6 Big Details About WWII We Always Get Wrong

Sometimes what you were told is not how it actually happened.
6 Big Details About WWII We Always Get Wrong

People like talking about World War II battles for the simplicity of the stories. The bad guys do us the favor of wearing black leather trench coats and skulls on their hats, providing easy go-to video game villains to shoot at for decades. 

But the reality is that sometimes the stories spread over the decades are just about as accurate as Wolfenstein. For example ...

D-Day Was the Worst-Kept Secret of WWII, Not the Best

The Story We All Know:

The multifaceted Operation Overlord didn't just require precise timing, planning, landing craft, and logistical support, but closed lips above all. 

Why It's Wrong:

It's a miracle D-Day succeeded at all. A soldier inexplicably sent top-secret documents to his sister, the war plans read by several postal employees. Suspiciously it began popping up in nationally-distributed crossword puzzles in the U.K. D-day planners then had a copy of the plans flutter out a window, discovered by a man too blind to read it. Most ridiculously, it ended up getting leaked via one of Eisenhower's college buddies at a cocktail party, jotting down wagers like it was a March-Madness betting pool.

National Archives
"Okay, who had $50 on 'Sobering reminder of the horrors of war?'"

Security procedures were constantly and comically violated. A teletype operator accidentally transmitted the plans to 500 syndicated radio outlets of the A.P., retracted within minutes. The Nazis, monitoring U.K. and U.S. radio chatter, must have assumed it was misinformation.

Surviving all that, the Normandy plans faced the most danger of exposure from a spy's disgruntled wife, fed up with the crappy English weather and "too many potatoes." Let the record show: Britain's cuisine can be so unappetizing it may lead to acts of treason.

Resistance Groups All Uniformly Hated Each Other

The Story We All Know:

Putting aside differences in the name of national pride and fraternite, resistance groups collected men and women from many walks of life, united by their common enemy and occupation, shoulder to shoulder. Viva la Resistance! 

Why It's Wrong:

When not fighting the Germans, the resistance groups fought each other. Hate, uh, finds a way. 

Knowing the Germans were on the verge of collapse, factions in Greece and Yugoslavia predictably murdered each other to determine who would rule after the war, everyone taking potshots at each other, hoping to be the last one standing. Think of it as a real-life version of Fortnite or PUBG, but with less casual racism and cursing teenagers.

Charles de Gaulle brokered secret deals with the Germans to outmaneuver communist rivals. His communist counterparts had their own plan: do nothing. They had been biding their time, sitting on their hands because they identified more as Stalinists than as French, and Stalin had a non-aggression pact with Hitler. Meaning they were technically allies of Hitler for a couple years, making for some surreal banter at the weekly party meetings.

Donald I. Grant, Department of National Defence
"Socialist, National Socialist...same thing, Jacques. Stop nitpicking"

Meanwhile, parts of the Polish Underground had a tendency to turn over Jewish rebels to the Gestapo, and by the end of the war began robbing and massacring them at will because sometimes the enemy of your enemy can still be a giant piece of shit.

The German Enigma Code Wasn't the Most Important Code of WWII

The Story We All Know:

The Enigma cipher is celebrated as the most critical code-breaking feat of all time. It allowed the Allies to spy on top-secret communique of the German military thanks to Alan Turing and his team of sexy cryptanalysts, made famous in the Benedict Cumberbatch Academy Award-winning movie The Imitation Game.

Why It's Wrong:

The information the U.S. intercepted from Japan's "Purple" code dwarfs Enigma in scale. Breaking the Japanese diplomatic cipher lead to the pivotal moment in the Pacific theater -- the victory at Midway, made famous in the 41% Rotten Tomatoes score movie of the same name. 

It saved the Australians from a secret air raid and helped win Guadalcanal. Through Purple, the U.S. learned the Nazis were about to invade the Soviet Union and that Japan was not going to surrender even if invaded, setting in motion Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Unlike Enigma, the code breakers didn't just have to crack the cipher, but build the entire machine from scratch, with nary a hint what it looked like or how it operated. Once deciphered, American intelligence agents read Japanese messages AND top-secret German messages transmitted via Japanese consulates, gaining vital information on the Normandy defenses and winning the war on both fronts. Showing the same confidence as your grandparents do with their incredible "password" password, Japan's diplomatic corp believed the code was unbreakable and, regardless of how they kept getting ambushed at every turn, never updated their code machines.

Simple Pranks Were as Important a Weapon as Bombs or Bullets

The Story We All Know:

With atomic bombs, jet engines, and radar, the pace of technological progress in the early '40s surged to keep pace with the need for new, brilliant wonder weapons and cutting-edge techniques to turn the tides of fortune.

