World War II was - and thankfully remains (so far) - the biggest war in the history of humanity. It wasn't the first great war of the Industrial Age, ceding that particular dubious honor to World War I, when mechanized warfare shell-shocked the world. However, WWII was the first war in which this had been established as the order of the day, and that made it easy for it to be crowned the bloodiest war ever waged. WWII comes in with a death toll of some fifty million, rising to eighty million if you count civilians murdered or dead from war-related disease.
All of this was executed by a variety of military hardware that changed the scope of what was possible. As Panzer tanks rolled across the deserts of North Africa and Spitfires battled Fokkers in the skies over Britain, aircraft carriers displaced battleships as the true power on the surface of the world's oceans. Guided weapons, plastic explosives and nerve agents were all born, though not all were used to their full potential. On the small arms side, the first semi-automatic rifle and the first assault rifle made their debuts. These seemingly less significant weapons went on to extinguish many more lives than the most memorable weapon of the war: the atom bomb.
It's an arsenal to terrify any 1940s civilian and fascinate any history buff. Let's find out how much you know about WWII!
The M2 light infantry mortar was designed by French ordnance engineer Edgar Brandt. It could fire up to 18 rounds per minute and had a range of roughly one mile. The M2 mortar was widely used by U.S. forces throughout the Second World War.
The design of the MK2 grenade led to its popular nickname – pineapple grenade. It was a cast-iron casing which ripped apart into deadly projectile fragments once the TNT filling exploded.
The M5 3” anti-tank gun was also known as the 3-inch Gun M5. A total of approximately 2500 M5s were produced by the U.S. Army. Since the M5 was a gun, it required targets to be in its line-of-sight, unlike the operation of a howitzer.
American D-Day paratroopers were issued liquid-filled wrist compasses. They were much larger and more accurate than the smaller compasses typically handed out to troops. Those smaller compasses were the “butt” of many jokes.
The M1918 Browning automatic rifle (or BAR) was designed by John M. Browning close to the end of the First World War. Modified M1918s (named M1918A1 and M1918A2) were issued in the Second World War.
M17 or T2 grenade was the standard rifle grenade used by the U.S. in WWII. The M17 needed to land on a sufficiently hard surface in order to detonate and was frequently used against dug-in enemy troops.
The British-made Number 82 grenade or Gammon bomb was among equipment issued to American paratroopers on D-Day. The Gammon bomb was liked for being customizable and easy to use.
The Springfield M1903 family of bolt-action service repeating rifles has been used by the U.S Army since 1903. At the time of the Second World War, it had evolved into a variant known as the Springfield M1903A4, a telescopic sniper rifle.
Paratroopers were the main recipients of the M2 switchblade knife issued by the U.S. Army. The knives fit snugly into the paratrooper’s jacket pocket and he could use it to swiftly cut himself free of the parachute’s harness.
The M1941 Johnson light machine gun (LMG) was described as a light support weapon. It was designed by United States Marine Corps (USMC) reservist Melvin Johnson, Jr. and got nicknamed the Johnson and the Johnny gun.
The Molotov cocktail is an improvised incendiary weapon. It is simply a glass bottle containing an explosive liquid which is ignited by a (usually) cloth wick.
The escape and evasion kit included a steel hacksaw, a small compass, a two-sided map and an assortment of local currency. The map was made of rayon to ensure it would not be destroyed if it got wet.
Designed for use with the M1 Garand rifle, the M1 bayonet was a total of 14 inches long – 10 inches for the blade and 4 inches for the handle. This was shorter than the previous models, with the change being somewhat attributed to the limited wartime supply of steel.
The M1917 Enfield (also called the American Enfield) is a bolt-action service rifle. The M1917 Enfield was used in both World Wars with over 2 million of them being manufactured.
The U.S. Army pretty much issued whatever weapons soldiers felt they needed or were comfortable using. As a result, the machete was available as part of D-Day equipment to paratroopers who opted for it.
Noted American gunsmith John Browning developed this pump-action slide shotgun which was then manufactured by the J Stevens Arms & Tool Company. Although production of the M520 ceased in 1939, a variant (the M520A) was used by the U.S. in WWII.
The crook-necked TL 122-A flashlight was widely issued during WWII. It was meant for more than illumination, as the TL 122-A was equipped with several colored filters (stored in the handle) so that the flashlight could be used for signaling.
Despite its name, the Colt M 1903 Pocket Hammerless was fired by hammer action. The name “hammerless” was used in reference to the fact that the backend of the gun’s slide covered the hammer.
The M249 SAW was created to be a lighter alternative to your average machine gun.
Also known as the M3 fighting knife and the M3 trench knife, this item was issued in cases where a soldier’s rifle was not equipped to take a bayonet – as was the case with the Thompson submachine gun. Soldiers who would likely face close quarters combat were also issued the M3.
I.D bracelets were issued in a number of styles and bore varying degrees of information. Some, for instance, carried the wearer’s rank, name, serial number and blood type.
