Thursday, July 30, 2015

Last Voyage of the USS Indianapolis

Death at Sea

USS Indianapolis
I don't know if this shot is genuine or not.
This is reprinted from Naval History and Heritage Command. Casual readers may not run across it there, but it deserves to be read, so here it is. My USAAF father had Nuclear Clearance at the time, which was uncommon, and worked on peripheral matters related to the Manhattan Project. Thus, this incident is of particular interest to me.

Oral History -The Sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

Recollections of the sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) by CAPT Lewis L. Haynes, MC (Medical Corps) (Ret.), the senior medical officer on board the ship.

[Original Source: Haynes, Lewis L. "Survivor of the Indianapolis." Navy Medicine 86, no.4 (Jul.-Aug. 1995): 13-17.]

Delivering the [Atomic] Bomb

After our repairs were completed, we were supposed to go on our post-repair trial run. But instead, on July 15th, we were ordered to go to San Francisco to take on some cargo. I was amazed to notice that there was a quiet, almost dead Navy Yard. We tied up at the dock there and two big trucks came alongside. The big crate on one truck was put in the port hanger. The other truck had a bunch of men aboard, including two Army officers, CAPT [James F.] Nolan and MAJ [Robert R.] Furman. I found out later that Nolan was a medical officer. I don't know what his job was, probably to monitor radiation. The two men carried a canister, about 3 feet by 4 feet tall, up to ADM Spruance's cabin where they welded it to the deck. Later on, I found out that this held the nuclear ingredients for the bomb and the large box in the hanger contained the device for firing the bomb. And I had that thing welded to the deck above me for 10 days!

The cargo of the USS Indianapolis.
As we got underway on July 16th, CAPT McVay told his staff we were on a special mission. "I can't tell you what the mission is. I don't know myself but I've been told that every day we take off the trip is a day off the war." CAPT McVay told us his orders were that if we had an "abandon ship," what was in the admiral's cabin was to be placed in a boat before anybody else. We had all kinds of guesses as to what the cargo was.

Rear Admiral Charles Butler McVay III (July 30, 1898 – November 6, 1968) was the Commanding Officer of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) when it was lost in action. He was the only commanding officer of a warship in the history of the U.S. Navy court-martialed for negligence resulting in the loss of his ship during wartime.
After refueling at an eerily quiet Pearl Harbor, we made a straight run to Tinian at as much speed as they could economically go, about 25 or 26 knots. Everybody was at Condition Able which was 4 hours on and 4 hours off. It was like going into battle the whole way out. The trip from San Francisco to Tinian took a total of 10 days.
The B-29 base at Tinian.
When we unloaded our special cargo at Tinian I noticed a couple of general Air Force officers handling these crates like they were a bunch of stevedores. I was even more sure we had something important.
Admirals King, Nimitz, and Spruance aboard USS Indianapolis,18 Jul 1944.
We were then ordered to the Philippines for training exercises preparing for the invasion of Kyushu. CAPT McVay asked for an escort but was told we didn't need one as it was supposedly safe to go to the Philippines. What he wasn't told was that there were Japanese submarines along the way and that Naval Intelligence knew it.

Torpedo Hit

On July 29th I was pretty tired because I had given the whole crew cholera shots all day. I remember walking through the warrant officer's quarters and declining to join a poker game as I was so tired. I then went to bed.

I-58, which sank the Indianapolis.
I awoke. I was in the air. I saw a bright light before I felt the concussion of the explosion that threw me up in the air almost to the overhead. A torpedo had detonated under my room. I hit the edge of the bunk, hit the deck, and stood up. Then the second explosion knocked me down again. As I landed on the deck I thought, "I've got to get the hell out of here!" I grabbed my life jacket and started to go out the door. My room was already on fire.

Japanese Lt. Cdr. Mochitsura Hashimoto at the periscope of his submarine, the 1-58, which was responsible for the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
I emerged to see my neighbor Ken Stout. He said, "Let's go," and stepped ahead of me into the main passageway. I was very close to him when he yelled, "Look out!" and threw his hands up. I lifted the life jacket in front of my face and stepped back. As I did, a wall of fire went "Whoosh!" It burned my hair off, burned my face, and the back of my hands. That's the last I saw of Ken.

