13 Old War Photographs You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped
World War II was a hell of a time. Ask your grandpa: He'll tell you all about the solemn, grim-faced, gritty reality of the whole thing until you become grizzled by proxy. Now, we're not going to sit here and say your grandpa is full of crap (the guy could probably still gut us with a can opener). We're just saying that maybe some of the ways we picture WWII looking -- all razor-jawed men charging through the mud in black and white -- isn't entirely accurate. Because we know for a fact that at least some of the soldiers were carrying floppy dong-shaped rifles into battle, and those air aces had the most fabulous planes ...
War Is No Excuse for Not Looking Pretty ...
You've seen that plane before, right? That, or one like it. It's the kind of thing we automatically think of when we talk about WWII flying aces: a grim-faced, begoggled young man striking a dashing figure as he mounts his coal-gray plane to do aerial battle with sinister forces. Now, let's colorize the photo:
And run it through an Elton John filter.
That is substantially more fabulous than we pictured it.
That is indeed a gentle pink WWII fighter plane. And it is not a fluke: Some fighter groups were so specialized that they only operated during certain times of day. The lovely pink planes of the RAF 16th Squadron were one such unit: Near invisible at both sunset and sunrise, the pinks were able to fly over Nazi lines and take valuable photos of enemy units. Presumably so they could post them on their blogs with absolutely scathing critiques of their outfits.
Ah, but we shouldn't make fun. Not because that's actually a clever tactic, or because their pilots were easily 10 times the men we'll ever be, but because we'll run out of jokes before we get to the really ridiculous war planes ...
Look, in the Sky! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's ... an Ice Cream Truck?
Well, that's some weird camouflage ...
Assembly planes, or Judas goats, worked like NASCAR pace cars: They were brightly colored so everyone in formation could see them and use them as markers to align themselves with. Or maybe their parent planes just didn't pay enough attention to them when they were growing up ...
It's like a hockey goalie wrapped in a Twister mat.
If you're going to fight fascism, why not do it with style?
Hey, kids, look! Up in the sky, it's the Wonder Bread plane! And what's that it's dropping from its underbelly -- why, Wonder Bread, of course! Let's all run toward the Wonderful Wondrous Wonder Bread Canisters, totally heedless of the integrity of our limbs!
"This leveling of your city was brought to you by Fruit Stripe Gum. Fruit Stripe: Die in fire."
The Nazis Attack ... Los Angeles?
That's not one of those novelty newspapers you can pay two dollars to print out and have read " Stops All War With Unreasonably Large Schlong." That was a real issue of the Los Angeles Examiner, and even a somewhat accurate headline. Here's the actual "attack":
Anyone else now have the 20th Century Fox theme in their head?
Wait, what? Were the aliens from Close Encounters part of the Axis back in the day? What are we looking at here, precisely? The answer is obvious: We don't know.
See, after the Japanese caught the U.S. asleep with our hands firmly wedged in our trousers over at Pearl Harbor, America was extra vigilant for the next imperial attack. In the early hours of February 25, 1942, unidentified flying objects were seen in the nighttime sky above LA. Instead of wondering at the infinite possibilities of the cosmos, men did what men did back then: They blew the shit out of it first, and asked questions later. And even then, those questions were just variants of "Is there any way we can blow some more shit out of that thing?" When the UFOs made their appearance, search lights opened up and AA fire caused "the air over Los Angeles to erupt like a volcano." Special-edition newspapers the next day spoke of enemy craft being shot down, but nobody knows exactly what happened there -- officials, as usual, blame weather balloons.
"Help! It's got lips!"
That's it. They've caused enough trouble: We're declaring war on weather balloons.
Plane Crashes Are Inexplicably More Dramatic Than You Think
Real plane crashes don't look like Hollywood special effects, right?
They're way, way crazier.
The above picture shows the B-24L Stevonovitch II of the 464th Bomber Group. It was hit by German anti-aircraft fire on April 10, 1945. And to get this shot -- the exact moment when a shell bursts and severs the wing of an airplane, but before that wing fully snaps off and flies away -- the photographer had to have been some sort of psychic mutant, or else he was the guy who blew the wing off. This is one of the more famous aerial disaster images, but not the craziest:
"Get in closer! I'm gonna try to light my cigar."
Jesus! We'd make fun of friggin' Michael Bay if he put that veritable river of fire coming out of a plane in a Transformers movie.
That's the engine down at the bottom, in mid-explosion.
"Maybe if we hit the throttle we can catch up with our own engine. Johnson, when we get close, I'll need you to reach out the window and try to grab it."
"Do you really think that'll work, Sarge?"
"Hell no, son! But if you're gonna die, you may as well die crazy."
A Tragedy, or a Cuddlefest?
Victims of a gas attack? Nope, just Official Nappy Times during the blitz. When the Axis bombing raids flew over London, the unflappable Brits just grabbed their binkies and their upper lip starch and headed down into the subways to sleep how we always suspected British people slept -- in a giant, well-mannered pile. Seriously, look at the guy in front: He doesn't even take his derby off in the subway, in the middle of a bombing raid ... to sleep.
Watch Out for the Potholes
And here's why everybody in the above photo was napping in the subway, and not on other forms of public transportation. This wasn't a sinkhole or anything; it was a bomb crater right in the center of a London street after an October 14, 1940 attack. During blackout conditions, the bus driver didn't see the giant hole (wait, did the buses put their lights out, too? And they still tried to make their stops?!) and he crashed right into it.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we're experiencing some slight turb- wait, do buses experience turbulence?"
What is this?
1. The BioShock Saturday morning spinoff, Lil' Big Daddies.
2. Space babies.
3. Just some prepared infants.
The correct answer is No. 3: Gas masks don't fit babies, and yet, as our tragically ill-advised research has confirmed, babies are not immune to airborne poisons. So special devices were designed to protect infants in the event of an attack, and thanks to classical conditioning gone awry, now none of these kids can fall asleep unless they smell mustard gas.
Related: Nice Try, Baby Sonic.
The Guns Straight Out of Looney Tunes
Nooo, that's not -- that's a cartoon, right? If you panned out on this image, you'd find a smug rabbit standing there about to put his finger in the barrel. This just isn't how guns work, is it? The bullet would hit the curve and just explode inside the barrel, right?
"Every time we try to fire, it just apologizes for drinking too much and makes some excuse about work in the morning."
During WWII, the biggest problem a tank driver had was enemy infantry getting close enough to the vehicle to enter a blind zone -- the area immediately surrounding the tank that any soldiers inside simply couldn't angle to shoot at. And so the Germans developed a rifle with a curved barrel so that riflemen inside the tank could just stick the gun out of the tank hatch and fire at potential enemies.
And if you rotate the image 90 degrees to the right, it's how you put gas in your car.
Not only did the bullet fail to hilariously explode on its way out of the floppy dong rifle, but it would neatly fragment in the curve, creating a devastating shotgun-like effect. Later prototypes, complete with periscopes, were developed for other infantry units to shoot at Allied soldiers from behind cover (and presumably to teach any loitering smartass ducks a lesson in manners).
Grumman TBF Avenger
This is an Avenger torpedo bomber off the USS Bennington, piloted by Bob King during the battle of Chichi Jima. He was gravely missed by his friends and family ... because after pulling his plane out of a spin, he flew this wingless bastard -- in this exact condition -- all the way back to the fleet to be picked up safely, and nobody has stopped buying him drinks since.
Listening to the Skies: X-Treme Edition
That can't be what it looks like. It's a guy goofing around in a radar station; it's a man piloting two giant, automatic cereal spoons. Anything would be more believable than what it actually looks to be -- an old-timey sky-listening device. But that's exactly what it is, and even crazier: It totally worked. Here's another:
"... ... ... ... WHAT?"
Before radar, bombing fleets could only be detected visually, or via acoustic location devices. And no, we're not skipping over anything high-tech here: You just plugged a giant cone into your ear and listened really hard for the German pilots whistling inconspicuously. Elegantly simple, really. The only tricky part was trying to make sure the rest of the army didn't look over and see you while you were doing it; they'd never let you live it down.
Especially in France, where you not only had to hold a giant metal hand up to your ear to listen for distant planes, but also had to play a mechanized game of seesaw while doing it:
"I just heard a fart. That must mean Goering's on his way."
We're certain you know about kamikaze attacks -- when zealous Japanese pilots suicide-bombed their own planes into high-value targets. They were more common than one might think: 2,800 kamikaze planes sunk around 40 Navy ships and damaged 350 others. And of course, the images are incredibly dramatic:
That's a Zero trying, and ultimately failing, to crash into the deck of the USS White Plains. Man, just looking at those photos is kind of humbling, isn't it? They're perhaps the most striking visual depiction of the somber desperation of warfare.
Now, here's the aftermath:
USS Hinsdale showing kamikaze damage inflicted on April 1, 1945.
This now paints kamikaze pilots as less "honor-bound soldiers willing to sacrifice anything" and more like "aerial Wile E. Coyotes." Presumably right after this impact, the pilot stumbled out, unharmed save for a comically blackened face, to look at the camera and dejectedly mutter something like "It's a living."
But They Really, Really Liked That Ship
We hear the phrase "go down with the ship," and we have a few different impressions: First, that it's kind of an anachronistic practice. Nobody's actually done it for centuries, right? And second, that it only applies to the captain. For the record, both impressions are wrong. That image above is the whole damn crew of the battleship Zuikaku, right after it sacrificed itself as a diversion in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
You can see them dumping all the explosives before the ship dumps them on top of the dumped explosives. And you can't quite make it out, because they're all facing away from the camera, but every single one of them is giving the Pacific the finger.
It required a full battleship to haul around all those massive balls.
After the last-minute unpacking was done, the crew all lined up neatly, gave a cheer and went down saluting. We're not even going to look up a death toll. We're positive the ocean just ran away right after this picture was taken and they all walked home safely.
We Liked WWII Before It Became All About the Special Effects
What is that, a screenshot of that new Battleship movie? The sequel to Independence Day? You can practically taste the Roland Emmerich smeared all over this image; it's way too excessive to be real. Look at all those gargantuan battleships parked so close together, on and on into infinity. Look at the ceaseless stream of military vehicles and soldiers. What is this, the new Call of Duty game?
No, this is Omaha Beach, June 1944, when American ships took advantage of low tide to unload huge amounts of war material for the front. That photo is not embellished, retouched or dishonestly angled in any way: That's just how goddamn ridiculously over the top a battle in WWII actually was. They even brought all their battle zeppelins, proving that, once again, the only difference between steampunk fans and history buffs is the stupid goggles and blue hair dye.
For more hard-to-believe real photos, check out 18 Old-Timey Photos You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped. Or check out 8 Movie Special Effects You Won't Believe Aren't CGI.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see DOB's very real abs.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!