As the German Luftwaffe (German air force) lost control over the skies over Germany in the second half of the Second World War, it could no longer provide sufficient protection against Allied and Soviet aircraft. Panzer divisions were especially affected by the lack of the air fighter cover because they were always at the center of the most intense fighting. While the Germans already had copious amounts of half-tracked SPAAGs of different calibers and weights, these had the significant flaw of being themselves vulnerable to the planes they were meant to hunt. A tank based anti-aircraft vehicle could solve this problem, as it already had the armor to resist most aircraft armament, but little effort was done in this direction. The Flakpanzer I and the Flakpanzer 38(t) were built in some numbers but were considered unsuccessful, mostly due to the weak firepower of the 2cm Flak 38 by this late stage of the war.
2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV prototype. This vehicle was not accepted for production, but it was used as a basis for the later Möbelwagen. Source: Panzernet
In late 1942, at the request of German military officials, Krupp began working and designing the leichte Flak auf gepanzerter Sfl. (light anti-aircraft gun on a tank chassis). One of the first proposals was to use the chassis of the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’ reconnaissance tank and arm it with a small caliber anti-aircraft gun (2 cm or 3.7 cm). The new experimental VK16.02 ‘Leopard’ was also considered for this purpose. In the end, partly due to the cancellation of the VK16.02 program, a new solution had to be found.
In February 1943, Krupp engineers started work on designing a new vehicle that would be used for this purpose. The result was a modified and shortened chassis of the Panzerkampfwagen IV medium tank with an open-topped weapon platform. This platform was box-shaped with folding double-walled sides and the main gun in the middle. The chassis only had six road wheels (rather than eight used on Panzer IV) with only three return rollers. Several different weapons were proposed for this vehicle: 2cm Flakvierling, 3.7 cm Flak 36 or 43 and possibly even the powerful but mechanically unreliable 5 cm Flak 41. This project was also abandoned, but parts of its design would be used on the next project.
Front view of the Möbelwagen, with part of the Flak 43 gun shield cut down. The lack of the machine ball mount in the hull can also be observed. Source: Panzernet
In late May and early June, because of urgency and a great need for such a vehicle, Krupp was rushed by the army to build the new Flakpanzer as soon as possible. In order to take advantage of already existing production capacities and thus accelerate the whole process, it was decided to use the Panzer IV tank chassis for this purpose.
2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV Prototype
The 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV prototype was ready by September 1943. This vehicle was built using a Panzer IV tank chassis and by removing the tank turret and replacing it with a box-shaped (open top) superstructure armed with a 2 cm Flakvierling AA mount.
The 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV prototype was sent to Kummersdorf and presented to a military inspection which was led by General Guderian. Guderian was satisfied with this prototype and placed an order for a serial production to start by the April 1944 with some 20 vehicles to be built per month.
None were built as Hitler (or even by Guderian depending on the source) preferred the larger and more powerful 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-air gun. The single build prototype would be later used as a base for the improved ‘Möbelwagen’.
Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV (3.7 cm Flak 43) ‘Möbelwagen’
Since the 2cm Flakvierling Panzer IV project was rejected, Krupp was asked to design and build the proposed Flakpanzer IV armed with a 3.7 cm Flak. To speed up the whole process, Krupp workers and engineers simply reused the previous prototype. They did some minor modifications on it and installed the bigger 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-aircraft weapon. Using the modified Panzer IV chassis (with six road wheels) was also considered but this proposal was not adopted.
Fresh built Möbelwagens ready to be sent to the front. Source:panzernet
This prototype was ready by the beginning of 1944 and was presented to the German Army for inspection. There were no major objections to this vehicle, which met almost all requirements. It has to be emphasized that this vehicle was considered a temporary solution until new and better anti-aircraft tanks were designed and built in sufficient numbers. The order for production was given in February 1944. The production was planned to begin in April 1944 with some 20 vehicles per month. In total, some 100 vehicles were expected to be completed by the end of 1944. Due to the slow production of the new ‘Wirbelwind’ and ‘Ostwind’ Flakpanzers, a new order was given for some 140 more vehicles to be built.
The official name of this vehicle was Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV. The ‘Möbelwagen’ nickname was given by the crews because of the similarities with a moving van (when the armored sides were raised for transportation). Although this is not its official name, this article will use this name for the sake of simplicity.
Like any other vehicle, it was necessary for crews to learn how to operate it efficiently. Source:panzernet
The Möbelwagen, as already mentioned earlier, was built using the Panzer IV Ausf.H (later J) tank chassis. The Möbelwagens suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to its construction. It consisted of eight small road wheels (on both sides) suspended in pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total. The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM, but modified so that it put out 272 [email protected] rpm instead of the usual 265 [email protected] rpm. The maximum armor thickness of the lower frontal glacis was 80 mm thick, the sides were 30 mm, the rear 20 mm and the bottom armor was only 10 mm. The design of the engine compartment was unchanged.
