These World War 2 Facts Will Leave You Speechless

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World War II was the most devastating conflict in the history of mankind. It spread across multiple continents and cost millions of lives.

Here are some rare and frightening facts about this most tragic of wars.

Find A Grave

The first American serviceman killed in the war was Captain Robert M. Losey. He was serving as a military attache and was killed in Norway on April 21, 1940 when German aircraft bombed the Dombås railway station where he and others were awaiting transportation. While he was the first, he was certainly not the last person killed in WWII. The death toll was astronomical.

First German Killed

The first German soldier killed in World War II was Lieutenant von Schmeling, who was a military advisor to the Nationalist Chinese (China had been at war with Japan since 1931). He was killed while leading a Chinese infantry Battalion of the 88th Division of Shanghai in 1937.

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In total, the German government claims that about 4.3 million German military personnel were killed or went missing during the War. This is not including civilian deaths. Allied bombing alone killed between 350,000 and 500,000 German civilians.

Suicide Submarines

Japan employed multiple types of suicide attacks during the war, including suicide submarines called Kaiten (“the turn toward heaven”). Approximately 100 of these were used, the most famous of which was used in the sinking of the USS Underhill.

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The Kaiten were a strategy adopted in the latter years of the war, when it was becoming clear that the Axis powers were losing their grip. The Japanese high command entertained multiple different suggestions for suicide water craft. Originally rejected as too extreme, they were later embraced as a last-ditch effort to change the course of the War.

Finnish Snipers

Finnish snipers were some of the deadliest in the world. During the Winter War (November 1939 – March 1940), the Soviet Union invaded Finland hoping to gain Finnish territory and create a buffer zone for Leningrad. Because of the inexperience of Soviet troops and the incredible effectiveness of Finnish snipers, the USSR lost 40 men to every Finn that was killed.

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The most famous Finnish sniper was named Simo Hayha, who was responsible for over five hundred kills. His nickname was “The White Death.” He’s not only the most celebrated Finnish sniper from the War, he’s considered the best sniper in history.

Massive Submarines

In 2005, dive researchers from the University of Hawaii discovered the remains of a massive Japanese submarine, I-401. This behemoth was basically an underwater aircraft carrier and was built to bomb the Panama Canal–it carried three folded up bombers inside its watertight hangar.

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The huge submarine could sail 37,000 miles, or one and a half times around the world. Three of these subs were captured at the end of the war. They measured 400 feet long and 39 feet high, and could carry a crew of 144 men.

Flight Accidents

According to the AAF Statistical Digest, the U.S. Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots and crew…in the United States. These men died as a result of more than 50,000 accidents during the course of the war. Another 1,000 planes disappeared en route from the U.S. to foreign countries.

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During the war, about 40,000 airmen were killed on the Allied side. There were an additional 18,000 airmen injured in combat. 12,000 more went missing and were declared dead.

Impossible Task

Air losses were so staggering during 1942-43 that it was statistically impossible for bomber crews to complete a 25-mission tour in Europe.

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Bomber Command crews were especially prone to death during the War. Of the roughly 125,000 personnel, 55,573 were killed during the War. That’s a staggering 44.4% casualty rate. This is not factoring in the 8.403 who were injured or the 9,838 captured as prisoners of war.

American POW’s

More than 41,000 American servicemen were captured during the war. Of the 5,400 captured by the Japanese, half died. About 10% of those captured by Germans died.

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Of all the prisoners of war, the Soviet troops captured by the Germans fared the worst. 57.5% of them died while in captivity. German POWs held by the Soviets, in comparison, suffered a still significantly high death rate of 35.8%. The POWs that fared the best were German prisoners of the British, who suffered an exceptionally low 0.03% death rate.

Child Sailor

The youngest U.S. serviceman was just 12 years old. Calvin Graham lied about his age to get into the service and was later wounded at the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was given a Dishonorable Discharge for lying about his age, though his benefits were later restored by act of Congress.

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He enlisted in the navy in 1942, and attended boot camp in San Diego. He was then sent to Pearl Harbor and assigned to the USS South Dakota. He was thrown in military prison for three months after attending his grandmother’s funeral without clearance. He was discharged and his medals were revoked, and his real age was discovered in the process.

