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Czech/German Flakpanzer 38(t) auf Selbstfahrlafette 38(t) (Sd.Kfz.140)

Picture 1: The

Flakpanzer 38(t) was another of Germany's attempts to provide some desperately needed anti-aircraft protection for their ground equipment during WWII. Based on the excellent Czech 38(t) chassis and running gear, the new superstructure was designed to provide space to mount a 2cm Flak38 L/112.5 gun then in use as a medium anti aircraft weapon. The superstructure was mounted at the rear of the chassis, open at the top with folding upper side plates, and provided only moderate protection for the gun crew. Converted by BMM in Prague (originally Ceskomoravska Kolben Danek-CKD- before the German take over) during the period between November of 1943 and February of 1944, there were approximately 140 Flakpanzer 38(t) vehicles produced by the end of the war. The Flakpanzer 38(t) was usually manned by a crew of 4- a driver up at the right side of the vehicle bow and a three man gun crew consisting of gunner, loader and commander. The superstructure had a new sloping front plate with a large hatch for access to the brake/transmission assemblies, and a new raised cast driver's hatch/visor assembly. Over the driver's head is a circular two part hatch and a bulkhead separates the driver from the repositioned engine, now located just behind him on the right side of the vehicle. Eight upper superstructure plates fold down for unobstructed traverse for ground targets, as seen in this CKD photo dating from the war years. The superstructure shield plates are held upright by large simple latches between the plates. Although there are some welded plates on the hull, the vast majority are riveted in place to an angle iron frame. Armor is 10mm thick on most of
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the vehicle plates with a maximum of 15mm on the hull front.

Picture 2: This is a closer look at the previous photo, showing a bit more detail of the fighting compartment. The elevation hand wheel is mounted on this side of the gun mount and this vehicle has a large armor shield for a back rest for the gunner. The catch net for spent 20mm ammo rounds also surrounds the circular elevation race on this right side and because the superstructure shields have been lowered on this side we can see the long spare barrel storage box at the front of the fighting compartment. The gun is elevated to around 60 degrees and the support rod to the sight bracket can be seen rising from the gun mount. There are not sights mounted in these CKD photos. We will explore these later. The decision to build the Flakpanzer 38(t) was made due to a lack of self propelled medium anti aircraft guns and was to remain in production until the new Flakpanzer IV became available in 1944. The engine in the Flakpanzer 38(t) was the same as in the original tank, the Praga AC, and information on this power plant is available in the Czech 38(t) Tank page in AFV INTERIORS. Top speed was 42km/hr and the engine drove the front sprockets through a 5 speed gearbox with one reverse gear.

Picture 3: This is the view of the left side of the gun/ mount rotated 90 degrees to the right. The long barrel

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storage box at the front of the fighting compartment is now to the lower left in the photo and we are looking again at the seat cushion on the engine compartment at the left. Between the cushion and the barrel box is a bracket for a gas mask container and another one is located at the far corner of the lower side plates also. A bracket for a machine pistol is hidden by the right gun shields but the bar to hang leather MP ammo pouches is seen running horizontally to the left of this second gas mask bracket. The circular elevation race of the 20mm gun mount is clearly seen here (the best ID feature between this Flak38 and the earlier FlaK30) and the ready round ammo support bracket is clearly visible on this side of the mount. The bracket shelf could hold three horizontally stacked 20round magazines for quick access by the loader. The traverse wheel is also visible now below the rear of the mount and the raised central pedestal base for the gun is also clear. Notice the ammo boxes leaning up along the base of the pedestal and the interesting and rare large back rest armor shield for the gunner's seat. For some reason, the gunner's protective front shield has been removed, perhaps to better view the far side of the fighting compartment. The upper superstructure shields have been dropped on this side to improve the view. There are no sights mounted in any of the CKD photos. We will examine them later.

