9 Weird World War Two Facts

From Adolf’s Nazi-fighting nephew to the bizarre “life pod” built to keep Winston Churchill safe…

Hitler

1. HITLER'S NEPHEW WAS FROM LIVERPOOL

One of Hitler's most ardent enemies during the war was his own nephew: William Patrick Hitler. Born in Liverpool in 1911 to Adolf's brother, William at first tried to leverage his uncle's political status to boost his own career, but then fled Nazi Germany and wrote a magazine article called "Why I Hate My Uncle". He later emigrated to the US and served in the American navy during the war, and was even decorated for his bravery in conflict. He eventually changed his name to William Patrick Stuart-Houston and lived a quiet, obscure life in the United States, passing away in 1987.

2. ONE SOLDIER FOUGHT THE WAR FOR DECADES

Hiro Onoda was a Japanese soldier who fought World War Two until 1974. Sent on a mission to the Philippines and ordered never to surrender or take his own life, Onoda refused to believe the war ended in 1945, and literally took to the hills with a few other officers for company. They carried on a form of guerrilla warfare against the local citizens, leading to several deaths, and Onoda's own men were killed in senseless skirmishes over the years. Alone, desperate but undefeated, Onoda was eventually found in 1974, and had to be officially relieved from duty by his old commanding officer, who was by then an elderly bookseller.

3. GEORGE HW BUSH WAS ALMOST EATEN BY CANNIBALS

George HW Bush, the future President of the United States, narrowly avoided a diabolical fate when his plane was shot down during a bombing raid against Japan. He was picked up by the Allies, but all the other men on the same raid were captured by Japanese officers who proceeded to torture, execute, cook and eat them, in one of the grisliest war crimes of the whole conflict.

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4. A CITY BLUFFED ITS WAY TO SAFETY

One German city came up with a novel and ingenious way of dodging Allied bombing raids during the war. Konstanz, close to the Swiss border, decided to keep all its lights on as normal at nighttime, rather than enforcing the usual blackout. The bluff paid off, as Allied pilots assumed it actually was in Switzerland, and spared it from harm.

5. ONE BRITISH OFFICER BECAME LEGENDARY

One of the most celebrated soldiers in the war was Adrian Carton de Wiart, a flamboyant figure who had already seen action in the Boer War and World War One. During his many exploits he'd been shot in the face, skull, leg and hip, losing his left eye and one hand in the process. Despite his advancing years, he was eager to play his part against Hitler. During a mission to Europe, his plane crash landed and he was captured by Italian fascists. The 60-something veteran then nonchalantly escaped from the POW camp and went incognito for days - despite his striking appearance. As one account later described him, "With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate, and became a figure of legend."

6. A SHIP WAS SUNK FOR THE SECOND TIME

One ship had a particularly unlucky time in the war. Originally called the SS Wien, it served in the Australian Navy during World War One, and was sunk in 1918. A few years later it was raised from the watery depths and put back into service, this time by Italy, and come World War Two it served as a hospital ship for Mussolini's forces. At which point it was attacked by the Allies, and became the only ship to have been sunk in both world wars.

7. A SPY LED THE NAZIS ON A WILD GOOSE CHASE

One of the most colourful characters of the war was Juan Pujol Garcia, a Nazi spy. In reality he was a double-agent for the British, and specialised in feeding the Germans false information. While his Nazi bosses believed he lived in Britain, Garcia actually went to Portugal and just made-up his "reports" from the UK, despite knowing very little about British life and culture. The Germans were impressed, despite Garcia's dubious cultural blunders (in one report he described how Scottish people were avid wine drinkers). Garcia even invented a Welsh fascist movement known as the Brothers of the Aryan World Order, who apparently operated out of Swansea.

8. THE NAZIS WANTED TO CREATE A SPACE WEAPON

German scientists were genuinely interested in building a "sun gun", which would consist of a vast magnifying glass in space. Based on the ideas of German physicist Hermann Oberth, the glass was intended to concentrate beams of sunlight to scorch cities and boil the seas. It wouldn't have been much use against the Allies, though, as the Nazis calculated it would take up to a century to make.

9. A LIFE POD WAS MADE FOR CHURCHILL

Doctors were so concerned about a man of Churchill's age and condition being flown at high altitudes that a special, pressurized life pod was created to - in the words of a news report - "protect the precious bulk of Winston Churchill". As the report went onto say, the pod was designed so that "he could loll comfortably about like an outsized peal within a gigantic oyster shell." Sadly, the pod was too large to actually fit into Churchill's plane, and was apparently never used.