7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

World War II is arguably the most tragic episode in human history. The six year war, with its European epicentre, spread to all corners of the globe with countless men, women and children affected by the struggle. Millions were killed on the battlefield, in the air, on the sea and in the cities and countryside across Europe. Let alone the estimated 6 million Jews that were killed by the Nazi's in accordance with Hitler's gross plan to exterminate their entire race. Everybody knows the chronology. Everybody knows how and why the Allies won. Yet during a war this complex and lengthy, there are dozens of shocking incidents that occurred that are less notorious. From secret agreements that shaped the post war world, to extraordinary individuals, World War II threw up a series of surprises. This list will explore odd events/ things that happened during World War II, away from the popular histories.

1. The Committed Japanese Soldier
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

This case of extreme loyalty and ability to sustain one's self is bizarre to say the least. While the six years of World War II may have seemed an eternity for all those unfortunate enough to have experienced it, Japanese soldier; Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda's war lasted for 29 years. Onoda was sent to a remote Philippine island in 1944 and was ordered to carry out guerrilla warfare against US soldiers. However, Onoda was guilty of taking his orders a little too literally. He was forbidden to take his own life, and was told by his commanding officer that regardless of circumstance, he would come back for him. So for the next 29 years, Onoda remained in hiding in the jungle of Lubang island, living off bananas, coconuts, a small portion of rice and whatever animals he and his small number of troops, (that gradually dwindled, leaving just him) could kill. It took a determined college drop-out; Norio Suzuki, who went in search of Onoda (in spite of official word that he was dead), to convince the soldier that the war had actually ended. Onoda and his group had found leaflets dated as early as October 1945 that declared the war was over, however Onoda assumed they were planted in his grasp to trick him into relinquishing his position. When Suzuki found Onoda in 1974, the Lieutenant still requested he receive official orders from his commanding officer regarding the completion of his mission. Only when Suzuki returned to the island with Onoda's commanding officer, who officially ceased his combat mission did the soldier step down.

2. Churchill and Stalin's Secret Agreement
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

The so called 'Percentages Agreement' was an outcome of a secret meeting between the leaders of Britain and Russia that effectively sealed the fate of millions living in Eastern Europe. The meeting occurred in October 1944 as the realisation that the war was all but won dawned on the allied forces. Both Churchill and Stalin realised that it was imperative to secure a future whereby Germany would be unable to attack its neighbours and thus, potentially avoid a future world war. However the fear of invasion petrified Stalin. After two German invasions since 1914, Stalin knew that a military weak Germany and an array of 'buffer' states - that have also been referred to as Soviet 'satellite' states due to their sub-ordinance to Moscow, and the Eastern bloc- were necessary for his country. He also knew that due to the amount of fighting the Soviets had engaged in, he was entitled to serious reparations and influence in the outcome of Europe. During the meeting, Churchill slipped a piece of paper to Stalin with a list of European countries on it, followed by the percentage of influence he believed Britain and Russia were entitled to. The percentages proposed indicated Britain's loss of power in world affairs, with the Soviet Union given far larger stake in the affairs of the Eastern European nations - barring Greece, a traditional British sphere of influence. What Churchill perhaps did not realise at the time was that conceding Eastern Europe to Stalin would create a vast communist empire, that's expansionist tendencies would be a pivotal issue of the Cold War that would dominate European affairs for the best part of the next half-century.

3. The Sheer Number of Russian Deaths
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

Considering that World War II was a truly global conflict, the statistics reveal that Stalin's Russia suffered a great deal more than virtually any other nation involved in the six year war. While the figures vary slightly depending on source, it is accepted that the Russian's lost around 24 million lives. This staggering figure is made even more so when the casualties of other key nations are considered. For example, Russia's allies; Great Britain and the United States collectively lost less than 1 million lives. Even Germany whose cities were bombarded night and day towards the end of the war lost less than 8 million people to the war. A major factor in the vast number of Russian casualties is the high number of civilian deaths. The Germans were ruthless in their advancement into the Soviet Union, killing the majority of Russians they found on their travels. Equally the policy of scorched earth - whereby upon retreat an army would burn the land - employed by both Stalin and Hitler led to a lack of food, shelter and supplies, killing many.

4. The Nazi-Soviet Pact
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

With hindsight, it is strange to think that Hitler and Stalin once cooperated with each other. Granted, their cooperation did result in their joint annexation of Poland, yet the very thought of these fiercest of foes signing an agreement with one another seems a tad peculiar. Two years before Nazi tanks rolled into Russia as part of Operation Barbarossa, Stalin and Hitler had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The agreement divided Poland in two, (half would be occupied by Germany, the other by Russia) and acted as an assurance for Stalin that Hitler would not wager war against him. Clearly, from Stalin's perspective, the pact failed. Though many interpret Stalin's decision to ally with Hitler as an attempt to buy time to further develop and organise his army, rather than avoid war completely. Regardless of motive however, the signing of this pact with the 'enemy' outraged Britain and France, who earlier that year had entered into their own alliance system with the Russians. Stalin's decision to sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact was made in total disregard for this alliance system as their main priority was to protect Poland from a Nazi invasion.

