World War 2 is the war that keeps on giving. I know it’s a really weird statement to make, but the war was over many, many years ago, and it is still one of the most important wars of the 20th century (World War 1 is still more important, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss). It’s such a fascinating conflict in that you can spend your entire life reading about and researching it and the chances are likely you won’t know everything or see everything that the war had to offer in terms of knowledge.
It was a devastating conflict that resulted in the destruction of many countries and the deaths of 60 million people (From 1939 to 1945, 1 person died every 6 seconds as a direct result of the war). The reasons for the war are varied and complex and would go well beyond the scope of this humble internet clickbait article. Instead, what we’re going to do is just find some of the really weird, bizarre, thought provoking stuff that happened in the war that you never heard of, never thought about, or even thought was possible.
For example, did you realize that M&Ms were basically invented for the war? Yeah, they needed chocolate for the troops that didn’t melt easily in any climate. Now the people at the confectionary industry in the United States took that as one big ‘challenge accepted’ and churned out M&Ms. It changed the cultures of formerly isolated nations in the middle of the Pacific. What happened there was that you had a group of people who were living in the most isolated places in the world for thousands of years and had never so much as seen a can opener before… and suddenly, out of the blue, thousands of men, ships, airplanes, etc. all with the latest technology just come marching in to fight the biggest war the Pacific Ocean had ever seen. Some of these people are still worshiping bits and pieces of whatever was left from the era in hopes that the same people will return. Most of course have ceased to be so isolated and now realize why these people came in the first place.
So without further ado, here are 15 factoids about WW2 that were too insane for the history books
15. HITLER WAS A PROFOUNDLY STUPID MAN AND A DRUG ADDICT
Hitler is everyone’s least favorite nutjob. He had a penchant for yelling, being over the top, and generally destroying an entire country even before the first shots were fired. No joke. Germany of the 1920s was a highly progressive place (Berlin was the gay capital of the world, for realz). Hitler basically turned a country from the path it was following for centuries for that brief 12 years he was in power. He also managed to steamroll his way not just into power and sway an entire nation, but also to dominate over vast swathes of Europe before the overwhelming logistics of the United States (combined with the rest of the Allies) defeated him. Surely he must have been some kind of mad genius. He was speculated to have an IQ of around 143 as well.
But no, actually… just no. Hitler was not a genius. This is something that is too short to be covered by this clickbaity article. But what really happened, in brief, was that Hitler wasn’t the world’s smartest villain… he was man absolutely dominated by sheer dumb luck. When he took over the Rhine in 1936, the French didn’t retaliate out of fear (it was a gamble because his own soldiers were under orders to retreat the instant the French military even began moving). The British PM Neville Chamberlin also grossly misunderstood just what Hitler wanted, and again was absolutely terrified of a WW2 scenario (WW1 did that to most Europeans), and just thought he could achieve peace by giving him what he wanted.
Even during WW2, he survived assassination attempts by just leaving a building for a bathroom break before bombs went off, and his choice in furniture also saved him in the July Plot in 1944. He was so inept and so clueless at what he was doing that in 1943, the Allies didn’t bother with anymore attempts at assassination, because if he died the Third Reich might have actually had a competent leader put in place.
It wasn’t even his own dependence on gambler’s luck. Hitler was a major league drug junkie. When you see him in old newsreels screaming and acting jacked up, he wasn’t a man who was full of natural energy… he was high on meth… and at least 50 other drugs. In fact, he was addicted to so many drugs that his final moments in his bunker in April 1945 were probably fueled more by drug withdrawal than they were by rationality. This needs its own article. Perhaps another time…
14. OPERATION BARBAROSSA WASN’T AS DUMB AS YOU THINK
Operation Barbarossa has been seen as the single most idiotic move that Hitler ever committed. You heard the old joke, right? Never invade Russia in winter? After Napoleon was utterly demolished in Russia which lead to his downfall, and the Swedish Empire a century earlier was destroyed as a result… what was Hitler thinking? What exactly was he thinking?
