Flak Towers were a major construct by the Germans during WWII. The Third Reich was renowned for its vast bunker construction during its time in power, setting the standard in defensive protective shelter designs for the future. They were no strangers to large scale structures that needed thousands of tons of raw materials to complete, but none more so than these enormous towers dotted around European cities.
These towers were designed to provide cities with a higher level of defence against air attacks from Allied bombers. Hitler ordered the construction of three of these monstrosities in Berlin after the RAF raid on the city in 1940. He had such personal involvement with their designs that he even produced sketches of them himself.
Major emphasis was placed on erecting them as fast as possible, going as far as disrupting the German national rail service so the raw materials could be delivered. This effort enabled the towers to be completed in just six months.
The towers were incredibly well armed and protected, with 3.5 meter thick walls that were resistant to all Allied ordnance available at the time. They even featured retractable radar dishes! The towers used a multi-level and multi-caliber arrangement of guns that could throw out 8,000 rounds per minute, although most of these were smaller 20 mm rounds. The guns could fire in a 360 degree arc, and many were even able to fire onto the ground below.
The most potent weapons on the flak towers were the suitably large 128 mm Flak 40 guns, which could easily reach the Allied bombers tens of thousands of feet above. Berlin’s three towers were placed in a triangular arrangement that provided the maximum protection of the city.
While their primary purpose was to provide a shield of anti-aircraft fire, they were also designed to act as a air-raid shelter for civilians. There was accommodation for 10,000 people, with stocks of food, water and other supplies, as well as a hospital. However, in practise the towers would provide protection for many more people, with up to 30,000 seeking refuge in one tower during the Battle of Berlin.
During this battle, the towers, which had already survived the relentless Allied bombing, were some of the last places to fall. The Soviets tried and failed to attack the towers with force, with even their largest 203 mm howitzers failing to bring them down. The guns on these towers were depressed to attack the Soviet forces below. The ‘Zoo Tower’ in Berlin provided brutal anti-tank fire against Soviet armor, covering the approach to the Reichstag building two kilometres away with its 128 mm guns.
Unable to destroy these structures, the Soviets eventually negotiated their surrender instead of a head on assault.
Two towers were built in Hamburg, with another three in Vienna.
After the war attempts were made to demolish the towers, but their incredible durability often made demolition unfeasible, and resulted in many being left, surviving to this day. Some were able to be destroyed successfully.
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