Article: 25 Crazy Things You Didn't Know About WWII: HowStuffWorks
25 Crazy Things You Didn't Know About WWII
Image: Wikicommons by W.wolny
About This Article
"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." - Albert Einstein.
There is little doubt that with each successive war we find new and more inventive ways of killing each other. From better swords to the longbow, to the cannon and rifle and bomb, we keep improving ways to win battles at the cost of our enemies (and sometimes our friends).
In WWII, the race was on by both the Allies and the Axis to see who could kill each other faster using the newest technology. But there were a few stumbles along the way, and it's these missteps that made for interesting footnotes along that brutal path.
It would be easy to assume that the bulk of the facts that we consider "interesting" were from the Axis, and particularly the Germans, given what we now know of their mindset back then. But ALL the participants had their share of stuff that is too wild to have been made up. From the last Japanese soldier surrendering in 1974 (!) to the Nazi outer space Sun Gun, we're listing some of the most interesting and unbelievable WWII facts we were able to dig up.
Check it out!
The US Navy had a department called "Sink Us."
Think you can sink us? Before WWII, you had a better chance. Back then, the U.S. Navy Command was called CINCUS: an acronym for Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. "Sink Us," was quickly changed to COMINCH in December 1941, and hopefully whoever came up with "Sink Us" was sent to swab decks on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico. It's unknown if the expanded territory this office oversaw was granted in order to make the former name unnecessary, but it wouldn't be hard to imagine. %0D%0DAnd no one is trying to Sink Us anymore ...
With friends like these ...
The first German serviceman killed in the war was killed by the Japanese.%0DIt's easy to assume this was a "friendly fire incident" from a training exercise between the Axis, but no. The reality is that the start of WWII was extremely muddled from the end of the last war, WWI. This meant that some countries that had just become friends for WWII were still enemies in the last war. In this particular case, Germany and Japan were not formally allied in 1937, so any hostilities between the two can be blamed on other circumstances, despite the fact that the hostilities that led to WWII had begun.
With comrades like these ...
The first American serviceman killed was killed by the Russians.%0DLike the one above, this fact may have several extenuating circumstances, not the least of which is the chaos and confusion that can lead to "friendly fire." But in this case, this American casualty may have been an unintended side-effect of the hostilities that were occurring between Russia and Finland right as the war was starting. Hitler was hoping to use Finland as a buffer between the European theater and the mighty Juggernaut that was the Soviet Union at the time. There's evidence that the Russians may have mistaken the US soldier for a Finn, thus causing the incident.
This isn't what was meant by "air superiority" ...
The Nazis were closer than you think to making their own atomic bomb!%0D%0DThis may be a bombshell for you, but the Nazis almost had an atomic bomb of their own. It turns out they'd been working on one from the early days of the war, and in fact, had most of the physicist brainpower before the scientists defected to the United States. The only reason the Germans weren't able to develop their own bomb earlier was because the Allies got help from an unexpected quarter: Norway. A future country soon to be occupied by the Axis, its forces were able to destroy the heavy water manufacturing plant in the Telemark region, thus derailing the process that would've enriched plutonium, making it into one of the materials necessary for an atomic bomb.
And you thought UPS was good at making deliveries.
Life does not stop at a death camp. When the Nazis began their "final solution," thousands upon thousands of people were sent to these camps, and inevitably, some of the women were pregnant. No provisions or supplies were made for pregnant women, but this didn't stop them from delivering. Someone had to step and up, and luckily, someone did. Polish midwife Stanisława Leszczyńska, a prisoner of Auschwitz, delivered many of the babies born in the camp, eventually delivering more than 3,000 babies during her time there. Leszczyńska’s work was celebrated in 1970, as she was reunited with some female former prisoners and their children whom she had helped deliver.
1923 may have been a good year for wines, not a great year for Russian boys.
