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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MP 41/44 submachine gun: post-WWII use

Some items designed or built during WWII were “gifts that kept on giving”; having long successful careers after the war. Examples might include the Soviet T-34 tank, the American Gearing class destroyer, and the British Meteor fighter.

Neutral Switzerland’s MP 41/44 submachine gun was the opposite side of that coin, a military item developed during WWII which was not successful, but, that the nation was then saddled with after the war nonetheless.

4144

(The MP 41/44 submachine gun.)

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WWII equipment of the Bundesgrenzschutz

The Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS / “Federal Border Guard”) was the first national-level armed service established in West Germany after WWII. It utilized a number of WWII items during the Cold War.

1963oath

(New BGS troopers take their service oath in 1963.)

march1976

(BGS border troopers disembark from UH-1 Iroquois helicopters in 1976. The combination of stahlhelm helmets and hueys makes an interesting mixture of WWII and Vietnam War items.)

In 1945, the Allies decreed that any future German nation would be permanently disarmed. During the 1945-1949 occupation, the three western Allies (UK, France, and the USA) did not allow anything more than local police armed with light small arms. West German sovereignty was restored in 1949. In May 1950, the Allied Joint Chiefs Of Staff proposed a West German armed force of 5,000 men to patrol the new nation’s borders. In January 1951 Konrad Adenauer, the first postwar Chancellor, ordered the formation of a 10,000 man armed border guard to be placed under civil control of the Interior Ministry. On 16 March 1951 the Bundesgrenzshutz officially came into existence.

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