Although World War II ended over seventy years ago, it's still the most discussed and debated war to this day and will continue to be talked about for countless generations to come. However, before we get to the facts (and there are so many fascinating ones, we could make a list of millions), let's have a look at the casualties. World War II was the deadliest conflict in history with estimates of between 50-80 million fatalities, including around 50 million civilian deaths and 20-25 million combat deaths. This includes deaths from famine and disease.
Many interesting facts can be deduced from the casualties of the conflict alone. For example, four out of every five German soldiers killed in the war died on the Eastern Front, especially during the battle of Stalingrad, which saw more Russian casualties (military and civilian) than the US and the UK suffered combined during the entire war.
In terms of the nationalities of those who perished, more than 80% of total casualties came from four countries: Russia, China, Germany, and Poland. While Russia lost over 20 million, the United States lost only 407,300 in combat and 419,400 in total -- much fewer than Russia but still a significant number. There were more US casualties in the air than on the ground, with over 100,000 Allied bomber crewmen killed over Europe alone, mostly in bombing raids.
The United States got involved a full two years after the war officially started -- at least in the war in Europe. After being attacked at Pearl Harbor, the Americans joined the conflict in the Pacific before eventually joining the theatre of battle in Europe five years after the start of the Great War. This is obviously one of the reasons why the United States suffered fewer casualties than most of the big nations involved, plus the fact that the mainland of the United States was largely untouched.
The war left us with so many amazing facts, battles, operations, conspiracy theories, and so much more, but for now, we'll focus on 15 shocking facts that you probably didn't know about the biggest war the world has ever seen.
15 William Hitler
Nobody will ever forget who Adolf Hitler was, but very few know that his nephew, William Hitler, served in the US Navy during World War II. "Born to Adolf's brother, Alois Hitler, Jr. and his first wife, Bridget Dowling, in Liverpool, England, William Hitler later moved to Germany," then emigrated to the United States.
In 1933, he attempted to benefit from his uncle's rise to power. Adolf Hitler found him a job at the Reichs Kreditbank in Berlin. Later, William worked at a car factory, and later, as a car salesman. "Dissatisfied with these jobs, William persisted in asking his uncle for a better job, writing to him with blackmail threats that he would sell embarrassing stories about the family to the newspaper," including that his grandfather was Jewish.
He eventually wrote a book called "Why I Hate My Uncle" and received a Purple Heart after being wounded in battle.
14 Hitler On Drugs
Speaking of Hitler, it's no surprise to find out that he was basically on drugs before and during the entire war. With all of the stress and intense, emotional speeches where he was basically foaming at the mouth, he definitely needed something to keep him going.
Hitler's personal doctor was Dr. Theodor Morell, who was appointed by Hitler in 1936. Morell was by Hitler's side until the end of the war despite attempts by other doctors to intervene. Hitler was administered many different drugs, including amphetamines, methamphetamines, morphine, and cocaine (via eye drops).
"Morell was administering injections almost daily to Hitler and prescribing as many as 28 pills a day to keep Hitler going." Hitler trusted Morell so much that he even recommended him to others in his inner circle like Goebbels and Goering.
13 The Chilling Battle Casualties
There were so many immense and crucial battles throughout the war. The battle of Stalingrad was the deadliest overall with 850,000 Axis casualties (wounded, killed, captured), including 400,000 Germans, 200,000 Romanians, 130,000 Italians, and 120,000 Hungarians. The Russians lost about 1.2 million, themselves.
For the Americans, the deadliest conflict was The Battle of the Bulge with more than 80,000 American casualties. The brutal battle in freezing conditions eventually led to the march to Germany and the end of the war.
The largest tank battle, not just in World War II, but in the history of warfare, was between the Germans and the Russians at the Kursk salient in Russia from July 4-22, 1943. More than 3,600 tanks were involved. It's hard to imagine that many tanks going at it, but that's exactly what happened. The Germans should've never attacked that Eastern Front.