Firstly, if you look at Russia’s rather sorry state of affairs at that particular point in time, you probably wouldn’t have thought it was a bad idea. Russia had been defeated in nearly every single major war it fought for decades. It was defeated by Japan in 1905 (something that shocked the world at the time), by Germany in WW1, and it was fought to another stalemate in 1939 by the Japanese in Khalkhyn Gol and the Finns during the Winter War. The Soviet military showed a pretty sorry track record up to that point. Secondly, the Soviet Purges of the 1930s severely weakened their military even further when they lost so many of their best officers.
Also Russia wasn’t the superpower it later became after WW2 (the strongest time of the Soviet armed forces was in the 1970s). Most military experts of the era would have bet on Germany being the victor of this conflict.
13. GERMANY FREQUENTLY SCREWED OVER ITALY
The Italian military was never the most advanced or the most capable in Europe. While it could muster up quite a bit of an army, they were never the best equipped… and this was in very large part due to the utter lack of communication between German industry and Italian industry. The Italian Air Force had many fantastic airframes available, but were chronically short on engines for them. On top of that, the engine designs they did have were underpowered. The Germans had some of the best aircraft engines in the world at the time… but they never provided a license for the Italian factories to produce them. The results were great aircraft with poor engines that simply could not face up properly to the Allied stream bombers and their allies. This is just one example of this.
Maybe it was that Hitler just thought very poorly of the Italian people. It might surprise you but… Hitler was a bit of a racist, and he considered Southern Europeans to be dumb and naturally lazy, so he figured he just didn’t need to help his biggest ally just a little bit.
12. GERMANY ACCIDENTALLY MADE THINGS WORSE FOR JAPAN
This one might surprise a lot of people, especially since this happened even before Japan and Germany officially became allies. But Germany’s early victories in 1939 and 1940 in Europe meant that the merchant fleets of various European nations were appropriated by Germany or Britain, or otherwise incapable of being used anymore.
So what does this have to do with Japan? Well here’s the deal… Japan was heavily involved in a war with China ever since 1937 (even before if you count Skirmishes and other mini-wars), and what that meant was that the Japanese merchant marine could not afford to go to Europe or other nations to get the precious resources that Japan needed to fight… they had to devote almost all their ships just to ferry men and supplies to China for the conflict and had very few to spare. The result of this was that their supply lines were cut off almost completely by accident by Germany.
It must have really embarrassing to think just what their chats were like after they signed the alliances together. ‘OK, we’re friends now, please stop backstabbing us. We’re not the three stooges here…’
11. ITALY POSSIBLY COST GERMANY THE WAR
So now you have the Axis powers, Larry, Moe, and Curley… I mean Germany, Italy, and Japan. To be honest, the way they behaved with each other up until this point it might as well have been the Three Stooges. Italy did provide millions of soldiers to the German war effort in North Africa and the Eastern Front (however badly lead, poorly trained, and underequipped they were), but Mussolini’s own delusions of grandeur and his diminishing cognitive functions also made him think he should invade Greece in order to establish a new Roman Empire, and then promptly got utterly destroyed by the Greek army. In fact, the Greeks weren’t just content to kick Mussolini out, but they also launched a counterattack and invaded Albania (which the Italians occupied).
Naturally, Hitler went on to save his rather comical buffoon of a friend, but this severely delayed Operation Barbarossa by several months in 1941, which given the impending (and extremely severe) winter would have likely been the deciding point as to whether or not Hitler might have actually succeeded. This is obviously up to for debate, but it’s another factor among many.
10. ITALY FOUGHT FOR THE ALLIES AFTER 1943
Italy is a fascinating nation among the combatants of both WW1 and WW2 and here’s why. When WW1 started out in 1914, Italy was allied with Germany… but turned around in 1915 and fought along the Western allies after that. During WW2, from the beginning until September 1943 they were Germany’s bumbling buddy… until the armistice was signed and they promptly turned their guns towards the Axis.
In fact, half of all Italian causalities during WW2 were due to them fighting the Nazis. Mussolini himself was shot dead by an Italian partisan in 1945 before his body was hung upside down in public… using a Vichy French-made gun. How’s that for irony?
