It was the largest combined effort of the human race up to that time, and possibly for all time, as the globe locked into the conflagration which was the Second World War. So it is not unusual that many events transpired which fit under the description of being strange. It would have been unusual if they had not. As people of all nations and races around the world witnessed strange new ways from which death could descend upon them, they saw other things as well, memorable despite the havoc all around, and from their memories and efforts to record them we know of them today.
We know, for instance, that pilots of some of the contending nations encountered escorts on some of their flights, though their descriptions of what they were and how they flew varied with the nationality of the pilots who saw them. We know that generals made famous through their own insatiable desire for publicity believed themselves to be immortal, the reincarnated veterans of past wars. We know that some nations changed sides, though their citizens never fully supported either. It was the first war to be fought largely with airplanes, and some of the ways in which they were used can be charitably described as novel, and today viewed with some amusement. Many strange things occurred during World War II, some of them very strange, and here are just a few of them.
10. The appearance of what Allied pilots called the foo fighters
Beginning in November 1944, when formal reports were first filed describing what some Allied pilots had been reporting throughout the war, unidentified flying objects appeared flying with, and sometimes buzzing around, Allied planes. Pilots called them “foo fighters.” At the time, “foo” was a word which had appeared in American comic strips, used to describe what can politely be called nonsense, though military men would have used a more scatological-oriented descriptive. The objects reported by pilots and navigators were described as lights; small, extremely fast, and able to maneuver in ways which the aircraft of the time could not hope to imitate. They often moved in manners which were interpreted as hostile, but did no damage. Seen almost always at night, they drew the attention of correspondents, were described in TIME Magazine and other publications, and were the subject of formal investigations by the US Army Air Forces, which could not determine what they were.
They appeared over European skies and in the South Pacific, over both land and sea. After the war it was reported that German pilots had seen them, too. So had Soviet airmen. They were described as being multiple colors resembling Christmas tree lights (which at the time were generally larger bulbs than they are today). Other pilots described them as being white lights. All described them as being faster than the aircraft in which the observer had been flying. It was proposed that they had been St. Elmo’s Fire, though that suggestion was quickly derided by pilots who knew the difference. It was suggested that they were a new German secret weapon, though their appearance in the Pacific would seem to argue against that idea. What they were, where they came from, what their purpose was, and where they went has never been answered satisfactorily.
9. The Ghost P-40 Warhawk over Pearl Harbor in December 1942
This one can be found on websites and in books and magazines describing the paranormal without overexerting oneself in searching, though with variations. Common elements include the time of its appearance, one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; the fact that its six machine guns were functional; and the fact that it was detected by American radar operators on guard over the Hawaiian bases (how a ghost turns up on radar is another mystery). Some versions claim the plane crashed in an Oahu field, others that it was never found. Its markings were pre-war, as they would have been when the Japanese attacked, according to some of the stories. And the body of the spectral pilot was never found, nor was he identified, which military records should have been able to accommodate had the story been true.
This one is just that – a story. Military records did record aerial radar contacts over Pearl Harbor in December 1942, as they do the scrambling of fighters to investigate an intruder, spectral or otherwise. There is no record of the ghost Warhawk flying over Pearl Harbor on the date in question. The story is based upon another, told by Robert Lee Scott, a veteran of Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers. Scott wrote a collection of stories, all fiction based on wartime experiences, entitled Damned to Glory (he also wrote the famous autobiography, God is my Co-pilot). The story of the ghost Warhawk first appeared in the former book, as Chapter Two. It is indeed a strange story, but it is entirely a fictional tale, and despite its recurrence as one of the strange tales of the Second World War, it needs bearing in mind that the story is a tale, not an unexplained paranormal event.
8. Germany’s secret weapon known as Die Glocke (The Bell)
Die Glocke is another oft repeated story of the Second World War which falls into several categories, including Nazi research into “doomsday weapons,” Nazi research into using the occult as a weapon of war, and Nazi experiments with time travel, all of which command a wide audience. Die Glocke, which is German for The Bell, was discovered in a secret SS underground facility either in or near the Czech border, where research was conducted into weapons that in essence caused people to melt. Literally. The Bell would generate a frequency that, once the device was filled with the proper materials (including mercury), would cause plants to dissolve into liquid, and humans and other animals to simply decompose into a form of jelly. According to the earliest proponents of Die Glocke, most of the scientists who worked on the project were themselves doomed to jellification due to miscalculation of the effect.
The ruins of a device discovered in the general vicinity of where Die Glocke was allegedly constructed to conduct its nefarious experiments generated excitement among those inclined to welcome the image of evil Nazis melting themselves into petroleum jelly. But alas, it was determined that the structure was simply the remains of a cooling tower, erected as the Germans were moving their industrial capacity underground in response to the heavy allied bombing late in the war. Yet fans of Die Glocke continue to insist it was developed by the Germans as a doomsday weapon, a time travel machine (it could see into the past through the use of a concave mirror) and for other strange uses. As with the ghost Warhawk, it is a myth, and its story masks some other strange events of the war which actually did happen.
