10 Startling Facts and Anecdotes about World War II

As historians sift through the rubble of World War II information, they have gradually realized that people didn’t really know what they were doing back then.As such, there are some great tidbits from WWII that shock and titillate. Here are my favorites:

1. Weird POW EscapeMount KenyaWorld War II took place partially in Kenya. Needless to say, there wasn’t much in terms of nightlife. Well, for P.O.W.’s there’s never much in terms of nightlife, but it was even more boring in the Savannah with nothing to even look at but Mount Kenya in the distance.

One of those captured soldiers was Italian Felice Benuzzi. Early on Benuzzi noticed security was kind of lax. With dangerous jungles and animals all around, there wasn’t much chance of a prisoner getting away. One day, Benuzzi escaped, climbed to the top of Mount Kenya, planted a homemade Italian flag there, and reported back to camp. He was given a 4-week sentence to solitary confinement, but it was commuted to 1 week because the sentencing officer appreciated the “sporting effort.”

 

2. Weird Beer DropBeerAfter taking back France, British troops wanted to celebrate, but they needed beer. Covert plans were developed to fill tanks, usually reserved for fuel or explosives, with beer. Plans containing hundreds of gallons of beer were sent over the English channel to “bomb” their own men with loads of beer.

Due to the limitations of communication, as well as the undercover status of the not-so-necessary operation, sometimes there were snafus. One pilot landed his beer plane landed near where troops were supposed to be stationed, only to be told there was a nest of German snipers nearby and he needed to take off, immediately. Well, immediately AFTER dropping off the beer, that is.

 

3. Sweet Treat at 10,000 feet

Cream and Sugar

One of the creative things that the Air Force troops would do is collect everyone’s cream and sugar rations, for a special recipe. They cleaned out fuel tanks from bombers and filled them with the cream and sugar. The cold temperatures at high altitudes, combined withagitation from the spinning propellers, meant that all that sugar and cream would turn into ice cream

 

 

4. The Bat Bomb

Bat

The plan was crazy, but it had enough logic to make it all the way to the testing and planning stage. A container was made to hold one thousand bats. An incendiary device was attached to each bat. The goal was to drop it over a Japanese city. The bats would fly out and nest in roofs and chimneys, many of which were made of flimsy wood and paper. Then, fires would break out and innocent Japanese civilians would suffer because I guess that scored points in old-timey wars.

There were two reasons the plan was never used. An accidental release set an airbase on fire. Then, by the time things had been cleaned up and scientists or (whoever makes bat bombs) were ready, it was 1945 and the war was almost over.

 

5. Wojtek

WojtekPurchased on a whim by Polish troops, Wojtek was a bear who spent almost his entire childhood in the armed services. He was even given a rank in order to fool authorities into providing him food rations. The bear even sailed to Egypt to participate in a battle. I know the Polish get mocked for their inferior WWII technology, but if I’m piloting a tank and a Polish guy riding a bear comes charging at me, I’m seriously thinking of packing it in.

 

6. The Armor Error

Wald

In WWII, the U.S. used to examine planes that came back to the base. They looked for the parts that had the most bullet holes and then started putting armor wherever that was. German refugee Abraham Wald heard of this and immediately declared it to be a stupid policy.

He was right.

Wald reasoned that if a part of a plane was riddled with bullets but still stayed intact enough for the plane to land, then it probably was armored enough. Wald convinced the armed forces to start fortifying parts of planes that never came back damaged because those were the most likely the Achilles’ heels. After all, if a plane never showed damage in a certain area upon return, then probably the planes that took damage in that area never returned. This observation was so groundbreaking, it is still in use, today.

7. Fallen London

LondonThe German bombings were a nightmare to London civilians. In fact, London didn’t reach its pre WW2 (1939) population until January of 2015.

 

8. Agent Chef Child

ChildJulia Child, before she embarked upon her cooking career, desperately wanted to serve her country. However the 6’2″ giantess was far to tall to make it into the Army nor the Navy. So she found a job in the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS was a precursor to the CIA, and secret agent Child was sent on missions all over the world.

 

9. Richard Feynman the Prankster

Feynman

Feynman was a genius, so much that doing groundbreaking research on nuclear weapons wasn’t enough to entertain him. So he started breaking into the personal safes of his coworkers. The safes were supposed to be secure, with a combination lock consisting of three two-digitnumbers. Feynman rationalized, correctly, that most people couldn’t be bothered to memorize long strings of numbers to unlock a safe that was kind of unnecessary. So he would try pi, e, and their birthday, and would open the lock most of the time.

To add to the joke, Feynman would carry a hacksaw and a stethescope around, just to convince coworkers he had found some arduous new way of forcing open locks. That’s the kind of nerdy aggression the U.S. needed to come out with the most disastrous weapon in human history.

10. Speed up the Battle

Pervitin

Amphetamines were used to create super soldiers with stronger powers than a normal, sober man. For the Germans, it was Pervitin that frontline troops did front lines of. However, there was a serious drawback to Pervitin: Withdrawals. One company of German soldiers, pushing forward on the Easter Front, ran out of their speed. The shakes started in, and they grew so paranoid that they thought Russians were attacking in the night. After expending all of their ammo shooting at empty trees in the dark, the Germans were spent. The following morning, Russians rolled through and captured them with minimum hassle.

 

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