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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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.)

DomRep

(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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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.

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(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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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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