12 Liberty Steak
During World War II, the American propaganda machine was on the rise -- certainly, nothing compared to the Nazi propaganda machine at the time. But they would eventually get to that level as well. For example, to alienate and demonize the enemy, the Americans avoided using German-sounding words like "hamburger," so they used the name "Liberty Steak" instead.
This may help you realize where and why the terms "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" got their beginnings. Just remove the word with an issue, replace it with "freedom" or "liberty," and the people would eat it up, literally and figuratively. As you can see, it's a propaganda technique used to perfection to this very day.
11 Swastika And The Third Reich
"The original abbreviation of the National Socialist Party was 'Nasos.' The word 'Nazi' derives from a Bavarian word that means 'simple minded' and was first used as a term of derision by a journalist." Oh, the irony.
The swastika is an ancient religious symbol. It comes from the Sanskrit name for a hooked cross, "which was used by ancient civilizations as a symbol of fertility and good fortune. It has been found in the ruins of Greece, Egypt, China, India, and Hindu temples."
The Nazi salute is a raised arm, which resembles a raised spear. It was modeled after the salute of Italian Fascists and the ancient Romans.
Hitler was responsible for the Nazi flag. "Red stood for the social idea of Nazism, white for nationalism, and the black swastika for the struggle of the Aryan man."
Finally, the Third Reich (1933-1945) symbolized Nazi rule. The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), while The Second Reich was the German Empire of 1871-1918.
10 Nazi Occult
There are a lot of strange facts and rumors surrounding the Nazi party that are rarely talked about. Sometimes, you can see them on television shows on the History and Discovery channels, or in movies. Some involve Hitler claiming he had meetings with aliens, others include the Nazis' fascination with archaeology (like in the Indiana Jones movies), but one truly interesting fact about the Nazis involves their bizarre occult rituals and beliefs.
The Nazi Party supposedly came from several occult groups that popped up in the late 19th century "as a reaction to the advanced materialism and technology of the era." They spoke of the coming of a new Messiah that would save Germany. "Hitler developed the notion that perhaps he was the chosen one to save the German people."
"The political parties created in the wake of the country's defeat in World War I combined nationalistic sentiment and occultist practices to forge an image of a superior German people." There were many strange rituals, and you can find plenty of videos about them all over the internet.
9 Youngest American Soldier
Believe it or not, Calvin Graham was only 12 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart before the Navy found out how old he actually was.
If you look at the photos, it may be difficult to tell how old, or how young he looked, but it's hard to believe that a 12-year-old could pass for an adult or an 18-19-year-old teenager for that matter. You have to be one brave soul to enlist at that age. We don't think he realized what he was getting into, but he survived combat and the war itself. That's quite an impressive feat.
8 Capone Car
After the attack at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt decided that he needed a bulletproof car. However, according to Factretriever.com, "because government regulation prohibited spending more than $750 to buy a car, the only one they could find was Al Capone’s limo, which had been seized by the Treasury Department after he was arrested for tax evasion."
The war machine in the United States was well underway with many companies halting operations to save steel and other raw materials for the war effort, so it's no surprise that everyone was affected, including the President of the United States.
FDR famously said, “I hope Mr. Capone won’t mind," -- another one of the many ironies from that era.
7 Japanese Weapons
Although chemical and biological weapons were banned during the Geneva Protocol after World War I, the Japanese forces used them extensively in China during World War II. Many people and towns in China still suffer the effects today. All the major powers had the capabilities but only kept them as a deterrent and never used them -- except for the Italians in Africa.
While Japan is mostly known for their Kamikaze pilots during the war, did you know that the Japanese "launched 9,000 'wind ship weapons' of paper and rubberized-silk balloons that carried incendiary and antipersonnel bombs to the U.S?" Over 1,000 balloons hit their targets and reached as far east as Michigan. The only casualties were six Americans (five children and a pregnant woman) at a picnic in Oregon.
The Japanese also had large "spy rings" located in Mexico to monitor the US Naval fleets.
6 Hiroo Onoda
The Japanese were fierce fighters and surrender was rarely an option as it was considered a dishonor in Japanese culture. There are many graphic photos, and videos even, of civilians, including women and children, jumping off cliffs rather than surrendering to the American troops.
