Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many

Khalid Elhassan - November 15, 2019

As the twentieth century’s seminal event, the Second World War has inspired its fair share of myths with no grounding in reality. Considering just how gargantuan and intense the conflict was, it is perhaps unsurprising that many WWII “facts” that were actually anything but, ended up getting accepted by many as true. Although many of the war’s myths have been debunked, the passions aroused by the conflict, combined with propaganda, politics, national pride, and sometimes simple gullibility, have given some untruths a staying power. Following are forty things about WWII “facts” that are no such thing.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
British troops awaiting evacuation from Dunkirk. Pintrest

40. Did Hitler Deliberately Allow the British to Escape at Dunkirk?

The Battle of France in 1940 was a humiliating debacle for the Western Powers. In just six weeks, the Germans did what they had been unable to do in four years during World War I, by routing the British and French armies, and forcing France to surrender. By late May, the rampaging Germans had pushed the British army into an ever-shrinking pocket surrounding the port of Dunkirk and seemed on the verge of annihilating the defenders.

Then seemingly inexplicably, with a decisive victory over the British in his grasp, Hitler ordered his panzers to halt, and left the task of reducing the surrounded forces to the Luftwaffe. The British took advantage of the breather and managed to pull off a miraculous evacuation. That led to a myth, explaining Hitler’s halt decision as a gesture of goodwill, deliberately allowing the British, whom he admired, to escape.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
German armor during the Battle of France. History Hit

39. The Birth of a Myth

In late May of 1940, Hitler ordered his panzer formations, some of them just a few miles from the disorganized British milling about the beaches of Dunkirk, to halt for 48 hours in order to rest and refit. German generals loudly protested, but to no avail, and what happened next proved them right: the British made use of the letup to organize a defense, that eventually allowed them to evacuate about 338,000 Allied soldiers to safety.

Credible mainstream historians give short shrift to the fanciful notion of a merciful Fuhrer letting the British go as a sporting or goodwill gesture: there is zero evidence to support the assertion. However, crackpot revisionists have embraced the notion that Hitler had allowed the British to escape so he could look like a magnanimous gentleman, and thus draw Britain into peace negotiations.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Gerd von Rundstedt with Mussolini and Hitler. Bundesarchiv Bild

38. The Dunkirk Myth’s Flaws

Even for a figure as notoriously irrational as Hitler, deliberately letting the British escape would have been too irrational. For somebody who wanted to bring Britain to the peace table, holding hundreds of thousands of British soldiers as POWs in Europe would have been quite a bargaining chip. More so than if those soldiers were back in Britain, armed and defiant.

Moreover, the fatal halt order had not even originated with Hitler. A panzer unit commander who had lost half his armored forces and needed time to regroup requested a halt from Army Group A’s commander, Gerd von Rundstedt. Rundstedt agreed, and passed it up to Hitler, who rubber-stamped the order to halt. After the war, German generals – including Rundstedt himself – pinned the blame on Hitler for ruining the opportunity to win the war in 1940.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Ukrainian and German players before the ‘Death Match’. Bundesarchiv Bild

37. The Soccer Death Match

One of the war’s most dramatic sporting stories revolves around a soccer match that took place in German-occupied Kiev on August 6th, 1942. Pitting Ukrainian side Start FC, composed mainly of Dynamo Kyiv and Lokomotyv Kyiv professional players, vs German team Flakelf, the match ended with the locals winning 5 – 1.

The sides met again three days later, and the Ukrainians beat the Germans once more, 5 – 3. The Germans proved to be sore losers: upset at Aryan ubermenschen getting defeated by Slavic untermenschen, they had the Ukrainian players liquidated. The story was gripping, but untrue.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Poster announcing the ‘Death Match’, printed by the German occupation authorities. Wikimedia

36. The Reality of the Death Match

Two matches did take place on August 6th and 9th, 1942, between German side Flakelf and Ukrainian team Start FC, whose players worked in a factory operating under Nazi management. About a week later, the Gestapo arrested eight Start players, of whom five were executed.

