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"German Antiaircraft Defense" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military intelligence report on German antiaircraft defenses was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 11, Nov. 5, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The article translated below is a chapter from General von Cochenhausen's "Tactical Handbook for the Troop Commander" (1940 Edition). This text is extensively used by German army personnel, especially officer candidates and junior officers, and is believed to embody the current German thought on the subjects treated. For previous excerpts from the handbook, see Tactical and Technical Trends, Nos. 7 and 8.

It should be borne in mind that most German antiaircraft units are a part of the Luftwaffe organization (see Tactical and Technical Trends No. 5, p. 5 and No. 7, p. 7).

a. General

The missions of ground antiaircraft defense are:

Defense against hostile aerial reconnaissance,

Defense against hostile artillery observation,

Defense against hostile air attacks on personnel and important defense installations,

Support of friendly air combat strength.

This defense is provided by light and heavy antiaircraft battalions, antiaircraft searchlight battalions, and air barrage balloon battalions.

b. Weapons

(1) Antiaircraft Guns

Light and heavy antiaircraft weapons supplement each other in their effect. In addition, troops fire their own machine guns and rifles against planes flying within a range of 800 yards. The antiaircraft gun, however, is the backbone of the entire antiaircraft defense. The battery is the fire unit, and the suballotment of its elements is not considered practical.

The heavy battery bears the brunt of the antiaircraft defense in the combat zone and combines a great range with rapid fire and mobility.

The mission of these heavy antiaircraft guns is to protect the ground troops against air reconnaissance and high-altitude attacks while on the march, at rest, or in actual combat. Moved by tractor or truck, the average marching speed of these heavy AA guns is from 5 to 20 miles per hour. Horse-drawn antiaircraft cannon are employed only by units contending with fuel shortages and very unsuitable road nets. Antiaircraft units moved by tractor or truck can be prepared for action rapidly, have great mobility, and can be employed within the effective range of hostile artillery.

These weapons are employed against hostile airplanes, especially attack units, flying at altitudes up to approximately 25,000 feet. Heavy antiaircraft artillery cannot be used against planes flying at altitudes under 3,000 feet. Because of the requirements for special fire-control equipment and special ammunition, these weapons are only to be used against ground targets in the case of close-in tank attacks.

(2) Light Antiaircraft Cannon

These lighter weapons are especially suitable for defense against planes flying at short ranges and at low altitudes, such as those attacking by ground-strafing and dive-bombing.

They are moved by mechanical transport, either on trucks or on self-propelled mounts, and are characterized by great mobility and, using tracer, by their ability to track air targets having a high angular rate of travel and change of ranges. The average marching speed of units equipped with these weapons is from 16 to 25 miles per hour.

(3) Antiaircraft Searchlight (60 and 150 cm)

By means of searchlights, alone or in cooperation with pursuit aviation, it is possible to discover hostile airplanes at night and deliver aimed fire at them as well as to blind the airplane crews, thus increasing their difficulties in orientation and preventing them from dropping bombs accurately. Searchlights do not attempt to illuminate the entire sky continuously. The general area of their targets is determined with sound-locator apparatus, and searchlights then illuminate the planes. Searchlights are moved by motor vehicles.

The 60-cm antiaircraft searchlight is organic within light antiaircraft artillery battalions, each of which is provided with 12 searchlights. With good visibility conditions, the maximum range of this searchlight is approximately 16,000 feet.

The 150-cm antiaircraft searchlights are organized into special searchlight battalions, each provided with 27 searchlights. With good visibility conditions their maximum range is approximately 25,000 feet.

(4) Air Obstacles

Barrage balloons supplement the defense provided by antiaircraft artillery, especially around important objectives. They are installed within, as well as around, the defended objective.

The mission of air obstacles, depending on their method of employment and altitudes, is to defend against high-level, low-level, or dive-bomber attacks.

c. Self-Defense of the Troops against Air Attacks

Troops of all arms, as well as the services, use their own light and heavy machine guns against low-altitude attacks at ranges of less than 850 yards. All light and heavy machine guns are provided with supplementary equipment for firing at air targets. All troops use small arms against low-altitude attacks up to ranges of 550 yards.

d. Employment

Several antiaircraft battalions may be assigned to a regimental commander, who, as far as the antiaircraft artillery is concerned, is placed directly under army command. The antiaircraft artillery attached to a corps is placed under the senior antiaircraft officer, who is then designated as the "corps antiaircraft artillery commander." The corps regulates the employment of the corps air units and corps antiaircraft artillery, as well as their cooperation with the aircraft warning service, in accordance with the orders of the army commander. One or more antiaircraft battalions may be placed under a corps, or, in exceptional cases, a division. Then, if no higher staff is available, the "antiaircraft artillery commander" has the mission of advising the ground force commander on all questions concerning: antiaircraft defenses, the employment of subordinate air and antiaircraft forces in accordance with the plan of action, and the execution of the pertinent orders of the ground force commander.

