Nazi Flak Towers

Many an Allied bomber was shot down in flames by anti-aircraft fire from one of the handful of Nazi Germany’s Flak Towers

(If you have forgotten: the technique of firebombing used so successfully against many German cities was developed by the German Luftwaffe for their long campaign or aerial firebombing of London in the early years of the war)


Reichsgebiet, Alarm auf Flakturm

Fliegeralarm! Running to their action posts on the Zoo Tower 1944.

Most of these young gunners were fifteen or sixteen and were known as the kinderflak



This is one of the surviving towers in Vienna. You can clearly see how massive these buildings were.

The main function of the towers was less shooting down individual Allied bombers, although that was important, but more to put up such a mass of anti-aircraft fire as to hinder bombing attacks on the area immediately around them. Flak, a word used by both sides, is the abbreviation of the German word “Fliegerabwehrkanone,” which translates as “air defense cannon”.

The batteries fired pre-set “box barrages” to create a curtain of flak which British Royal Air Force or US Army Air Force bombers would have to fly through on their bomb run. Shells were set to explode at different heights usually above 20,000 feet. The strategy was to force the bombers higher since the higher they were when they dropped their bombs the less accurate the bombing. (Although under the best conditions bombing was rarely accurate).

Additionally, while these photographs were all taken in daylight, the British Royal Air Force bombed at night. So the other reason to force the bombers above 20,000 or so feet was to put them in the path of German night fighters. When a spotlight caught a bomber, the point was to illuminate the bomber for the night fighters. Nonetheless, various anti-aircraft batteries in Berlin, for example, would open up. This often led to German flak batteries shooting down their own night-fighters.

German Fighter Command made regular complaints to the anti-aircraft command to stop doing this and toward the end of the war demanded that the gun captain of any battery which fired above its mandated ceiling be tried and shot.

Exterior of flak tower in Vienna now used as a climbing wall.

Three such towers were built in Berlin, three in Vienna, and two in Hamburg. Each tower actually consisted of two towers: the very large gun tower known as the ‘G-Tower’ and a smaller fire-control tower located nearby known as the ‘L Tower’. The fire control tower transmitted the targeting values to the gun tower by wire – that is telephone/telegraph wire – that was buried deep below ground in a concrete tunnel to protect the wires from being severed.

Another of the surviving towers in Vienna.

In addition to serving as platforms for anti-aircraft guns, each G Tower had a large bomb shelter for civilians. These shelters were designed to accommodate thousands of civilians, a hospital, workshops of various sorts, and Wehrmacht command posts. Each tower had an independent supply of electricity and water as well as barracks and offices for the Luftwaffe personnel who operated the tower and the guns. In the Third Reich, all anti-aircraft defense was the responsibility of the Luftwaffe.

ADN-Zentralbild/Archiv II. Weltkrieg 1939-1945 Schwere Flak in Feurebereitschaft auf dem Flakturm des Berliner Zoo-Bunkers, eine der wenigen großen Schutzanlagen aus Eisenbeton. Aufnahme: Pilz April 1942

April 1942. One of the main gun platforms of the Zoo Tower, most famous of all the flak towers. Shells were kept in the heavy steel ready-use ammunition locker at right and carried to guns by a squad of men as seen above and right. Because the gunners were out in the open on the platforms without protection from bomb splinters or the shrapnel from their own anti-aircraft shells casualties were often heavy.

The Zoo Tower was the first one to be built and was located by the Berlin Zoo in the center of city and was meant to protect the key government buildings. The tower was destroyed by the British in 1946. It was located in what is now the aviary section of the Berlin Zoo.

Although the zoo was destroyed during the war with most of the animals being shipped to other cities or shot by the army, it was rebuilt in its original location which is very close to where the Kurfürstendamm ends at the Tiergarten.

