Wreckage of war

Sommer of 1941, somewhere in the western parts of the Soviet Union. In front of a knocked out Soviet BT-7 tank lie the cadaver of the horse that pulled the wrecked wagon and the body of the man who drove it. The German soldiers appear unaffected by the sight, but anyone reading memoirs by veterans from any country realize that death soon became so commonplace that it took much to make them react. Dead children, women and animals usually stirred up more emotions than yet another killed enemy. Even dead soldiers from their own side didn’t affect them much, unless the bodies showed signs of torture, execution, or if they had been mutilated. That often resulted in an unwillingness to take any prisoners. War has a brutalizing effect, and most soldiers could only deal with by becoming emotionally numb. Those who survived the war had often to face their demons as post-traumatic stress disorder caught up with them. Most never told their families what they had lived through, taking their bad memories with them to the grave.


Under new management

An airfield somewhere on the Eastern Front during Operation Barbarossa, summer of 1941. Some Junkers Ju 88s are parked on the edge of the field, most likely getting prepared for the next mission. There’s a placename scrawled on the back of the photo, but it was hard to see what it said. Luckily, some of the members of the Axis History Forum (nichte, history1, and GregSingh) could help me, and it appears like the airfield is one of the nine outside Minsk in Belarus which were used by the Germans. The previous owners have been evicted, leaving just the mangled wrecks of biplanes, probably destroyed on the ground on the first day of the offensive. The Soviets lost about 2,000 planes on that first day, a devastating blow to the USSR’s airforce.

The Germans captured Minsk four days later, so it’s possible the photo is from the end of June 1941. Both Soviets and Germans usually operated from grass airfields, bases with concrete runways being somewhat of a luxury. A Ju 88 needed at least 530 meters for take off, so the field above appears to be sufficient. The periods of mud in autumn and spring presented a problem, though, making it harder for take off and landing. Many planes were lost because of the mud, adding yet another danger for the aircrews on the Eastern Front.

Please recycle

An Unteroffizier watching a train shipping airplane wreckage to the smelters as his train passes by. The star on the wing next to his head has a star, indicating that the scrap metal is the remains of destroyed Soviet airplanes. Germany was in constant need of metal for its arms production, and the many thousands of Red Army Air Force planes that had been wrecked on the ground or shot down were a valuable source of steel, aluminium and other metals. Perhaps the metal from SB 2M wreck in the previous post was recycled and used for German airplanes.

The battlefields across the globe were littered with wrecked tanks, trucks, airplanes and other war materiel, the cleanup after the war taking many years. Most were recovered as scrap metal and melted, but now, over 70 years later, wrecks of tanks and planes are recovered from bogs, lakes, seas and rivers, and carefully restored back to their original state, to be displayed in museums or even put back in running or flying condition. Right after the war, few thought of preserving those war machines, and in some cases there’s only a single plane or tank preserved of a production run in the thousands.

The Jagdpanther in the clip below was restored from two shot-up wrecks recovered from firing grounds, additional parts sourced from over a dozen collectors around the world. It is one of three Jagdpanthers in running condition, with a further seven kept in museums, out of a total production run of 415 tanks.


Gone to ground

A German cavalry unit has come across the wreck of a Soviet Tupolev SB 2M light bomber, its landing gear and engines ripped off in the crash landing. The location is somewhere in the Soviet Union, most likely during the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa. The Red Army Air Force suffered heavy losses, and it took the Soviets a couple of years before they had wrested air superiority from the Germans.

The Tupolev ANT-40, also known by its service name Tupolev SB (Russian: Skorostnoi Bombardirovschik – high speed bomber), was a twin-engined three-seat light bomber, first flown in 1934. More than 6,600 were built in different versions between 1936 and 1941. The rapid development of fighter planes made the design, which was considered successful in the mid-30s, in need of replacement by the early 1940’s. Still, 94 % of the Soviet bomber force was made up from SB 2Ms by the time of the German invasion in June, 1941, some 1,500-2,000 deployed near the border, where they fell victim to German attacks on airfields. Those that survived the initial onslaught were poorly used, and within a few days, losses forced most of the remaining SBs to switch to night attacks.

SBs continued to be used, in the defense of Leningrad and Moscow, mainly at night by attacking German artillery. By December 1941 almost all of the SBs had either been replaced by more modern bombers like Pe-2s or lost, although it remained in large-scale use until March 1942 in the North against Finland. The Finns used captured SBs against their previous owners. SBs continued in use for non-combat roles such as supply dropping, glider towing and training, and continued in use in the Far East until 1945.

Last Train to Transsiberia

(Now there’s an obscure reference which will make one or two of my friends happy.) A Soviet VS-60 armored train stands wrecked and abandoned on a railway track, most likely knocked out by German forces during the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa. The VS-60 trains were among the lightest of the different types fielded by the Red Army. The car behind the locomotive was armed with two turrets with a 76,2 mm 1902 gun and a Maxim machinegun in each, and four more Maxim MGs. The type was introduced in 1931, and could also have a car with heavier armament.

The use of armored trains began in the later half of the 19th century, and was used by several major armies during WW1. Following the Russian Revolution, the Civil War saw extensive use of armored trains, which were an effective way of projecting firepower in a country with a poor road net. When WW2 rolled around, both Soviets and Germans used armored trains armed with machineguns, antiaircraft guns, cannons and howitzers, but the Soviets lost many of their trains in 1941.

There have been some armored trains in use in recent years, but those have tended to be local modifications in equally local conflicts.

Killing field

At first glance, it seems like this PzKpfw IV Ausf D has just taken up positions at the edge of the field outside Monceaux in Aisne, France, May 1940. It might belong to the 6. Panzer-Division. Then one can spot the tell-tale signs of a tank that has been knocked out. The rubber on the road wheels has been completely burned off, there’s debris on the engine covers, and the wooden cleaning rods for the gun barrel have burned, too. The gunner’s hatch on the left side of the turret is open, which might indicate that he escaped, but the other hatches are closed, which could mean that at least four of the crew were killed. The tank probably fell victim to an anti-tank gun or another tank. This is one of the 97 PzKpfw IVs lost in the Campaign. It was probably salvaged and repaired, seeing action in the Soviet Union a year later, manned by a new crew.


The wreck of the French destroyer L’Adroit lies beached just outside Dunkirk, summer of 1940. L’Adroit (“the skilful one”) was built at A C de France shipyards at Dunkirk. She was laid down on 26 May 1925, launched on 1 April 1927 and completed 1 July 1929. She was in action during the first months of WW2, and was involved with the evacuation of the British and French forces from Dunkirk. On 21 May 1940 she was critically damaged in an attack by German Heinkel He 111 bombers. Captain Henri Dupin de Saint-Cyr beached the ship near the commune Malo-Les-Bains (part of Dunkirk and just a few kilometers from where she had been built).

Her magazines were crammed with ammunition. The French sailors, braving the danger, tried to offload the munitions before the fires which had broken out on board ignited them. Eventually, they were forced to abandon ship. When the fires reached the magazine, the resulting explosion severed the bow forward of the bridge. Miraculously, all of her crew were saved and they were used to man the shore batteries protecting Dunkirk until the surrender. All crewmembers survived.

Edited to add: The wreck of the L’Adroit is so iconic that it was used in the background of the movie poster for “Dunkirk” (2017).

The wreck of L’Adroit can be seen for a few seconds at 47:27 in this documentary.