Less Known Facts about world war two.

By Biman Pathirage.

September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945 – The most hated 6 years of human history in the past century. People named World War 1 ‘The Great War’, taking in to account the casualties that it had caused. Little did they know that an even greater war would take place within just 25 years which would see four times greater lives lost and much more sophisticated technologies used. This was the deadliest war that has taken place in the world so far in the known human history. It all started when the Nazi leader invaded Poland in late 1939. Few days later, honoring an agreement with Poland, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. Later that month, Soviet Russia (who already had a non-aggression agreement with Germany known as the German-Soviet pact) started invading Poland from the East.

“The Nazis and Communists were born enemies. How did they form a pact of peace! Would you believe that the five swastika flags rushed to the airport to greet the German minister upon his arrival to Soviet Russia had to be taken from Soviet movie studios producing anti-Nazi propaganda films?! ”

Germany and Soviet Russia then occupied Poland on 29th September and divided the country between them. At this point of time, the Allies were Britain and France and the Axis powers were Germany and Italy, with Soviets having an agreement with Germany that they will not go against them. On November, the Soviets invaded Finland as well. Germans then took control of Denmark and Norway on April next year.

1939 – 1941 – Axis powers cruising through the world. After these quickfire attacks on Eastern Europe, Germany started attacking Western European countries like the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and most notably France. France, even though having declared war against Germany earlier last year, surrendered itself to the advancing great German power. Seeing the opportunity, Italy invaded France from the other side and occupied another part of the country. In the meantime, Soviet Russia took control of several other Eastern European countries such as Latvia and Lithuania. Some previously neutral countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Romania started joining the Axis forces in this time period.

“The Dachau concentration camp near Munich first opened in March 1933, six years before the start of the war. The Dachau camp system grew to include nearly 100 sub-camps. The Nazis ran more than 40,000 camps of various sizes.”

“The first German soldier killed in WW2 was killed in the late 1930s by the Japanese army. Yes, they were on the same side, but not until later in the war. At first, the German troops were providing military training to the Chinese and this soldier was killed by a Japanese attack on the Chinese army.”

On September 27, 1940, another important milestone in world war 2 took place, when the governments of Italy, Germany, and Japan signed the Tripartite Act. This is also known as the Berlin Pact and enabled the three emperors to declare war on Allied countries together in their journey of capturing control of the whole world. Italy had already started to dominate the African continent against the British with the help of German troops and Japan had already seized power in many Asian countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and some parts of China as well. The three allied forces were advancing as they could never be stopped. The map shows the advancement of Japan inside China in WW2.

“Around 6 million Jews were killed by Nazis in the war. Wonder how many Chinese were killed by the Japanese? 10 million!”

November – December 1941 – Wake not a sleeping lion! The period where the Axis powers attacked the wrong countries at the wrong time. Germany and Italy started attacking Soviet Russia from the Eastern Front. Japan attacked USA’s Pearl Harbor. This was a very big turning point in the war as both the Soviets and Americans teamed up with the Allied forces of Britain and France in a quest to finish the war by defeating Germany and Japan. However, at first, the Germans were advancing with heavy wins over the Soviets, and they even came so close to Moscow once. The Germans were 200 miles West of Moscow when they met with heavy fire from the Soviets and had to retreat. The Soviet Union saw catastrophic military losses in the first six weeks after the German attack. However, the Soviet Union failed to collapse as anticipated by the Nazi leadership. Germans were so exhausted with lots of quick advancements in the previous months and hence were able to provide little resistance. The higher-ranked officials had not planned for the Soviet winter and the soldiers had to undergo a harsh winter with limited food and supplies (mostly from captured Soviet villages) and hence were prone to the Soviet counterattack. The farthest that the Germans could go was up to the city of Leningrad of Soviet Russia which was a big achievement given the strength of the Soviet army. However, after that, the Soviet resistance thickened, and the Germans could not advance more into Soviet land.

“The Berlin pact with Soviet Russia was only a trick by Hitler to hold the Red Army at its bay until he invaded Poland and most of Europe without much effort.”