However, the arrests were unrelated to the match against Flakelf. Members of another Ukrainian team, that had been humiliatingly trounced by Start 8 – 0, had informed the German authorities that several Start players were former NKVD (a forerunner of the KGB) members.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Statue in front of Dynamo Kyiv Stadium, commemorating the executed Ukrainian players. Ground Hopping

35. Growth of the Death Match Myth

Of the eight Start FC players picked up by the Gestapo, five were eventually murdered. However, their deaths were unrelated to their performance on the pitch and had more to do with their activities off the pitch. Some of them, being former NKVD, were suspected of having engaged in recent partisan sabotage activities against the German occupation.

Engaging in resistance against the Nazis was heroic in of itself, but not as dramatic as the “Death Match” narrative. Soviet authorities, eager to portray the heroism of the civilian populace during the war, chose to jazz up the story. After the war, the “Death Match” theme inspired a popular Soviet novel, and a hit movie, Third Time. The murdered Start FC players, they are commemorated in a statue in front of Dynamo Kyiv’s stadium.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
German armor on the Eastern Front in July, 1941. Encyclopedia Britannica

34. Hitler Invaded the Soviet Union to Preempt a Soviet Invasion of Germany?

Some conspiracy theorists and fringe scholars of the Eastern Front peddle the notion that Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 as a preemptive strike. Supposedly, Stalin was about to invade the Third Reich, so the Fuhrer simply beat him to the punch.

The theory originated with a Soviet military intelligence officer, Viktor Suvorov, who defected to Britain in 1978. He contended that Stalin had lowered the conscription age to ramp up the Red Army’s manpower, and issued maps of Germany to soldiers in the field, as a prelude to an imminent invasion. Most historians dismiss Suvorov’s thesis outright, for lack of any historic support.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Red Army recruits. Quora

33. The Flaws With the Thesis that the Soviets Were About to Attack Germany in 1941

In 1941, the Red Army was in bad shape, and Stalin knew it. His 1930s Military Purge had wrecked the senior command: victims included 13 of 15 army commanders, 8 of the 9 most senior admirals, 50 of 57 corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, all 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 corps commissars. The effects were witnessed in the Red Army’s dismal performance in the 1939-1940 Winter War against tiny Finland.

Between that and observing the frightening effects of the German blitzkrieg in Poland and the West, the Soviet military was in the midst of a massive overhaul in 1941, to modernize its obsolescent equipment and tactics. The Soviet leadership estimated that the modernization would last into 1943 or 1944 before the Red Army was capable of defending against a German attack and until 1945 or 1946 before the Soviets could attack the Germans.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Hitler. The Independent

32. Growth of the Preemptive Strike Myth

The Soviets’ recent farcical experience in fighting Finland had demonstrated to Stalin and the Soviet leadership that the Red Army was poorly led, poorly trained, and poorly equipped. As such, attacking Germany was the last thing on their minds. Indeed, Stalin went out of his way to eagerly – even obsequiously – appease Hitler, to avoid giving him any excuse to attack the USSR. Precisely because he knew his military was in no shape to fight a major war in 1941, let alone invade Germany.

Nonetheless, Viktor Suvorov’s assertion that Stalin was about to invade Germany in 1941 was eagerly embraced by the fringe. Hitler apologists, neo-Nazis, and assorted white supremacists were eager to accept anything that portrayed the Fuhrer as having merely been defending his country against imminent communist aggression. However, there is no historical evidence to support the thesis.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Erwin Rommel in Libya, 1941. Rare Historical Photos

31. How Vital Was the Middle East in WWII?

Another WWII “fact” that gets taken at face value has to do with Hitler’s grand designs on the Middle East. Supposedly, had the Axis won in North Africa and seized Egypt, they would have gone on to seize the rest of the Middle East and its oilfields. More importantly, they would have then gone on to outflank the Soviet Union and attack it from the south.