I started out trying to go to the forward ladder to go up on the fo'c'sle deck, There was a lot of fire coming up through the deck right in front of the dentist's room. That's when I realized I couldn't go forward and turned to go aft. As I did, I slipped and fell, landing on my hands. I got third-degree burns on my hands -- my palms and all the tips of my fingers. I still have the scars. I was barefooted and the soles of my feet were burned off.

Then I turned aft to go back through the wardroom. I would have to go through the wardroom and down a long passageway to the quarterdeck, but there was a terrible hazy smoke with a peculiar odor. I couldn't breathe and got lost in the wardroom. I kept bumping into furniture and finally fell into this big easy chair. I felt so comfortable. I knew I was dying but I really didn't care.

Then someone standing over me said, "My God, I'm fainting!" and he fell on me. Evidently, that gave me a shot of adrenalin and I forced my way up and out. Somebody was yelling, "Open a porthole!" All power was out and it was just a red haze.

The ship was beginning to list and I moved to that side of the ship. I found a porthole already open. Two other guys had gone out through it. I stuck my head out the porthole, gulping in some air, and found they had left a rope dangling. I looked down to see the water rushing into the ship beneath me. I thought about going out the porthole into the ocean but I knew I couldn't go in there.

In memory of Paul T. Marple, Ensign, who lost his life aboard the USS Indianapolis.
Instead, I grabbed the rope which was attached to an overhanging floater net. I pulled myself through the porthole and up to the deck above. I then went to my battle station, which was the port hanger. My chief, [CPhM John A.] Shmueck, and a lot of casualties were back there. I think the moon was going in and out because at times I could see clearly, other times not. We were trying to put dressings and give morphine to badly burned men when an officer came up and said, "Doctor, you'd better get life jackets on your patients."

So Shmueck and I went up a ladder to the deck above where there were some life jackets. We got a whole bunch of life jackets and went back down and started to put them on the patients. I remember helping a warrant officer. His skin was hanging in shreds and he was yelling, "Don't touch me, don't touch me." I kept telling him we had to get the jacket on. I was putting the jacket on when the ship tipped right over. He just slid away from me. The patients and the plane on the catapult all went down in a big, tangling crash to the other side. I grabbed the lifeline and climbed through to avoid falling. And by the time I did, the ship was on its side. Those men probably all died as the plane came down on top of them. All the rescue gear and everything we had out went down patients and everything together.

Into the Water

I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn't have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn't alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.
I didn't want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.
Garland Rich, lost at sea when the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) sank on July 30, 1945.
Suddenly the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn't an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over -- white eyes and red mouths. You couldn't tell the doctor from the boot seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.
At that time, I could have hidden but somebody yelled, "Is the doctor there?" And I made myself known. From that point on -- and that's probably why I'm here today -- I was kept so busy I had to keep going. But without any equipment, from that point on I became a coroner.
A lot of men were without life jackets. The kapok life jacket is designed with a space in the back. Those who had life jackets that were injured, you could put your arm through that space and pull them up on your hip and keep them out of the water. And the men were very good about doing this, Furthermore, those with jackets supported men without jackets. They held on the back of them, put their arms through there and held on floating in tandem.
Vincent Fast Horse, Lost at Sea, USS Indianapolis. He attended Red Cloud School which is on the Lakota Sioux Reservation.
When daylight came we began to get ourselves organized into a group and the leaders began to come out. When first light came we had between three and four hundred men in our group. I would guess that probably seven or eight hundred men made it out of the ship. I began to find the wounded and dead. The only way I could tell they were dead was to put my finger in their eye. If their pupils were dilated and they didn't blink I assumed they were dead. We would then laboriously take off their life jacket and give it to men who didn't have jackets. In the beginning, I took off their dog tags, said The Lord's Prayer, and let them go. Eventually, I got such an armful of dog tags I couldn't hold them any longer. Even today, when I try to say The Lord's Prayer or hear it, I simply lose it. 
Later, when the sun came up the covering of oil was a help. It kept us from burning. But it also reflected off the fuel oil and was like a searchlight in your eyes that you couldn't get away from. So I had all the men tie strips of their clothing around their eyes to keep the sun out.
Lt. Thomas Conway says mass on the USS Indianapolis. See the next photo.
The second night, which was Monday night, we had all the men put their arms through the life jacket of the man in front of him and we made a big mass so we could stay together. We kept the wounded and those who were sickest in the center of the pack and that was my territory. Some of the men could doze off and sleep for a few minutes. The next day we found a life ring. I could put one very sick man across it to support him.
Lt. Thomas Michael Conway, a Catholic priest from Buffalo, New York a heroic chaplain who died while ministering to sailors in shark-infested waters after their ship was torpedoed during World War II. The U.S. Navy recently rejected awarding him a posthumous Navy Cross medal.
There was nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead, save the life jackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the saltwater when we drifted out of the fuel oil. When the hot sun came out and we were in this crystal clear water, you were so thirsty you couldn't believe it wasn't good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men that they shouldn't drink. The real young ones -- you take away their hope, you take away their water and food -- they would drink salt water and then would go fast. I can remember striking men who were drinking water to try and stop them. They would get diarrhea, then get more dehydrated, then become very maniacal. In the beginning, we tried to hold them and support them while they were thrashing around. And then we found we were losing a good man to get rid of one who had been bad and drank. As terrible as it may sound, towards the end when they did this, we shoved them away from the pack because we had to.