One of the most famous stories is of Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II and refused to surrender in 1945. For almost 30 years, he held his position in the Philippines, ready to fight. His former commander had to travel from Japan to "personally issue orders relieving him from duty in 1974."
"Devotion and dedication to the cause" is quite an understatement.
5 Nazi Experiments
The number of civilians that were killed and exterminated by the Nazis during that horrific period in history is staggering. We all know about The Holocaust and the millions of Jews and other POW's who were systematically murdered, but there were other sinister actions perpetrated by these criminals.
Many were subjected to "gruesome medical experiments." Some doctors would "bombard the testicles of men and the ovaries of women with X-rays to see the impact of different doses on sterility." Other doctors would "break bones repeatedly to see how many times it could be done before a bone could not heal. They hit people’s heads with hammers to see what their skulls could withstand." Other experiments were conducted "to determine the effects of atmospheric pressure on the body. Prisoners were injected with different drugs and diseases, and limbs were amputated and muscles cut for transplantation experiments."
Dr. Josef Mengele (the “Angel of Death”) used about 3,000 twins for his agonizing genetic experiments. Few survived. His experiments included "taking one twin’s eyeball and attaching it on the back of the other twin’s head," and trying to sow twins together.
German citizens weren't immune to the death and torture either. In 1939, the Nazis started a “euthanasia” program in which "80,000 to 100,000 Germans who were disabled, mentally retarded, or insane were murdered."
After the war, the citizens of the occupied countries never forgot about those who collaborated with the enemy. In France for example, the occupation led to The Resistance, one of the most organized and efficient operations in history. And there was no love lost for those who contributed against the Liberation.
In fact, people throughout occupied Europe collaborated with the Germans. After being liberated, "some locals took revenge against the collaborators by beating or shooting them or by shaving the female traitors’ heads." Women who had relations with German soldiers and officers, in France and Holland, especially, were rounded up and humiliated publicly. For the men, it was far more extreme, if their lives were even spared.
3 Operation Paperclip
After the war, many German officers went to trial for war crimes and were either jailed or sentenced to death. But not all. "A vast majority of German war criminals passed themselves off as refugees at displaced persons camps when the war ended, thereby gaining freedom." Or in some cases, they were employed by the US Government.
Operation Paperclip was the secretive United States Intelligence program through which more than "1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians (many of whom were formerly registered members of the Nazi Party and some of whom had leadership roles in the Nazi Party), including Wernher von Braun's rocket team, were recruited and brought to the United States for government employment." The objective was for the U.S. to gain a military advantage over the Soviets in the upcoming Cold War and Space Program.
The Russians had their own version of Operation Paperclip, as they took over 2000 German specialists (many at gunpoint) with them back to the Soviet Union.
2 Funding The Nazis
Before the start of World War II, the Germans were amassing funds and raw materials from many countries around the world to help build their economy, and of course, their military. One of those countries was the United States. And one of the many familiar names involved was the late US senator Prescott Bush, father of George Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush.
Prescott was a director and shareholder of several companies that "profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany."
Newly discovered files in the US National Archives confirm that Prescott Bush was directly involved with the financial architects of Nazism. "His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Recently declassified documents show that even after America had entered the war and there was already significant information about the Nazis' plans and policies, he worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler's rise to power. It has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty," according to The Guardian.
Henry Ford and GM were also friends and business partners of Hitler.
1 American Minorities Involvement
While thousands of Japanese-American citizens were being forced into internment camps during the war, a Japanese-American unit was in the thick of battle for Uncle Sam. In fact, "the most decorated unit ever in U.S. history is the 442nd regimental Combat Team, whose motto was “Go for broke.” It consisted of Japanese-American volunteers. Together, they received 4,667 major medals, the most for any unit. It also never had a case of desertion. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber). They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. The name also applied to the "navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks, and other support personnel for the pilots."
The United States Military in World War II, just like today, was represented by Japanese, African, Jewish, Hispanic, Arab, and Muslim soldiers, among so many others -- all of whom fought for the same cause.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian