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"AA platforms in ground support roles?" Topic

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942 hits since 23 Jun 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

I often see gamers using anti-air units, such as the German Wirbelwind, as to attack ground targets. Other than German 88s, were anti-air units often used as ground support? While this is a great idea in game terms, it seems like they run the risk of not having enough ammo to combat the air attack that is coming just after the game ends. Other than an instance where they were ambushed or caught too far forward in a fight, I assumed that those units were kept back a bit, were scanning the sky, and did not want to waste their ammo on something other than an air attack.

Griefbringer24 Jun 2017 5:08 a.m. PST

After the German invasion in 1941, Soviet military formed anti-tank units armed with heavy AA-guns as an impromptu measure (though these were not technically AA units).

I have read mentions of Finnish light AA-guns used in a bunker busting role in autumn 1941, due to their accuracy. However, I recall these guns having been brought under the cover of darkness – trying to do so during daylight hours without getting observed might have been tricky.

In late WWII, when German air force did not provide much of ground attack thread, the western allies found their AA units a bit on the idle side. May of these had guns on a self-propelled chassis, which would allow them to get quickly into a fighting position when used in a ground support role.

kustenjaeger24 Jun 2017 5:09 a.m. PST

The answer depends on who and where.

German self propelled – and sometimes ground mount AA – did find itself in direct fire roles from time to time, partly because of the defensive operations as the war proceeded but also because the firepower add of multi barrel cannon was significant locally. There are lots of anecdotal accounts.

This had even been the case in WWI with 77mm AA being used against houses.

On the Allied side, Crusader AA tanks, with allied air superiority were generally withdrawn but some saw use 'brassing up' hedgerows with their twin 20mm. I seem to remember 2 Northhants Yeo being an example.

advocate24 Jun 2017 5:42 a.m. PST

American quad 50s mounted on half tracks were used at the Bulge, I believe.

jowady24 Jun 2017 6:06 a.m. PST

American quad 50s were used for fire support from trailers as well as halftracks. The 90mm guns were used as Anti-tank and indirect and direct artillery support. I imagine everyone else did the same.

shaun from s and s models Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

the simple answer is yes, gb using bofors in support of the rhine crossing, even 3.7 aa guns used with airburst ammo, m16 h/tracks used against inf target, esp in korea.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2017 6:46 a.m. PST

I had a co-worker who served in a half-track quad .50 cal AAMG unit in the Korean War. Since the NK/ChiCom air threat was minimal, they used them in a ground support role against the ChiCom hordes.


haywire Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2017 6:56 a.m. PST

Dusters, Vulcans, and quad 50s which are primarily AA were used extensively as ground support in Vietnam.

There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan when the germans are using a 20mm as a cannon.

Griefbringer24 Jun 2017 6:57 a.m. PST

It is worth keeping in mind that the amount of AA guns assigned to units, and the threat level poised by enemy aircraft, varied as the war progressed.

Many infantry division organisations had only a dozen or so light AA guns for air defense. But as war progressed, their numbers tended to increase – British divisions ended up having quite sizeable AA regiment attached to them, and the later German panzer divisions could have quite a number spread around.

Another issue is that the AA guns were not usually assigned individually in their primary task, but rather a platoon of three or four could be placed to protect a particular location. Penny-packet allocation was not typical, though the late war german armoured panzergrenadier units could have individual self-propelled 20 mm AA-guns assigned down to platoon level (and these might end up seeing quite a lot of action against ground targets, too).

Personal logo Chalfant Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2017 10:13 a.m. PST

I have something from WWII, a set of maps and unit history books from a 90mm US AA battery (specifically 134 AA Gn Bn of the 49th AAA Brigade, June 6, 44 to May 9, 45)….lists very specific records….

591 aerial engagements
19 ground engagements vs vehicles or installations
11505 rounds of 90mm expended vs air targets
1305 rounds of 90mm expended vs ground targets
39782 total rounds of .50 expended

captured 1036 Germans
claim 21 aircraft destroyed
claim an unspecified number of vehicles destroyed

It does indicate that this battalion primarily fought against the waning Luftwaffe, but were used in ground combat also.


Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2017 10:21 a.m. PST

I have a copy of the unit reports of an American SPAA battalion in the Tunisia campaign in late '42 / early '43. They operated the T28 / M15 halftracks with 37mm autocannon and twin .50cal. water-cooled HMGs.

Even in an environment where the threat of German air attack was still very real, they were frequently used in ground-fire roles.

It is quite simply the difference between theory and practice.

