History

These World War 2 Facts Will Leave You Speechless

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World War II was the most devastating conflict in the history of mankind. It spread across multiple continents and cost millions of lives.

Here are some rare and frightening facts about this most tragic of wars.

First American Killed

The first American serviceman killed in the war was Captain Robert M. Losey. He was serving as a military attache and was killed in Norway on April 21, 1940 when German aircraft bombed the Dombås railway station where he and others were awaiting transportation.
Keith G. Thienemann / findagrave

First German Killed

The first German soldier killed in World War II was Lieutenant von Schmeling, who was a military advisor to the Nationalist Chinese (China had been at war with Japan since 1931). He was killed while leading a Chinese infantry Battalion of the 88th Division of Shanghai in 1937.
Sniper1946 / histomil.com

Suicide Submarines

Japan employed multiple types of suicide attacks during the war, including suicide submarines called Kaiten (“the turn toward heaven”). Approximately 100 of these were used, the most famous of which was used in the sinking of the USS Underhill.Flight Accidents
Nick-D

Finnish Snipers

Finnish snipers were some of the deadliest in the world. During the Winter War (November 1939 – March 1940), the Soviet Union invaded Finland hoping to gain Finnish territory and create a buffer zone for Leningrad. Because of the inexperience of Soviet troops and the incredible effectiveness of Finnish snipers, the USSR lost 40 men to every Finn that was killed.

Massive Submarines

In 2005, dive researchers from the University of Hawaii discovered the remains of a massive Japanese submarine, I-401. This behemoth was basically an underwater aircraft carrier and was built to bomb the Panama Canal–it carried three folded up bombers inside its watertight hangar.

The huge submarine could sail 37,000 miles, or one and a half times around the world. Three of these subs were captured at the end of the war. They measured 400 feet long and 39 feet high, and could carry a crew of 144 men.
Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory

Flight Accidents

According to the AAF Statistical Digest, the U.S. Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots and crew…in the United States. These men died as a result of more than 50,000 accidents during the course of the war. Another 1,000 planes disappeared en route from the U.S. to foreign countries.

Impossible Task

Air losses were so staggering during 1942-43 that it was statistically impossible for bomber crews to complete a 25-mission tour in Europe.

American POW’s

More than 41,000 American servicemen were captured during the war. Of the 5,400 captured by the Japanese, half died. About 10% of those captured by Germans died.
Bundesarchiv

Child Sailor

The youngest U.S. serviceman was just 12 years old. Calvin Graham lied about his age to get into the service and was later wounded at the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was given a Dishonorable Discharge for lying about his age, though his benefits were later restored by act of Congress.
ww2gravestone.com

Crazy Coincidences

Some baffling bits of irony:

  • The insignia of the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry division was the swastika (the 45th was part of the Oklahoma Army National Guard and the swastika was a tribute to the large Native American population in the southwest)
  • Hitler’s private train at the start of the war was named “Amerika”
  • At the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, the top U.S. Navy command was called CINCUS (pronounced “sink us”)

German U-boats

793 German U-boats were lost in World War II. Of the nearly 40,000 men onboard those subs, 75% died at sea.
Darkone

U.S. Aircorp Deaths

More men died in the U.S. Air Corps than the U.S. Marine Corps. It is estimated that while completing your required 30 air missions, your odds of being killed were 71%. And fact #30 about U.S. troops is even more sobering.

Hindsight

The power grid in Germany was more vulnerable than the Allies realized during the war. Some experts speculate that if Allied bombers had dropped just 1% of their bombs on power plants instead of industrial factories and targets, the whole of Germany’s infrastructure likely would have collapsed.

Aces

There was really no such thing as an average fighter pilot–you were either an ace or machine gun fodder. One of Japan’s top fighter pilots, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, shot down over 80 planes during the war but died while a passenger on a cargo plane. One of Germany’s top aces, Oberst Werner Mölders, died as a passenger on a plane that crashed.
Bundesarchiv

Tracers, Part I

In their guns, fighter planes loaded every fifth round with a glowing tracer to help them aim correctly. This turned out to be a big mistake, since tracers took a different flight path than regular bullets–if your tracers were hitting their target, odds are 80% of your regular rounds were missing.
theshermantank.com

Tracers, Part II

To make things worse, including tracer rounds immediately told your enemy he was under attack, and it let him know which direction you were coming from.