The upper tank hull was different from the original one used on the Panzer IV. It had a rectangular shape with vertical sides, somewhat larger but easier for production. The ball-mounted hull machine gun was removed. The front driver observation hatch remained unchanged. The front armor of the upper hull was 50 mm, the side were 30 mm, and the rear armor that protected engine compartment was only 20 mm. On top of the tank hull, beside the main weapon, four hatch doors were built-in. Two front hatch doors were used by the driver and the radio operator (Fu 2 and Fu 5 radios were used) to enter their positions. The two rear doors led to the ammunition rack’ where 400-416 rounds were stored.
Abandoned on the battlefield, possibly somewhere in Normandy 1944. Source: panzernet
The new fighting compartment that replaced the tank turret was visually the most obvious change. The new superstructure consisted of a large four-sided armored compartment (open from the top) with the main gun in it. The first 20 produced vehicles had double walls consisting of two 12 mm thick unhardened steel plates. The next 25 had double walls with two 10 mm armored plates. The remaining vehicles would be built using a single-thickness 25 mm armored plate (or 20 mm according to some sources). The superstructure of the first prototype was different from that of the production Möbelwagen. The side walls were distorted inward at the top, in contrast to the later production vehicle which had mostly flat sides. The two side armor plates were at first somewhat higher than the front and rear ones, but later on the production version, they were shortened by 250 mm. The front and rear plates also had two small hinged parts. These could be swung outwards and allow for the side plates to be fixed at an outward angle. Being an open top vehicle with only 25 mm of armor, the Möbelwagen offered only limited crew protection, mostly from shell fragments and small arms fire, but realistically ‘some’ armor is much better than none. What looks like pistol ports are located in the rear parts of the side walls and in the rear plate.
These double-walled (later single-walled) armored sides could, depending on the combat situation, be lowered to efficiently respond to any threat. In essence, this vehicle had two operational (moving and firing) ‘modes’ in which it could be used. In moving mode, the armored walls were fully raised and the gun could not be used properly. This mode was employed when moving from one location to another, protecting the crew and the gun. The second one was the firing position, with fully or partially lowered walls. When the walls were partially lowered (at 30°), the Möbelwagen crew could engage high flying enemy aircraft with some protection from shell fragments and small arms fire. When the sides were fully lowered, the crew could engage low flying aircraft and, if necessary, ground targets. The gun crew (in this situation) had only the gun shield for protection and were otherwise totally exposed to enemy fire.
Only when all sides were lowered could the crew engage ground targets and low flying aircraft but, in that case, they were totally exposed to enemy fire. The crew member on the right is using a rangefinder. Source:panzernet
The crew consisted of the commander, two gunners, a loader, a driver and a radio operator. Sometimes a seventh crew member is mentioned in some sources. The crew had a hard time to lift the sides back in vertical position. It might seem easy, but the total weight of each of these side walls was a few hundred kilograms.
Flakpanzer IV (3.7 cm Flak 43) ‘Möbelwagen’ illustrated by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet
3.7 cm Flak 43
The main weapon chosen for the Möbelwagen was the relatively new but powerful 3.7 cm Flak 43. In order to use the crew space as efficiently as possible, the right-side gun shield was shortened. When in transport mode (with fully raised walls), in case of danger or emergency, the gun could be used with a very limited firing arc. But, in order to use it efficiently, the side walls had to be lowered. Some imaginative crews (on few occasions) removed parts of the front armor in order to use the main gun against ground targets when on the move. Only when the armored walls were dropped to a horizontal position could the main gun be traversed at 360 °. The elevation of the Flak 43 was – 7.5° to + 90° with the maximum rate of fire 250 rounds per minute (but 150 was the more practical rpm). Besides their personal weaponry, the crew could have one MG.34 or MG.42 machine gun (carried inside the vehicle) for self-defense.
Some crew members were imaginative and had cut some parts of the frontal armor so the gun could engage ground targets without lowering the walls. The traverse arc was very limited, but at least there was some armor to hide behind. Source: panzernet
Although sharing the same 3.7 cm caliber as the earlier Flak 18, 36 and 37 models, the newer Flak 43 was a completely different weapon. The primary goal of this design was to be simple to operate and easy to produce. It had a new gas operated breech mechanism which was loaded with a fixed loading tray with eight round clips. This system nearly doubled the rate of fire. The mounting was also a simplified three-legged platform, similar to the earlier models.
Beside the single-gun version, a twin-gun version was also used by the German Army. The second gun was mounted above the first, not side by side. In order to do so, a stronger and heavier mounting was built (using a four wheel chassis). This was somewhat unusual, but it was probably done in order to be as simple as possible.
