In Europe, we probably know Eiffel as the most celebrated and famous tower and became a cultural icon in France. We also know that Europe loves its castles with their walls and towers, but little did you know that in Germany, during the second world war, Hitler had ordered the construction of what were called ‘flak towers’ – a result of Hitler’s rage against the British bombing in Berlin.

But wait for a second, what and how exactly did a flak tower help in their military defense?

Flak Towers

These are concrete towers above the ground that prevented aerial bombardment. Germany built eight flak tower complexes around major cities like Vienna, Hamburg, and Berlin. In other cities important to Germans, smaller flak towers were also made.

Flak tower in Vienna. Vmenkov / Wikimedia Commons

The flak towers were constructed primarily for two purposes. First, they contained anti-aircraft guns to blast away at Allied bombers, they also served as air-raid shelters for civilians. The flak towers were always stocked with food, water, and had their own generators so that in case of an attack, they were pretty self-sufficient.

The safest place on earth

‘On the roofs, they put heavy anti-aircraft artillery which had a range of fourteen kilometers (almost nine miles) and could rotate 360 degrees. These guns could shoot down the British and American heavy bombers. The flak towers had retractable radar systems to detect incoming attacks. Huge searchlights could lite up the night skies to spot Allied bombers at night. In Berlin, three such towers were built to protect the city center. Hamburg had two flak towers and Vienna three of them. The flak towers could shelter up to 15,000 people. With vast supplies of food and weapons, these fortresses could sustain a prolonged siege. The Nazis even built hospitals inside them,’ taken from Peter Preskar’s, History of Yesterday article. The rate of fire from one of these anti-aircraft gun castles was an incredible 8,000 rounds per minute for the larger complexes.

Detail of the WWII G-Flak Tower swallows nest, Augarten, Vienna, Austria. Rosser1954 / Wikimedia Commons

The towers had steel-reinforced concrete walls eleven feet thick and were impervious to anything but the largest bombs dropped by bombers. As such, the Nazis also used the flak towers as vaults for precious art and museum artifacts. The Allied bombers avoided these towers as much as possible. If you flew over, you had a good chance of being shot down. During the Battle of Berlin in April 1945, Soviet heavy artillery spent days trying and couldn’t breach the walls of the flak towers which made excellent fighting positions for the Germans. After sustaining heavy casualties, the Soviets applied a classic siege tactic of medieval warfare. They simply waited for the defenders to run out of food and water until they surrendered.

This photo of the Flak Tower in Germany gives you some sense of how immense they were. Big as a city block. The concrete is probably still curing all these year later.

Redefining the flak towers

While many of the flak towers remain empty today, some were turned into public aquariums, antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions. Still, they offer visitors a reminder of what they were in the past, but with their newly found purpose, we’re practicing the statement, “definitions belong to the definers and not to the defined.”

What stories of World War II fascinate you most?