If you want AA cover for your front line units, you put AA weapons with your front line units. Once they are in the front line, they will wind up participating in action against whatever enemy threat comes their way.

As commanders of the units they are attached to begin to see their effectiveness, they will position them to optimize this secondary combat role.

The same happened with US Tank Destroyers in WW2. There was a strong body of theory and training for how they should be used, and in what combat roles. But front line commanders seem to have a tendency to ignore all of that theory and doctrine in favor of what works. If they have a weapon under their command that can be employed effectively on their mission, they will deploy it in support of that mission, quite regardless of whether the "book" says to hold that weapon back and wait for another use case.

Soldiers … so ready to dismiss theory in favor of reality.

(aka: Mk 1)

emckinney24 Jun 2017 5:35 p.m. PST

Germans used single 20mm AA in ground fire role constantly. There were hundreds of types of improvised and semi-improvised mounts that we're better for ground fire, so maybe those no longer counted as AA!

British 3.7" AA couldn't be fired at very low angle, at least for the bulk of the war. There may have been changes to the mounting late in the war. The barrel could be depressed to at least 0 degrees, bit firing it would break the pedestal.

mkenny24 Jun 2017 7:44 p.m. PST

An AA battery has a very complicated and expensive fire control system that does not stand up well to shelling from 'ordinary' artillery weapons. Though many claims are made for the 8.8cm AA guns being used as line-of-sight AT weapons that is something that would only happen in a dire emergency when the front has been breached. AA did not sit in the front line but was grouped around high value targets. 8.8cm Flak claimed c.100 tank kills in the whole of the Normandy campaign and that included kills for the dedicated tank-hunting Flak groups they tried out. These Pak-AA lost more 8.8cm guns than tanks they claimed as kills. The long range of AA guns means they do not have to be at the front and they could be used for indirect bombard from their Flak positions. Though again in Normandy a shortage of German clockwork fuses meant only contact fuses were used.

donlowry25 Jun 2017 8:00 a.m. PST

Didn't you ever see the movie "The Longsest Day"? There was a 20mm flak on top of the hotel firing down on the British infantry -- proof positive! If you can't believe Hollywood …?

Legion 425 Jun 2017 8:43 a.m. PST

Yes, I many cases during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam AAA/ADA weapons were used against ground forces. Even at Khe Sahn, 1968, the US ARMY had M42s and Quad .50s to primarily defend against massive amounts of NVA troops, etc. That were trying to overrun the base.

And as some noted here, without an enemy air threat, unless the ROE restricted uses on ground targets. AAA/ADA were used to engage ground targets, again, especially when the threat of enemy air was limited to non-existent.

The usually high rate of fire of many AAA/ADA systems makes it especially effective against massed Infantry formations, etc.

When I was a Cadet at Ft. Lewis, WA in '78. The 9ID had Quad .50s trailer mounted and towed by M35 Cgo Trks.

Blutarski25 Jun 2017 9:26 a.m. PST

IIRC from my VN readings, M42 Dusters were highly regarded in the role of convoy security and fire base defense. Ironically, most of those used in VN were apparently National Guard units.

On the subject of 88mm committed in an AT/ground role, I believe that the battery AA FC equipment was typically retained in the rear.

While the 88mm had a well-deserved reputation as an AT weapon, I did also read that 88mm batteries (at least as employed in the Italian campaign as field artillery) firing mechanical time fuzed shells were good at delivering surprise airburst barrages; their high velocity meant that the first shells would arrive before any forewarning report of discharge could be heard.


Legion 425 Jun 2017 1:24 p.m. PST

M42 Dusters were highly regarded in the role of convoy security
The high ROF of those twin 40s could do a lot of damage to the ambushers, etc. Or even do a pretty good job of Recon by Fire.

VVV reply26 Jun 2017 12:06 a.m. PST

And continue to be used today. Advantages high volume of fire (although for short periods) and high angle of fire (better than tanks).

Skarper26 Jun 2017 12:45 a.m. PST

AA guns were often used in ground support.

In games, I contend the AA units need to be limited in the following ways.

1] Ammo supply. The guns can fire at a massive rate of fire. This is what gives them the firepower to be effective. But they can't do this indefinitely. Especially from a forward position.

2] The guns had a high profile and poor protection from ground fire. The crews often had to stand up. And tracers point in both directions. Even if dug in they would be vulnerable to suppression with relatively light fire.

As far as I can make out, these guns were usually used from well back with a lot of cover from ground forces. They have long range so this works fine. Often they were firing a barrage like the British often used their Vickers MMGs, or a kind of area fire. I think it was more terrifying than lethal [but that goes for most fire actually].

