The Battle of Arras and the Dawn of the 88
On 20 May 1940, the Germans had broken through the Allied lines and were racing to the channel. In order to slow their advance, the British Expeditionary Force launched a counterattack into the German flank, more specifically the flank of the 7th Panzer Division, led by Generalmajor Erwin Rommel.
Rommel’s panzers were having a great time tearing apart French headquarters, supply units, and routing withdrawing French units, and was hell bent on reaching the coast. He was taken completely by surprise with the BEF’s attack. Moreover, the 200 Czech made Pz38, and German made PzII and PzIV tanks that made up his division were no match for the 70 British Matilda heavy tanks. The guns of the German tanks simply couldn’t penetrate the Matilda’s armor and Rommel suffered heavy losses.
In desperation, Rommel ordered his 88mm antiaircraft guns to fire on the British tanks. The 88mm was designed to reach bombers at high altitudes and its high velocity round proved to be devastating against the British armor.
The famous (or infamous) “88” proved to be Germany’s most effective general purpose artillery piece throughout the war, whether in an anti-tank, anti-personnel, or anti-aircraft role. It was the bane of the Allies’ existence and redefined German armored tactics for the rest of the war.
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