The Second World War was one of the most far-reaching events in human history. It fundamentally changed the world like most other big wars couldn’t, and its effects can still be felt in many places. It’s also arguably the most talked-about war, as we’ve discussed pretty much all WW2 trivia at this point.
Despite that, there are still a lot of misconceptions about the war, as a lot of information from that time came from propaganda and unreliable word of mouth. Even if it has been more than seven decades since WW2 was declared to be over, some of these oft-repeated myths refuse to die out.
Total Death Count Of Holocaust Was 6 Million
The Holocaust was the most horrifying part of the Second World War, which is saying something as it had a lot of horrifying parts. The systematic killing of six million Jews across Nazi-held territory shocked the rest of the world when the war was over, as the extent of the violence was – till then – hidden in the fog of war. It changed the world in more ways than we could count, including many subsequent international resolutions promising each other that maybe we shouldn’t let that happen again.
What we often forget in that ‘six million’ death count, however, is that the Jews weren’t the only targets of Hitler’s Final Solution. The concentration camps were a rather inclusive establishment, housing a wide variety of people Nazis didn’t like. Holocaust casualties were far higher if you include other prisoners of the camps, like opposing political factions, Soviet POWs, Roma gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and Serbs. According to some estimates, the Roma lost 70 to 80 percent of its European population in the Holocaust. While we don’t have the exact numbers on the total count, historians put the total death count of the Holocaust to be somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 million.
Americans Led D-Day
The Normandy landings – also known as D-Day – would always be remembered as ‘that time we started beating the Nazis back’. By far the most massive seaborne invasion in history, it had a lot riding on it. It was a massive operation aimed at taking a huge part of occupied European territory from the Nazis, and is widely considered to be the turning point of the war. Other than the allied countries fighting in the Eastern Theater – who kind of had their own thing going on – almost everyone else took part in it, and emerged victorious.
Despite being a combined effort, though, it’s still referred to as a primarily-American effort, even in other countries. In reality, even if it’s contribution to the invasion was significant, America didn’t lead the Normandy landings at all. If anyone, it was Britain that provided the most wartime resources to the invasion. British warships outnumbered American ones by 4:1. 31% of the supplies for the invasion came from Britain, as well as two-thirds of the 12,000 allied aircrafts deployed. If it weren’t for Britain’s military bases in the region, the invasion would probably have never happened. Most of the military leaders commanding the whole operation were British, too.
Dropping the Atomic Bomb Was The Worst Bombing Of The War
A lot has been said about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the war. A lot has been left out, too, as it’s still one of the more controversial parts of the whole war. While many believe that the bombs were necessary to make Japan surrender, some historians maintain that Japan would have surrendered regardless, and the bombs were sort of an overkill. Apart from the historical ambiguity over whether the bombs were needed at all, it was also the beginning of a whole new age of nuclear weapons, something that influences global politics to this day.
While there’s no doubt that the atomic bombings killed a lot of people, especially civilians, they often overshadow another bombing raid in Japan that was as bad – if not worse – than the atom bombs. Often called the most destructive bombing raid in history, the fire-bombing of Tokyo was especially targeted at civilians. It was made worse by the recent invention of napalm; over 500,000 cylinders full of napalm and petroleum jelly were dropped on primarily wooden and paper houses in the densest parts of the city.
According to some estimates, over 100,000 civilians were burnt to death in a single night, with over a million maimed and a million more made homeless. In Japan, the bombings are remembered in the same way as the atom bombs, as it was perhaps the biggest fire bombing raid in history.
Many historians agree that as a single bombing attack, it was far more deadly than the two atomic bombs, and should have been charged as a war crime.
The Atomic Bombs Made Japan Surrender
The narrative around the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been the same since it happened – especially in the American education curriculum. We’re consistently told that Japan surrendered solely because of the bombs, as an invasion of the country would lead to further casualties and extension of the war.
While the latter part may as well be true, the idea that Japan surrendered due to the atomic bombs is faulty intelligence at worst, and intentional propaganda at worst. Japan had already discussed terms of surrender before the bombs, albeit conditional (they wanted the Emperor to not be charged as a war criminal). Of course, the terms weren’t exactly agreeable to the allies at the time, though they did know about Japan’s intention to surrender. They had lost almost all capability to sustain their war effort, and would have eventually succumbed anyway, especially after the deadly bombing raids the allies were already conducting across Japan.
Most importantly, though, the primary reason behind Japan’s surrender was the Soviet invasion of Japanese colonies in the time between the two bombs. That did more to persuade Japan to surrender than anything else in the war, as they couldn’t possibly have fought the Soviets along with the rest of the allies.