It's estimated that only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived World War II. Each of the Allied countries brought things to the war: America had the production capabilities to manufacture materials, England was keeping the fighting in Europe on the western front. But on the Eastern front, Russia had only one abundant commodity: people. And Stalin used them unflinchingly. %0DAt the start of Russia's entrance in the war, the country hadn't started manufacturing arms yet, and it was reported that only 1 in 5 soldiers had a rifle. The rest were commanded to pick up the gun from a dead soldier's hands and keep fighting. %0DAlways keep fighting for Mother Russia.
When it sounds like Dr. Evil, but it's not ...
Japan was working on a “death ray!" %0DA team of Japanese scientists promised they could create a “death ray” using wave electric power to kill the enemy. The team purportedly claimed that the target could be struck miles away if the idea could be made into reality. To do this, the team drew on the innovations of famed scientist Nikola Tesla, who published the seeds of the idea earlier in the century. The Japanese got as far as a prototype that could kill from as far away as half a mile — but the target had to stand still for 10 minutes for it to work. This would prove devastating to an enemy, as long as they were using mannequins to fight.%0DRegardless, the weapon's team was disbanded, which means we'll never know why the weapon wasn't tried on troops sleeping in camp at night ...
If you're not sure what the term "Pyrrhic Victory" means ...
As we learned, Russia wasn't entirely prepared to enter the war when it did. By contrast, the rest of the allies were able to ramp up much more quickly, converting manufactories to wartime products in a relatively short amount of time, making the guns, ammunition, bombs, tanks and planes needed to fight a war. But what the Russians lacked in raw materials, they made up with their one advantage over their allies: bodies. Russia was able to field a gigantic army based on having such a large population to draw from. %0DThe Siege of Stalingrad lasted from July 1942 to February 1943, and it began with Germany’s attempt to capture the industrial city, fearing that if Russia was able to ramp up production like the United States, Germany would have a much better-equipped army to contend with on the Eastern Front. It was thought a siege of starving the population into surrender was the way to go, but the city resisted and had winter on its side. So while Germany included air attacks in the siege, the fighting degenerated into house-to-house fights. Even with reinforcements streaming into the city from both sides, tens of thousands were killed.
What's in a name?
Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William Hitler, served in the US Navy during World War II. After a fraught relationship with "Uncle Adolf," he fled to the US in fear that his uncle would kill him rather than accede to the blackmail demands. After coming to the US, he was eventually cleared to join the US Navy, where he worked as a pharmaceutical assistant. After the war, he changed his name, married, had 4 sons and opened up a medical laboratory for blood sample analysis.%0DWilliam Stuart-Houston died on 14 July 1987, in Patchogue, NY.
If you can't win, go for the Typhus ...
The Nazis knew that one thing could put a crimp into their "Final Solution" besides losing the war: disease. Herding people into over-crowded death camps provided a breeding ground for rampant disease; the fear was not for those incarcerated, but was a HUGE fear for the guards and Nazi personnel working at the camps. After typhus wreaked havoc in the trenches during World War I, the Nazis were terrified of possible outbreaks among their soldiers. German authorities in Poland required doctors to report all suspected and confirmed cases of typhus to them and send blood samples to German-controlled labs for testing. %0DDiscovering that the Nazis would not send anyone testing positive for typhus to the camps, two Polish doctors injected Jews and non-Jews in their city with a vaccine containing dead typhus that would cause them to test positive but have no adverse effects, saving approximately 8,000 lives.
Not sure what the difference between "end of hostilities" and "end of the war" is?
Ever heard of the Kuril Islands? Yeah, us neither. It turns out this island chain is near Japan and Russia, and there's been a dispute over the sovereignty of the Islands since before WWII. Because it wasn't resolved at the end of the war, that means that Russia and Japan are still at war, at least on paper. %0DRussia's relationship with Japan was turbulent before WWII, mainly over these Pacific islands, and thus when Russia declared war on Japan (actually close to the end of the war), there wasn't time before the Cold War started to resolve this issue. Making matters worse, Japan became an ally of the United States against Russia after WWII, meaning there was no one to mediate this dispute after the war officially ended. This dispute continues to plague trade relations today, given that the two countries are still technically at war.
And you think YOU'RE always the last one to know?
