the Allied armies invaded France. When Paris was abandoned by the Germans Bassett moved to Switzerland, but the gun and experimental apparatus were removed to Germany in order to continue development. It soon became apparent that the weapon would never become a viable mechanism in time to influence the war’s course and work on it stopped entirely early in 1945. While undoubtedly an interesting concept in ballistics and physics, there seems little useful purpose in the weapon and it has never been revived.

The next project to be examined in the search for longer range was the possibility of providing in-flight assistance to the projectile by means of a rocket boost. The idea was again as old as ammunition, one typical proposition being Taylor’s British Patent 1460 of 20th May 1870. Considerable work had already been done in Germany on rocket propulsion and, on the face of it, a rocket-assisted shell sounded most attractive. Numerous designs were tried and two or three were actually issued for service, but the drawbacks were well-nigh insuperable. The rocket propulsion firstly demanded an excessive amount of the limited space available in the shell, leading to a small explosive payload which was hardly worth the expense and effort of getting it to the target. Secondly, the gun shell was rarely-if at all-perfectly aligned with its theoretical trajectory; it was invariably `yawing’ about the perfect line in one direction or another. At the instant the rocket motor ignited and began to deliver thrust, any off-line yaw of the shell resulted in the rocket trajectory being a continuation of the yaw axis and not necessarily the axis of the ballistic trajectory. As a result, the projectile could land anywhere in a large probability area around the intended target. This, coupled with the small payload, rendered the long-range rocket shell an uneconomic proposition, though it undoubtedly had its advantages as a propaganda weapon.

A further disadvantage of the rocket-assisted shell, as seen by some scientists, was the necessity to carry both the fuel and an oxidant required to promote burning. Had it been possible to carry only the fuel and tap the ambient air as the oxidant, then the propulsion unit could have been made smaller by the amount saved in oxidant storage space and the explosive payload correspondingly increased. Dr Tromsdorf spent much time and effort developing his `pulsating athodyd’ shell, which was really a ram-jet running along the axis of a projectile. A quantity of liquid fuel (usually carbon disulphide) was carried and as the incoming air mixed with the fuel in a combustion chamber it was ignited, and the resultant thrust boosted the shell. This development was being explored with a view to improving anti-aircraft gun performance, but the work was still in the experimental stage when the war ended. It is believed that both the Americans and the Soviets showed some interest in the idea during the immediate postwar years, but the inaccuracy problem still existed and the promised increase in payload was largely illusory owing to the space needed for the induction, combustion and exhaust systems. The athodyd shell, while theoretically sound enough, is no longer considered to be a practical proposition. The last field of endeavour, and one which held considerable promise, was the development of fin-stabilised projectiles. Gun shells are customarily spun by the rifling to achieve gyroscopic stability but this system has some inherent limitations. As has already been seen, high velocity guns made considerable demands on the system of rifling and banding, owing to the high rotational stresses thus developed. Furthermore, the pressures needed to engrave a driving band were on occasion quite large and led to undesirable peak pressures in the gun chamber. The projectile was restricted in length, since shells much more than six calibres long could not be satisfactorily stabilised except at very high spin rates, which in turn demanded special rifling and multiplebanding to spread the load on the shell and driving bands. The fin-stabilisation solution promised freedom from most of these troubles and in some cases offered a simpler gun into the bargain, since the weapon could thereafter be a smooth-bore. The reasons for adopting fin-stabilisation varied from attempts to obtain high velocity-by removing the frictional resistance of rifling and banding-to stabilising projectiles too long for conventionally rifled guns, in the case of some special designs of anticoncrete shell. Fin-stabilised projectiles could also be fired from a rifled gun and yet avoid much rotation, in order to improve their tactical effect.

Much of the theoretical development in this field took place at the Raketen-Versuchsstation Peenemünde (Peenemunde rocket research establishment) where wind tunnels were available and where there was considerable knowledge of the aerodynamics of finned missiles. The principal outcome of their work was the Peenemunder Pfeilgeschoss (Peenemunde arrow shell) which was developed both as a long range terrestrial-fire projectile and as a high velocity projectile for anti-aircraft work. Little of this work bore fruit in time to be used during the war, but it formed a considerable base for postwar development by many other nations.

All these developments illustrate the point that the easiest way to improve a gun is to leave it alone and work on the ammunition. As far as the guns themselves were concerned, development was usually aimed at improving efficiency and producing weapons that were lighter to manoeuvre; guns with greater flexibility in terms of elevation and traverse, those which were simpler to operate and those easier to mass-produce were all demanded of the designers. When producing a design incorporating as many of these desirable characteristics as possible, attempts were made to increase the range (if it could be done) but in many gases the improvement in performance was less apparent than the improvement in other criteria. In certain fields-anti-tank guns, for example-performance was so vital that the guns inevitably grew bigger and bigger: questions of handiness in action and ease of manufacture were subordinated to the overriding demand that a specific target had to be engaged and destroyed at a specific range until, towards the end of the war, it was obvious that a halt had to be called before the guns became too large for their tactical role. Fresh ballistic solutions had to be devised instead.

