War is perhaps the most destructive thing ever invented by humanity. Millions of people lost their lives in wars throughout history. Those who remained had to live with both the destruction of war and unforgettable pain! The Second World War was one of the greatest man-made destructions in history. People, animals, cities, historical buildings, dreams, hopes… In short, everything in the world, animate and inanimate, was somehow affected by this terrible war!
On the other hand, the war seriously changed human life after the war. Many innovations and technologies that emerged during the war changed and transformed in the following period and became a part of daily life. However, different things happened during the war. Some of these events reveal what true heroism is and some of what true sacrifice is… Here are 9 surprising facts about the Second World War…
1. Two Nobel Prizes were melted down so they wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Nazis
Nobel Prize-winning German physicists James Franck and Max von Laue were harshly critical of both the Nazi administration in Germany and its Jewish policy. For this reason, both physicists and their prizes were extremely inconvenient to the Nazis! Thereupon, these two scientists delivered their Nobel medals to the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark in order to save them from the wrath of the Nazis.
But Denmark was occupied by the Nazis in 1940! Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy, who was afraid that the medals would be seized by the Nazis, found the solution by melting the medals! Medals dissolved in an acid solution called aqua regia, also known as king’s water, were separated into their components and stored in this way… After the end of the Second World War, Hevesy separated the gold in the solution again. Thus, new Nobel Prizes were produced and delivered to their owners, using the gold of the original medals.
2. United States Army officer Richard Antrim displayed a rare example of heroism in Japan
Richard Antrim and his friends, who were in charge of the American destroyer USS Pope, fought for their survival on the sea for 3 days after a Japanese air attack in 1942. At the end of the 3rd day, the soldiers rescued by a Japanese ship were taken to a Japanese prison camp. The conditions of captivity in the camp were indeed quite harsh. So much so that many of the captives were beaten to death from time to time. At one such moment, Antrim stepped forward to save his friend who was about to die from the beating! And he told the Japanese soldiers that he wanted to take the rest of the sentence. The astonished gaze of the Japanese soldiers was followed by the applause of thousands of captive soldiers in the camp. Of course, Antrim was also brutally beaten. However, this heroic act saved the life of an American soldier. Upon this incident, Antrim was awarded the Medal of Honor after the war.
3. Polish soldier named Witold Pilecki volunteered to enter Auschwitz
The concentration camp Auschwitz, founded by the Nazis, is one of the most terrifying places in history, even today. But there was a soldier who volunteered to enter this terrible place during the Second World War! Witold Pilecki, an officer in the Polish army, decided to implement an incredible plan when Poland was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. According to the plan, Pilecki would voluntarily enter Auschwitz, which was full of torture and death. Thus, he would organize a resistance in the concentration camp, collect intelligence for the Polish army, and report the horrific events in the camp to the Western allies.
Pilecki acted in 1940 and was deliberately caught at an anti-Nazi demonstration in Warsaw! Thus, the difficult camp mission of this hero soldier, which will last for 3 years, has begun. Pilecki indeed organized a resistance at Auschwitz, gathered intelligence. However, he had to flee the camp in 1943. He then prepared a comprehensive report describing his horrific experiences with this camp. Unfortunately, this report did not sufficiently attract the attention of the Western allies! Witold Pilecki, who signed one of the greatest examples of heroism and sacrifice during the Second World War, was arrested and executed for opposing the communist government established in Poland in 1948.
4. Wilhelm Canaris, Hitler’s intelligence chief, was a covert anti-Hitler
Wilhelm Canaris, one of the most important admirals of Germany during the First World War, became the head of Germany’s military intelligence in the following years. Canaris, who continued his duty after the Nazis seized power, was one of Hitler’s most trusted figures. In fact, at the beginning, Canaris also supported Hitler’s policies, seeing him as a savior. However, especially after 1938, Canaris, realizing that Hitler dragged both Germany and the whole world into a disaster, turned into an important anti-Hitler! During his time in office, he collaborated with the British to stop Hitler. He helped organize several unsuccessful assassinations of Hitler. His position and authority prevented many Jews from being executed. However, despite all his efforts, he failed to stop Hitler. In the following period, it was revealed that Canaris was a staunch anti-Hitler and anti-regime. Wilhelm Canaris was then executed by the Nazis in a concentration camp in 1945.
