12.8 cm FlaK 40

The 12.8 cm FlaK 40 was a German World War II anti-aircraft gun. Although it was not produced in great numbers, it was one of the most effective heavy AA guns of its era.

Development of the gun began in 1936, with the contract being awarded to Rheinmetall Borsig. The first prototype gun was delivered for testing in late 1937 and completed testing successfully. 
The gun weighed nearly 12 tonnes in its firing position, with the result that its barrel had to be removed for transport. Limited service testing showed this was impractical, so in 1938 other solutions were considered.

12.8 cm Flak 40
German 12.8 cm Flak 40 - static mount.jpg
A static mounted 12.8 cm Flak 40.
TypeAnti-aircraft gun
Place of originNazi Germany
Service history
In service1942–45
Used byNazi Germany
WarsWorld War II
Production history
No. builtTotal 1,125
Variants12.8 cm FlaK 40
12.8 cm FlaK 40 Zwilling
Weight17,000 kg 
Length7.835 m 
Barrel length61 calibers

Shell26 kilograms 
Caliber128 mm 
BreechHorizontal sliding
CarriageStatic or railcar mounted.
Elevation-3 to +88 degrees
Traverse360 degrees
Muzzle velocity880 m/s 
Maximum firing range10,675 m 
Feed systemPower rammer

The eventual solution was to simplify the firing platform, based on the assumption it would always be securely bolted into concrete. The total weight of the Flakzwilling twin-gun mount system reached 26.5 tonnes, making it practically impossible to tow cross-country. In the end, this mattered little since by the time the gun entered production in 1942, it was used in primary static defensive applications. 

There were four twin mounts on the fortified anti-aircraft Zoo Tower, and they were also on other flak towers protecting Berlin, Hamburg, and Vienna. During the Battle of Berlin, the guns on the Zoo Tower were used successfully to support ground forces, where the heavy 128mm shells obliterated Soviet armor, especially when hit from the side. The rush to capture the Reichstag led to dozens of tanks being destroyed. Approximately 200 were mounted on railcars, providing limited mobility.
The gun fired a 27.9 kg  shell at 880 m/s to a maximum ceiling of 14,800 m. Compared with the 88mm FlaK 18 & 36, the 128 used a powder charge four times as great.

12,8-cm-Flak on a Flak tower.

12.8 cm FlaK 40 -12.8 cm Flakzwilling 40/2 The 12.8 cm Flak 40 ordnance on a static dual mounting with a total weight of 26 tonnes, capable of firing 20 rounds per minute. Used mainly on flak towers. Production started in 1942 with 10 twin sets produced, another eight in 1943, and in February 1945 a total of 34 were available.

12.8 cm PaK 40 A derivative anti-tank gun, rejected in favour of the Krupp 12.8 cm Pak 44, used to arm the Sturer Emil prototypes


British tanks in May 1940

By the time World War Two had come around, the design of the tank had shifted from its uses as a terrain covering vehicle, and the full potential of the tank as an armoured, combat vehicle had been realised.

Since the infantry tanks were to work at the pace of the infantry units, which would be attacking on foot, high speed was not a requirement and they were able to carry heavier armour. 

The Infantry Tank came about as a result of a 1934 requirement by the General Staff for a tank that would directly support an infantry attack. Armament would consist of a machine gun and an overall speed of a walking man when moving. Vickers designed an inexpensive (cost was a serious consideration) pilot which was delivered and accepted in 1936. Although heavily armoured it was slow and under-armed. Most would be lost or left behind in France.

The first purpose-designed infantry tanks were the Matilda I armed with a machine-gun and Matilda II, which was armed with a machine gun and a QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun. It was quickly seen that the Matilda I, with only a machine gun, was inadequate for its intended role. The second Matilda was ordered directly off the drawing board in 1937. During its production years of 1940 to 1943, 2,987 of these sturdy tanks were built. Though small, the tank presented a massive appearance due to its armoured skirts and cast armour. The Matilda 2 totally dominated all Italian armour and could claim title to "Queen of the Desert" until the arrival of German tanks in North Africa.

The British Army were pioneers in tank combat but by 1939 it could be argued they were behind the times in terms of strategy and tactics, their methods based on the trench warfare of World War One. The British Army entered the Second World War with an array of poor designs and hobbled by poor doctrine. According to the theories of Captain BH Liddell Hart and Major-General Sir Percy Hobart, they split their tank force into two groups; Infantry tanks and Cruiser tanks. British tank use focused on cavalry-type missions and infantry support without the focus on the combined-arms tactics that dominated German and Soviet thinking.