(Photo from: German National Archive.  Schwere Flak in Feurebereitschaft auf dem Flakturm des Berliner Zoo-Bunkers, eine der wenigen großen Schutzanlagen aus Eisenbeton. Aufnahme: Pilz April 1942)


The towers were almost indestructible with the walls on each tower being 2.5 meters thick or 8 1/2 feet of solid concrete. The towers could – and often did – survive direct hits by Allied bombs. Because these were such massive structures, many of them remain since no one can figure out how to dismantle them without wrecking an entire neighborhood. I think the surviving towers are an important part of the history of WW Two and should be preserved.


Flak tower in Hamburg

The best, and to my knowledge, the only book devoted to the towers is The Flak Towers: In Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940-1950 by Michael Foedrowitz. The book was translated from the original German. The research is impeccable. The author worked almost exclusively from primary sources as well as interviewing the leading expert on the towers. Four stars.

German Army Elite Long Distance Special Surveillance and Reconnaissance Commandos


The New Motto of the German Armed Forces:

“Let the Americans Do It”


The Elite German Army Fernspählehrkompanie 200 or FSLK200, their long range Special Surveillance and Reconnaissance unit, is being disbanded in 2014.


Jump training in Memphis

A soldier of the elite long-distance Fernspählehrkompanie 200 from exercises in Memphis, TN, USA. Pictured: A Fernspäher in free fall with scale navigation equipment.
© Bundeswehr

Unfortunately, this elite special forces unit is being disbanded by the German Government and the men will be absorbed into other units. Like most countries in Western Europe, the Germans have been unilaterally disarming since they know the USA will defend them if they need defending.

Maybe they Germans should look a map and see how close they are to Russia. They have a lot of experience fighting the Russians and they know it isn’t easy. So with Russia in turmoil what is the German Army doing? Shrinking itself to the size of the police force of Cleveland or some other mid-sized American city.

It is a terrible policy. Besides, I think most American voters would tell the Germans to bulk up their military and be prepared to defend themselves. We’re sick of paying taxes for American armed forces to protect the Germans.



Jump training in Memphis

A soldier of the Fernspählehrkompanie 200 from Pfullendorf exercises the vertical movement in Memphis / USA.
© Bundeswehr




Troopers from the elite special forces unit of Fernspählehrkompanie 200 or  FSLK200 (translates as: Special Surveillance and Reconnaissance Instruction Company 200) on practice jump outside of Memphis, TN.

Members of the German armed forces often train in the US because the air space in Europe is so crowded and the population density is so high. Finding places to practice jumping without disrupting air traffic or dropping onto buildings is impossible so they do it here.
The training base for the entire German Luftwaffe is located at the American Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico.


A Luftwaffe (German Air Force), Panavia Tornado IDS aircraft (s/n 43+13) from the “German Air Force Flying Training Center (GAF/FTC)” at Holloman AFB, New Mexico (USA), heads to the fight after refueling during Red Flag 07-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (USA), on 31 August 2007. Red Flag tests aircrew’s war-fighting skills in realistic combat situations. (Official US Air Force photograph by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

This Cut Down On Crime

In Nazi Germany during World War Two:


If you robbed a person in the blackout, you got the guillotine




By the end of the World War Two, the Nazis had promulgated approximately 27 different laws which carried the death penalty if violated.

If, for example, you were foolish enough to rob someone during the blackout and got caught, then you received the death sentence. There was no appeal and the sentence was carried out within a few days.

The standard method of execution in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and through the Second World War was the guillotin, one of which is pictured below.



photo courtesy of the London Daily Mail

The guillotine is named for Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French physician who was personally apposed to capital punishment. Ironically, Dr. Guillotin was a reformer who proposed to the French National Assembly in 1789 that the guillotine be substituted for all existing methods of execution in France.

Reason: the guillotin was more humane since the existing methods of capital punishment were primitive. 1) either beheading by the sword or ax, which often didn’t work the first time so the executioner had to take another whack or two.

2) hanging, which if one’s neck wasn’t broken in the initial drop, could take as long as 30 minutes to strangle the guilty party to death.

This most sensible and enlightened policy was subsequently adopted.


Sources: author’s research, the New York Times, and



Third Reich Humor



“so, did you hear the latest one about the Fuhrer?”

