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"Defense Against Aircraft (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German defense measures against aircraft, from the Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



German antiaircraft units are an organic part of the Luftwaffe (air force), and aircraft, especially fighter planes, cooperate with the antiaircraft defenses. The Germans make a distinction between searchlight units, light and heavy antiaircraft artillery units, and barrage balloon units.


In addition to seeking out our planes so that antiaircraft fire can be placed on them, German searchlights recently have been producing "dazzle" and "glare" in efforts to blind and confuse our pilots, bombardiers, and gunners. These tactics are proving a big help to the Germans in protecting cities and strategic centers.

Dazzle is the blinding of persons in a plane caught in the direct light rays of one or more searchlights. Glare means obscuring the target from the plane crew by a light beam played between the plane and the target.

The extent of dazzle is determined by the height of the plane, the number of searchlights concentrated on it, weather conditions, the direction of the light beams, and, to some degree, by the reactions of persons in the plane.

Dazzle is most effective when a plane is flying at a height between 2,000 and 4,000 feet. A single beam will not produce dazzle except at a fairly short range. At a given height, the dazzle increases in direct proportion to the number of beams centered on the plane. It also increases in proportion to the amount of haze, mist, rain, or dust in the air. Far more dazzle is produced if the plane is traveling in the general direction of the beam or beams. The British find that when a bomber pilot gets into one of these areas, he must keep his head down and fly by instruments, so as not to allow the light to blind and confuse him.

Dazzle or glare created by antiaircraft searchlights greatly lowers the ability of a person to adapt his eyes to seeing at night—in fact, looking at any fairly strong light will do this. Either dazzle or glare makes the location of targets difficult and lessens the accuracy of bombing. Also, keeping beams directly on a plane helps defending fighter craft to approach the plane unobserved and to attack it more effectively.

German searchlight crews are reported to have been dipping their light beams to indicate to their fighter planes the direction in which hostile bombers are flying.

Sound-locator apparatus are used by the searchlight units to determine the general direction and distance of our aircraft from the searchlight positions. Having obtained these data, the searchlight crews seek to place their lights on the planes. When searchlights are not present in an area, or are present but unable to function, sound-locator apparatus often are employed in close cooperation with antiaircraft artillery in estimating firing data.


Antiaircraft guns are the backbone of the entire anti-aircraft defense. The battery, usually consisting of four or six guns, is the fire unit. Experience has shown the Germans that it is best not to break up this unit, even when a need arises elsewhere for only one of the guns. It should be noted, incidentally, that the Germans often employ flashless propelling charges to avoid giving away the location of antiaircraft weapons.

a. Heavy Batteries

The heavy battery is responsible for the antiaircraft defense of the combat zone. The heavy antiaircraft guns (usually 88-mm) have the mission of protecting German ground forces at all times against air reconnaissance and high-altitude attacks.

These weapons are moved by mechanized transport. Their average marching speed is from 5 to 20 miles per hour. Horse-drawn antiaircraft cannon are employed only by commands which must cope with fuel shortages and unsatisfactory roads. Antiaircraft units provided with mechanical transport have the following characteristics: ability to open fire quickly, great mobility, and capabilities for employment within the effective range of hostile artillery.

The heavy batteries are employed against hostile planes, especially attack units, flying at altitudes up to about 27,000 feet. Heavy antiaircraft artillery cannot be used against planes flying at altitudes of less than 1,200 feet directly over the battery. Requiring special fire-control equipment and special ammunition, these weapons are used against ground targets only in the event of close-in tank attacks. Each heavy battery is protected by two 20-mm cannon, which are an organic part of the battery itself.

b. Light Cannon

Light antiaircraft cannon are especially suited for defense against planes flying at short ranges and at low altitudes. The mission of the light antiaircraft battery is to protect installations and troops against ground-strafing and dive-bombing attacks. The cannon (usually 20-mm) are moved either on trucks or on self-propelled mounts. These weapons are characterized by their great mobility and by their success in tracking air targets which have a high angular rate of travel and which demand change of ranges. Tracers are used to make this tracking easier. The average marching speed of units equipped with these weapons is from 15 to 25 miles per hour.

c. Machine Guns

In heavily populated areas, especially the strategic manufacturing centers, machine guns often are mounted on the roofs of buildings to operate against aircraft flying at relatively low altitudes. It is known that in many instances machine guns are manned by well-trained factory personnel.


The Germans make considerable use of captive balloon barrages around strategic manufacturing centers and other areas containing important installations. The barrage usually forms an irregular belt about 5/8 of a mile wide and about 1 3/4 miles from the outer edge of the strategic area. The plan for a barrage is coordinated with light- and medium-caliber antiaircraft gun defense, which protects the larger gaps in the belt.

The balloons, resembling the fan-tailed goldfish sometimes seen in a home aquarium, have fan-like tails as long as the balloons themselves. They are reported to be moored at altitudes ranging as high as 15,000 feet, and at an average altitude of 4,500 feet. A well-planned barrage, with its dangling net of steel cables, can prevent precision bombing, and can keep hostile aircraft at an altitude favorable for the use of antiaircraft artillery and fighter planes. Also, a barrage reduces the efficiency of hostile combat aviation by forcing it to operate at unfavorable altitudes.

On the other hand, the Germans have learned from experience that balloon barrages are not well suited to protect small, isolated targets. They have also found that such a barrage is vulnerable to hostile fighter planes, and serves its purpose only in areas where it can be protected by antiaircraft guns and friendly fighters.

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