Military Review

British anti-aircraft defense during the Second World War. Part 1

British anti-aircraft defense during the Second World War. Part 1

As a rule, war begins suddenly. The armed forces of a country subjected to aggression are absolutely not ready for it. It is also true that the generals are preparing not for the future, but for the past wars. This fully applies to the state of air defense assets of the British ground forces.

However, by the time full-scale hostilities began, such a situation existed in the armies of the majority of states participating in the war. With the Red Army air defense system, the situation in 1941 was even more difficult.

In August, the British infantry adopted the Bren machine gun 1938 1-mm caliber (.7,7 "British"), which is a British modification of the Czech machine gun ZB-303 "Zbroevka Brno". The machine gun got its name from the first two letters of the names of the cities of Brno (Brno) and Enfield (Enfield), in which the production was launched. By June, the British army numbered 30 over 1940 thousand machine guns "Bren".

British soldier shows King of Great Britain George VI 7,7-mm (.303 british) Bren anti-aircraft machine gun (Bren Mk.I)

For the machine gun, several versions of anti-aircraft machines were developed, including for a twin installation. The effective range for firing at air targets did not exceed 550 m, i.e., the machine gun could only fight low-altitude targets. The Bren machine gun was used as anti-aircraft weaponry tanks, Self-propelled guns and armored vehicles, put on ships, boats and cars.

As an anti-aircraft "Bren" had a number of disadvantages:
Shops small capacity - on 30 cartridges.
Low rate of fire - 480-540 shots per minute (the rate of fire of the German MG-42 was twice as high).
The top position of the store partially blocked the front view during the shooting and made it difficult to track air targets. However, due to the widespread use, the Bren was used to combat enemy low-flying aircraft throughout the war.

After the start of the war in Europe unsuccessful for the British and the urgent evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, where they were forced to leave the enemy with the most modern weapons at that time, which the British army only had. To compensate for the lack of weapons, being threatened by the German assault on Britain, the return to the army of old systems was initiated, as well as a number of improvisations. Among other things, they returned to service from warehouses and about 50 thousand Lewis machine guns.

“Lewis” of various modifications in anti-aircraft installations were installed on local defense armored trains, cars and even motorcycles.

In a hurry order to strengthen the air defense of the infantry units, several hundreds of paired and quad anti-aircraft installations were created.

"Bren" was used in the British army as a light machine gun infantry. The role of the rotary machine gun was assigned to the Vickers Mk.I machine gun of 7,7-mm caliber (.303 british) with water cooling, which was the English version of the Maxim machine-gun.

Compared to the "Bren", it was possible to conduct more intense fire from it, but the mass weapons on the machine was at times more. For anti-aircraft machine-gun variants, a special muzzle was used - a barrel rollback accelerator, which used the pressure of powder gases on the muzzle of the barrel to increase the recoil energy, thereby increasing the rate of fire.

A significant number of obsolete aviation machine guns of rifle caliber "Vickers-K", created on the basis of the machine gun "Vickers-Berthier".

The twin units with disk shops with 100 capacity of cartridges were installed on “Land Rovers” of high maneuverability for SAS units and “desert long-range reconnaissance groups”.

Due to the lack of domestic machine gun designs suitable for installation in armored combat vehicles, the command of the British army in 1937 signed a contract with the Czechoslovak firm Zbroevka-Brno for the production of XBUMNMX machine gun ZB-53. The design of the machine gun ZB-7,92 was modified to meet British requirements, and it was adopted under the name BESA, composed of the initial letters of the words Brno, Enfield, Small Arms Corporation.

British "infantry" tank "Matilda" Mk.2 with anti-aircraft machine gun "Demon"

The "Bes" machine guns were widely used on various British armored vehicles, including as anti-aircraft. The power of the "Bes" machine guns of all modifications was carried out from a metal tape with a capacity of 225 cartridges.

British light anti-aircraft tank Vickers AA Mark I, armed with four 7,92-mm machine guns "Demon"

At the beginning of the 1920-s in England, work began on the creation of large-caliber machine guns to combat armored vehicles and airplanes. The weapon was originally created for the 5 Vickers cartridge (12,7х81-mm in the metric system), not much different than the dimensions from the Vickers machine gun Mk.I.

Marine anti-aircraft installation quad Vickers .5 Mk.3

In 1928, large-caliber machine guns from Vickers .5 Mk.3 adopted the royal navy in the army, the machine gun was not widely used, in a limited number of large-caliber machine guns mounted on armored vehicles.