7. British Prisoners of War sent to the death camp at Auschwitz
Forgotten by many due to the passage of time, the German concentration camp at Auschwitz was not one camp, but several. Among these was the camp at Monowitz, part of what was known to the Germans as Auschwitz III. It was created in late 1942, when IG Farben requested a camp to house slave labor for their industrial facilities at the site. The main purpose of the industrial site was the development of synthetic rubber, and the bulk of the prisoners were Jews, though others of what the Third Reich considered undesirables were sent to the camp to be worked to death. Workers provided to IG Farben (and other German companies such as Krupp) were paid for by providing a stipend to the SS, allowing the industrialists to forever deny that they used slave labor.
Prisoners of War were protected from such an arrangement by the Geneva Convention, but several British prisoners found themselves in the labor subcamps at Auschwitz. The British (and other Commonwealth prisoners) were kept separate from the slave camps, initially under the control of Italians and eventually the Wehrmacht. Many witnessed the march of Jewish prisoners to the death chambers. Whether British prisoners were forced to work as slave labor is debated, some British prisoners who survived the war reported being part of the slave labor force, and numerous attempts to ease the situation of other prisoners by smuggling them food. When the Germans abandoned the camp, British prisoners were ordered to march towards either the approaching Soviets to the east, or the Allies to the west. Most headed west. British PoWs were part of the prisoner population at Auschwitz for a large part of the war, an event often forgotten in discussions about the Holocaust.
6. The swastika in the Larch trees near Brandenburg, Germany
World War II ended more than seven decades ago, and remnants of the Nazi Party in Germany have long been outlawed, but in the 21st century the Nazi swastika continued to make an appearance in the pine forests outside of Brandenburg. There were reports of swastikas appearing in the trees in other locations as well, including in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The image of the Nazi symbol appeared when larch trees changed color in the autumn and spring months, appearing for a time against the darker green of the pine forest surrounding them. The larch trees were evidently planted deliberately, with the pattern laid out carefully to ensure symmetry, but by whom and when remains unknown. The German state of Brandenburg attempted to obliterate the symbol by destroying the trees, but it remained as late as December 2000.
At least one hundred larch trees were planted in the swastika pattern in the Brandenburg region, perhaps by Hitler Youth, perhaps by local gardeners, and perhaps by Nazi supporters, but for certain by parties unknown. How a similar pattern appeared in Kyrgyzstan in 2006 remains a mystery, the region was well behind the front lines of the German invasion during the war. The larch swastika near Brandenburg presumably appeared twice per year during the period of Soviet dominance, but not until reunification of Germany in the 1990s did the government take steps to eradicate the symbol which has been banned in Germany since 1945 (it was banned by the Soviets too).
5. The mystery of the Lady be Good
Lady be Good was a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber (American aircrews typically named their aircraft during the war) based in Soluch in the Libyan desert when it departed for its first mission on April 4, 1943. Like the aircraft, the crew of nine was on its first combat mission, which was to take part in a bombing raid on Naples (Italy) harbor. It departed normally, failed to bomb its primary target (obscured by clouds), became separated from the rest of its group, and attempted to fly home on its own. Sandstorms caused it to drift off course. Around two in the morning, the crew — aware that the airplane was short of fuel — bailed out over the desert. The crew and the airplane vanished into history. Not until 1958 would the mystery be solved. Until that time it was assumed that the aircraft had crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, and the crew perished after landing in the water.
An oil exploration crew discovered the remains of the aircraft after yet another desert sandstorm revealed them, and an examination of the wreckage indicated that the crew had successfully abandoned the bomber. In 1960 a search conducted by the United States Army discovered the remains of five members of the crew. Eventually, all but one of the crew’s remains were found, and forensic specialists determined that those surviving the parachute jump had lived in the desert for several days, but how they became lost — both while aloft and later on the ground — has never been formally decided. The aircraft, when discovered, still had within its bowels a working radio, capable of transmitting, but no record of the crew asking for help was ever found. Some parts of the recovered Lady be Good were salvaged and used as repair parts in other aircraft, including an arm-rest set installed in an Army DHC 3 Otter. It crashed in the Gulf of Sidra, and few parts were ever recovered, though Lady be Good’s armrest was.
4. General Patton believed that he had been reincarnated numerous times
General George S. Patton was colorful and controversial before, during, and after World War II, though he died shortly after the war came to an end. But, according to his own beliefs, he had died several times before. Patton seldom discussed his beliefs in his past lives directly (perhaps fearing mental health evaluations) but he made many oblique references to them, including in the poem he wrote entitled Through a glass, darkly, itself a line from the writings of Paul (1 Cor. 13:12). Patton wrote of himself as a Greek warrior fighting the Persians at the siege of Tyre, a victory for the Greeks, whom he led. He also described his exploits fighting the Parthians as a Roman soldier, using a sword which he named Gladius, a battle which ended in his death after being struck with multiple wounds in his neck (he eventually died in the 20th century from a broken neck).
