It seems, based on anecdotal evidence, that anti-aircraft defences on tanks were very ineffective during WWII.

Is there any solid evidence to back this up?

I am specifically interested in German units as they needed the AA defences more than the Allies generally speaking but any evidence from either side would be of interest.


Who was trained to use the AA defences? How did AA defences improve during the war? Were all AFVs equipped with such defences? How did the various AFV mounted AA defences differ?

When I say "tanks" I am referring to AFVs that primarily were designed to engage other ground units/tanks.

  • German 88-Guns were in fact AA-guns. And they took a massive toll on the German/British/American tanks... During The Battle of France (alone), The 88-Guns were responsible for no less of 152 tank-kills
    – User999999
    Aug 10, 2017 at 10:56
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    @User999999: That was my gut reaction, but I believe that the question meant, "how effective were anti-aircraft defenses mounted on/used by tanks?" If I'm wrong, the OP should clarify.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 10, 2017 at 10:58
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    Does "tanks" specifically mean tanks or a (tracked) armored vehicle with a dedicated AA mount, such as the Wirbelwind Flakpanzers?
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 10, 2017 at 11:02
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    I mean AA defences on tanks such as Panther, Tiger etc, let me edit the question.
    – davidjwest
    Aug 10, 2017 at 11:21
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    Today AA MGs on ground vehicles are supposed to make the attacking pilots dodge and spoil the firing pass. The same effect would apply in WWII, even if the gunners were trying for a kill.
    – o.m.
    Aug 10, 2017 at 17:53

1 Answer 1


Summary: Armored AA-carriers are explicitly excluded, and any other tank without a cupola-mounted MG can safely be described as lacking any meaningful AA capability.

Some tanks mounted MGs that were widely used as AA gun (.50 cal, 12.7mm), but those only really threaten low-flying and lightly armoured planes.

The answer is "not", as german WW2 anti-ground tanks such as the Tiger/Panther did not have any.

All German models shared the basic layout of having a primary gun, along with coax and/or chassis mounted MGs.

Gun elevation specs for the tiger can be found at http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/nazi_germany/Panzer-VI_Tiger.php

Upwards elevation was limited to 15 degrees. Transverse speed beyond the first few degrees would be bound to either the chassis, or the turret.

Maybe some tank somewhere scored a lucky hit on a low-flying aircraft, but that would inspire tall tales told at camp fires.

Edit: noticed now you weren't exclusively asking about German tanks. Answer still stands for comparable designs, but some allied tanks featured an MG on top of the turret that could actually point upwards.

Efficacy for these would be comparable to other emplaced machine guns.

Edit2: As for any tanks equipped with MG's mounted on the commander/loader cupola: the AA action summary of 1945 by the US Navy mentions that

Although the .50-caliber machine gun destroyed more enemy planes than any other weapon at Pearl Harbor, it long had been appreciated that the weapon was obsolete because of its short range and light hitting power.

These statements are backed up by figures showing that .50 and .30 cal got very few kills while firing a lot of rounds. (.30 cal guns on US navy ships used 56,950 rounds to bring down a single plane in 1942)

Late-war Russian tanks (eg IS-2) would be equipped with a DShK AA gun, which reportedly was reasonably effective against low-flying aircraft.

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    The Panther Ausf A model introduced a new cast armour commander's cupola, replacing the forged cupola. It featured a steel hoop to which a third MG 34 or either the coaxial or the bow machine gun could be mounted for use in the anti-aircraft role. Aug 10, 2017 at 16:39
  • @sempaiscuba It appears I'll have to go and look up stats for light MG AA usefulness.
    – Kargathia
    Aug 10, 2017 at 16:54
  • Please note that effectiveness isn't solely measured in kills. If a dive bomber or rocket-equipped attacker is diving towards the tanks and is met with tracers whizzing past the plane, the pilot can get more nervous, throwing off his aim. It's much more easy to target a tank if you're diving towards it in a straight line. If you have to make evasive maneuvers because the tanks are firing at you (even if that fire isn't really effective), it makes aiming more difficult.
    – vsz
    Mar 29, 2020 at 17:01
  • @vsz Probably, but hard to quantify. Data from operation Luttich suggests that while fighter-bombers were seen as extremely effective by everyone on the ground, they killed very few tanks (goodreads.com/book/show/3620193-air-power-at-the-battlefront). At this point I'm inclined to speculate that for everyone involved the psychological effect of getting fired upon / being able to fire back was more impactful than the used weaponry. (I can't think of any source to prove or disprove this).
    – Kargathia
    Mar 30, 2020 at 9:19

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