The second World War has always been a hot topic for modern historians studying the prevailing political and economic structure of the contemporary world.
Incidents such as nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the Battle of Stalingrad were turning points in the war and thus are fairly well known. However, there are numerous smaller, lesser-known incidents that played key roles during the entire war.
We have gathered some of those interesting facts; let’s start with shorter and quicker facts about world war II.
1. World War II was a battle between two groups; Axis and Allies. Major Axis powers were Germany, Japan, and Italy, while the Allies were Britain, France, Russia, China and Later America.
2. It was the bloodiest and most destructive war in the history of mankind. According to an estimate, about 4.5 million people died in the Siege of Leningrad, fought between German forces and the Red Army on the Eastern Front.
AA guns guarding the sky’s of Leningrad
3. The Battle of Berlin took close to 1.3 million lives.
4. Over 160,000 Allied airmen were killed in strategic bombing campaigns during World War II.
5. A Polish Catholic midwife named Stanisława Leszczyńska delivered over 3,000 babies at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust in Poland.
6. About 80% of all Soviet males born during 1923 died in World War II.
7. Germany lost as much as 110 division commanders during the war.
8. More than 80 commanders in the German ranks were executed by Hitler himself.
9. The US 8th Air Force shot down 6,098 fighter planes, 1 for every 12,700 shots fired.
10. The longest battle of WWII was the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted all the way from September 1939 to May 1945.
An eastbound U.S convoy in the Atlantic, November 1942.
11. Allied Bombers Dropped Nearly 3 Million Tonnes of Bombs During The Entire War
A B-24 Liberator (The Sandman) flying over Astra Română oil refinery in Romania
Between 1939-1945, the Allied bombers dropped nearly 3 million tonnes of bombs over different parts of Europe. According to an estimate, about half-a-million civilians in Germany died from Allied bombing campaigns. Large German cities like Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Hamburg were affected the most.
12. On 11th May 1940, The RAF Bombed A Civilian Target For The First Time In This War
The British RAF bombed the German city of Mönchengladbach on the evening of 11 May 1940. Unfortunately, it was the first intentional aerial bombing on cities or civilian areas from either side.
13. German Bombing Efforts Were More Concentrated Towards The East
Ruins of Stalingrad on 24 August 1942 | Image Courtesy: German Federal Archive
From 25 June 1941 to December 1941, the Germans dropped about 100,000 tonnes of bombs on the Soviet Union, almost completely destroying large cities like Stalingrad, Sevastapol, and Minsk.
For the next two years, from January 1942 to December 1943 the Luftwaffe continued their bombing campaign on the Eastern Front, dropping more than 650,000 tonnes of bombs.
14. Germans Believed Their Encrypted Communications Were Impenetrable.
In the mid-twentieth century, German high command believed that their encrypted communications were impenetrable to the allies.
The so-called Enigma machine was even feared by the allies because without intercepting the signals it was almost impossible to stop German ships from attacking allied vessels in the Pacific.
The Enigma Machine
15. Alan Turing Did The “Impossible”
The Bombe was a substantial improvement over the Polish Bomba, a device that had been devised in 1938 by a Polish cryptologist Marian Rejewski. The British Bombe was more reliable and fast.
16. The First American Soldier Killed In The War Was By The Germans
Captain Robert M. Losey, who was serving as a military attache at that time, was killed on April 21, 1940, during the German bombing in Norway. Captain Losey’s death is considered to be the first American military fatality in the War.
17. The Youngest Person To Serve The U.S Navy Was Just 12 Years Old
The youngest servicemen to serve the United States Navy in the Second World War was a 12 years old named Calvin Leon Graham. He joined in U.S Navy on August 15, 1942, a few months after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Calvin Leon Graham in 1942
During his service, Graham was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal, both of which were revoked after he was released in 1943 for lying about his age. He eventually received an honorable discharge in 1978.
18. The First Thing General George S. Patton And Winston Churchill Did After Landing On German Soil Was Pee In The River Rhine
When allied armies reached the battle line in Germany, the first thing the officials did was pee. In 1945, General George S. Patton reached Rhine River and he did urinate in the river and made sure he was photographed doing so.
During the same period, Winston Churchill also performed a-like wise action by urinating in the Rhine. General Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff, who was with Churchill that day, later wrote:
“I shall never forget the childish grin of intense satisfaction that spread all over his face as he looked down at the critical moment.”
