Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
Overview
 
The Oerlikon 20 mm cannon is a series of autocannon
Autocannon
An autocannon or automatic cannon is a rapid-fire projectile weapon firing a shell as opposed to the bullet fired by a machine gun. Autocannons often have a larger caliber than a machine gun . Usually, autocannons are smaller than a field gun or other artillery, and are mechanically loaded for a...

s, based on an original
20 mm Becker
The 20 mm Becker was a German automatic cannon developed for aircraft use during World War I. It was first mass produced in 1916 and was installed in a variety of aircraft; the only German autocannon to actually see service in the air during the war....

 design by Reinhold Becker of Germany, very early in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and widely produced by Oerlikon Contraves
Oerlikon Contraves
Rheinmetall Air Defence AG is a division of German armament manufacturer Rheinmetall, created when the company's Oerlikon Contraves unit was renamed on 1 January 2009 and integrated with Rheinmetall's other air-defence products...

 and others. Various models of Oerlikon cannon were used during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and they are still in use today.
During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Reinhold Becker developed a 20 mm cannon, known now as the 20 mm Becker
20 mm Becker
The 20 mm Becker was a German automatic cannon developed for aircraft use during World War I. It was first mass produced in 1916 and was installed in a variety of aircraft; the only German autocannon to actually see service in the air during the war....

 using the Advanced Primer Ignition blowback (API blowback) method of operation.
Encyclopedia
The Oerlikon 20 mm cannon is a series of autocannon
Autocannon
An autocannon or automatic cannon is a rapid-fire projectile weapon firing a shell as opposed to the bullet fired by a machine gun. Autocannons often have a larger caliber than a machine gun . Usually, autocannons are smaller than a field gun or other artillery, and are mechanically loaded for a...

s, based on an original
20 mm Becker
The 20 mm Becker was a German automatic cannon developed for aircraft use during World War I. It was first mass produced in 1916 and was installed in a variety of aircraft; the only German autocannon to actually see service in the air during the war....

 design by Reinhold Becker of Germany, very early in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and widely produced by Oerlikon Contraves
Oerlikon Contraves
Rheinmetall Air Defence AG is a division of German armament manufacturer Rheinmetall, created when the company's Oerlikon Contraves unit was renamed on 1 January 2009 and integrated with Rheinmetall's other air-defence products...

 and others. Various models of Oerlikon cannon were used during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and they are still in use today.

Origins

During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Reinhold Becker developed a 20 mm cannon, known now as the 20 mm Becker
20 mm Becker
The 20 mm Becker was a German automatic cannon developed for aircraft use during World War I. It was first mass produced in 1916 and was installed in a variety of aircraft; the only German autocannon to actually see service in the air during the war....

 using the Advanced Primer Ignition blowback (API blowback) method of operation. This used a 20x70 RB cartridge and had a cyclic rate of fire of 300 rpm. It was used on a limited scale as an aircraft gun and an anti-aircraft gun towards the end of that war.

Because the treaty of Versailles banned further production of such weapons in Germany, the patents and design works were transferred in 1919 to the Swiss firm SEMAG (Seebach Maschinenbau Aktien Gesellschaft) based near Zürich. SEMAG continued development of the weapon, and in 1924 had produced the SEMAG L, a heavier weapon (43 kg) that fired more powerful 20x100RB ammunition at a slightly higher rate of fire, 350 rpm.

In 1924 SEMAG failed. The Oerlikon firm, named after the Zürich suburb where it was based, then acquired all rights to the weapon, plus the manufacturing equipment and the employees of SEMAG.

Oerlikon

In 1927 the Oerlikon S was added to the existing product line. This fired a still larger cartridge (20x110RB) to achieve a muzzle velocity of 830 m/s (versus 490 m/s for the original Becker 20x70RB gun), at the cost of increased weight and a reduced rate of fire (280 rpm). The purpose of this development was to improve the performance of the gun as an anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon, which required a higher muzzle velocity. An improved version known as the 1S followed in 1930.

Three sizes of gun with their different ammunition and barrel length, but very similar mechanisms, continued to be developed in parallel. In 1930 Oerlikon reconsidered the application of its gun in aircraft and introduced the AF and AL, designed to be used in flexible mounts, i.e. manually aimed by a gunner. The 15-round box magazine used by earlier versions of the gun was replaced by drum magazine holding 15 or 30 rounds.

