North Korea: WWII weapons after the Korean War

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(North Korean troops march with WWII PPSh–41 submachine guns in 2016.)

In North Korea’s formative years (1945-1949) it’s army’s weapons were entirely WWII vintage; a mixture of Japanese, Chinese, and Soviet types. During the Korean War, the same was true, and in the immediate aftermath very obsolete Soviet guns and the ex-Japanese weaponry was discarded, but the others remained.

This is a look at WWII weapons in North Korean use after the Korean War and following the mass emergency rearmament the USSR and China undertook in the mid-1950s. It is not an exhaustive list, but rather some of the main types of WWII weapons that remained in use in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and even beyond; in some cases to the present time.

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(North Korean T-34-85 tank filmed during 2012.)

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Mukden Arsenal after WWII

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(Zhang’s Gate, the old entrance to Mukden Arsenal)

For people interested in Japanese firearms of WWII, the name Mukden Arsenal is familiar. The history of the facility after Japan’s defeat is less well known. Under various names, it did survive for some time, producing an odd mix of WWII weapons after the war’s end.

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(Mukden Arsenal proofmark during WWII)

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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.

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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 German weapons during the Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, the communists in the north were armed mainly with post-WWII design Soviet weapons, while their opponents in the south used almost exclusively post-WWII American weapons. Some old WWII-era Soviet and American weapons were used by the two sides respectively, and to a lesser extent, WWII-era French weapons left over from the Indochina War. There were even a few WWII Japanese guns floating around, left over from the Japanese occupation.

The most surprising weapons were WWII German designs, which, through a strange combination of politics and necessity, ended up in combat halfway around the world in Vietnam two decades after their last use in Europe.

MG34Vietnam(Crewmen on a North Vietnamese sail junk take aim with an ex-Wehrmacht MG-34 in the 1960s. This was probably staged inport, as the North Vietnamese did not typically assign combat photographers to smuggling junk runs.)

1966pamphlet(Taken from a 1966 US Army “Jungle And Guerrilla Warfare” booklet, this collection of Viet Cong firearms includes a StG-44, a 98k, and a MG-34.)

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WWII weapons with Force Publique in the Belgian Congo

Force Publique was the local military force of the Belgian Congo, when it was still a colony of Belgium. It was a fairly unusual military force, not surprising as the Belgian Congo colony was itself unusual. The Belgian Congo was massively larger than Belgium itself. It existed solely for economic exploitation; the Belgians having no real strategic military interest in it and having no desire to develop it.

African people in the Belgian Congo were of course completely shut out of Belgium’s political process. Until the late 1950s, they could not even hold local elections in their own small villages. The colony was directly ruled from Brussels. Whereas most European powers began granting independence to African colonies in the late 1940s/early 1950s, Belgium had no intention of giving up the Congo and, like Portugal, foresaw it’s colonialist empire as permanent.

Force Publique was formed in 1908. The objective was to obtain security for the colony at a minimal cost to Belgium. The officers were all Europeans. Africans were prohibited from being promoted above junior enlisted NCO, and most were never advanced in rank at all. Little to no formal tactical training was given to the Africans, and quite frankly, they were basically regarded as inexpensive, replaceable cannon fodder to guard Belgian economic interests in the colony.

camp_charles_1955(Force Publique’s Camp Charles training facility in 1955. The troops are equipped with Mle. 89/36 rifles with bayonets mounted. After Congo became independent, Camp Charles was neglected and by the 1970s had decayed into uselessness.)

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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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