Crazy Coincidences

Some baffling bits of irony:

  • The insignia of the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry division was the swastika (the 45th was part of the Oklahoma Army National Guard and the swastika was a tribute to the large Native American population in the southwest)
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  • Hitler’s private train at the start of the war was named “Amerika”
  • At the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, the top U.S. Navy command was called CINCUS (pronounced “sink us”)

German U-Boats

793 German U-boats were lost in World War II. Of the nearly 40,000 men onboard those subs, 75% died at sea.

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Submarine warfare was the most dangerous form of military service during the War. On the Allied side, the casualty rate for submarine personnel was around 20%. About one in five people serving aboard diesel-powered submarines lost their lives during the War. A total of about 3,600 submarine personnel died over the course of the War.

U.S. Aircorp Deaths

More men died in the U.S. Air Corps than the U.S. Marine Corps. It is estimated that while completing your required 30 air missions, your odds of being killed were 71%. And fact #30 about U.S. troops is even more sobering.

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The United States Army Air Corps was the predecessor of the United States Air Force. The Air Force was formed shortly after the War. Servicemen who served in the Air Corps served in some of the most perilous positions of any soldiers in the war effort. Without their efforts, the War could have easily shifted in favor of the Axis powers. Air superiority was a key component of both sides’ strategies.

Hindsight

The power grid in Germany was more vulnerable than the Allies realized during the war. Some experts speculate that if Allied bombers had dropped just 1% of their bombs on power plants instead of industrial factories and targets, the whole of Germany’s infrastructure likely would have collapsed.

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The Allied powers wrongly believed that Germany’s power grid was much more developed than it was. They assumed that if they bombed one part of the grid, the Germans could compensate by rerouting power. However, this assumption was not correct. The German power grid was never a major target during the War. There were limited raids made on it, but it was not considered a major priority.

Aces

There was really no such thing as an average fighter pilot–you were either an ace or machine gun fodder. One of Japan’s top fighter pilots, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, shot down over 80 planes during the war but died while a passenger on a cargo plane. One of Germany’s top aces, Oberst Werner Mölders, died as a passenger on a plane that crashed.

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Mölders was the foremost German fighter ace in the Spanish Civil War. He was the first pilot to achieve over one hundred victories in aerial combat, meaning he was the first to ever destroy 100 enemy planes in their career. He was famous for it, and heavily decorated. He was also very crucial in developing new strategic approaches to dogfighting, especially the finger-four formation.

Tracers, Part 1

In their guns, fighter planes loaded every fifth round with a glowing tracer to help them aim correctly. This turned out to be a big mistake, since tracers took a different flight path than regular bullets–if your tracers were hitting their target, odds are 80% of your regular rounds were missing.

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Tracers did, however, make for dramatic photographs and film reels. Tracers are still an iconic part of how we portray World War II in modern movies. Scenes of air raids at night being defended against by hails of tracer rounds are almost an obligatory part of any War movie.

Tracers, Part 2

To make things worse, including tracer rounds immediately told your enemy he was under attack, and it let him know which direction you were coming from.

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Tracer rounds are rounds that are made a pyrotechnic charge in their base. The powder in the base burns extremely brightly, making the rounds visible even during daylight, and especially visible at night. This was meant to give gunners a visual cue to be able to track how accurate their line of fire was, in real time. They were also meant to be strategically significant, allowing gunners to signal a target’s location to other gunners.

Tracers, Part 3

Perhaps worst of all, pilots would load a string of tracer rounds at the end of ammunition belt to let them know when they’d run out of ammo. Unfortunately, this also let the enemy know they were out of ammunition. It is said that pilots who stopped using tracers saw their hit rates nearly double and suffered less casualties.

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Tracer rounds were first used by the UK in 1915. The United States implemented their own version of a tracer round in 1917. They were originally used as a countermeasure against German zeppelins during the First World War. Unlike standard rounds, the incendiary tracers could ignite the hydrogen that lifted the airships. During WWII, tracer rounds were also issued to American naval and marine aircrew to be fired by their side arms in emergency situations.

Aerial Ramming

Russian pilots destroyed hundreds of German aircraft by ramming them in midair. A few famous Russian pilots were able to eject after ramming enemy planes and survived to fight in future battles. Germany also began using aerial ramming near the end of the war.

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Ramming has been used as a last-ditch tactic throughout military history. Before aerial warfare, ramming was commonly used in naval and ground warfare. A pilot named Pyotr Nesterov was the first pilot to try aerial ramming, in 1914. During WWII, Soviet pilots referred to aerial ramming as “taran,” Russian for “battering ram.”

