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I just stumbled upon a clip from the movie 'Unbroken', where the crew of a bomber stationed in the Pacific refer to anti-aircraft fire as 'flak'. Flak, of course, is short for 'Flugabwehrkanone', the German word for anti-aircraft artillery, and these airmen were fighting the Japanese, not the Germans.

Was the term 'flak' (widely) used in the Pacific Theater? If so, from what point on, and did it come into use because bomber crews were moved from Europe to the Pacific, or because the word started to be used in newspapers?

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  • To be confirmed, but the word might come from newspapers speaking of the war in Europe before Decembre 7th 1941. The word was used extensively during peace because war only concerned Germany, and was used as well for convenience (short, very understandable on the radio) during the war against Japan Aug 28 at 20:22
  • "flak" would likely have been common vocabulary. Newspapers and newsreels seems to be an adequate explanation of why it would have been used in Pacific without invoking the relatively rare instances of transferred air crew. The Google Ngram viewer for flak shows a huge spike at the start of WWII, even before US entry in the war. Aug 29 at 21:38
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While I cannot actually answer your question regarding the pacific theatre in particular, the term "Flak" (Flugzeugabwehrkanone / literally Aircraft-Defense-Cannon) came into being in May 1916, after being officially renamed/redesignated from its former name of "BAK" (Ballonabwehrkanone / literally Balloon-Defense-Cannon).

So people could absolutely have heard/used that term even before the Second World War. Germans certainly did, anyone capturing their equipment probably did, anyone getting shot by it might. It does appear in books over the course of WWI, although its usage then is obviously dwarved by the huge spike in the time of the air war over Europe in WWII.

But its usage started to rise even before the USA had a single plane in the war, even before the Flying Tigers.

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  • Note that the quintessential WWII era term "blitzkrieg" was all over the English language press, even sometimes referencing Japan The word panzer is similar. Aug 29 at 17:49
  • E.g. the term Flak appears in the very beginning of the German edition of "All quiet on the western front". The English edition seems to use "anti aircraft", however.
    – Jan
    Aug 29 at 20:31
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Yes flak was used by pilots and crews in the Japanese theater, specifically Curtis LeMay who said after an incendiary bombing raid, "Large fires observed. Flak moderate. Fighter opposition nil." And if Curtis LeMay was calling it flak it can be assumed pilots under him were doing the same.

Additionally because of the war in Europe, pilots were already equipped with vests called "Flak Vests" even in Japan they were still called that. "Approaching the Japanese coast beneath a quarter moon, B-29 crews tugged on flak vests—heavy, cumbersome garments with steel plates that could stop a shell splinter." link

"LeMay ordered his fliers to go against everything they had been trained to do. There would be no more 32,000-foot daylight raids. The B-29s would become night raiders, and they would come in low. LeMay’s advisors had convinced him that Japan lacked any real low-level flak capabilities, and the enemy fighters would be far less effective attacking the low flying bombers in pitch black darkness at altitudes ranging from 5-9,000 feet." link

Another US pilot Lt. Carter piloting God's Will wrote in his journal that the "flak was intense and rather accurate” and that “about 100 searchlights” were stalking the B-29s.

Carter describing another mission said,"“The fire looked even bigger than the Tokyo fire to me. An area with a diameter of about 30 miles over the target was as bright as day but it had a reddish color. The sky was full of B-29s, Jap fighters, phosphorus flak, shrapnel flak, rockets, tracers and the blackest smoke I have ever seen. It was enough to scare the devil.” link

"It was Major Arthur R. Brashear’s tenth mission. The 499th Bomb Group’s target was the First Fire Zone between the Ara and Sumida rivers. His navigator’s notes summed up most fliers’ reactions to the defenses: “Night incendiary at 5,000 ft. Caught in lights for a short time. All kinds of flak, mostly inaccurate. No hits but this one had us scared!” link

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    I've gone through about 25 at random USN bombing, fighting, and patrol squadron action reports or war diaries (certainly a small percentage of those I have on hand) and all refer to "anti-aircraft fire" or "AA". None referred to "Flak". I suppose if I went through the 100's I have I might find the word "flak", it is certainly possible. But, off hand, I would suspect the use of the word "flak" might be a USAAF practice.
    – R Leonard
    Sep 8 at 18:03
  • @RLeonard - that is an interesting observation, i would guess because the USAAF was already operating in the European theater they just continued the common usage.
    – ed.hank
    Sep 9 at 12:57
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    And now that I've had a weekend to rummage further, I can point to many a USN squadron report or diary specifically using the word "flak", in describing AA fire or "flak damage" to an aircraft from AA fire (yes, both in the same report in some cases), so, my first foray was apparently luck of the draw, and no, it wasn't just a USAAF used terminology. Nice guy that I am, when I'm wrong, I say so.
    – R Leonard
    Sep 13 at 20:19
  • @RLeonard - appreciate the update! nothing wrong at all with improving everyone's knowledge or updating previous assumptions. i totally could have seen it being a USAAF thing only.
    – ed.hank
    Sep 13 at 20:33

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