The water in that part of the Pacific was warm and good for swimming. But body temperature is over 98 and when you immerse someone up to their chin in that water for a couple of days, you're going to chill him down. So at night, we would tie everyone close together to stay warm. But they still had severe chills which led to fever and delirium. On Tuesday night some guy began yelling, "There's a Jap here and he's trying to kill me." And then everybody started to fight. They were totally out of their minds. A lot of men were killed that night. A lot of men drowned. Overnight everybody untied themselves and got scattered in all directions. But you couldn't blame the men. It was mass hysteria. You became wary of everyone. Till daylight came, you weren't sure. When we got back together the next day there was a hell of a lot fewer.

William Gerald Nugent (lost aboard the USS Indianapolis).
There were also mass hallucinations. It was amazing how everyone would see the same thing. One would see something, then someone else would see it. One day everyone got in a long line. I said, "What are you doing?" Someone answered, "Doctor, there's an island up here just ahead of us. One of us can go ashore at a time and you can get 15 minutes sleep." They all saw the island. You couldn't convince them otherwise. Even I fought hallucinations off and on, but something always brought me back.

I saw only one shark. I remember reaching out trying to grab hold of him. I thought maybe it would be food. However, when night came, things would bump against you in the dark or brush against your leg and you would wonder what it was. But honestly, in the entire 110 hours I was in the water I did not see a man attacked by a shark. However, the destroyers that picked up the bodies afterward found a large number of those bodies. In the report I read 56 bodies were mutilated, Maybe the sharks were satisfied with the dead; they didn't have to bite the living.


It was Thursday [2 Aug] when the plane spotted us. By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It's good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn't have very long to go. The men were semi-comatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I'm here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us.

The plane dropped life jackets with canisters of water but the canisters ruptured. Then a PBY [seaplane] showed up and dropped rubber life rafts. We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side. I found a flask of water with a 1-ounce cup. I doled out the water, passing the cup down hand-to-hand. Not one man cheated and I know how thirsty they were.

Lt. Adrian Marks, a resident of Frankfort, Ind., was largely responsible for the rescue of 56 survivors of the cruiser USS Indianapolis. Marks is seen here, fourth from right, with the crew of his PBY Catalina.
Towards the end of the day, just before dark, I found a kit for making freshwater out of saltwater. I tried to read the instructions, but couldn't make sense of it or get it to work right. My product tasted like saltwater and I didn't want to take a chance so I threw it into the ocean. I then went to pieces.

A PBY Catalina picking up men at sea.
I watched the PBY circle and suddenly make an open-sea landing. This took an awful lot of guts. It hit, went back up in the air and splashed down again. I thought he'd crashed but he came taxiing back. I found out later he was taxiing around picking up the singles. If he hadn't done this, I don't think we would have survived. He stayed on the water during the night and turned his searchlight up into the sky so the Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368) could find us. The ship came right over and began picking us up.