U.S. Army Boats

Because of its massive number of troop transports, the U.S. Army actually had more ships than the U.S. Navy.

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Those ships are, of course, immortalized in photographs, videos and film and television portrayals of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, France. During that operation, landing craft were crucially important, delivering American troops to the European theater for the first time. There is probably no more vivid portrayal of D-Day than the one from Saving Private Ryan.

Coca-Cola

When the U.S. Army landed in North Africa, they brought along more than troops and equipment: they also set up three complete Coca-Cola bottling plants to keep troops well supplied.

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Although Coca-Cola is lodged in our imaginations as an emblem of Americanism, it is important to remember that Coke had deep financial ties with the German market that survived Hitler’s rise to power and foreign import embargoes. When the embargoes were issued, Coke developed Fanta as a substitute for the German market. A fact that the company is not eager to publicize.

Korean Soldiers

Some of the first Germans captured during the invasion of Normandy weren’t German at all, they were Korean. These soldiers had been forced to fight for the Japanese army until they were captured by the Russians, who forced them to fight for the Russian army. They were later captured by the Germans and forced to fight as German troops.

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Japanese rule of Korea started in 1910. The groundwork was laid in 1905, when the Japan-Korea Treaty declared the Korean Empire a protectorate of Japan. Japanese rule officially began in 1910 with the one-sided signing of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910. Gojong, the Korean Regent, never signed the treaty. Japan’s annexation of Korea was ended in 1945, when Soviet and American forces seized the peninsula.

Germany Declares War

Germany officially declared war on just one nation in World War II: The United States of America.

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Hitler declared war on America on December 11, 1941. It was four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent American declaration of war against the Japanese Empire. Hitler cited multiple provocations by America, an allegedly neutral party in the War until that point. Hitler’s decision was reportedly made very quickly, without consulting his advisors. He is seen in this photograph issuing his declaration at the Reichstag. America responded by declaring war on Germany later the same day.

Dachau

The Dachau concentration camp first opened in 1933, six years before the start of World War II. The Dachau camp system grew to include nearly 100 sub-camps.

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Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. It was constructed on the grounds of a disused munitions factory outside of the town of Dachau. It first opened in 1933. Though it was originally intended to hold political prisoners, it was quickly expanded to include forced labor and imprisonment of Jews, criminals and foreign nationals from countries invaded during the War. There were about 32,000 deaths recorded at Dachau, with many thousands more certainly transpiring off the record.

Poland

20% of Poland’s population died during World War II, the highest percentage of any nation.

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About six million Polish citizens died during the War. The majority of those deaths consisted of civilians killed as a result of German and Soviet war crimes. Though it is accepted that Polish casualties were massive, there are conflicting historical reckonings of what the ethnographic makeup of that death toll was. Of the six million Poles killed during the war, it is believed that about half were Jews. Modern scholars assert that 1.8 to 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were killed by the German Occupation, and 3 million Polish Jews.

Aleutian Islands

Japan occupied U.S. territory for more than a year, invading and holding two islands in the Aleutian Island chain, which is part of Alaska. Nearly 1,500 American troops were killed in 13 months of fighting to retake the islands.

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A small contingent of Japanese troops occupied Attu and Kiska, two islands in the Aleutian chain, in June of 1942. It took the better part of a year for American and Canadian forces to reclaim the islands, due to their remoteness and hazards caused by the weather. Though the islands were small, the advantage conferred to the Japanese in controlling them was large. It allowed them to control transportation routes in the Pacific.

3,000 Babies

Polish Catholic midwife Stanisława Leszczyńska delivered 3,000 babies at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust in occupied Poland.

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An Auschwitz prisoner her self, Leszczyńska’s work earned her the honor of being a candidate for canonization as a saint by the Catholic Church. Multiple Polish hospitals and medical organizations bear her name. The main road at the Auschwitz museum was also named after her. Unfortunately, her story is not well known outside of Poland, where she is considered a national hero.

Soviet Casualties

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

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The USSR suffered a truly horrifying scope of casualties during the War. About 27,000,000 Soviet military personnel and civilians died during the War. This number is disputed, but what is not disputed is the fact that the USSR suffered significantly more casualties than any other country in the world. The Russian Ministry of Defense estimates that there were 8,668,400 military deaths on the Soviet side during the War.

