A weapon that missed its window: The 3.7cm Luftschiff-Kanone Krupp

Right side view of the Luftschiff-kanone

In every arms race, there are some weapons that are revolutionary, and some that just miss their opportunity to make a tactical impact.  it is interesting to think what would’ve been if incendiary rounds didn’t effectively end the age of the airship in combat.  In 1916, Krupp was nearing completion of a gun to be mounted on Zeppelins with the purpose of knocking enemy aircraft out of the sky with a single hit: The 3.7cm Luftschiff-Kanone (1.5in Airship Gun).  Rounds were fed from a top-mounted 10 round curved removable magazine.  With a remarkably short 21.5in barrel in order to be mounted inside the gondola, the muzzle velocity topped out at 1050ft/s with a maximum range of 2,200 meters and a cyclic rate of fire of 120rpm.  When it was almost ready to field, however, the Royal Flying Corps had succeeded in widely issuing John Buckingham’s incendiary rounds, ending the combat viability of the hydrogen-filled behemoths.  Ready by 1917, the guns were then reissued to the artillery of the Imperial German Army for use in light anti-aircraft batteries by mounting it on a pivot with a seat. Luckily, some very good footage of one of these “Sockelflaks” as they were also called, exist courtesy of the Bundesarchiv.  One definitely didn’t want to accidentally step behind one of those guns, and the muzzle blast seems quite close to the gunner.  (At 56 seconds, the video changes to the much more successful 3.7cm Maxim). 

In a ground role, however, its deficiencies started to show.  Being designed for use in the relatively clean confines of a Zepplin’s gondola, it was no match for the mud and dirt of WW1 trench warfare.  Furthermore, it was found to be less than useful in an ground-to-air antiaircraft role with such low velocity and range.  The gun ceased production and became another casualty of the ever changing war of technology.

Left-side view, note the gunner's seat

Left-side view, note the gunner’s seat

Rusty S.

Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


  • Giolli Joker

    Surely it made a hell of a hole on the window frame, though.

  • Cytoxan

    Heavy storm bolter – “for the Emperor!”

    • Trey

      40k.. 10,000 years of the Western front.

    • Right-wing Realist✓ᴺᵃᵗᶦᵒᶰᵃˡᶦˢᵗ

      *For the Führer

      • Brocus

        Wrong war, Germany had an Emperor at the time.

        • Mystick

          Well…. Kaiser…

  • politicsbyothermeans

    Man, that’s ugly. I’ll take two.

  • Kyle

    With that ground mount the recoil is the perfect height for a brutal nut shot. So where is that footage? I know some inattentive German private got racked by one of those lol

  • KestrelBike

    I think Megatron has one of these strapped to his arms.

  • Jay

    It didn’t miss any oportunity. It just didn’t have the chance to be proven worthless for the task it was designed for.
    Aerial gunnery is very difficult and the low muzzle velocity, combined with the low rate of fire, would ha e proven this thing worthless in the air, rather quickly.
    Smaller caliber, faster firing guns, shooting higher muzzle velocity rounds were the answer to that problem.
    The 20mm Becker cannon was a much better tool for that job, than any 37mm gun could ever be.
    Because of the poor reliability of the fuses on this rounds, when shooting at canvas built kites, and the extremely poor chances to hit anything past a hundred or so meters, the fast firing rifle caliber, machine guns were more effective tools for aerial gunnery in ww1.

    • Jay

      And let’s not forget the weight.

    • Rusty S.

      Indeed, the 20mm Becker also excelled at ground roles of anti(light) armor and antipersonnel. a great weapon for the early 3D battlespace.

  • Tritro29

    So they had an automatic grenade launcher and missed it…Typical Djörman!

  • R

    I mean if they had figured something out, they could have put it in the aircraft, made it a monster? Or would it have been too much for the aircraft of the day?

    • Jay

      Ww1 aircraft were very light, flimsy. For example most scouts (fighters) were somwhere between 400kg and 800kg. That 37mm gun would weight half the weight of the plane and would shake the plane apart when firing. There were some 37mm recoiles cannons installed in some two seaters, but they proved pretty worthless against aircraft.
      By far, the best aerial gun, in ww1, was the rifle caliber machine gun.
      If i’d have ro pick one, it would be the Parabelum MG14/17. Belt fed, very light, good rate of fire.

      • Martin M

        Exactly. The two vulnerable parts were the engine and pilot, both easily perforated by a simple bullet.

        • Jay

          In ww1 the whole plane was very vulnerable, being made out of wood and canvas and then painted in highly flamable dope, but the fuses in this early explosive shells, were not sensitive or reliable enough to detonate the shell on impact with the canvas.
          So, unless the shell hit something solid, like you said, the engine, pilot, or a thick spar, it would just make a normal hole. At the ranges you could actualy hit anything, from those flimsy shooting platforms, you could do just as good with a rifle caliber machine gun.
          In ww2, because of more advanced fuses and thicker skin on aircraft, the fast firing auto canon, shooting explosive shell, was significantly more effective than machine guns, even heavy caliber machine guns. Explosive shells would blow huge holes in wings and blow co trol surfaces off the planes. Statistically, two to five 20mm shells were needed to destroy a ww2 fighter, anywhere it hit.

      • Cynic

        Lewis guns seemed to work pretty well for my great great grandad the observer in a Bristol two seater fighter and later when he flew the pup after rotating to flight school after a tour in france

    • marathag
  • Widgt

    Back when hearing protection was for wimps…

    • Paul White

      What was that? I can’t hear you

    • Mrdakka

      The coagulated blood from ruptured eardrums was all the hearing protection you needed back then

  • iksnilol

    Huh, think about that. At one time we as a race were stupid enough to think that flying to war in a balloon filled with flammable gas was a good idea.

  • Great article, Rusty!

    • Rusty S.

      Thanks, Nathaniel! Much appreciated.

  • Gunner4guy

    Put a longer barrel on it, add more modern ammo, optimize it for the field and you could have an ancestor of the Mk 19. Certainly would have stirred things up on the Western Front if one of these went into action.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Could have been a successful grenade launcher.