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"Organization of German Antiaircraft Units" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military intelligence report on German antiaircraft units is taken from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 5, August 13, 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 basic tactical antiaircraft unit in the German antiaircraft artillery is the battalion. In accordance with standard German organizational practice, antiaircraft artillery defense forces are organized as task forces. Battalions of various categories of antiaircraft armament are assigned to a particular commander for the execution of a particular mission. The size and composition of an antiaircraft artillery task force depends on:

a. The assigned mission (and its importance).
b. The amount and characteristics of enemy aviation.
c. The amount, types, and characteristics of friendly aviation available.
d. The commander's estimate of the means required.
e. The amount and types of antiaircraft artillery materiel available.
f. The terrain.
g. Proximity to the enemy.
h. Weather and season of year.

There are believed to be several different types of regimental organization in the German antiaircraft artillery. Several that have been mentioned by usually reliable sources are heavy-gun regiments, medium-caliber regiments and searchlight regiments. These units are used in large defenses such as the ones about Berlin. Another regiment is the composite type made up of battalions of the various arms for the execution of missions smaller in scope.

Judging from observation of the way in which the German High Command conducts their campaigns, as soon as the German Air Force has control of the air, then a part of the antiaircraft artillery becomes available for other purposes, principally antitank. Its characteristics make it ideally suited for antitank defense. The use of antiaircraft artillery armament against British and French tanks on the Western Front in 1940 played an important part in frustrating the operations of Allied armored units against the German offensive.

During the campaigns in Poland and on the Western Front, the 37-mm. gun was the principal German antitank weapon. In Russia, the 50-mm. weapon is replacing the 37-mm. antitank gun and the 37-mm. gun in the Mark III tank, as rapidly as materiel becomes available. Even the 50-mm. gun is not sufficiently effective against the largest Russian tanks, therefore a more powerful weapon is needed. Large caliber antiaircraft guns are used for this purpose. When the air is relatively free of enemy aircraft, the 88-mm. guns form the backbone of the antitank defense. For this reason, the German practice of assigning an antiaircraft corps to a Panzer army serves a useful purpose in giving great defensive fire power to a strong offensive force.

From German reports, antiaircraft guns have also been used in assaults upon fortifications, to interdict important communications within effective range, and for direct support of infantry units. It must be remembered, however, that these secondary uses are only permissible when there is little or no threat from the air.

Light and medium antiaircraft automatic cannon (20-mm. and 37-mm.) have been used very effectively against Russian machine-gun nests, especially at dawn and dusk when there was sufficient visibility for daylight operations, and yet enough darkness to observe the muzzle flashes.

The primary mission of antiaircraft searchlights is to illuminate hostile planes so they may be fired upon. Even if the planes cannot be illuminated, the searchlights make it difficult for the enemy air crews to orient themselves. Searchlights are also used to deceive hostile aviation personnel as to the exact location of important objectives.

The organization of the searchlight battalion is not definitely known. The presence of 27 lights in the 150-cm. battalion suggests three batteries, each composed of three platoons of three lights each. The 60-cm. searchlights are used with light and medium caliber weapons. It is believed that each light and medium-antiaircraft artillery battalion is normally equipped with 12 of these lights, organized into one battery, composed of four platoons of three lights each.

In the German armed forces, the light and heavy machine guns are identical, excepting that the light machine gun is used on a bipod mount (direct fire only), while the heavy machine gun is used on a tripod mount (direct and indirect fire). Naturally, there is no difference when the gun is used on antiaircraft mount.

In the employment of antiaircraft guns, it appears that special consideration is given to the defense of the artillery. This is true for defense against both air and armored attacks. As a result, heavy antiaircraft gun batteries are sometimes emplaced forward of the artillery positions.

In obtaining information of enemy air operations, the Germans use the same system as we do. They have an aircraft warning service, a territorial warning service, as well as an antiaircraft artillery information service manned and operated by the antiaircraft forces themselves. The aircraft warning service is a separate unit manned by its own operating personnel. It extends all over Germany, and over the occupied areas wherever there is danger of enemy aerial attacks. It is of special interest to note that the Germans have mobile aircraft-warning service stations organized into companies which can be placed about vulnerable areas and objectives in accordance with the situation.

The sketch following is an analysis of the altitudes (or slant ranges) of responsibility for defense against enemy aerial attacks.

[Antiaircraft Altitude]


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