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"Ordnance Intelligence Teams Uncover Technical Secrets" from Intelligence Bulletin, February 1945

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Operations of the U.S. Ordnance Intelligence Teams and Army Service Forces Enemy Equipment Intelligence Service Teams, from Intelligence Bulletin, February 1945.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information published for Allied soldiers. More accurate information is available in postwar publications.]


Ordnance teams are saving lives by masterminding the enemy's weapons. Careless treatment of captured materiel may deprive the U. S. of vital information.

"One of the biggest difficulties that Ordnance Intelligence Teams face is the continued refusal of combat units to recognize the importance of technical information gained from a study of enemy ordnance." The man who said this knew what he was talking about. He is a lieutenant in charge of an Ordnance Technical Intelligence Team now operating in the Pacific.

This officer's report emphasized an unfortunate condition which has existed for a long time. Combat troops, preoccupied with fighting or souvenir hunting, are unaware of the part captured enemy equipment plays in the progressive development of our own weapons, and of its usefulness in enabling intelligence officers to predict the probable widespread use of new weapons by enemy troops.

[American soldiers on the Western Front firing French shells from a German mortar.]
American soldiers on the Western Front firing French shells from a German mortar. This kind of improvisation with captured weapons is made possible by the field research work of Ordnance Technical Intelligence men.

This difficult master-minding is a job of the Army Service Forces Enemy Equipment Intelligence Service Teams. These teams include trained personnel from each technical service. Specifically, where weapons are concerned, it is a job for Ordnance Technical Intelligence, which must keep the army up to date in this highly technical aspect of warfare.

Early in the war, the U. S. Army saw the necessity for immediate first-hand technical observation, and in December 1942 the first Ordnance Intelligence Team, a handful of specially-trained officers and enlisted men, was dispatched to a combat zone. Its mission was to procure enemy weapons and ship them to the United States to be used in a continuous study of the latest developments and trends in the enemy armament industry and to rapidly develop counter weapons. Today teams of trained technical observers work in every theater of operations.

Many times these intelligence teams have landed with the assault echelon of U. S. invasion forces, often going in with the first or second wave. Their work begins immediately, inasmuch as they must be on hand to gather enemy weapons as they are captured and before the materiel has been needlessly damaged or carted away by souvenir hunters. As soon as possible, a field headquarters is established, and the investigation of captured weapons begins.

Because they are schooled in the intracacies of enemy weapons, the personnel of Ordnance Intelligence Teams often have turned captured weapons against the enemy. Such was the case recently in France when Ordnance Intelligence men were able to "cannibalize" enough from captured German artillery pieces to equip U. S. artillerymen with 50 German 105-mm pieces.

[Ordnance Technical Intelligence men reconditioning captured German 105-mm howitzers.]
Ordnance Technical Intelligence men reconditioning captured German 105-mm howitzers. Over 25,000 German shells were fired back at the enemy with captured guns of this type during initial operations against the Siegfried Line.

The first concern of the intelligence teams is to get possession of those captured enemy weapons that are of no immediate value to the combat units. These weapons are inspected, a preliminary report is written, and the guns are then shipped to a rear-area proving ground operated by the theater ordnance officer. Here the guns, and other captured equipment, are put through field tests to determine any new tactical information that will be of immediate value to the troops operating in that theater. If a gun under test shows no new characteristics, it may be sent to a theater training area where replacement troops use it in pre-combat instruction. Should it be a weapon worth further intelligence analysis, it is shipped immediately to the U. S.

Contrary to a recent G. I. rumor that captured weapons are sold at War Bond rallies, test-worthy captured guns, tanks, ammunition, and vehicles procured by Ordnance Intelligence Teams are sent from every theater to the Ordnance Research and Development Center at Aberdeen, Maryland. Here they are started on a routine of tactical and technical analysis designed to discover every item of information which may be of value to our own troops and to our munitions program. The general performance of the equipment is studied, and a report of the tests is issued to all interested agencies. Often the equipment is broken down, and component parts are shipped to various laboratories, arsenals, and industries throughout the country, where they may be studied and tested by highly trained metallurgists, engineers, and other specialists. The results of these fine-tooth inspections are submitted to the development engineers concerned with the design of similar equipment for the U. S. Army.

Such analysis of enemy equipment has disclosed a wealth of information of value in the development of U. S. weapons—a fact which perhaps is not generally known. For years the enemy prepared for war, and consequently was well advanced in the development of new weapons and the improvement of the design and manufacturing technique of old equipment.

In only a very few instances has the enemy introduced a new type of weapon unknown to American designers. However, there have been occasions when the discovery of a hitherto unused manufacturing technique in some piece of German equipment has proved the reliability of a similar, but untested, American idea. Such a circumstance often has enabled U. S. engineers to make short-cuts between the designing and production of a new or improved weapon.

[American artillerymen fire a captured Pak 43 at the retreating German army in the area around Metz, France.]
American artillerymen fire a captured Pak 43 at the retreating German army in the area around Metz, France. Ordnance Intelligence Teams often are able to repair weapons damaged by a retreating enemy and turn the guns against the former owners.

In addition to disclosing the plausibility of new manufacturing techniques, the analysis of captured equipment often has revealed new and improved design in the minor components of a weapon. U. S. engineers are quick to adopt such changes in improving our own equipment. More than 50 design features in U. S. ordnance matériel have been adapted from similar German and Japanese equipment captured by U. S. soldiers and turned in to technical intelligence men.

Because the enemy continually is developing new equipment designs and modifications to counter our weapons and to compensate for production lost in bombed-out industry, it becomes increasingly important for technical intelligence men in the field to procure samples of newly-captured equipment. The gun which, to an infantryman, appears to be a standard job the Japs or Jerries have been using all along may actually be an old design produced under new specifications, and perhaps with an important modification.

Yet a standard answer encountered by Ordnance Intelligence officers, when requesting that a certain item of enemy ordnance be turned over to them by combat troops, is: "What does the Ordnance Department want with that? It's listed in our own Enemy Weapons Handbook!"

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