U.S. Carbines in Germany and Austria

Use of the
U.S. M1 Carbine
by
Axis Powers during WWII













Introduction

Websites, internet Discussion Groups, and several books are rife with stories about the use of the M1 carbine by German forces during WWII. No history of the M1 carbine's used by Germany post WWII would be complete without addressing the topic of their use by Germany during the war. Unfortunately, erroneous information seems to have repeatedly perpetuated itself more often than accurate information, which is another good reason to cover this topic and set the record straight.

Interestingly, the German propaganda machine during WWII initiated much of the erroneous information.


The 455(a)

Kennblätter fremden Gerats
One of the more common misunderstandings involves the German designation of the U.S. M1 carbine as the 455(a)l, and the meaning commonly given this designation.

In December 1943 the Military Service Publishing Company of Harrisburg, PA published the first issue of Small Arms of the World by W.H.B. Smith. Many of us are aware of this publication in it's later commercial form. The author's note in the first edition... "The first edition of this work was published as a direct contribution to the war effort to provide our men in the field with a single volume work, which would enable them to identify and use their own captured enemy equipment."

The German Kennblätter fremden Gerats (Guide to Foreign Weapons) was published throughout WWII as a guide to the various weapons used by the Allies. It was nowhere near as large and detailed as Small Arms of the World as it was carried by soldiers in the field. The weapons included the more common Allied weapons and assigned each a German identification number. A letter following the number indicated the country that used the weapon. American weapons were indicated by number followed by the letter "a" in parentheses (e.g. 455(a) for the M1 carbine). The guide listed the weapons numerically by their German designation.

At the right is a photograph of the page specific to the U.S. M1 carbine. The information it provides are the basic physical characteristics of the weapon and it's ammunition. The carbine pictured is the Winchester prototype that became the U.S. M1 carbine, not the M1 carbine as issued.

The page at the right is the only page in the German Kennblätter fremden Gerats devoted to the U.S. M1 carbine. This is the case with most of the weapons it describes.

The presence of an Allied weapon in the German Kennblätter fremden Gerats is simply a reference to the weapon for identification purposes and "know thy enemy" and his weapons. Just because an Allied weapon appears in this reference does not mean the weapon was used by Axis soldiers.


The Infamous Battle of the Ardennes Photographs

In the early morning hours of December 18, 1944, the American 14th Cavalry Group, 18th & 32nd Reconnaissance Squadrons, conducted a recon along the road between Poteau and Recht, in Belgium. Fog and darkness hindered visibility. They ran head on into the lead armored elements of the an SS Panzer Division, SS Kampfgruppe Hansen. The reconnaissance group was no match for the Panzers and was over run in short order. Taken by total surprise and quickly overwhelmed, many of the Americans fled their M8 armored vehicles, personnel carriers, and jeeps, leaving some of their equipment behind.

The SS members captured the equipment the Americans left behind, which amounted to nothing more than bits and pieces of two reconnaissance squadrons.

In December 1944 things were not going well for Germany. In an attempt to boost support and morale, the German command in Berlin had ordered photographers of the German propaganda units into the field during the Ardennes Counter-offensive. Propaganda photographers were "embedded" with the SS Kampfgruppe Hansen when they encountered the American reconnaissance group.

NUTS! The Battle Of The Bulge, by Donald Goldstein, Katherine Dillon and J. Michael Wenger (pages 75-78) shows a number of photographs of members of the SS Kampfgruppe Hansen carrying U.S. M1 carbines captured from the reconnaissance group. Many of the photographs are "action" shots of SS members running as if engaged in combat. The photographs in this book are usually the ones encountered on the internet.

Battle of the Bulge: Then and Now by Jean-Paul Pallud published by After The Battle, London, goes over the photographs shown in NUTS! The Battle Of The Bulge and the entire encounter in great detail. The photographs are actually still frames from a cine camera used by the German photographers. Pallud clearly details how the photographs were staged by the Germans, for the purpose of showing the film footage in Germany and Berlin.