5. During the Second World War, German and American soldiers acted together to save endangered horses!
This event, called “Operation Cowboy”, was one of the two moments when the Americans and the Nazis came together…
In April 1945, a farm near Hostoun, a region in what is now Czechia, was home to a breed of horses with ancestry dating back to the Habsburgs. The last living members of this horse breed called “Lipizzaner” were on this farm. In addition, 1200 thoroughbred horses also lived on this farm. Soviet soldiers, on the other hand, would soon reach the farm. A captive Nazi soldier, who was aware of this situation, wanted to meet with the American soldiers. The captive Nazi soldier in the hands of American soldiers was worried that the Soviet soldiers would eat the horses on the farm! This concern was conveyed to General George S. Patton, who was at the head of the American unit and was one of the important figures of the Second World War. Patton ordered the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to rescue the horses on the farm. The “Cowboy Operation” that started in this way ended successfully with the rescue of the horses on the farm.
6. Hitler’s nephew joined the US Navy
William Patrick Stuart-Houston, or born William Patrick Hitler, was the son of Adolf Hitler’s half-brother Alois Hitler. Born in England, William Patrick came to Germany in the 1930s to ask Hitler for help with “lucrative business”. (Some sources say that William Patrick threatened Hitler with revealing his true ethnicities!) However, William Patrick’s insistence on lucrative jobs angered Hitler and William Patrick returned to England, fearing for his safety. After the Second World War began, Patrick went to the United States, where he joined the navy. Moreover, he actively participated in the war on various fronts. He continued to live in the USA after the war.
7. The “Purple Heart Insignia” produced by the US military for WWII has been distributed over the years
The US military was planning the invasion of Japan in 1945. According to the plan, thousands of soldiers would be involved in the occupation. For this reason, more than 1.5 million “Insignia of the Purple Heart” were produced before the invasion. Purple hearts were designed for soldiers who would join the invasion… However, after the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan surrendered. Thus, the US’s plan to invade the Japanese mainland was in vain! Thus, millions of “purple hearts” in the hands of the US army were left unclaimed. The USA, on the other hand, distributed these insignia, many of which were veterans who participated in the Korean, Vietnam or Gulf Wars!
8. Images of the famous Normandy Landing were shot by a Hollywood actor
Moreover, from the German lines! George Hjorth has been an actor in Hollywood movies since childhood. After the Second World War began, he was enlisted by the American intelligence agency OSS. And he was commissioned as a war photographer. He was sent to an area behind the German line, 3 days before the Normandy Landing, which was one of the breaking moments of the war. But he didn’t know what to do. As always, he only had his camera with him! During the time until the start of the operation, Hjorth managed to hide in an area on the beach with the help of the French resistance fighters. The task of this Hollywood star was to film the extraction “through the eyes of the Germans”. Hjorth, who managed to film the operation that started on June 6, also managed to escape from the battlefield unharmed. However, he was never allowed to watch the footage he took. He was even expelled from a military meeting where the footage was viewed because he “did not have the authority to watch the footage”! The images taken by Hjorth have not been shared with the public even today! And it remains a mystery.
9. The greatest pilot in history was Erich Hartmann, who fought for the Nazis!
The Germans had very important pilots in both world wars! Manfred von Richthofen, nicknamed the “Red Baron”, who won more than 80 air battles for the Germans in the First World War, was one of the most successful aviators in history. But Erich Hartmann, who terrorized enemy soldiers during WWII, was the most effective killing machine in the sky! Hartmann shot down more than 352 enemy aircraft, most of them Soviet aircraft. Thus, he became the fighter pilot who shot down the most planes in history.