World War 2 was an almighty battle between the Allies and the Axis. The Allies fighting to stop the raging German army, and the Axis trying to conquer the world. To this day it is still one of the most talked about wars in history. Read on to learn 50 facts about World War 2.
Fact 1: World War 2 lasted for over 6 years, from 1939 to 1945.
- Many world-powers eventually joined the war to stop the attacks of Germany and her allies. There were 2 sides; the Allies and the Axis.
- The Allies included; Great Britain, France and Poland. This list grew to include many other countries, like New Zealand and the USA. On the other hand, the Axis were made up of; Germany, Japan and Italy.
Fact 2: The war began in September 1939 with the ‘September Campaign’, when Germany invaded Poland.
- By the 3rd of September, the UK and France has declared war on Germany, after Germany ignored their request to stand down after invading Poland.
- At this time the British empire was a strong global power, with control in many areas and across the seas.
Fact 3: World War 2 claimed many lives: 70 to 85 million people died.
- This large number includes those who fought, civilians caught in battles and bombings, and those who perished because of famine or disease. It is agreed that between 21 and 25 million were military-related deaths. In contrast, between 19 to 28 million civilians died because of famine and disease.
- To give this context, Germany along with the countries it conquered, had a total of 6.9 to 7.4 million deaths.
Fact 4: The end of WWI and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles were partly responsible for WW 2.
- Although there are many reasons for WW2, a large proportion of the blame was placed on how Germany was left after WWI. Having signed the Treaty of Versailles many people were unhappy with the German government. This led to unrest among the people and they were looking for new leadership.
- Not forgetting, Germany was also suffering from the great post-war Depression. Having paid hefty fines, and suffered land being stripped away from them, the German currency began to collapse. Another reason added to the many of why Germany was looking for an inspirational leader to take them forward.
Fact 5: It wasn’t only those who went to war with Germany that perished. Under Hitler’s power any Germans who didn’t fit the Aryan ideology (Blue eyes, blond hair) were killed.
- When Hitler came to power in 1933, he had a number of ideas to make Germany the strong fortress that she once was. One of his many ideas was to create the German Aryan race. This race would consist of people who were slim with blonde hair and blue eyes.
- Unfortunately, those who did not fit in with this criteria were eradicated.
Fact 6: On May 10th 1933, over 25,000 books were burned by the Germans.
- As part of their propaganda and censorship of anything that could damage their one-party dictatorship viewpoints, all materials were ceased and burned. These included books, papers, art and music.
- As the majority of the books in schools were no longer available, most were replaced by new modern books, filled with the parties viewpoints and logic. These were taught to young children and adults, to prepare them for German supremacy.
Fact 7: The Second World War, albeit a bloody gruesome topic, has certainly had its share of screen time over the years, with hours of battles, romances and treacheries lighting the silver screen.
- WW2 is certainly a hot topic amongst filmmakers, with each and every one trying to recreate a special event, battle or escape. Films remembering the events of WW2 screened as early as the 1940’s and are still made today.
- Classic films and shows include; ‘Stalingrad’ (1993), ‘Days of Glory’ (2006), ‘The Pianist’ (2002) and the popular, ‘The Great Escape’ (1963).
Fact 8: The first major air-battle was between the RAF and Luftwaffe, July to October 1940.
- A series of airborne attacks took place all over Britain, as the German air force systematically bombed Britain’s infrastructure. Germany mainly targeted large cities, ports and weapon factories. This was known as the Blitz.
- To stop this, the RAF scrambled their planes to end the Luftwaffe’s rain of terror. Eventually, the RAF commanded the skies after a raid took the Germans by surprise. This was a turning point for both countries in the war. Germany never regained air supremacy over the Brits again.
Fact 9: The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest military naval campaign of WW2. This battle lasted the whole war, from 1939 to 1945.
- German thought up a devious plan to starve Allied island countries of their supplies. As Britain had a lot of supplies coming to them by sea, this was an opportunity for the German army to weaken the British.
- This battle went back and forth between Allies and Axis, with advantages on either side. This was evident until the end when Germany finaly accepted defeat. Thousands of ships and U-Boats sank during these attacks.
Fact 10: America did not join WW2 until the attack on Pearl Harbour, in Hawaii, in 1941.
- Before the war they were creating weapons and planes for their Allies.
- The attack on Pearl Harbour was from the Japanese airforce. They managed to destroy 20 American naval ships and killed 2,400 Americans. The day after the attack, America went to war.
Fact 11: The Holocaust claimed over 6 million Jewish lives.
- It was thought that Jewish people were fooled into boarding trains that would take them to ‘nice holiday destinations’. They were in fact going to concentration camps.
- During the war, thousands of these camps were built all over German-occupied territories.
Fact 12: The Nuremberg Laws had a crippling effect on the Jewish population.
