World War II, also known as the Second World War, involved almost every major nation in the world, including all the great powers, who eventually formed two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis. In a state of “total war,” participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities into the effort, erasing the lines between military and civilian. There were mass civilian casualties, highlighted by The Holocaust and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With an estimated 50 – 85 million people killed, World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history.
Here are a few things you might not know about the Last Great War.
77. Kamikaze Woes
Most kamikaze pilots died in vain. Only 1 in 9 kamikaze pilots hit their targets during WW2
76. Beast of the East
For every five German soldiers who died in the war, four died on the Eastern Front.
75. A Bad Year
Eighty percent of all the Russian males born in 1923 did not survive the war. And Millennials think they have it tough…
74. Business is Booming
Between 1939 and 1945, Allied forces dropped 3.4 million tons of bombs, which is an average of 27,700 tons per month.
73. Russian Casualties
The country that suffered the most casualties during WWII was Russia with over 21 million, which is roughly the entire population of Sri Lanka.
72. Long Live the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II served as a mechanic and driver in World War II.
71. The War Continues… Technically.
Japan and Russia still haven’t signed a peace treaty to end World War II due to the Kuril Islands dispute.
70. Atomic Destruction
America dropped atomic bombs on Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, which ended the war in the Pacific theater. The bombs killed 90,000–146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki.
69. Planes, Trains, and Death
The planes that dropped the nuclear bombs were the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the latter named after Frederick Bock, the plane’s commander.
68. Fresh Out
If it was necessary to drop a third atomic bomb on Japan, the target would have been Tokyo. Luckily, the Japanese surrendered. That and the Americans actually didn’t have any more bombs to drop.
67. Fire and Blood
Five months before the atomic bombs hit Japan, more than 300 U.S. B-29 bombers launched one of the most devastating air raids in history. By dawn, more than 100,000 people were dead, a million were homeless, and 40 square kilometers of Tokyo were burned to the ground. More people were killed in the Tokyo firebombing than in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
A Japanese man, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings during WW2.
WW2 Flight Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade survived a fall from 18,000 feet (5,500 m) without a parachute. He suffered only a sprained leg.
64. Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge, last major German offensive campaign of World War II, was one of the deadliest conflicts for America during the war, costing the lives of over 80,000 Americans.
63. Nasos Much
The original abbreviation of the National Socialist Party was Nasos. The word “Nazi” comes from the Bavarian word that means “simple minded” and was meant as a derogatory term.
62. The Hunger Games
More Russians lost their lives during the Siege of Leningrad than American and British soldiers combined in all of WWII. The 872 day German-led siege caused extreme famine in the Leningrad region, which resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 people.
61. Water Guns
The longest battle of the conflict was the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Battle of the Atlantic pitted U-boats and warships of the Kriegsmarine (German navy) and aircrafts of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) against the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, the United States Navy, and Allied merchant shipping.
Approximately 600,000 Jews served in the United States armed forces during WWII. More than 35,000 of those Jews were killed, wounded, captured, or otherwise went missing. Approximately 8,000 died in combat. Only two Jewish soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Nazis murdered over 12 million people, with 6 million of those being Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.
Liberation of Auschwitz.
The word “Holocaust” means “whole burnt.”
57. The Tides of War
In WW2, the U.S. and New Zealand secretly tested 3,700 “tsunami bombs” designed to destroy coastal cities.
56. Protecting Human Life
The Mosque of Paris helped Jews escape the Nazis by giving them Muslim IDs during WW2.
55. Japan’s Refugees
During WW2, Japan received Jewish refugees and rejected the resulting Nazi German protests.
54. The Spy that Got Medals
Spaniard double agent Joan Pujol Garcia had the rare distinction of receiving an Iron Cross from the Germans and an MBE from the British during WW2.
53. Poor Problem-Solving
The architect of “The Final Solution” was Heinrich Himmler, and the decision was made at the 1942 Wannsee Conference in Berlin to go ahead with the plan.
52. The Alternate Solution
Before deciding to kill all the Jews, one of the proposed “solutions” was sending all of them to Madagascar. Unfortunately, Nazi studies showed that Madgascar simply would not have been big enough and, furthermore, access was blocked by a British naval blockade.
51. Worst Memo Ever
The earliest use of the phrase “Final solution to the Jewish problem” was actually used in an 1899 memo to Russian Tzar Nicholas about Zionism.
50. Close to Salvation
Anne Frank died one month before the liberation of her concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.
49. Disease Control
After the camp was liberated, the Allied forces burned it down to prevent the spread of typhus.
48. Typhus Heroism
During WW2, two polish doctors saved 8,000 Jews from the Holocaust by faking a typhus epidemic that stopped the Nazis entering their town.