The following is from Berlin Embassy by William Russell. The author was studying German in the Third Reich when he was hired by the American Embassy as a visa clerk. This memoir, which I like a lot and have reviewed before, gives a discerning look at everyday life in the Third Reich before and for several months after, the breakout of World War Two. Russell had a good ear and caught a lot of interesting things people said.

In his memoir, which he wrote in 1940, immediately upon returning to the US, he writes:


“The following joke was popular in Germany for many months just before the outbreak of the war.

Adolf Hitler and Dr. Goebbels were out riding, when they accidently ran over a dog and killed him.

“Well,” said Goebbels, “think I should find the owner of the dog, and apologize.”

“Go on, then,” Hitler growled, “but see that you come right back.”

One hour later, Dr. Goebbels appeared at the car, much the worse for alcohol.

Seeing that Hitler was extremely angry, Goebbels hastened to explain his absence and his condition. “It was like this,” he said. “I found the house where the owner of the dog lived. I knocked at his door, and when he opened it, I simply said, ‘Heil Hitler; the dog is dead.’

 “Thank God,” the stranger said immediately, “let’s celebrate.”


About nine months ago, I received a letter from a fascinating woman in Texas who had lived in Berlin for several years as a young girl during the time Russell was there because her father was running the German division of an American company. She remembered William Russell quite well and said he was a nice young man who often gave candy to American children. She had googled him to discover if he were still alive (he isn’t) and came across a blog post I had written about him and his book. So she wrote me and told me the story of how she had met him and remembered him. I have had subsequent email conversations with her and she is most interesting.

You can find my original post on Berlin Embassy and William Russell here:




Captured Reichstag

The Reichstag shortly after its capture by the Soviet troops, 3 June 1945.

This is a fascinating photograph to me since I have stood on the exact spot where the photographer who took this shot was standing and looked at the building. Everything is green and repaired and perfect now so it is hard to imagine it looked like this but it did.

German soldiers contested each floor of the Reichstag forcing the Soviet troops to both fight their way down to the basement floor by floor as well as up to the roof floor by floor. It was brutal up close fighting with soldiers using everything from hand grenades to sub-machine guns, to knives to a favorite of both sides: sharpened German trench shovels.

The building is deceptively tall and you can look out over much of Berlin from the observation deck. Quite a place to visit. Lots of history. As a German friend of mine said to that statement, “too much history.”

[Image courtesy of UK Imperial War Museum Website.]

Key Allied Strategy World War Two Keep the Soviet Union in War


Overriding priority of Allies in World War Two  was to keep the Soviets fighting on our side since they killed over 80% of German soldiers who were killed in WW2.  Further 80% of the land battles in WW Two were fought on Soviet territory. Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of this many times and demanded we do something.

Allied military commanders along with President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the elected civilian leaders who controlled the Allied militaries, well understood that we had to keep the Soviets in the war. What did the Allies do? Two things:

1) undertake massive bombing of Nazi Germany. 2) ship astonishing amounts of critical supplies to the Soviets through some of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world both in terms of weather and German attacks. This article takes as its subject the bombing campaign.

It took several years to both train the crews and manufacture the planes to create the huge air forces required to mount a sustained and overwhelming strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. These forces included RAF Bomber Command, the US 8th Air Force “the Mighty Eighth”  stationed in Great Britain and the US 15th Air Force stationed in Southern Italy.

Contrary to popular opinion of poorly informed people today, the Anglo-American bombing offensive against Germany was a brilliant success. Unfortunately, I hear many people, especially younger people, suggesting we should not have bombed Nazi Germany and its satellite countries as severely as we did.

Did we kill enemy civilians even though we didn’t want to? Yes, we did. How many? Writing in his history of the conflict, The Second World War, published in 1989, the late and very distinguished British military historian John Keegan says 593,000 German civilians lost their lives to Anglo-American bombing.

Did we reduce almost every city and even large towns in Germany to rubble? Yes, we did. Did we firebomb Hamburg, Dresden and other German cities and inflict terrifying deaths on innocent people and destroy beautiful cities. Yes, we did.