USS Indianapolis - Survivors on the deck of the USS Bassett, rescue vessel. Shark attacks began with the sunrise of the first day and continued until the men were physically removed from the water, almost five days later.
The Cecil J. Doyle had a big net down over the side. Some of the sailors came down the side of the netting and pulled our rafts alongside. They put a rope around me; we were too weak to climb up. When they tried to grab hold of me I remember saying, "I can get up!" But I couldn't. Two sailors dragged me down the passageway. By the wardroom pantry, someone gave me a glass of water with a mark on it and would only give me so much water. I drank and when I asked for more, he said that was all I could have this time. Then the skipper asked me what ship I was from. I told him we were what was left of the Indianapolis.

A survivor of the USS Indianapolis.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a shower. I remember corpsmen or seamen cleaning off my wounds, trying to wash the oil from me and dress my burns. I remember trying to lick the water coming down from the shower. They put me in a bunk and I passed out for about 12 hours. I recall the first bowel movement I had after I was picked up, I passed fuel oil. The other fellows found the same thing.

The Cecil J. Doyle took us to Peleliu. We were taken ashore and put into hospital bunks. I remember they came in and got our vital statistics -- we had discarded our dogtags because they were heavy. They changed our dressings. Some of the men got IV's [intravenous solution], though I didn't, While there I began to eat a little and get some strength back.
1963 article in Stag magazine about the USS Indianapolis.
Then after 2 or 3 days at Peleliu, someone came in and said that I was going to Guam. The next thing I knew, they hauled me out on a stretcher and onto a hospital ship.

Captain Bartholomew.
The commanding officer of the ship, a friend of mine, was Bart [Bartholomew, Surgeon General of the Navy, 1955-1959] Hogan. Bart came in and said, "I know you don't feel well but you're going to have to go before the Inspector General. I'm going to send a corpsman in and I want you to start at the beginning and dictate everything you can remember about what happened because as time goes on you're going to forget and things are going to change."
So I sat down and dictated off and on for 3 days on the way to Guam. When I'd get tired I'd fall asleep and then I'd wake up and he'd come back.

Known as the worst maritime disaster in U.S, Naval History. Survivors of the USS Indianapolis (Sunk by a Japanese Sub On July 30, 1945) are taken to medical aid on the island of Guam. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.
When we landed, Bart gave me a copy of what I dictated and I took it when I went to the Inspector General's office. I told my story, answered their questions, and gave them this report unedited, saying, "Here it is. This is probably as accurate as I can be." And that document is the file at the Inspector General's office. All the people who wrote books about the Indianapolis used it.

Normally, I don't have nightmares. Last night, I didn't sleep well. And I won't sleep well tonight. But eventually, my mind will turn off and I'll be all right. It's like when I try to say The Lord's Prayer or I sit down and try to talk to somebody about it. I'm all right as long as I stay away from talking about individuals -- my friends... I was on that ship over a year and a half and we were all close friends and we'd been through a lot together and I knew their wives and their families. As a doctor, you get more intimate than normal.

Lyle Ummenhoffer, USS Indianapolis survivor.

Memorial to USS Indianapolis Indianapolis, Indiana.


Captured Weapons Put to Use

captured weapons
An American B-17F "Wulf Hound" in Luftwaffe markings.

Using captured weapons against their previous owners is nothing new. All armies capture weapons here and there, even losing armies, and sometimes the weapons are in perfect condition. Even if they aren't, often they can be repaired to good working order.

captured weapons

The Germans captured all sorts of weapons, for instance, even as the Wehrmacht was in full retreat. Allied planes would make belly landings after developing one sort of issue or another, or bases would be overrun. An underlying theme of World War II is how often an advancing army captured huge stockpiles of enemy weapons and supplies.

captured weapons Kummersdorf test facility
A German tank park composed entirely of captured weapons. This apparently is the Kummersdorf test facility north of Berlin. There appear to be a T-34, a Churchill with wading gear, and some Shermans. This likely was toward the end of the war, circa mid-1944. There were very, very few locations at the time which would have had running German, Soviet, British and US tanks in the same place - and, in fact, there still are very few such places.

