50 Interesting Facts About World War II
World War II will forever be talked about until the end of time. By far the deadliest war to ever take place with so much at stake. While many believe this war was just a continuation of World War I, this war has its own narrative and interesting facts that you need to read about. Flip through this gallery and learn all about this crazy war, from a Hitler vs Hitler match up to a death ray almost becoming complete, there is sure to be something here that you'll be glad you know.
Russia Lost the Most Soldiers
Out of the 30 countries that participated in this war Russia lost the most soldiers at 21 million. To put this in perspective Poland lost the second most amount at around 6 million, Russia nearly 4x that amount. Around half of those deaths were associated with illnesses and starvation. Keep in mind these numbers are just estimates and some historians say it is as high as 26 million.
The Allies Dropped Bombs!
The Allies were not shy about dropping bombs on the Axis powers, in a seven-year span, the Allies dropped an absurd 3.4 million bombs, most going towards Germany and Japan. This lead to Germany losing as many as 600,000 soldiers and Japan losing 500,000. The Axis powers would return the favor dropping bombs of their own killing thousands of soldiers from Russia, France, and Britain, but nowhere near the amount of firepower the Allies were able to apply.
Historians Can't Agree When it Started!
Unlike the start date of World War I that could be traced back to an assassination, historians often debate on why and when this war was started. Some say it was when Germany first invaded Poland on September 1st, while others say Japan actually started this war when they decided to invade Manchuria on September 18th. At least the dates are close enough to not make a significant change, it just all depends on who you want to blame. There is another explanation that historians use, and that is that there is no World War II and it is just a continuation of World War I since tensions were still brewing.
Germans used the Alias Max Heiliger to get away with Murder
We all know what happened during the Holocaust, but have you ever wondered what happened to the belongings of those poor individuals? Well after killing the jews a fake bank account under the name Max Heiliger was set up so that Germans were able to fill up bank vaults full of their possessions. The possessions included jewelry, dental gold, art, furniture, and wedding rings. Another code name used was Aktion Reinhardt. This was possible due to Heinrich Himmler and Walther Funk working together.
The Battle of the Atlantic
The Battle of the Atlantic was not only one of the longest battles, which lasted around 7 years, but also one of the most important as the winner would control the Atlantic Ocean so that they would deliver goods more freely. Britain needed its ships to travel along the Atlantic in order to receive vital supplies, but Germany was smart and stationed their submarines to sink any ships that crossed their paths. Britain then began to send combat ships along with its merchant ships which made it harder on Germany.
They Weren't Always Called Nazis
Many people don't know but the Nazis actually called themselves Nasos. This was because the word was an abbreviation for the National Socialist Party. A journalist then called them Nazis in order to make fun of them because in Bavarian Nazi meant simple-minded. The name then stuck because most people believed they were in fact simple-minded only following orders and not opening up their minds to accept people who were different than they were.
The Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was by far the worst blow the United States has taken. During this battle, they lost around 100,000 soldiers. This was Hitler's greatest strategy as he attacked the U.S. troops mid December when their troops were immobilized by the freezing temperature. The U.S. didn't get a chance to strike back until around Christmas time but by that time it was already too late and there was already a bloodbath around them. The Allies ultimately claimed victory during that battle but had still lost a lot.
Lots of Jews Helped in the Fight Against the Axis Powers
When you hear about the Jews during World War II, lots of people remember them as being victims, and while they were, many of them were actually soldiers. There were nearly 600,000 jews in the U.S. Army, not surprising when they were hearing about what was going on in their home country. Out of those 600,000, 80,000 never came back home but instead died fighting the good fight for the freedom of their people. Only two of the Jewish men that came back received a Medal of Honor.
Nazis Were the Focal Point of this War
While World War II was made of 30 different Countries the focal point and what people remember the most are the Nazis. They were ruthless and were responsible for 12 million deaths during this war. That was more than the population of some of the countries that fought. Sadly, of the 12 million, 6 million of those casualties were people of Jewish descent during the Holocaust.
