A lot of Americans think all Europeans are disarmed, but that’s really far from true. I live in Germany and it’s possible to own most firearms here, as long as you can pass an exam on gun law and don’t have a serious criminal record. Hunting is popular and there’s a concealed carry permit system. You do need to obey the laws though, or you can end up in trouble, so I wasn’t too surprised when I heard on the news that police had raided a home a couple of hours’ drive from where I live to seize illegally held weapons. It does happen sometimes, mostly involving Balkan gang members or Islamic extremists with a couple of handguns. When more details came out, it became obvious that this was an elderly man with some WWII-era weapons in his basement. That’s not unheard of either; quite a few people have an old Kar98k rifle in the loft, or granddad’s Luger in an old trunk. Quite often they don’t even know they’re there. But then I heard the newsreader say Panzerkampfwagen Fünf, and I thought “What the…?”
The Armored Combat Vehicle Five is better known as the Panther. It was the most advanced tank of the entire war and, along with the Soviet T-34, the inspiration for today’s main battle tanks. Mobile, well protected and with a devastating high-velocity 75mm gun, it was a fearsome opponent and much more effective than the better known Tiger. The Panther made up the backbone of the Panzer units in the last years of the war and most of them were destroyed in the bitter fighting of the Reich’s collapse. Only eighteen intact vehicles were known to survive.
Well, now it’s nineteen. This 78-year-old militaria enthusiast had one in his basement, in something close to running order. Local residents told the media that they remember him using it to get around when heavy snow blocked roads in the winter of 1978. The same basement also found an 88mm anti-aircraft gun, a torpedo and a collection of other 1940s-vintage weaponry.
The Panther’s an antique, and no doubt the German tank museum will already be angling to get its hands on this one. Restored to running order, though, it’s also still a formidable weapon system. You have doubts? Think about it for a moment. Sure, it’s vulnerable to any modern anti-tank weapon, but what if you don’t have one? As an infantryman with a rifle and a pouch full of grenades, you don’t want to see a resurrected Panther grinding its way towards your position.
There are a lot more fully operational WWII weapons still around than you might think. On my first Bosnia tour in 1995 I saw quite a few of them. Wrecked AFVs were a fairly common sight and on one trip I made twice a week I’d pass a T-34/85 and an old US M-36 tank destroyer. T-34s are being used in Yemen right now, and hundreds of them are still in the inventories of armies around the world.
Plenty of Second World War small arms still exist too. Ignoring the M1911 and M2 – both designs that trace their ancestry back to the First World War or earlier – there’s the German MG3, still in use with the Bundeswehr, Turkey and many other armies. MG3 is the military designation; the manufacturer calls it the MG42/59, because it’s just a rechambered version of the Wehrmacht’s MG42. Its predecessor in Nazi Germany was the MG34, and I’ve seen those in both Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Taliban still regularly use both the .303 Lee-Enfield rifle and the Czech ZB vz26 LMG, the predecessor of Britain’s Bren gun. The first assault weapon was the Sturmgewehr 44; that was used by the East German police until the 1960s and the Yugoslav Army’s airborne units until the 1980s. A few have recently been seen in Syria and the rumor is that several hundred have ended up there. Compared to an M4 or even an AKM it’s a bit heavy and clunky, but it’s still a reliable weapon that can deliver a lot of lethal firepower. It will kill you just as effectively as any other assault rifle. Syria has form for using ex-Wehrmacht equipment; when the Syrian Army tried to drive the invading Israelis back from the Golan Heights in 1967, their armored spearhead included up to a hundred Panzer IV medium tanks. The Israeli force itself included upgraded M4 Shermans, which had last fought against the Panzer IV in 1945.
World War II equipment looks antiquated and, in most cases, it’s less capable than a modern design, but less capable doesn’t mean incapable. A WWII tank is a lot better than no tank, and still an overwhelming threat to light forces; if you’re out of Javelins it doesn’t matter much whether the tank rumbling down the road is a T-90 or a T-34. 1930s bolt-action rifles are still formidable weapons in the hands of a skilled sniper – they’re not as accurate as a modern sniper rifle but the difference isn’t necessarily massive. Seen Enemy at the Gates? Both Russia and Finland still use refurbished versions of Vassili Zaitsev’s M1891 rifle, and they’re lethal out past 850 yards. And then some WWII weapons are at least as good as their more modern rivals. The MG3 is still one of the best general purpose MGs in existence, superior to anything except the FN MAG and maybe the Russian PKM. Every attempt to replace the .50-cal M2 has failed, because even after 82 years it’s hard to make a better HMG. Russia’s 130mm artillery tube, which entered service in 1935, still outranges the M109A6 and is fearsomely accurate; linked to a modern fire direction system it’s outstandingly effective.
If your duty takes you to the developing world, be on the lookout for older weapon systems and treat them with the respect they deserve – there’s a reason they’re still around. And if you find yourself in desperate need of equipment and can lay your hands on one of these lethal antiques, don’t dismiss it just because it’s old. It’s survived, and it can help you do the same.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.