There are a lot of myths about World War II, just as there are about any other epic event. Some are half-baked.
Some are based on a little truth. Some are just way out wrong! Yet people keep believing them. Here are some of them.
France Surrendered without a Fight
Actually, France had one of the most powerful armies at the beginning of World War II. The French fought hard against the Germans, killing or wounding 150,000 and destroying over 800 tanks.
It is obviously true that they were bested in just six weeks, but this was due as much to poor leadership as to German tactics.
The French generals had planned for a defensive war and so employed unsuitable tactics. They tried to avoid heavy casualties.
We have to remember that the horrible slaughter of World War I was still fresh in their memory.
Hitler Let the British Escape at Dunkirk
At the end of May 1940, 330,000 British troops were evacuated from the French port of Dunkirk.
The French Army was lost and Churchill had to save what was left of the British forces. Hitler ordered the pursuing tanks to stop and regroup while the evacuation was taking place.
This was no gesture of respect toward the British. In fact, he was sure that the Luftwaffe would destroy the British on the beaches.
The truth is that the request to halt came from the panzer commander, who saw that his men needed to rest and rearm – Hitler merely approved it.
US soldiers left thousands of cars in a Belgian forest
There was a car ‘graveyard’ near Châtillon in Belgium. Thousands of vintage cars were found there after the war. Legend states that they were looted from the Germans by US soldiers.
They could not take them home, so they dumped them. However, there is no evidence for this explanation. Actually most of the cars there were manufactured in the 60’s and 70’s.
At least they were before the graveyard was cleared in 2010.
Hitler became leader of the Nazi Part by one vote
Not even close! He won the 1923 ballot to become the leader of the Nazi Party; 553 to 1.
The Nazis did not have a majority of seats in the Reichstag after the 1933 election; the last one held before Hitler assumed absolute power.
But by then the Party was so powerful that it did not need a majority.
General Yamashita hid thousands of tons of war treasure in underground caves
General Tomoyuki Yamashita commanded an army in the Philippines until his capture and trial for war crimes in 1945. He is supposed to have hidden billions of dollars worth of gold and other loot somewhere in the Philippines.
There is no persuasive evidence that he did, but neither is there evidence that he did not. The former President of The Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, certainly believed he did.
He was involved in a lengthy lawsuit with treasure hunter Rogelio Roxas, who claimed to have found some of Yamashita’s plunder.
Hitler celebrated the surrender of France with a jig
The story goes that when, in June 1940, Hitler heard the news that France was suing for peace, he did a little celebratory jig. And the dance was even filmed for all to see.
In reality, Hitler was taken aback by the news. He had not expected the surrender so soon. He stepped slightly back in surprise.
This was indeed captured on film, but the Allies edited the film to make it look as if he was dancing in an undignified manner like a child. As a mockery of Hitler, the film was highly successful.
A German U-boat was sunk by its own toilet
According to this myth, German submarine U-1206 plunged to the bottom of the sea when its toilet uncontrollably overflowed.
Oh, how we wish this was true! The truth is just as bizarre, however. The submarine’s toilet was a new high-pressure facility that could be used at low depths.
At a low depth the captain decided he needed to test the toilet and while doing so opened the wrong valve by mistake. Water flooded in and came into contact with the ship’s batteries. Poisonous chlorine gas subsequently formed.
The captain had to surface quickly to release the gas. Unfortunately, the U-boat surfaced right in sight of the Scottish coastline. It was attacked and so badly damaged that the captained ordered it to be scuttled.
Four men died in the attack. If the captain could have held off nature for a little while longer, they might have survived the war, which ended just three weeks later.
Captain Kangaroo and Lee Marvin fought together at Iwo Jima
Did Bob Keeshan, the man who became Captain Kangaroo in the children’s television show of the same name, and actor Lee Marvin fight side by side at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945?
They both served in World War II, and they were both in the Marine Corps. But neither was at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Marvin fought at Saipan in 1944, was wounded and discharged a year later, at the time when Keeshan was enlisting.
The war ended before Keeshan could be posted, so it is doubtful if the two ever even met in uniform.
So where does the story come from? On the Tonight Show Marvin is supposed to have given an interview where he praised Keeshan’s skill and courage in combat.
Nobody has ever been able to produce footage of this interview. Marvin himself denies saying anything about Keeshan. Keeshan never acknowledged any such praise.
Nevertheless, the bizarre legend persists. Occasionally children’s entertainer Fred Rogers takes the place of the lionized Keeshan as a hero of the Vietnam War. However, Rogers did not serve in the military at all.
The SS were all Aryans
The Waffen SS was the military arm of the Nazi Party. It was established in 1923 and helped Hitler come to power by brutal means.
They were considered the elite of German manhood. Membership was restricted to pure Aryans.
When Heinrich Himmler assumed leadership of the SS, it took on a mystical character, devoted to the racial purity of the German master race and to its Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. They were fanatical.
As the war went on, and more and more ‘pure’ Aryans perished on the battlefield, the SS became less picky.
