Unrelenting Reality of World War II: 50 Brutal Facts – Part 2

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1Normandy Beach

Normandy Beach

The fighting was so intense during the Normandy landing that 4% of the sand on Normandy beach is made up of shrapnel from D-Day that has broken down.

2. During the Normandy Allied Invasion Bill Millin, a Scottish Piper, played his bagpipes as he walked the beach while the carnage erupted around him. He later asked captured German prisoners why they hadn’t shot at him. They said they thought he was on a suicide mission and was clearly mad.

3. An American Paratrooper named Joseph Beyrle fought for both the US and the Soviet Union during World War 2. He was captured in Normandy, sent to a POW Camp, escaped, joined the Red Army and liberated the camp he had just escaped from. He later met Marshal Zhukov and won the Purple Heart for his Service.

4. British Commander Terence Otway, wanting to be sure his men wouldn’t leak the D-Day plans, tested them by sending 30 pretty members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in civilian clothing to the local pubs with instructions to do all they could to try to get information out of them, but none of the men fell for it.

5. During the Battle of the Bulge, General Patton ordered a chaplain to compose a prayer for good weather that was desperately needed for an advance. The chaplain complied, the weather cleared, and Patton awarded the chaplain a bronze star on the spot.

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6Housefly Weapon

Housefly Weapon

The Japanese used houseflies coated in a bacterial slurry to spread cholera in China and killed an estimated 410,000 people during World War 2.

7. The BBC ran a contest asking vacationers for pictures of French beaches prior to Normandy landing to help gather intelligence and determine whether the beach was suitable for an amphibious landing.

8. The average life expectancy of a flamethrower operator in combat during World War 2 was less than 10 minutes.

9. In 1944 during World War 2, an Australian soldier named Robert Kerr McLaren removed his own appendix in the middle of a Philippine jungle without any anesthetic and with only the use of a mirror and an ordinary knife. The operation took 4.5 hours to perform and he stitched himself up with jungle fiber.

10. In the UK there are 53 ‘Thankful Villages’ where all of the troops that left to fight in World War 1 returned alive. Of that list 13 are ‘Doubly Thankful’ and had the same fortune in World War 2.

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11Operation Chariot

Operation Chariot

Operation Chariot was a World War 2 mission in which 611 British Commandos rammed a disguised, explosive-laden destroyer, into one of the largest Nazi submarine bases in France that housed at least 5000 Nazis. They withdrew under fire and then detonated the boat, destroying one of the largest dry docks in the world.

12. Some of the first German Soldiers captured at Normandy on the D-Day were actually Korean. They had been pressed into service by the Japanese, captured by the Soviets, then captured by the Germans, then captured by the Americans.

13. Although Nazi Germany sterilized or murdered 73-100% of all schizophrenics in Germany (about 220,000-269,000 people), there were no long-term effects on subsequent rates of schizophrenia in Germany. In fact, the rate of people diagnosed with schizophrenia post World War 2 was unexpectedly high.

14. The Night Witches was a World War 2 German nickname for the all-female aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. They would idle the engines near their target and glide to the bomb release point with only wind noise to reveal them. The Germans likened the sound to broomsticks, giving their nickname.

15. While a 20-year-old Rod Serling was serving in World War 2, he saw his best friend get killed by a falling crate of food. Seeing the unpredictability and irony of life and death, he would later use that experience to create, ‘The Twilight Zone.’

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16Gino Bartali

Gino Bartali

A cyclist named Gino Bartali used his fame as a winner of the Tour de France to smuggle counterfeit documents hidden inside his bicycle through the Nazi checkpoints in Italy during World War 2 under the guise of training. These documents allowed as many as 800 Jews escape persecution by the Nazis.

17. During World War 2, Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld, a German officer ordered his soldiers to hold fire to allow the rescue of an American soldier who stepped on a landmine. When no one came to his rescue, the officer himself went to rescue the soldier but stepped on a landmine himself.

18. Rationing in the United Kingdom during World War actually increased life expectancy in the country and decreased infant mortality. This was because all people were required to consume a varied diet. The only negative effect from it was the increased time needed for meals to consume the necessary calories from bread and potatoes, and what they described as a “remarkable” increase in flatulence from the high amount of starch in the diet. Scientists also noted that their feces had increased by 250% in volume.

19. 10% of those conscripted in the UK during World War 2 were sent to serve not on the battlefield, but in the coal mines that powered the war machine. Some of these soldiers were not released from service until two years after the war ended. They were not formally recognized for their contribution until 1995.

20. During World War 2, weather reports were censored to prevent enemy submarines from learning about the conditions. A football game in Chicago was so covered in fog that the radio announcer couldn’t see the field at all, but afterward he was officially thanked for never using the word ‘fog’ or mentioning the weather.

21Wotan Radar

Wotan Radar

During World War 2, the German army used a radar system called Wotan. The British scientist R.V. Jones figured out how the system worked by assuming that it used a single beam based on the fact that the Germanic god Wotan had only one eye.

22. World War 2 plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe pioneered the use of saline baths as a treatment for burns after he noticed that pilots who crashed into the sea had faster rates of healing from burns than those who crashed on land.

23. During World War 2, the British launched nearly 100,000 weather balloons, each with a trailing long metal wire toward occupied Europe. They caused power outages when they shorted out power lines and caused at least one German power station to burn down.

24. During World War 2, Russian soldiers took “heat pills” that kept them warm in the winter; however, they would also lose weight despite eating well. 2,4-dinitrophenol spikes metabolic rate as potential energy is lost as heat. It is banned as a weight loss aid (U.S.) as overdose can cook people to death.

25. Among the thousands of men on the Normandy beaches on the D-Day, there was one single woman. Martha Gellhorn was a rogue war correspondent who had stowed away in the toilet of a hospital ship and also happened to be the third wife of Ernest Hemingway.

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