captured weapons Kummersdorf test facility
Another view of the Wehrmacht's collection of captured tanks at Kummersdorf. Pictured are maybe an IS-2, an I-70, a Sherman. One thing is for certain, they are not standard panzers. I like the German staff car in the background.
Some captured weapons were used at testing facilities to determine their strengths and vulnerabilities. Others, the Germans simply used in the field.

captured weapons
A captured He-111H at an airfield in England sometime in 1945 (colorized).
The Allies used captured weapons and ships and so forth, too. However, the Germans seemed to practice this sort of opportunism more than the Allies.

captured weapons
A captured P-51 being used at Rechlin.
While the weapons were not superior to their own, sometimes something is better than nothing. So, the Germans and others put them to use even if they were patently inferior goods.

captured weapons
Australian troops watching Tobruk burn, 22 January 1941. Note the captured Italian M13 tank they are using, so indicated by the white kangaroos painted on the side.
It wasn't just the Axis that did this, either. Everybody used captured equipment if it served a purpose.

captured weapons
A better closeup up Australian tankers using captured equipment. Italian tanks have never been renowned for their quality, but something is better than nothing. Here, Italian M13/40 and M11/39 tanks have been pressed into Australian service in North Africa, 23 Jan 1941.
Seeing common weapons of one side used by the other is a bit startling, especially when those weapons have become "famous" or are now considered "classic," but it was quite common.

captured weapons
An American built M4A3 (76) Sherman medium tank, captured and pressed into service by the German army. German markings and the words Beute Panzer (captured tank) were painted on the tank to avoid friendly fire. The tank was knocked out by a US M36 Jackson tank destroyer. A dead crewmember lies on the front of the tank, probably hit by machine-gun fire while attempting to bail out of the stricken tank. Aschaffenburg, Germany. 1945.
The Germans had an entire Luftwaffe unit composed of captured Allied equipment, KG 200. It had both bombers and fighters. They had a special name for them, "Beute Panzerkampfwagen" (booty tanks), often just shortened to Beute Panzer.

Luftwaffe P-51B
The British had a similar outfit, established during the Battle of Britain. It was No. 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight RAF, nicknamed "the Rafwaffe."

captured weapons
Recognize this one? It's one of the most iconic fighters of the war, but it usually isn't seen in Luftwaffe markings.
Panzer Abteilung 216 in the Channel Islands and some divisions (eg. 7th SS Freiwillingen Gebirgs Division "Prinz Eugen" in the Balkans) were exclusively equipped with captured equipment.

captured weapons
Finnish troops with a captured Russian BT tank during the Winter War. They have painted a bold Swastika emblem on the tank’s turret. The Swastika is an ancient Scandinavian symbol and is not used here to denote any sort of allegiance or kinship to Hitler's Party. In fact, Hitler took the Swastika from the Scandinavians, not the other way around. At this time, the Finns and Germans were not allies - that came later.
The practice began very early, and the Finns were known to use captured weapons extensively during the 1939-40 Winter War.

captured weapons
A German soldier in a trench with a captured Soviet PPSH-41 submachine gun on the Eastern Front. Taking small arms off of dead opponents is an extremely common occurrence.
Some Soviet weaponry was highly prized. One example was the Soviet sniper rifle. While a proud Wehrmacht officer might not admit that it was superior to the best German sniper rifles, a Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle (officially the 3-line rifle M1891) with a good telescopic lens certainly would do in a pinch (though the best sniper of all time, Simo Häyhä, did not like the scope because he felt it revealed the shooter to the enemy). In fact, the Soviet Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle was so good that it remains in use in various places in the 21st Century. Over 37 million of these sniper rifles have been made (13 million by the end of World War II). The Finns, who could use German or Soviet equipment, chose to use the Mosin-Nagant with some modifications.

