During World War 2 (1939-1945), ground-based Anti-Aircraft (AA) defense ranged across several established "layers" and guns of many types were developed to suit targets at various altitudes - there proved 37mm types for low altitude targets and 75mm types for higher-flying enemy aircraft. The counter to the mid-altitude aircraft became the 50mm design which - for both sides - proved a somewhat elusive solution. For the Germans, this was the "5cm FlaK 41", a 50mm autocannon adopted developing in the 1930s and not adopted until 1941. While a promising unit at its core, the FlaK 41 could never be deemed an outright success compared to other FlaK systems in use then. As few as sixty units were ever produced making it one of the weaker German AA gun attempts in all of the war.
The 5cm FlaK 41 appeared in 1936 though it was not issued in large numbers to the German military until 1941 (hence its formal designation). Its design stemmed from work achieved by the storied Rheinmetall-Borsig concern which managed a steady pedigree in cannon development. Its design was selected ahead of a competing Krupp model. Development of the 5cm FlaK 41 proved quite lengthy as a production order was not announced until 1940.
Outwardly, the 5cm FlaK 41 followed established German AA gun doctrine. The cannon barrel was set within a specialized mounting featuring the requisite recoil mechanism and traversal handles as well as integrated seating for the primary members of the gunnery crew. An elevation key was included. The carriage included a "crucifix form" platform with a short frontal leg, long rear leg span and two short side legs to keep the system upright when firing (the recoil forces, as can be expected, were quite violent for such a compact system). The gun barrel was capped by a conical "pepper pot" flash suppressor. The mounting allowed for traversal of the gun as well as elevation. In this way, the weapon could be used against both aircraft and armored vehicles (a special AP - Armor Piercing - round was issued for such work). A normal operating crew was seven personnel to manage the various functions of the system - command, aiming and reloading. Two distinct 5cm FlaK 41 forms were ultimately conceived - those featuring an attached, twin-axle, wheeled carriage for towing by land vehicle or animals and another with the weapon system atop a static mounting platform (retaining its elevation/traverse capabilities). The weapon could therefore be wheeled into position along any active front as needed or set as a static defensive fixture charged with defense of key German holdings such as airfields, bridges and the like.
Structurally, the 5cm FlaK 41 measured a length of 4.7 meters and weighed 6,830lbs (when arranged to fire). The mounting allowed for an elevation span of -10 to +90 and traversal was a full 360-degrees for their proved no obstructions in the latter regard. The weapon registered a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet-per-second and managed an effective ceiling of 3,050 meters (10,000 feet). A trained gunnery crew could see their weapon sustain a cyclic rate-of-fire nearing 180 rounds per minute.
Each 50mm projectile weighed in at 4.85lbs and was issued through five-round cassettes. The action was gas-operated in nature and fully-automatic in function, the recoil movement actuating the breech feed. The breech block dropped downwards to expose the breech mechanism and allow for reloading.
In practice, the 50mm weapon proved rather unspectacular which no doubt led to its limited production life. Its hand-powered traversal system was slow to react, particularly against faster-moving targets and the barrel, despite it fitting a flash hider, produced too much flash which made night-time firing an extreme challenge and produced enough of a flash in day time hours to be noticeable and distracting. The 50mm selected for the weapon also proved weak for the intermediate altitude layer the weapon was charged with protecting. Crews found the five-round ammunition cassette management cumbersome (and limiting in the heat of battle) while the carriage was equally cumbersome and awkward.
Despite all of this, the FlaK 41 series managed to survive the war though only 24 of the original 60 completed examples were believed still in circulation in May of 1945. Its use as an anti-armor weapon is largely unknown and assumed very limited. Several experimental programs involved 5cm FlaK 41s appeared before the end of the war - one interesting project coupled several FlaK 41 units coupled to a single remote-controller - a rather prophetic view of air defense for the decades ahead.
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