“Before the signing of the non-aggression pact, USA President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned Stalin that ‘it was as certain as that the night followed the day that as soon as Hitler had conquered France, he would turn on Russia and it would be the Soviets’ turn next.’”

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor with just one motive. They were being proactive; they were taking preventive measures. Its aim was to prevent the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom and the US. There were month-long discussions between the US and Japan on who is going to control the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese wanted the US to remove the sanctions against them. The US wanted Japanese forces to retreat from China and Indonesia. The discussions were not fruitful at all, and this too led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Although it was the Japanese who attacked the USA, the first shot of the day was fired by a US ship on an incoming Japanese submarine.”

This unforeseen attack on their most important Pacific harbor led the Americans into World War 2 without second thoughts. They declared war on Japan the next day and hence declared war on other Axis powers Germany and Italy. The Japanese airplanes attacked Pearl Harbor in all directions and the attack only lasted for one and a half hours. But they only targeted the docked ships in the harbor. Had they attacked the submarine bases, airplane carriers (which were already at sea), and ship repair yards, they might have decided the fate of the USA naval force on that day itself.

“The day before the attacks, the USS Arizona ship took on a full load of fuel, nearly 1.5 million gallons. Much of that fuel helped ignite the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ships, but amazingly, some fuel still continues to leak out of the wreckage even to this day.”

The Axis forces had done some great damage to themselves by inviting two sleeping lions into war. Allied forces now consisted mainly of Great Britain, the USA, and the USSR.

“Approximately 130,000 Americans became prisoners of war—about 27,500 held by the Japanese, the rest by Germany. Only 1.9% died while in German captivity, while 40.4% died in Japanese POW camps or at sea when transports carrying POWs were sunk by the Allies who did not know of the human cargo within them.”

“Twenty percent of Poland’s population died during World War II mainly as a result of German concentration camps—the highest percentage of any nation.”

1942 – 1944 – Allies make inroads In June 1944, the British and US forces land on the beaches of Normandy in France in an offensive against German forces who had already occupied the country. They succeed after a fierce battle and start making inroads into France. Within two months, the Allied forces capture Paris with the help of Free French Forces, and by December, virtually all of France, most of Belgium, and part of the southern Netherlands are liberated. The German army had to retreat up to their borders again. Meanwhile, the Soviets too start fighting away the Germans from their Western border. As they re-captured Romania and Bulgaria, these Eastern European countries immediately switch sides and started helping the Soviets. They then entered Poland and start attacking the occupied German forces driving them towards the Eastern German border. They also received help from the local Polish fighters. Finland who was first captured by the Soviets, and then the Germans, surrender their arms again to the Soviet forces.

“Four of every five German soldiers killed in the war died on the Eastern Front fighting against the Red Army.”

As the US and British armies started advancing toward Germany from the Western borders, the USSR continued invading the Eastern borders of Germany. Meanwhile, the US air force also attacked Japan with two atomic bombs which marked Japan’s end in the world war with an unconditional surrender to the Allies. Hitler committed suicide on 30th April 1945 and Germany surrendered to the Allies on 8th of May the same year.

“The Soviet Union declared war on Japan in 1945 even after Hitler had committed suicide. The Japanese were enroute to surrender to the Allies, but as soon as the USSR declared war against them and the atomic bombs were dropped, they made an unconditional surrender which would cause less bloodshed.”

“Japan were fighting the war for 3 months even after the Germans surrendered.”

“Stalin killed more people than Hitler. He killed an estimated 25 million people versus Hitler’s 12 million.”

“Only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war.”

“The Siege of Stalingrad resulted in more Russian deaths (military and civilian) than the US and Britain sustained (combined) in all of World War II.”

“Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William Hitler, served in the US Navy during World War II.”

“There was a plan on a third atom bomb. The city targeted was Tokyo.”

“The last Japanese soldier (official) to surrender was Hiroo Onoda. He surrendered in 1974 in the Philippines.”

“80% of all 80 million war victims came from only four countries — Russia, China, Germany, and Poland.”

“80 years later, Great Britain and Germany are now close allies. So are USA and Japan.”

“There were Sri Lankans working as Spitfire aircraft pilots in the 2nd world war. Read more here