Interesting Facts About World War II: Most Destructive Conflict In History

Most historians agree that World War II began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Others say it started when Japan invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931. And some scholars suggest World War II is actually a continuation of WWI, with a break in between.
World War II was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945, although conflicts reflecting the ideological clash between what would become the Allied and Axis blocs began earlier. The vast majority of the world’s countries—including all of the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis.
It was the most global war in history; it directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. In a state of total war, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources.
World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of which were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.
WWII casualties totaled between 50 and 70 million people. More than 80% of this total came from four countries: Russia, China, Germany, and Poland. More than half of these casualties were civilians, most of whom were women and children.
From the Nazis stealing the Harvard fight song to a 12 year old soldier who won a purple heart, here are 16 interesting things you didn’t know about World War II.
1. Approximately 600,000 Jews served in the United States armed forces during WWII. More than 35,000 were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. Approximately 8,000 died in combat. However, only two Jewish soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor in WWII.
2. In 1935, British engineer Rob ert Watson-Watt was working on a “death ray” that would destroy enemy aircraft using radio waves. His “death ray” instead evolved into radar—or “radio detection and ranging.”
3. After its defeat in WWI, Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany lost all its overseas empires as well as land to its neighbors, and it was prevented from maintaining a large army. Most Germans opposed the treaty, and their resentment would eventually undo the settlement, leading to WWII.
4. Poison gas was first used in WWI to break the trench warfare stalemate. Though all powers had chemical weapons, only Japan (in China) and Italy (in Ethiopia) used them during WWII.
5. The country with the largest number of WWII causalities was Russia, with over 21 million.
6. WWII ended on September 2, 1945, when Japan signed a surrender agreement on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
7. More than 650,000 Jeeps were built during WWII. American factories also produced 300,000 military aircraft; 89,000 tanks; 3 million machine guns; and 7 million rifles.
8. The most powerful artillery gun created by any nation and used in WWII was named Karl by its designer General Karl Becker. Used mostly against the Russians, the huge gun could shoot a 2.5 ton shell over three miles. The shells were 24 inches wide and could go through eight to nine feet of concrete.
9. The Germans used the first jet fighters in World War II, among them the Messerschmitt ME-262. However, they were developed too late to change the course of the war.
10. WWII resulted in the downfall of Europe as a center of world power and led to the rise of the U.S. and Russia as super powers. This set up conditions for both the US-USSR cold war and the nuclear age.
11. The Nazis killed millions of Poles. But they thought that some Polish babies and children looked German and kidnapped about 50,000 of them to be adopted by German parents to become “Germanized.”
12. The largest Japanese spy ring during WWII was not in the U.S. but in Mexico, where it spied on the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
13. World War II was the most destructive conflict in history. It cost more money, damaged more property, killed more people, and caused more far-reaching changes than any other war in history.
14. The Great Depression had a ripple effect throughout the world. It prevented Germany from paying WWI reparations, which forced Great Britain and France to default on their debts to the U.S. which, in turn, sowed discontent throughout the globe.
15. Hitler designed the Nazi flag. Red stood for the social idea of Nazism, white for nationalism, and the black swastika for the struggle of the Aryan man.
16. Japan and Russia never formally ended hostilities after WWII. Plans for them to sign an official peace treaty in 2000 failed because Japan wanted Russia to return four offshore islands it had taken after the war.

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