5. The July 20th Plot
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

The myth that Adolf Hitler was all popular in the Germanic lands is exactly that, a myth. Following the Nazi party's ascension to power in Germany in 1933, German Resistance formed with aims to other-throw Adolf Hitler, the party, and to show to the world that not all Germans were like the Nazis. After the early years of the war had passed, and the tide was seemingly turning in the allies favour due to the German retreat on the Eastern front and the financial might of the USA, the Resistance felt that time was running out to assassinate Hitler, other-throw the party and set up a pro-ally government. The Resistance hoped that if these things could be achieved, then they would be treated more leniently when it came to reparations. Also surrender in this manner would avoid Soviet invasion, a prospect that tormented many a German civilian. In 1943 and early 1944, there were at least four unsuccessful attempts carried out by the group to murder their leader, attempts that included the use of grenades and a revolver. And with every failed attempt, the task grew increasingly difficult as the Gestapo became suspicious about attempts on Hitler's life. The latter was consequently heavily guarded and seldom appeared publicly. As time began to grow ever shorter, high ranking members of the German Resistance such as Claus Von Stauffenberg realised that it was now or never. So on July 20th, Stauffenberg flew to attend a German military conference which Hitler would be attending, with a bomb in his briefcase. After the latter had placed his briefcase under the table, he received a planned phone call, enabling him to leave the conference room. However in his absence, though the bomb did detonate, Hitler survived with a mere perforated eardrum and singed trousers. Three officers and a stenographer were however seriously injured, and all later died due to injuries suffered from the blast. This final failed attempt signalled the Resistance's last hope of removing Hitler and thus preventing Germany from invasion. Stauffenberg and some of his accomplices were executed as a result of the attempted murder. The events of July 20th were made into the movie Valkyrie...

6. Wernher Von Braun
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

Wernher Von Braun symbolises how despite morals, a nation much suit one's self. A member of the Nazi party - though he claimed it was in order to continue his work in rocket science - and a leading German Rocket Scientist, Von Braun was a key member of a team of Nazi scientists who were tasked with developing rocket technology for Germany during WWII. As Allies advanced on Germany from the East and the West, Von Braun and his colleagues had to decide who to surrender to. Like many Germans, Von Braun was terrified by the Soviet's treatment of their captives. Moreover he believed that he had a moral obligation to surrender to the side that he believed he could trust with his nuclear weaponry. Therefore Von Braun surrendered to the Americans. Von Braun was a key capture for the Americans and was thus transported to the United States so that he could work in their nuclear weapons department. Over the subsequent thirty or so years until his death in 1977, Von Braun played an important role in developing nuclear weaponry as part of the arms race against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 1955 Von Braun even became a naturalised citizen of the United States. The case of Von Braun illustrates that despite US condemnation of the Nazi Party, they were willing to put their beliefs and convictions to one side to utilise one of the Party's finest scientific minds to their benefit. Whether that is right or wrong is another issue.

7. Hitler's Nephew
7 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About World War II

Though the Hitler family history is complex to say the least, one would be forgiven for assuming that all of Hitler's relatives were Germanic, at least. However, what many do not realise, is that Hitler infact had an English born nephew. Alois Hitler Jr, Hitler's half-brother left Germany in the late 19th century and found himself in Ireland. In 1909 he met Bridget Dowling and the pair were married in London a year later. They settled in Liverpool and Dowling gave birth to William Patrick Hitler in 1911. Hitler's nephew would become quite an irritant in his uncle's eyes. In 1933, as the Nazi regime had taken control of Germany, William Patrick travelled to Germany with the intention of blackmailing his uncle in order to attain financial benefits. Hitler had little choice but to accommodate his troublesome nephew by providing him with excellent jobs, notably in a bank and as part of Opel automobile manufacturers. Yet this failed to satisfy Hitler's nephew, who continued to threaten his uncle, claiming that he would leak embarrassing family stories to the media. One such story that William claimed he would tell concerned alleged Jewish ancestors in the Furher's family. A revelation of this kind would have derailed Hitler's diabolical attempt to destroy the Jewish race, and undermined his leadership more broadly. However, William Patrick began to believe that Hitler was scheming to eradicate him, as he tired of his nephew's threats. So, the Englishman fled Germany in early 1939 to the USA, where he joined the US Navy in 1944, fighting against his uncle's forces. Equally notably, William Patrick Hitler also published an article for a British magazine titled 'Why I Hate My Uncle' in 1938. After the war, the latter changed his surname to Stuart-Houston, and lived out his life in New York in relative anonymity, having four sons in the process. While William Hitler's impact on the war was minimal, his anti-Nazi actions symbolised the fact that even those who should have been close to the Furher were not always mesmerised by his charisma, or infact Nazi ideology.

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