This six-shot, double-action service revolver was standard-issue to United States Navy and Marine Corps aircrews. It was regarded as an effective “man-stopper” when used at close range.
The towed Model 1897 field gun was also known as the French 75 mm field gun (or Canon de 75 modele 1897). The Model 1897 was used in both World Wars and samples can still be found in some armies’ inventories, as well as in museums as exhibits.
An officer with the British Indian Army, Captain McClintock, is credited with invention of the Bangalore torpedo in 1912. It was used in both World War One and Two as a relatively safe way to detonate unexploded mines and to clear obstacles from a distance.
The M1911A1 is a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol initially designed by John Browning. The M1911A1 pistol had very admirable stopping power and was usually issued to officers.
This WWII dagger and fighting knife was primarily issued to the Devil's Brigade – a joint Canadian/American commando unit, formally known as the First Special Service Force. It was issued in a leather case which was redesigned with metal reinforcement to prevent injury to the soldier carrying it.
The M2 man-portable backpack infantry flamethrower was developed by refining and improving on the function of its predecessors – the M1 and the M1A1 flamethrowers. It was no longer a practical or necessary weapon, however, after the introduction of flamethrower tanks.
The M1 Garand was popular among Allied troops during the Second World War. It is a.30 caliber semi-automatic rifle with a maximum effective range of roughly 1500 feet but was still pretty accurate at greater distances.
The Ka-Bar combat knife was used almost exclusively by the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy. It is a dual purpose weapon described as a fighting utility knife.
The luminous disc contained (radioactive and poisonous) radium and could be activated by shining a light on it. It clipped easily onto a soldier’s helmet or clothes with its soft glow keeping troops visible to each other.
The M43 (or M1943) goggles were made of leather with clear or tinted plastic lenses. While their design was very commendable, the M43 goggles were not made to last and were quite easily damaged.
The U.S. military began using the M1 helmet in 1941, making WWII the first major conflict soldiers wore them into. Slight modifications and improvements were made to the M1 helmet over the years until its use was discontinued in 1985.
The folding stock M1A1 carbine is a semi-automatic rifle. It was convenient to carry but lacked the range, firepower and stopping power of other rifles, such as the M1 Garand.
The basic design of the American M1 81 mm medium infantry mortar is credited to French weapons engineer Edgar Brandt. The M1 mortar weighed 136 pounds while the later, lighter M2 mortar was just 42 pounds.
The M1 bazooka is described as a reusable, shoulder-fired, anti-tank rocket launcher. The name bazooka stems from the weapon’s resemblance to an improvised trombone played (and named bazooka) by radio comedian Bob Burns.
The fully automatic Thompson submachine gun was originally designed for WWI trench warfare but gained notoriety as the popular choice of 1920s gangsters. Its awesome stopping power made it the weapon of choice for many WWII soldiers despite the fact that its maximum range was only about 160 feet.
The Mark 1 trench knife was a brass-knuckled knife widely issued during the First World War. By WWII, it was still a part of some soldiers’ gear but was largely replaced by the M3 combat/trench knife.
The M115 towed howitzer was designed to be operated by a 14-man crew. Its total length was almost 36 feet and it weighed roughly 16 tons.
ACME Whistle Company in England made a toy cricket noise maker which was put to very good use by some troops in WWII. D-Day paratroopers, for instance, were issued the cricket noise maker as a part of their gear so they could alert team members to their location without having to call out.
Many of the servicemen in the Second World War were smokers and so a lighter was a vital piece of equipment, even if it was not a part of their standard Army issue. The Zippo lighter was by far the popular choice and the ones with matte black finish were much more practical than those in shiny chrome.
The M1 carbine resembles an M1 Garand but was intended for use by non-combat troops. It is lightweight and easy to carry even if the soldier was assigned to other equipment, such as radios. A folding stock variant of the M1 carbine was issued to paratroopers.
There’s no doubt how the M3 submachine gun came by the nickname “grease gun." Its resemblance to the popular mechanics tool is unmistakable. The M3 SMG was introduced as a more economical alternative to the much more expensive M1 Thompson series of submachine guns.
The Oscar paradummy (called Rupert doll by the British) was used as a diversionary tactic by parachuting troops. The paradummies drew enemy attention and enemy fire while troops landed safely elsewhere.
All US M3 lightweight service masks may not look exactly alike. That’s because they were manufactured by different suppliers, each of which incorporated different design elements.
Also called an e-tool, the entrenching tool was a necessary piece of wartime equipment. Some designs were foldable or had a pick added to one end. Others could be fitted with a bayonet or have the ends sharpened into very effect weapons for close quarters combat.
The M7 grenade launcher was an attachment for use with the M1 Garand rifle. Whereas hand grenades could be thrown up to 33 yards, with the M7 you could get a grenade to go about 380 yards away.
The Boys anti-tank rifle was designed by British Captain H.C. Boys. It was effective against the light and medium tanks which were often seen early in the Second World War. Development of the Boys anti-tank rifle was codenamed Stanchion but the rifle became popularly known as either “Boys” or “elephant gun” due to its size.