Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: WWII after WWII

wwii_after_wwiiOne of the greatest things about being a kid growing up in the 1960s, was the “Army Navy store”.  As late as 1975, 30 years after VJ Day, these stores were still full of piles and boxes of new equipment that had been made for World War II, but then disposed of afterwards because, with the war over, no one was going to need to equip an army of millions of men any time soon.

It was a boy’s paradise — everything from huge, double-sized BAR mockups to M1 Rifle grenade-launcher sights, new and in the wrappers or cosmoline, all for a minute percentage of what Uncle Sam had paid for them.

Bigger things were sold off, too: after the war, air races featuring leftover fighters were common. One race pilot, Tony LeVier, bought an F-5 (a photoreconnaissance version of the P-38) for, if we recall right, $1,500 and entered it in these competitions. He had his choice of hundreds of the planes; the vast majority, the ones that didn’t become race planes or rich men’s toys went to the smelter.

Transport planes, available for pennies on the dollar, launched almost all postwar airlines. Warships went into mothballs, but auxiliaries had short, expendable careers hauling freight and launched many a Greek shipping fortune. The reuse of all this valuable leftover World War II kit is the point of tonight’s Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week, WWII After WWII.

Militaries, of course, reused World War II gear in many ways themselves, and for a very long time. And the superpowers and colonial powers delivered their surplus tanks and artillery pieces to their allies, colonies, or new states with which they wanted to curry favor. The Israelis used (extensively improved) Sherman tanks in reserve units as late as the Yom Kippur War of October, 1973. And here’s a wartime Soviet SU-100 — just captured by these -2) Houthis in Yemen in 2014.

Yemeni Houthi captured Su100 2014

That SU-100 photo comes from onight’s remarkable Wednesday Weapons Websit eof the Week, which is called “WWII After WWII” and tries to document the long tale of consequences for World War II weapons and their makers, from Navy carrier tests of the German A-4 (V-2) missile, to the decline and fall of aircraft makers Curtiss-Wright (made from the merger of the two earliest American aircraft industrial firms) and Brewster. Curtiss-Wright made a series of bad product decisions that ultimately left it with nothing to sell. But with Brewster, the leadership was so bad (and so crooked) that the quality of decision-making barely registered among the reasons for failure. They hired con men (released from prison!) as salesmen, for one thing: never a solid basis for a going concern, that.

We’re not surprised to see trade unionism also implicated in Brewster’s demise:

The lowest point came on 23 August 1943, when the local United Auto Workers union at the plant went on strike, breaking the overall nationwide “no strikes until victory” motto. The strike was due to petty gripes between union security guards and US Coast Guard personnel patrolling the base. The saddest spectacle was a horrifying interview that the local union boss, Thomas de Lorenzo, gave to the Washington Post newspaper. He stated with no shame that he was fine with American troops dying because of the strike, as long as union privileges were preserved. The national UAW quickly distanced itself from the strike which ended shortly thereafter. (de Lorenzo’s big mouth attracted IRS attention and he was later jailed for income tax fraud.

For all that we’re willing to believe the worst of the UAW, under the labor-friendly Roosevelt Administration almost all wartime industrial plants were unionized, and apart from some difficulties with the mine workers, American union leaders and union men did their part and produced for the war. In this, as in so many things, Brewster was unique in its ruin.

Henry Kaiser actually managed to turn Brewster around, to a degree. But when he was called on to more urgent tasks, it collapsed back into incompetence and ruin, a tale told well by WWII After WWII.

It’s not all tanks, airplane factories, and German missile technology at WWII After WWII. If you’re interested in small arms, here’s some insight on the postwar careers of the British Lanchester submachine gun (which sailed on into the 1970s with the Royal Navy, and had several foreign connections), and the German StG 44 in Africa, and an interesting case study of German weapons in Viet Cong use.

7 thoughts on “Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: WWII after WWII

  1. aGrimm

    Convinced the C-Rats we had in Nam were surplus from WWII. Did some homework…

    C-Ration Pound Cake: The little known history of the pound cake found in the C-Rats’ issued in WWII, Korea and Nam.

    The root of the Pud bush has an extraordinary flavor when properly extracted. It also acts as a preservative. Properly extracting the flavor initially requires that the root be handled carefully to maturity. A younger, firmer root is required as an old, soft root won’t produce the essence. The root is then alternately squeezed and mashed to milk the root’s essence. This can only be done by hand. Made into a cake, this tasty Pud extract flavored cake became known as pound cake due to the rhythmic pounding needed to extract the essence.
    In peacetime the military usually has enough Pud extract on hand by imposing production quotas on the services. The best quality Pud extract is made at the Pentagon. However, during WWII it was difficult to amass enough Pud root extract to make enough pound cake to keep up with soldiers’ demand. Millions of volunteer 4F’s and Army clerks came to the rescue during a rally called “Pound the Pud” day held in San Francisco. San Francisco regularly holds remembrance rallies of this revered outpouring of support for the troops.
    12,500,000 cases of pound cake survived from WWII and with its long shelf life, they were subsequently used in Korea and Nam. In Korea, US Army soldiers particularly liked it frozen and would shape it like a popsicle to remind them of blissful days at home. Many of these vets became successful ice-cream truck entrepreneurs. Vietnam soldiers found that soaking it in the monsoon rains or rice paddies helped to enhance the flavor. This was done by forming the pound cake into the shape of a Dr. Scholl’s pad and inserting it in their boots. Unfortunately due to this practice, a lot of Vietnam vets developed Plantar Tarsal Sole Degeneration (PTSD) which is characterized by a shoe fetish and begging on street corners.
    C-Rat pound cake ages like a fine wine with a bad cork. It goes well with C-Rat peaches and was particularly favored by Army soldiers who would get a rush as the juice dribbled down their chins. It is believed the Marines’ ooo-rah expression was first uttered when two Marine’s first tasted this treat and it became their rhythmic chant when pounding the Pud root prior to making more pound cake. Navy personnel are adept at pounding the Pud root in rhythm with the ship’s engine and remain a major source of Pud extract production even today. Strangely, Air force personnel cannot get the hang of pounding the Pud root properly and have poor production levels.
    A recipe is available whereby you can make your own pound cake – and eat it too! Happy Pud pounding.
    Next: the history of Spam

  2. redc1c4

    well, this saves me the trouble of getting around to e-mailing you a link to the page…


  3. Desertrat

    I recall a news article from 1952 or 1953 commenting on a union strike at an ammo manufacturing plant near Texarkana, and a shortage of ammo in Korea. Sorry; don’t recall the details.

  4. Badger

    I’m one of those who included the local Army/Navy store in their (at least) weekly shelf-check; usually more often as, with only a 1-block detour, it was on the foot/bike route home from high school. Oh, the wonders. Thanks for the link & review.

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