Corroborating Pallud is the Ardennen Poteau '44 Museum near Poteau, Belgium. Their website shows the photographs and correlates them to positions along the road where the incident occurred, then details why they were staged by the Germans.


The photo on the left is commonly found on the internet. The photo on the right depicts the entire frame.
Notice the civilian non-chalantly walking in the ditch the Germans are running too.

Documented Use of the U.S. M1 carbine by Axis Powers

There can be no doubt the Germans captured U.S. M1 carbines in various locations under various circumstances. However, arming their personnel with an M1 carbine had it's logistical problems, most notably a reliable ongoing supply of ammunition. The .30 caliber carbine round was like nothing the Germans manufactured.

During combat, soldiers used whatever they needed that served the purpose at hand. Picking up weapons of foreign manufacture was sometimes out of necessity. But retaining the weapon for continued use presented a number of problems. Besides ammunition, the sound the rifles made often attracted the attention and fire of the forces who recognized the sound as an enemy weapon, meaning your own troops shooting at you.

So far I have seen two documented cases of Axis powers using U.S. M1 carbines. Both share a common theme consistent with the issues of ammunition and logistics.

Denmark 1945


Uniforms of the SS, Volume 5, Sicherheitsdienst und Sicherheitspolizei 1931-1945 by Andrew Mollo; 1992; p. 29: "Members of an Auxiliary Security Police Battalion surrender their English and American arms to members of the Danish Resistance, 1945. These are believed to be members of a Latvian unit, and they wear a mixture of Schuma and Waffen-SS uniform and insignia." (Courtesy of George Wheeler)

During WWII Denmark was treated as an occupied country by the Axis Powers. Resistance groups were supplied by the OSS and British equivalent of the OSS, SOG, via night time air drops. The M1 carbine was a common weapon supplied to the Resistance fighters by the OSS and MI5 [National Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio]. D-Day in June 1944 and the countries the Allied forces liberated thereafter, circumvented Denmark. Denmark was finally liberated by the British and Canadians in May 1945, at the end of the war in Europe.

At first this photograph appeared to be as described in the caption. George Wheeler, who was kind enough to share the photograph and caption, researches and documents the Axis police units and indicated these units are correctly identified. Initially the photograph was shared without the caption. Because of the Danish flag on the truck, contact was made with Claus Espeholt, who is Danish, lives in Denmark, and has a website devoted to the German G43 rifle. Claus's father was a member of the Danish Resistance, recovered a number of the containers dropped by the British and Americans, and used one of the M1 carbines they provided. Claus indicated several thousand M1 carbines were dropped to the Danish Resistance and many were still in Denmark.

Claus stated there are no members of the Danish Resistance in the photograph. He had not seen the photograph before, but he knew exactly where it was taken and the circumstances. Claus served in the Danish Armed Forces and the buildings depicted are part of a facility built and used by the Germans that the Danes retained for use of their military after the war. Claus has been there many times. The facility is at Nymindegablejren, Denmark. During the war it was a radar station. The building outside the gate at the upper left was the radar building, which has since been torn down. The building with the open doors was, and still is as of 2007, used as an armory. Claus was issued a G3 in this armory when he was in the military. The location has been used as a training facility by the Danish and is currently operated by the Danish Home Guard. Claus trained at this facility, more than a few times.

During the war the radar station was operated by German Luftwaffe personnel. Nearby were bunkers for guarding the coast, and the barracks that housed the Axis troops who manned the bunkers. During the final months of the war the bunkers and barracks were manned by the remnants of various Axis units that had been forced to retreat to Denmark, or, who fled there to avoid capture by the Russians (a concern for the Latvians). Denmark was not an Axis stronghold, units assigned there were often on R&R. The relationship between the majority of Danes and the Axis troops was not one of friendship, the Danes were an occupied nation, not an ally. Claus indicated that most of the Axis troops that manned the radar station and a nearby artillery battery were not armed with rifles. During the final months of the war, weapons and ammunition for the Axis troops in Denmark were not a priority, and in short supply. Often the Axis troops were armed with whatever they could find.