19. The German Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee Was Never Sunk By The Royal Navy
The much-celebrated German Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee was never sunk by the British Royal Navy. The ship was intentionally scuttled by its commander Hans Langsdorff near the port at Montevideo after it suffered heavy damages in the battle of River Plate.
German Battleship Admiral GRAF SPEE in flames
20. The Battle of Stalingrad Was Perhaps The Bloodiest Battle In The Entire War
The Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943) resulted in more Russian deaths, both military and civilian, than all the American and British fatalities in this war combined. The German defeat in Stalingrad at the hands of the Red Army is without a doubt one of the major turning points in World War II.
21. One Of Hitler’s Relative Served In The U.S Navy During The World War II
Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William Patrick Stuart-Houston migrated in the United States with his mother in 1939 and was later drafted to serve the U.S Navy. He was discharged two years after the end of the world war in 1947.
22. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, If Japan Hadn’t Surrendered, The U.S Was Determined To Detonate Nuclear Bombs On More Of Its Cities
To make Japan surrender unconditionally, the United States was willing to detonate nuclear bombs on other Japanese cities as well.
According to archived military documents, large cities such as Kyoto, Yokohama, Niigata and even the capital Tokyo was a possible target for the next nuclear attack.
23. The German Intelligence Agency Had A Strong Presence In Latin American Countries For Most Of The War
The German intelligence agency, Sicherheitsdienst, or SD for short, had successfully infiltrated and established secret based in almost all South American nations, especially in Argentina.
Their primary objective was to gather covert information and securely relay them back to Germany. The entire operation was code-named Operation Bolivar.
24. Elizabeth II, Queen Of The United Kingdom, Served The Women’s Branch Of the British Army
Near the end of the Second World War, Queen Elizabeth II became an honorary second subaltern (equivalent to the second lieutenant rank) with the service number of 230873. She trained as a driver and mechanic and was promoted to honorary junior commander five months later.
25. Sargent John R.McKinney Held Off One Hundred Japanese Soldiers Single-handedly
President Harry S. Truman (center) with John McKinney (left) and other Medal of Honor recipients
U.S Army Sargent John R. McKinney successfully held and secured a strategically important position against one hundred Japanese forces during the campaign to regain the Philippines back from Japan.
For his heroics, McKinney received Medal of Honor in 1946 from President Harry S. Truman.
26. Japanese Atrocities Against The Chinese In The War Far Exceeds That Of The Germans Against Jews
The number of Chinese killed by the Japanese during WW2, also known as the Asian Holocaust, is greater than the number of Jews killed in Nazi Germany.
27. Despite Winning The World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill Lost The Election
Winston Churchill lost the 1945 election right after winning WW2. During 1940-1945, he was probably the most popular prime minister of all time due to the leadership qualities which made him almost invincible during the war but understood to be ill-suited to domestic politics in peacetime.
28. German Schuftzstaffel Became One Of The Most Feared Paramilitary Organizations In The World
Initially formed as a personal protection service for Hitler, the Schutzstaffel, abbreviated as SS, carried out mass executions against ethnic minorities and Hitler’s political opponents. The SS played the central role in the Holocaust as well.
The organization was further divided into two groups, the Allgemeine-SS (General SS) and the Waffen-SS (Armed SS).
29. Waffen-SS Was Mostly Comprised Of Non-Germans
Most members of the Waffen SS were not German. SS units were comprised of men from east and central Europe, Russia, Asia and surprisingly a small number of British troops.
30. American Soft Drink Brand Coca Cola Became A World Wide Phenomena After The War
When World War 2 started, Coca Cola had bottling plants in about 44 different countries including Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa. During the war, most of these bottling plants supplied exclusively to the troops.
After the war, most of these bottling plants were converted to civilian use, thus accelerating the growth of the Company’s worldwide business.
31. Japanese Invasion Of Manchuria Is Often Cited As The Actual Beginning Of The Global War
Japanese soldiers entering Mukden (modern-day Shenyang, China) on 18 September 1931
The Japanese Invasion of Manchuria (northeastern China) on 18 September 1931 is considered by many as the starting date for the Second World War. The German Invasion of Poland occurred eight years after on 1 September 1939.
32. Hitler’s Personal Train Was Named “Amerika.”
Hitler’s personal train, which he used as a mobile headquarters for most of the war, was named “Amerika” in 1940. It was changed to “Brandenburg” in 1943.
33. A British Engineer Was Working On A Powerful Death Ray
In 1935, British engineer Robert Watson-Watt was working on “death ray” that would destroy enemy aircraft using radio waves. His “death ray” instead evolved into radar or radio detection and ranging.
