In the year 1346, French knights under Philip the VI of Valois rode
into the Battle of Crécy and were slaughtered by a hail of English
arrows. Their defeat can be attributed not so much to tactical errors,
as to their failure to appreciate the capabilities of their enemy's
weapons—in this case, the relatively new English longbow in the hands
of English yeomen.
Today, most soldiers know that a knowledge of foreign weapons
and matériel gives a man an insight to the capabilities and
limitations of either a potential enemy or ally. Many have learned to
appreciate the difference in bursting radius of a Jap grenade and its
Australian counterpart, or the difference in range and accuracy
between a "burp" gun and a Bren. Yet there is another reason why
well-trained soldiers should be familiar with the operational use of
Modern warfare is characterized by rapid maneuver dependent
upon great masses of complex supplies. In the past there have been
times when a unit, moving too fast for its supply train to keep pace,
has found itself in great need of such things as ammunition, spare
parts for motor vehicles, and replacement gun tubes. Very often this
need for replenished supplies has been felt at the crucial and deciding
phase of the operation. At such times, some commanders and their
troops have saved their situation, or at least improved their position,
by the resourceful use of captured foreign matériel.
Any foreign weapon may be useful to troops seeking to better their tactical
position, but weapons in which an enemy has a qualitative lead are especially
valuable. Above is seen a common or garden variety of old German 88 being
used by U.S. troops; below, a German 170-mm gun used by the British.
An excellent example of such initiative took place during the recent
war in Europe. General Patton's Third Army, faced in the fall and
early winter of 1944 with a stringent ammunition shortage, refurbished
and put into action serviceable items of captured artillery. On
2 November 1944, one corps—the XX—was employing 39 such
pieces, classed as follows: four 76.2-mm Soviet guns, ten 88-mm German
guns, eight 100-mm fortress guns, six 105-mm German howitzers,
two 122-mm Soviet guns, six 150-mm German howitzers, and three
155-mm French howitzers.
Up to that date, this corps had fired 30,920 rounds of ammunition
weighing 660 tons and valued at $702,391. For the week ending on
29 October of that year, 80 percent of the artillery ammunition fired
by the XX Corps had been captured from the Germans. One
time-on-target mission fired on a German troop concentration at
Amanvillers was executed by U.S. tank destroyers, 90-mm antiaircraft
guns, 155-mm M1 howitzers, and by German 105-mm gun howitzers,
German 88's, Soviet and French Schneider 155-mm howitzers. The
Soviet weapons, and those of the French, had been seized from
Allied forces earlier in the war, and had been recaptured by the Third Army.
The importance of rapid infantry advance under conditions inhibiting prompt
supply makes the infantryman's knowledge of foreign infantry weapons a possibly
decisive factor in many engagements. Previously briefed on Jap weapons, these
Marines were prepared to make the best use of this Jap Type 99 LMG.
Any matériel that has been captured by U.S. forces is the property
of the U.S. Army. In Italy, and again in France, Belgium, and
Germany, the Nazis attempted to claim that the use of German
weapons by Allied troops was illegal. The Germans—even the German
G.I.—certainly knew better, for the German Army towards the end
of the war resembled an arms museum, with small arms and every
other type of weapon culled from every army in Europe. Arms and
other matériel captured in combat have always, throughout history,
become the acknowledged property of the conqueror, and may be
used as he sees fit.
All that is needed is knowledge. Not only knowledge of what
the ether man's weapon will do, but knowledge of how to make it work for you.