Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind

In in the later years of World War II the Wehrmacht found they could no longer count on air superiority on any battlefield.

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So a weapon was needed that could provide effective ground based fire, to keep those pesky jabos away…

Even before the War the Wehrmacht had expected aircraft to be a nuisance to the ground army.  So right from the start Germany had anti-aircraft weapons attached to every formation.  Much more so than other armies at the time.

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But these weapons were not really modernized for quite some time, largely because the Luftwaffe so often held air superiority or outright aerial supremacy.  Well into 1942 the anti-aircraft component of the military was changed little.  But by 1943 the battlefield was changing.  British, American and Soviet air forces all were becoming practiced in close support work and could often force local air superiority.

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Mobile anti-aircraft was increased to compensate, as well as it could.  But what was really needed was something that could aggressively face enemy tactical aircraft.  Obsolete armor platforms [mainly Panzer III and 38(t)] were being retasked as tank destroyers already.  By mid-1944 even the Panzer IV was past its prime as a main battle tank, so it was decided to convert a number of these into dedicated anti-aircraft platforms.  As a bigger tank it could support an effective quad 20 mm mount, plus moderately thick turret armor, and ample ammunition.  It also had modern communications and targeting optics.  Around 100 Panzer IV were converted to Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind specification (exact numbers not known).

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The Panzer IV, as seen above, was the doner vehicle for the Flakpanzer IV.

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Compared to late-War German armor its obvious the Flakpanzer IV is a much smaller vehicle.  But in a late war armored formation it would have provided anti-air protection in a hard shell.

Its effectiveness was mixed.  Quad 20s were viciously useful against soft ground based targets, like infantry, trucks and recon vehicles.  But the fire was too light and too short range for anti-aircraft.  Of course a 20 mm cannon can do significant damage to an aircraft, but aircraft are small and fast moving.  They are more often brought down by volume of fire than by a few well placed shots (targeting them is a low percentage shot).  The 20mm is too short range and has a very limited window of opportunity.
So a new weapon, the Ostwind (similar looking Panzer IV conversion but with a single 37 mm cannon) was designed by the end of 1944.  This was a slightly more effective weapon but Only 44 of these were finished by the end of the War.

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The Sherman is a similar size AFV.  But Quad 20s would be pretty useless against such a tank.  So don’t let your Wirbelwinds go out alone…

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4 20mm cannon is actually exactly the same fire power as the Typhoon; well, except for the rockets.  And the Typhoon having 20x the top speed.  Let’s just say Typhoon or Thunderbolt has the positioning advantage unless the Wirbelwind has been able to set an ambush.  But that sort of defeats the point of mobile defense.

This is the Tamiya kit.  It represents a vehicle captured in France at the end of the war, no unit assignment was noted.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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15 Responses to Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind

  1. jfwknifton says:

    That was really interesting! Thank you! I know very little about tanks and armoured vehicles and I had never heard of the “Wirbelwind”. What a wonderful word! Nudging “flammenwerfer” for top spot!

  2. erniedavis says:

    I built this in 1/35th scale back when I was actively building. I also built the allied version (quad .50 cal on a half-track). While neither was a particularly successful anti-aircraft platform in my understanding, both found roles as devastating anti-personnel weapons.

    • atcDave says:

      Yes I think that’s exactly right. I think both weapons lack the range, or window of opportunity, to really be effective for anti-aircraft. But massive firepower for ground based soft targets.
      I wish that quad .50 half-track was available in this scale!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      As I remember they tried out the M45 mount (I looked it up) on everything from an M2 chasis (not pursued) to flatbed trucks (eventually deployed).

      • atcDave says:

        I think I’ve seen pictures of the one on a deuce and a half. That truck is available in 1/48, but I haven’t seen either a kit or mod for the quad .50. It’s one of those maddening things where almost every vehicle and odd mod is available for GERMAN stuff, but slim pickings for literally everything else.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        That’s why I always liked 1/35th.

      • atcDave says:

        No doubt it’s the better choice if armor is your first priority!

      • erniedavis says:

        Absolutely. And while you probably could get a 1/35 scale B17 kit, where would you keep the completed kit?

      • atcDave says:

        I know a lot of modelers treat 1/32 and 1/35 as “close enough”. That makes for a huge variety of things available.
        But I can’t even imagine making space for that! I often wish I worked in 1/72.

      • erniedavis says:

        Just my experience here, but I built in both 1/32 and 1/35 since there wasn’t a big difference in size like 1/48th. Both were a size I liked and was comfortable with. However, mixing always bothered me.

        I think in general people more interested in armor (broadly defined as military vehicles in general, but mostly tanks and their support) are also a lot more into dioramas. Because of that, if you go through hobby catalogs, there are a ton of accessories, from people to scaled building materials, available in 1/35th scale. This is where the big taboo of mixing scales comes in to play for me. I could tell the difference, it was slight, but there.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I agree about the *big* small difference. There was a period (late ’70s?) when Tamiya put out a few aircraft subjects in 1/50. Not sure all the reasoning, maybe it looked more “metric”!?
        When I first got back into modeling in the mid ’90s there still several subjects (mostly minor Japanese types) that were only available in that scale. I bought a couple, but never built them. Because just as you say, I could SEE the difference. They were just a little too small. And since the side by side scale comparisons are one of my favorite things to do it just never made sense to me.

        But that said, I’ve seen a number of dioramas that mix 1/32 and 1/35 and look pretty good. Of course its mostly things like downed aircraft vignettes where maybe the size issues are moderated by the wreckage aspect of things. Still, it CAN be made to work. Just not for the sort of things I specifically want to do.

  3. The Germans were quite innovative when push came to shove weren’t they!

  4. Pingback: Crusader Anti-Aircraft Mk III | Plane Dave

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