The Ministry’s figures are generally accepted, but some historians in Russia believe that more research is necessary to arrive at an accurate death toll. The Russian Central Defense Ministry Archive claim that there are about fourteen million names of dead and missing service personnel in their database. Some Russian journalists and politicians have claimed that the Soviet death toll may have surpassed forty million people.

Hitler’s Nephew

Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William Patrick Hitler, later named William Patrick “Willy” Stuart-Houston, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

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Stuart-Houston’s father was Adolf Hitler’s half-brother, Alois Hitler, Jr. He was born in Liverpool, then moved to Germany and eventually immigrated to the United States. He served in the Navy during the War, and was eventually granted American citizenship. Nephew William attempted to cash in on uncle Adolph’s ascent to power, moving from England to Berlin and requesting placement in a high-paying job. Hitler put him in an automobile factory and then got him a job as a car salesman. William threatened to blackmail Hitler with threats that he’d go to the press with embarrassing family secrets if his “personal circumstances” didn’t improve. Hitler asked him to renounce his British citizenship in order to be placed at a better job. William assumed it was a trap, and fled back to England.

No Surrender

Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II, held his position in the Philippines and refused to surrender until 1974. His former commander traveled from Japan to personally issue orders relieving him from duty.

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Following the end of the War, Onoda lived in the mountains with three other Japanese soldiers. The four of them conducted guerrilla attacks and firefights with the police. They eventually saw leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender, but believed it to be fake Allied propaganda. Leaflets were eventually air-dropped over holdout soldiers like Onoda, hiding in the mountains, with a surrender order written by General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Onoda and the others did not believe it to be authentic.

U.S. Troops

More than 16,000,000 American troops served in World War II. Of these, 405,000 were killed during the war.

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The vast majority of American deaths during WWII were military personnel, with relatively limited civilian casualties. Of 418,500 recorded American deaths, 416,800 were servicemen. American casualties during the war only accounted for about 2% of the total, with China and the Soviet Union accounting for a significant majority of losses suffered.

50 Million Dead

Total casualties for World War II are estimated between 50 and 70 million people. 80% of those came from just four countries: Russia, China, Germany, and Poland.

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In total, roughly 3% of the world’s population in 1940 died in the War. It was, and is, the single deadliest military conflict in the history of the species in terms of death toll. About 50 to 55 million civilians died during the War. Between 19 and 28 million of them were killed by disease and starvation caused by the conflict.

Lesley J. McNair

Lesley J. McNair, the highest-ranking American officer to be killed during World War 2.

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McNair served in both the first and second World Wars. Before he was killed, he ranked as a lieutenant general. After his death, he received a promotion to the rank of general. He died from friendly fire while serving in France as commander of the fictitious First United States Army Group as part of Operation Quicksilver, a ploy to distract the Germans from Normandy. His foxhole was bombed by the Eighth Air Force.

Coconut Water

Coconut water was used as an emergency substitute for plasma.

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Allegedly. There are anecdotal accounts of British medics in Sri Lanka and Japanese medics in Sumatra using coconut water – the liquid inside a juvenile coconut – as an alternative for blood in emergency transfusions. They are, however, only that: anecdotes. The procedures were never reported in any medical literature.

Subsequent tests showed that a minority of patients had adverse reactions to intravenous coconut water, probably because of the liquid’s high potassium content. There is one account of a man in a remote hospital having his life saved by a coconut water IV, though. In a pinch, it apparently does work.

Convicts

Russia forced convicts to run through minefields to clear them ahead of advancing troops.

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The battalions of convicts were called “Shtrafbats,” used on the Eastern Front. They predated Stalin, but significantly increased under his supervision. The number of Shtrafbats was greatly expanded under Order No. 227, an attempt to re-instill discipline in Soviet troops after the disastrous first year of hostilities with Germany. The Order is most associated with the slogan “Not one step back!” It instituted severely punitive measures to prevent desertions and retreats. In the Order, Stalin cites the Nazi use of penal battalions as a rationale.

Elephant

A popular myth holds that the first Allied bombs that dropped on Berlin in 1944 killed Siam, the only elephant at the Berlin Zoo. In fact, the opposite is the case.

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There were eight elephants at the Berlin Zoo, and Allied bombs killed every elephant but Siam, the only elephant to survive. Over time, that story somehow became inverted. Not only elephants were killed – captive animals across Germany were killed in Allied raids, despite promises that they would be safely evacuated in time. It was also not uncommon for animals to escape their cages during the bombings. The more dangerous ones had to be hunted down and shot in the streets.

Ghost Army

American soldiers used fake tanks and pre-recorded sounds to deceive the Nazis into thinking their army was bigger. They were called the ‘Ghost Army.’

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The unit’s proper name was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, or “Operation Quicksilver.” It consisted of 1,100 soldiers, who began their deceptions a few months after D-Day. Their operations were described somewhat glibly as a “traveling road show.” In addition to inflatable tanks and trucks that blasted sounds, they also broadcast fake radio transmissions.

It was common for them to operate close to the front lines of battle. The Ghost Army’s exploits weren’t made public until forty years after the War, and some of the details are still classified.

V-1 Flying Rockets

Spitfire pilots sometimes used the wings of their planes to disrupt the flight paths of V1 missiles. It was a desperate maneuver, and one not often used. However, some intrepid pilots did manage to pull it off.

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The Spitfire pilots would try to get their wings as close to the “doodlebug” rockets as possible, creating air pressure differentials that could throw it off course. They would also sometimes try to bump the rockets physically. The change in flight path was enough to throw the rockets off of their intended targets.

Konstanz

Konstanz, a German town located very close to the Swiss border, was never bombed during the War. The residents came up with the ingenious idea of fooling Allied bombers into thinking it was a Swiss city by leaving its lights on at night.

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The Swiss Federation maintained armed neutrality throughout both World Wars. It was not always an easily won position. The Swiss relied on economic concessions to the Nazis, strong national pride and luck to deter both German invasion and internal agitation from Swiss Nazis.

Operation K

On March 4, 1942, two Kawanishi H8K “Emily” flying boats embarked on Operation K, flying the longest distance ever undertaken by a two-plane bombing mission to that point.

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The planes refueled at an atoll 500 miles from Hawaii, and then launched to drop their bombs on Pearl Harbor. Due to extensive cloud cover and confusion between the two pilots, one plane dropped its bombs on an uninhabited mountainside and the other dropped its bombs in the ocean. There were no American casualties.

Adrian Carton de Wiart

Adrian Carton de Wiart served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War. He was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunneled out of a prisoner-of-war camp; and tore off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. What a survivor!

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He was a Lieutenant General in the British Army, awarded the Victoria Cross for his accomplishments. He once wrote of his time in World War I, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.” He also wrote, “Governments may think and say as they like, but force cannot be eliminated, and it is the only real and unanswerable power. We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose.”

Holocaust Memorial In Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was beset by a very serious controversy while it was under construction. It was designed to be coated in a graffiti-deterring chemical. The problem was, that product was produced by Degussa, a German chemical company that owned Degesch, the company that manufactured Zyklon B gas during the War.

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Zyklon B was, of course, the gas used for mass murder in concentration camps. The company does not deny its dark history. To their credit, they have invited researchers to study their past and publish their findings without corporate oversight or censorship.

Penicillin

Penicillin was recycled and extracted from the urine of soldiers already on the antibiotics. The drug was still in the very earliest stages of its clinical use, and was very resource- and time-consuming to produce. There was no way for supply to match the growing demand, as the War raged.

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Between about 40 and 90% of the drug is cleaned from the blood by the kidneys and excreted in urine, in its still-active form. Recycling this urine was a brilliant and life-saving, if slightly icky, medical shortcut. This phenomenon, of medication lingering in urine, is today cause for some alarm, as the environment and our drinking water supplies become more and more enriched with prescription drugs.

SS Wien of Austria

SS Wien of Austria was sunk in 1918 during World War I. It was salvaged and returned to service as SS Po. It unfortunately sunk again in 1941 during World War II.

Shipwreckology

It was one of the few ships to have been sunk in both World Wars. In WWII, it was sunk by the British in Valona Bay, Albania. At the time, it had been requisitioned for service as a medical ship. Unfortunately, that sinking would be its last.

James Hill

James Hill, a British officer, captured two Italian tanks using only his revolver. However, he was ultimately wounded while attempting to capture his third tank.

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The event took place during at attack on Gue Hill. The crews of the first two tanks were cowed into submission, while the third opened fire, wounding Hill in the chest. He was evacuated to England, awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Legion d’Honneur and then put in command of the 3rd Parachute Brigade in the 6th Airborne Division. He jumped with his brigade during Operation Tonga, the British landing at Normandy in 1944.

Pooli

Pooli, the cat, was a WW2 veteran. She earned 3 service ribbons and 4 battle stars.

