Flak tower

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The 'L-Tower' at Augarten, Vienna.

Flak towers (German: Flaktürme) were eight 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. Smaller single-purpose flak towers were built at key outlying German strongpoints, such as at Angers, France and Helgoland, Germany.[1]

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

Pragsattel Flakturm in Stuttgart
Flak tower during construction (1942).
A 12.8 cm FlaK 40, the main guns of the Flak-towers, and its crew

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 Each tower had a radar installation with a retractable radar dish (the dish was retracted behind a thick concrete and steel dome in order to prevent damage in an air raid).[2]

The flak towers, in the design of which Hitler took personal interest 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.[3]

With concrete walls up to 3.5 m (11 ft) thick, flak towers were considered to be invulnerable to attack with the usual ordnance carried by Allied bombers. 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 (albeit mostly smaller-caliber shells, such as the 20mm 2cm FlaK 30, with a range of up to 14 km (8.7 mi) in a 360-degree field of fire. However, only the 128 mm (5.0 in) guns had effective range to defend against the RAF and USAAF heavy bombers. The three flak towers around the outskirts of Berlin created a triangle of anti-aircraft fire that covered the centre of Berlin.

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.[4]

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 mm 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.

Design iterations

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 m × 70.5 m × 39 m (231 ft × 231 ft × 128 ft), usually armed with eight (four twin) 128m FlaK 40 and numerous 37 mm and 32 (eight quad) 20mm guns.
    • L-Towers were 50 m × 23 m × 39 m (164 ft × 75 ft × 128 ft), usually armed with sixteen (four quad) 20 mm guns.
  • Generation 2
    • G-Towers were 57 m × 57 m × 41.6 m (187 ft × 187 ft × 136 ft), usually armed with eight (four twin) 128 mm guns and sixteen (four quad) 20 mm guns.
    • L-Towers were 50 m × 23 m × 44 m (164 ft × 75 ft × 144 ft), usually armed with forty (ten quad) 20 mm guns.
  • Generation 3
    • G-Towers were 43 m × 43 m × 54 m (141 ft × 141 ft × 177 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

Flakturm I – Berliner Zoo, Berlin

  • Berlin Zoo (1st Generation)
    • G-Tower was demolished by the British at the end of the war. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • L-Tower was demolished after the war. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.

Flakturm II – Friedrichshain, Berlin

  • Friedrichshain (1st Generation)
    • G-Tower was partially demolished after the war; one side remains visible. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • L-Tower was demolished after the war. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.

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

  • Humboldthain (1st Generation)
    • G-Tower was partially demolished after the war; one side remains visible. The interior can be visited. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • L-Tower was partially demolished after the war; some walls remain visible. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.

Flakturm IV – Heiligengeistfeld, Hamburg

  • Heiligengeistfeld (1st Generation)
    • G-Tower was transformed into a nightclub with a music school and music shops. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found..

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).[5]

    • L-Tower was demolished after the war and replaced by a very similar looking building by T-Mobile. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found..

Flakturm VI – Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg

  • Wilhelmsburg (2nd Generation)
    • G-Tower remains to this day, Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • L-Tower was demolished after the war.

Flakturm V – Stiftskaserne, Vienna

Kletterzentrum Flakturm wall - Vienna, Austria.
View from the top of the Kletterzentrum Flakturm wall in Vienna.
  • Stiftskaserne (3rd Generation)
    • G-Tower's interior is used by the Austrian Army. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • L-Tower (in Esterhazypark) has been used as a public aquarium, the Haus des Meeres, since 1957. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • The outside of the L-Tower re-purposed an outdoor climbing wall.
    • Information at: http://www.oeav-events.at/edelweiss/klettern/flakturm/index.php (German)

Flakturm VII – Augarten, Vienna

  • Augarten (3rd Generation)
    • G-Tower remains empty. The entire north-east and half of the east 20 mm gun platforms have been removed during 2007 including the connecting walkways due to deterioration. The tower itself has been reinforced with steel cables encircling the entire structure, 12 cables are located above the gun nests, 6 just below, and an additional 4 midway up the tower. The tower is home to thousands of pigeons which nest on every platform and opening. The tower suffered an internal explosion, and several floors near the top are missing on one side. The west side of the structure is also used as a cellular communications tower. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • L-Tower remains empty. Its use as a computer storage facility or an open-air cinema is being considered. Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.

Flakturm VIII – Arenberg Park, Vienna

  • Arenberg Park (2nd Generation) Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
    • G-Tower is used as a storehouse for art.
    • L-Tower remains empty.

Planned towers (not built)

Berlin

Bremen

Hamburg

  • East Hamburg (planned, not built)

Munich

Vienna

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

Flak guns

See also

Further reading

  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (1998). The Flak Towers in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940–1950. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-7643-0398-8
  • Ute Bauer "Die Wiener Flaktürme im Spiegel Österreichischer 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

  1. Bjorkman, James. "Flak Towers of World War II". FilmInspector.com. Retrieved 2014-12-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. George Pagliero (2008). Hitler's Secret Bunkers (Documentary). United Kingdom: Fulcrum TV.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. George Pagliero (2008). Hitler's Secret Bunkers (Documentary). United Kingdom: Fulcrum TV.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Beevor, Antony (April 2009). Berlin:The Downfall.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Amtbau Pläne des Gefechtsturms IV" in Sakkers, Hans. Flaktürme Berlin – Hamburg – Wien. Fortress Books, 1998, Nieuw-Weerdinge, Netherlands.

External links