A two-man Scharfschütze (sniper) team. The shooter is using a captured Russian Mosin-Nagant PU rifle. October 1941. 
Soviet submachine guns also were quite handy and reliable. You also could pick them up and throw them down without having to explain to anywhere where your weapon went.

captured weapons
A photographer followed this officer (Hauptmann Friedrich Konrad Winkler) around one day at Stalingrad, taking snaps of him gesturing wildly like this, looking heroically off into the distance and offering other typical propaganda poses. Winkler has broken his Infantry Assault Badge to show that earning it at Stalingrad meant something special. The photographer may not have realized that the grunt to the left is holding a captured Soviet ppsh41 submachine gun. Winkler survived the battle but perished between February 8 and 10, 1943 at POW Camp Beketowka.
Runs out of ammo? Toss it and pick up another, there were usually dead Soviets around somewhere who didn't need their own any longer.

captured weapons
Another German using a Soviet submachine gun with the distinctive drum.
The Allied equipment was used by the Axis for various clandestine operations, particularly in the closing months of the war, but also sometimes just for daily activities.

captured weapons
Polish 7TP light tank, captured by the German Wehrmacht in the battle for Poland in 1939. The local Panzerwaffe used it for their needs and then sent it west for the defense of France. It was captured by Allied forces in 1944 when this was taken.
Even Polish equipment from 1939 was put to use for point defense years later. Why not? Beats walking.

Wulf Hound

The first Flying Fortress captured by the Germans was B-17F-27-BO "Wulf Hound" (41-24585) from 360BS 303BG "Hell's Angels". It was damaged by German fighters during a bombing run on 12th of December 1942 and then suffered more hits during its return flight through the Kammhuber Line by a Bf 110 night fighter from NJG 1. The B-17 pilot, Lieutenant Flickinger, elected to land at Leeuwarden airfield in The Netherlands. The bomber was quickly repaired and two days later (after adding German markings) was escorted by two Bf 110s to Rechlin. The evaluation there revealed the strengths and vulnerabilities of the bomber and gave the Luftwaffe engineers ideas for their own designs. Wulf Hound then became the centerpiece at a June 12, 1943, exhibition of captured planes at Lärz airfield. Together with the B-17F, the exhibition included a B-24, P-47D, P-51, P-38, Avro Lancaster, DH Mosquito, Typhoon, and a Spitfire, among other equipment. "Wulf Hound" then returned to Rechlin in July 1943 and was used in trials towing a DFS 230 glider, remaining under evaluation. The bomber ultimately was transferred to KG 200 in September 1943 and coded A3+AE. It was used in some late-war clandestine missions.

Wulf Hound
Wulf Hound.
The Germans captured about 40 B-17s, and they restored about a dozen to flight capability. They also had an entire class of captured French, Czech, and other nations' weapons, including tanks.

captured weapons
The CKD (Praga) LT vz.38 was renamed Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) in January 1940. Ultimately, 1414 were built, roughly the same number as the Tiger tank. While it was a Czech design, the vast majority of this light tank was produced under German supervision with extensive modifications, including an enlarged turret. Czechoslovakia, of course, was occupied through diplomatic pressure without military force. Thus, for all these reasons, calling this class of weapons "captured" is a bit of a stretch, but the Panzer 38(t) is representative of this murky area. This picture is from the Russian front in early 1944 (Moosdorf, Federal Archive).
Those weapons stretch the meaning of "captured" because the Germans quickly put the conquered nations to work producing more of those same weapons for them under German names.

captured weapons
A British Firefly in German service. Note that markings on captured equipment that was re-purposed often were crude, done in the field by men who were not artists. the British soldier is pointing at the shell hole that destroyed the tank.

captured weapons
A better view of a German captured M4 Firefly. The Sherman Firefly was a better tank than the standard Sherman due to its 17 pounder main gun, though nobody considers it the equal of a Panther or Tiger.
One such operation in 1945 landed German agents behind Allied lines in France with suitcases full of counterfeit francs, with the intent of collapsing the French economy through hyperinflation. It failed, and the agents disappeared with the loot (and probably bought a castle or two with it after the war). Another use of Wulf Hound, though, Operation Carnival a month after that, was an unqualified success.

captured weapons
One of Luftwaffe boss Hermann Goering's great regrets was that he never had a fleet of four-engined bombers (of course, that was due to his own decisions made in the 1930s). "You can lay out a dance floor in them!" he would yell about the American bombers in exasperation. Goering did, though, acquire one or two.
The plane undoubtedly was used in other clandestine operations and would have been useful for dispersing compromised people to Spain or other safer havens.

captured weapons
Captured Spitfires in the Luftwaffe. Adolf Galland famously told Hermann Goering in August 1940 that what he needed was a Squadron of Spitfires. Well, eventually he got one.

