5 Interesting Facts About The Second World War
The Eastern Front
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
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.
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
The First German Concentration Camp
The Worst Of All
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
The Official End Of World War II
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
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.