Flak tower

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The 'L-Tower' at Augarten, Vienna.

Flak towers (German: Flaktürme) were 8 complexes of large, above-ground, anti-aircraft gun blockhouse towers constructed in the cities of Berlin (3), Hamburg (2), and Vienna (3) from 1940 onwards. Other cities that used flak towers included Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

They were used by the Luftwaffe to defend against Allied air raids on these cities during World War II. They also served as air-raid shelters for tens of thousands of people and to coordinate air defence.

History and uses[edit]

Pragsattel Flakturm in Stuttgart
Flak tower during construction (1942).
A Flakvierling 38 and its crew on the Berlin Zoo "G-Tower", a radar dish may be seen on the roof of the adjoining tower (1942).

After the RAF's raid on Berlin in 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the construction of 3 massive flak towers to defend the capital from air attack. Each tower had a radar installation with a retractable radar dish (the dish was retracted behind a thick concrete and steel dome in order to prevent damage in an air raid).[1]

The flak towers, the design of which Hitler took personal interest in and even made some sketches for, were constructed in a mere 6 months. The priority of the project was such that the German national rail schedule was altered to facilitate the shipment of concrete, steel and timber to the construction sites.[2]

With concrete walls up to 3.5 metres (11 ft) thick, flak towers were considered to be invulnerable to attack with the usual ordnance carried by Allied bombers, though it is unlikely that they would have withstood Grand Slam bombs which, while not designed for this, had penetrated much thicker reinforced concrete.[citation needed] Aircraft generally appeared to have avoided the flak towers.

The towers were able to sustain a rate of fire of 8000 rounds per minute from their multi-level guns, with a range of up to 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) in a 360-degree field of fire. However only the 128 millimetres (5.0 in) guns had effective range to defend against the RAF heavy bombers. The three flak towers around the outskirts of Berlin created a triangle of formidable anti-aircraft fire that covered the centre of Berlin.[citation needed]

The flak towers had also been designed with the idea of using the above-ground bunkers as a civilian shelter, with room for 10,000 civilians and a hospital ward inside. The towers, during the fall of Berlin, formed their own communities, with up to 30,000 Berliners taking refuge in one tower during the battle. These towers, much like the keeps of medieval castles, were some of the safest places in a fought-over city and so the flak towers were some of the last places to surrender to USSR forces, eventually being forced to capitulate as supplies dwindled.[3]

The Soviets, in their assault on Berlin, found it difficult to inflict significant damage on the flak towers, even with some of the largest Soviet guns, such as the 203 mm howitzers. Soviet forces generally manoeuvred around the towers, and eventually sent in envoys to seek their submission. Unlike much of Berlin, the towers tended to be fully stocked with ammunition and supplies, and the gunners even used their anti-aircraft 20 millimetres (0.79 in) cannons to defend against assault by ground units. The Zoo Tower was one of the last points of defence, with German armoured units rallying near it at Tiergarten, before trying to break out of the encircling Soviet Red Army.[citation needed]

For a time after the war, the conversion to representative objects with decorated facades was planned. After the war was lost, the demolition of the towers was in most cases not feasible and many remain to this day.

Flak tower design iterations[edit]

The L & G-Towers in Augarten, Vienna

Each flak tower complex consisted of:

  • a G-Tower (German: Gefechtsturm) or Combat Tower, also known as the Gun Tower, Battery Tower or Large Flak Tower, and
  • a L-Tower (German: Leitturm) or Lead Tower also known as the Fire-control tower, command tower, listening bunker or small flak tower.
The three generations of G tower.
  • Generation 1
    • G-Towers were 70.5 × 70.5 × 39 m (231x231x128 ft), usually armed with eight (four twin) 128 mm guns and numerous 37 mm and thirty-two (eight quad) 20 mm guns.
    • L-Towers were 50 × 23 × 39 m (164x75x128 ft), usually armed with sixteen (four quad) 20 mm guns.
  • Generation 2
    • G-Towers were 57 × 57 × 41.6 m (187x187x136 ft), usually armed with eight (four twin) 128 mm guns and sixteen (four quad) 20 mm guns.
    • L-Towers were 50 × 23 × 44 m (164x75x144 ft), usually armed with forty (ten quad) 20 mm guns.
  • Generation 3
    • G-Towers were 43 × 43 × 54 m (141x141x177 ft), usually armed with eight (four twin) 128 mm guns and thirty-two (eight quad) 20 mm guns.

The evaluation of even larger Battery Towers was commissioned by Adolf Hitler. These would have been three times the size and firepower of flak towers.

Towers[edit]

Flakturm I – Berliner Zoo, Berlin[edit]

see main article Zoo Tower

Flakturm II – Friedrichshain, Berlin[edit]

Both towers were covered over and now appear to be natural hills in Volkspark Friedrichshain. The G-Tower, known as Mont Klamott (Rubble Mountain) in Berlin, was the inspiration for songs by singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann and the rock band Silly.

Flakturm III – Humboldthain, Berlin[edit]

Flakturm IV – Heiligengeistfeld, Hamburg[edit]

This tower, containing six levels below the rooftop, includes in its design, as part of its air-raid shelter, two identical spaces for protection against gas attacks, one on the first floor (above ground level) and the other on the second floor. Both in Tower 1, they are about 300 sq. m. (3,230 sq. ft.) in area, and have six windows (openings in the wall).[4]

Flakturm VI – Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg[edit]

Flakturm V – Stiftskaserne, Vienna[edit]

Flakturm VII – Augarten, Vienna[edit]

Flakturm VIII – Arenberg Park, Vienna[edit]

Planned towers (not built)[edit]

Berlin[edit]

Bremen[edit]

Hamburg[edit]

  • East Hamburg (planned, not built)

Munich[edit]

  • Munich Railroad Station (eight planned, none built)

Vienna[edit]

  • Original plans were to place the three towers in Schmelz, Prater & Floridsdorf.

Flak guns[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (1998). The Flak Towers in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940–1950. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-7643-0398-8
  • Ute Bauer "Die Wiener Flakturme im Spiegel Oesterreichischer Erinnerungskultur", Phoibos Verlag, Wien 2003. ISBN 3-901232-42-7
  • Flavia Foradini, Edoardo Conte: I templi incompiuti di Hitler", catalogo della mostra omonima, Milano, Spazio Guicciardini, 17.2–13.3.2009
  • Valentin E. Wille: Die Flaktürme in Wien, Berlin und Hamburg. Geschichte, Bedeutung und Neunutzung, VDM-Verlag, Saarbrücken 2008, ISBN 3-8364-6518-3
  • Flavia Foradini: Berlino: Cercando sotto terra le tracce dei ciclopici sogni nazisti", Il Piccolo, Triest, 19 agosto 2012.
  • Flavia Foradini: I bunker viennesi", Abitare, Milano, 2.2006

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ George Pagliero (2008). Hitler's Secret Bunkers (Documentary). United Kingdom: Fulcrum TV. 
  2. ^ George Pagliero (2008). Hitler's Secret Bunkers (Documentary). United Kingdom: Fulcrum TV. 
  3. ^ Beevor, Antony (April 2009). Berlin:The Downfall. 
  4. ^ "Amtbau Pläne des Gefechtsturms IV" in Sakkers, Hans. Flaktürme Berlin – Hamburg – Wien. Fortress Books, 1998, Nieuw-Weerdinge, Netherlands.

External links[edit]