47. I Can Be Your Hero
Despite the risks, many people worked to save the Jews. The entire country of Denmark saved their whole Jewish community while individuals such as Oskar Schindler made significant differences.
46. Dying Free
Even after the Allied forces liberated the concentration camp prisoners, many were beyond help with 13,000 prisoners in Bergen-Belsen dying after being saved.
45. Nazi Experiments
Many of the Jewish prisoners were used for horrible medical experiments, including bombarding testicles and ovaries with x-rays to see when sterility occurred, breaking bones to see how many times they could be broken before they no longer healed, and amputating limbs for testing transplantation.
44. Dr. Horrible
Dr. Josef Mengele performed many terrible experiments using twins. Of over 3,000 twins he used as test subjects, only 200 survived.
43. Give ‘em the Hook
The swastika is an ancient religious symbol derived from the Sanskrit name for a hooked cross, which was used by ancient civilizations as a symbol of fertility and good fortune.
42. Flagged as Inappropriate
Hitler designed the Nazi flag. The red represented the social idea of Nazism, the white represented nationalism, and the black Swastika represented the struggle of the Aryan man.
41. Balloon Fight
During WWII, Japanese launched “wind ship weapons,” paper and rubberized silk balloons that carried incendiary and anti-personnel bombs to the US. Reaching as far as Michigan, more than 1,000 balloons hit their targets. Only 6 Americans were killed, while they were on a picnic in Oregon.
40. Cable Network
Getting in on the balloon game, the British used balloons as part of their air defense. Before air raids, they would send up balloons, setting up a network of steel cables. This forced bombers to fly high in order to avoid being entangled, which reduced their accuracy.
39. Horror Museum
Hitler planned to collect thousands of Jewish artifacts to build a “Museum of An Extinct Race” after the war.
38. Horror Lake
Hitler’s plan for Moscow was to kill all its residents and cover it with an artificial lake.
37. Suicide Squad
The Kamikaze attack, suggested by Vice-Admiral Onishi in 1944, was meant to combat the superior technological advantage that the Americans had. Though the numbers may not be accurate, it is estimated that 2,800 Kamikaze pilots died while sinking 34 US ships, damaging 368 others, and killing 4,900 sailors whilst injuring 4,800 more.
36. The Wind beneath Their Wings
Kamikaze means “divine wind” in Japanese.
35. Pearl Harbour
The attack at Pearl Harbor sunk or damaged 18 of the 96 ships that were anchored there, including 8 battleships. They also destroyed at least 350 aircrafts and killed 2,402 men.
34. Canada, Eh?
After the attack on Pearl Harbor during WW2, Canada declared war on Japan before the United States did.
During WW2, the Oscars’ statuettes were made of painted plaster due to a metal shortage.
32. Unfair Trade
German U-Boats sunk 2,000 Allied ships at a cost of 781 U-Boats.
31. Life Isn’t Better Where It’s Wetter
Of the 40,000 men who served on U-Boats in the war, only 10,000 of them made it home.
30. Danger Pay
In 1941, a private in the US Army earned $21/month. In 1942, he earned $50/month.
29. Bring out the Death Ray
In 1935, British engineer Robert Watson-Watt worked on a “death ray” using radio waves. The “death ray” never worked, but it eventually became radar, which rumor has it, ended up being pretty useful.
28. Blonds Have More Fun
The most successful fighter ace of any nation was German fighter pilot Erich Hartmann, also known as the “Blond Knight.” In his career, he racked up 352 kills. By contrast, the famed Red Baron, also German, racked up only 80 kills.
27. Too Little Too Late
The first jet fighters to be employed in combat were invented by the Germans. However, they were introduced a little too late to turn the tide in the war.
26. Message in a Bottle? Try Coconuts.
After John F. Kennedy’s WW2 PT boat was sunk, he wrote a message on a coconut asking for help. It worked. Kennedy kept the coconut and it became a Presidential paperweight.
25. Gun Show
The most powerful artillery gun used in WWII was named Karl after its creator Karl Becker. The massive gun could fire a 2.5 ton shell over 3 miles, was capable of penetrating up to nine feet of concrete.
24. Taking the Stairs
During WW2, when Hitler visited Paris, the French cut the lift cables on the Eiffel Tower so that Hitler would have to climb the steps if he wanted to reach the top.
Women serving in the US Marine Corp were referred to as BAMs, which stood for “Broad-Assed Marines.” They called the men HAMs, which stood for “Hairy-Assed Marines.”
22. Never Trust a Brothel
The SS ran a brothel called “The Kitty Salon” for foreign diplomats and other VIPs in Berlin. The brothel was wiretapped, and the prostitutes all underwent rigorous spy training to be able to extract information via seemingly innocuous conversation.
