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5 Interesting Facts About The Second World War

Updated on February 12, 2014

The Eastern Front

These images are all of the Eastern Front in World War II- the largest conflict in human history, spread over an area covering thousands of square miles and costing the lives of tens of millions of people.
These images are all of the Eastern Front in World War II- the largest conflict in human history, spread over an area covering thousands of square miles and costing the lives of tens of millions of people. | Source

Japanese Horror

These are the casualties of a mass panic that enveloped the Chinese civilian population of Chongqing during a Japanese air raid in 1941, which cost the lives of 5000 civilians.
These are the casualties of a mass panic that enveloped the Chinese civilian population of Chongqing during a Japanese air raid in 1941, which cost the lives of 5000 civilians. | Source

Chairman Mao

This is the official portrait of Mao at Tiananmen Gate. Mao credited the Japanese for indirectly allowing him to seize power in China in 1949.
This is the official portrait of Mao at Tiananmen Gate. Mao credited the Japanese for indirectly allowing him to seize power in China in 1949. | Source

Which Country Suffered The Second Highest Losses In The Second World War?

It’ll probably come as no surprise to learn that the country that suffered the highest losses was the USSR, but the country with the second highest loss of life may surprise you somewhat; China.

The Soviet-German war of 1941-1945 was the largest conflict in human history. When Hitler sent three million troops into the Soviet Union, he expected a quick victory. Four years later, an estimated 10 million Soviet troops had died, along with at least 14 million Soviet citizens. The Germans lost over 5 million men; ultimately it was in Russia that the overall outcome of the Second World War was really decided.

It was a vast theatre, fought over thousands of square miles. The Red Army was untrained and hopelessly underequipped in the early stages of the war, with infantry often pitted against tanks. The initial German advance was swift, destroying countless towns and villages, and wrecking the infrastructure of agriculture and industry. This left millions of Russians homeless and hungry. As the German advance became bogged down, the troops were ordered to show no mercy, systematically butchering prisoners and civilians alike.

It was a very similar set of factors that produced the war’s second largest death toll. Very little is known in the West about the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, yet even the lowest estimates suggest that 2 million Chinese troops and 7 million Chinese civilians died. The official Chinese death toll is a total of 20 million.

The Japanese invaded China in 1937 to provide a buffer between themselves and their real enemy, the USSR. China had no central government; much of it was still controlled by warlords and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists hated each other almost as much as they did the Japanese. Chinese troops were pitifully short of weapons and modern military equipment (some still fought with swords) and they was no match for the disciplined and ruthless Imperial Japanese army.

The invasion turned into the greatest, bloodiest guerrilla war ever fought. Both sides pursued horrific scorched earth policies, destroying crops, farms, villages and bridges as they retreated, so as to deny their use to the enemy. Widespread famine and starvation were the result. As in Russia, a lack of military hardware was made up for by the sheer numbers of Chinese willing to fight and die. And, by the end of the war, 95 million Chinese were refugees.

Early on in the conflict, after capturing Chiang Kai-Shek’s capital, Nanking, Japanese troops were sent on an officially authorised, six week spree of mass murder, torture and rape that left 300,000 dead. Over the course of the war, 200,000 Chinese women were kidnapped to work in Japanese military brothels. Another 400,000 Chinese died after being infected with cholera, anthrax and bubonic plague dropped from Japanese aircraft. But, no matter how appalling the casualties, the Chinese refused to give in.

All Japan’s military forces surrendered after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In China Mao Zedong’s Communist Party swept to power. In 1972 Mao expressed his gratitude to the Japanese Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka. ‘If Imperial Japan had not started the war,’ he said. ‘How could we communists have become mighty and powerful?’

Hitler And His Favourite Foods

One of the most recognisable faces in history.
One of the most recognisable faces in history. | Source
On this plate are Bavarian sausages, which were a favourite food of Hitlers according to those who knew him best.
On this plate are Bavarian sausages, which were a favourite food of Hitlers according to those who knew him best. | Source
And here we have a game pie, another favourite of the Fuhrer, according to those who knew him best.
And here we have a game pie, another favourite of the Fuhrer, according to those who knew him best. | Source

Was Hitler Really A Vegetarian?

It’s quite a good story isn’t it? The twentieth century’s worst dictator, with the blood of tens of millions of his hands, was too fastidious, or sentimental, or cranky to eat meat. It’s regularly trotted out, illogically, as a good argument against vegetarianism. Unfortunately, it’s not true.

Various biographers, including those who knew the dictator intimately, record his passion for Bavarian sausages, game pie and (according to his chef) stuffed pigeon.

He was, however, plagued by chronic flatulence, for which his doctors regularly recommended a vegetarian diet (a remedy which will surprise many vegetarians). He also received regular injections of a high-protein serum derived from pulverised bull’s testicles. That’s a long way from a mushroom timbale or lentil bake.

There is absolutely no evidence in his speeches or writings that he was ideologically sympathetic to vegetarianism, and not one of his lieutenants was a veggie. In fact, he was far more likely to have criminalised vegetarians along with Esperanto speakers, conscientious objectors and other detested ‘internationalists.’

Nor was he an atheist. Here he is in full, unambiguous flow in Mein Kampf (1925): ‘I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work.’ He was to use the same form of words in a Reichstag speech in 1938.

Three years later he told General Gerhart Engel: ‘I am now as before, a Catholic and will always remain so.’

Far from being a ‘godless’ state, Nazi Germany enthusiastically worked with the Catholic Church. Infantry soldiers each wore a belt with Gott mit uns (God is with us) inscribed on the buckle, and blessings of troops and equipment were regular and widespread.

Mein Kampf

Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf

Hitler's political manifesto which outlines his hatred of the Jews and also, contrary to popular opinion his devout commitment to Catholicism.

 

When The British Had Concentration Camps

This photo shows Boer women and children living in a British run concentration camp in 1901.
This photo shows Boer women and children living in a British run concentration camp in 1901. | Source

The First German Concentration Camp

Over 150,000 native Africans died in German run concentration camps in what is now Namibia. According to the UN, it was the first genocide of the 20th century.
Over 150,000 native Africans died in German run concentration camps in what is now Namibia. According to the UN, it was the first genocide of the 20th century. | Source

The Worst Of All

This harrowing photo shows starving prisoners at the Nazi run Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945.
This harrowing photo shows starving prisoners at the Nazi run Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945. | Source

Did Germany Invent The Concentration Camp?

Whenever you hear the term ‘Concentration Camp’ you normally think of infamous Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz, but the concept of concentration camps isn’t German at all.

Half a century prior to the establishment of the first Nazi concentration camp, the British used internment camps for families in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902.

In actual fact though, the concept is Spanish. In their struggle to retain Cuba in 1895, they first came up with the idea of ‘concentrating’ civilians in one place to make them easier to control. That struggle ended in defeat for Spain, and their troops began to withdraw from the island in 1898. The USA stepped into the vacuum, exerting a military influence on the island until Castro’s revolution of 1959.

The British translated the Spanish term reconcentration, when faced with a similar situation in South Africa. The camps had been made necessary by the British policy of burning down Boer farms. This created a large number of refugees. The British decided to round up all the women and children left behind by the Boer troops, to stop them resupplying the enemy.

In total, there were forty five tented camps for Boer women and children and sixty four for black African farm labourers and their families.

Despite the humane intentions, conditions in the camps quickly degenerated. There was very little food, and disease spread rapidly. By 1902, 28,000 Boers (including 22,000 children) and 20,000 Africans had died in the camps, twice as many as the soldiers killed in the fighting.

Shortly after this, the Germans also established their first concentration camps in their attempts to colonise South-West Africa (now Namibia).

Men, women and children of the Herero and Namaqua peoples were arrested and imprisoned and forced to work in camps. Between 1904 and 1907 100,000 Africans- 80 per cent of the Herero and 50 per cent of the Namaqua died through violence or starvation. The UN now considers this the first genocide of the twentieth century.

When The Band Of Brothers Liberated A Nazi Concentration Camp

The Moment The Hostilities Ended

Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu makes Japan's unconditional surrender official on board the USS Missouri on the 2nd September 1945.
Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu makes Japan's unconditional surrender official on board the USS Missouri on the 2nd September 1945. | Source

The Official End Of World War II

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought about the reunification of Germany. The Allied Powers signed a peace treaty with the resurrected Germany in October 1990, thus marking the official end of World War II.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought about the reunification of Germany. The Allied Powers signed a peace treaty with the resurrected Germany in October 1990, thus marking the official end of World War II. | Source

In What Year Did World War II Actually End?

The majority of us are aware that actual hostilities came to an end with the Japanese surrender on the 2nd September 1945. However, the Cold War got in the way of a formal legal settlement. Peace treaties were signed with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland in 1950. All of the Allies except the USSR signed a treaty with Japan in 1951. Austria waited until 1955 to regain its sovereignty. Germany, however, was divided between the Western powers and the USSR, and no peace treaty was signed with what emerged as the German Democratic Republic in 1949.

So, the first celebration of German reunification on the 3rd October 1990 marks the official end to World War II.

The United States has formally declared war just eleven times: twice against Germany, twice against Hungary (1917, in its guise as Austria-Hungary and 1942) and once each against Romania (1942), Bulgaria (1942), Italy (1941), Japan (1941), Spain (1898), Mexico (1898) and Britain (1812).

The Vietnam War and the two Iraq campaigns were not formal declarations of war, but ‘military engagements authorised by Congress.’ Under the 1973 War Powers Act, the President gained authority to deploy troops (with certain limits of size and time) without a formal declaration. Formal declarations are disliked because they lend legitimacy to unrecognised or unpopular regimes.

The Korean War was neither formally declared nor approved by Congress and, despite hostilities ending in 1953; a peace treaty has never been signed with North Korea. Incidentally the longest war fought by the United States was the forty six year campaign against the Apache nation which ended in 1886 with Geronimo’s surrender at Skeleton Canyon, New Mexico.

German Reunification As Described By The BBC

The Workhorse Of The RAF

This is a Hawker Hurricane MK I, the model that flew in the Battle of Britain, which still flies today.
This is a Hawker Hurricane MK I, the model that flew in the Battle of Britain, which still flies today. | Source

Achtung Spitfire!

While the Hurricanes mostly dealt with the bombers, the faster Spitfire took on the fighters.
While the Hurricanes mostly dealt with the bombers, the faster Spitfire took on the fighters. | Source

Which Plane Won The Battle Of Britain?

Whenever one thinks of the Battle of Britain, the image of a Spitfire immediately comes to mind. But was it really the plane that won the battle for the British? No, in actual fact it was the Hawker Hurricane; while the Spitfire possessed a more advanced design, was faster, lighter to handle and capable of operating at altitudes of up to 30,000 feet, the records indicate that the heavy fighting in the Battle of Britain was done by the Hawker Hurricane.

For a start there were more of them. In 1940, Hurricane squadrons outnumbered Spitfire squadrons by three to two; 1715 Hurricanes were used in the battle, more than all the RAF aircraft put together. And they downed more planes. In Francis K. Mason’s exhaustive account, Battle over Britain (1969), he shows that of 11,400 reported engagements, Hurricanes accounted for 55 per cent of all kills, to the Spitfires’ 33 per cent.

In general, the Hurricanes specialised in attacking bombers, while the Spitfires took the fighters. However, the highest scoring RAF pilot in the battle, Sergeant Josef Frantisek (a Czech), only flew Hurricanes and still managed to down nine BF 109s- the fastest and best equipped German fighter. In total, he downed seventeen enemy aircraft.

The first Hawker Hurricane flew in 1935 and was basically a single winged Hawker Fury, one of the most reliable of the biplanes designed for Hawker between the wars by Sydney Camm. Hurricanes were built from 1937 to 1944 on a steel frame with a linen fabric covering. The Spitfire was all metal. Moreover, the Hurricane was quite cheap and very easy to repair. Its fabric skin meant bullets could pass right through and on more than one occasion Hurricanes returned safely with large pieces of wing missing.

Hurricanes could be turned around more quickly for battle; they absorbed the shudder of eight guns rather better than the Spitfires and, because the cockpits were larger, fighter pilots could wrap up warmer. There was no cockpit heating in either plane.

Spitfires scored their first kills for the RAF in September 1939 when they inadvertently shot down some of their own Hurricanes. All in all, the RAF lost 1173 planes and 510 pilots and gunners in the battle, including 538 Hurricanes and 342 Spitfires. The Luftwaffe meanwhile, lost 1173 planes, and 3368 airmen were killed or captured.

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    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Wow, James, what an exhaustive article. There were so many facts I did not know about the war, like the biological warfare waged by the Japanese against the hapless Chinese, and really, the whole history of the Sino-Japanese War. Japanese aggression paralleled German in that they attacked without any declaration of war, a peaceful, unsuspecting, unarmed, unprepared nation. And to see them screaming victory after the conquest, would make any intelligent person puke!

      Justice was done finally when those two nations were brought to their knees, but after what utter, cruel devastation! We pray nothing like that ever happens again, although with the many wars still being waged in certain countries, it is hard to see the cessation of man's inhumanity to man.

      A great hub, James, vote up and shared.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi mizjo, I find it strange just how much the Sino-Japanese War is neglected here in the West. I remember watching a documentary that stated that Japanese propaganda attempted to portray the Japanese as liberators- driving the European powers out of Asia. But as the war in China demonstrates, all they were after was power, blind power. Thanks for stopping by.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      JKenny, this is full of interesting info. Agreed, we in the West tend to forget China-- and even the Soviet Union, but it seems obvious to me that if the Soviet Union had fallen, things would be very different today.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yep definitely agree with that. If the Soviets had fallen, then the Third Reich would probably still exist today. It would probably be a superpower along with the US. Thank for stopping by.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      JKenny. Hello James. Superb, nothing less absolutely first class. As mizjo says above I was unaware of the biological attacks. 'The rape on Nanking' as it became known was an affront to civilisation. Your pictures and videos are first class.

      Voted up and all and shared.

      Graham.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very old albion, yes the Japanese were relentless. The High Command were almost devout in the belief of Japanese superiority. The ordinary soldiers were just pawns. I remember writing about the Fall of Singapore and during my research I read about a Japanese soldier ordered to shoot civilians, as he did so, tears rolled down his face. It's a wonder the man was able to remain mentally stable.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Well written, James, and full of interesting information. Was a little surprised at Hitler's non-aethism and enjoyed the Band of Brothers video! Thanks for sharing!! Passing it on!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      James,

      This is a very informative hub. I am happy that I knew about two facts in the hub - Chinese deaths and Hawker Hurricane.

      Ages ago when I was a grade 2 student, an older cousin and his wife gifted me a book titled 'Book of aircraft's. That book contained information about British aircraft of WW1 and WW2. Hawker Hurricanes were prominently displayed in it. As a child, I was deeply in love with the aircraft because of its design.

      A kid brother of my grandmother had died fighting against Japanese in Burma. My grandmother, who had nurtured him due to the early death of their parents, always missed him and later in her life, she always called her sons and grandsons by the name of her kid brother. Because of that association and that my country of origin - Pakistan - is quite friendly with China, me and my siblings knew about the Japanese cruelties in WW2 against Indian soldiers and against Chinese.

      This hub is not only informative, it also brought back some good old memories.

      Thank you for writing this hub.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      These were interesting and well researched. Thank you

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Martin.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks midget, to be honest I was already aware of Hitler's devotion to Catholicism. I remember reading that's why Hitler didn't bomb Rome when the Italians joined the Allies after executing Mussolini in 1944.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Suhail, I'm glad that I managed to stir up some treasured memories for you. My Granddad fought in the war against the Germans and always used to say how fortunate he was that he never had to fight against the Japanese. He knew guys that were interned in their POW camps, and when they came back, they were nothing more than walking skeletons.

    • profile image

      Lesleysherwood 4 years ago

      James, I find it hard to read stuff on this subject, I think mainly because my husband loves 'YESTERDAY', so our house is saturated. But I found this hub very educational and easy to continue until the end. I'm glad Hitler wasn't a veggie, that would be so wrong in so many ways.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yes and I'm also glad that he wasn't an atheist, because people often, for some reason blame Darwin for inspiring Hitler's ideas on his own so called outlook on 'natural' selection. Thanks for popping by Lesley.

    • Floris Wood profile image

      Floris Wood 4 years ago from Toledo, Ohio

      There is a lot in this article I never knew. You are quite an authority on WWII. Three of my 7 brothers and one brother-in-law were in WWII in Europe. My father had been in WWI in France. He was severely wounded. The loss of one lung to gas caused him an early death at age 50. He also had wounds to his foot and chest. My two oldest sisters, Lucienne and Jacqueline, were named after nurses that took care of him in France.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Floris, my great grandfather was also in France during WW1, he got gassed twice and yet still returned to the Front- wish I could have met him but sadly he died before I was born. My Granddad served in France, North Africa and Italy during WW2. I always found it amazing how he found it so easy to talk about his experiences.

    • Louisa Rogers profile image

      Louisa Rogers 4 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

      I'm fascinated by WWII, so thank you for this encyclopedic set of new facts. Don't forget the Japanese-American internment camps in the U.S., mostly in California and Hawaii.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Oh yes, and the Canadians had them too. In Britain at the start of the war, the government decided to round up anyone of German origin and placed them all in internment camps on the Isle of Man. Thanks for stopping by Louisa.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Fascinating facts. Things I really didn't know. Passing this on.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Gypsy.

    • profile image

      BC 4 years ago

      It's strange how Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin were more murderous than Hitler. Stalin ruled over famines in the Ukraine and aided in the Invasion of Poland. Mao killed million in his cultural revolution and Great Leap Forward.

    • profile image

      BC 4 years ago

      I mean millions

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I know what you mean BC. What's even stranger is how Mao is still worshiped like a God in China, despite all of the death and destruction he wrought. Then again, the Chinese are masters of airbrushing history. Really they should be worshiping Deng Xiaoping, he's the one who realised that the only way to compete with the west was to become like them to an extent.

    • TB Bullock profile image

      Thaddeus Byron Bullock Jr. 23 months ago from Clemson, South Carolina

      Great hub, It's always nice to see areas of the war covered that are far-too-often neglected. Voted up.

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