Use of American equipment extended far beyond Wulf Hound, of course. The commonly known story of the Battle of the Bulge is that the Germans infiltrated behind US lines using equipment the Germans had captured. This was Operation Greif, organized by SS boss Heinrich Himmler. It did not come to much.

captured weapons
Captured Shermans impressed into Wehrmacht service.
The Germans did use their captured equipment during that operation. However, much of the equipment used in Operation Greif was German weaponry with the markings simply switched to American markings. It didn't really fool anyone but did create an enduring legend.

Captured Mustang P-51 used by the Luftwaffe
Certainly, you recognized this one. Hover over the picture if you don't recognize it.
Captured weapons may not swing the tide of war, but they can come in handy for ordinary grunts who would rather ride than walk, even if it is in a captured British lorry.

captured weapons
US troops drive a King Tiger German tank that has already obtained its US Army star.
The US forces also, of course, captured all sorts of German equipment, including their very best. As the best stocked of all the armies, though, US forces tended not to use its captured equipment very much in combat. Such captured equipment was quickly shipped back to the US for testing and evaluation.

captured weapons
T-34 in German service. The markings on the hatch would be to keep any Panzerknackers like Hans-Ulrich Rudel from bombing them.
Intelligence thus gathered guided weapons development in the immediate postwar years.

captured weapons
Russian soldiers with a captured German Nebelwerfer 41 rocket launcher.
The Germans were quick to use captured Soviet tanks. While nobody could admit it, Soviet armor often was at the very least the equal of German tanks, and quite often superior.

Germans captured weapons
German soldiers clean and services captured Russian sub-machine guns highly sought after for their ruggedness and setting to fire single shots, 1942.
Legend has it that at one Time, elite SS Panzer Division Das Reich had more than 200 T34s in their inventory. Better to use a Soviet tank than no tank. Spare parts could be had on the battlefield... assuming you kept advancing.

Germans captured weapons
KV Tank in the Wehrmacht.

captured weapons
A column of KV-1Es Soviet tanks captured by German and reused in the Wehrmacht.
At one point, the Germans even considered simply copying the T-34, but German factories were not set up with the right machining to replicate it. Besides, it would have looked bad.

T-34 captured German markings
T-34s used in the Wehrmacht.
Still, the Germans needed a quality medium tank. So, instead, they developed what many consider the finest tank of the entire war, the Panther. It was not perfect - it had transmissions issues and was a bit fancier than the basic tank (in larger numbers) the grunts really needed - but it was a classic, well-thought-out product that tended to get the job done when you needed it.

captured weapons
This is a Russian T-34 with German markings. The Germans used many enemy tanks during the war. A common captured weapon was the British Bren gun carrier, to which the Germans attached rocket launchers and used in dedicated squads against the Soviets.
During Operation Barbarossa, the Germans captured immense stockpiles of Soviet equipment. They captured so many Soviet 76.2mm anti-tank guns that they designed an entire weapons system around them, the Marder tank destroyer. Initially, the Germans just bolted the captured guns to the top of other captured equipment, the 38(t) Czech tank, and sometimes onto captured French Lorraine tanks. They also were a good way to recycle obsolete Panzer IIs. Later Marders had new undercarriages. While not the world's greatest weapon (they had very weak armor), Marders were reliable and useful in defensive situations outside of cities (open on the top, snipers could fire down on exposed crews). They were sort of the "poor man's StuG." Marders went into numerous units, including some of the best (SS Divisions and the Hermann Goering). About 350 Marder Ausf. Ms remained in combat during the last days of the Reich.

SdKfz 138-139 Marder III incorporating a Russian 7.62cm anti-tank gun abandoned in North Africa, 1943.
Naturally, the Soviets used German equipment as well. One could say that using captured equipment is a compliment to the opposing army, but in reality, it is more simply a way for ordinary soldiers to improve their firepower and perhaps survivability with whatever is lying around.

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A Sherman in Wehrmacht markings on the Russian Front.
If all you have is a rifle and you find an enemy submachine gun with ammo in the field, using it makes you a little more fearsome regardless of whether your own army's weapons have higher quality ratings. Naturally, captured weapons also give you a little more credibility if you are trying to infiltrate enemy lines and you are posing as something that you are not.

