The Oerlikon Cannon: The legendary 20mm Kamikaze killer
You are a 19-year old US sailor in the Pacific in 1944 and you hear the characteristic drone of an approaching radial engine fighter aircraft cuts through the thick heat of the salt air. You look up and see the red ‘meatball’ markings on the wings and your heart sinks as you realize it’s one of ‘theirs’ and, more importantly, it’s a racing strait towards you at over 300-miles per hour. Luckily, you have a mother-freaking gorgeous 20mm Oerlikon pressed against your shoulders and the most advanced gun sight of its day to help make sure the kamikaze doesn’t run right down your throat
Back in 1918, German arms engineer Reinhold Becker came up with a 20x80mm round that fired using primer ignition blowback in a very large machine gun to fire at 300-rounds per minute. This gun was to be used to help sweep the sky of the Western Front of those pesky thousands of American, British, and French biplanes in the last year of World War 1. Too bad for Becker, (not to mention the Kaiser) the guns were never made in enough numbers to affect the war and his design was shelved.
In 1934 the Swiss based company of Oerlikon Contraves (Oerlikon being the name of the town the factory was located in and contra-aves being Latin for “against birds”) dusted off Becker’s design and super-sized it to be able to better shoot down the more modern fighters of the 1930s.
This gun, typically just referred to as the 20mm Oerlikon, became perhaps one of the most effective AAA (antiaircraft artillery) cannons of World War 2.
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