WWII weapons in Yemen’s civil war

The country of Yemen, currently (2018) in the midst of yet another civil war, has had a long involvement with guns of the WWII era. While the AK-47 is king of the battlefield, some old WWII weapons are still in use.

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(The now somewhat-famous Yemeni “ripcord T-34” in November 2016.)

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(Houthi fighters brandishing weapons in 2015, including to the left a WWII British Enfield No4 Mk.I rifle.)

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flow of WWII weapons after the war

Since starting wwiiafterwwii, I have wanted to do something on this topic but was unsure how to approach it. I am interested in how WWII weapons performed in battle against Cold War replacements. But also, it is fascinating to consider how they ended up where they did after WWII……how did a Garand built to fight Imperial Japan end up in the Somali desert in the 1970s, or how did a Waffen-SS sturmgewehr end up in 21st century Damascus?

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(An ex-Wehrmacht NbW 42 Nebelwerfer with Interarms markings in the 1960s.)

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Syrian Civil War: WWII weapons used

 

The ongoing Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, is of course dominated by Cold War-era (and even 21st century) weapons, however, there is an astonishing mix of WWII gear – both Axis and Allied – in use. Some of these weapons had previously not seen combat for decades.

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(Syrian rebel with a WWII German StG-44 assault rifle.)

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(Yugoslav-made M18/43F, a copy of the WWII German leFH 18M howitzer, in action with Jaish al-Fatah rebels.)

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(A Syrian rebel with a WWII Mosin-Nagant 91/30 – retrofitted with a modern scope – takes aim in 2014.)

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(Rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) distribute WWII French MAS-36 rifles.)

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(Syrian government soldier with a WWII Soviet 61-K anti-aircraft gun in October 2015.)

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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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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 Novorossiysk mystery

After WWII, the victorious Allies divvied up most of the surrendered Italian navy. The USSR received the battleship Giulio Cesare which was renamed Novorossiysk. Later rated as a training ship, Novorossiysk sank on 29 October 1955 in what is the largest-ever Soviet or Russian peacetime naval disaster. The mystery surrounding the ship’s loss has never been solved.

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(The battleship Giulio Cesare in service with the Italian navy during WWII, and as the training ship Novorossiysk under the Soviet flag after the war.)

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M33 helmet: post-WWII use

The M33 helmet (more formally, Elmetto Mod.33) was the standard helmet of the Italian army during WWII. It was designed in the early 1930s to replace WWI-era helmets. Made of 1.1mm heat-treated steel, the M33 was said to offer triple the protection of the French army’s then-current Adrian helmet (Italy expected France to be it’s enemy in any future war). All in all, the M33 was effective, comfortable, and economical for Italy to manufacture during WWII. It was a quality helmet.

desert(Italian troops in WWII wearing the M33 helmet.)

Unlike Germany’s M40 stahlhelm or Japan’s M30-32 Tetsu-bo, the Italian M33 had a generic, nondescript shape and thus it carried no “political baggage” after WWII ended in 1945. It went on to have a long postwar career with the new Italian army, and also saw some overseas usage after WWII.

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(Italian army 1970s-vintage camouflage cover and foilage net on a M33.)

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