Even in 1940, it began to recruit soldiers from Scandinavia, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In 1942 it reached further afar: special divisions of Croats, Ukrainians, Latvians, Spanish, French, Indians, Romanian and Russians. Himmler even unsuccessfully tried to recruit British.
At the end of the war, only 60% of SS soldiers were German. Ironically French SS troops were among the defenders of Berlin in April 1945.
The Russians were working on human-age hybrids at the order of Stalin
This strange idea began to circulate several years ago. Did Stalin order the creation of a race of ape-like creatures to fight the Nazis? Such monsters would not feel fear, or pain, and would be slave-like in their obedience.
Before answering the obvious – no, it would be well to note that a Russian biologist called Il’ya Ivanovich Ivanov did cross-inseminate various animals, birds, and insects and did create a number of hybrid creatures.
After these successes, he conceived a project to cross-breed a human and a chimpanzee. The Soviet government gave him a modest grant in 1926 and a lab in Africa.
When initial attempts failed, he grotesquely planned to forcibly inseminate women with chimpanzee sperm. The horrified local government stopped the project, and Ivanov returned to Russia.
What was Stalin’s role in the project? Well, far from encouraging Ivanov, he included him in a list of scientists to be exiled to Kazakhstan, where he died in 1932. Stalin was probably not aware of his experiments.
The Whole Nine Yards
The phrase ‘give ‘em the whole nine yards’ refers to the length of a belt of machine gun ammunition
This phrase actually began in at least 1907 and refers to a baseball game. The phrase and its variants (such as ‘the whole six yards’) has also been used to describe the length of a long-jump, fishing wire, fabric, the amount of concrete that can be held in a mixer, a NASA report, and so forth.
In truth, there does not seem to be any agreement as to where the phrase comes from. We can, however, be sure that it has nothing to do with ammunition.
Ammunition is measured in a number of bullets, not length. And in any case, none of the machine guns standards on US planes measured nine yards anyway.
Koreans fought for the Germans in France
We include this as a myth because it is the sort of thing one might accept as a myth. However, it is absolutely true. At least one, perhaps four Koreans were forced into the Germany Army and later taken prisoner by US paratroopers at Omaha Beach in June 1944.
Germany was by then relying on troops from its conquered territories and on foreign volunteers and conscripts. A large number were drafted from Soviet territories. The Koreans were some of these. The Soviets had captured them from the Japanese at the Battle of Khalkin Gol in Siberia in 1939.
Yang Kyoungjong was the name of one of the Koreans. He remained in the United States after the war. The fate of the others is unknown.
The Bone fields of Russia
The slaughter on the Eastern Front from 1941 – 1945 was truly horrific. Around 70,000,000 perished. So it would make sense that there are vast numbers of bones strewn across Russia. Right?
It is true that after the war there were so many German corpses that local authorities simply dumped them in fields, swamps or forests. Yet how many there are and where they are is extremely difficult to say. The biggest of these mass graves is supposed to be at Peschanka, near Volgograd (called Stalingrad during the war).
It is thought that as many as 300,000 Germans were dumped there. Peschanka did not receive any attention from the West until the Austrian journalist Walter Seledec wrote about it in the 1980’s.
Much of what he writes may be exaggerated. There is certainly not any conclusive photographic evidence.
Others, however, think the whole idea of the Soviet bone fields is without a solid foundation. The evidence is not strong, and we may never know the whole truth.
Fake German airfields were attacked with fake British bombs
The war correspondent William Shirer wrote a book titled Berlin Diary. In an entry for November 1940, he relates a humorous story about British planes bombing a fake German aerodrome. He claimed he learned of the tale from an anonymous source.
The story rapidly became a fact and was elaborated upon. The planes dropped only one fake bomb, on or near Berlin, and in 1943. Alternate versions had the Germans dropping a fake bomb on fake British airfields.
One might ask what would be the point of such a bizarre exercise, especially as it would be risking a plane and its pilot. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the incident related by Shirer ever occurred. It was probably a humorous story crafted to boost morale.
Hitler Only Had One Ball
This is one of the most famous World War II myths. The Nazi leader almost certainly had two testicles. The belief that he lacked half of his equipment originated from a German medic who said he saved Hitler’s life in World War I.
According to him, one ball was shot off at the Battle of the Somme. This would seem to be borne out by an autopsy carried out by the Soviets and released in the 1970’s.
Actually, the myth seems to have been the subject of a satirical British song of 1939 and sung by schoolchildren for years.
But there’s no compelling evidence for the lack of the organ, despite the autopsy report, which is most likely propaganda.
Japan was about to surrender when atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
It is clear that in August 1945 Japan was not going to surrender. Indeed, the Emperor and the military and civilian leaders were preparing to resist an invasion of Japan.
Such an invasion was to occur in November. The Japanese believed the US Army would not survive a battle on their own soil.
But then two atomic bombs were dropped. Manchuria was invaded by the Soviets. The US bombed Tokyo, and some Japanese officers attempted to seize the government. On August 15, the Emperor announced the surrender of Japan.
But even then, the Emperor’s senior officer still wanted to fight on.