First and foremost, the Allied bombing offensive against Germany and Germany occupied Europe was the Second Front. D-Day was really the Third Front.

The Allied bombing offensive forced the Germans to withdraw almost all of their air units from the Eastern Front to defend German cities thus surrendering air superiority to the Soviets. Second, the deadly German artillery piece, the famous German .88 was critical to German defense against Soviet tank attacks. The Soviets would often attack the Germans with up to a hundred tanks. An .88 could range on the Soviet tanks long before they got within range of the .88 and an .88 crews could take out most Russian tanks before they got to German lines. That’s how superior the .88 was.

But the German .88 artillery piece was also the best anti-aircraft weapon the Germans had so they pulled a huge number of .88’s from the Eastern Front to bolster the anti-aircraft defenses of their cities, leaving German troops exposed to Soviet tank attacks without an effective defense, something the Soviets took advantage of. We sent Stalin a weekly binder of photographs taken of German cities bombed the week prior so he could see we really were doing something.

And as the Anglo-American bombing offensive continued to build, the Soviets noticed the weakening of German defenses. Additionally, the bombing offensive forced a massive re-allocation of ammunition. By mid-1943, the Germans were firing one-third of their ammunition production into the sky. And finally the bombing offensive was designed to force the Luftwaffe to come up and fight so we could destroy their air force before D-Day. And they did and we did.

As to the economic achievements of the bombing offensive, it is critical to note that the growth in German output occurred as the Allied bombing offensive ramped up and this is often given as a reason the bombing offensive wasn’t effective.

But those two facts have nothing to do with each other except they occurred at the same time. Yes, German war production increased dramatically as the bombing offensive began to take hold but for the following reasons: after the Stalingrad debacle in mid-January 1943, Hitler declared “total Krieg” and Goebbels made his famous “Total War” speech at the Berlin Sportspalast on 18 February 1943 – said to be his greatest speech. The power of Goebbels’ speech, the sense of desperation, and the mass hysteria of the audience reach across the decades and is disturbing in that regard.

Beginning in late Jan/Feb 1943 Speer was given plenipotentiary authority over all German industry which he brilliantly organized into a series of self-governing industry groups. Second, Hitler gave his permission for the closure of almost every business not critically necessary to the war effort. Such things as typewriters, draperies, hair curlers, perfume, most clothing, and really any consumer goods at all except for food and medical supplies.

This freed up a huge amount of productive capacity as well as a huge number of people who could either go into war production or into the armed forces. One of the other goals of the bombing offensive was to put a cap on German war production. We knew what they were capable of and while their war production increased substantially, it reached a plateau.

Yes, we did literally bomb the German national railway almost out of existence. While relatively easy to repair, Speer estimated that by mid-1944 he needed a million railway workers just to repair the damage but only had 300,000.

It’s an interesting debate. Great Britain achieved the highest rate of economic mobilization of all the Western countries, mobilizing almost 55% of her population and economy for the war effort. The Soviets probably got to 80% mobilization since you only received rations if you worked or fought. But it is a mistake to think the Anglo-American bombing offensive didn’t succeed. It succeeded brilliantly because it kept the Soviets in the war and the Soviets lost between 27 million and 35 million men, women, and children in World War Two — at least 1/8 of their population. Military deaths alone were almost 15 million killed vs. 350,000 for the United States. Those figures alone will show you why the bombing offensive was so successful.

“Maybe we will be killed for being the last witnesses.”

In this interview from the BBC of 3 September 2009, Misch describes Hitler’s suicide and the subsequent burning of the dictator’s corpse.

I watched as they wrapped Hitler up. His legs were sticking out as they carried him past me. Someone shouted to me: ‘Hurry upstairs, they’re burning the boss!’ I decided not to go because I had noticed that Mueller from the Gestapo was there – and he was never usually around. I said to my comrade Hentschel, the mechanic: ‘Maybe we will be killed for being the last witnesses.’

[Source: BBC News.]