In 1935 it made an important step by introducing a series of guns designed to be mounted in or on the wings of fighter aircraft. Designated with FF for Flügelfest meaning "wing-mounted", these weapons were again available in the three sizes, with designations FF, FFL and FFS. The FF fired a slightly larger cartridge than the AF, 20x72RB, but the major improvement in these weapons was a significant increase in rate of fire. The FF weighed 24 kg and achieved a muzzle velocity of 550 to 600 m/s with a rate of fire of 520 rpm. The FFL of 30 kg fired a projectile at a muzzle velocity of 675 m/s with a rate of fire of 500 rpm. And the FFS, which weighed 39 kg, delivered a high muzzle velocity of 830 m/s at a rate of fire of 470 rpm.

Apart from changes to the design of the guns for wing-mounting and remote control, larger drums were introduced as it would not be possible to exchange magazines in flight. For the FF series drum sizes of 45, 60, 75 and 100 rounds were available, but most users chose the 60-round drum.

The 1930s were a period of global re-armament, and a number of foreign firms took licenses for the Oerlikon family of aircraft cannon. In France, Hispano-Suiza
Hispano-Suiza
Hispano-Suiza was a Spanish automotive and engineering firm, best known for its luxury cars and aviation engines in the pre-World War II period of the twentieth century. In 1923, its French subsidiary became a semi-autonomous partnership with the parent company and is now part of the French SAFRAN...

 manufactured development of the FFS as the Hispano-Suiza HS.7 and HS.9, for installation between the cylinder banks of its V-12 engines. In Germany, Ikaria further developed the FF gun as the MG FF, firing 20x80RB ammunition. And the Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

, after evaluating all three guns, ordered developments of the FF and FFL as the Type 99-1
Type 99 cannon
The Type 99-1 cannon and Type 99-2 cannon were Japanese versions of the Oerlikon FF and Oerlikon FFL. They were adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1939 and served as their standard aircraft autocannon during World War II.-Adoption:...

 and Type 99-2
Type 99 cannon
The Type 99-1 cannon and Type 99-2 cannon were Japanese versions of the Oerlikon FF and Oerlikon FFL. They were adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1939 and served as their standard aircraft autocannon during World War II.-Adoption:...

.

The incorporation of the improvements of the FFS in a new anti-aircraft gun produced, in 1938, the Oerlikon SS. Oerlikon realized further improvements in rate of fire on the 1SS of 1942, and the 2SS of 1945 which achieved 650 rpm. However, it was the original SS gun which was widely adopted as anti-aircraft gun, being especially widely used by Allied navies during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

This gun used a 400-grain (26-gram) charge of IMR 4831
Improved Military Rifle (IMR)
Improved Military Rifle describes a series of tubular nitrocellulose smokeless powders evolved from World War I through World War II for loading military and commercial ammunition and sold to private citizens for reloading rifle ammunition for hunting and target shooting...

 smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 to propel a 2,000-grain (130-gram) projectile at 2,800 feet (850 meters) per second.

World War II

The Oerlikon FF was installed as armament on some fighters of the 1930s, such as the Polish PZL P.24
PZL P.24
|-References:NotesCitationsBibliography* Axworthy, Mark. Third Axis, Fourth Ally. London: Arms and Armour, 1995. ISBN 1-85409-267-7.* Bernád, Dénes. Rumanian Air Force: The Prime Decade 1938-1947. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc, 1999. ISBN 0-89747-402-3.* Cynk, Jerzy B. Polish...

G. Locally produced derivatives of the Oerlikon cannon were used much more extensively, on aircraft, on ships and on land. In the air, the Ikaria MG FF was used as armament on a number of German aircraft, of which the most famous is the Messerschmitt Bf 109
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, often called Me 109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid 1930s...

. The Japanese similarly used the Type 99 cannon
Type 99 cannon
The Type 99-1 cannon and Type 99-2 cannon were Japanese versions of the Oerlikon FF and Oerlikon FFL. They were adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1939 and served as their standard aircraft autocannon during World War II.-Adoption:...

 on a number of types including the Mitsubishi
Mitsubishi
The Mitsubishi Group , Mitsubishi Group of Companies, or Mitsubishi Companies is a Japanese multinational conglomerate company that consists of a range of autonomous businesses which share the Mitsubishi brand, trademark and legacy...

 A6M Zero
A6M Zero
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the , and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the...

.

