Infantry Weapons of World War Two

On many of the pages detailing Infantry formations elsewhere on this site, I have ventured to describe some of the weapons deployed.  Those descriptions are of necessity brief, but it occurs to me that it may be of use to someone to go into more detail.

World War Two saw a massive increase in the variety of weapons used to equip the average infantry battalion.  A First World War private would have been versed in the operation of his bolt action rifle, the light machine gun and the heavy machine gun fielded by his particular army.  His contemporary of twenty five years hence would have added the submachine gun, light and medium mortar, antitank rifle or rocket launcher, antitank and light anti-aircraft gun, rifle grenade and even flamethrower to his arsenal.  Several of these weapons were of course pioneered in the Great War, but the true all arms concept was still some way off. 

Initially at least, the weapons described will be limited to those which would have realistically been deployed by the Battalion units discussed elsewhere on the site.  Exotic firearms such as the Delisle Carbine and the Johnson light machine gun, or the ill-fated Reising submachine gun sit on the periphery of most World War Two operations and so are excluded.  Ideally, what is covered in this section is the firepower at the disposal of the typical Infantry, Mechanised and Airborne Battalions of the British, US, Russian and German, Japanese and Italian armies of the time.

The entry for each weapon covers its technical specifications, such as weight, length, calibre and so on.  These details have been culled from a variety of text books, which as anyone who has glanced at more than a couple will know, sometimes tend to disagree.  Therefore, where appropriate, dimensions are rounded to the nearest number.  Please bear this in mind if you see a length of 114 cm, and you know it should be 114.3 cm, before emailing a correction!

The weapons are grouped together by type, with a brief account of the various actions used (bolt action, semi automatic) for the uninitiated.  I should stress, that I have never had cause to discharge a firearm of any type, so if I make any catastrophic errors corrections will be received in the spirit they are presented.  These pages can only be described as an introduction to what is a vast and complicated subject, and should not be regarded as an in depth study of the firearms profiled.

Before proceeding to the entries which appear here, please bear a thought for those men and women who have to deal with the consequences of such weapons in war; the Medic.

The sterile statistics of muzzle velocity and calibre cannot begin to describe the terrible carnage these devices wreak on the human form.  Weapons are designed with but one purpose, to kill and maim the enemy in every conceivable fashion.  And throughout the war, just a step behind the Rifleman, came the Medic, whose job it was to comfort the fallen, and try with the meagre items in his bag to staunch the wound or rearrange the shattered features of his friend into something human again.  They had to confront the horror inflicted upon men while betraying no sign of emotion to those they were aiding, even as any normal person would recoil in revulsion at the sights no one should ever have cause to see.  And throughout, they were exposed to the same risks and privations as the other soldiers, with nothing more than a Red Cross armband to protect them.  There is a truly sobering account by a British medic of just one day in Normandy which I have added here.  His words are far more meaningful than my amateur attempts.

At 5 am, the first wounded came back, cheerful, optimistic.  We splintered fractures, covered wounds with sterile dressings and relieved each other for breakfast at 6.30 am.  As the day wore on, sunny and scorching hot, the tide of casualties rose.  Dozens and dozens were carried in.  Our treatment centre always had 3 upon the trestles being attended to and soon the approaches were lined with a queue.  Hour after hour we worked and evacuated and still the flow continued.  Ghastly wounds there were, of every type and state of severity.  Heads with skulls so badly smashed that bone and brain and pillow were almost indivisible; faces with horrible lacerations; jaws blown completely away leaving only two sad eyes to plead for relief from pain.  Chests pierced through with shrapnel and lungs that spouted blood from gushing holes.  Arms were mangled into shapeless masses left hanging by muscle alone and waiting the amputation knife.  There were abdomens pierced by shell splinters and displaying coils of intestine, deadly wounds.  Buttocks were torn and in some cases spinal injury had followed bringing paralysis.  But the leg wounds!  Thigh bones splinted; knees without knee caps, legs without feet red, mangled flesh and blood flooding the stretcher.  And others trembling uncontrollably, sobbing like children, strapped to the stretcher and struggling to be free; screaming and, when a shell landed near the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), shouting, 'They're coming again, O God they're coming again.'  Not heroes, but sufferers nonetheless.  We ate our lunch of biscuits and corned beef with bloody fingers and when relieved by 9th Field Ambulance at 6 pm we had treated 466 British soldiers and 40 Germans.  

Private Jim Wisewell, 223 Field Ambulance, RAMC, describing the carnage wrought upon 185 Brigade of 3rd (British) Division during 8th July, 1944 in operation Charnwood.

As I've matured, I think I have come to have a far greater respect for such men and women.  It is perhaps easier to pull a trigger than it is to have to deal with the consequences of the simple mechanical action.  The wounded always far outnumber the dead in any war, and many of them carry the effects of the weapons casually listed here long after the armistice has gone.

Index

Infantry Tactics of World War Two

Revolvers & Semi Automatic Pistols  

Sub Machine Guns  

Bolt Action Rifles  

Semi Automatic & Assault Rifles  

Light Machine Guns  

Heavy Machine Guns  

Grenades  

Mortars & Infantry Guns  

Infantry Anti Tank Weapons  

Infantry Anti Tank Guns  

Light Anti Aircraft Weapons  

Backpack Flamethrowers  

Published works and Websites

Example TOE

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