Talk about not getting the memo!%0DHiroo Onoda, the last Japanese soldier to surrender, had to be convinced to do so in 1974, 29 years after WWII was over.%0DOnoda, an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II, didn't surrender in 1945 along with the rest of his country. Instead, for almost 30 years, he held his position alone in the Philippines. %0DFinally, Japan tracked down Onoda's former commander, who traveled from Japan to personally issue orders relieving Onoda from duty in 1974.
From the "Age is just a number" file ...
The youngest person to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces was just 12 years old. %0D“I didn’t like Hitler to start with,” Calvin Graham, from Crockett, Texas, later told a reporter. Sadly, Graham learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, and he wanted to fight. He had begun to shave at age 11, hoping to either kickstart puberty, or maybe fool recruiters. Finally, he found a buddy who forged his mother’s signature and stole a notary stamp from a local hotel, and he lined up with some friends to enlist.%0DGraham feared an enlistment officer would spot the forged signature.of his mother, but It turned out it was the dentist, who peered into the mouths of potential recruits, who might prove his undoing. He managed to talk his way past the dentist, though.%0DThe final trump card may have been the war itself. When Graham tried to enlist, victory was anyone's game and the United States needed soldiers. Graham was able to make it and then make a difference.
Still wanta Fanta?
Fanta was a Coca-Cola knock-off invented by Nazi Germany so that their soldiers wouldn't protest not being able to get Coke.%0DEuropeans had been enjoying the American soft drink for years before WWII broke out, and Coca-Cola was one of the first things that Germany lost after America became an enemy. %0DTo fill this loss, Max Keith, the former head of Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH), created a new product so that Germans wouldn't miss Coke, using only ingredients available in Germany at the time: including beet sugar, whey and apple pomace — the "leftovers of leftovers," as Keith later recalled.
For all those Southerners who say that the Confederates are just "taking a break" and that Civil War is still on ...
In WWI, Ferdinand Foch, a French general and leading military theorist, was appointed "Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies" on March 26, 1918. On Nov. 11, 1918, Foch accepted the German request for an armistice. While Foch wanted peace, he wanted it at the expense of a Germany that could rise again. He requested peace terms that would make Germany completely unable to pose a threat to France ever again. Failing to get them after the Treaty of Versailles ending WWI, Foch was heard to say that if Germany was ever able to re-arm itself, the end of the war was an end. “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years," he said. %0D 20 years and 64 days later, WWII broke out.
In dating, it's called "the leave-behind," in war, it's called "terrible" ...
Approximately 5,500 unexploded bombs and other ordinance are discovered and defused in Germany every year.%0DWhile the Nazi Luftwaffe was a powerful tool for Hitler, especially using it for his "Blitzkrieg" against the British, the Allies' ability to bomb the Axis in kind was far from trivial. %0DCombined, the Allies dropped close to 3 million tons of ordinance on wartime targets, and at least half of that fell in Germany. The net effect of this barrage was that the German war machine, especially the manufacturing that supplied Germany, had either been crippled or turned to ash.
When you'd rather not share a bomb shelter with a cobra ...
As if a bomb shelter during an air raid wasn't scary enough, imagine sharing one with a viper! For this reason, before the war started all venomous animals at the London Zoo were killed. Zoo officials did not want to take the chance that the zoo was bombed and the animals escaped.%0DWhen the war started, the zoo was closed by order of the government. Because there was time to prepare, some of the animals were relocated ahead of the hostilities, but the venomous animals weren't so lucky.
"A good warrior fights when he has to. A great one never has to fight at all."
Dwight D. Eisenhower, later president of the United States for two terms, was a five-star general and perhaps the most revered military man in U.S. history, but he never saw a single day of active combat in his entire career.%0DIn WWI, Eisenhower trained tank crews. Following the war, he served under various generals and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1941. It was in WWII that Eisenhower first saw action, but as a commander, not in the line of fire. He oversaw the invasions of North Africa and Sicily before supervising the invasions of France and Germany.
Come at me, bro!