The concept looks good on a map, but it was unrealistic. Far from having ambitious plans for the Middle East, Hitler only got involved in North Africa in order to bail out Mussolini. In reality, the Germans kept their investment in that theater to a bare minimum, because they had greater objectives elsewhere, that had a higher claim on their resources.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Australian troops advancing on a German position under the cover of a smokescreen during the Battle of El Alamein. The Atlantic

30. The Impact of an Axis Victory in Egypt

If the Axis had won in North Africa and conquered Egypt, they would have interdicted the Suez Canal. That would have seriously discomfited the British and their supply lines to India and Asia, but it would not have severed them.

At various times, the Axis had managed to make the Mediterranean too hazardous for Allied shipping, and forced the British to reroute their supply convoys around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. It took longer, but the supplies still reached their destination.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Axis territory in yellow, in 1941. Wikimedia

29. The Axis Lacked the Means to Seize the Middle East or Use it to Outflank the Soviets

Seizing Egypt was within the Germans’ grasp, but seizing the rest of the Middle East, or using the region as a base to attack the USSR from the south, were nonstarters. The Germans lacked the shipping capacity to supply a force large enough for such goals. Throughout the North African Campaign, the Axis had struggled to keep their forces minimally supplied, and frequently fell short. That, with forces operating near the shortest supply routes from Italy.

The Axis lacked the shipping to adequately supply a force as negligible as the four German divisions of the Afrika Korps positioned nearby and close to the sea. It is thus inconceivable that they could have supplied a much larger force capable of overrunning the Middle East, or impacting the gargantuan war against the USSR, where the Germans and Soviets pitted hundreds of divisions against each other.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Germans raising the Swastika in front of the Acropolis in Athens, 1941. History Hit

28. Did Hitler’s Invasion of the Balkans Fatally Delay His Invasion of the USSR?

Another of the war’s myths posits that Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, which supposedly ground to a halt because of Russia’s winter, would have succeeded if it had only started a month or two earlier than its actual launch date of June 22nd, 1941. However, Hitler got entangled in the Balkans, invading Greece and Yugoslavia in April of 1941, which delayed the launch of Operation Barbarossa.

The first flaw is the top billing given to winter. Other factors, such as fierce Soviet resistance, the overextension of German supply lines to the snapping point as they plunged ever deeper into the USSR, and autumn rains, had already halted the Wehrmacht’s advance before the first snowstorms. The Germans had to regroup before resuming their advance on Moscow, which gave the Soviets a needed breather. German soldiers were unprepared for the terrible Russian winter when it arrived, but that was only one factor in halting their advance.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
German soldiers pulling a car through the mud of the autumn Rasputitsa in November, 1941. Bundesarchiv Bild

27. An Earlier Operation Barbarossa Would Not Have Changed Things

If Operation if Barbarossa had been launched two months earlier, in April, 1941, instead of June, it would have been even less successful and ground to a halt earlier, after advancing a shorter distance. The Germans advanced as rapidly and plunged as deeply into the USSR during the summer of 1941 because the months-long dry weather perfectly suited their Blitzkrieg style of maneuver warfare.

They needed good weather to make the best of their breakthroughs, followed by aggressive exploitation via deep armored thrusts. They needed dry roads to enable them to rush supplies forward to maintain the advance and allow the infantry to rapidly follow and consolidate the gains. They would not have had such weather had they invaded in April.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
A German supply column during the Rasputitsa. Quora

26. The Rasputitsa, Russia’s Mud Season

If the Wehrmacht had invaded the Soviet Union in April of 1941, its advance would have churned to a standstill after only a few weeks because of the Eastern European mud season. Caused by snow melt in the spring and rainfall in autumn, the mud season, known as the Rasputitsa, was a time when unpaved roads – nearly all of the USSR’s roads – became useless.

The Rasputitsa would have brought an early Operation Barbarossa to a stop or crawl as attackers and their supply chain struggled to move through a sea of mud, while the Luftwaffe was grounded by the transformation of its dirt airfields into fields of mire. That would have given the Soviets time to regroup while waiting for the roads to dry and the German offensive to resume. The need to account for the Rasputitsa dictated the invasion’s start date, not Hitler’s Balkans entanglement.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Mushroom cloud seconds after the first successful detonation of an atomic bomb at the Trinity Test, July 16th, 1945. Wikimedia

25. How Close Was Hitler to Getting a Nuke?

German physicists were supposedly on the verge of giving Hitler an atomic bomb, had the war lasted just a little longer. In reality, the Third Reich never came close. During the war, American and British scientists assumed that Hitler had an advanced nuclear program that might bear fruit at any time. They thus saw themselves as being in a race against Germany over who would first produce nuclear weapons.

