Anti-aircraft defences

They might be less glamorous than the flyers, but the Flakartillerie units of the Luftwaffe had an increasingly vital role to play in defending the Reich from enemy bombers. The propaganda photographs published at the time were intended to reassure the civilian population that their safety was in good hands.

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A member of the Flakartillerie holds a huge 88mm shell aloft for the photographer.

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The crew of an 88mm flak gun battery respond to the siren signifying approaching enemy aircraft. Throughout the war Germany had almost twice as many anti-aircraft guns as Britain. The Flakartillerie was under the control of the Luftwaffe, which coordinated defences, and by August 1944 there were almost 11,000 flak guns in service. The majority of the 88mm flak guns were used in their anti-aircraft role, although artillery versions were also deployed by the army as mobile anti-tank guns in support of the infantry.

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The order is given to fire the 88mm anti-aircraft gun. ‘Feuer!’

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A much smaller gun operated by a two-man team at a harbour installation on the Norwegian coast. These machine guns were better suited to dealing with low-level attackers.

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Flakgeschütze, anti-aircraft gun emplacements. The figure with his back to the camera on the left of the main picture is holding an EM36 Entfernungsmessgerät, a rangefinder. See opposite.

EM36 Entfernungsmessgerät rangefinder

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1 m wide, these precision optical instruments were based on a stereoscopic vision system to accurately calculate the range of a target. This was especially important when that target was a fast-moving aircraft.

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‘When evening falls on Norway’s fjords comes the most dangerous hour of the day. The attentiveness of the men at the guns becomes still sharper, for this is just the time when enemy flyers often attempt an attack.’

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Flakartillerie in occupied Norway. from a picture feature published in Signal under the headline, ‘On guard in the North’: ‘In Norway’s fjords, on rocky coast and islands, everywhere German soldiers are on guard, all coastal batteries, even beyond the Northern Polar Circle, are fully manned and ready for the enemy. The eyes of the men of the fast-firing gun follow the horizon tirelessly from west to north, peering through breaks in the clouds. Ready day and night for enemy flyers.’

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Anti-aircraft gunners look on as a departing Messerschmitt Bf 110 kicks up its own dust storm at an airfield in northern Africa.

The flak guns did not work in isolation, they were just one part of the anti-aircraft measures.

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A Scheinwerfer, or searchlight.

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Germany also had barrage balloons and, although they were not used as extensively as in Britain, the Sperrballons, as they were called, were used to defend important targets from low-flying aircraft. However, unlike the Brits, the Germans also continued to use tethered kite balloons for observation purposes, in just the same way as they had been used by both sides in the First World War. In this photograph the observer’s basket can be seen hanging beneath the balloon.

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Sophisticated sound-locating equipment which could amplify the sound of an aircraft and pinpoint its position and bearing.The British had a similar system, which used a bundle of bell-shaped acoustic receptors to catch the sound in the same manner as an old-fashioned ear trumpet.

The trophies of war

Photographs of downed enemy aircraft fed the propaganda machine, but not surprisingly the Luftwaffe’s great failures – most notably in the Battle of Britain – did not appear in the likes of Signal or Der Adler. Images of a wrecked aircraft sporting the roundel markings of the Allied combatants, on the other hand, were regularly published.

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The wreck of a British aircraft. ‘One of hundreds,’ proclaimed the caption, ‘brought down by German fighters, Flak and Marineartillerie.’

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The gull wings of this French aircraft identify it as the Loire-Nieuport LN401, a two-seater dive-bomber which suffered heavy losses during the Battle of France in the spring of 1940.

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The wreckage of a British bomber in Sicily.

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