The Most Puzzling Unsolved Mysteries from World War II

Photo Credit: 1. Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 2. Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized by Palette.fm)

Written by Jesse Beckett and Clare Fitzgerald

We all love a good unsolved mystery and World War II provided plenty. The scale of the conflict and the scorched earth tactics used meant people went missing and advancements in technology became lost to time. Answers to these mysteries disappeared with the only ones who knew them, and solving them has been one of the most pursued avenues since the war came to an end.

Here are some of the most baffling unsolved mysteries from World War II, complete with a battle that likely never happened.

Battle of Los Angeles

Newspaper clipping about the Battle of Los Angeles
Newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Times following the Battle of Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

One of the most unusual battles of the Second World War was without a doubt the Battle of Los Angeles. Why? Because it never actually happened. At the time, California was worried about a potential attack by the Japanese, which wasn’t helped by rumors regarding their proximity to the US mainland.

The “battle” occurred following the bombardment of Ellwood and was prompted by a warning from the Office of Naval Intelligence, which stated California should expect an attack within the next 10 hours. On the morning of February 25, 1942, radar picked up what appeared to be enemy activity 120 miles west of Los Angeles, prompting the air raid sirens to sound.

Over the next few hours, the 37th Coastal Artillery Brigade fired 1,400 shells into the air and, in the direct aftermath, residents claimed to have seen Japanese aircraft, paratroopers and even UFOs in the sky. In the end, there was never a threat to the city, and the US Navy chalked the hysteria up to nerves. Despite this, many feel there’s never been an answer that fully explains the incident.

Foo fighters

Unidentified flying objects are a favorite among those interested in unsolved mysteries, and World War II played host to many weird aerial sightings. Strange objects of all different shapes, sizes and colors were encountered by pilots during the conflict and were collectively known as “foo fighters.”

To begin with, US military officials believed the sightings to be the result of combat fatigue, tiredness or atmospheric phenomena, but after reports kept coming in, an official investigation was launched to try and figure out what they were. There were fears the objects were a secret enemy technology, but their seemingly friendly nature made this explanation unlikely. Investigators were unable to find any answers, and the mystery of the foo fighters remains unsolved.

We’re not saying it’s aliens, but…

Who turned in Anne Frank and her family?

Passport photo of Anne Frank
Anne Frank, 1942. (Photo Credit: Unknown Photographer / Anne Frank House, Amsterdam / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

One of the most well-known unsolved mysteries of World War II is that surrounding who ratted out the Frank family’s location to the German Army stationed in the Netherlands. Their story was made famous by the publishing of 15-year-old Anne Frank’s diary, which is now considered essential reading in classrooms across the world.

Following their hiding place being revealed, the Franks were sent away, with Otto Frank being the only one to survive the war. The identity of the person who led to the Germans finding out where the family was is not known, despite the passage of nearly 80 years. A book published in 2022, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, claimed to have identified the person, but it was later pulled by the publisher after being discredited by historians and researchers.

Columbus Globe for State and Industry Leaders

Soviet military officials standing beside the Columbus Globe for State and Industry Leaders
Soviet military officials with the Columbus Globe for State and Industry Leaders at the Berlin Reich Chancellery, 1945. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The German Führer was known to like large things – just look at the tanks he approved during the later years of the Second World War. However, none are as shrouded in mystery as the Columbus Globe for State and Industry Leaders. It was built for him by a Berlin-based company in the 1930s, and it came to symbolize the Führer’s despotic ambitions.

Following the war, the globe’s location became a mystery. Similar ones were built around the same time, while more have come up for sale over the decades, but none are confirmed to be the Führer’s. It may have been destroyed in the chaos of the conflict’s final days or looted by a soldier who has kept it hidden ever since.

Disappearance of Flight 19

General Motors TBM-3W Avenger parked on the runway
General Motors TBM-3W Avenger, similar to the aircraft flown by the missing airmen on December 5, 1945. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Strange events are known to occur in the Bermuda Triangle, so it’s not surprising that one of the most unusual unsolved mysteries to happen just months after the conclusion of World War II involved the site. On December 5, 1945, the US Navy sent 14 aviators on a navigational training flight. The mission involved them flying through the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the Atlantic Ocean where unexplainable incidents and disappearances occur.

Not long into the flight, all five of the General Motors TBM Avengers lost contact with base. An investigation was launched to try and determine what happened, but while a conclusion was initially agreed upon, it was later retracted. Currently, the case of the missing airmen is listed as having a “cause unknown,” as they’ve never been located.

What’s even eerier is that the aircraft sent in to search for the missing torpedo bombers, a Martin PBM Mariner, also disappeared, leaving the whereabouts and fate of its 13 crewmen unknown to this day… This story makes us never want to set foot in the area.

Gold Train

Tunnel in the underground city of Riese
The mysterious underground city of Riese, where it’s alleged the legendary Gold Train is hidden. (Photo Credit: Adam Guz / Getty Images Poland / Getty Images)

Another German-related topic, the infamous Gold Train is one of the greatest unsolved World War II mysteries of them all. While stories vary, many believe the German Army loaded up a train with gold, art, treasure and other valuables when all hope of winning the war had vanished. The locomotive was then hidden, likely in a sealed-off tunnel, and has never been found. If true, the haul could be worth millions of dollars on its own, before accounting for the incredible history attached to it.

More from us: 10 Surviving Buildings from Germany’s Era of Power

The story has essentially become an urban legend, but that hasn’t stopped many from taking it seriously. The Polish military hunted for the train following the war, but were unsuccessful. No evidence has been found to suggest it ever existed. However, the hunt was reignited a few years ago by two Polish men who claimed to have received a deathbed confession about its whereabouts.

Once again, no Gold Train was found.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE