By Rob Morgan
A couple of e-mails responding to my ‘VE Day’ piece asked me for a little more detail on what some seem to think is a rather unusual form of ’88,’ and it certainly is an odd version of the well-known gun.
A very long way back, in the summer of 1968, more than 50 years ago, Airfix Magazine published an article by Peter Chamberlain, entitled ‘The 88 Story,’ in which Peter included a photo and comment on the Pak 43/41 version of the ’88.’ The following month, Chris Ellis provided an article on modelling this very weapon, which the German gunners nicknamed Scheunentor – ‘barn-door.’
The conversion was an amazing venture, involving the gun and mount of an Airfix 88 model, and the trails, axles and recoil spades of a 5.5-inch British howitzer. The shield was scratch-built (it took me ages — even with Chris Ellis’ templates!). Worth it though, as the gun on the table-top looked awesome. The Pak 43, which is made in superb quality in 20mm by Early War Miniatures, was a truly powerful anti-tank gun, probably among the best of the war. However, problems with the RAF, the USAAF and consequent difficulties with suppliers, led Rheinmetall-Borsig to create an ersatz ‘lash-up’ using the standard 88 barrel, a reduced and simplified breech mechanism, and the axle, carriage and split trail of a 10.5cm howitzer, with the wheels of the 15cm howitzer.
Put together it was cumbersome, ungainly and required a large crew, and it was half-track towed. Lethal to any Allied armour of course, but in Normandy it must have been a nightmare to work and fire. This monster of an anti-tank gun sits in a farmyard just inland from Omaha Beach, probably the best item in a small selection of relics of the Normandy campaign, and worth the small charge to see it. Certainly, one of my better holiday snaps.
While some smaller breech mechanism components and optics seem to be missing, the Pak 43/41 is otherwise intact, with its huge wheels and trails showing just a few knocks. The barrel of this gun (if Peter Chamberlain was correct) is 21’ 7 1/4in long, with muzzle brake, and of course traverse was rather limited, but the range of 16,500 yards and armour penetration capability of 180+mm made up for that.
Yes, that is the remains of a Higgins landing craft on the right, but I can’t find the photo at the moment!