The French firm of Hispano-Suiza was a manufacturer of aircraft engines, and it marketed the moteur-canon combination of its 12X and 12Y
Hispano-Suiza 12Y
The Hispano-Suiza 12Y was a French aircraft engine in the pre-WWII era. Developed from the earlier, and somewhat smaller, 12X, the 12Y became the primary 1,000 hp class engine and was used in a number of famous aircraft, including the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 and Dewoitine D.520...

 engines with a H.S.7 or H.S.9 cannon installed between the cylinder banks. The gun fired through the hollow propeller hub, this being elevated above the crankcase by the design of the gearing. Such armament was installed on the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406
Morane-Saulnier M.S.406
The M.S.406 was a French Armée de l'Air fighter aircraft built by Morane-Saulnier starting in 1938. Numerically it was France's most important fighter during the opening stages of World War II....

 and some other types. Similar German installations of the MG FF were not successful.
The Oerlikon became best known in its naval applications. Initially the Oerlikon was not looked upon favorably by the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 as a short-range anti-aircraft gun. All through 1937-1938 Lord Louis Mountbatten waged a lone campaign within the Royal Navy to set up an unprejudiced trial for the Oerlikon 20 mm gun, but it was all in vain. It was not until the Commander-in-Chief
Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

 of the Home Fleet, Admiral
Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 Sir Roger Backhouse, was appointed First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

 that Mountbatten's efforts bore fruit. During the first half of 1939 a contract for 1,500 guns was placed in Switzerland. However, due to delays and then later the Fall of France in June 1940 only 109 guns reached the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. All Oerlikon guns imported from Switzerland in 1940 were mounted on various gun carriages to serve as light AA-guns on land.

Just a few weeks before the Fall of France, the Oerlikon factory approved manufacture of their gun in the United Kingdom, under license. The Royal Navy managed to smuggle out the necessary drawings and documents from Zürich
Zürich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...

. The production of the first British-made Oerlikon guns started in Ruislip
Ruislip
Ruislip is a suburban area, centred on an old village in Greater London, and is part of the London Borough of Hillingdon.It was formerly also a parish covering the neighbouring areas of Eastcote, Northwood, Ruislip Manor and South Ruislip in the area. The parish appears in the Domesday Book, and...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, at the end of 1940; and the first guns were delivered to the Royal Navy in March or April, 1941.
The Oerlikon gun was fielded in United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 ships starting in 1942, replacing the M2 Browning machine gun, which lacked range and firepower. It became famous in the naval anti-aircraft role, providing an effective defense at short ranges (in practice up to 1.5 km) at which heavier guns had difficulty tracking a target. The gun was eventually abandoned as a major anti-air weapon due to its lack of stopping power
Stopping power
Stopping power is a colloquial term used to describe the ability of a firearm or other weapon to cause a penetrating ballistic injury to a target, human or animal, sufficient to incapacitate the target where it stands....

 against heavy aircraft and against Japanese kamikaze
Kamikaze
The were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible....

attacks during the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

. It was largely superseded by the Bofors 40 mm gun and the 3"/70 Mark 26 gun
3"/70 Mark 26 gun
The 3"/70 Mark 26 Gun was developed to protect United States Warships from kamikaze attacks in World War II. The name indicates in US Navy terminology that this piece of naval artillery fires a 3" projectile in diameter and has a caliber length of 70 .-History:The 3"/70 Mark 26 Gun saw its...

. It did, however, provide a useful increase in firepower over the .50 cal machine gun when adapted and fitted to some aircraft; however, it had some problems with jamming in the ammunition feed.

The Royal Canadian Navy
Royal Canadian Navy
The history of the Royal Canadian Navy goes back to 1910, when the naval force was created as the Naval Service of Canada and renamed a year later by King George V. The Royal Canadian Navy is one of the three environmental commands of the Canadian Forces...

 popularized the use of the Oerlikon gun as an anti-ship and anti-submarine gun - while it was not effective against the armour of most larger ships, it was used extensively and effectively against U-Boats, and on the decks of larger ships. A handful of Corvettes were fitted with the weapon toward the end of the war, but it appeared more commonly on frigates and destroyers at the time.

The Oerlikon was also used as the basis for the Polsten
Polsten
The Polsten was a low cost Polish development of the 20 mm Oerlikon gun. The Polsten was designed to be simpler and much cheaper to build than the Oerlikon without reducing effectiveness.-Development:...

 gun, designed by Polish engineers in exile in the United Kingdom. The gun went into service in 1944, and was used well into the 1950s for, among other uses, on Cromwell tank
Cromwell tank
Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell ,The designation as the eighth Cruiser tank design, its name given for ease of reference and its General Staff specification number respectively and the related Centaur tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second...

s and early model Centurion tank
Centurion tank
The Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period. It was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades...

s.

