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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MP 41/44 submachine gun: post-WWII use

Some items designed or built during WWII were “gifts that kept on giving”; having long successful careers after the war. Examples might include the Soviet T-34 tank, the American Gearing class destroyer, and the British Meteor fighter.

Neutral Switzerland’s MP 41/44 submachine gun was the opposite side of that coin, a military item developed during WWII which was not successful, but, that the nation was then saddled with after the war nonetheless.

4144

(The MP 41/44 submachine gun.)

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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.

1963oath

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

march1976

(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.

BoliviaM16

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

chilem352009

(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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Rearming Austria: WWII weapons

It is often forgotten today that, like defeated Germany, Austria was split up into four occupation zones after WWII. Just like Berlin in Germany, the capital Vienna was split up four ways as well. When the country reunified in 1955, it’s new army was equipped with an interesting mix of WWII weapons; both Allied and Axis, and both Soviet and American.

austriazones(A 1945 US Army map showing the four occupation zones, with the American zone highlighted.)

M4(A WWII-veteran M3 half-track of the Austrian army. The bumper plate states that it is a driver instructional vehicle.)

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