The Second World War was one of the greatest and most devastating wars fought in human history lasting from 1939 to 1945. Almost everyone who has read about human history knows about it, yet we cannot always begin to fathom how much the world has changed because of the war. No matter how much we think we know about it, there is always something new we haven’t heard of before that would surprise us. So, here are some such unknown and interesting facts about WWII for curious parts of your minds.
1. The British maintained a completely fictional army called the Fourth Army that they successfully used to draw German forces away from invasion targets on multiple occasions, including the Normandy landings.
The army was created as part of Operation Cockade and Operation Fortitude. This fictional army had its main headquarters in both north and south at Edinburgh and Hathfield respectively, and maintained corps at various locations. As part of the operations, the Germans were encouraged to believe that the headquarters were located in Edinburgh Castle and the army was preparing to invade Norway, which drew them away from the real invasion zone in Normandy. The army was also presented as a threat to Pas de Calais and was also tasked with an assault over Netherlands and German Coast.(source)
2. During WWII, India produced the largest volunteer army in history, with over 2.5 million men. Their valor was recognized with 4,000 decorations and with 38 members of the Indian Army receiving the Victoria Cross or the George Cross.
The Indian Army during the war started out with a number of 200,000 men in 1939 and reached to 2.5 million by 1945. They fought in three of the continents, Africa, Europe and Asia against Italian, German and Japanese armies in the divisions of infantry, armor and airborne force. Over 87,000 were killed, with more than 34,000 wounded and 67,340 becoming prisoners of war. The services of Indian Army were praised the commander-in-chief and Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck who said that they “couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t had” them. Winston Churchill also paid tribute to “unsurpassed bravery” of Indian Army.(source)
3. Canada issued buttons to people who tried to enlist but were rejected due to medical reasons to show that they had volunteered to fight with the Military Forces of Canada.
During the time of war many volunteers were rejected because they failed to meet the existing minimum medical standards. These people faced the disapproval of the public as there was no way to distinguish those with exempt status from those who have not volunteered for the war effort. Though a Committee on War Service Badges recommended that two kinds of badges in 1939 – a Service badge for those in active service and Reserve badge for those medically exempt – the recommendation wasn’t acted upon until October 11, 1941, making the badges retroactively effective since 1939.(source)
4. The banshee-like scream made by WWII dive bombers was produced by two wind sirens mounted on the wings, called ‘Jericho’s Trumpet’ by the Nazis, and had no purpose other than to intimidate the people below.
The World War II Junkers Ju-87, the Stuka dive bombers, were first used in the Spanish Civil War and later against Polish civilians in 1939. These aircrafts were first fitted with wind-driven sirens that would utter a banshee scream at maximum dive speed. They were used to terrify the people below but soon lost favor because they produced air resistance against the aircrafts and slowed them down by around 15 miles per hour. So, the sirens were soon abandoned.(source)
5. During the WWII, the Allies estimated the average monthly production of German tanks through statistical analysis of their serial numbers, with much accuracy.
The Western Allies used both statistical analysis and conventional intelligence to determine the extent of German productions. The allied command structure thought that their tanks would be able to perform well against the German tanks, namely Panzer III and Panzer IV, in North Africa and Sicily. But, shortly there were rumors that a large number of Panzer V were also being used by the Germans. To verify this, the Allies used the serial numbers on the captured or destroyed tanks to estimate the count.
They analyzed the gearbox numbers, chassis and engine numbers, and various other components including the tires. The analysis of tires revealed that they were sequentially numbered and also gave an estimate of the tire molds, which in turn gave them the estimate of the number of tires produced from those molds, and hence the number of tanks.
6. A bear fought in the Polish Army in WWII and was officially enlisted as a soldier, then a Private and then became a Corporal. He carried ammunition, knows to salute, loved beer and smoked cigarettes.
The bear was purchased as a cub by a lieutenant Anatol Tarnowiecki of the Polish Army from a boy when he found that one of the civilian refugees, Irena Bokiewicz, was very taken with it. The bear was later donated to the 2nd Transport Company, which later became the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. The soldiers gave the bear the name Wojtek, which meant “he who enjoys war” or “joyful warrior”. The bear grew up with the soldiers and loved to wrestle with them. He was often rewarded with beer, which became his favorite drink and also enjoyed smoking or eating cigarettes.(source)