Picture 4: The view front straight on shows the characteristic Flak38 gun shields and a cover over the barrel muzzle brake. Now the front three shield plates have been lowered and the frame supports to limit gun depression are visible at the bottom of the photo. The long dark gray spare barrel storage box is seen at the front of the compartment and the crew seat pad is again seen, now to the lower left in the photo. Ammo boxes are stored to either side of the floor and gas mask container brackets are at each back corner. Again, the horizontal bars seen on the left rear wall are for hanging MP ammo pouches and the MP is now seen in its protective canvas bag, behind the last floor ammo box at the left. On the other side of the vehicle rear (the vehicle's left side - our right) is a folded up seat for another crew member's use during travel and next to it is the second machine pistol, also in its protective green brown bag. The cover shelf protecting the vehicle radio is at the photo's lower right and the antenna mount can just be seen on the fender between the folded down shields at the lower right. The latches that hold the hinged shields are seen particularly well here. The interior of Flakpanzer is painted the same as the exterior, in this case dark yellow (Dunkelgelb), and the floor is much darker, probably either red lead primer or the typical green/gray found in tanks and other German AFVs.

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Picture 5:

Looking down into the fighting compartment from the back deck of a different vehicle you see this arrangement. The gun is mounted on a circular pedestal mount with full 360 degree rotation and elevation of -5 to +90 degrees. The gunner sits to the right rear of the weapon and elevated the weapon by hand wheel on the right side of the mount and traverses by hand wheel directly behind, partially hidden at the bottom of this photograph. The floor is covered by non-skid plating and you can see the intrusion of the engine compartment at the right front of the fighting compartment. At the front is a long dark gray box containing replacement quick connect barrels for the 20mm gun and to either side, mounted on the diagonal plates, are ammo boxes. There are three larger ammo storage boxes on the floor to the left in the compartment and two on the right behind the engine compartment. Also seen here are the adjustment controls for the sight pivot mechanism, seen on the flat plate mounted directly behind the gun at the lower center of the weapon. No shield mounts are attached for the gun or gunner as were usually supplied, even though the shields were sometimes not used. Also, do you notice anything peculiar about the inside of the upper hull side armor shields? This vehicle, photographed at BMM, has welded upper shields- there are no latches! There is also no radio shelf/ bracket. Perhaps this is a prototype vehicle?

Picture 6: Here's what the interior looks like with gun and gunner shields attached and typical upper hull shields with hinges and latches. Notice that the sight pivot adjustment knobs are now missing at the rear of the gun. The gunner's seat in this vehicle is installed and we are looking at

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the back of the back rest. On top of the engine cover is a pad for one of the crew to sit while traveling in the vehicle and on the opposite side of the hull is a shelf that covers a radio mount for a FuG5 or FuG2 radio. The Flak38 gun is loaded from the left and on this left side of the gun mount you can see a bracket for two ready round ammo boxes. Just visible through the gunner's shield aperture in this CKD photo (as are most of these images) is the catch net for spent shells on the right of the gun.

Picture 7: The driver's split hatches are visible in this close up crop of the previous photo and brown leather head padding on each hatch is clearly seen. The driver's visor is visible through the hatches and the lighter paint on the walls of his area is apparent in the original photo prints. The interior was probably painted the light buff called Elfenbein, which has also been called ivory or light cream in some publications. There is no entrance into the fighting compartment from the driver's area. The back of the Flak38 gun shield is visible here as is the ammo catch bag.

Picture 8: I have been intrigued by this interior photo of a 38(t) variant for many years. It comes from one of the large gunned versions of the 38(t) but provides us with some useful information about the driver's area just the same. From approximately the visor area down, the controls are the same as all 38(t) variants. The transmission is to the left and you can see the unique levered steering tiller linkages crossing to a handle to the left of the driver's legs and a second handle just to the right (here caught in the shadows and somewhat difficult to see). Down below are the brake, clutch, and accelerator pedals. The gear shift lever is to the left, in front of the steering lever pivot, directly on

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top of the transmission. Also in view, to help identify the vehicle as a 38(t) type, is the communication box device at the front right corner of the hull. The box has a series of colored lights that were wired to a similar control unit at the commander's station and allowed a simple visual communication between the two. The parts of the photograph that intrigue me are the apparent open over-head hatch and the holed support structures to the left. My best guess is that this photo is taken in one of the Panzerjager 38(t) variants, perhaps the Marder III, Ausf. M.