Wind Ship Weapons
One of the most ambitious strategies to come out of the war was Japan's Wind Ship Weapons. The Pacific Ocean separates the United States from Japan, so Japan came up with an idea to send war balloons with little mini bombs across the ocean. Japan sent around 9,000 of these bombs and the majority actually reached their target though weren't very effective. The objective of these balloons was to start small fires in the forest around the U.S. Unfortunately they did manage to kill five children and a pregnant woman. These bombs took around an hour to cross the ocean.
Birth of the Kamikaze
This war gave birth to the idea of a kamikaze pilot. The Japanese knew they were behind in technology compared to the U.S. and therefore could not win a fair one on one fight. In order to even the odds, they decided to instead sacrifice their own hoping that one of their own sacrificing their lives would take out multiple troops at once. Not the fairest way to play but it was effective. Japan lost around 3,000 soldiers to this but in return were able to kill or wound 10,000 U.S. soldiers.
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was by far the battle with the most bloodshed during this war. It is estimated that over one million soldiers combined from both sides were lost that day. The famous words "Not a step back" were echoed during this battle as Germany began to get the upper hand, but the Russian forces were determined to not break and let them take Stalingrad. The Russians were able to hold off and allow a Russian winter to come which gave them a huge advantage and ended up winning that battle.
The United States Increased their Budget
Prior to this war, the United States had a budget of 1.9 Billion for its military. During the 5 year span of this war from 1940 to 1945 the United States would increase that number drastically to around 60 Billion dollars. If you adjusted that to meet inflation today, the war would cost 4 trillion dollars, without a doubt the most expensive war. The government was able to raise this money in such a short time due to taxes and bonds. Taxes were raised on the wealthy and lucky for the United States citizens bought over $185.7 billion worth of bonds. Even with those two measures that only covered for about 60% of the war.
United States Factories had to Put in Overtime
With the United States defense budget sky rocking, you may be wondering what it was used for. During this time American factories were putting in overtime to produce tons of equipment to supply the military. This arsenal included seven million rifles, three million machine guns, and eighty-nine thousand jeeps among other arsenals like air and sea crafts. It was a good time to be in the labor force, and even needed the recruiting of some women to help pick up the load.
A New Way to Get Information
When it comes to love and war all really is fair. During the war, the Germans created a brothel, where only VIPs were allowed, however they trained the women inside to get information out of their clients. They would engage in light conversation with the client and seem innocent but inside hid a bunch of wiretaps so they were able to listen in to every word. This Salon was called the Kitty Salon. Later this salon was destroyed by an air raid rendering all the work and training useless.
New Superpowers Emerge
Before World War I the world had 5 great powers, Austria, Prussia, France, Britain, and Russia. After the devastation that was World War I, three superpowers emerged, Great Britain, The Soviet Union, and The United States. Then came World War II and again took a toll on the world and eliminated Great Britain from the list. This means that both of those wars lead to the demise of Europe as a great central power as all of its countries lost that status. The two remaining superpowers were The United States and The Soviet Union, this would eventually lead to the cold war.
Pearl Harbor took its toll
It's no surprise to anyone that Pearl Harbor took its toll on the U.S. and is a story that will be passed down for generations to come, but it's hard to grasp just how much of an impact it had until you see the numbers. As far as deaths go, around 2,400 men were killed that day and 1,200 more injured. The United States also had 18 of their ships sunk and 350 aircraft destroyed. Safe to say that was a tough blow to the United States and is no wonder why that day has been depicted in tons of media from movies to books.
The Beast of Belsen
Josef Kramer was known as, "The Beast of Belsen" which came from how cold-hearted he was. Kramer was responsible for overseeing the Nazi camps, which means he was directly responsible for killing thousands of people and he did so without even flinching. he would later be executed for war crimes, but not before being asked if he felt any remorse and he earned his nickname by saying no because he was only following orders.
The Story of Rudolf Hess
Rudolf Hess was sort of like Hitler's right-hand man and it was believed that both shared homosexual tendencies. Rudolf Hess was a little more open about this thus leading to people in his inner circle referring to him as Fraulein Anna and Brown Mouse. Hitler at least to the outside world appeared straight seeing how he had been with multiple women. Rudolf is better known for eventually fleeing the country and heading to the United Kingdom to try to come to a peaceful solution and end the war.