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Pooli, pictured here on her 15th birthday, was the ship’s cat on an American attack transport. The ship’s cat has been an institution in naval life from ancient times. Their primary value has always been rodent control. Unchecked rodents can damage ropes, wood and wiring, as well as polluting and consuming food supplies and spreading disease. Indeed, ship rats were suspected of being the primary infection vectors of the Black Death. Or, more precisely, the fleas they carried. Thanks for your service, Pooli.

When WW2 Began

Some say the war started when Japan invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931.

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The Japanese invaded after the Mukden Incident, a staged railway bombing that was meant to serve as pretext for military aggression. It was the beginning of years of open hostility between Japan and China, which would spill over into the beginning of WWII. Indeed, many historians consider the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 as the official beginning of WWII. The Second Sino-Japanese War, precipitated by the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, would not have occurred without the Mukden Incident and ensuing conflicts.

Alexey Maresyev

Alexey Maresyev, a Russian pilot, was shot down over Nazi Germany. He dragged himself for 18 days to Soviet territory and eventually had to have his legs amputated.

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He was shot down on April 4, 1942 near Staraya Russa. Narrowly evading capture by the Nazis and suffering from two broken legs, Maresyev managed, somehow, to survive an eighteen-day journey across frozen tundra to the Soviet border. After both legs were amputated below the knee, he was given prosthetic legs and returned to flying in June of 1943. He is still a folk hero in Russia.

Hitler In Paris

Hitler poses in front of the Eiffel Tower in this iconic photograph, taken shortly after the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940.

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Hitler is seen here next to architect Albert Speer, left, and sculptor Arno Breker, right. Before the Germans stormed Paris, the Parisians severed the Tower’s lift cables, so that Hitler would have to climb every step if he wanted to reach the top. There were also no parts available to repair the lift. Nazi soldiers did climb to the top, to plant a Swastika flag that blew away after a few hours. Hitler never did climb the Tower. He attempted to destroy it, issuing an order to Dietrich von Choltitz to level it in August of 1944. Von Choltitz disobeyed the order.

Nutella

Did you know that Nutella was invented during WW2?

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Nutella is a brand of palm oil spread that’s made with hazelnuts, sugar and a small amount of chocolate. It was invented after WWII, when chocolate was extremely expensive. Pietro Ferrero invented the first Nutella, a chocolate substitute that originally came in a solid loaf. It was, at first, called “Giandujot,” renamed Nutella in 1964.

France’s Guns

The French had over 3,000 tanks, most of which were larger and better armed than the German panzers.

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At the outset of the War, France commanded a tank force that was among the very largest in the world. Tanks were an integral component of France’s strategy for the War, which was meant to be focused on defense. They built their tanks to be heavily armored. When the Germans invaded, the French commanded about 5,800 tanks.

Despite a numbers and armor advantage over the Germans, the French tanks were misused. There were also too few Cavalry units and cooperation with the infantry was lacking.

Shipping Losses

The Allies certainly lost many merchant ships during the war, but maybe not as many as you think.

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Overall, there were 323,090 individual sailings, of which 4,786 were sunk (about 1.5%). Of these, 2,562 were British, but on average, there were around 2,000 British ships sailing somewhere around the world on any given day.

The U.S. Merchant Marine suffered more casualties in World War II than any other service. 1,554 ships were recorded sinking during the War. Many hundreds more were damaged.

U.S. Aid

The US is estimated to have fed 6 million Soviet citizens continually during the war.

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The aid was part of America’s Lend-Lease policy, or, formally, An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, enacted in 1941. The policy was meant to weaken the Axis powers by providing aid in the form of food, oil and materiel to the United Kingdom and China, later to include the Soviet Union, France and other Allies. After the war with Japan was won, America ceased aid to these countries completely, without notice.

Food Rations

Britain began the war without rationing and only modestly introduced it in January 1940. In contrast, Germany began rationing at the war’s onset and struggled to feed its armed forces and the wider population from start to finish.

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The country’s demand for food from occupied territories led to a lot of hunger for a lot of people. British people rarely had to go hungry and, although a number of foods were rationed, there were many that were not. Rationed food portions for a week could be so small that most contemporary people wouldn’t even consider it worthy of a single day’s calories.

French Forces

It’s hard to believe, but France had more machine-powered divisions than Germany in 1940’s.

