The earliest use of anti-aircraft weapons dates further back then WWII. The first known use of this type of weapon specifically developed for an anti-aircraft role, dates back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 when a modified 37mm gun (known as the ballonkanone) was mounted on top of a horse-drawn carriage in an effort to shoot down balloons, which at that time were used for reconnaissance and to transport supplies.
Into the 20th Century
However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that formal ideas and plans began to formulate in an interest to formalize this type of weaponry. And by World War II, anti-aircraft guns were utilized extensively and continued to be developed in an effort to correct flaws of previous designs.
FlaK36 - One well-known anti-aircraft weapon of the Second World War, which was first used in the Spanish Civil War, was the FlaK36. Designed by Krupp’s for Germany, this higher performance 88 mm gun went on to become one of the top, well-known anti-aircraft guns in history. The gun was also noted as being effective against both light tanks and medium tanks.
Bofors 40mm - The British began their own licensing with a Bofors 40mm gun, which was capable of knocking down any sized aircraft. An additional advantage to this anti-aircraft gun was its light weight, making it easy to swing and mobile. At the beginning of WWII, the American’s began producing their own 40mm after being supplied with British production drawings. This anti-aircraft gun was further refined with the use of an automation system using a mechanical computer. As long as the operator kept the gun pointed at the intended target, the automated system - the Kerrison Predictor – would calculate the appropriate aim point and display it as a pointer mounted on the gun. This meant the operator only needed to load the shells and follow the point.
50 cal Machine Guns Mounted on Quad-4 halftracks - Another use of anti-aircraft guns was the truck-mounted turrets on Quad-4 halftracks. The halftracks were armed with four parallel-mounted 50 cal machine guns – weapons that played a pivotal role in pushing back the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.
World War II anti-aircraft weaponry was quite competent; and this list of top anti-aircraft weapons of WWII represents but a small fraction of the number used throughout the war.