Hitler vs Hitler
Oddly enough Hitler's half nephew William Hitler fought in World War II, but not on the side of his half-uncle, William actually fought alongside the United States Navy. When Adolf came to power, William decided to move back to Germany where instead of benefitting from his half uncle's power he witnessed how deranged he was. This caused William to flee to the United States and join the navy, of course, he first had to change his name and he chose William Houston. William was later granted American citizenship for his contribution to the war.
True Identities Never Revealed
Nazis weren't only keen on killing Jews but Poles as well, killing well over a million Polish people. However, during every batch the Nazis started to realize that some of their children looked German, because of this, the German's ended up kidnapping anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 Polish children in order to "Germanize" them. This meant they were abducted and given German parents and were punished if they ever spoke Polish. To this day, not all the children kidnapped have been discovered and the ones who have, have been left to deal with their trauma all on their own. This could also mean that to this day there could be people out there who believe they are of German descent when really they are Polish.
Japan's Change of Heart
Some may be confused as to why Japan is now on the opposite side of the battle from countries like The United States and France when during World War I Japan was their ally. During this time Japan was going through a government change and after looking at the peace treaty they decided that they felt like they got handed the short end of the stick when it came to gaining new territories. This prompted Japan to side with Germany during World War II fearing the same would happen and so they would have nothing to gain.
Germany's not so Peaceful Peace Treaty
World War I and World War II took place twenty years apart, so the question begs, why sign a peace treaty if you weren't ready for peace. That's what most Germans had in mind as well, they never wanted to accept their punishment of having to get rid of all their over sea empires as well as its neighboring lands, no to mention not being allowed to keep their large army. From the moment they signed the treaty they continued to hold resentment which is why the two wars were so close together and why many believe World War II was just a continuation of World War I.
Go For Broke
The 442nd regimental Combat Team was the most accomplished team for the United States during World War II. This team consisted of Japanese-Americans who volunteered as they believed the U.S. was in the right during this war. They had a famous motto that said, "Go For Broke" since they gave it everything they had any time they hit the battlefield. The team won an impressive amount of medals, including 4,667 of them receiving medals, citations, and awards.
Hiding in Plain Sight
When you think of the camouflage the army wore back in the day, it is so precise most people would think generals went out to study the jungles to imitate the colors. However, this is not the case, a gentleman by the name of Norvell Gillespie, who was a garden editor, was the one who came up with the colors. Makes sense too since a person with his background would know better than anyone else the colors needed in order to blend in with a garden, or in their case a jungle. You can see how the U.S. was able to gain significant advantages over the enemy by thinking outside the box.
During World War I tanks didn't play a huge role since it was an early model and they didn't quite figure out all the kinks yet. However, during World War II tanks were largely involved on both sides, the greatest of these tank battles occurred on the Eastern Front near Kursk between Germany and Russia. During this battle around 3,600 tanks were involved. The battle only lasted a month and Russia was able to hold off the Germans during that battle but the sheer presence of tanks during that battle is something to see.
Spies in Mexico
During the war, the U.S. caught wind of a spy ring Japan had set up to infiltrate them. However, while the United States tried to find and dispose of this, the ring was actually in Mexico, not the United States. Japan used the cover of a brothel in order to keep an eye on the United States Atlantic Fleet. However, while in Mexico they were able to recruit a former U.S. navy man and have him relay information to them, and pay him monthly to do so.
When news hit around Germany that the war was lost, Germans who were stationed at the camps knew they would most likely be either put away or sentenced to death for the war crimes they committed. However, it is said that many of them actually dressed like refugees when the Allies troops came to save them and were able to pass themselves off as refugees and by doing so were able to gain the same freedoms and perks the refugees were given.
A Third Bomb could have been Dropped
Most people remember the two devastating bombs that were dropped on Japan. The first in Hiroshima that killed well over 80,000 people and the second in Nagasaki that killed over 40,000 people. These two bombs forced Japan to surrender after seeing how much damage the bombs caused, people in Japan called it the "Cruel" bomb. However, before Japan surrendered the United States was getting ready to drop a third bomb. This bomb would have been dropped in Tokyo, with the amount of aftermath caused by the first two bombs leaving radiation exposure everywhere, a bomb in Tokyo would have ended Japan. Looking at Tokyo now and how beautiful it is, it is crazy to think what it would look like now had the third bomb been dropped.