Via The Washington Times
"You're fired, Steve."

Why It's Wrong:

German production slowed due to routine acts of civil disobedience. The most effective tactics were secret and always the simplest. Bombing might take out a factory, but demanded an obscene amount of resources and usually missed their target. 

Want to disable a V-2 rocket discretely? Records reveal peeing on the wires was rampant. Feeling especially daring? Crap in the fuel tank. There's a reason why the things had such a horrible track record. With 20% of the German workforce foreign or slave labor, there's no telling how many German products rolled off the production line doused in piss, no one the wiser. 

Coca-Cola Deutschland
No comment.

Forced to produce vehicles for the German military, the French auto company Citroen crippled their output for years using a novelty dipstick with incorrect markings. The result was a fleet of cargo and transport trucks that ran short of oil at the most inopportune times, causing pile-ups, delays, lost work-hours, and damaged equipment. German engineers never caught on. 

Not to be outdone, Rene Carmille innovated a primitive but valuable form of hacking. In the earliest and most heart-warming case of ransomware, the French punch-card operator single-handedly sabotaged the German's information system used to track Jews for deportation, delaying the execution of thousands of his fellow citizens. 

The Swiss Were Constantly Fighting During WWII, And Every Nation Hated Them

The Story We All Know:

Sticking by their vow of neutrality, Switzerland chilled out, watched dispassionately on the sidelines, eating chocolate. They never suffered the consequences of their refusal to side with the Axis or Allies, left alone to mind their own business for the duration of the war.

San Jose/Wikimedia Commons
"What war?"

Why It's Wrong:

Yes, the Swiss were neutral, but that didn't mean they were an oasis of peace, instead it was a no man's land. Hitler threatened them if they didn't cooperate with him and blackout their lights. Which isn't to say they didn't cut some deals too. When a top-secret Nazi spy plane, loaded to the gills with high-tech equipment breached Swiss air space, the Germans offered them a dozen or so planes to quietly destroy the craft, lest it fall into enemy hands. 

And for a good reason. Earlier in the war, the British had pummeled Zurich and Basel. The Swiss needed planes to defend their territory, eventually downing R.A.F., U.S. Army Air Force aircraft, and several Luftwaffe pilots, sometimes with the very same models of Messerschmidt fighters that the Germans had obliviously sold them. It's still debated whether an accidental air raid was due to "bad weather" or U.S. revenge for the Swiss repeatedly shooting down U.S. bombers taking a short cut through their air space, survivors filling up Swiss P.O.W. camps

The Swiss frontier essentially wound up a third front, mixing it up with all comers like an annoying Chihuahua biting the heels of two larger Pit Bulls busy fighting to the death.

The Most Consequential Battle of the Entire War Occurred in Mongolia Two Weeks Before the War in Europe Even Started (Not D-Day or Stalingrad)

The Story We All Know:

Hitler launches the war by invading Poland in September 1939 -- German field marshals calling all the shots, dictating the war's hot spots, seizing territory in a carefully-organized, long-term master plan.

Why It's Wrong:

Joseph Stalin, inadvertently or not, plotted the course of the war. Had a then-unknown Russian officer named Georgy Zhukov not crushed the invading Japanese land forces near a backwater town in Mongolia in the summer of 1939 -- preventing an imminent encirclement by the Japanese and Germans -- the entire war would have taken on a drastically different look and outcome.

Utterly overlooked today, the Battle of Khalkyn Gol was, at the time, the most massive tank battle in history. The showed the difficulties Japan would have beating a large European military on land, with 75% of their soldiers K.I.A. The battle had the Japanese soldiers in such disarray that they resorted to drinking the water from their vehicles' radiators due to lack of supplies. To this day, rust-flavored car water remains the only flavor Japan hasn't turned into a Kit Kat. 

Inkknife_2000/Wikimedia Commons
Get on it, Nestle.

A proof of concept, Zhukov's use of tanks and airpower was later copied to great success in much bigger engagements like Kursk. The lingering threat on the eastern border probably convinced Stalin to sign a non-aggression pact of his own with Germany that August.

Denied the oil, wood, food, and ore they planned to pilfer from the Soviets, Japan was forced to turn to the South Pacific. They never dared attack Russia again; instead, a humiliated commander present at that battle, Masanobu Tsuji, suggested hitting Pearl Harbor thinking the U.S. was a softer target that could be knocked out of the war quickly and without much fuss. Oops.

Top Image: U.S. Army

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