Post-war

It is still in use today on some naval units, theoretically as a last-recourse anti-air weapon, but mainly used for police shots (warning shot
Warning shot
A warning shot is a military term describing harmless artillery shot or gunshot intended to call attention and demand some action of compliance...

s or incapacitating shots).

Description

The Oerlikon cannon and its derivatives feature blowback operation: The bolt is not locked to the breech of the gun on the moment of fire, but moves freely to the rear while the propellant gases propel the projectile forward. Advanced primer ignition (API) is used to make sure that the projectile has left the muzzle and the gas pressure in the barrel is down to a safe level before the breech opens, the firing pin strikes the primer while the bolt is still traveling forward so that the gas pressure first has to overcome the forward momentum of the bolt before it can push it to the rear. To give the heavy bolt sufficient forward speed, a large spring is required, which is wrapped around the barrel of the gun. Also, the chamber is longer than needed to contain the case, so that the bolt and case must travel a small distance to the rear before the case extends beyond the face of the chamber. Nevertheless a fairly heavy bolt must be used, which limits the rate of fire.

This design resulted in the use of a characteristically shaped cartridge: The case has straight sides, very little neck, and a rebated rim. The straight sides allows the case to slide back and forward in the cylindrical chamber. The neck is not supported while this happens and therefore expands when the case is fired, and the rebated rim allows the face of the bolt, with its extractor claw hooked over the rim, to fit within the chamber. To ease the motion of the case, the ammunition needed to be greased, which was a drawback of the Oerlikon cannon. An alternative developed during World War II was the so-called fluted chamber, which had grooves that allowed gun gas to seep between the chamber wall and the case, taking over the role of the grease.
Ammunition feed is typically by a 60-round drum magazine on the top of the gun. During sustained firing, the magazine must be frequently changed, reducing the effective rate of fire. Belt-fed versions of the gun were developed to overcome this limitation. A trigger in the right-hand grip controls fire. Used cartridges are ejected from below the breech.

Different nations and services operated a number of mounting types for the same basic gun. In a typical single-barrel naval version, it is free-swinging on a fixed pedestal
Pedestal
Pedestal is a term generally applied to the support of a statue or a vase....

 mounting with a flat armored shield affording some protection for the crew. The cannon is aimed and fired by a gunner using, in its simplest form, a ring-and-bead sight. The gunner is attached to the weapon by a waist-belt and shoulder supports. For this reason, some mountings existed with a height-adjustment feature to compensate for different sized gunners. A "piece chief" designates targets and the feeder changes exhausted magazines.

During World War II, twin and quadruple Oerlikon mounts were developed, both for army and for navy use. The British Navy operated a hydraulically operated twin-gun mount. The US Navy operated a quad mount developed for PT Boats, the Thunderbolt, which was manufactured by International Harvester. It was placed experimentally on the battleships Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, and training ship Wyoming.

See also

  • Hispano-Suiza HS.404
    Hispano-Suiza HS.404
    The Hispano-Suiza HS.404 was an autocannon widely used as both an aircraft and land weapon in the 20th century by British, American, French, and numerous other military services. The cannon is also referred to as Birkigt type 404, after its designer. Firing a 20 mm caliber projectile, it delivered...

  • Oerlikon FF
    Oerlikon FF
    The FF were a series of 20mm autocannon introduced by Oerlikon in the late 1920s. The name comes from the German term Flügel Fest, meaning wing mounted, fixed, being one of the first 20mm guns to be small and light enough to fit into a fighter aircraft's wing...

  • MG FF cannon
    MG FF cannon
    The MG FF was a drum-fed, 20 mm aircraft autocannon, developed in 1936 by Ikaria Werke Berlin of Germany. It was a derivative of the Swiss Oerlikon FF F cannon, itself a development of the German World War I Becker 20 mm cannon, and was designed to be used in fixed or flexible mountings, as...

  • Type 99 cannon
    Type 99 cannon
    The Type 99-1 cannon and Type 99-2 cannon were Japanese versions of the Oerlikon FF and Oerlikon FFL. They were adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1939 and served as their standard aircraft autocannon during World War II.-Adoption:...

  • 25 mm Hotchkiss anti-aircraft gun
    25 mm Hotchkiss anti-aircraft gun
    The Hotchkiss 25 mm anti-aircraft gun was an anti-aircraft autocannon designed by the French firm of Hotchkiss. It served in World War II with French, Japanese and other nations' forces...

  • Type 96 25 mm AT/AA Gun

External links

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