34. Josef Mengele, A Nazi Physician, Conducted Deadly Human Experiments On Prisoners
Jewish twins rescued by the Red Army at Auschwitz concentration camp
Josef Mengele was a physician in Hitler’s Schutzstaffel serving the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was infamous for conducting deadly experiments on twins (prisoners), mostly Jewish and Romany children.
His insane experiments included removing one twin’s eyeball and attaching it on the back of the other twin’s head or injecting dyes to change the eye color of children. He even sewn two Romany twins together in an attempt to create conjoined twins.
35. Nazi Germany Started An Involuntary “Euthanasia” Program To Mass Murder Physically Or Mentally Disable Citizens
In 1939, the Nazis began a “euthanasia” program in which 80,000 to 100,000 Germans who were disabled, mentally retarded were murdered. The program was named Tiergartenstrasse or Aktion T-4 program, a street address of the Chancellery department set up in spring 1940 in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten.
36. The U.S Military Appointed Native American Speakers As Code Talkers
During World War II, the U.S Military hired native Americans to translate secret military communications in little-known languages. One of those native languages was Navajo.
The Navajo language was almost perfect for this cause since it is completely different from German, Italian and Japanese.
37. There Is An Ongoing Dispute Between Russia And Japan Since The Second World War
Near the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed the Kuril Islands from Japan in a successful Soviet military operation. The Kuril Islands is a thin chain of islands that extends from the southern tip of Russian Kamchatka Peninsula to northeastern coast of Hokkaido in Japan.
After more than seven decades, the Kuril Islands dispute remain a highly sensitive matter in this region of the world.
38. U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt Used Al Capone’s Armored Car
After the unanticipated Pearl Harbor attack, the Secret Service was looking for a bulletproof car that would cater to the needs of the then U.S President Franklin D.Roosevelt.
The only car they could find was Al Capone’s limo, which had been seized by the Treasury Department after he was arrested for tax evasion. FDR reportedly said, “I hope Mr. Capone won’t mind”.
39. Nearly 70 Million People Died In This War
WWII casualties totaled between 50 and 70 million people. More than 80% of which came from four countries: Russia, China, Germany, and Poland. More than half of these casualties were civilians, most of whom were women and children.
World War 2 Casualties
40. Soviet Armed Forces Were The First To Maintain Regular Paratrooper Units
The Russian Airborne Troops or VDV, formed in the mid-1930s, was the first regular paratrooper force to serve in the Second World War. It remained the largest airborne force in the world for a long time after the war.
41. Ian Fleming’s Character “James Bond” Was Inspired From A World War II Spy
Author Ian Fleming based his famous character James Bond on the Yugoslavian-born spy Dusko Popov. Popov spoke at least five languages and came up with his own formula for invisible ink. He was the first spy to use microdots.
He obtained information that the Japanese were planning an airstrike on Pearl Harbor, but the FBI did not act on his warning.
42. Barrage balloons Were Used To Protect Major British Towns And Cities From Air Raids
To protect key locations such as ports and industries from German dive bombers, British cities employed barrage balloons laced with long steel cables.
The balloons were launched before a raid and trailed a network of steel cables beneath them. Axis bombers had to fly high to avoid collision with these cables, thus reducing their accuracy.
43. A Weapon From World War II That Is Still In Use
Russian Katyusha rocket launcher
On July 14, 1941, the Soviets introduced an MRLs system, the Katyusha, which could fire 320 rockets in 25 seconds. More than 70 years later, the Katyusha remains an effective weapon.
44. In the 1930s, The U.S Army Was No Way Near The Largest Military In The World
At the beginning of the World War II, the United States Army had just about 130,000 personals, making it the sixteenth largest force in the world behind European countries such as Poland, Turkey, Spain, and Romania.
45. The German Military Ran Brothels To Spy On High Profile Targets And Foreign Diplomats
The SS ran a brothel named “The Kitty Salon” for foreign diplomats and other VIPs in Berlin. It was wiretapped, and 20 prostitutes underwent several weeks of intense indoctrination and training.
They were specially trained to glean information from clients through seemingly innocent conversations.
A scene from the 1976 film Salon Kitty
46. Adolf Hitler And Henry Ford Were Close Friends
Hitler kept a framed photo of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, on his desk. Henry Ford also kept a framed photo of the Nazi leader on his desk in Dearborn, Michigan. In Mein Kampf, Hitler included some anti-Semitic views attributed to Ford.