Beutepanzer, How Nazi Germany Relied on Captured Military Vehicles To Continue The Fight



The SOMUA 35 in German service on the Eastern Front in 1941. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-212-0209-32 / Koch / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
The SOMUA 35 in German service on the Eastern Front in 1941. Photo Credit

France was considered to be the main military force of continental Europe. Its tanks were seen as the cutting edge of modern engineering. This is why they were confiscated and used by the Germans, most notably during the early stages of the invasion of USSR. A variety of tanks, tank destroyers, AFVs and other transport vehicles salvaged from the French Army were successfully incorporated. The turning point of the first years of WWII was the catastrophic defeat of France.

The Lorraine tractor series ― Lorraine 37L. 15 cm sFH 13/1; 7,5 cm Pak 40/1; leFH 18/4, were successfully used on the Eastern Front. The Renault tanks such as the FT and R35 participated in the conquest of Balkan. The Hotchkiss H35 and H39 filled the ranks in the occupied territories. Among other models, the SOMUA S35, a very esteemed medium tank of the French Army, saw its combat use as 297 vehicles that were captured by the Germans were distributed to the Axis allies such as Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Still, a vast majority of these tanks was adjusted to serve the German armored divisions. It saw extensive combat at the Eastern Front, especially the Siege of Sevastopol in 1942. Besides from tanks, the Germans operated with French mortars and anti-tank guns such as the Mortier de 280 modèle 1914 Schneider and the 25mm Puteaux anti-tank gun model 1937


Captured T-34 Model 1943 tanks pressed into service with the Wehrmacht. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-277-0836-04 / Jacob / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Captured T-34 Model 1943 tanks pressed into service with the Wehrmacht. Photo Credit

Since the use of captured vehicles became common by 1941, when Operation Barbarossa commenced, a variety of all sorts of different tanks, half-tracks, self-propelled artillery pieces and armor fighting vehicles descended on the Soviet Union. The practice to use the enemies weapons against him continued. The Germans even incorporated Soviet-made submachine guns such as the PPSh and semi-automatic rifles. The Germans mostly confiscated the iconic T-34 medium tanks, but they also relied on the KV-1 and KV-2 heavy tanks which were known for their sturdy armor and devastating firepower.

Other tanks, armored cars, and half-tracks were recorded to be used by the Germans during the Eastern offensives. Tanks such as BT-7, T-28, T-37, T-40 etc., joined with armored cars from the BA (Broneavtomobil) series, like the BA-20, BA-3/6, BA-10. In May 1945, two of the IS-2 heavy tanks were captured and reused by the Germans.

Great Britain

Captured Matilda tank, summer 1942. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-044-66 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Captured Matilda tank, summer 1942. Photo Credit

After the devastating retreat at Dunkirk, the British Expeditionary Force left behind them 2,472 guns, 20,000 motorcycles, and almost 65,000 other vehicles; also abandoned were 416,000 short tons (377,000 t) of stores, more than 75,000 short tons (68,000 t) of ammunition and 162,000 short tons (147,000 t) of fuel. Almost all of the 445 tanks stationed in France with the BEF had to be abandoned.

On this occasion the Germans reissued the Matilda tank, renaming it Infanterie Panzerkampfwagen Mk.II 748(e), (e) for English. German tank crews considered the tank very effective, but the use in battle often caused confusion on both sides. Besides from the Matilda tanks, the Germans used the Humber armored cars and  Bren Gun Carriers. Also, the Germans really fancied the AEC Dorchester Armoured Buses, which were used as field command vehicles. Two of them, named “Max” and “Moritz”, were employed by Rommel and his staff throughout the North African campaign. Also, a number of Spitfires was used by the Luftwaffe. The KG 200 Luftwaffe unit, which specialized in long-distance reconnaissance, difficult bombing operations, and prototype testing, incorporated most of the captured Allied planes, including the American B-17 bombers. By the end of the war, pilots who operated the captured planes were often involved in “false flag” operations, with the intention to confuse the Allies. They were also involved in a number of suicide missions.


When the US troops, together with other Allied soldiers, landed in France, in 1944, the force of the German Army was already heavily in decline. The Germans pressed into service almost any vehicle that they managed to capture. American tanks, support vehicles, and bombers could all be seen stamped with Nazi insignia. Like in the Eastern Front, some firearms were also adopted and used by German soldiers.

As the war was slowly coming to its end, the Germans were becoming more and more resourceful. They were often staging false flag operations, of which the most famous one is Operation Grief, conducted by the notorious Otto Skorzeny. On this occasion, a number of Stuarts, Shermans, Fireflies and Greyhound Light Armored Vehicles captured in earlier battles were part of the operation that intended to disrupt the communications among the Allies, cause confusion, panic, fear and mistrust between American troops. For this occasion, captured Allied uniforms and small arms were also used.

Besides from the use in false flag operations, American tanks, like many other, were marked with German insignia and sent to the frontlines in France, Belgium, Netherlands and eventually Germany.

As it was mentioned before, a few B-17 bombers were flying under Luftwaffe markings. In addition to the bombers, a number of P-51 Mustang fighter-bombers also saw combat on the enemy side.

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