British Anti-Aircraft Artillery in WWII

Here’s a video the  British released during World War II explaining AAA duty.


Recall of course that Britain was under nearly continuous air attack for much of the war. That meant a much larger investment in fixed and semi-fixed batteries than the US made. The mount shown appears to be the Vickers 4.5” QF gun, itself an adaptation of a dual purpose naval gun. The predictor appears to be the Vickers Type 10. The narrative alludes to radar, but for security reasons, doesn’t specify it.

Interestingly, while the 4.5” QF was an excellent gun, it began the war with rather sub-par ammunition. The Type 199 had an igniferous time fuse. That is, a burning powder train was used for the time delay. But since altitude effects burn rate, it was a less than wholly satisfactory fuse. A later mechanical time fuse and fuse setter were adopted as soon as possible. Oddly, it doesn’t appear a VT proximity fuse was ever adopted for the 4.5” QF, though VT fuses were used in other similar British AAA guns.

The US and most other nations pretty much abandoned AAA guns as soon as guided missiles became available in the 1950s.

The Russians and their client states, however, did not. I was chatting with a friend about this, and since whenever I go to the effort of writing, I think you should benefit, here’s part of the conversation:

The commies sure loved them LOTS of AA guns. I mean, LOTS.

Why the affinity for them?

They’re relatively cheap. And quite effective. Look at airplane losses in Vietnam, guns were far and away deadlier than SAMs.

I’d have to double check, but I think guns even took down more planes in Desert Storm than missiles.*

Lots of medium caliber guns (23-57mm) effectively deny the airspace below 10,000ft. Which incidentally means you’re pushed into the prime SAM engagement envelope. Which, you then have to spend a good part of the initial air campaign suppressing the SAM systems, and not striking the targets you want.

The first two nights of Desert Storm, the Navy and AF and RAF used low level tactics to avoid SAMs. And the losses were quite heavy. And virtually all to guns. They switched to medium altitude after that, reasoning it was easier to jam, suppress and avoid SAMs than to give up a $40 million jet to a cheap ass gun.

*Our friend Robin has an analysis of lost and damaged coalition aircraft in Desert Storm.

3 thoughts on “British Anti-Aircraft Artillery in WWII”

  1. Could it be that the VT proximity fuze was made for the 5″ gun that the USN used on everything and couldn’t be shrunk down any further to fit the 4.5″ shell? Or was it another case of the US not trusting its Allies with its top secret technology?

    1. Probably production priorities. (excuse the alliteration)
      The Allies spent a lot of time on planning so they could maximize production. It is possible it was determined that either the change would interfere with 4.5″ QF ammo production, or perhaps there were supply or shipping issues.

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