Geoff Walden


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Schweinfurt, Part 3

Flak (Anti-Aircraft) Defenses of the City

   Due to the importance of the ball and roller bearing industry concentrated in Schweinfurt, the city was defended by a ring of anti-aircraft batteries, called Flak in German - a contraction of Flugabwehrkanone or Fliegerabwehrkanone (aircraft defense cannon). Flak gun and searchlight positions were established all around Schweinfurt to protect the industrial areas against attack from any direction, although the bombers normally came from the southwest, as this allowed the bomber streams to most efficiently target the bearing factories on the west side of town. By the end of the war, some 140 flak guns ranging from light 2.0cm guns to the standard 8.8cm gun (the famous "Eighty-Eight") were in place, as well as nine searchlight positions. The light 2.0cm and 3.7cm guns were meant as defense against low-flying fighters and fighter-bombers, while the 8.8cm guns targeted the high altitude B-17 bombers. 

   Although the Schweinfurt flak batteries were credited with shooting down some enemy aircraft during the bombing attacks, and they undoubtedly damaged many others, the main purpose of the flak was to disrupt the bomber streams and ruin their aim (although this would naturally lead to more collateral damage away from the actual factory areas). Some of the flak batteries also engaged the advancing American forces in early April 1945, firing both indirect and direct fire against the ground targets.

   The major 8.8cm flak batteries were located in the following areas. Not all of these batteries were in place at the same time, and not all contained the gun numbers shown below on a permanent basis - some of the battery positions were later abandoned and the guns moved to other locations. The small caliber guns were normally located close to the bearing factories, or in support of the larger flak batteries. The main batteries were, clockwise from the north:

Hambach - 12 guns 8.8cm
Deutschhof - 12 guns 8.8cm
Kaltenhof - 12 guns 8.8cm
Sennfeld/Gochsheim - 12 guns 8.8cm
Spitalholz - 6 guns 8.8cm
Schwebheim - 12 guns 8.8cm
Röthlein - 12 guns 8.8cm
Grafenrheinfeld - 19 guns 8.8cm
Oberndorf - 6 guns 8.8cm
Bergrheinfeld - 18 guns 8.8cm
Ettleben - 18 guns 8.8cm
Geldersheim - 6 guns 8.8cm
Euerbach - 12 guns 8.8cm
Grossbatterie Panzerkaserne - 18 guns 8.8cm
(Reportedly, there were at one time six 10.5cm flak guns on rail cars parked near the Kugelfischer bearing works.)

 

Examples of the light flak guns - on the left, the 2.0cm Flak 38 gun in a single mount; in the center, the 3.7cm Flak 37; on the right, the four-barrel 2.0cm Flakvierling 38.  (gun on the right is on display in the Museum Stammheim am Main)

 

The famous "Eighty-Eight" was the primary flak gun used in the defenses of Schweinfurt. Several models of the 8.8cm flak gun existed; photos show both Flak 18 and Flak 36 models emplaced around Schweinfurt. The photos at left and center above show the Flak 36 model. In the center photo, the soldiers at the left are using the automatic fuse setter located on the left side of the gun (see next photo set).  (Bundesarchiv)

 

The Flak 36 model 88 on the left shows the automatic fuse setter on the right side of the gun mount (as seen from in front of the gun). A crewman sat in front of the mechanism and dialed in the correct setting for the fuses, based on the range and height of the target bomber formations, while another crewman placed the high explosive rounds with time fuses, nose-first, into one of two receptacle cups on the side of the mechanism (right-hand photo), which automatically set the fuses to the proper time delay.

 

8.8cm Flak 18 model guns in the Schweinfurt flak batteries.  (author's collection)

 

On the left, guns of the Schweinfurt flak batteries engage targets at night. On the right is a view of a gun position during the winter of 1944-45 - not a pleasant assignment.  (author's collection)

 

The city defense flak guns were normally mounted in permanent positions, surrounded by quadrangular earthen berms, which provided some protection against shrapnel from nearby bomb bursts. The 8.8cm guns were usually grouped in batteries of six guns, often in a hexagonal arrangement. The drawing on the left above shows a plan for an 8.8cm gun emplacement. On the right above is an Eighty-Eight firing from its emplacement at night. 