Armored car "Cross" D2E1 with anti-aircraft installation of paired 12,7-mm machine guns "Vikkers"

Realizing the insufficient power of the 12,7x81 mm cartridges (especially in comparison with the American 12,7x99 mm and the French 13,2x99 mm), the Vickers company in the late 1920s developed a more powerful ammunition of the same caliber, known as .5 Vickers HV (12,7x120 mm). This cartridge accelerated a 45-gram armor-piercing bullet to a speed of 927 m / s. Under this cartridge, an enlarged version of the same water-cooled Vickers machine gun, known as the .5 Vickers Class D, was developed. Outwardly, these machine guns differed from the less powerful "naval»Vickers of the same caliber are noticeably longer. The machine gun had a rate of fire of 500-600 rds / min and a range of fire at air targets up to 1500 m.

Twin Vickers - Vickers .5 Class D

Large-caliber 12,7-mm Vickers machine guns were used mainly in the fleet; due to excessive weight and water cooling on land, they were used mainly in the object air defense and for armament of armored vehicles.

Paired ZPU X Browser M12,7 2 Machine Guns

The most common anti-aircraft machine gun in the UK caliber 12,7-mm has become supplied under the Lend-Lease Browning M2.


The British enterprises serially produced ZSU T17E2 based on the American armored car "Staghound". It was distinguished from the base machine by a single, cylindrical turret without a roof, with two large-caliber Browning M2HB machine guns.

In 1937, in Czechoslovakia, a large-caliber machine gun ZB-60 was created under the new cartridge 15x104 Brno, originally intended as an anti-aircraft weapon. In 1937, the British company Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) acquired a license for the production of the ZB-15 60 machine gun and cartridges for it, where these machine guns were released in small series, and the cartridges were given another designation - 15-mm Besa.

The 15-mm BESA machine gun weighed 56,90 kg, the rate of fire was 400 shots per minute, the initial speed of the bullet 820 m / s. The firing range of air targets to 2000 m.

Anti-aircraft 15-mm machine gun "Demon"

For a number of reasons, the BNS 15-mm machine gun did not receive wide distribution, because of the “abnormal” ammunition in the second half of the war, attempts were made to rework it for an 20-millimeter shot of the “Hispano-Suiza”.

British lightweight anti-aircraft tank Vickers Mark V with twin 15 mm "Demon" machine guns

In the British navy during the war, 20-mm Oerlikon automatic anti-aircraft guns were widely used. Their modifications had the designations Mk 2, Mk 3 and Mk 4, on their basis single-barreled and quadruple installations were created. In much smaller quantities, the Oerlikon were installed on the shore.

In 1942, the Zrus Crusader AA Mk II was created. The cruiser tank Krusader (“Crusader”) was used as a base. At the base chassis, a light-armored, circular, top-mounted turret mounted on top of the base chassis, with a twin installation of two X-NUMX-mm automatic Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns with 20 barrel lengths.

ZSU Crusader AA Mk II

At the start of the 1944, the Polsten 20-mm anti-aircraft gun was launched. The prototype gun was created on the eve of the war in Poland. Polish engineers tried to simplify the design of the Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun, making it faster, easier and cheaper. The developers managed to escape to the UK along with the drawings.

The Polsten anti-aircraft 20-mm machine delivered the rate of fire of 450 shots per minute, the maximum range of shooting 7200 m, the reach of 2000 m in height. ground targets.

Canadian anti-aircraft gunners at the Polsten installation

"Polsten" turned out to be much simpler and cheaper than its prototype, not inferior to it in combat characteristics. The ability to install tools on the machine from the "Oerlikon" was retained. Zenitka had a record low weight in the combat position, only 231 kg, power cartridges were carried out from 30-ti charging stores. In addition to single installations, built and quadruple guns were produced, as well as an even lighter collapsible version of the anti-aircraft guns for paratroopers.

After World War I, the British fleet was armed with a significant number of 40-mm Vickers anti-aircraft guns in one-, two-, four-, and eight-barreled installations.

Four-barrel units were used on destroyers and cruisers of the Royal Navy, eight-barrel ones on cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers. Because of the characteristic sound made when shooting, they were widely known as “Pom-Pom”.

The 40-mm Vickers machine gun was a lightweight and somewhat simplified 37-mm Maxim machine with water-cooled barrel.
The use of "pom pom pom" on land was hindered by the heavy weight of the installations, the technical complexity of the design and the low reliability. To cool the guns, a significant amount of clean water was required, which was not always possible to provide in the field.

At the end of 30's in Sweden, a license was acquired to manufacture 40-mm anti-aircraft guns Bofors L60. Compared with the naval "pom pomom" this gun had a large effective range of fire and reach in height. It was much easier, simpler and more reliable. Fragment 900-gram projectile (40х311R) left the barrel Bofors L60 with speed 850 m / s. The rate of fire is about 120 shots / min. Accessibility in height - up to 4000 m.

Anti-aircraft gun mounted on a four-wheel towed "cart". In the case of urgent need, shooting could be conducted directly from the gun carriage, i.e. "Off the wheels" without additional procedures, but with less accuracy. In normal mode, the frame of the carriage fell to the ground for greater stability. The transition from the “traveling” position to the “combat” position took about 1 minutes.

