World War 2 History: German Flak Towers—Indestructible Air Defense Castles
Vienna's Flak Towers Today
First Generation Flak Tower
Indestructible Flak Towers
During World War II, three cities in the Third Reich were protected by flak towers (German: flakturme). These were not simply elevated anti-aircraft defenses; they were massive fortifications resembling ugly, squat concrete castle towers bristling with large- and small-caliber anti-aircraft weapons. Allied bombers avoided them whenever possible. Not one was destroyed during the war.
Scanning the Skies on Berlin's Flak Tower
G-Towers and L-Towers
When the RAF bombed Berlin in 1940 in retaliation for German air attacks against British air force and industry targets, Hitler was infuriated. In addition to ordering the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities, he ordered the construction of three massive reinforced concrete complexes to protect the center of Berlin from enemy bombers. Each flak tower complex consisted of a G-Tower (German: Gefechtsturm, or Combat Tower), which housed the largest anti-aircraft weapons and a nearby L-Tower (German: Leitturm, or Lead Tower), which was the command tower.
Flak Towers in Berlin, Vienna and Hamburg
Berlin's towers were constructed in only six months and stood 128 feet tall, with walls 8 to 14 feet thick. By the end of the war, a total of eight flak tower complexes protected parts of Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna. Three versions of G-Towers were built during the war, with the third generation resembling a huge round castle tower standing 175 feet tall.
Heavy AA Gun on Berlin's Tower
Combat Tower (G-Tower)
Generally, each G-Tower was armed with eight 128 mm guns (in four twin-mounts) and thirty-two 20 mm guns (in eight quad-mounts). Each tower could fire at a sustained rate of 7,000 to 8,000 rounds per minute in a 360-degree arc. The larger 128 mm guns had a range of about 8 1/2 miles and a ceiling of nearly 50,000 feet. The tower was crewed by about 350 anti-aircraft personnel.
Flak Towers Evolve
Lead/Command Tower (L-Tower)
Each L-Tower was built within 300 to 500 meters of its sister G-Tower, with buried cables running between them. The L-Tower's radar dishes could be retracted into steel and concrete domes during a raid. The L-Tower supplied fire control information to its G-Tower. L-Towers were armed with sixteen to forty 20 mm guns.
Closer Look at Vienna's Flak Tower Today
Self-Contained Bomb Shelters
Flak tower complexes were self-contained, with their own water reservoirs, food supplies and small hospital wards; at least one had a 95 bed hospital with two operation rooms. They were always fully stocked with ammunition. Each tower provided shelter for up 10,000 people during bombing raids and, when the Russians entered the city, sheltered up to 30,000 civilians. Allied planes avoided the towers when possible, but bombing runs were made against them. Some took direct bomb hits, but no major damage was done. The towers are credited with preventing the firestorms that engulfed other German cities, since the bombers couldn't form into the necessary firestorm configurations under the intense anti-aircraft fire from the flak towers.
When Soviet ground forces approached Berlin, the towers performed as super-castles, taking everything the Russians could throw at them and using their 20 mm anti-aircraft guns against the ground troops. When even the Russian 203 mm howitzers couldn't inflict significant damage, the Soviets tended to bypass them. Finally, when food, water and ammunition gave out, the Soviets sent special envoys to the towers and negotiated their surrender. The flak towers were some of the last places to give up.
Existing Flak Towers Today
After the War
In the years after the war, eight of the sixteen G- and L-Towers were demolished or partly demolished, though demolition was difficult to accomplish even when carefully planned. One G-Tower required three attempts with more than five months preparation and more than 80 tons of dynamite.
Berlin had three flak tower complexes (six towers).
- Three towers were fully demolished.
- Three towers were partially demolished.
Vienna had three flak tower complexes (six towers).
- One houses an aquarium.
- One is used by the Austrian Army.
- One may be turned into a secure data center.
- One stores pieces of art.
- Two stand empty.
Hamburg had two flak tower complexes (four towers).
- One may be turned into Europe's largest solar power plant.
- One houses a nightclub.
- Two were demolished.
© 2012 David Hunt