Hot Time in the town of Berlin

WAC’s Flak Fortresses

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_641268.

During his visit to Berlin in July 1945, American photographer William Vandivert (1912-1989) took hundreds of pictures of the ruined Nazi-capital. Some of those were starred by a trio of US WACs (Women’s Army Corps) while on tour of the city (a few stayed as part of the occupying force too) following Allied takeover. Their names were Louise Evans, Mary Cornett and Arlena MacPherson and they were accompanied by the LIFE photojournalist to some of the most representative landmarks of the city during the war: the ruined Brandenburger Tor, the Tiergarten and Zoologischer Bhf, posing in front of the Siegessäule victory column at the Grosser Stern, and finally visiting the once mighty Flak towers built by Hitler years before to protect the city against the air-bombings. No significance photos but they give us the closest look to many small details of the huge concrete fortresses built here during World War II.

Pictures show the WACs examining the radars and anti-aircraft guns atop the command tower or Leitturm of the “Zoo Flak Tower” following the capture of the city. Construction of this superstructure, the smaller of the two built at Tiergarten and codenamed “Bär A”, began at the end of November of 1940 and was finished by mid-1941. It was manned by the 123 Turmflakabteilung and the command post of the 1. Flak-Divison was located in this Hochbunker too. The L-tower surrendered to the Soviets on May 2nd, 1945 at 05.00 hrs after a long siege and heavy punishment. 

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_641302.

The radar shown is a Telefunken Würzburg FuMG 39/62 model T, mounted on wooden pedestal. This radar unit was standard equipment for Luftwaffe AA gunnery (see previous posts about Air detection over Berlin during the war) which protected from here the western sector of the city. It seems to be an auxiliary or mobile unit because of its position on the lower platform of the tower, instead of at top where the main radar units (Würzburg, Würzburg-Riese and Mannheim) were installed and the new systems were tested even the ones captured to the enemy. Note brush paint to camouflage the radar’s dish and some bullet holes.

The WACs had fun with the traverse and rotating mechanism of the radar unit, with one seated on the “sidecar” control seat, the usual position of the B2 crew member who moves the unit on its lateral axis. Note the Tiergarten landscape and the Siegessäule victory column in the background and one of the cranes, used by the Germans to raise equipment and ammo atop of the huge tower.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115929085.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115929084.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115929086.

Vandivert’s photographs show the women ‘playing around’ with some of the AA guns on this platform too, in this case on the western side of the bunker with the big G-tower in the background and the photographer facing southwest to Zoologischer Bhf

The ‘großen Zoobunker’ L-Turm was equipped with light Flak guns installed on the lower platform to defend the superstructure from low levels bombers or strafing attacks by enemy fighters, in this case were double 3,7 cm Flak43 ‘Zwillings flak’. Built by Rheinmetall-Borsig, this powerful weapon had an effective rate of fire of 150 shots per second. Over 5,900 units of this type were produced during 1943-45. The Friedrichshain tower replaced them from July 1944 with the more capable MG151/20 triple-barrel gun and reduced the number of light AA on the L-tower but it seems that the Zoo Flak towers retained the Flak 43s until the end of the war. Of interest is that these guns usually had a protective shield, but all the pictures taken on this tower show them without the gun-shield installed. Some colour pictures taken in 1945 too show that these Flak guns wore a camouflaged finish, in this case painted in Dunkelgelb (dark yellow) colour with green and brown blotches like a late-war Panzer.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115929082.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_641297.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115928942.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115928945.

The WACs with some GIs standing atop the damaged Berlin tower. Part of the brick platform has collapsed due to the damage taken during the final battles. Note the destroyed Würzburg FuMG 62 radar behind them, its dish broken in two.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_11594.

They are seen posing here with one of the Kommandogerät 40 rangefinders mounted on a concrete or bricks plinth, used for the German Flak 10,5 and 12,8cm main AA guns mounted on the opposite G-tower. From the 39-metres height of the L-tower flak crews watched the air battles as far as Spandau. Notice the ruined Reichstag on the background at left.

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_115928940.

[A detail view of the aerial shot taken by Vandivert on 9-10 July, 1945, overflying the devastated Berlin-Tiergarten after the capture of Nazi-Germany’s heart. The red circles pinpoint the exact location where the WACs photographs were taken atop of the Zoo’s command L-Turm.]

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc/ BerlinLuftTerror.

[The same trio of US military women during their touring trip to Berlin, in this case in front of the Siegessäule and a Willys Jeep.]

Photo: LIFE ©Time Inc_641303.

As some sources has reported (mistakenly) the identity of these women as the Andrew Sisters, a trio of famous American singers which made several USO tours to entertain Allied troops fighting in Europe and the Pacific, we finish this brief Berlin post with one of their greatest radio hits, “Hot Time In The Town Of Berlin” with Bing Crosby and released in 1943.

Video credit: UMG/Geffen. (Words and Music by: Joe Bushkin and John De Vries).

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Bibliography:

  • Ashcraft, Jenny. History of the WAC. Fold3 blog. accessed Oct 28, 2021. <https://blog.fold3.com/history-of-the-wac/>
  • Demps, Laurenz.(2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag.
  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (1997). The Flak Towers in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940- 1950. Schiffer Publishing. 
  • Foedrowitz, Michael. (2007). Flak-Towers. By the author.
  • LIFE magazine, July 23, 1945. Americans find enemy’s capital bears the marks of allied destruction and Red army’s occupation. Time Inc. Vol 19- Num 4, pp 19-25.  
  • Maxene, Andrews & Gilbert, Bill. (1994). Over Here, over There: The Andrews Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II
  • Muller W. (1998). Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing. Kensington Pub Corp.
  • Stivers, William and Carter, Donald A. (2017). The City Becomes a Symbol: The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Berlin, 1945-1949. Centers of Military History United States Army. CMH Pub 45–4. Available at: <https://history.army.mil/html/books/045/45-4/index.html> 
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. (2013). Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag.
  • Zaloga, Steven. (2012). Defense of the Third Reich 1941–45. Osprey Publishing.
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