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"Use of 20-mm AA/AT Gun Against Ground Targets" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A translated German document and newspaper report describe German use of 20-mm light flak against air and ground targets, from the Intelligence Bulletin, February 1943.

[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.]




A German document, evidently written by a platoon commander of an antiaircraft-antitank company, deals with an antiaircraft-antitank battalion's use of the 20-mm dual-purpose gun against ground targets.


a. General

The 20-mm gun on a self-propelled mount combines the fire power and mobility of an antiaircraft gun with the accuracy and penetration of an antitank gun. It is insufficiently armored, however, and this fault must be offset by making good use of cover and by fire control.

The smallest unit in battle is the section of two guns. Use of single guns, except for individual tasks like the engagement of enemy observation posts, is exceptional. Ground observation is most important; every spare man must be employed on it, and must be made personally ambitious to spot targets.

b. Action During Assembly

During assembly, antiaircraft-antitank troops usually take over protection against air and land attack. Guns must be sited so that attacking aircraft can be engaged from reverse slopes, while, moving the gun to a position on the forward slope, it is possible to bring under fire the enemy approaching on the ground.

c. Action During Attack

The antiaircraft-antitank troops support the advance of the infantry and other arms. For this purpose the antiaircraft-antitank guns should be sited to a flank, to exploit their range fully without endangering the advancing German troops. The addition of 100 yards, more or less, to a flank hardly interferes with the effectiveness of the 20-mm gun, whereas it does affect the enemy's infantry weapons by widening the target.

When in action only the following remain on the vehicle: driver and gun commander and Nos. 1 and 4.[1] When the gun commander is away on reconnaissance for a new gun position, No. 3 takes his place. The other men (who are the ammunition handlers) give protection and carry out flank observation. If there is no mine-spotting section available, the ammunition handlers must search for mines in the ground to be passed over.

The platoon or section commander and his runners follow directly in the rear of the attacking infantry or the assaulting engineer detachment. The commander reconnoiters good positions and good targets for the guns.

d. Fire

Good fire discipline (including good observation) is of the greatest value; this is gained by experience and will be made easier by cooperation with the attacking troops and the various observation posts. The sectors of fire must be assigned. Telescopes and rangefinders will be used to the fullest.

e. Movement

Changes of position must be made quickly. Occupation of a gun position from a flank must be avoided if possible. The guns will advance by bounds. If they meet slight opposition which can be broken by one section, the other section remains in reserve and, after the action, leapfrogs forward as an advance section while the first makes itself ready again.

When close to the enemy—for example, when breaking into his positions—the guns fire on the move. This forces the enemy to take cover, and weakens his morale.

f. Defense

When bivouacking or holding a defensive position, the guns occupy prepared positions under cover. Other alternative positions are prepared, battle outposts are put out, and landmarks are recorded.

g. On the March

On the march the battalion is disposed as follows:

No. 1 gun—protection to front and right.
No. 2 gun—protection to front and left.
No. 3 gun—protection to rear and right.
No. 4 gun—protection to rear and left.

Under air attack, a similar formation will be adopted. On the section commander's orders, the troops will halt and open fire. Aircraft will be engaged only if they spot or attack the battalion's own positions, if bridges or observation posts need protection, or if the aircraft offer especially good targets.

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; that is, by its high rate of fire it can jam turrets and gun mantlets. The most effective range against tanks is under 400 yards. Every effort must be made to attack them from the sides.


The duties of the antiaircraft-antitank battalions are, above all, to protect other units against low-flying attacks while on the march and in action. For this purpose the 20-mm gun is principally used.

The battalions are part of the infantry's support. Troops of these units are therefore trained as infantrymen; but, in addition, they learn their own weapons, including training with different sizes of rangefinders in height estimation. Otherwise, the training corresponds to that of flak units. The antiaircraft-antitank units (the platoon is the normal fighting unit) are located in the column of march according to the prearranged operation order. In case of surprise attack, fire is opened either immediately from the tractor on which the gun is mounted, or else sections (which are fully motorized) leave the column and occupy a position on firm ground with a good field of fire, with the gun dismounted. After fighting, the units catch up with their original position in the line of march.

Antiaircraft-antitank guns use only tracer ammunition—high explosive against aircraft, and, if necessary, armor-piercing ammunition against ground targets; they have a limited ceiling and are used principally by day. Antiaircraft-antitank troops have no listening apparatus or searchlight batteries and do not pretend to rival the flak artillery. Further tasks include: protection of divisional artillery against low-flying attack, participation in ground fighting by neutralizing enemy machine-gun nests and other strong points, or defense against single tanks.

[1] The duties of Nos. 2 and 3 are not indicated.

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