In the final month of the war Hitler had ordered all of the Axis troops to fight to the death and not to surrender. The commanders of the troops in Denmark rounded up any weapons they could find and issued them to those not normally armed as infantry or any soldiers that did not have a rifle. The rifles that were issued were a collective mismatched lot of captured weapons, often with minimal or no ammunition. Claus indicated the stupidity of the situation was not lost on the Axis troops supplied with these weapons. In his opinion, the soldiers holding up the weapons and smiling is consistent with the weapons being issued after arriving on the truck, as opposed to being surrendered by people who were to become prisoners of war. The fact the weapons are being held up and soldiers are smiling is consistent with "look, we have our weapons to stop the invasion!". Notice the carbines have no magazines.

The Latvians had nothing to smile about when they surrendered, their future was an unknown. The Latvians did not know ahead of time that the Allies had agreed to return foreign nationals and combatants to their country of origin. The Latvians pictured in this photograph were turned over to the Russians. Those who were not executed forthwith were hauled off to forced labor camps in Russia.


Unrelated to the above photograph, the photograph below was shared during an internet discussion on the above photograph. The person who shared it did not know it's source, he had found it somewhere on the internet. He had saved it because the soldier in the foreground is carrying an M1 carbine.

Claus identified the building in the background as Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, home of the Danish Royal family. The helmet and uniform on the soldier in the foreground was worn by the Danish Civil Defense. During the war Denmark was allowed to retain it's palace guard, but not their Civil Defense forces. Claus indicated this was probably a member of the Danish resistance. The soldier in the background is an unknown (if you recognize the helmet or uniform, please contact me).

When the Civil Defense forces were active before the war, the M1 carbine was unavailable. During the final weeks of the war, as the inevitable became obvious, Danish Resistance members seized weapons from the Axis troops, who surrendered them. It's clear the soldier captured, stole, or otherwise made off with the weapons he's carrying. The M1 carbine appears to be his weapon.

Berlin 1945

While reading a document describing the final days of the defense of Berlin, I found a first hand account by a member of the German Volkssturm regarding his use of the M1 carbine. The Volkssturm was a citizen's militia comprising mostly old men and young boys. Hitler had created the Volkssturm in October 1944 to help defend Germany, placing them under the command of the Nazi Party, as opposed to the military generals he did not trust.. The Volkssturm received very little training and were basically a last ditch effort. Most had no uniform and were identified only by a cloth arm band. Their weapons were whatever they could bring, panzerfausts (hand held anti-tank rockets), captured weapons from Allied forces, and sometimes simply a wooden club.

The personal account of the Volkssturm member indicated he was in Berlin in early 1945 and ordered to report to a street corner for induction into the Volkssturm. He was a veteran of the first world war, which had left him partly crippled and ineligible for military service. After swearing allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi Party, a cart was rolled up and they were told to pick from the weapons from within the cart. The weapons included a few old German rifles, Russian Mosin-Nagents and PPsH SMG's, Austrian K95 bolt action rifles, and a few U.S. M1 carbines. He selected the M1 carbine due to it's size and weight, but also because it came with a magazine that contained ammunition. There was no extra ammunition, and several of the weapons had no ammunition for them. For the first few months he guarded buildings in Berlin that were important to the Nazi's. During the battle for Berlin he ran out of ammunition quickly and fled with others of the Volkssturm into hiding. He was not a member of the Nazi Party, refusal to show up for the Volkssturm was a choice that resulted in execution.

Unlike so many things you read on this website, I did not retain the source that had this information. I found it in the early months of my research and have not been able to relocate it since, despite many hours looking.


Review

Theoretically it would seem possible the Germans captured M1 carbines and put them into use against the Allies. This happened, but there has been no evidence to indicate this was done on anything other than a very limited basis, sporadic, and as a last ditch effort to provide weapons. If you have discovered photographs or details that support or disprove this information, please contact me. The Germans did use weapons manufactured and used by other countries, particularly from weapons factories they had captured. The opportunity to capture M1 carbines was limited to supplies dropped to Resistance movements or after D-Day, during which time they had few victories that would have given them a U.S. weapons depot or any kind of quantity.

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