Tracers, Part III

Perhaps worst of all, pilots would load a string of tracer rounds at the end of ammunition belt to let them know when they’d run out of ammo. Unfortunately, this also let the enemy know they were out of ammunition. It is said that pilots who stopped using tracers saw their hit rates nearly double and suffered less casualties.

Aerial Ramming

Russian pilots destroyed hundreds of German aircraft by ramming them in midair. A few famous Russian pilots were able to eject after ramming enemy planes and survived to fight in future battles. Germany also began using aerial ramming near the end of the war.
Helmuth Ellgaard

U.S. Army Boats

Because of its massive number of troop transports, the U.S. Army actually had more ships than the U.S. Navy.

Coca-Cola

When the U.S. Army landed in North Africa, they brought along more than troops and equipment: they also set up three complete Coca-Cola bottling plants to keep troops well supplied.
nww2m.com

Korean Soldiers

Some of the first Germans captured during the invasion of Normandy weren’t German at all, they were Korean. These soldiers had been forced to fight for the Japanese army until they were captured by the Russians, who forced them to fight for the Russian army. They were later captured by the Germans and forced to fight as German troops.

Germany Declares War

Germany officially declared war on just one nation in World War II: The United States of America.
Bundesarchiv

Dachau

The Dachau concentration camp first opened in 1933, six years before the start of World War II. The Dachau camp system grew to include nearly 100 sub-camps.

Poland

20% of Poland’s population died during World War II, the highest percentage of any nation.

Aleutian Islands

Japan occupied U.S. territory for more than a year, invading and holding two islands in the Aleutian Island chain, which is part of Alaska. Nearly 1,500 American troops were killed in 13 months of fighting to retake the islands.

3,000 Babies

Polish Catholic midwife Stanisława Leszczyńska delivered 3,000 babies at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust in occupied Poland.

Soviet Casualties

Only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war.
Bundesarchiv

Hitler’s Nephew

Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William Hitler, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

No Surrender

Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II, held his position in the Philippines and refused to surrender until 1974. His former commander traveled from Japan to personally issue orders relieving him from duty.

U.S. Troops

More than 16,000,000 American troops served in World War II. Of these, 405,000 were killed during the war.

50 Million Dead

Total casualties for World War II are estimated between 50 and 70 million people. 80% of those came from just four countries: Russia, China, Germany, and Poland.

Lesley J. McNair

Lesley J. McNair, the highest-ranking American officer to be killed during World War 2.

Coconut Juice

coconut

Coconut juice was used as an emergency substitute for plasma

Convicts

Russia forced convicts to run through minefields to clear them ahead of advancing troops.

Elephant

Elephant

The first bomb dropped on Berlin killed the only elephant in the Zoo in Berlin.

Ghost Army

American soldiers who used fake tanks and pre-recorded sounds to deceive the Nazis into thinking their army was bigger. They were called the ‘Ghost Army’.

V-1 Flying Bombs

Pilots would intercept V-1 flying bombs and tip them over with their wingtips causing them to crash.

Konstanz

Konstanz was never bombed because the city left their lights on at night to trip the allied bombers into thinking the city was Switzerland.
JoachimKohlerBremen

Operation K

On March 4, 1942, two Kawanishi H8K “Emily” flying boats embarked on Operation K, flying the longest distance ever undertaken by a two-plane bombing mission to that point.

The planes refueled at an atoll 500 miles from Hawaii, and then launched to drop their bombs on Pearl Harbor. Due to extensive cloud cover and confusion between the two pilots, one plane dropped its bombs on an uninhabited mountainside and the other dropped its bombs in the ocean. There were no American casualties.

Adrian Carton de Wiart

Adrian Carton de Wiart served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War. He was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a prisoner-of-war camp; and tore off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. What a survivor!