If they get brought well forward for a specific task then it would often be at night or under cover of smoke or something. Then they do their job and get abandoned and recovered later or knocked out.

In defense the Germans are often using their 20mm and 37mm guns like this. They made so many and the early models became obsolete for AA tasks but remained useful versus ground targets. I think also there is an issue with the Germans retreating back onto their support units and there just isn't time to get them out so they stand and fight.

Legion 426 Jun 2017 4:55 a.m. PST

I'd think based on the historical records, anecdotal evidence, etc. in a combat situation. Unless, again, the ROE says otherwise. You'd shoot at the enemy with what you have "on-hand".

I'm sure that would be my reaction. Again, unless the ROE restricts it. And even then I'd think I would as well as, order my troops to do so also. To survive to "fight another day", concept … After all you're generally doing your job in most situations by "killing the enemy" …

PMC31726 Jun 2017 7:52 a.m. PST

It's also worth noting that the favoured weapon of choice for 'technical' vehicles are AAA systems of all calibres and types. This can be seen right across Africa and into the Middle East, from about the 1960s to the present day. These are often (invariably) employed in situations where there is little to no air threat.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 8:07 a.m. PST

For ww2 and the heavy AA, 88, 85, 3.7" there is the case of having or not ground fire sights and training.
Many non divisional AA outfits esp if intended to be semi static, did not have them. Not good for AT role.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 11:41 a.m. PST

Interesting information on the 88 in the ground role can be found here:

And lets not forget the 88 WAS provided with the ZF 20-E telescopic sight to engage ground targets:


mkenny26 Jun 2017 12:23 p.m. PST
Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 2:14 p.m. PST

Oh I have no doubt the 88 was not very effective in the direct (or indirect) fire role in the dense Normandy area. Yet in North Africa:
"The only other heavy flak battalion available to Rommel through 1941 was the identical I./Flak-Regiment 18. By the end of 1941 these two Luftwaffe flak battalions (authorised a total of 24 88s) had destroyed 264 tanks and 42 aircraft."

Legion 426 Jun 2017 2:43 p.m. PST

Amazingly I saw an 88 at a D-Day Reenactment that occurs in Conneaut OH yearly. Along Lake Erie. I think it is in early Aug this year. I was told it was one of the few that can still fire. At least blanks.

Saw a Pz.1 Too ! An M29, Bren Carrier, LCMs, etc. Some M4s, and even some modern vehicles redone to look like a STuG III, etc. Like you see in the BoB series. P-51s and B-25s, etc. If you can get there it's worth it ! I mean when's the last time you have seen a Pz.1, 88, etc., up close !?

Lion in the Stars26 Jun 2017 3:11 p.m. PST

IIRC, the Brits would use tracers in their Bofors 40mm to guide night attacks in the desert. Every so often, the 40mm guns would fire off a couple clips of tracers to give the grunts an idea of the right direction to move!

Retiarius926 Jun 2017 3:24 p.m. PST

A good book on the Dusters in Nam is 'Dusterman' by Joe Belardo

mkenny26 Jun 2017 3:29 p.m. PST

I presume the reason the RAF were running riot with Rommel's supply lines was because all his Flak was up at the front line. The average was 11 rounds per claimed tank kill for the 88 at 'medium' range and 20+ at 'long' range.

Blutarski26 Jun 2017 4:29 p.m. PST

I'm sure that 8th Army's tankers took great solace in those data.


mkenny26 Jun 2017 4:58 p.m. PST

Robbing Peter to pay Paul just means Peter starves.

Martin Rapier27 Jun 2017 5:24 a.m. PST

Most AA was sitting guarding important stuff like artillery positions, ammo dumps, bridges etc in the rear and didn't get to shoot at ground targets. Sometimes these relatively static units were overrun in the event of a breakthrough, so they did get a brief moment of excitement.

Clearly there were plenty of instances of battalion/regiment/division AA getting pulled into front line combat, but they were much closer to the sharp end.

My Grandfather was a signaller in a heavy AA regiment (3.7" guns). They were diverted from the Middle East and sent to Java in early 1942 to be used as coastal defence artillery. It didn't work out terribly well.

Legion 427 Jun 2017 6:17 a.m. PST

In NA Campaign and some others as well. I've seen some Axis AFVs, etc. had aerial ID markers of some sort. The Germans would some times put a Nazi flag over the rear deck, etc. of the vehicle. While the Italians painted a large white solid circle on the turret top, etc. on some of theirs, too.

Blutarski27 Jun 2017 1:51 p.m. PST

Paul needed the assets more than Peter.


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