Cleaning up after WWII

Since starting wwiiafterwwii, I receive from time to time suggestions for topics. These are wide-ranging but two in particular seem very popular: WWII weapons in the Vietnam War, which has been touched on several times; and a general question of how the world “cleaned up” WWII battlefields after the war. For the latter, I was surprised at how very little is written about it so perhaps this will be of interest.

One of the reasons WWII battlefields did not remain littered with vehicles for long was that, with the lone exception of the USA, all of the major warring powers made some official level of combat usage of captured enemy arms during WWII. The most formal was Germany’s Beutewaffe (literally, ‘booty’ or ‘loot’ weapon) effort, which encompassed everything from handguns to fighter aircraft with an official code in the Waffenamt system; for example FK-288(r) (the Soviet ZiS-3 anti-tank gun), SIGew-251(a) (the American M1 Garand rifle), and Sd.Kfz 735(i) (the Italian Fiat M13/40 tank). Captured gear was assembled at points called Sammelstelle and then shipped back from the front lines for disposition.

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Postwar advertising legacy of WWII

The defense industry is a business like any other, and just like any other industry, advertising is a part of it. After WWII’s end in 1945, many wartime weapons systems remained in Cold War use and required upkeep, upgrading, resale, integration with newer systems, and eventually disposal.

Some of these advertisements ran in general-interest magazines and newspapers. Others were limited to niche defense journals and trade gazettes, and were typically unseen by the mass public.

hazard1971

Above is a 1971 newspaper ad for the disposal of USS Hazard (MSF-240), an Admirable class minesweeper of the WWII US Navy. Typically, smaller mothballed WWII ships like this were bought cheaply in lots by brokers, then parceled out individually to scrapyards for a profit. USS Hazard was bought by a group of Nebraska businessmen and is today a museum ship in Omaha, NE.

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WWII weapons in the Ayatollah’s Iran

The war between Iran and Iraq started in 1980 when Saddam Hussein sought to take advantage of Iran’s chaos by conquering and annexing Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, and in the larger sense, destroying the Iranian islamic regime’s military. In turn, the Iranians sought to first repulse the Iraqi attack and then knock Hussein out of power and replace him with an Iraqi theocratic government modeled on Iran’s.

The war ended up lasting eight years and was one of the worst of the 20th century. For the most part, Iran employed high-tech systems like the MIM-23 Hawk SAM and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter, but there were some WWII weapons in Iran’s use as well.

shermanjackson

(Iranian WWII-vintage M4 Sherman and M36 Jackson on the front lines of the 1980-1988 war.)

m115iran4

(Iranian WWII-era M115 artillery during the 1980-1988 war against Iraq.)

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Panzers in the Golan Heights

The last appearance by WWII German tanks on the world’s battlefields came in 1967, when Syria’s panzer force faced off against modern Israeli armor. Quite improbably, Syria had assembled it’s collection of ex-Wehrmacht vehicles from a half-dozen sources over a decade and a half timeframe.

Panzer4captured2

(Syrian army Panzer IV tank)

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Ethiopians in the Korean War: WWII gear used

Sixteen nations sent forces to fight in the Korean War on the allied side. One of the lesser-known contingents was Ethiopia’s Kagnew battalion. It was equipped almost entirely with surplus American WWII gear.

jeep

(WWII-era Willys jeep of the Kagnew battalion in Korea.)

soldiers

(Ethiopian soldiers in the Korean War. All of their kit – M1 steel pot helmet, OD green fatigues, web belt, M1911 sidearm – is WWII American gear.)

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Urgent Fury 1983: WWII weapons encountered

In October 1983, the USA invaded the small island nation of Grenada, which at the time was being supported and reinforced by Cuba. Most of the weapons the American troops encountered were of post-WWII, Cold War vintage; namely a staggering quantity of AK-47s, but there were some WWII weapons discovered as well.

offusaf

no4leebarbados

(Top: An A-7 Corsair II strike jet off USS Independence (CV-62) over Point Salines Airport, one of the focal points of the 1983 operation. Bottom: A WWII-vintage Enfield No.4 Mk.I rifle as used by the Grenadian military during the brief fighting.)

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WWII German weapons during the Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, the communists in the north were armed mainly with post-WWII design Soviet weapons, while their opponents in the south used almost exclusively post-WWII American weapons. Some old WWII-era Soviet and American weapons were used by the two sides respectively, and to a lesser extent, WWII-era French weapons left over from the Indochina War. There were even a few WWII Japanese guns floating around, left over from the Japanese occupation.

The most surprising weapons were WWII German designs, which, through a strange combination of politics and necessity, ended up in combat halfway around the world in Vietnam two decades after their last use in Europe.

MG34Vietnam(Crewmen on a North Vietnamese sail junk take aim with an ex-Wehrmacht MG-34 in the 1960s. This was probably staged inport, as the North Vietnamese did not typically assign combat photographers to smuggling junk runs.)

1966pamphlet(Taken from a 1966 US Army “Jungle And Guerrilla Warfare” booklet, this collection of Viet Cong firearms includes a StG-44, a 98k, and a MG-34.)

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