5 Insane True Stories That Change How You Picture WWII
We're probably just a couple of decades away from the day when humanity collectively decides that World War II just didn't happen, that the whole thing was just too insane to be real. We're pretty confident that if there is ever a war crazier than WWII, none of us will survive it.
The best evidence of how batshit things got is that so many of the weirder stories just became footnotes in your history book. For instance, we bet that before today you had no idea that ...
The Nazis Had A Supervillain Arctic Base To Make Nukes ... And 11 Men Took It Out
Picture the scene: A small group of WWII Norwegian commandos (basically, Vikings with tommy guns) are skiing away from an Arctic Nazi base with 3,000 pissed-off German soldiers on their tails. Why are the Nazis so angry? Because the Norwegians just set off explosive charges inside the aforementioned base, ruining Germany's chances of producing nuclear weapons. Yep, Adolf Hitler could have had some nukes to play with if it wasn't for these guys:
The most impressive part? They managed to tow their balls all the way up there.
This sounds like some badass Kirk Douglas movie (in fact, it is), but it's exactly what happened during Operation Gunnerside in 1943. When the Germans rudely came to crash on Norway's couch in the early '40s, they took over a factory up in Telemark that produced heavy water -- aka, exactly the thing they needed to make plutonium. The Allies, realizing that "Nazis with ingredients for an atom bomb" was a somewhat undesirable situation, sent 30 British Army officers to sabotage the plant, but a combination of awful weather conditions and the Gestapo killed the entire group. So, the Allies sent something even more deadly than 30 Brits: 11 Norwegians.
As if the mission wasn't insane enough, the Germans then decided to beef up the plant's defenses, sprinkling mines, floodlights, and guards all over the place. The only way to get into Hitler's Arctic nuke factory was a Nazi-held bridge over a 660-foot ice gorge, because sometimes history sounds like shit that we just made up.
It looked like this, but covered in snow and swastikas.
Or at least the Germans thought that was the only way in -- the Norwegians simply climbed down the supposedly un-scalable ice gorge and snuck into the factory. They laid the explosives and were about to light the fuse and escape, but (and none of this is a joke) the base's Norwegian caretaker, whom they were holding at gunpoint, announced he'd lost his glasses and refused to leave until they were found. Naturally, the commandos put the "stop Hitler from getting the bomb" plan on hold until they'd located gramps' glasses.
At which point he put them on and went, "Oh, shit, you guys aren't janitors."
Not only did the commandos complete their mission without casualties (they released the caretaker and another civilian as soon as the fuses were lit) and get medals up their asses, one of them (and three other Norwegians) actually came back later to sink the ferry the Germans were trying to use to evacuate the heavy water they already had. Jesus. We know these were literally Nazis and the fate of the world was at stake, but that just feels like bullying now, Norway.
Japan Was Building A Tesla-Inspired "Death Ray"
The revolutionary ideas of Nikola Tesla have inspired electric car manufacturers, awesome T-shirts, and the "revolutionary" ideas of Thomas Edison. What you might not know is that Tesla also caused WWII-era Japan to aspire to even higher levels of batshit insanity when he uttered two little words: "death" and "ray."
"Ooooh, are those tentacles?"
After famously inventing an earthquake machine, alternating current, and even drones, Tesla claimed in 1934 that he had a "death beam" that could wipe out entire armies. This was never proven, and most of the world didn't seem to take the idea very seriously ... except for Japan, who took it seriously enough to give their scientists the dramatic sum of 1 million yen to build one of these things. Future Nobel Prize winner Sin-Itiro Tomonaga was involved in the appropriately titled "Project Power," which by the end of the war had produced a legit death-ray prototype capable of killing at a distance of up to half a mile. The catch: The target had to stand perfectly still for five to 10 minutes, so this doomsday device would have been effective only against the extremely lazy.
"Samuels! Nooooooooooooooooo ... Hey, Samuels, can you stand over here?"