There had already been a demand for lightweight weapons for a special application and this had been answered by the development of recoillessguns for use by airborne troops. A number of lightweight shoulder-fired weapons had also appeared during the war, capable by virtue of the ammunition they fired of defeating most of the contemporary tanks. These weapons were the rocket launchers such as the American Bazooka and the German Ofenrohr, (`stovepipe’), and the recoilless Panzerfaust (`armoured fist’). Using hollow charge bombs, these weapons could deliver a fatal attack on a tank without need of heavy or high-velocity ordnance, and so the army then asked the manufacturers to contemplate producing some sort of gun that could deliver a hollow charge shell with accuracy, which would be light to move and easy to use, but which (in view of the economic position) would use less propellant than the rocket or the recoilless guns in the process. The response to this demand was Rheinmetall-Borsig’s development of the Hoch-Niederdruck-System (`high-low pressure system’), one of the few completely new ballistic developments to come out of the war. The high-low pressure gun confined the cartridge in a robust breech in which the explosion of the charge reached a relatively high pressure of about 8ton/in2. Between the charge and the projectile was a heavy steel plate pierced with a number of carefully designed holes through which the high pressure was bled into the lightweight barrel. In the barrel the pressure dropped to 2-3ton/in2 and it was this that moved the fin-stabilised projectile up the smooth-bore barrel, the pressure dropping to as little as 1ton /in2 at the muzzle. The system was highly successful and at least one weapon embodying it entered service; a number of others were planned but the end of the war stopped their development. In postwar years the high-low pressure system was the focus of considerable interest from ballisticians throughout the world but it has, surprisingly, seen little application since 1945.

This brief introduction serves to show that the subject of German artillery during World War 2 is one that is full of interest. Confronted as the war continued with heavier tanks, faster aircraft and more fluid warfare, the German designers were never for long at a loss for the next idea. Admittedly they sometimes produced a disaster, but more often they produced a winner and it is noteworthy that the designs that were being taken from the drawing board and into service in 1945 were examples of gunmaking which have rarely been bettered; many postwar designs owe some of their better features to ideas pioneered by Germany during the war years.


Austrian Artillery at Sadowa 1866


Austrian Troops


“The last stand.” Artillery units sacrifice themselves to cover the retreat of the Austrian army on July 3, 1866 at Königgätz/Sadowa, the battle that established Prussian/German hegemony in Central Europe.

The Austro-Hungarian artillery was a lot better there than the Prussian. Without the bravery of the Austrian artillery the battle would have ended as a bigger disaster than it already was. The Austrian guns were more efficient and shot “at the point”. Archduke Wilhelm as Inspector General of the Artillery did best work in the days before the battle. Most of the 700 guns were dug in and had pre-measured shooting-plans. The breechloading rifles were a cause for the high rate of dead and wounded but they were not the reason for losing the battle by the Austrians.

In contemporary military opinion, the Austrians were greatly superior in all arms to their adversary. Their rifle, though a muzzle-loader, was in every other respect superior to the Prussian needle-gun, and their M.L. rifled guns with shrapnel shell were considered more than sufficient to make good the slight advantage then conceded to the breech-loader. The cavalry was far better trained in individual and real horsemanship and manoeuvre, and was expected to sweep the field in the splendid cavalry terrain of Moravia. All three arms trained their men for seven years, and almost all officers and non-commissioned officers had considerable war experience. But the Prussians having studied their allies in the war of 1864 knew the weakness of the Austrian staff and the untrustworthiness of the contingents of some of the Austrian nationalities, and felt fairly confident that against equal numbers they could hold their own.

The Austrian Army was maintained by a conscription system which allowed the buying of substitutes. The Army as a whole was not as homogeneous as the Prussian, taking in units from across the empire and it was not as well organized, having no Divisional level of command. The peacetime organization consisted of seven Army Corps, each of 4 brigades, plus cavalry and artillery. For the Austro Prussian war this was expanded to 10 Corps, resulting in considerable disorganization.

Infantry were armed with a muzzle¬-loading rifle. This out ranged the Prussian needle gun but was much slower to load. Moreover, since a soldier was only allowed 20 practice rounds per year, the standard of accuracy was appalling.

Artillery was strong. All guns were rifled and had an effective range of about 2000 paces, again out ranging the Prussians.

The Austrian plan in 1866 was to use interior lines of communication to concentrate and destroy the Prussian forces piecemeal, in classic Napoleonic form. Benedek, the Austrian commander, decided to make his stand at Sadowa, approximately 10 miles west of the Elbe River, which constituted a major obstacle. The Elbe had one permanent bridge and one pontoon bridge, which was anchored on the fortress city of Koniggratz (from which the battle takes its name). This latter bridge could provide a withdrawal route for the Austrians should it be required. In order to hold this defensive position, Benedek deployed 215 000 infantry and 750 guns.

The Prussian 1st Army made contact with the Austrian position at 0400 hrs on 3 July. The commander of 1st Army had decided to commence his attack at 1000 hrs after his troops had been rested and fed. This was over-ruled by von Moltke. A delay in attacking and fixing the Austrians might allow them to slip away before 2nd Army could encircle them. Von Moltke instead ordered 1st Army to attack immediately. Unfortunately, von Moltke had no way of knowing that the Austrians had no intention of withdrawing; this unprepared attack would play right into their hands. The battle ebbed and flowed and degenerated into a confusing morass as commanders lost control of their troops. For a time, the Prussians thought that the battle was lost, but von Moltke was unshaken. By noon, 2nd Army threatened the Austrian right; the Austrians were forced to mount costly counterattacks against massed rifle fire in order to delay the Prussians long enough to enable a withdrawal across the River Elbe. Shortly after the battle, the Austrians conceded defeat and sued for peace. Von Moltke’s doctrine had been a success.

After the war, the Prussians went back to study their own effectiveness to see if there were any lessons to be learned. As a result, they moved their artillery from the rear of its columns to the front and deployed their cavalry well forward to conduct reconnaissance. Within four years, the Prussians would be at war again. This time, with the French.


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.