Ask MHQ: Stealing Enemy Thunder—and Tanks

Germans man a captured British Matilda II tank in North Afrika. Swastika flags identify it to aircraft. (National Archives)
Germans man a captured British Matilda II tank in North Afrika. Swastika flags identify it to aircraft. (National Archives)

Q: In his article about the 1943 battle of Kursk in the Spring 2013 issue, Dennis Showalter mentions a German attack led by a captured Soviet T-34. Was it common for World War II armies to use enemy hardware?

Dave Damron 

A: The Allies seldom used captured weaponry in Europe and North Africa, but the Germans did. As galling as it might have been for the Germans—the “Master Race”—to admit, the T-34 was superior to most of their tanks and more reliable than the formidable Panther. Similarly, the Germans used the Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun because of its reliability and high rate of fire. Erwin Rommel depended on captured British armor and trucks to supplement his shaky supply lines, including one British command vehicle he personally used and called Der Mammut (the Mammoth). I’ve seen occasional photos of U.S. Marines in the Pacific with Japanese weapons such as the 70mm light field howitzer and Type 89 grenade projector.

 

Q: What was the Confederates’ best weapon?

Cheryl O’Mara 

A: The most destructive was perhaps the torpedo (now called a mine), which was used on land and in water. The weapon that did the most lasting damage, however, was ­arguably the cruiser, a fast sailing ship employed as a commerce raider. Of the Confederacy’s eight principal cruisers, six were built in Britain and purchased by Rebel secret agent James Dunwoody Bulloch. The CSS Alabama rated among history’s most successful raiders before it was sunk in 1864. Another, CSS Shenandoah, was still ravaging the Arctic whaling fleet when the war ended. Altogether, the raiders did enough damage to knock the U.S. Merchant Marine from its perch as number one in the world.

 

Jon Guttman is World History Group’s research ­director and the author of ­numerous military histories.

 

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