D-Day Ended The War
The Normandy landings are often referred to as the turning point of the war. A massive military operation by all accounts, it facilitated the recapture of the occupied French territory and eventually the rest of occupied Europe. In western countries, it’s still referred to as the single most pivotal point in the war against the Nazis.
Now we’re not here to belittle the sacrifices made during the invasion – as it was still an important military operation that needed to succeed to win the war – though D-Day was hardly the turning point. That was actually some time in 1941, when Hitler decided to invade the one country it probably should have left alone: Soviet Russia. The only reason the rest of the allies even had the strength to regroup and launch a counter attack on Normandy is that the Nazis were too occupied fighting the Soviets in the biggest theater of war in history. By 1944 – when D-Day happened – Germany was well on its way to defeat. Sure, if D-Day hadn’t happened, a much bigger part of post-war Europe would have been under Soviet control after the war, though the Nazis would have lost regardless.
The Polish Horse Cavalry Charge Never Happened
One of the most oft-repeated stories from the war is that of Polish lancers on horsebacks charging at German Panzers. It’s cited as the last use of horse cavalry in military history, as well as general proof of the superiority of Polish cavalry. After all, if you can muster the courage to charge horses into the world’s most technologically-advanced tanks, chances are you know what you’re doing.
In reality, though, the Polish cavalry charge never really happened, even if they were known to be one of the best cavalry forces in the world at one point. It was propagated by the Nazis in an attempt to portray the Poles as bad fighters, which was far from being the case. The Polish resistance played a huge role in the emancipation of many Nazi-held areas across Europe. They also played a crucial – possibly decisive – role in the allied forces that beat the Nazis, though their contribution remains largely forgotten.
The Japanese Were Good At Jungle Warfare
We’re not sure about the origins of this one, though we’re assuming it’s due to newspapers at the time confusing the Japanese with other Asian armies, or simply widespread misconceptions about Japan’s topography. Many allied soldiers (both at the time of the war as well as after) believed that the Japanese were experts at jungle warfare, possibly assuming that Japan – much like all of Asia in popular imagination – is made up of thick jungle. Many of the early setbacks against the Japanese were attributed to this factor, despite there being no evidence for it.
The Japanese were no better at jungle warfare than any allied country in the war, for the simple reason that Japan doesn’t have as many jungles as we think. There were many points in the war when the Japanese struggled against jungle-based fighters in Asia themselves, as they had little to no training in the jungle. They were, admittedly, good at fighting in the night, which may have lent them an unintended advantage in jungle terrain, giving way to the myth.
It Started In 1939
If someone were to ask you about the beginning of WW2, chances are it’s not something you’d struggle with. We’re all told that the war started with the Nazi invasion and eventual occupation of Poland in 1939, which is how it’s taught in schools around the world. Well, except for schools in countries were the war had already been raging for a long time before 1939.
Some historians, though, say that placing the beginning of the war around 1939 is a rather Eurocentric view of things. In reality, many other conflicts around the world that are considered to be a part of the war started much earlier than 1939. Depending on the historian you ask, WW2 may have been going on since 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria, or 1937, when Italy invaded Ethiopia. Most non-European/American historians, however, agree that it couldn’t be later than 1937, when the Japanese invaded the Chinese mainland in one of the most brutal invasions in history. Everywhere from our media to politicians, we’re told that the war started when the western allies jumped in, which is far from the truth.
It Was A Clear Good Vs Bad War
One of the most enduring myths about the Second World War is that it was fought between good guys and bad guys. That everyone who was against the Axis forces was fighting on the side of good. It was in direct contrast to the general outlook towards WW1, where moral lines weren’t as clearly defined.
While the Nazis were still outright bad guys – so we got that part right – the Allies also committed many horrifying acts throughout the war that muddies the war’s ‘good vs bad’ reputation. The Soviet invasion of Germany at the end of the war was one of the most devastating invasions in history, with mass rapes and executions of civilians in broad daylight (the situation was similar, albeit less extreme, in Western Germany). We’ve already mentioned the fire raids of Tokyo, though napalm was indiscriminately used in many other air campaigns on Axis territory, like Dresden. An overwhelming majority of it was directed at civilian areas, meant to retaliate against the populations than any real military goal, as those countries were already well on their way to defeat. The British air-bombing campaigns killed hundreds of thousands of civilians while recapturing Germany, along with other repressive campaigns in many of their colonies against rebelling populations.
A lot of that could be explained by a lack of international laws and modern concepts of ethical war behavior at the time, and it still doesn’t compare to the actions of Germany and Japan, though WW2 was definitely not the black and white conflict we’ve been told it was.