Nazi German Weapons as Trophies at the Service of the Red Army in World War II

Editor’s and Translator’s Notes:

There has been much discussion about the trophies used by each side in the current conflict in Ukraine. For this reason, it is worthwhile to return to World War II and examine the captured weapons used by the Red Army to its advantage. The following article, originally entitled “Red Army’s Trophies: What Did Our Fighters Take from the Germans?” was translated as is. Exceptions include 1) using “Soviet” or “Red Army” instead of “our,” and “World War II” instead of the “Great Patriotic War” for an English-speaking audience; 2) minor clarifications on weapons’ names; 4) a clarification about the incident with Vasily Vatanam; 4) two inset stories about Vasily Vataman and Mikhail Devyatayev, respectively, written specifically for this translation by me or translated from another source.

Nazi German Weapons as Trophies at the Service of the Red Army in World War II

By Boris Semionov

We have already written about trophies in the global history of wars and conflicts and that the trophy business is an important part of any war.

Now let us consider World War II, in which both warring parties gladly used captured enemy weapons or equipment. Today we will discuss the preferred types of trophy small-caliber firearms and other weapons manufactured by the enemy that also served the Red Army in the liberation of the Soviet Union and Europe from the Nazi invaders.

Small-Caliber Firearms

Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of World War II for the Soviet Union was the large-scale land battles along the entire front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. And, of course, they would not have been possible without the small-caliber firearms. During the war, such firearms were actively developed and improved as dozens of new models emerged. Yet the warring parties approached the question of arming and supplying their infantrymen in completely different ways. By the way, we should note that the Red Army was better armed in almost all categories.

Red Army soldiers with captured firearms.

Nevertheless, in the massive battles of the Second World War, the Red Army collected a multitude of trophy firearms.


First, let us talk about pistols. In the Red Army, the pistol was a weapon for command personnel and pilots. Ordinary soldiers typically did not receive them. In contrast, ordinary soldiers in the Wehrmacht had significantly more pistols. German artillery gunners, drivers, armored vehicle crews, and auxiliaries were all armed with pistols.

A Red Army soldier with a captured Luger.

A variety of Walthers of all types as well as Lugers were the coveted trophies for the Red Army fighters. They used these firearms as secondary weapons that made life much easier during close-quarters combat in the trenches. Capturing a Mauser C-96 was considered especially chic. It was a “revolutionary” pistol that entered Soviet culture with a straight magazine and a wooden holster. State security officers in films and paintings about the 1917 Revolution were armed with this weapon. 

Rifles and Other Weapons

Trophy rifles, both magazine-based and self-loading, were not popular. The Soviet counterparts were better. The domestic versions of anti-tank rifles and sniper rifles were also superior. The famous image of the Soviet fighters with a German-made MP-40 submachine gun has roots in movies rather than real life. Of course, the soldiers captured them. However, they were mainly used by the partisans and frontline reconnaissance units. In addition, there were not as many of them as in the movies. Of course, the Soviet PPSh (Shpagin’s machine-pistol, a submachine gun) was in many ways superior to the German counterpart.


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Red Navy sailor with a captured MP-40.

However, the Red Army eagerly took machine guns MG-34 or MG-42. Their high rate of fire and small mass helped the Soviet soldiers in combat. It was also easy to find them since the German infantry frequently used these machine guns.

Red Army soldiers with a captured MG-34.

Another specific type of weapon and a preferred trophy for the Red Army was the Panzerfaust anti-tank disposable grenade launcher. Although it emerged towards the end of the war, it was mass-produced. The Panzerfaust helped against tanks and fortifications. One Red Army soldier, Vasily Vataman, used a Faustpatrone in hand-to-hand combat as a club. It is worth noting that up to half of the manufactured grenade launchers were captured by the Red Army.

“Strike the Enemy with His Own Weapons,” in Krasnaia Zvezda, by A. Yegorov featuring Vasily Vataman holding a Faustpatrone.

Journalist and reserve lieutenant colonel, Anatoly Yegorov, interviewed Vasily Vataman about the Faustpatrone incident that ocurred on March 24, 1945 in Neisse:

«… A strong guy of medium height was telling a story to his comrades. ‘Here is Vataman himself,’ they pointed to the soldier. I approached them and heard a part of the story about yesterday’s battle.

The unit attacked the enemy’s line of defense. Unsuccessfully jumping into the trench, Vataman fell down. At that time, a fascist officer jumped out from around the corner and kicked a carbine out of his hands.

-Things would’ve ended terribly if this very Faust didn’t catch my eye. However, he did not even have the time to blink, as I smacked him on the forehead with it. As soon as I tried to grab my carbine, the second one climbed out. Striking him [with the Faustpatrone] was enough to take him out too. 

Afterward, the lieutenant laughed: ‘It’s great that you mastered the fascist equipment.’

– What about it? This thing turned out to be very useful, – Vasily picked up one of the Faustpatrone near the fence. Of course, in this case he used this equipment in a rather peculiar way but the case itself was unusual.

I asked Vataman to raise the Faustpatrone a little higher and pressed my camera’s shutter button. In the next moment, realizing that I was about to capture a photograph not of his Faustpatrone, but of him, Vasily got shy, blushed, and hurried somewhere. I didn’t get to meet him again…»

On May 24, 1945, Vataman received the “For Courage” medal.