It's possible that Owen J. Baggett should have become a sniper instead of a pilot. He is legendary as the only person to down a Japanese aircraft with a pistol, getting a headshot on the Japanese pilot while he was a "sitting duck" in a parachute, floating to the ground after he had to bail from his own plane. After bailing out of his crippled B-24, he shot the pilot of a Japanese fighter who had unwisely opened his cockpit.
You've heard of The Alamo and Thermopylae? How about Wizna?
The Polish have their own story of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. When Poland was invaded by Germany to start WWII, 720 Poles defended their position against over 40.000 Germans, delaying their advance for three days.%0DDefying the odds, they were able to prevent an encircling movement by the Germans and thus were able to keep the German Army from moving forward for 3 days. Because the battle consisted of a small force holding a piece of fortified territory against a vastly larger invasion for three days at great cost before being annihilated, Wizna is sometimes referred to as the "Polish Thermopylae."
You can't spell "Victory in Europe" without a P.
Nothing is more refreshing after a long trip than a nice visit to the restroom. In WWII, this meant that when Allied troops invaded Germany in 1945 reached the Rhine, they urinated in it. %0DAchieving such a large target and milestone had to have been extremely important to commanders of the allied forces. The Rhine is at least as much a part of Germany as Berlin, schnitzel or beer. Can the Allies be blamed for not wanting to pass up such an opportunity to share their feelings about Germany as an enemy? %0DAlong with the invasion at Normandy, crossing the Rhine proved to be the beginning of the end for the German army. The fall of Berlin came soon after.
"Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"
Russia had its own "kamikazes." In WWII, its pilots knocked out at least 270 airborne German planes by ramming them.%0DThere were many cases where downed Soviet aircraft crashed into either German aircraft or ground objects in a maneuver known as a “ram”. Soviet pilots carried out more than 600 rams during the war. Thanks to their application, it was possible to destroy a large number of enemy soldiers and enemy equipment.%0DA classic air ram is where a pilot directs his aircraft toward an enemy plane, ground targets or enemy ships. When ramming an air target, an experienced pilot could use his parachute to escape, or even possibly save his plane, if it wasn’t too damaged. However, ramming a ground target or a ship left the pilot little chance of survival if he could not leave his plane before the collision.
When your friends are just being plane rude ...
The highest-ranking casualty was the American Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair, killed in friendly fire from the US Army Air Corps.%0DThe term "friendly fire" is used to describe when a force accidentally fires on its own members, usually from the chaos and miscommunication opportunities that abound in battle. Recent casualties of friendly fire include former NFL star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who enlisted immediately after 9/11.%0DMcNair was killed by friendly fire from Allied aircraft while in France, taking part in Operation Quicksilver. The object of this was to camouflage D-Day landing sites. He was posthumously promoted to general and is currently the highest-ranking military officer buried in the Normandy cemetery.
Time for a re-brand!
The swastika was native to the United States long before the Nazis used it. Native Americans used it for decades as a sign to ward off evil. Hitler, as a failed artist but needing a brand for his cult of hatred, liked the look of the symbol and took it for his own.%0DIn America, the military used it at the behest of Native American soldiers serving in units near reservations: Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, and other areas with a rich Native American tradition. Particularly, the 45th Infantry Division wore two angled bars as a symbol of good luck: a pair of angled bars intersecting in the middle that we would recognize today as the swastika. But as the Nazis rose to power in Germany, and the US saw that they were using it, they switched the swastika in favor of another Native American design: the Thunderbird.
For those weird kids who liked to burn ants on the playground ...
German scientists were genuinely interested in building a "sun gun," a vast magnifying glass in space.%0DThe German physicist Hermann Oberth must have been a fan of Buck Rogers. In 1929, he developed plans for a space station from which a 100-meter-wide concave mirror could be used to reflect sunlight onto a concentrated point on the earth. This plan was especially bold, as the modern rocket capable of carrying passengers was just a theory.%0DAs the war started out well for Germany, its scientists decided to expand the size of both the space station and the mirror. This weapon would have to be huge, but if it could be made, it could make oceans boil or even burn entire countries to a crisp. What army could oppose such a weapon? However, after being questioned by officers of the United States, the Germans admitted that the sun gun could not be completed in shorter than 50 or 100 years.
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