The production began in February 1944. Until the end of the war, some 6.103 (300-390 dual version) Flak 43 AA guns were built by the Rheinmetall-Borsig.
Specifications of the Weapon
Calibre: 37 mm/1.46 in
Elevation: – 7.5° to + 90°
Weight in action: 1248 kg/2752 lbs
Rate of fire: 150-180 (practical) / 250-300 (max rate of fire)
Muzzle velocity: 820 mps/2690 fps
Maximum ceiling: 4800 m/15755 ft
Effective ceiling: 4200 m/13780 ft
The first Möbelwagens built (possibly up to four vehicles) were sent to Denmark in March 1944 for test trials. These tests were conducted by a group of German Army anti-aircraft artillery staff. The tests showed that there were no major problems with the Flak 43 weapon and it worked fine. The only problem was with the exhaust gases during firing. There were some issues with the poor quality of the gunpowder used in the ammunition. A fully operated and enclosed turret was preferred for the Flakpanzer project but, because of the great necessity for such vehicle to be available as soon as possible, the ‘green light’ was given.
When sufficient numbers of Möbelwagen were built (by June 1944), they were used to equip the 9th, 11th, and 116th Panzer Divisions (on the Western front) with eight Möbelwagen vehicles each (Flugabwehrzug). The next units that received this vehicle were the 6th and 19th Panzer Divisions, both stationed on the Eastern front from July 1944. In August and September 1944, many Panzer Brigades (from 101st to 110th) received smaller Flugabwehrzuge with only four Möbelwagens each. By the end of the war, many more units on both front would receive Möbelwagens. From September 1944 on, several new mixed Flugabwehrzuge were formed with Möbelwagens and the new ‘Wirbelwind’ anti-aircraft tank (not many were built).
The sides could be partially lowered. In this case, high flying aircraft could be targetted and the crew would have some protection.
There is little information regarding the combat effectiveness of the Möbelwagen. The Möbelwagen fulfilled several roles requested earlier by the German military officials. The problem with the mobility of anti-aircraft guns was solved, as the Möbelwagen could follow the Panzer Divisions on any terrain. It also had an effective and strong gun. The biggest drawback to this vehicle was the fact that the side walls had to be lowered in order to engage enemy aircraft efficiently. While the crew lowered the sides, valuable time was wasted if it needed to engage enemy planes. It was also a hindrance if the vehicle needed to get on the move in a hurry, for example if it was attacked by enemy infantry. But, despite this, it was a welcome addition to the Panzer Divisions who desperately needed such a vehicle.
During the second half of the war, the Germans lost the control over the sky so camouflage was necessary for survival even for anti-air vehicles. Source: panzernet
The Möbelwagen was considered a stopgap vehicle that was to be eventually replaced with the more advanced Wirbelwind and the Ostwind. Both these vehicles had a new enclosed (only top was open) turret which offered much better crew protection. But neither of these two versions were ever built in sufficient numbers to make a difference during the war. There were some plans to arm the Möbelwagen with the twin barrel Flak 43 to increase the firepower, but nothing came of the idea.
Most sources state that around 240 Möbelwagens were built during the war. However, there is no agreement in this respect. Bryan Perrett (New Vanguard) states that a total of 211 Möbelwagen were built. According to Walter J. Spielberger, only 205 were built. The authors Chris Mcnab and Werner write that around 240 vehicles had been built. Some internet websites claim that 250 vehicles were built. A number of the Möbelwagens were built using damaged tanks returned to Germany for repairs from all fronts. This makes it difficult to determine the exact number of vehicles built.
|Dimensions||5.41 x 2.88 x 2.68 m (17.7×9.4×8.8 ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||25 tons|
|Armament||1x 3.7 cm (37mm) Flak 43 Anti-Aircraft gun|
|Armor||From 15 to 65 mm (0.59-2.56 in)|
|Propulsion||Maybach V12 gasoline HL 120 TRM
(220 kW) 300 [email protected] rpm
|Speed on /off road||42/16 km/h (26/9.9 mph)|
|Range (road/off road)||200 km (120 mi)|
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-Germany, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008.
Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-1945, Bryan Perrett, New Vanguard 2007.
Waffentechnik im Zeiten Weltrieg, Alexander Ludeke, Parragon books.
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer, der Reichsehr, Werhmacht und Bundeswehr ab 1900, Werner Oswald 2004.
PANZER TRACTS No.12 Flak Selbstfahrlafetten. Thomas L. Jentz.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Military Vehicles, Chris Mcnab,
Fighting men of WW II, Axis Forces, David Miller, Chartwell Books 2011.
Armor at war series, German self-propelled guns, Gordon Rotman.
Gepard, The history of German Anti-aircraft tanks, Valter J. Spielberger, Bernard & Graefe Verlag Munchen 1982.