The October 1943 aerial photo on the right below shows the area near the Panzer Kaserne (buildings at the bottom), with bomb damage showing from the previous attack in August. The hexagonal features outlined in red are two batteries of 8.8cm flak guns (six guns in each battery), part of the Großbatterie Panzerkaserne, which would eventually number 20 guns and several searchlights, rangefinders, and radar antennas. One of the earthen berm gun emplacements for the Schweinfurt batteries still exists (seen on the left below), near the current U.S. Army Ledward Barracks (former Panzer Kaserne). The arrow highlights the gun emplacement that still exists.  (above - Bundesarchiv; below - U.S. National Archives, RG 343FH-22426 (detail)

 

These photos were taken among the guns of the Großbatterie Panzerkaserne (in a six-gun position that was just off the left edge of the aerial photo above). The crews of the Schweinfurt flak guns consisted of Luftwaffe flak personnel and Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) workers (Labor Service), who actually manned the guns in action, assisted by teenage Flakhelfer personnel and even a few Russian prisoners of war. Even though the school boy Flak Helpers were only supposed to carry ammunition and perform other support roles, they did sometimes actually load and fire the guns (particularly in late 1944 and 1945). The crewmen shown here, including Edmund Scheckenbach (seen in the photo above and some below) lived in barracks near the guns and trained to a high state of readiness. In the photo on the left below, a crewman is loading the 8.8cm cartridge into the breech.  (Many thanks to Alan and Edmund Scheckenbach for providing these photos!)

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This photo taken during the bombing attack on 14 October 1943 shows two of the Schweinfurt flak batteries. Outlined in red at the top is a six-gun position near Geldersheim; at the bottom are two six-gun positions at Grafenrheinfeld (seen enlarged on the right).  (U.S. National Archives, RG 343FH-3A22431)

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These photos show 8.8cm Flak 36 model guns in the Grafenrheinfeld batteries. The white rings around the barrel of Gun C ("Cesar") - above left - indicated enemy aircraft shot down. On the left below, RAD flak crewmen clean the disassembled breech block. Thorough cleaning after firing was necessary to keep the guns functioning properly. These photos also show details of the gun emplacement construction with integral ammunition storage areas. The battery barracks were damaged during the bombing on 24 February 1944, seen on the right below.  (author's collection)

 

Left - Luftwaffe "old hands" (at left) with three Flak Helpers at their gun in one of the Grafenrheinfeld batteries. The gun barrel of this Flak 18 cannon has 15 kill rings. Center/right - Young RAD flak crewmen pose with their flak guns of the Grafenrheinfeld batteries.  (left - Museum Stammheim am Main; center/right - author's collection)

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Batterie Spitalholz was a concentration of flak guns defending Schweinfurt from across the river south of the city. Several  8.8cm anti-aircraft guns were emplaced here in earthen positions.  (left/center - U.S. National Archives, RG 343FH-3A22457; right - Museum Stammheim am Main)

 

Part of the Spitalholz Battery after one of the bombing attacks - the guns in their earthworks still point skyward, while the target areas burn in the distance. An Autobahn highway was built through here in the 1960s, with an interchange in this area, and growth of the Hafen industrial and business area has obliterated any resemblance to the period photo.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Light flak guns protecting the Fichtel & Sachs factory. These 2.0cm guns were emplaced in several locations around the factory areas, including some mounted on the building roofs. Below, Luftwaffe personnel train young Flak Helpers on a 2.0cm gun.  (author's collection; above right - courtesy Mike Haines)

 

2.0cm Flakvierling 38 four-barrel light flak guns of the Fichtel & Sachs factory defenses.  (author's collection)

 

Flak rounds burst among the bomber formations - the photo on the left was taken during one of the Schweinfurt missions, but the photo on the right does not show Schweinfurt. One of the goals of the flak barrages, in addition to damaging and shooting down planes, was to disrupt the bomber formations and ruin their aim.  (U.S. National Archives)

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One of the Allied casualties - a B-17 crash-landed near Elfershausen (northwest of Schweinfurt). This is B-17F #42-30191 of the 379th Bomb Group, "The Bolevich," piloted by Lt. Donald W. Merchant. This plane suffered hits from fighters and flak during the 17 August 1943 attack and crashed-landed shortly after the bomb run, killing T/Sgt. Gene Hecht, whose parachute failed to open.  According to period German reports, the plane came down in this location south of Elfershausen, and was a victim of the Schweinfurt flak batteries (not fighters). German reports gave credit to the batteries at Geldersheim, Oberndorf, Deutschhof, and the Großbatterie Panzerkaserne(private collection) (MapQuest Map Link)

 

Further B-17s shot down in the Schweinfurt area. The bomber above, B-17G #42-46103, was shot down by the combined fire of the Schweinfurt flak batteries at Deutschhof, Kaltenhof, and Sennfeld on 21 July 1944 and crashed on the Maibacher Höhe northwest of the city center, killing two crewmen in the process. The tail fell in the area near Air Raid Shelter #4, seen at the left edge of the modern photo. Below - B-17G #42-23550, commanded by 2nd Lt. Alden Kincaid of the 305th Bomb Group, was shot down near Waigolshausen on 14 October 1943, losing three crewmen killed.  (above - Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt; below - Historisches Verein Waigolshausen)