- This law was completely antisemitic, as it forbade the Jewish community from participating in regular activities, like marrying a German person, working or just running a normal life.
- After this law was passed many Jewish people could not work, their shops were either closed down or they were removed from their positions. This left the Jewish community in a critical state, both economically and socially.
Fact 13: A minimum of 7,000 prisoners held by the Germans were used in some sort of medical experimentation.
- Most of these experiments are too horrific to discuss, but some procedures included male and female sterilization and trying out different treatments for wounds.
- 23 Physicians and other medics were taken to trial in Nuremberg after the war. They were charged with ‘Crimes Against Humanity’.
Fact 14: The most scandalous experimentative doctor during the war, who liked to experiment on twins, was called Josef Mengele.
- Mengele, was keen on learning about genetics. He was often found shouting for twins as they stepped off the train, just waiting to experiment on them.
- These unspeakable acts he carried out were so ghastly that it’s hard to put into words. He would push these innocent children and young adults to their limits, just to see the effects of whatever he had done to them. He fled from Germany and died of a stroke.
Fact 15: The Kristallnacht, was one of the worst nights in Jewish history!
- On this night whole communities were wiped out by the German army and other Germans. They looted over 7,500 shops, raped and smashed up anything that was Jewish.
- Innocent Jewish people were beaten, bruised and made to dance around their burning synagogues.
Fact 16: Many countries like Switzerland and Spain, didn’t want to get involved in the war.
- Some countries like Spain, didn’t join in because they’d just taken part in a Civil War of their own a few months prior to the start of World War 2.
- Others didn’t pick a side, in the hope they wouldn’t be attacked.
Fact 17: ⅓ of London was destroyed during the Second World War.
- The German bombing of London was known as the Blitz. The name comes from the German word ‘blitzkreig’, meaning “lightning war”.
- London was bombed for 11 weeks solidly, apart from 1 night.
Fact 18: 5,300 tons of highly explosive goods were dropped onto the city of London in the first 24 days of the Blitz.
- For perspective, over 2,000 people were killed on the first day alone.
- Other cities that were bombed included, Cardiff, Coventry, Swansea, Birmingham and Plymouth.
Fact 19: 32,000 civilians died during the Blitz, and 87,000 were seriously injured.
- 60% of houses were decimated in London.
- On 1 night alone in a neighbouring city, more than 4,330 homes were destroyed and 554 people perished. On the same night, 200 fires started around the city of Coventry.
Fact 20: People went to extreme measures to protect themselves and loved ones during World War 2.
- In a lot of cases, people who lived in cities had to have blackouts on their windows and were not permitted to switch on the indoor lights. During the night it was difficult to go outside as the street lights were not lit. They did this so that the bombers couldn’t see where the city was.
- Other people built air raid shelters in their gardens. These were made of corrugated steel and had all the necessary supplies inside, so that they could stay in there for a few days if need be.
Fact 21: 3.5 million children and other vulnerable adults experienced being evacuated in World War 2.
- People were evacuated from the larger cities in Britain, because these cities were being bombed by the Germans.
- When people were evacuated, they were sent to the rural parts of the country.
Fact 22: Around 2 million wealthy individuals evacuated themselves out of Britain during World War 2.
- These individuals moved to different countries, in order to keep their families safe during these difficult times.
- People often moved to Canada, the Carribean and the USA.
Fact 23: Recycling was actually an important part of World War 2.
- As items were scarce, people couldn’t always get their hands on goods, so it was important to recycle where possible. Tins were melted down and reformed into vehicles of war.
- Rubber was used to create tyres that carried our boys into battle.
Fact 24: “Careless talk costs lives” was one of the most famous slogans created during World War 2 in Britain.
- The slogan, born out of extreme paranoia, was used to tell people to keep quiet as there was a chance that German spies were lurking in the shadows of British towns and villages.
- It was first used in 1940.
Fact 25: The ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign is one of the most well-known food campaigns during a war.
- Although Britain made sure they brought in a lot of food before the war, supplies still ran low. With the Germans bombing any ship that dared deliver food to Britain they had to find another way of making food.
- Digging and growing their own plants not only ensured they had more food, but also created a healthier Britain. Plus they had fun doing this.
Fact 26: Anne Frank’s Diary, is one of the most precious discoveries of World War 2.
- Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl during World War 2. Like many Jewish families of the time they were persecuted by the Germans.
- Her story is imperative to us today as it really shows what life as a Jewish person, at that time, was really like. Her brother Otto published her diary some years later, after surviving the raid by the Germans into their hiding place.
Fact 27: D-Day was the day that the Allies started to gain power over the Axis armies.
- D-Day was when the Allies landed on the Normandy beaches, and went to claim back the mainlands of France and Europe that were taken over by Germans.
- This was called the Battle of Normandy.
Fact 28: V-E Day marks the day the Allies achieved victory in Europe.