The prototype wasn't particularly cool-looking, either. It was just a magnetron (equipment mostly used for radars back then) and a 75-foot mirror, which is generally not something you'd try to haul to a battlefield. Still, it was a work in progress, and it did work -- Japan's mad scientists successfully tested it against tied-up rabbits, monkeys, and marmots, and even managed to use it to stop a motor (if the hood was up). One of the experimenters tested it on himself for a few seconds and felt dizzy and fatigued for the next 24 hours. Presumably, he grew into a giant and stomped Tokyo after that.
Japan never got a chance to whip out their death ray during battle. We have no idea what happened to the prototype (some say they threw it into a lake), but we can only hope some American soldier snuck it home and used it to cook hamburgers from a mile away on the Fourth of July.
Hitler Saved America From A Nazi Bioweapon Plot
"Nazis with biological weapons" sounds like the name of the baddies in some sci-fi video game full of impossibly-boobed women, but it's a thing that almost existed. Germany's biologists didn't just sit around comparing beards in WWII; they actually figured out how to make all sorts of bioweapons. The fact that they didn't use any is all thanks to one individual who single-handedly threw a wrench in this Nazi super-plot. This guy:
Coincidentally, it's the same man who killed Hitler.
Perhaps we should explain. In 1943, a high-ranking Nazi scientist recommended, "America must be attacked simultaneously with various human and animal epidemic pathogens as well as plant pests." And they totally could have done it. The Nazis had already carried out a series of bizarre insect-related tests, at one point even toying with the idea of releasing up to 40 million weaponized potato beetles over England's crops -- there's an alternate reality where "Beatlemania" refers to the time half of Britain starved because of Nazi bugs.
The effects would have been almost as devastating as the real thing.
The scientists also learned how to weaponize a whole bunch of human diseases, including typhoid, cholera, and, oh, freaking anthrax. The ingenious synthetic medium they invented to keep the diseases dangerous for weeks was considered an "outstanding" (read: terrifying) achievement by the American scientists who raided Nazi laboratories after the war.
So why didn't they use all this stuff? Because the boss-man didn't like it. Early in the war, Hitler issued an obscure order that said there could be no offensive biological weapons research. Nazi scientists basically ignored that order and did it anyway, but Hitler refused to change his mind when he was informed that he now had WMDs. Theories about why he did that abound: Maybe it's because he had bad experiences with bioweapons during WWI, or because he considered science in general an elaborate Jewish plot, or because he was high on cocaine and bull semen around this time. Probably a combination of all three.
"Bah, more like biolo-jew-cal weapons."
Still, you would think selling Hitler on the "wipe out America tonight" idea would be an easy task, but nope; he didn't budge. The moral of this story: If you want to take over Europe, don't be a paranoid anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist with an affinity for cocaine-bull-semen speedballs, kids.
An American Citizen And A Downed Japanese Pilot Teamed Up To "Invade" Hawaii
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi was flying home after a productive morning of shitting all over Pearl Harbor, when he crash-landed on an island due to a technical problem (his plane's karma shield broke). The residents of Niihau, the smallest main island of Hawaii, treated Shigenori exactly the way you'd expect cartoon versions of Hawaiians to treat an enemy combatant: by feeding him breakfast and throwing a big luau for him.
To be fair, they had no idea the U.S. was now at war with Japan, since Niihau didn't have advanced technology like "phones" or "any form of communication."
"It looks like your dragon isn't gonna make it, sir."
Yoshio Harada, a natural-born American citizen of Japanese ancestry, was brought in to translate for Shigenori, so he did exactly that ... while leaving out some small details, like the whole "This guy just bombed Pearl Harbor" part. Word of the attacks reached the island anyway, at which point the situation turned rather awkward -- Shigenori demanded that the guy who pulled his ass out of the wreckage, Howell Kaleohano, return some Japanese documents he'd grabbed from the plane. Kaleohano declined, presumably because toilet paper was a rare commodity on the island. Fittingly, that's when shit got real.
Deciding that Japan was definitely gonna win the war, Harada stole some guns and basically enrolled in the Japanese army right there. He attacked the guard keeping tabs on Shigenori, and then the two paid Kaleohano a visit to politely ask for the secret papers back (with a shotgun). Kaleohano escaped and went into full Paul Revere mode, telling everyone on the island the luau was definitely over. As panic gripped Niihau, Shigenori and Harada went drunk with power: They carjacked a wagon and pimped it with belt-fed machine guns salvaged from the wreckage, then went around shooting guns and taking hostages. They also went back to Kaleohano's house and burned it to the ground for no reason, since Kaleohano was by then in the process of rowing to the nearest payphone.
You know someone's a dick when arson doesn't count as the worst thing they did that day.
When the Japanese duo threatened to start executing hostages unless they produced the secret papers, a man named Ben Kanahene and his wife, Ella, charged at the pilot, bashed his head, and slit his throat with a knife. Harada still had a gun, but he used it in the most sensible way, given the situation: He shot himself rather than face the husband-and-wife tag team. Kanahene was loaded with awards, medals, citations, a purple heart, and even a song titled "They Couldn't Take Niihau, Nohow" for defeating a Japanese invasion with a knife and a wife. Ella got a "Nice going, sweetheart. Now bring us some Mai Tais."
And 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to live behind barbed wire.
Japan And Germany Planned To Send A Dirty Bomb To America Delivered By Kamikaze Submarines
There's only one thing crazier than German and Japanese plans to destroy America: a joint German-Japanese plan to destroy America.
Right now, someone reading this article is having the most inappropriate boner in existence.
Right before the war ended, the Nazis ordered a submarine, the U-234, to take all of their secret weapons to Japan -- including, apparently, a shitload of uranium. After their Arctic plutonium factory was blown up, the Nazis had tried their hands at a uranium bomb but didn't get enough before Roosevelt, Truman, Stalin, Churchill, and whoever was in charge of France showed up to party in Berlin. The likely Japanazi plan was now to use what they had to build a dirty bomb, a bomb with radioactive stuff attached to it for when a normal explosion doesn't say "fuck you" loudly enough. The recipient of that "fuck you"? The U.S. West Coast.
To actually get the dirty bomb to America, the Japanese would have called on some old friends of ours: the insane I-400 class submarines, which launched kamikaze aircraft via catapults. Japan had a whole bunch of those giant bastards equipped with planes decorated in fake U.S. markings for extra confusion. After sending the knockoff planes on radiation-packed suicide airstrikes to San Francisco and Los Angeles, Japan would ... still lose the war, but, man, what a note to go out on.
Obviously, none of that happened. Some believe the uranium did technically get to Japan, just not in the way they expected. As in:
Yep. According to a former official of the Manhattan Project, after the U-234 submarine was captured en route to Japan, the German uranium ended up going into the atom bomb we dropped on Hiroshima. The U.S. was low on uranium when this little radioactive package fell in its lap, so it was arranged for it to be conveniently misplaced. This is still officially denied, because apparently "We won the war with Nazi uranium" wouldn't look great in history books.
But wait -- what happened to those pesky kamikaze submarines? Even without dirty bombs, they could have still done plenty of damage -- and they almost did, if it wasn't for a little scheduling mishap. The subs set off from Japan and were all set to fuck up the Panama Canal on Aug. 17, but Japan surrendered on Aug. 15. The U.S. Navy then blew all of them up so the Soviets wouldn't take a peek, which is a fittingly bonkers ending to the I-400 legend.
Zachary Frey is going to be a freshman at Cornell University this August. You can (and should) read some of his other awesome articles here.
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For more insane war stories, check out The 5 Most Badass War Heroes Who Never Held A Weapon and 7 WTF Military Weapons You Won't Believe They Actually Built.