However, it was discovered after the war that the German nuclear program was nowhere near as advanced as had been assumed: early in their research, German physicists took a wrong turn and followed it away from the path that leads to nuclear weapons. The war could have lasted another decade, and Hitler would have been no closer to having an atomic bomb in 1955 than he had been in 1945.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Werner Heisenberg. Corbis

24. Germany’s Atomic Missteps

Germany’s chief nuclear physicist, Werner Heisenberg, had nebulous ideas that splitting the atom could produce a powerful weapon. However, he never figured out how to weaponize nuclear fission. In their last test in the spring of 1945, German scientists failed to achieve the preliminary first step of criticality – a self-sustaining chain reaction that the Manhattan Project had achieved in 1942. Criticality was the crucial foundation, without an atomic weapon program could not have succeeded.

Additionally, the German nuclear program lacked necessary support. After achieving criticality, it took America another three years, with a massive investment of resources and the personal support and attention of the head of state, to successfully test the first atomic bomb. The Germans had not accomplished the criticality breakthrough by the time the war ended, and their nuclear program had never received anything close to the support enjoyed by the Manhattan Project.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Mushroom cloud 2 – 5 minutes after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Wikimedia

23. Was the Atomic Bombing of Japan Unnecessary?

Another of the war’s more persistent myths has it that the atomic bombing of Japan was not necessary, because Japan was already reeling and on the verge of surrender. The Allies simply had to blockade Japan, and the Japanese government would have come to its senses sooner rather than later, and thrown in the towel. A variety of factors make that theory nonsensical.

The first is that when the atomic bombs were dropped, the war was not limited to the Japanese home islands. In August of 1945, Japan still occupied vast territories in Asia and the Pacific and misgoverned hundreds of millions of conquered subjects, who endured daily horrors such as casual brutality, torture, rape, murder, and massacres. Their suffering would have continued every single day that the war dragged on.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
The territory still occupied by Japan, in blue, at the time of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Gifex

22. Millions of Japanese Were Still in a Death Grapple With Allied Soldiers

In the summer of 1945, Japan also had millions of military personnel stationed in her overseas empire. They were fighting millions of Allied opponents, producing thousands of casualties on both sides every day. Moreover, Japan held hundreds of thousands of Allied POWs, whom it subjected to barbaric treatment on a daily basis, beating, starving, withholding medication from, or murdering them.

Those casualties from continued fighting and from Japan’s atrocious treatment of POWs would have continued to mount every day the war continued. However, the main justification for the atomic bombings was that the alternative would have been a massive invasion of the Japanese home islands, which the Japanese government was determined to resist via national suicide.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Japanese soldiers training women to fight expected invaders with bamboo spears. Quora

21. Japan’s Leaders and National Suicide

Japan’s wartime leaders spoke a great game about indomitable courage and a refusal to surrender as matters of honor. In reality, however, Japan’s leaders were a morally bankrupt and cowardly lot, who refused to confront the fact that they had taken their country into an unwinnable war and lost. Ethical leaders would have shouldered the responsibility for getting their country into such a fix. Japan’s leaders sought to escape their burden via histrionics and determined to immolate themselves and take their country with them.

So they sought to save face by training women to fight off heavily armed invaders with bamboo spears, and training little boys and girls to fight soldiers with pointy sticks. Rather than sacrifice themselves in order to spare their country, Japan’s leaders sought to sacrifice their country in order to spare their egos from the humiliation of surrender.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Japanese child soldiers. Quora

20. The Horrific Cost of Invading Japan

Japan’s wartime leaders’ dishonorable notions of honor meant that the price of an Allied invasion of their country would have been horrific. Allied planners estimated the cost of an invasion at upwards of one million Allied casualties, and tens of millions of Japanese, the overwhelming majority of them civilians.

