Staff Writer (Updated: 4/11/2012):
As such, the German government commissioned the Rheinmetall firm to produce a suitable advanced replacement for the existing family of "88s" - the casual term used to signify the excellent 8.8cm FlaK series guns. However, this time around, the Germans held the advantage of being able to use the excellent inherent qualities of its predecessors to make an even better end-product. Additionally, it was discovered that these earlier FlaK guns could also double as effective tank-killing machines so the new gun design would be a dual-purpose weapon system from the get go - capable of lobbing exploding shells at advancing enemy aircraft or firing on advancing enemy tanks with equal fervor. Rheinmetall responded by delivering the 88mm (8.8cm) "Gerat 37" for evaluation in 1941. By this time, Germany was fully embroiled in World War. The system was of an all-new design that required its own special 88mm ammunition supply apart from pre-existing 88mm gun developments.
The Gerat 37 was formally designated as the "8.8cm FlaK 41" in the German military inventory and its design followed along the same conventional lines of the original FlaK guns in terms of scope and function. Caliber remained the aforementioned 88mm and the weapon could reach out to aircraft as far as 48,230 feet. A new, longer gun barrel of three or four sections was issued and an all-new gun mount was used. The multi-sectioned barrel assembly allowed crews to only replace the worn out portions of the barrel as opposed to the entire assembly, saving both time and cost. The individual projectiles weighed in at 20.7lbs and the vehicle itself sported a weight of 17,200lbs when stationary and 24,700lbs when set up for transport. The weapon measured in at 31 feet, 8 inches long with a width of 7 feet, 10.5 inches and a height of 7 feet, 9 inches. The barrel itself was 21 feet, 6 inches in length and rifling ran through some 17 feet, 9 inches of it. Elevation was limited to +90 and -3 degrees to make it an effective dual-purpose weapon capable of engaging ground and air targets alike. As the FlaK 41 sat atop its own turning gun mount, traverse was a full 360-degrees. Muzzle velocity was rated at 3,280 feet per second and a trained crew could fire up to 25 rounds per minute. An automatic fuse setter was instituted with the loader mechanism as was a powered ramming device. The FlaK 41 was issued with a conventional cruciform mount and would be set up to attach to mover vehicles for transit.
From the outset, the FlaK 41 proved a complex weapon when introduced to German gunnery elements and was therefore an expensive weapon to mass-produce - a common issue to many of the excellently engineered German weapons of the war. Some early evaluations brought about various inconsistencies in her performance and teething problems soon arose. Special brass ammunition cases had to be manufactured to cover a persistent jamming issue when the system extracted a spent shell casing. While some issues were formally addressed, others proved too complex to fully iron out, forcing development to flounder until 1943. By now, Germany was at war along multiple fronts and being stretched for resources throughout, desperate for more war-making implements.
The FlaK 41 was therefore sent into combat with issues still outstanding and its baptism of fire became Tunisia in the North African Campaign where tank warfare ruled the battlefield. Once in action, the ferocity of the system was highly apparent but the inherent issues were enough to limit their effectiveness throughout. The FlaK 41 proved a needy weapon requiring constant attention and service to prolong her usefulness and service life. Once her time in Africa had come to a close and Germany had officially lost their foothold on the continent, FlaK 41s were brought closer to home to defend the periphery of the Reich Empire on the European continent. Its proximity to the German homeland allowed Wehrmacht maintenance personnel quicker access in servicing their FlaK 41 systems. Not all was lost for the FlaK 41 for she did serve expertly in providing an improved rate-of-fire over that of earlier FlaK gun series and few doubted her capabilities making the FlaK 41 a success in at least one respect.
Regardless, fate would inevitably work against the rather excellent FlaK 41. Its technical issues were ever-present and the maintenance requirements were unsuitably high. Her complexity proved cost-prohibitive and the relentless Allied bombing campaign on German factories only served to keep her operational numbers down to just a few hundred - quite the contrast to the tens of thousands of FlaK 18 / 36 / 37 guns fielded by the end of the war. To help keep FlaK 41 production optimal, there was even an attempt to shift manufacture to Pilsen (from Dusselforf) but this only served to delay service numbers even further.
Some 318 FlaK 41 examples were made available by early 1945 but supply would never meet up with the demand. The war for Germany would be over by May of that year and, with it, the tenure of the FlaK 41 as well. Regardless, the FlaK 41 was viewed in after-war reports as a stellar weapon design of technical superiority and came to be regarded as the best of the German anti-aircraft guns of the entire war by herself and her enemies.
Krupp attempted various experimental uses involving the FlaK 41 gun system including a self-propelled, tracked anti-aircraft gun platform. The chassis featured overlapping road wheels for good cross country support and fold-down platform floors along the sides for the gunnery crew. The gun was mounted at the center of the hull on its typical turning base which still offered excellent range and unlimited traverse. This experimental model was trialed in 1941. Other FlaK 41 gun systems were fitted to specialized platforms for static defense purposes.