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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Firing a V-2 off an aircraft carrier

Germany’s V-2 ballistic missile was one of the most remarkable weapons of WWII, years ahead of it’s time. After the war, the US Army and civilian agencies fired captured examples for research, both military and scientific. Less well-known is that the US Navy fired one example off an aircraft carrier.

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(A V-2 missile being launched by German forces during WWII, and aboard USS Midway after the war.)

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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.

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

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(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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The stahlhelm in Latin America after WWII

Forever associated with the WWII Wehrmacht, the stahlhelm (literally, ‘steel helmet’) enjoyed surprisingly long use in Latin America after WWII, up until the present time.

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(Bolivian soldiers with stahlhelm M35 helmets and M16 assault rifles.)

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(Chilean soldiers in 2009 wearing the stahlhelm M35.)

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(Late 1950s Dominican Republic soldiers with stahlhelm M53 helmets, NATO-standard FN FAL assault rifles, and American M1936 belts from WWII Lend-Lease.)

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Soviet Komets after WWII

The Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet rocket-powered fighter was one of the Luftwaffe’s more exotic types during WWII. After the war, it was regarded as a novelty by the western Allies. Meanwhile it the Soviet Union, it was tested, studied, and eventually used as the basis for new late-1940s designs.

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(Left: A Me-163 Komet with the Luftwaffe during WWII. Right: A Me-163 Komet being tested by the Soviet air force after the war.)

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(The MiG I-270.)

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German 98k rifle in Israeli service

The 98k was the most common firearm of Germany during WWII. It was used by all branches of the German military, in all theaters on all fronts, from the start of the war to the very end. It was in production for all of WWII and a total of 14.6 million were built.

After Germany’s surrender in 1945, numerous countries ranging from Norway to Vietnam employed the 98k for varying peiods of time. The most surprising, and one of the most prolific, users of the 98k after WWII was Israel.

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(The Karabiner 98K in the form it was issued to the Wehrmacht during WWII.)

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(Receiver of an IDF 98k showing WWII waffenamt, or proofmarking, and partially-defaced reichsadler (eagle-holding-swastika) alongside Israeli proofmarks.)

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(Perhaps nothing better illustrates the ultimate total failure of nazi ideology than this 1967 photo of an IDF infantryman praying at the Western Wall with a 98k.)

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