At least one of his visions of an earlier life occurred when Patton was heavily medicated – after a severely broken leg left him near death as a youth he saw himself as a Viking about to die. During the First World War he spoke of appearing on French battlefields before, including at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, where he was killed by a mounted English knight. He was one of Henry V’s Band of Brothers on St. Crispin’s Day at the Battle of Agincourt, and in yet another past life had been either a pirate or privateer, hanged by the neck, presumably until dead. He also believed that he had fought with the French cavalry under Marshal Murat, one of Napoleon’s trusted field commanders, even telling Sir Harold Alexander, a British commander, that he had fought with Napoleon’s army. How Patton’s past-life pronouncements would be received today is anybody’s guess.
3. Italy was one of the Allies during World War II
The Pact of Steel, the treaty cementing the group of nations known to history as the Axis, consisted of Germany, Italy, and Japan (though the Romanians eventually joined in, too). In early September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies and the following month declared war on Germany. Hitler responded by having his troops seize Italian military positions and supplies, attempting to force Italian troops to join the German forces, and occupying those portions of the Italian Peninsula not in Allied hands. About half a million Italian troops were persuaded to support the Reich, and to retain their support Hitler had German paratroopers rescue the exiled Mussolini and used him as a puppet leader of Italy.
Only about 50,000 Italian troops rallied to the Allied cause, at least officially, but seven times that number of partisans, supported by the American OSS and the British SOE, worked to disrupt German operations in Italy. They were often surreptitiously supported by Italian troops allegedly serving under the Nazis. Three Italian submarines operating in the Pacific continued to support the Axis, after the crews spent a period of time as prisoners of the Japanese. They were persuaded to continue the fight after the Kriegsmarine sent to new officers to command them. About 6,000 Italian troops were killed fighting for the Allies after the Italian surrender in World War II, and nearly 18,000 partisans, many former Italian Army soldiers, died fighting the Germans. Another nearly 700,000 were interned by the Germans for refusing to fight for the Pact of Steel.
2. Hermann Goering’s nephew was a bomber pilot during the war – for the United States Army
Hermann Goering was a national hero in Germany before he became the head of the Luftwaffe and the number two man in Hitler’s Third Reich. He had flown in World War I, becoming an Ace, and being awarded the coveted Blue Max for his defense of the Fatherland. By the outset of World War II he was a bloated buffoon, at least in the eyes of the western Allies. British correspondents and military officials referred to him as the fat boy. But he was the second most powerful man in Germany, an ardent believer in Nazi doctrine and in Adolf Hitler, a looter of legendary proportion, and a ruthless, feared man in the Third Reich. He condemned the corrupt business practices of the decadent democracies of the west while profiting from his own thoroughly corrupt management of the German economy.
His nephew Werner, son of his brother Karl Ernst, flew in the United States Army Air Corps, piloting a B-17 heavy bomber. Karl Ernst had left troubled Germany in 1920 and his son Werner was born in Salt Lake City, making him an American citizen, though one who grew up speaking German as well as English. Werner flew a total of 48 combat missions against his uncle’s Third Reich, defying his uncle’s vaunted Wehrmacht, and dropping bombs after Hermann had famously claimed that the Allies would never bomb Germany. In 2010 a genealogist claimed that Werner was not, in fact, the nephew of Hermann Goering, and that his father had falsely claimed the relationship. Others say the claimed relationship was true. At least one other highly placed Nazi had a nephew in American service during the war. Adolf Hitler’s nephew William, son of his half-brother Alois, served in the United States Navy, under the name William Patrick Hitler.
1. Parachuting live animals to feed hungry troops
Nearly everyone knows what a parachute is, and paratroops are generally considered to be elite soldiers, delivered by airdrop to critical areas of the battlefield. But parasheep? The idea of parachuting sheep into a combat zone seems ridiculous, not the least because sheep are usually considered to be the most gentle of animals, not known for their proclivity for violence. But the Italians thought it was a good idea, at least in theory — though it took place during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, then called Abyssinia, during a period usually considered to be just before World War II. The Italians used 25 airplanes to drop water, cooking utensils and supplies, and live sheep to troops crossing the forbidding Danakil desert, one of the most desolate places on earth. The theory was that fresh meat would be welcomed by, and more nourishing for, the troops engaged on the trek.
A total of 72 sheep were parachuted, with extra care taken to ensure that they survived the drop in order to be slaughtered by the troops collecting them upon arrival. The Italians successfully crossed the desert, and the sheep (augmented by at least two steers) were undoubtedly welcomed as an addition to their diet during the 120 mile march. The idea did not catch on; British and American paratroopers played a significant role during World War II, though usually jumping equipped with field rations, and resupply by air operations followed the same general recipe, as it were. The Germans also used paratroops effectively during the war, but fed them by more conventional means. The Italian innovation worked when it was tried, but evidently not sufficiently enough to make it a new means of feeding troops on the march. At least they didn’t drop turkeys.