78 facts about World War II you may not know


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On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Seventy-eight years later, we still remember the attack as the moment the United States finally entered World War II. As part of the remembrances around the 78th anniversary, Pearl Harbor is hosting a Peace and Reconciliation event, as well as several other programs including memorial ceremonies, a National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration and a history day.

Know your World War 2 Facts

Let’s look back on the history of the Pearl Harbor attacks and World War II as a whole with these 78 World War II facts you may not have known.

1. There’s still no peace treaty between Japan and Russia

Japan and Russia still have not signed a World War II peace treaty. A dispute over the Kuril Islands, which were captured by Soviet forces during WWII, is blocking the treaty even now.

2. One Japanese soldier didn’t surrender until 1974

Image: Public domain

Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda refused to surrender until 1974, remaining in a jungle in the Philippines for almost three decades. When he was found, he was still following his commander’s order to not surrender.

3. Queen Elizabeth served in the British military

Queen Elizabeth II, then a princess, enlisted in the army on her 18th birthday despite her royal lineage. She reportedly took her job very seriously, learning to drive many military vehicles that she also worked on as a mechanic.

4. This soldier’s odds weren’t good

Image: Public domain

American soldier John Randolph McKinney took on 100 Japanese soldiers alone. A stealth attack surprised his outpost, leaving McKinney alone to defend it. By the time help arrived, “he had thwarted the assault and was in complete control of the area.”

5. The Nanking Massacre

Over the course of six weeks in 1937, between 20,000 and 80,000 women were sexually assaulted and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians were murdered by the Imperial Japanese Army.

6. This Paris mosque helped Jews survive

Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, helped Jews survive during the Nazi occupation of Paris. The mosque would give Jews certificates of Muslim identity and offered refuge.

7. Russian casualties

About two thirds of Russian men born in 1923 did not survive World War II.

8. Post-war loss

Winston Churchill was one of the most popular British prime ministers of all time. Even so, he lost his election in 1945, after the war ended. One theory says he was so closely tied to the war that when it ended he lacked a clear sense of direction or purpose.

9. Japanese man survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Image: Public domain

One man, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, survived both atomic bomb attacks: One on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki.

10. No parachute, no problem

Airman Nicholas Alkemade fell 18,000 feet without a parachute when his plane was attacked and he had to abandon it. Incredibly, he survived, suffering only a sprained knee.

11. Jewish refugees in Japan

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Despite being allied with Germany, Japan took in thousands of Jewish refugees during the war, even as places like the United States were turning refugees away.

12. Eiffel Tower

When Hitler occupied Paris, French resistance fighters cut the cables for the Eiffel Tower’s elevator so that Nazis would have to climb the stairs to get to the top.

13. Fanta

Fanta was invented by Coco-Cola inside Nazi Germany during World War II. Made by whatever was available, Fanta was short for “fantasy” and became a point of national pride for Germany.

14. Awards

For three years during the war, Oscars statues were made of painted plaster rather than their customary bronze and gold. After the war, recipients could trade in the plaster statues for metal ones.

15. Child victims

Among the six million European Jews killed during World War II, about 1.5 million were children.

16. Jewish population


The six million deaths during World War II represented two-thirds of Jews in Europe and one-third of Jews around the world.

17. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Once Jews were forced into ghettos, several staged armed revolts. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising occurred at a time when Germans were conducting mass deportations. During one, the Germans were attacked and ended up deporting far fewer people than planned.

18. The Odessa, Ukraine, massacre

The Nazis and their allies invaded the city of Odessa, Ukraine, in 1941. They took over the city and killed tens of thousands of its Jewish residents during its occupation.

19. Hitler wanted a ‘Museum of an Extinct Race’ …

Hitler planned to make a Museum of an Extinct Race containing 200,000 Jewish artifacts.

20. … and to turn Moscow into a lake

Hitler’s plan for the takeover of Moscow included killing all the residents and replacing the city with a man-made lake.

21. Then there’s this bizarre plot to take down Hitler

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One of the most bizarre plots to bring down Hitler involved sneaking female hormones into his food. The Allies though estrogen could help subdue the fuhrer.

22. 2.7 million tons of bombs

During the war, specifically from the years of 1940 to 1945, U.S. and British forces dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe. Half of that amount landed in Germany.

23. Some of those bombs never exploded

Not all of those bombs did their jobs. Up to 10 percent never exploded. As of 2016, more than 2,000 tons of unexploded bombs were still being unearthed in Germany every year.

24. The German Major who helped Allied Forces

One of the final battles of the war was also one of the strangest. U.S. forces teamed up with a German Major, Josef Gangl, who’d become opposed to the Nazis. Together, the Germans and Americans defended a castle from Nazi SS forces.

25. Oh, Canada!

After the attack at Pearl Harbor, Canada declared war before the United States did, using a special meeting of parliament to make the declaration on Dec. 7, 1941.

26. A furry first casualty

According to one eye witness report, the first casualty of the war in the United Kingdom was a rabbit in the Shetland Islands.

27. The cost of war, beyond the casualties

Adjusted for inflation, World War II is the most expensive war the United States has been involved in. It cost about $4.1 trillion. By comparison, World War I cost $334 billion and 21st century wars have cost $1.5-$1.7 trillion.

28. Order up

Image: U.S. Air Force photo

The war produced a huge manufacturing push in the United States. America made 41 billion rounds of ammunition, 12.5 million rifles and carbines, 303,000 aircrafts and 100,000 tanks and armored vehicles for World War II.

29. War bonds


Americans supported the war effort largely through war bonds. More than 85 million Americans bought war bonds ranging in value from $10 to $100,000, purchasing more than $185.7 billion worth of securities.

30. The Polish Schindler

Dr. Eugene Lazowski was called “the Polish Schindler” after he risked his life to save 8,000 people from deportation to concentration camps. The good doctor injected patients with a vaccine for Typhus, which made them test positive for the disease. The Nazis quarantined the “sick” patients instead of deporting them.

31. Tough odds

At the Battle of Winza, just 720 Polish soldiers defended a fort for three days against 42,200 German soldiers and 350 tanks. It later became known as the “Polish Thermopylae.”

32. The first concentration camp

Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp. It opened in 1933, six years before the war started.

33. Other types of prisoners

Along with Jews, concentration camps like Dachau contained others Hitler deemed unfit, such as artists, intellectuals, the physically and mentally handicapped, Romani, and homosexuals.

34. Stalingrad, where thousands of Germans soldiers died …

Stalingrad claimed a huge number of casualties for the German army. The original force of 285,000 soldiers dwindled, with 165,000 dying in Stalingrad. Twenty-nine thousand more were wounded. The remaining 91,000 soldiers became prisoners of war and only 5,000 ultimately survived and made it home.

35. …up to 20,000 soldiers a day

Image: Public domain

At one point during the brutal invasion of Stalingrad, German forces were losing 20,000 men every day.

36. Brazilian Expeditionary Force

Image: Public domain

Brazil was the only South American country to fight alongside the Allies. The Brazilian Expeditionary Force fought in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Italian Campaign.

37. Tsunami Bomb

The United States and New Zealand reportedly tested a “tsunami bomb” during World War II to create 33-foot waves that could destroy coastal cities.

38. Tweets from 1941?

Want to feel like WWII is happening right now? The Twitter account WW2 Tweets from 1941 is tweeting its way through World War II as though the war is happening in real time.

39. Carrots

The idea that carrots improve your eyesight was a rumor started during WWII by the British army, who wanted to conceal that a new technology, RADAR, was giving their pilots “night vision.”

40. Seeking asylum in Mexico

Image: Doralicia Carmona Dávila [CC BY 2.5 (].

Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas took in thousands of political asylum seekers during the war. As a result, Mexico saw an influx of artists, poets, academics and philosophers.

41. Mexikoplatz

Mexico was the only country to file a formal protest when Germany took over Austria. Austria later recognized this by naming a plaza “Mexikoplatz.”

42. Staying neutral?

Spain is often considered as one of the few countries that stayed neutral during WWII, but that’s not quite accurate. Spain declared “non-belligerency,” which effectively put it on the side of the Axis forces.

43. Poland’s losses were huge

Image: Public domain

Poland experienced particularly high losses in the war. As much as 17% of the Polish population died, including up to 3 million Polish Jews.

44. Still seeking reparations

Poland is still seeking reparations from the war. While they’ve received some compensation, the Polish prime minister argued in 2019 that it was not enough, given the country’s massive losses.

45. Battle of the Aleutian Islands

Japan attacked and held two islands just off the coast of Alaska during the war. The Battle of the Aleutian Islands lasted more than a year, stretching from June 1942 to August 1943.

46. Juan Pujol Garcia

A spy named Juan Pujol Garcia managed to fake his own death, and was successful in doing so for almost four decades after the war. Starting in MI5, he was recruited by the Nazis and served as a double agent.

47. Predicting World War II

Image: Renaud Camus

Ferdinand Foch, a commander in the French armies during World War I, predicted World War II. When a treaty was signed at the end of WWI, he said, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” Twenty years and 65 days later, WWII started.

48. How to hide the Taj Mahal

The British put bamboo scaffolding on the Taj Mahal so that enemy pilots would mistake it for a pile of bamboo and not destroy it.

49. Alan Eugene Magee

Airman Alan Eugene Magee once survived a fall of 22,000 feet. He hit a glass and steel girder at the top of a railway station. Germans found him badly injured and nursed him back to health before transferring him to a POW camp.

50. Late apology

Image: Public domain

A Japanese pilot, Nobuo Fujita, was invited to return to a town in Oregon that he attempted to bomb during the war. In 1962, Fujita visited Brookings, Oregon, and apologized for his actions, presenting the town with his family’s 400-year-old katana sword. He returned many times and was named an honorary resident.

51. Nazi king

Image: Public domain

King Edward VIII was a Nazi sympathizer despite being a member of the British Royal Family. He once argued that bombing England could help end the war and bring peace.

52. JFK

Image: U.S. Embassy New Delhi

Future president John F. Kennedy got stranded when his PT boat was sunk. He carved a message on a coconut shell and entrusted it to two natives of the island, who delivered it by canoe. Kennedy and his crew were soon rescued.

