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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Type 95 Ha-Go in Thailand

The Type 95 Ha-Go was the most widely-built Japanese tank of WWII. Several countries (France, China, North Korea) briefly operated small numbers of Ha-Gos during the immediate post-WWII period. Another operator was Thailand, where, for several years after the war, it was the country’s lone tank type.

Type95HaGo(Functional Type 95 Ha-Go tank of the Royal Thai Army in 2010.)

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1990s Bougainville civil war: WWII weapons

The 1988-1998 conflict on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville saw use of WWII weapons. While this alone was remarkable just before the turn of the millennium, what is absolutely astonishing was that the weapons had been “resurrected” from the WWII battlefields.

PangunaMinesWorkshop1997(Fighters of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in 1997, near the end of the conflict. The heavy weapon with it’s barrel pointed towards the camera is a WWII Imperial Japanese Army Type 96 25mm anti-aircraft gun recovered from the jungle. Almost unbelievably, it still functioned.)

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WWII Japanese weapons in the Korean War

Japan ruled Korea between 1905-1945. In August 1945, during the closing days of WWII, the USSR invaded the peninsula and the Soviet 25th Army advanced as far south as Seoul, before pulling back to the 38th Parallel, which was the pre-agreed division point with the USA. On 8 September 1945 (six days after the surrender had been signed aboard USS Missouri), an advance guard of the US Army’s 40th Infantry Division landed in southern Korea and began to disarm the Japanese there. This split of the peninsula set the stage for the Korean War which lasted from June 1950 – July 1953.

The Japanese garrison in Korea had been relatively untouched by WWII until the final few weeks. As such, both the Soviets and the Americans captured vast quantities of equipment intact, which was then passed on to their respective North / South Korean client governments. The communists in the north were further aided by ex-Japanese weapons captured from the Japanese Kwangtung army and the puppet Manchukuo army during the short Soviet operation at the close of the war. Unwanted by the USSR, these weapons were transferred to either the North Koreans or Mao’s communist Chinese forces. The Chinese in turn re-transferred some Japanese equipment to the North Koreans, besides using it themselves.

Ki51SoniaSeoul1945(Abandoned Ki-51 “Sonia” dive bombers at the former Imperial Japanese Army’s Pyeongtayk airbase in the autumn of 1945. This was one of the first Japanese army airfields in Korea, opening in 1919. During the Korean War, this airbase was refurbished and was codenamed K-6. After the war it was renamed Camp Humphreys and today it is home of the 6th Air Cavalry Brigade. As for the “Sonia”, this was an obsolete design and none of the planes above were ever restored.)

Ki9atK1in1951

(A Tachikawa Ki-9 “Spruce” of the South Korean air force at airbase K-1 near Busan, South Korea, in 1951. This obsolete biplane had been an intermediate trainer of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force during WWII. A large number were recovered intact by both the North and South Koreans and both air forces used the “Spruce” during the Korean War.)

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