The result was a series of under-armed, mechanically unreliable designs such as the A9 which Sir John Carden of Vickers-Armstrong produced in 1934 and A10 and Crusader (A15) cruiser tanks, and the Matilda (A11) also by Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd, began in 1935 and Matilda II (A12) infantry tanks, and a series of deathtrap light tanks, the Light Tank Mk I built earlier by Vickers Armstrong from 1929, up to the Light Tank Mk V produced during 1936, that were suitable for reconnaissance work only.

                                            Matilda Mk I (A11)

                                                    Matilda Mk II (A12) 

The Matilda Mk I, (A11) and Matilda II (A12) infantry tanks fought together in France as part of the 1st Army Tank Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force in the Battle of France. They participated in the defence and counter-attack operation at Arras against the invasion by Nazi Germany in May 1940, temporarily discomfiting the 7th Panzer Division under Rommel. 

In the battle, elements of motorized SS regiment "Totenkopf" (later to be expanded into SS-Division Totenkopf) were overrun, their standard 37 mm PaK 36/37 anti-tank guns proving ineffective against the heavily armoured British Matilda tank. Rommel committed some of his armour to local counterattacks, only to find the guns of the Panzer II and Panzer 38(t) tanks could not penetrate the Matildas' armour. 

Desperate to prevent a British breakthrough, Rommel ordered the division's 88 mm FlaK 18 anti-aircraft guns and 105 mm field guns be formed into a defensive line and fire anti-tank and HE rounds in a last-ditch effort to stop the Matildas, and this stopped the British tanks. 

The attack made the German commanders nervous, and the battle is historically credited with shaking the confidence of the German High Command (OKW) and it may have been one of the factors for the surprise German halt on 24 May that gave the BEF the slimmest of opportunities to begin evacuation from Dunkirk. The main British force consisted of only 58 machine gun armed Matilda Is and 16 QF 2-pounder gun armed Matilda IIs supported by a few lighter armoured vehicles.

                                                      Vickers 6 tn tank (T-26 was license)

During the summer of 1939, an amazed German military attaché in Britain watched troops on manoeuvres, march with gas pipes and pieces of wood to represent anti-tank rifles and carry blue flags to represent trucks they rode in. One lieutenant stuffed his holster with paper because he had no pistol and one soldier who joined the Royal Artillery in April did not receive his uniform until July. There were immense pressures to produce equipment, which led to a rapid increase in output. 

Clothing items were one example of this, greatcoats and boots being produced at up to fifty times the normal peacetime rates. Twenty-five years of greatcoats were produced in six months and 18 months' army boots were turned out in one week but shortages remained. After the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries in May 1940, only three officers of the 5th Battalion, Green Howards, a TA unit, had pistols and the unit similarly lacked compasses and binoculars.

Following the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the BEF was despatched to France and sent to the Franco-Belgian border. Advanced parties of troops left Portsmouth on 4 September under Plan W4 and the first troops convoy left the ports on the Bristol Channel and Southampton on 9 September, the landings taking place at Cherbourg on 10 September and Nantes and St Nazaire the next day. 

German submarines had been limited by Hitler's orders to avoid provoking the Allies and only a few mines were laid near Dover and Weymouth. By 27 September, 152,000 soldiers, 21,424 army vehicles, 37,000 t tons of ammunition, 25,000 t of petrol and 61,000 t of frozen meat had been delivered to France by the Navy and the Merchant Navy.

By 19 October, the BEF had received 25,000 vehicles to complete the first deployment. The majority of the troops were stationed along the Franco-Belgian border; the 51st Highland Infantry Division was reinforced and called Saar Force served with the French Third Army on the Maginot Line. Belgium and the Netherlands were neutral countries and no troops were stationed in them. 

For those troops along the Maginot Line the inactivity and an undue reliance on the fortifications, which it was believed would provide an unbreakable defence, led to "Tommy Rot" – as portrayed by the song "Imagine Me on the Maginot Line". Morale was high amongst the British troops but the small-scale actions of the Germans by 9 May, had led many into assuming that there would not be much chance of a big German attack in that area.

Over the next few months, more troops and equipment began to arrive in France and by 13 March 1940, the BEF had doubled in size to 394,165 men. By May 1940 the BEF order of battle consisted of 10 infantry divisions in I Corps, II Corps and III Corps, the 1st Army Tank Brigade, the BEF Air Component Royal Air Force (RAF) detachment of about 500 aircraft and the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) long-range bomber force. 