Normally, the antiaircraft artillery strength is concentrated around and on the most important and most critical points. Accordingly, the ground and air situations determine definite antiaircraft main efforts, which must usually be made at the expense of exposing a few less important points. March movements, for example, can generally be defended only at a few specially dangerous places, such as bridges and defiles, assembly points, and rest areas. On the battlefield, antiaircraft defense is usually most urgently needed to protect the artillery main effort.

The antiaircraft artillery battalion commander is essentially a tactical commander. Because of the widely separated battery positions and the characteristics of the targets, unity of fire control within the battalion is impossible.

The changing of positions interrupts the fire effect, and therefore it must be given careful attention, and generally should be carried out by echelons.

Pursuit aviation cooperates with antiaircraft artillery. By the concentration of pursuit aviation strength and antiaircraft artillery at decisive points, and by air attacks against hostile airfields, hostile air reconnaissance can be suppressed for a limited time over a limited area. Nevertheless, individual hostile reconnaissance planes may be expected to get through; consequently, even in case of temporary air superiority, camouflage measures should always be effected. In case only weak pursuit forces are available, it is more important than ever that their employment be coordinated with the antiaircraft artillery, so that they may at least impede the normal hostile reconnaissance. Blockading an air area by means of pursuit aviation promises only limited success and results in the excessive use of air strength.

e. Air Signal Troops

A part of the air signal troops (ground force liaison battalions) are placed under the army, and operate actually under the air arm commander at army headquarters. The missions of these units are:

(1) To install and operate communications between the air arm commander and reconnaissance aviation and antiaircraft artillery that are directly under him.

(2) To maintain connection with the communications net of the operating air arm, which includes bombardment, dive-bombing, pursuit, and low-flying combat planes.

The establishment of communications with reconnaissance and antiaircraft units in support of corps and division commands is a responsibility of ground force signal units.

Separate air signal units of the operating air arm are employed well forward to carry out the air security and warning service in the zone of operations.

f. Aircraft Warning Service

This service depends on the airplane recognition service and is carried out by the liaison troops.

There is a fixed "German territorial aircraft-warning service" and a "mobile aircraft-warning service" which is carried out by aircraft-warning service companies. This warning service is operated through the air district headquarters commanders, under whom the aircraft-warning service is subordinated.

The fixed "aircraft-warning service net" is mesh-like in character. The distance of individual air guard lines from one another varies between 20 and 45 miles. These distances and lines are established in accordance with tactical considerations. "Air guard stations" comprising observation and reporting stations (6 to 8 miles apart) and "air guard headquarters," comprising plotting and relaying stations, are agencies of the aircraft-warning service.

The motorized aircraft-warning companies supplement and increase the density of the fixed aircraft-warning net. Although usually employed well forward, they may be employed on open flanks and in rear areas.

The reports of the German territorial aircraft-warning service are made by wire, whereas the reports of the motorized aircraft-warning companies are made by radio.

The aircraft-warning service is supplemented by the troop-warning service of the antiaircraft artillery (similar to the German antiaircraft artillery information service). Every active antiaircraft artillery unit observes the air in the area under its jurisdiction with specially trained personnel. Thus, these units as air guards, and their staffs as air guard headquarters, execute, or in some cases supplement, the aircraft-warning service. The reports, after being checked by the antiaircraft artillery battalion, are transmitted to the air arm commander at army headquarters. These reports must contain the following: name or location of observation position; hour the planes were seen or heard; the number, type, nationality, and flight direction of the hostile planes; the altitude of the planes and their range from the air guards (only if this altitude and range are unusually great).

In addition, all troop units must use their own air guards to avoid surprise. These guards give warning by means of calls, horns, sirens, or blinker lamps. If antiaircraft artillery is present, its fire is the most effective warning.


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