World War II Facts: Tragedies, Spies, and More

world war ii plane

World War II is one of the most infamous events in human history. Yet, every year, more facts are uncovered for the first time and added to the history books. From the unabated carnage between humans and vast technological advances to fears of enemy spies using American DJs to spread messages, the annals contain thousands of notes.

It’s no surprise that World War II was one of the deadliest conflicts to ever take place. Most people know that bombs were dropped in multiple countries for months on end. Few people know more than 3 million tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on enemy forces between 1939 and 1945.

It’s this and many other tales of history that wait to be discovered. Let’s dive into World War II facts, some of which you may never have heard of.

picture of historic soldier

World War II Facts: 11 Things You Didn’t Know

  1. Bombs were dropped more than 10,000 times in the Allies’ most famed military operation, the D-Day invasion, which led to the liberation of France and the end of the war.
  2. Allied troops during World War II would often take to the air to deliver supplies to their forces, mainly by cargo plane. The cargo planes were called the “Flying Stovepipes.”
  3. The Germans used more than 1 million civilians as guinea pigs in the Euthanasia Program, a medical experiment, for biological warfare.
  4. During the Battle of France, General Charles de Gaulle and his Free French army retreated across the English Channel to escape the German onslaught. De Gaulle was able to successfully defy Hitler by refusing to retreat.
  5. Americans were reluctant to fight against their European allies.
  6. Radio DJs in America were prevented from accepting listener requests starting in 1942, for fear that spies may have embedded enemy messages.
  7. There were more Russian combat deaths in the Battle of Stalingrad alone than there were for both the US and UK combat deaths in all of World War II.
  8. Only about 25% of those serving on U-Boots (U-boats) survived the war. U-boats were one of the prominent features of World War II and were used as naval blockades on both sides of the conflict.
  9. The US’ national defense budget grew by a staggering 188 percent from 1940 to 1945.
  10. William Hitler, nephew of Adolph Hitler, was in the US Navy during World War II. It wasn’t until after conflict concluded that he changed his name.
  11. The most decorated unit in United States military history is, and continues to be, the 442nd regimental combat team. 442 was comprised of Japanese-American volunteer troops and never recorded a single case of duty desertion. Throughout their service, the team earned:
    1. 52 distinguished service crosses
    2. 1 medal of honor
    3. 560 silver stars
    4. 4,000 bronze stars

Adolf Hitler

You may know that Adolf Hitler was considered the most successful Nazi leader to date. Yes, the “leader” in a world where millions of lives were lost in a short period of time. Yet, many people don’t know Hitler was a coward. How exactly did a man with one eye and limited vision rise to power?

Details About Hitler

Though the primary goal of the Nazis was world domination, Hitler is known to have been a cold-blooded individual who never imagined himself in a position to lead. At the end of the war, Hitler preferred to commit suicide rather than face his own people. He was shot in an impromptu grave on April 30, 1945, by the SS at the place where his corpse would be disposed of.

Japanese-Americans In World War II

An estimated 110,000 Japanese-Americans, many of whom were U.S. citizens, were taken from their homes and incarcerated in prison camps during World War II. Of those, a little more than one third died (about 33,000 to 35,000). It is unknown how many survived due to wartime conditions.

Further Details

Among those who died at these camps were hundreds of men and boys who were deemed of military age and volunteered to fight for their country (some of these men were in 442). There were new houses built for prisoners of war (POWs) of the Japanese government at Camp Savage, Minn. (National Archives and Records Administration).

world war ii plane black and white

World War II Facts: The Battle Of Britain

On the morning of Friday, June 10, 1940, Germany’s Luftwaffe (air force) bombed British cities for the first time in World War II. Most people don’t realize the Battle of Britain actually started during the previous year when Britain declared war on Germany.

Britain’s Response To Germany

This development forced Germany to stop aerial attacks on British airspace and concentrate on the mainland. As a result, British forces were able to disrupt Hitler’s invasion plans and the Battle of Britain became one of the deadliest ever for the British. The Battle of Britain is regarded as the first “Allied” victory of World War II. However, it wasn’t until July 1940 when the British Royal Air Force (RAF) got its first win, followed by the Germans announcing they would no longer use aircraft with Hitler’s Germany.

The Holocaust

World War II was not only about the need for self-preservation by the United States, but it was also a fight against the oppression of European Jews and the rebuilding of the German economy. World War II facts include the following:

  • Tens of thousands of Jewish women and children were sent to the gas chambers.
  • During one death camp’s construction, an SS guard remarked, “We’re going to make a hell of a country out of this.”
  • The German government only admitted that nearly two million people, or less than half of the Holocaust, were killed. More than 6 million Jewish people, many of whom were children, were killed by Nazi Germany.
  • Hitler tried to remove the idea of a victim. “When he comes to power,” Hitler said, “I shall determine who is and who isn’t to be exterminated.”

World War II Facts: The War In The Pacific

World War II was not the first nor the only war fought in the Pacific Theater. The war there has been thought of as a separate conflict. However, it began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941.

For the Japanese, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a literal declaration of war. For the United States, the attack marked a major shift in the tide of war. Americans were plunged into instant fear and shock. For the rest of the world, the war in the Pacific would go on to define the 20th century. The soldiers of Pearl Harbor are buried along the parade grounds of Ford Island. At the time, the attack had targeted the United States Pacific Fleet, but it soon turned into a full-scale war.

war veteran driving jeep


World War II was an important time for the world–to say the least. Most students only learn basic World War II facts. This includes the intricacies of the United States’ entry into the war; why the Americans, the Japanese, and Germans were fighting each other; and the strength of each nation during the war.

While war often makes for good movies, it’s hard to capture the stories on paper, which is why people turn to books and documentaries. For these reasons, the movies, TV shows, documentaries, and books play a vital role in our understanding of the war.

They make it less abstract and more personal. With war, emotions are heightened, and that makes everything about it more real.

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