One 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.
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.