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was coated with an anti-graffiti chemical. It was manufactured by the same company that was used in concentration camp gas chambers during WW2…

Penicillin

Penicillin was recycled and extracted from the urine of soldiers already on the antibiotics.

SS Wien of Austria

SS Wien of Austria was sunk in 1918 during World War I. It was salvaged and returned to service as SS Po. It unfortunately sunk again in 1941 during World War II.

James Hill

James Hill, a British officer, captured two Italian tanks using only his revolver. However, he was ultimately wounded while attempting to capture his third tank.

Pooli

Pooli, the cat, was a WW2 veteran. It earned 3 service ribbons and 4 battle stars.

When WW2 Began

Some say the war started when Japan invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931.

Alexey Maresyev

Alexey Maresyev,a Russian pilot, was shot down over Nazi Germany. He dragged himself for 18 days to Soviet territory and eventually had to have his legs amputated.

Hitler in Paris

 

Nutella

Did you know that Nutella was invented during WW2?

France’s Guns

The French had over 3,000 tanks, most of were larger and better armed than the German panzers.

Shipping Losses

british-ship

The Allies certainly lost many merchant ships during the war, but maybe not as many as you think.

Overall, there were 323,090 individual sailings, of which 4,786 were sunk (about 1.5%). Of these, 2,562 were British, but on average, there were around 2,000 British ships sailing somewhere around the world on any given day.

U.S. Aid

The US is estimated to have fed 6 million Soviet citizens continually during the war.

Food Rations

Britain began the war without rationing and only modestly introduced it in January 1940. In contrast, Germany began rationing at the war’s onset and struggled to feed its armed forces and the wider population from start to finish.

The country’s demand for food from occupied territories led to a lot of hunger for a lot of people. British people rarely had to go hungry and, although a number of foods were rationed, there were many that were not.

French Forces

It’s hard to believe but France had more machine-powered divisions than Germany in 1940’s.

Erich Hartmann

Erich Hartmann was the leading ace of all time with 352 ‘kills’. The leading Allied ace of the entire war was RAF ace, James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson with 38 kills.

Kamikaze Rockets

ohka

Japanese struggled to keep up pace with the United States and British technologies, so they did developed the Ohka (Cherry Blossom), a rocket-power human-guided anti-shipping missile, which was used at the end of the war as a kamikaze weapon.

Fewer Autos

German wartime propaganda that the Third Reich had a highly mechanized and modern army is still widely believed, but actually, in 1939, Germany was one of the least automotive societies in the western world, despite the autobahns and Grand Prix victories of Mercedes.

At the war’s start, there were 47 people for every motor vehicle in Germany. In Britain, that figure was 14, in France it was eight, and in the USA it was four.

Leningrad

More than 300,000 Russian soldiers died during the German siege of the city of Leningrad. That means in just one city, Russia lost 75% of the number of troops lost for the U.S. during the entire war.

Soviet Purges

Stalin killed more people than Hitler during purges of “undesirables”. Stalin killed an estimated total of 25 million people versus Hitler’s 12 million.

Henry Ford

In 1918, Henry Ford purchased his hometown newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. A year and a half later, he began publishing a series of articles that claimed a vast Jewish conspiracy was infecting America. The series ran in the following 91 issues. Ford bound the articles into four volumes titled “The International Jew,” and distributed half a million copies to his vast network of dealerships and subscribers. As one of the most famous men in America, Henry Ford legitimized ideas that otherwise may have been given little authority.

Ford was also awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials in 1938, ostensibly for their admiration of Ford’s pioneering work in the auto industry.

U.S. Nurses

When the US declared war on Japan in 1941, there were a total of 1,000 nurses in the Army Corps. By the end of the war there were more than 60,000.

Soviet Danger

Germany nearly won the war against the USSR. In late 1941, the USSR sent a feeler committee (Beria) to Germany. Stalin was willing to hand over Ukraine along with much of the won territory the German army was occupying in late 1941. The feeler committee stated that the Germans believed that the USSR was near collapse and did not want to negotiate terms of peace.

Roza Shanina

Roza Shanina was a female Soviet sniper who achieved 54 confirmed hits. Newspapers called her, “the unseen terror of East Prussia.”

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