 

In addition to the flak guns themselves, the flak battery positions included various support equipment such as range finders, searchlights, acoustic trackers, and command and control centers. Above is a Kdo. Gr. 36 four-meter base range finder. Below is a 150cm searchlight. Both original pieces are on display in the Museum Stammheim am Main(above - U.S. War Dept. TM E9-369A, "German 88-MM Antiaircraft Gun Materiel," 29 June 1943; below - Bundesarchiv)

 

Crewmen of one of the control positions associated with the Schweinfurt batteries operate a range finder and communications equipment. On the right, RAD flak crewmen of the Großbatterie Panzerkaserne dig out a dud 500-pound bomb after one of the bombing attacks.  (left - author's collection; right - courtesy Alan and Edmund Scheckenbach)

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Located near the two 6-gun flak batteries south of Euerbach was a part of the German early warning and fighter control radar net. This radar station was code-named "Wildschwein," and consisted of a "Freya" long-range radar antenna and two "Würzburg-Riese" radar dishes, along with associated barracks and administrative buildings. The hexagonal concrete bases for the two "Würzburg-Riese" radar sets remain today, and one has recently been incorporated into a local Peace Memorial (the light coloring on the concrete is not paint, but is where the lower part of the base was covered by the slope, and only recently excavated). Below is a 1945 photo of a "Würzburg-Riese" dish in place on its concrete base. (Click here to see ruins of a similar radar site in northern Bavaria.)  (Google Maps© Link)  (author's collection)

 

The concrete base for the other "Würzburg-Riese" radar dish is in a nearby field. An opening on one side of the base allowed access to the mount and wiring inside, and also for passage of the buried electrical cables.  (U.S. National Archives, RG342-FH)  (Google Maps© Link)

 

This U.S. Army Air Forces aerial reconnaissance photo shows the two 6-gun Euerbach flak batteries (large circles)
and the upper Würzburg-Riese radar installation (smaller circle at left). The other Würzburg-Riese radar dish is out
of view  to the left.  (courtesy Deutsch-Amerikanisches Nachkriegsmuseum)

The two 8.8cm flak gun positions outlined in the battery on the right in the period photo above
can still be seen at some times of the year as differences in the crop outlines in satellite views
(click here - This view is from 2008, from the Google Maps © history file).

During the latter part of the war, the searchlights and other support equipment, along with the radar stations, were generally operated by female Luftwaffe auxiliaries, the Flakhelferinnen and Nachrichtenhelferinnen. These "flak helpers" and "Blitz Mädels" (signals girls) were youths in their teens or early 20s, who also helped coordinate the battery communications and, on rare occasions, crew the flak guns.  (private collection)

 

These photos show a building on Ludwigstraße in the suburb of Niederwerrn, which served as a command and control bunker for the Schweinfurt area air defenses, under the command of Flak-Regiment 179. After the war, windows were cut through the concrete walls, and the building has served as an auto repair shop.  (My thanks to Mike Haines for alerting me to this "bunker" in Niederwerrn, and to Lt. Col. Juan Hernandez (Ret.) for info on its wartime purpose.)

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Many of the flak batteries engaged the advancing U.S. Army troops from 6-10 April 1945, firing both
indirect and direct fire missions, destroying several tanks in the process. In particular, the batteries at Ettleben,
Schwebheim, and Hambach delayed the American advance significantly, until their ammunition was exhausted.
When the U.S. Army moved into Schweinfurt on 11 April 1945, the flak batteries had been abandoned, the guns
put out of action. The guns seen here were found abandoned by the infantrymen of the 42nd Division.
(42nd "Rainbow" Infantry Division, 1946)

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This memorial stands at the site of the large collection of flak guns near Ettleben, southwest of Schweinfurt. These guns were directly beneath the usual bomber route to the bearing factory targets, plus they were in the path of the advancing American forces in early April 1945. On the night of 8 April, after delaying the U.S. advance for three days, and recognizing the futility of further fighting, the battery commander ordered all the remaining ammunition to be expended, then the guns were disabled and the crews (mostly teenage flak helpers) fell back into the city.

 


 

An ammunition storage depot for the Luftwaffe flak batteries was built near the town of Rottershausen, a few kilometers north of Schweinfurt. Click here to visit a page showing the remains of bunkers at this site today.

 


I wish to acknowledge the kind assistance of the staff of the Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt provided during my photo research there.

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