21. Does a Burger by any Other Name…
During WWII, hamburgers were renamed “Liberty Steaks” to avoid having a name that sounded too German. This set off a long tradition of renaming American foods to avoid unsavory national associations. Freedom Fries anyone?
20. Mrs. Hitler
The American secret service tried to spike Hitler’s food with female hormones to feminize him.
Agents planned to smuggle doses of oestrogen into his food to make him less aggressive and more like his docile younger sister Paula, who worked as a secretary.
Spies working for the British were close enough to Hitler to access his food, and oestrogen was chosen because it was tasteless and would have a slow and subtle effect, meaning it would pass Hitler’s food testers unnoticed.
19. Nazi Pirates
The Nazis pirated the Harvard “fight song” to compose their Sieg Heil march.
The Nazis killed millions of Polish people, but some of the babies and children looked German, they kidnapped 50,000 of them to be adopted to German parents for “Germanization.”
17. Built Ford Tough
Hitler kept a framed photo of Henry Ford, of the Ford Motor Company, on his desk. Hitler regarded Ford as an inspiration and said that he would do his “best to put his theories into practice in Germany.”
16. Runaway Baby
On January 31st, 1945, US Army Private Eddie Slovik was shot for desertion, the first American to be executed for the crime since the Civil War and the only one to receive this punishment in WWII.
15. Musta Had Great Fake ID
Calvin Graham was the youngest serviceman to ever serve in the military, enlisting at the age of 12. He won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart before it was discovered how old he was. He was discharged from service and, as punishment, was later played by Ricky Shroder in TV movie called Too Young the Hero.
14. To the Victors Go the Spoils
After being defeated in WWI, the Germans were forced to sign the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that resulted in Germany losing all its overseas empires, land to its neighbors, and restrictions on the size of their army. The economic damage and humiliation that the treaty caused Germany has been partially blamed for pushing Germany into WWII.
13. Choose Your Friends Wisely
Japan fought on the side of Britain, France, and the US during WWI, but they felt they got cheated out of territory after the peace treaty was negotiated.
12. Horticultural Assimilation
One of the editors of the magazine Better Homes and Gardens, Norvell Gillespie, designed the camouflage pattern printed on US Army uniforms.
11. World of Tanks
The greatest tank battle in history occurred between the Germans and Russians in 1943. It went on for 18 days and involved 3,600 tanks.
10. A Dubious Distinction
Rudolf Hess, Adolf’s deputy in the Nazi party, was the last person to ever have been imprisoned in the Tower of London.
9. Mean Names and Bigotry
Hess was referred to by other members of the Nazi party as “Fraulein Anna” as it was frequently rumored that he was a homosexual.
8. Crazy is as Crazy Does
In what was widely regarded as a “bizarre” move, Hess parachuted into Scotland on May 10th, 1941 to negotiate a peace treaty. The British concluded that he was mentally unstable and locked him away for life, until his death via suicide.
7. The Reich
The Nazis referred to their rule as the Third Reich. The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted 844 years. The Second Reich was the German Empire, which lasted 47 years. The Third Reich only lasted 12 years. Based on that trend, the Fourth Reich should last a few months at most.
6. In The End
In one of the last battles of WW2, American and German soldiers fought together as allies against an SS division to defend an Austrian castle.
5. So Gangsta
Following the attack at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt requested a bulletproof car but, due to a spending limit of $750, the only car within their budget was Al Capone’s limo, which had been seized by the Treasury Department following Capone’s arrest for tax evasion.
4. Radioactive Land?
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not radioactive anymore mostly because the bombs didn’t touch the ground but were detonated in the air.
3. Giving Himself a Bad Name
Norwegian leader Vidkun Quisling actively collaborated with the Nazis after the occupation, and, as a result, his name is now a Norwegian word for “traitor.”
2. Smoke Signals
From 1942 onwards, the US Marines in the Pacific used the Navajo language as their secret code. Over 400 Navajo Indians (Code Talkers) were trained to use the code, and the Japanese never figured it out.
1. Never Give Up! Never Surrender!
A Japanese soldier named Hiroo Onoda hid in the jungle on the Pacific island of Lubang where he held out for 29 years, refusing to believe that the war was over. The man who found him, Norio Suzuki, was traveling around the world to look for, “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.” Suzuki returned to Japan with Onoda’s story and the Japanese government located Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. Taniguchi flew to Lubang and relieved Onoda of his duties, much to the relief of the locals who Onoda had been harassing for the last thirty years as part of his misguided effort to help Japan win the war.
Onoda, left, accepts a pack of cigarettes from a member of a Japanese team.
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