The Most Accomplished 12 year old
In World War I we learned that 12-year-olds were enlisting into the army to escape their living conditions but were quickly found out with the help of their parents. Well, Calvin Graham did the same in World War II except he wasn't discovered quick and became a very accomplished soldier. Calvin Graham received a purple heart and a bronze gold medal prior to the navy discovering how old he truly was. Once they found out he was forced to withdraw but was able to keep all of his awards except for his purple heart.
The Introduction of The Katyusha
The Russian debuted a dangerous weapon during World Ward II called the Katyusha. It was a fragile weapon but could fire 320 rockets at once in just under 25 seconds, a real game-changer during the war as you could overwhelm your opponents. Although it was deadlier and quicker than anything else at the time there were also a few drawbacks. The Katyusha was very inaccurate just randomly shooting out the missiles and also took a really long time to reload. However, to give you an example of how revolutionary it was, the Katyusha is still used to this day and is still very effective.
Bulletproof was not easy to come by
When Pearl Harbor took place the United States was on high alert and the current president, Roosevelt, was looking for a bulletproof car. However, regulations during that time only allowed the purchases of cars $750 and below. This made it nearly impossible for the president who didn't want to take the chance of another sneak attack. Luckily during this time, Al Capone had been convicted of tax evasion so his bulletproof limo had been seized. As you could imagine, this limo was used by the president to get him from place to place.
Policy of Appeasement
After World War I the Treaty of Versailles made sure that Germany couldn't expand their land anymore and even had to give up pieces of their land they had taken. However, in 1930 Britain gave Germany a Policy of Appeasement that allowed them to expand unchecked. Many wondered why this was the case but British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain defended this decision hoping it would avoid another world war. As we know that wasn't the case, but some defended Chamberlain and say that he knew they were on the verge of another World War and needed time to prepare as opposed to starting it right away.
The Nazi Salute
The Nazi salute is extremely famous and would be recognized anywhere in the world, in fact in some parts of the world it is considered a hate crime to perform the salute if done with a Nazi connotation. If you are wondering where it came from, rumor has it, it was an old salute back in ancient Rome times, however, there are no records indicating the Romans ever saluted each other in this way. Word got back to Germany that this was the origin being given for the salute and people were irate that their German salute was actually an Italian salute. In order to disprove that a book was written stating that the salute was thought of before the knowledge of any Romans using it.
The Great Depression
When people hear about the Great Depression what comes to mind is how the United States economy had crashed. However, little know that the Great Depression actually had a domino effect around the world. Germany, who was responsible for paying reparations, was unable to do so causing Britain and France to not be able to pay their debt to the United States and therefore made the economy around the world hurt.
Inflatable Barrage Balloons
One of the more creative ways Britain, Germany, Italy, and France protected their cities from air raids were inflatable barrage balloons. These were blimp-like balloons that would fly in the air and if an aircraft was not careful it could get caught in the cables that were attached to these balloons. This made it hard for pilots to fly near big cities in those countries and therefore had to fly up high to avoid the inflatable barrage balloons and thus their air raids were a lot less accurate and effective. Pretty smart if you ask me.
Germany had a plethora of tactics during this war in order to invade cities and countries. One of their most successful strategies was known as the lightning war. What they would do is bring in tanks equipped with sirens that sounded like screaming people. This made citizens panic and go into chaos fearing the people around them were being killed. Because of all the chaos, their enemies were not able to mobilize in an organized and timely manner so the Germans would just overwhelm them being in control of the situation the entire time.
Hiroo Onoda has probably the best story you'll ever hear about from World War II, and one that you'll want to tell your friends about. In 1945 Hiroo Onoda was sent out to the Philippines to go fight in the war, he took a position in the jungle and didn't come out until 1974 when a Japanese commander came to get him. For 29 years he hid in the jungle unaware that the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. Could you imagine spending 29 years of your life fighting a war that was no longer going on.
Russia and Japan never became Friends
Similar to how Germany never let go of its tension after World War I, Japan and Russia to this day have never been friendly towards one another. Both countries claim there is no hostility between one another but have never formally come together to show peace. A meeting between the two to do so was scheduled in 2000 but Japan denied it after they requested Russia return some islands they took during the war, Russia did not oblige so the two have still yet to formally meet.