These were commanded by General Headquarters (GHQ) which consisted of men from Headquarters (HQ) Troops (consisting of the 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards, the 9th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment and the 14th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers), the 1st Army Tank Brigade, 1st Light Armoured Reconnaissance Brigade, HQ Royal Artillery and the 5th Infantry Division.

This period leading up to 10 May was known as the "Phoney War", as there was little combat apart from minor clashes of reconnaissance patrols. The first BEF fatality was 27-year-old Corporal Thomas William Priday, from the 1st Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, attached to the 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, killed on 9 December 1939, when his patrol set off a booby-trap and was fired upon by friendly troops.

At the start of the war, the British Army possessed only two armoured divisions: the Mobile Division, formed in Britain in October 1937, and the Mobile Division (Egypt), formed in the autumn of 1938 following the Munich Crisis,

These two divisions were later redesignated the 1st Armoured Division, in April 1939, and 7th Armoured Division, in January 1940, respectively.

During the war, the army raised a further nine armoured divisions, some of which were training formations and saw no action. Three were formed from first-line territorial or Yeomanry units. Six more were raised from various sources. As with the infantry divisions, not all existed at the same time, as several armoured divisions were disbanded or reduced to skeleton establishments during the course of the war, as a result of battle casualties or to provide reinforcements to bring other formations up to full strength.

The structure of British armoured divisions changed several times before and during the war. In 1937, the Mobile Division had two cavalry brigades each with three light tank regiments, a tank brigade with three medium tank regiments, and a "Pivot Group" (later called the "Support Group") containing two motorised infantry battalions and two artillery regiments. The Mobile Division (Egypt) had a light armoured brigade, a cavalry brigade, a heavy armoured group of two regiments and a pivot group.

By 1939, the intention was for an Armoured Division to consist of two armoured brigades, a support group and divisional troops. The armoured brigades would each be composed of three armoured regiments with a mixture of light and medium tanks, with a total complement of 220 tanks, while the support group would be composed of two motorised infantry battalions, two field artillery regiments, one anti–tank regiment and one light anti–aircraft regiment.

In late 1940, following the campaign in France and Belgium in the spring, it was realised that there were insufficient infantry and support units, and mixing light and cruiser tanks in the same brigade had been a mistake. The armoured divisions' organisation was changed so that each armoured brigade now incorporated a motorised infantry battalion, and a third battalion was present within the Support Group.


French tank-force 10 May 1940 - Battle of France

At the start of the war, France had one of the largest (second biggest, after to soviet union) tank forces in the world, along with the Soviet, British and German forces. 

The French had planned for a defensive war and built tanks accordingly; infantry tanks were designed to be heavily armoured. Within France and its colonies, roughly 5,800 tanks were available during the time of the German offensive, and some when they came into contact were effective against the German tanks.
Renault R-35 

                                                      Renault R-40

The R 35 was intended to replace the FT as standard light infantry tank from the summer of 1936, but even by May 1940 not enough conscripts had been retrained and therefore eight battalions of the older tank had to be kept operational. On 1 September 1939, at the outbreak of war, 975 vehicles had been delivered out of 1070 produced; 765 were fielded by tank battalions in France. Of a total order for 2,300 at least 1,601 had been produced until 1 June 1940 serial numbers known to be actually used indicate a production of at least 1670 vehicles.

In the Battle of France, despite an advantage in number and armour against the Germans, the French tanks were not used to good enough effect. Ironically, cooperation with the infantry was poor. The Cavalry units alone were too few in number.

In armour and firepower, French tanks were generally not inferior to their German counterparts. In one incident, a single Char B1 "Eure" was able to destroy thirteen German tanks within a few minutes in Stonne on 16 May 1940, all of them Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. 
The 37mm and 20mm guns the Germans used were ineffective at penetrating the thick armour of the B1, which was able to return safely despite being hit a large number of times. Even German General Rommel was surprised at how the French tanks withstood the German tank shells and had to resort to using the German 88 artillery as antitank guns against the French tanks to knock them out.