Picture 9: The 2cm Flugabwehrkanone 38 was developed by Mauser-Werke as an improved replacement for the earlier 2cm FlaK30. The design was first produced in late '39 and came into action in early 1940, generally as a towed gun on a wheeled trailer. One of the major differences, and the most important improvement, was an increased rate of fire. The theoretical rate of 480rps was almost twice as fast as the FlaK30. In practice, the actual rate of fire was far less, due to the fact that one 20 round ammo magazine would last only a few seconds before requiring replacement and this would slow the firing rate considerably. The new weapon also included both coarse and fine elevation and traverse adjustments on the hand wheels and could come on target, and move with it, faster than its earlier brother. <>br> The gunner's seat is now on the right side, the gun pivot elevates by use of a circular bearing on both sides. Foot pedals are used to fire the gun, one for single shot and another for sustained. This German training manual photo drawing also shows the net used to catch expended shells on the right- the ammo magazine was attached to the left of the receiver. Each of the larger ammo boxes we saw earlier held three magazines and the smaller ones two. The Flak38 not only fired shells at almost twice the rate of the earlier Flak30, but the carriage was lighter and therefore easier to transport. But, this had its drawbacks- the gun vibrated much more during firing and many crews actually preferred the slower and steadier Flak30 over the newer weapon.

Picture 10: The sight for the Flak38 was originally the Flakvisier 38, a box shaped electrical computing sight with a reflecting optical mirror system, seen here in this crop of a Bundesarchiv photo (as are also the next two images). The sight was electrically linked to the elevation and traverse wheels so the optical sight was

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automatically adjusted for target course and speed to lead it across the sky (mirror deflection inside the protective box). The same sight can also be seen in the previous German manual picture. Keep in mind that any mechanical or electrical AA sight system must provide at least two basic aiming functions. It must take into account the changing range to target and over elevate the gun accordingly (to account for gravity effects on the projectile), and it must calculate the lead angle necessary to put the round in the vicinity of the target. In effect, the system is guessing where the target would be when the round arrived-- both shell and target arriving at the same point in space at the same time. The 2cm (0.79in) ammo could be any of eight different combat types, plus a couple more training types. Most shells included a tracer to assist aiming and traveled at around 900mps (3000fps). High Explosive (HE) fragmentation ammo was most useful as it did not require a direct hit to disable an aircraft. For ground work, an Armor Piercing (AP) round was used. One of the best AP projectiles was the 2cm Pzgr Patr 40 L'spur, with an excellent tungsten core penetrator capable of defeating 40mm of armor at 100meters and 0 degree obliquity (1.57in at 109yd). Unfortunately for the Germans, tungsten was rare and only relatively few of these rounds were available during the last stages of WWII.

Picture 11: The second type of sight seen mounted to the arm of the Flak38 is the Linealvisier 21 (Linear Sight) seen in this photo. This sight used an open course and speed rung sight stamped out of sheet metal and clamped into the gun's sight bar. Similar to a typical rifle sight, there was an adjustable large ring with sliding horizontal slider at the front of the mounting and a small pip alignment bead at the rear. Unfortunately, this photo shows the ring from the side and you don't get the full idea of the sight, but the mounting and rear bead are clearer than other photos I have of the system. The Linealvisier was later replaced with a similar device, the Schwebekreisvisier 30, popularly known as a "cart-wheel" open ring sight, but rarely seen in action photos of the Flakpanzer 38(t). It consisted of a series of concentric rings with a bead at the center. Each ring represents a certain distance, depending on the range of the target, and allowed the gunner an approximate lead angle during firing. Our gunner is wearing the regular issue disposable sunglasses with protective leather/paper side shields that reduced sand and sun effects in the North African desert.

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Picture 12: The third sight mounted on the Flak38, and often seen in pictures of the Flakpanzer 38(t), was a 3x8 ground target periscope. A simple mount for this telescope was attached to the left of the box type Flakvisier 38, as seen here, and was particularly potent against slow moving targets. When shields were added to the 2cm mounts a separate shield arrangement was designed for the gunner with an open aperture for the sight to view through. On occasion you will see photos of ground and vehicle mounts with the gun's right shield missing and the gunner's shield in tact, and occasion with the gunner's shield missing and the gun's intact. The shields made the gun over 120kg heavier and were more often used when a vehicle was prone to ground firing modes more than anti aircraft work. Most Flakpanzer 38(t) vehicles were issued to the AA Platoons of each tank regiment in Panzer Divisions in January and February of 1944. A number of them were engaged by the Allies in Normandy, including the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" (Hitler Youth). They were not difficult to put out of action by ground forces, with their thin skins and open fighting compartments, but the vehicles did manage to end the flying careers of many pilots during the Western European fighting. BACK TO AFV INTERIORS HOME PAGE (c) 2001, 2003 AFV INTERIORS Web Magazine

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