9. GERMAN SUPER WEAPONS MADE THINGS WORSE FOR GERMANY
There’s a reason why WW2 will always be a conflict of fascination for sci-fi writers and movie makers. The sheer amount of technological development that happened during the war is unbelievable. In 1939 when the war started in Europe, there were still many biplanes in service (and still considered top of the line fighters), tanks were rather like lightly armored vehicles with small cannons (and some classes of tankettes just had machine guns). Radios were still very primitive and emitted more noise than human speech. The most advanced gun a solider carried was a bolt action rifle and (if they were lucky) an assault-rifle-sized submachine gun.
But by the end of the war, the first jet fighter aircraft began to enter service, tanks had grown from 8 ton vehicles to 68.5 tons, you had the nuclear bomb, the first ever ballistic missiles, the first cruise missiles (the infamous buzzbomb) and guided missiles. The first ever assault-rifle was made by the Germans (and the Russians would perfect their AK-47 which is still a pretty decent gun today), and communication technology had improved dramatically. The first submarines designed to stay underwater most of the time were also invented (prior to this, submarines were designed as basically surface ships that could dive when needed).
Germany spearheaded a lot of this. But tying into the same point above of Hitler being an idiot and not a mad genius, it is also what likely caused Germany to lose the war. The German military might have had a million and a half super weapon projects, but they also had extremely limited resources. While the German minds were working on making rocket-powered fighters and attacking Britain with V2 missiles, they didn’t have enough trucks for their army. They still used more horses and mules than they did cars. The average soldier was severely short on ammunition, food, clothing and regular guns (the famous German submachine gun, the MP-40, was in chronic short supply, and despite what the video games tell you, only 1 in 10 German soldiers had one). They also had one of the most abysmal fuel supplies in Europe.
The Allies had their crazy ideas (up to and including an aircraft carrier made of ice), but they realized early on that they needed brute force to win the war. They most definitely made leaps and bounds in technological advancement, but those projects never drained vital wartime functions as they did in Germany.
8. A C47 WAS SAVED BY THE ENEMY
This is a minor note, but it is fun to mention these funny coincidences. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, a parked C47 transport aircraft was struck by an incendiary round from Japanese aircraft that started a fire… and the Japanese came back for a second run, and another bullet fired from Japanese aircraft struck a fire extinguisher aboard the C47 and put out the fire. Nice way to break it there, buddies.
7. RACISM HELPED GERMANY LOSE
The Nazis weren’t nice people, as I’m sure you already knew. They loved to think that everyone around them was worth less than the dirt scraped off their boots. Needless to say, this didn’t make for a lot of good feels for them from other people. The brutality of the Russian military when they came into Germany was done in no small part due to the sheer brutality that the Germans inflicted on East European peoples. But that wasn’t the only problem.
Firstly, their hatred of the Jews. While most Jews were just shopkeepers, workers, musicians and normal people overall, the alienated top intellectual Jewish scientists, such as Einstein, all fled Germany in 1933, and the massive brain drain made it harder for Hitler to realize a lot of his outlandish plans. Even his attempts to build a nuclear bomb (which I want to make clear could never have happened) were hindered by Hitler decrying nuclear science as a ‘Jewish science’ and not to be pursued by Pure Aryans who came from Atlantis… damn it! They’re going to use waterpower even if it kills them!
But the big brains weren’t the only thing that were lost. During the war they captured a lot of people and, let’s not kid ourselves here, enslaved a lot of people. Lots of Soviet citizens were forced to work on a lot of projects that the Nazis needed. The Belgians were forced to work on V2 missile construction, and many Czechs were forced to build firearms for the Nazi military.
Only one problem: Slaves don’t make for motivated workers, and slaves who’re forced to make weapons that they know are going to kill their fellow countrymen make even worse workers. The Czechs have a proud tradition of being gun makers, and after WW2 many Czech-produced guns were found to have deliberately tampered-with mechanisms and the sights were made to be impossible to function properly. The Belgians and others who were forced to work on V2s often sabotaged a lot of the guidance systems (which is why they often failed to even hit BRITAIN, let alone London. When your missiles can’t find their way to one of the largest Islands in the world, you know someone’s done something wrong…). The less said about the Soviets the better. Sadly many of them died during the holocaust (over 3 million to be exact, only 300,000 were Jews.) The Nazis weren’t nice people, but at least that contributed to their downfall.