Heavy Weapons and Armored Vehicles

Following the successful counter-offensive outside Moscow in the winter of 1941-1942, the Red Army captured a large number of heavy weapons and equipment for the first time. This moment initiated the use of German guns, tanks, self-propelled artillery, trucks, and tractors by the Red Army.

SU-76i self-propelled gun.

One of the most interesting examples was the use of not an entire German-manufactured Pz. III, but only its chassis. They were converted into self-propelled guns and named SU-76i. 201 units were sufficient for establishing several self-propelled artillery batteries. The Red Army also captured other tanks. To date, there are targeted research studies about the Red Army regiments using captured tanks. It was the Panzer that was used toward the end of the war. 

Trophy Panzers.

The guns—both light and heavy—depending on the number, were either used to establish separate artillery divisions or were included in the existing counterparts that were already armed with Soviet weapons. The troops employed them until they became completely unusable or until they ran out of captured shells for enemy weapons. The latter occurred more often. 

Captured Opel truck.

There is not much to say about trucks, tractors, jeeps, and motorcycles. The Soviet side gladly used Mercedes, Opel, MAN, BMW, and other representatives of the German automobile industry for their intended purpose in the Red Army thereby contributing to the increased troop mobility.


As for aircraft, there were certain restrictions. After all, World War II-era airplanes were already quite challenging to operate. Airplanes required a full range of maintenance and frequent replacement of spare parts. Therefore, despite the fact that there were some examples of using captured aircraft for reconnaissance or combat (as in the legendary film Only “Old Men” Are Going Into Battle), more often than not airplanes were used in the rear. 

Captured Messerschmitt.

The latter was necessary to research and study the enemy’s advanced technical solutions in order to then challenge them with their own developments. As the war showed, this approach was fully realized. The Soviet La-7 and Yak-3 fighters became the pinnacle of Soviet fighter aviation and the best frontline fighters in their class. This rule was also relevant in the case of the other types of Soviet aviation.

Captured Focke-Wulf. 

Let us recall the famous feat of Mikhail Devyatayev’s group which managed to hijack the German He 111 H22 bomber from German captivity as prisoners of war. It was chock full of secret equipment from Germany’s top secret missile test site, Peenemünde. This incident is completely unrivaled not only in terms of the courage and heroism of the Soviet pilots but also in terms of the value of the information that they managed to obtain from the enemy.

Mikhail Devyatayev, a Soviet pilot in the rank of senior lieutenant of the guards fighter aviation regiment, was downed on July 13, 1944, over Lvov, western Ukraine, controlled by the Germans. He survived the fall but was captured by the enemy and placed as a prisoner of war in Łódź concentration camp in German-controlled Poland. Sentenced to death for his a failed attempt to escape, Devyatayev was taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There, he was able to exchange a number tag with a dead prisoner, Grigory Nikitenko, and avoided execution. 

Mikhail Devyatayev, Hero of the Soviet Union.

Devyatayev, in his assumed identity as Nikitenko, was transferred again to the Island of Usedom camp near Peenemünde, a secret German military testing site. He was chosen for manual slave labor at the test site due to his physical strength. The imprisoned pilot formed a group with the other captives and decided to hijack the Heinkel He 111 bomber actively used by the Germans. 

On February 8, 1945, the group killed the guard and stole “our Heinkel,” as they called it, at lunchtime. On his second attempt, Devyatayev plowed through a crowd of German soldiers as they scattered and got the plane in the air. A Focke-Wulf sent to catch the escapees was out of ammunition. In the Leningrad area, Devyatayev landed the plane under heavy Soviet anti-aircraft gunfire. 

He and two other officers were seriously screened by the authorities. The others returned to the front and, sadly, most of them were killed in action. “Our Heinkel” turned out to be very useful to Soviet research providing relevant information about the German missile program.

In 1945, Devyatayev consulted the designer Sergei Korolev, the founder of the Soviet space program, who focused on researching the German missile program. In 1957, Devyatayev received the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Shared Trophies

In general, the trophy business in the Red Army was very organized in a military way. There were trophy teams subordinate to fronts and armies. They collected all the important trophies, equipment, and weapons by following a strict order. Senior commanders and officers were in charge of everything including documentation. Such an important matter could not be haphazard.

Trophy weapons.

The trophy business was also organized on an individual soldier and unit level. There were frontline customs of capturing trophies, their distribution among the soldiers and commanders, and their exchange and general use.

Food and alcohol as well as clothing and other supplies were distributed among everyone without exception. Everything that helped to survive was used in the harsh wartime conditions.

The soldiers themselves selected the captured weapons based on their own tastes and preferences. Moreover, their comrades would bring a machine gun to an experienced machine gunner, a scoped rifle to a sniper, and a good pistol or binoculars to a commander. Everyone understood that doing so would help the common cause. The soldiers exchanged the rest, kept some for themselves, or sent trophies home to the rear.

The enemy that came to the Soviet Union lost there not only millions of soldiers and officers. They also brought with them a lot of military equipment and weapons that were ultimately used against them. As a result, the trophy business made its own, albeit small, contribution to Victory.

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