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.
Read the rest in my column at

Kamikaze attack on USS Yorktown


About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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