- This was the end of the war with Germany.
- It ended on May 8th, 1945.
Fact 29: The cinema became a popular mode of entertainment during World War 2. Audiences grew from 20 million to 32 million.
- In this time TV’s were scarce, so going to the cinema was often the only way to see a film.
- The cinema would show the news in between films.
Fact 30: 8/10 families owned a radio during World War 2.
- People used the radio to tune into the news and to catch up on war gossip.
- Vera Lynn was an incredibly popular singer at this time, she was often heard on the radio.
Fact 31: Sport was very unpopular during World War 2.
- Although you’d think sport would be popular, it wasn’t because sport generally involved men and they were off fighting for Britain.
- Also, much of the energy during the war was used in the war, or in war efforts.
Fact 32: Gas masks were carried everywhere in World War 2 Britain.
- During World War I, lots of gas attacks happened that people didn’t know about until someone died. Because gases were odourless you couldn’t tell if there was something there.
- People were petrified that the armies would’ve learnt even better tactics for deploying harmful, killing gases into the air without being noticed by World War 2. People in Britain carried their masks around all day, just in case.
Fact 33: When war broke out Britain could only raise an army of 875,00 men.
- This contrasts with Germany’s conscription based army, that received 300,000 new men a year. The German army quickly outnumbered other armies at the time.
- So, by 1940 British men were ‘called up’ for active service, to fight for Britain.
Fact 34: Soldiers captured during World War 2 were called, POW’s.
- POW’s stands for, Prisoners of War.
- The most famous POW camp was Colditz, Germany.
Fact 35: If you were too old or too young to join the army, you joined the Home Guard.
- The Home Guard served to protect the smaller communities and towns.
- These Guards were often made up of people who served in WWI.
Fact 36: The first atomic bomb was detonated in World War 2.
- This bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a Japanese city. It was dropped by the US army.
- This bomb alone wiped out the majority of the city and 80,000 people.
Fact 37: The first concentration camp was Dachau, Germany.
- Dachau, opened in 1933.
- Auschwitz was the largest and deadliest concentration camp.
Fact 38: It is claimed that the Mona Lisa was taken by German armies and kept locked away.
- The German leader, Adolf Hitler, had a love for art. He ransacked lots of European art galleries to gather their treasured pieces for himself.
- Some say taking the Mona Lisa was a Top Secret Mission for the Germans. Some others say, the Frensh knew about their plan all along, so did a swap with a fake portrait to preserve the original work.
Fact 39: June 22nd, 1940, saw the surrender of France to Germany.
- Over 8 million people left their homes.
- People ran to the borders to find any shelter that was available.
Fact 40: Emmy Göring, wife of Hermann, profited greatly after the war.
- She was incredibly popular at the time, known mostly as “The First Lady of the Third Reich”.
- By the end of the war she profited from the money that was taken from the Jewish families, and she only had to serve 1 year in prison for her crimes.
Fact 41: Dunkirk was one of the largest rescue missions of World War 2.
- Over 338,000 British troops were rescued off the beaches on May 1940, in Operation Dynamo.
- They were stranded there after the Germans managed to defeat them in the Battle of France.
Fact 42: The Russian Army won its first victory against Germany in Stalingrad, 1942.
- This was the largest and highest death-toll battle in World War 2. Nearly 2 million were killed here.
- The Germans called in the Luftwaffe on this battle and almost destroyed the city.
Fact 43: President Roosevelt died the same year as World War 2 ended.
- He died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
- He was actually unwell for some time, but didn’t want to alarm anybody.
Fact 44: Adolf Hitler committed suicide in April 1945.
- He performed his final act in his bunker.
- He had just married Eva Braun.
Fact 45: By July 1945, Churchill had lost his title of Prime Minister of Great Britain.
- He was succeeded by Clement Atlee.
- The British government was ruled by the Labour Party instead.
Fact 46: A second atomic bomb was released on Japan in Nagasaki.
- The US delivered another atomic blow because the Japanese didn’t retreat after Hiroshima.
- But, 6 days after the second bomb was dropped they did surrender.
Fact 47: Toilet paper was even rationed during World War 2!
- British troops were allowed to use 3 sheets of toilet paper per day.
- American troops were allowed to use 22 sheets of toilet paper per day.
Fact 48: The youngest soldier in the US army was Calvin Graham, he was 12.
- Calvin lied about his age so he could be in the US army.
- His real age was not discovered as he was badly wounded in action.
Fact 49: The Americans stopped using the word ‘hamburger’ during World War 2.
- The Americans thought it sounded ‘too German’.
- Instead they called the hamburger, the ‘Liberty Steak’.
Fact 50: Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese Intelligence Officer during World War 2, never surrender in 1945.
- He only surrendered in 1974.
- He was still holding his position in the Philippines when his commander visited him, and relieved him of his duties.