6. GOERING’S FAMILY HELPED THE ALLIES
Goering was a fat, idiotic, glutinous morphine-addicted clown, and those were his only good points. He was also Hitler’s second in command who had a loud, boisterous personality and believed that his Luftwaffe could defeat any enemy and resupply entire armies. He was wrong… so very wrong. We all know the story of how he severely overestimated just how easily he could defeat the RAF, but just how many people remember the sheer fiasco he had in Stalingrad when he claimed he could resupply the entire German Army? The German army needed 500 tons of supplies per day to have a chance at winning. Most days they barely managed around 150 tons (if even that). He had failure after failure like that.
But what most people forget is that even dumb, stupid, evil people have family… and in the case of Goering his family was extremely embarrassing to him. By that I mean they actually were decent people who did what they could to embarrass him by doing things like help Jews escape or join the USAAF against Germany. Albert Goering was a bohemian, a non-conformist… and someone who stuck his neck out to save Jews from the gas chambers and otherwise used his status as being the brother of the 2nd most powerful man in Nazi Germany to just plain annoy the SS and even help the Czech resistance. Towards the end of his life in 1966, he married a woman just so that she could have a lifetime pension when he died shortly after. He did this all without claiming credit for what he did in his lifetime.
Werner Goering was Goering’s nephew. Like his uncle, he loved to fly, so he joined the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces, the precursor to the US Air Force) to fly bombers over Germany. No joke, that actually happened. The USAAF was aware of this, however, so they had someone stay with Werner at all times with a loaded gun so that if he tried to do anything funny he’d be shot immediately. Given that (as of May, 2017) Werner Goering is still alive, I figure that guy long since gave up.
5. THE HOLOCAUST WAS A MAJOR REASON FOR HITLER’S DOWNFALL
The holocaust is nothing to make jokes about. There is absolutely nothing funny about 11 million people dying just because of where they were born, what religion they had, their race, sexual orientation, or anything else that they had no control over. That is the definition of evil.
But if there is any consolation, it’s that the massive amount of resources that was devoted towards transporting, capturing and exterminating the people who often resisted and didn’t cooperate, as well as the corruption that ensued (the people who ran camps like Auschwitz weren’t exactly angels, and often stole a lot of the resources for themselves) would have put the Holocaust at a net loss for Nazi Germany. Slaves, as we established earlier, don’t make for very good workers (especially when have a lot of people in charge who just plain hate your regime, like Oskar Schlinder who ran a shell factory that never produced a single working shell while saving over 1000 Jews).
The sheer cost of the Holocaust, even factoring in the amount of money plundered from the people they wanted to exterminate was enormous, but the manpower shortages it would have caused for taking away from front-line service (as well as the trains that had to ferry prisoners to the camps instead of troops/supplies to the front line) was equally massive.
To give you an idea of just how much manpower it would have taken, I’m going to focus on something non-Holocaust related… The Great Escape. We all know the story of the Stalag Luft III, where 76 airmen tried to escape in March, 1944. It took the Germans a manhunt that involved over 1 MILLION individuals to try to recapture them. This happened just when the final stages of Operation Overlord were taking place (the invasion of Normandy). That distraction by 76 escaped POWs was a distraction they could hardly afford and might have contributed to the loss of the battle by the Germans.
4. A GERMAN U-BOAT WAS SUNK BY ITS OWN TOLIET
The German U-boat menace was one of the most dangerous things to ever face the Allies during WW2. For all the massive industrial might of the United States, their supply lines had to be protected at all costs. In fact, the invasion of Normandy needed exactly 1 full year worth of uninterrupted supplies in order to even be feasible. It was the German submarine force’s job to make sure that never happened. This is the reason why anti-submarine warfare was so rapidly developed that it went from basic ‘sonar and drop depth charges then pray’ to a massive network of radar, sonobouys, and other deadly efficient anti-submarine weapons that made life hell for U-boat crews.