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German soldiers smoke captured American cigarettes in front of a U.S. Army armored car on December 17, 1944.
Sometimes, a deprived army isn't actually interested too much in using captured equipment. Rather, they have enough weapons and are more in need of more mundane enemy goods. Captured weapons always look good for the photographers, though.

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Wehrmacht soldiers posing with captured American weapons, 1944.
Sometimes, capturing enemy stocks can become an objective in and of itself. During the Ardennes Offensive in December 1944, a key to the German plan was to use elite forces to break open the American lines so fast that large quantities of gasoline and other scarce supplies could be captured to fuel the advance further. Much was captured, but not nearly enough to supply the entire Wehrmacht during its dying days.

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Balikpapan, Borneo. July 1945. Australian Jack Keanne of Stanthorpe, Qld, studies the hills surrounding Balikpapan, through captured giant field glasses which are resting on a Japanese wooden crate.

The use of captured weapons was much reduced in the Pacific Theater of Operations because of the nature of the island-hopping campaigns. If you were going to invade an island, you wouldn't need to bring along any captured equipment, and most of the island battles didn't last too long (with some notable exceptions). Japanese tanks were obsolete and few and far between, but now and then more mundane enemy equipment came in handy.

Things are not Always What They Seem

captured weapons
A Dornier Do-17 in British service in Egypt.
Finally, you have to be careful when assuming some enemy weapons were "captured." To illustrate the point, the Dornier Do 17 was a well known Luftwaffe plane, so seeing one in British colors naturally leads to the impression that the British must have captured it and put it to use. However, pre-war weapons sales often went to later adversaries. The above German Do-17 in British markings, for instance, is not a captured aircraft. Instead, it is a former Royal Yugoslav Air Force Do 17K escaped from that country after the Kingdom of Yugoslav’s fall in April 1941.

Between 14 and 15 April 1941, seven Yugoslav Do 17Ks flew to Nikšić airport and took part in the evacuation of King Petar II and members of the Yugoslav government to Greece as well as of the Yugoslav gold reserves. The planes, together with the S.79K used for the King’s escape, landed at Paramythia, a Greek airfield not far from the border with Albania which at this time was still the base of RAF No 211 Squadron. Five of the Dorniers were soon destroyed by an Italian Air Force raid. The two survivors escaped to Egypt, just before the fall of the base into Axis hands, together with the S.79K with the young King (18 years) on board. In Egypt, both of the German-built planes, previously in the Royal Yugoslav Air Force’s 209 Eskadrila, were absorbed by the RAF and allocated codes AX707 and AX706. Their life in the RAF ranks was extremely brief: both were destroyed by an enemy air raid on 27 August 1941, an unusual instance of the Luftwaffe being happy to destroy German-built aircraft.


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A French man and woman fight with captured German weapons as both civilians and members of the French Forces of the Interior took the fight to the Germans. This is Paris in August of 1944, just prior to the surrender of German forces and the Liberation of Paris on August 25
Captured weaponry is handy for regular army units, but it is absolutely critical for partisans. With no other source of weaponry, a submachine gun grabbed from a dead soldier could turn a hanger-on into a useful fighter.

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Partisans all across Europe wound up using captured German weapons. Here, Polish resistance fighter Roman Marchel posing with a captured MP 40 submachine gun during the Warsaw Uprising, Ciepla Street, Warsaw, Poland, 20 Aug 1944.

captured weapons
Another partisan in Warsaw using German equipment.
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The 7th SS Volunteer Division “Prinz Eugen” in front of  a Pz.Kpfw. B2 740 (f) (German designation of captured French tank Char B1). French tanks were quite good, many much better than Panzer IIIs which formed the backbone of the Panzerwaffe early in the war.

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Germans using a KV tank. They were slow, but heavily armed and with a huge gun.
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Captured Matildas in the Western Desert. Note the "big ass" flag? That wasn't for show. The Luftwaffe was very active in North Africa and would love to have knocked those tanks out. German artillery also needed to be made aware. In fact, driving a captured British tank in North Africa was quite dangerous.
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The Japanese captured this B-17D in the Philippines and put it in their markings. They flew it to Japan for evaluation.