53. Dangerous animals killed in London …

A zoo in London killed all its venomous animals when the war broke out to prevent dangerous animals from escaping if the zoo was bombed.

54. … while valuable animals were transferred

The zoo also had to transfer several of its most valuable animals, including: two giant pandas, two orangutans, four chimpanzees, three Asian elephants and an ostrich.

55. Chinue Sugihara

Image: Public domain

A Japanese Consul, Chinue Sugihara, one day awakened to find a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees desperately seeking Japanese visas in order to escape the Nazis. Three times the Japanese government denied his request to grant the visas, but Sugihara allowed the refugees in anyway, risking his life and career in the process.

56. Hideki Tojo

Image: Public domain

After Japan’s surrender, Hideki Tojo, one of Japan’s wartime leaders, tried to commit suicide, but he was nursed back to health in order to stand trial and be hanged for war crimes.

57. Animal hero

Image: Public domain

Wojtek the bear served in the Polish army during the war. The 500- to 600-pound brown bear served on the front lines, carrying empty ammo crates and used shells.

58. Auschwitz

Auschwitz is one of the most infamous concentration camps. A total of 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz, more casualties than the British and American forces combined.

59. ‘Light work’

Nazi concentration camp guards offered some non-Jewish female prisoners the option of “light work,” which actually meant prostitution.

60. Denmark saved many Jewish residents

Denmark managed to save 95 percent of its Jewish residents, the only Nazi-occupied country to do so. A tip from a German diplomat allowed Denmark to help thousands of Jews evacuate to Sweden.

61. No justice served

Auschwitz had a staff of about 7,000, but only 750 were punished for their role in helping run the concentration camp. Most were allowed to move on with their lives.

62. Angel of Death

Josef Mengele became known as the Angel of Death for his role choosing concentration camp prisoners for execution and medical experiments. The primary focus of his experiments was increasing fertility and he was particularly interested in twins.

63. Making chocolate go farther

Nutella was originally invented right after the war in response to a shortage of cocoa. Pietro Ferrero mixed just a small amount of cocoa with hazelnuts and sugar.

64. Big Ben

During the war, Big Ben went dark in order to keep it from getting struck by enemy planes. Despite this, its bell kept ringing.

65. Keep Calm and Carry On

The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” was originally a bit of propaganda by the British government to keep citizens calm in the event of an invasion. Because the invasion never happened, posters with the slogan were never seen by the public.

66. POW’s radio

Image: Wolfmann

A British POW had a hand-made radio smuggled to him during his capture. He managed to hide it so well that he uncovered it more than six decades later and presented it on “Antiques Roadshow.”

67. Crossword panic

While doing the Telegraph Crossword, members of MI5 noticed that code words from their soon to launch D-Day attack appeared in the puzzle. Though it was pure coincidence, that day’s puzzle included words like “Utah” and “Omaha.”

68. Disguising an entire ship

Image: Public domain

The HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen disguised itself as a tropical island in order to evade the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was the only Dutch vessel of its class to escape the Java Sea, which was eventually fully under Japanese control.

69. London’s population took a huge hit

London’s population took a huge hit during WWII. The city only reached and surpassed its WWII population again in 2015.

70. Friendly fire

Image: Public domain

A ship carrying about 5,500 concentration camp survivors was accidentally struck and sunk by Allied forces.

71. India

Image: Public domain

The largest volunteer fighting force during World War II was the Indian Army. About 2.5 million people joined the Indian Army without conscription.

72. Stalin ignored the warnings

Joseph Stalin brushed off dozens of reports from Soviet spies warning that Nazi Germany intended to invade Russia months before Hitler made his move.

73. Russian women

Image: Министерство культуры Российской Федерации [Public Domain].

Russian women served on the front lines of WW II as anti-aircraft gunners, snipers and fighter pilots. Two ace pilots — Lydia Litvyak and Yekaterina Budanova — shot down dozens of enemy planes while sharpshooter Lyudmila Pavlichenko killed 300 enemy soldiers on her own.

Image Credit: Министерство культуры Российской Федерации [Public Domain].

74. Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Image: Public domain

Eleanor Roosevelt took Russian sharpshooter Lyudmila Pavlichenko on a tour of the United States to drum up support for the war. The two formed such a tight bond that Roosevelt went to Russia 15 years later during the Cold War in 1957 to visit Pavlichenko.

75. German POWs

The last German POWs remained prisoners in the Soviet Union until 1956. A full decade after the end of the war, the last 10,000 POWs were finally released.

76. Unsinkable Sam

Image: Public Domain

Unsinkable Sam the cat earned his fame for surviving the sinking of three ships: the Bismarck, the HMS Cossack and the HMS Ark Royal.

77. Bad weather

Bad weather forced then-Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower to delay the D-Day operation by 24 hours.

78. Training for Pearl Harbor

The Imperial Japanese Army spent about a year preparing and training for the attack on Pearl Harbor. They added wooden fins to torpedos and made other modifications in order to increase their chances of success.

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