Enemy Weapons are Enemies Still (Sep, 1946)

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Enemy Weapons are Enemies Still


ON A peaceful street in Brooklyn, nearly a year after the war had ended, eight American boys were badly wounded when a German 20-mm. shell exploded.

The shooting is not over yet for many of the German pistols, Italian bullets and Jap grenades that souvenir-hunting GIs brought home. Those Brooklyn boys “got theirs” from a shell that they had found in a junkyard, pried apart with a nail, and ignited with a match. Throughout the United States, enemy weapons are being found in attics, cellars, subways, streets and vacant lots. They are taking a formidable toll of fingers, eyes, hands, legs—even lives.

New York City’s Police Department has begun a drive to round up such war mementos. Veterans and their relatives and friends are being urged to turn souvenirs in and let the Department’s bomb experts take the fight out of them. Even these men, skilled at deactivating live ammunition, will not attempt to make anything in the artillery-shell class safe. Such a cautious attitude was scorned by some youngsters who built a bonfire under a 75-mm. shell. It killed two of them, gravely wounded four.

Booby traps, though rare, have been found and have caused damage, but the most common offenders are pistols of all types and nationalities—for even Allied weapons act like enemies when the handler doesn’t know their peculiarities.

Many guns have inherent structural weaknesses that do not become apparent until they have been fired a number of times. The Walther P-38, a popular souvenir, is a good example. This German automatic is dangerously unreliable because the mechanism permits the hammer to hit the firing pin even when the safety is on. When this happens repeatedly the pin weakens and may break and fire the pistol accidentally.

Many of the German Luger pistols are unsafe because they were made with odd parts, and some are worn out from long use. If the laws of your particular region allow you to keep one of these weapons, you should have it checked by an ordnance expert.

Ammunition for all foreign weapons is dangerous for anyone who does not know what the code markings on the shell casings mean. They indicate different kinds of shells. Thirty kinds fit the 8-mm. Mauser, which was the standard German army rifle.

Test shells are especially hazardous. Used to test the strength of new guns, they contain an abnormal amount of powder. Guns loaded with test shells are normally placed in a steel box and fired by remote control. If test shells are hand-fired in a rifle or pistol a few times, the weapon is likely to explode in the user’s face.

Japanese ammunition is completely unreliable, and the Italians had all sorts of unpredictable ammunition. Some of their shells—no one knows why—were filled with sand. Other projectiles consist of three or four pieces of lead, which separate in flight like shrapnel.

Children and civilians are not the only victims of war souvenirs. In several instances, soldiers who went through the fighting without getting hurt have been seriously injured at home by shells or “duds” that they thought were safe. One ex-GI, trying to make a cigarette lighter out of a .50 caliber shell casing, mutilated his hand when he exploded the primer in the base of the shell by driving a nail into it.

Take these tips from the N. Y. police: Never try to fire a weapon with which you are not familiar.

Never attempt to use foreign-made ammunition, even in a weapon you know well.

Never try to deactivate ammunition or explosives; let experts make them safe.

  1. JMyint says: June 22, 20118:45 am

    They didn’t mention the Japanese Type 94 pistol, one of the worst firearms ever inflicted on a military force. As dangerous to the shooter as it was to the target.


  2. Hirudinea says: June 22, 20112:31 pm

    I just think if your going to bring a shell home you should check if its a dud or not!
    (Oh yea those nambus were bad!)

  3. Swany says: June 22, 20113:03 pm

    When those boys grew up they appeared in Army Field Manual 5-31.


  4. John says: June 22, 20115:56 pm

    Swany » Its like an illustration from Highlights magazine; “Goofus uses the wrong tool to disassemble a shell while Gallant leaves the area where stupid people are working.”

  5. Pat Flannery says: June 22, 20116:45 pm

    I never heard of that firing pin problem with the P-38, which is the favorite pistol of any I ever shot.
    There were reports of some being sabotaged by putting plastic explosives inside the handgrip that would detonate when it was fired.
    JMyint is right about the Japanese Type 94 pistol; I’ve seen that accidental firing mode being demonstrated for real on TV.

  6. Hirudinea says: June 23, 201111:06 am

    @Pat Flannery – You have to remember that many of the souviners brought home had been in use for years and were totally clapped out, so even the best made weapon could be dangerous. (And late war made weapons weren’t the best made weapons.)

  7. Pat Flannery says: June 23, 201110:26 pm

    I keep having this image of a returning US trooper carrying a Panzerfaust with him.
    When he was in Vietnam, my older brother tried to get me a deactivated RPG-7, but with no luck.

  8. Pat Flannery says: June 24, 201111:36 pm

    Hirudinea wrote:

    “You have to remember that many of the souviners brought home had been in use for years and were totally clapped out, so even the best made weapon could be dangerous. (And late war made weapons weren’t the best made weapons.)”

    The P38 I fired was 1942 vintage, and had no problems at all, even in the mid 1990’s.
    My friend, who had bought it, had a unique way of checking if it was safe… he had me fire it first, while he got down on the ground and “looked for the falling cartridge cases”.
    Strange, since he never had done this with his Mauser 98 pistol or Luger PO8.
    (You would have had to know the guy, who could have been where they got the inspiration for Cartman on “South Park” from.)
    Anyway, he’s dead*, I didn’t have the P38 either explode or shoot the receiver back through my face, and I can guarantee you it’s a lot easier to shoot accurately than a Luger PO8, because it recoils straight back, rather than back and up-and-down like the PO8.

    * “Sucking up the soda pop, snarfing down the candy, gnawing on the fatty sausages….POP! goes old Randy!”

  9. Hirudinea says: June 25, 20113:22 pm

    @Pat – Hey every firearm is different, but as a general rule what they said about these war trophys was a good rule, as is having a dumbass fire a gun your not sure about the safety of. 😉

  10. Pat Flannery says: June 26, 201111:03 pm

    Rather than using me as a Guinea Pig, I’d prefer he had used a long string on the trigger with the pistol held in a vise. It took me around a day to figure out what had just happened, and once I did, I was thinking: “He wouldn’t actually _do_ that, would he?” about five seconds later I was thinking: “That’s _exactly_ what he would do! …Cartman, you bastard!”. 😀
    One thing I’ve never run into is the dread Japanese “Knee Mortar” which was not designed to be fired from your knee unless you are keen on broken bones in your leg:

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