Setbacks the French military suffered were more related to strategy, tactics and organisation than technology and design. Almost 80 percent of French tanks did not have radios, since the battle doctrine employed by the French military was more a slow-paced, deliberate conformance to planned maneuvers. French tank warfare was severely restricted as tanks were assigned to infantry divisions, and were intended to provide support for infantry. Unlike Germany, which had dedicated tank divisions, France did not separate tanks from the infantry, and were unable to respond quickly to the Blitzkrieg tactics employed by the Germans, which involved rapid movement, mission-type orders and combined-arms tactics.

The S35 medium tank entered service in January 1936 with the 4e Cuirassiers. At the end of 1937 the SA 35 gun became available and deliveries of the main production series could begin. By mid 1938 a hundred had been produced, 270 on 1 September 1939 and 246 delivered. On this date 191 served with the troops, 51 were in depot and four had been sent back to the factory for overhaul. After the outbreak of war a fourth order of 200 was made, bringing the ordered total to 700. Later it was decided that from the 451st vehicle onward the tanks would be of the improved S 40 type. Production in fact totalled 430 by June 1940, including the prototype and the preseries.

Of these about 288 were in front-line service at the beginning of the Battle of France, with the three armoured divisions of the Cavalry, the Divisions Légères Mécaniques or Mechanised Light Divisions ("light" here meaning "mobile"). Each of these had an organic strength of eight squadrons with ten S35s; each squadron however had a matériel reserve of two tanks and regimental and brigade commanders in practice had personal tanks too, resulting in a total of 88 vehicles per division. Furthermore, 31 were present in the general matériel reserve, 49 in factory stocks and 26 were being processed for acceptance.

These vehicles were later issued to several ad hoc units, such as the 4th DCR (commanded by Charles de Gaulle) which received 39, part of 3e Cuirassiers, the 4th DLM (10), and some Corps-francs Motorisés (about 25). Also the destroyed 1st, 2nd and 3rd DLM were reconstituted with a small number of tanks, the first two divisions received ten S 35s, the third twenty; S 35s further served with the 7e Cuirassiers (25) and a platoon of three was present in the 3e RAM of the 3e DLC.

In May 1940 during the Battle of France the DLMs were tasked with the difficult manoevre of carrying out a quick advance into the Low Countries, followed by a holding action to allow the infantry divisions following behind to dig themselves in. The 2nd and 3rd DLM were concentrated in the Gembloux gap between Louvain and Namur, where there were no natural obstacles to impede a German advance. They had to spread out somewhat to hold that sector against incursions by the German 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions. This was necessitated by the local tactical situation and did not reflect some fundamental difference in doctrine between the use of the DLMs and the Panzerdivisionen. 

Both types of units were very similar in equipment, training and organisation, as the German armoured divisions too were primarily intended for strategic exploitation, while the breakthrough phase was preferably left to the infantry. The resulting tank battle from 13 to 15 May, the Battle of Hannut, was with about 1700 AFVs participating the largest until that day and is still one of the largest of all time. The S 35s gave a good account of themselves, proving to be indeed superior to the German tanks in direct combat, but they were rather hesitantly deployed as the French High Command mistakenly supposed the gap was the German Schwerpunkt and tried to preserve their best tanks to block subsequent attacks by the rest of the Panzerwaffe.

When it transpired the attack was really a feint and the forces in the north were in danger of being cut off by the German advance south of Namur, the 1st DLM that had very quickly moved 200 kilometres to the north to help the Dutch, was hurriedly rushed south again. The resulting disorder and breakdown of most of its S 35s rendered this unit, the most powerful of all Allied divisions, impotent; it was defeated by the German 5th Panzerdivision on 17 May. The other DLMs fought a delaying battle, participated in the Battle of Arras and then disintegrated. Committing its only strategically mobile armour reserve early in the battle had made the French Army fatally vulnerable to a German strategic surprise.

After the June 1940 armistice, S 35s were allowed to be sent to West Africa to bolster the hold of the Vichy regime on that region. They were issued to the 12e régiment de Chasseurs d'Afrique that, after French forces in Africa had sided with the Allies, operated them against German and Italian forces during the Tunisia Campaign. After the liberation of France in 1944 an armoured unit was raised, the 13e Régiment de Dragons, using French matériel, among which were seventeen S 35s.

After the fall of France a number of S 35s (297 were captured according to some sources) were taken into service with the Wehrmacht as the Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f). The Germans modified the cupola by cutting its top off and installing a simple hatch.

The 21st and 25. Panzerdivision in 1943 used some S 35s when reforming after having been largely destroyed. Some of these units fought in Normandy in 1944, and there were still twelve S 35s listed as in German service on 30 December 1944.