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Germany seized France in the Battle of France, a six-week campaign in which the Nazis captured France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. During the War, the French suffered about 210,000 military deaths and 390,000 civilian deaths. The nation was brutalized and demoralized, and, like many other countries involved in the War, struggled with its sense of identity after the close of hostilities.

Erich Hartmann

Erich Hartmann was the leading ace of all time with 352 ‘kills’. The leading Allied ace of the entire war was RAF ace, James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson with 38 kills.

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Hartmann, nicknamed “Bubi (The Kid)” or “Black Devil,” depending on which side you fought on, was the single most successful fighter ace in history. Of his 1,404 combat flights, 825 of them involved aerial combat. In total, he downed 352 Allied aircraft, the majority of them Soviet. He crash landed a total of fourteen times, but was never shot down or forced to land by an enemy.

Kamikaze Rockets

The Japanese struggled to keep pace with American and British technologies, so they developed the Ohka (Cherry Blossom). The Ohka was a rocket-powered, human-guided missile which was used at the end of the war as a kamikaze weapon.

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The Cherry Blossom was carried underneath a bomber until it was within range of a target. The Blossom was released and its pilot would glide the craft into position to ignite three solid-fuel rockets, sending it hurtling into the target, usually a ship.

Fewer Autos

German wartime propaganda that the Third Reich had a highly mechanized and modern army is still widely believed. Actually, in 1939, Germany was one of the least automotive societies in the western world, despite the autobahns and Grand Prix victories of Mercedes.

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At the war’s start, there were 47 people for every motor vehicle in Germany. In Britain, that figure was 14, in France it was eight, and in the USA it was four. Germany’s auto industry survived the War, but was fairly anemic for the years immediately following the Nazi defeat.

Leningrad

More than 300,000 Russian soldiers died during the German siege of the city of Leningrad. That means in just one city, Russia lost 75% of the number of troops lost by the U.S. during the entire war.

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Leningrad is now known as Saint Petersburg. The siege was also referred to as the Leningrad Blockade and the 900-Day Siege. It began on September 8, 1941, when the last road leading into the city was destroyed. The siege lasted until January 27, 1944. That’s a total of 872 days. The Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest, and deadliest, sieges in the history of warfare.

Soviet Purges

Stalin killed more people than Hitler during purges of “undesirables.” Stalin killed an estimated total of 25 million people versus Hitler’s 12 million.

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Stalin is today both venerated as a modernizer and reviled as one of the greatest despots, if not the greatest despot, in history. His stewardship of the Soviet Union saw affairs deteriorate into a state of prolonged “Terror,” in which secret police kidnapped and executed Soviet citizens on whimsical allegations of disloyalty to the Party.

Henry Ford

In 1918, Henry Ford purchased his hometown newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. A year and a half later, he began publishing a series of articles that claimed a vast Jewish conspiracy was infecting America. The series ran in the following 91 issues. Ford bound the articles into four volumes titled “The International Jew,” and distributed half a million copies to his vast network of dealerships and subscribers. As one of the most famous men in America, Henry Ford legitimized ideas that otherwise may have been given little authority.

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Ford was also awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials in 1938, ostensibly for their admiration of Ford’s pioneering work in the auto industry.

U.S. Nurses

When the US declared war on Japan in 1941, there were a total of 1,000 nurses in the Army Corps. By the end of the war there were more than 60,000.

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Female nurses had served in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, but had never been integrated as official military personnel. This changed in 1901, with the founding of the Nurse Corps. During WWII, the Nurse Corps deployed nurses to every theater of combat. They had to work in grueling conditions, often contracting tropical illnesses and weathering enemy fire. Many were also captured as POWs.

Soviet Danger

Germany nearly won the war against the USSR. In late 1941, the USSR sent a feeler committee (Beria) to Germany. Stalin was willing to hand over Ukraine along with much of the won territory the German army was occupying in late 1941. The feeler committee stated that the Germans believed that the USSR was near collapse and did not want to negotiate terms of peace.

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Though Americans remember the War as one fought primarily between Americans and Germans, Russia remembers it as “The Great Patriotic War,” in which they paid the highest price of any Allied power and mounted the most important defense against the Nazis.

Roza Shanina

Roza Shanina was a female Soviet sniper who achieved 59 confirmed hits. Newspapers called her “the unseen terror of East Prussia.”

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Shanina was responsible for killing twelve German soldiers during the Battle of Vilnius alone. She was motivated to join the military after her brother died in 1941. She was one of the most highly esteemed shots in the Soviet army.