But no weapon could match the humble submarine toilet. At least that was the case for U-1206 in 1945. Using a toilet while in deep submersion is not easy, since trying to flush would result in your entire submarine getting flooded instead. They even had a new toilet system installed that required someone to help you operate it while you did your doody (sorry, I had to do it). The captain who used it (who I kid you not, was called Schlitt, insert your own Schlitty joke here) didn’t know how to properly operate it and the mishap resulted in chlorine gas being released that forced the submarine to surface. Given that they were being hunted by a squadron of British ships, they were forced to surrender. I’m guessing their efforts really went down the crapper…
3. THE WORD ‘NAZI’ ACTUALLY MEANS SIMPLE MINDED
More fun stuff! So we all know that the Nazi party was officially called the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). They say it is a contraction of NAtionalsoZIalistische, but that simply didn’t happen. Since a LOT of Germans really hated the Nazis, especially in Bavaria, there were a few enterprising Bavarians who used the word Nazi to mean ‘simple minded’. In fact, there’s some speculation that the word Nazi as an insult predated Hitler’s rise to power and even the Nazi party’s rise to power. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
2. THE LAST BATTLE IN EUROPE HAD THE U.S. AND GERMANS WORKING TOGETHER
The last battle to be fought in Europe was the Battle of Castle Itter on May 5th, 1945. It involved a lot of freeing of POWs, including high ranking generals, former prime ministers, and at least one tennis player (that isn’t a joke, btw). The Americans seemed like they would be in for a fight against the SS. They didn’t like the idea of having to fight alone, so they called on the Germans to help…
Yes, that actually happened. The regular German army assisted the Americans against the SS (who were basically Hitler’s own personal bodyguards – SS stood for SchutzStaffel or protection squadron in English). Basically what happened was that German Army commander Josef Gangl had grown to hate the Nazis and actually started to collaborate with the Austrian Resistance against the Nazis. Also his duty was to protect those prisoners in the castle, while the SS wanted to kill them all. Josef knew that he couldn’t do it by himself, so he walked up to a group of American soldiers with a big white flag and basically asked them for help.
The ensuing battle resulted in Gangl’s death, but the Germans and Americans managed to hold back against the Nazis and save the prisoners. This was the most bizarre battle ever to be fought during WW2.
1. IT REVOLUTIONIZED POST-WAR KITCHENS…
WW2 had a lot of technological advancement in every aspect that would have an incredible effect on people’s lives. They managed to discover ways to make synthetic fuel and rubber, rocket fuel, aircraft and aircraft engine development made airplanes go from luxury travel to modern air travel in less than a decade. Computers advanced to become what they were in the 1950s (and later to what they are today as a result). It’s easier to list the things that didn’t advance than those that did (TV development suffered as they ignored television to focus on radio, but that’s all I can think of).
Ways to preserve food and getting it shipped all over the world created a massive demand for processed foods. Dehydrated food, ready to cook foods like dried potatoes (which would later make up instant mashed potatoes) were revolutionized. Foods today like the McRib would never have been made if it wasn’t for research into ‘fabricated modules of meat’ by the US Army, and Cheetos were invented as a byproduct of a 1943 attempt to create dried, compressed ‘jungle’ cheese for tropical climates. Granola bars and the whole ‘meal-in-a-bar’ that you see in every health food store was made as a result. Juice pouches, processed meat like SPAM and lunch meats were revolutionized (invented earlier, but perfected during this time).
It wasn’t just the actual foods, but the technology developed meant so much excessive industrial capacity that they basically reinvented a lot of kitchen appliances. Microwaves were a result of an accident in 1945 when Percy Spencer discovered a candy bar melted in his pocket due to microwaves. He was working at Raytheon, a company making radars for the U.S. military. Kraft dinner would never have been anything more than a minor niche item if it wasn’t for rationing during the war.
So the next time you go shopping for some mac and cheese to put in your microwave and then you sit down with a bag of Cheetos to watch TV, remember that at least three of those things were made possible because of the war…
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