The British did a great job of simplifying and cheapening guns. To speed up the guidance of fast-moving and diving planes, the British used the mechanical analog computer Major Kerrison (AV Kerrison), which became the first automatic control system for anti-aircraft fire. The Kerrison device was a mechanical calculating device that allows determining the tool pointing angles based on the position and movement of the target, the ballistic parameters of the gun and ammunition, as well as meteorological factors. The resulting guidance angles were automatically transmitted to the instrument's guidance mechanisms with the help of servomotors.

The calculator controlled the guidance of the gun, and the calculation could only charge it and fire. The original reflex sights were replaced by simpler ring-mounted anti-aircraft sights, which were used as duplicates. This modification of the QF 40 mm Mark III has become the army standard light anti-aircraft installation. This British 40-mm anti-aircraft gun had the most sophisticated sights of the entire Bofors family.

However, when placing weapons not at permanent stationary positions, it was found that the use of a Kerrison device in some situations was not always possible, and in addition, it required the supply of fuel, which was used to power the electric generator. Because of this, often when shooting, they used only conventional ring sights without using any external target designation and calculations of advance correction, which greatly reduced the accuracy of shooting.

Taking into account the combat experience in 1943, a simple trapezoidal Stiffkey device was developed, which moved the riflescopes for introducing corrections when firing and was controlled by one of the anti-aircraft gunners.

The British using the Bofors L60 created a number of ZSU. Anti-aircraft guns with an open turret mounted on the chassis of the tank Crusader. This self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was named Crusader III AA Mark

ZSU Crusader AA Mark III

However, the most common British 40-mm ZSU became Carrier SP 4x4 40-mm AA 30cwt, created by mounting an anti-aircraft gun on the chassis of a four-wheel drive four-wheel Morris truck.

ZSU Carrier SP 4x4 40-mm AA 30cwt

During the fighting in North Africa, in addition to its direct destination, the British 40-mm ZSU provided fire support to the infantry and fought with German armored vehicles.

After the fall of Holland in 1940, part of the Dutch fleet went to the UK, and the British had the opportunity to get acquainted in detail with the sea 40-mm installations "Hazmeyer" in which they used the same Bofors L60 gun. Installations "Hazmemeyer" favorably differed in combat and service and operational characteristics of the British 40-mm "pom pomov" company "Vikkers".

Paired 40-mm installation "Hazemeyer"

In 1942, the UK began its own production of such plants. Unlike ground-based anti-aircraft guns, most of the sea 40-mm guns were water-cooled.

After the “Luftwaffe” launched massive raids on the British Isles, it turned out that there was a serious rip in the country's air defense system. The fact is that there was a gap in the line of British anti-aircraft guns. 40-mm Bofors L60 were effective up to a height of 4000 m, and 94-mm anti-aircraft guns began to pose a serious danger to enemy bombers from a height of 5500-6000 m depending on the course angle. The Germans understood this very quickly, and therefore bombed from a height of 4500-5000 m.

The British engineers were tasked to create an anti-aircraft gun with a 100 fire rate / min in caliber 6-pounds (57-mm).

Due to the fact that the fleet also wanted to be armed with the installation of such a caliber, the work dragged on. With ready anti-aircraft guns, the delay was caused by the unavailability of a number of nodes that did not match
navy standards. The sailors demanded the introduction of electric drives, high-speed delivery of shots from the boxes and the possibility of firing at the enemy's torpedo boats, which led to the alteration of the entire carriage. The installation was only ready at the beginning of 1944, when there was no particular need for it.

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  1. avt
    avt 30 July 2014 09: 26
    Nice review. good The illustrations are good, intarx. +
  2. voyaka uh
    voyaka uh 30 July 2014 11: 10
    As it turned out (there was an article right there, recently), all anti-aircraft guns of the world have a common
    "mother" - 40 mm Bofors L60 fellow
    1. Bongo
      30 July 2014 11: 19
      Quote: voyaka uh
      all anti-aircraft guns in the world have a common "mother" - 40 mm Bofors L60

      Not all, the Soviet copy of the 40-mm "Bofors" is only the "37-mm automatic anti-aircraft gun mod. 1939 g. " also known as 61-K.
      Another question is that these two guns have received widespread distribution in the world.
    2. zyablik.olga
      zyablik.olga 30 July 2014 11: 59
      Quote: voyaka uh
      all anti-aircraft guns of the world have in common

      Then it can be argued that the 20-mm "Oerlikon" is the progenitor of all MZA?
      1. schizophrenic
        schizophrenic 30 July 2014 16: 20
        If you talked about mothers, then the dad of all anti-aircraft guns can be considered a machine gun Maxim.
      2. anomalocaris
        anomalocaris 2 August 2014 17: 44
        Then the Becker cannon. For "Oerlikon" went from her.