Cleaning up after WWII

| September 6, 2020

FRANCE. Normandy. 1947. Omaha Beach. Abandoned landing craft.

I recently stumbled upon an article that explores the massive undertaking of cleaning up after the world’s largest war and thought you’d all be interested. Head’s up, it’s a long read, but I found it fascinating.

The scale of the war is hard to fathom. Tens of millions of men and women were pressed into military service (by 1945, more than 12 million in the US alone, the USSR had conscripted almost 30 million for a total of around 34 million in service). Even countries that weren’t belligerents built up their military forces in men and equipment for any possible future involvement.

The photo above is from more than two years after the D-Day invasion at the Battle of Normandy. The remains of the massive Mulberry Harbors and wrecks of the invaders and defensive structures were still abundant. Not surprising since the invasion involved 1,200 aircraft, 5,000 ships, and 160,000 ground combat troops in the first day alone.

The bombing raids over Europe involved enormous formations of aircraft. More than 1,000 British bombers conducted a single bombing mission over Cologne, Germany on May 30, 1942. Even that mission was unsuccessful strategically and required more huge bombing missions.

Little is talked about the “what happens after” of war materiel. Much is made of the human toll and the toll on infrastructure (bombings of Dresden, Berlin, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki for instance), but little thought is given now to the more mundane. From 1945 to 1946 the US military shrank from more than 12 million to just over 3 million men. The trucks, tanks, planes, and ships those 9 million men operated were largely left in place or marshaled for future destruction.

Give it a read when you’ve got some time. The article is filled with great pictures for context and visualization. There are a lot of stories here worth unpacking more. Like MacArthur’s order that everything related to the Japanese war machine was to be immediately destroyed whereas in Europe there was much studying done on our enemy’s equipment.

Category: Historical, War Stories, We Remember

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thank you, Mason. That was a great article and I learned a lot.

5th/77th FA

Welp, AW1Ed has trained/briefed you correctly. “Mason give the Gun Bunny a long read, with pictures, and some extry linkys and you’ll keep him occupied and out of your hair for a good little bit. You’ll thank me for it later!”

So far, the plan is working. Great read man, Thanks! I, too, learned a good deal. Will go back a peruse some more when Lady Friend ain’t on my butt about prignoring her. Screw it, she was watching some kissy kissy historically inaccurate Audie Murphy/Jesse James/Quantrill movie. I’d spent most of the time pointing out how wrong it all was.

What ya wanna bet that the Ruskkies still have a bunch of WWII hardware, warehoused somewhere, in working condition for when WWIII breaks out?


Is that the one set in 1862 or so in which every pistol is an 1873?

5th/77th FA

Yep, that one, never actually caught the name of it, like I said, occupied here as I was, it’ll come back around. Quantrill was depicted as an Old Man in his 60s (he died at 27), his uniform was full dress double breasted , scramble egg encrusted Cavalry, and the list went own. And “Jesse” (Audie) was depicted as being a top right hand man to the “Colonel”, tho at the time of the War Jesse was basically a 14 yo teenager. GRIT TV shows a bunch of the old “Westerns” that Autie and others starred in that the historical accuracy of weapons and gear is way the hell off. Don’t think anybody got that part even partially right until The Outlaw Josey Wales came along.

Don’t you also love the saloon gals in their 1870s dresses with the 1917 zippers in the back?


For many years after WW2 Liberty Ships sailed commercially under foreign flags, and our Victory Ships kept truckin’ much the same for MSTS (Military Sealift Command today) and private US flag companies. We had built so damn many they were giving them away left and right.

Jeff LPH 3, 63-66

No problem with all the munitions that were uncrated and never used during Op Power Pack and went slicker than snot right off of the fantail into the drink.