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"Tactical Use of German 20-mm Dual-Purpose Gun" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on tactical use of the German self-propelled 20-mm gun was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 14, Dec. 17, 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 Germans are firm believers in the dual-purpose antiaircraft-antitank gun. German Fla-Bataillone (independent antiaircraft battalions which are organic to the infantry) are equipped with such a weapon, the 20-mm self-propelled gun (for details, see this publication No. 5, p. 14). What follows is adapted from what appears to be the notes of a commander of a Fla platoon; note the importance attached to ground targets.

a. Ground Targets

The 20-mm gun on a self-propelled mount combines the fire power and mobility of an AA gun with the accuracy and penetration of an AT gun. Its disadvantage is that it is insufficiently armored, and this fault must be offset by good use of ground and fire control. The smallest unit in battle is the two-gun section. Use of single guns is exceptional.

As in all land operations, ground observation is most important. Every spare man must be employed on this, and must be made personally ambitious to spot enemy targets. Owing to the amazing accuracy of the gun "it is possible to say that when the enemy has once been spotted, he no longer is an enemy."

b. Protection during Deployment

During deployment, platoons usually take over protection against air or land attack. Guns must be sited so that attacking aircraft can be engaged from reverse slopes, while approaching ground targets can be brought under fire as quickly as possible by moving up the slope to a forward position.

c. The Attack

The Fla platoon supports the advance of the infantry and other arms. For this purpose it should be placed on the flank to enable its range to be fully utilized without endangering friendly troops. A hundred yards more or less to the flank hardly affects the efficacy of the 20-mm gun.

During operations the following are the only men on the vehicle: driver, gun commander, No. 1, and No. 4. The gun commander often has to dismount to reconnoiter the terrain or a position, when No. 3 takes his place. The other men, including ammunition handlers, give protection and observe to the flanks of the gun. If there is no mine-spotting section available, the ammunition handlers must cover the terrain to be traversed.

The platoon or section commander follows directly behind the attacking infantry or the pioneer assault detachment with his runners. He reconnoiters for good positions and opportunities for the employment of the gun. Signalling by means of the machine-gun company's number code has proved effective.

The guns usually approach their targets backwards, and use all folds in the ground and other cover.

d. Firing

Good fire discipline including good observation is of the greatest value. This needs practice and will be made easier by cooperation with the attacking troops and the various observation posts. Zones of observation must be laid down. Telescopes and rangefinders will be used to the full.

e. Movement

Changes of position must be made rapidly. Movement parallel to the front must be avoided if possible. The guns will advance by bounds. If there is only slight opposition, which can be broken by one section, the other section remains in readiness and then goes forward as the advanced section, while the first gets ready for action again.

When close to the enemy and when breaking into his positions, the guns fire on the move. Thus they force the enemy to take cover, and achieve a strong effect on morale.

f. Defense

When in an assembly area or holding a defensive position, the guns occupy prepared positions under cover. Several alternate positions are prepared, battle outposts are put out, possible targets are spotted, landmarks identified, etc.

g. On the March

On the march, when in the rear or when contact with the enemy is likely, the platoon is disposed as follows:

No. 1 gun--protection to the front and right;
No. 2 gun--protection to the front and left;
No. 3 gun--protection to rear and right;
No. 4 gun--protection to rear and left.

In case of aerial attack, a similar formation will be adopted. Fire will then be opened at the halt on the section commander's orders. Aircraft will only be engaged if they spot or attack German positions, if bridges or observation posts have to be protected, or if the aircraft present an especially good target.

The communications section and unit transport travel with the forward echelon trains of the unit under whose command the platoon has been placed.

h. Tanks

It has been proved that the gun rightly used can put even the heaviest tanks to flight, even if it cannot put them out of action. The most effective range against tanks is under 400 yards. Every effort must be made to attack tanks from the flank.


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