The Navajo Language
During World War I, Germany became really skilled in breaking down encrypted messages. The United States got creative and used Native American Tribe's language who were known as Choctaw code talkers. Well during World War II the United States used that experience and tactic again this time using the help of the Navajo tribe and their language, which was so unique they had to give some words new meaning since the vocabulary didn't exist in the U.S. During the duration of the war the Japanese were never able to decrypt any messages sent from the Navajo Code Talkers.
Interestingly enough, Russia was the first country to successfully train paratroopers. Paratroopers were troops that were trained to be able to accurately parachute off military aircraft into an operation. They mastered this skill in 1935, five years before any other country was able to. This gave them a huge advantage in how they were able to deploy and mobilize their troops. Even after the Allies were able to teach their troops this skill, Russia still had the largest airborne force.
Euthanasia was used in Germany
We all know how ruthless Germans were during this time, and this carried on to their own as well. While other countries were trying their best to help their wounded, Germany developed a program named the T-4, where it would euthanize any soldier who was insane or disabled. The program was said to have killed anywhere between 80,000 to 100,000 troops. Nothing compared to the number of enemies they killed but still tragic to see that they didn't want to spend the time or energy on anyone who was no longer useful to them.
When the United States dropped two bombs on Japan, very few casualties were left. However, those who did manage to survive coined the name niju hibakusha, which translates to "explosion-affected people." To this day 650,000 people have received that title and in 2020, 136,682 are still alive, the rest all died and most had illnesses related to the radiation. However, of the remaining 136,682 less than 1% are ill, but still qualify to receive assistance from the government.
During World War I chemical warfare was used due to all the trench warfare that was happening. Gas was a very effective way to lure your enemies out of the trenches and out of hiding. While you may think that after World War I those strategies were built upon and became deadlier, the truth is they almost became nonexistent. During World War II only two countries used poisonous gas during a battle, Italy against Ethiopia and Japan against China. They became less effective due to all the new air attacks that were now available.
While a decisive number of deaths has never been given, estimates have been between 50 to 70 million. When you really stop and think of it that is heartbreaking to hear. However it gets worse, most of the deaths came from four countries, Germany, Russia, Poland, and China. Of those casualties over half were innocent bystanders that consisted of women and children. To think that many children were never given the chance to grow up and become something special is truly heartbreaking, all over greed and evil.
The oleander, for those that don't know, is a poisonous plant. This is the official flower of Hiroshima, and while you may think this is because of the symbolism of it being a poisonous flower and Hiroshima being a poisonous place with radiation around it, this is not the case. It is actually because the oleander was the first flower to bloom thereafter the bomb was dropped, this gave people hope that Hiroshima could rise again. Pretty ironic that a poisonous plant in a poisonous place is what gave people hope. To me it seems more like a bad omen.
Some Countries Remained Neutral
Although this was known as a World War, not every country took part in the action. There were some key countries that decided to no choose sides and remain neutral. These countries included Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain. They did this to protect themselves more than anything else. Each country still mobilized their troops and put up defenses but made sure to stay neutral not aiding any sides, instead putting out the word that regardless of which side you were on, if you tried to invade they were going to fight back. This was a great strategy and neither side wanted to give the other more allies should it decide to unsuccessfully invade a neutral country.
A Death Ray?
One of the crazier stories to come out of World War II was the fact that Japan planned to create a Death Ray. Japan actually paid a group of scientists who told them they could build a death ray. The craziest part is that the ray was actually built, well a prototype at least. However, this never came through since in order for the ray to hit the enemy it would need to stand in place for around 15 minutes. Had this project been successful I have no doubt Japan would have taken over the world.
The End of the War
The end of World War II came on September 2nd, 1945 when Japan finally surrendered. The actual surrender came on August 15th, 1945 however the paperwork wasn't signed until September 2nd. This came after the rest of the Axis powers surrendered and Japan knew it had no hope once they lost Penang. The surrender also came after the famous Hiroshima bomb-dropping which decimated the country, after the atomic bomb was dropped, President Truman asked for Japan's surrender and they obliged with pressure also coming from China and Britain.