Compared to that, the 200,000 casualties of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings were an acceptable price. Morally speaking, there was nothing exceptional about the innocent victims of the atomic bombings, that would have justified sparing them at the cost of the many more other innocent lives that would have been lost elsewhere had the war continued.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. Seattle Times

19. Does Racism Explain Why Japan Was Nuked and Germany Was Not?

One of the myths making the rounds since shortly after the war’s end has it that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuked because of anti-Japanese racism. The theory goes that atomic bombs were not dropped on Germany, and would not have been dropped, because the Germans were Caucasian, and neither the American government nor the American public would have stomached nuking them.

By contrast, the Japanese were racially different, and that made the decision to drop atomic bombs on them easier. While there was undoubtedly intense and vehement racism against the Japanese during the war, the theory is flawed for a variety of reasons. The main reason that Germany was not atomically bombed is that it surrendered before the atomic bomb was ready to drop on anybody.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Einstein’s letter to FDR, giving him a heads up about the potential of atomic weapons, and the danger if Germany got them first. Wikimedia

18. Germany Surrendered Before America Had The Bomb

America’s atomic program began with a letter from Albert Einstein to FDR advising him of German research into atomic weapons, and the danger should Hitler get an atomic bomb first. So throughout the war, the US saw its atomic program as a life-and-death race to beat Germany to the atomic punch. The entire goal of the Manhattan Project was to develop atomic bombs to drop on Germany before Germany developed atomic bombs to drop on America and her allies.

However, Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8th, 1945. The first atomic bomb was successfully tested on July 16th, 1945, more than two months after Germany’s surrender. Germany was fortunate to have surrendered before the Manhattan Project bore the fruits that had been intended for Germany all along.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Truman, between Stalin and Churchill, at the Potsdam Conference, July, 1941, during which the Big Three demanded Japan’s unconditional surrender – or else. WW2 Today

17. Atomic Bombs Were Not as Abhorred in 1945 as They Are Today

Another flaw with the theory that America’s leaders deliberately refrained from nuking Germany out of scruples about nuking other white people has to do with presentism: the assumption that people in the past saw things like we do today. In the 1940s, nuclear weapons were not viewed with the same repugnance with which they are viewed today. Far from horrific last resort weapons whose use would be unthinkable except in the direst emergency, atomic bombs in August of 1945 were new weapons whose potential and impact had not yet been thought through.

Back then, a nuke was simply seen as another bomb, just a big and exceptionally devastating one. Modern abhorrence of nuclear weapons did not exist to the same extent when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, so if the US had atomic weapons before Germany’s surrender, there would have been little reason to refrain from dropping them on German cities.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Red Army on the attack in WWII. Quora

16. Did the Soviets Win Solely Because of the Weight of Numbers?

After the war, German generals penned memoirs to explain their defeat, by claiming that their professional and technical superiority was undone by the Soviets swamping them with numbers. Running counter to that perception, before the war was even a year old, is the often ignored Battle of Moscow in 1941 – history’s biggest battle when measured by number of participants. During most of that battle, the Germans outnumbered the Soviets’ 2 million men to 1.4 million, yet the Soviets not only halted their foes, but went on the counterattack and pushed the Germans back 100 miles.

During the war’s first year, Soviet performance, with some exceptions, was marked by incompetence and poor leadership. However, the Germans and bitter experience were good teachers, and by late 1942 Soviet commanders had become quite proficient. Indeed, many of the Soviets’ greatest victories resulted not from superior numbers, but from superior Soviet generalship.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Surrendered German commanders at Stalingrad. DW

15. German Commanders Were Frequently Outgeneralled by their Soviet Counterparts

Examples of the Soviets outgeneraling the Germans include Operation Uranus in 1942, which surprised the Germans and cost them an army at Stalingrad. They also include Operation Bagration in 1944, which wrong-footed the Germans, shattered their Army Group Center, and cost the Wehrmacht about 500,000 casualties. Indeed, during the first year of the war, particularly after the Red Army’s huge losses in Operation Barbarossa, the Germans frequently outnumbered the Soviets on the Eastern Front.

The Soviets eventually gained a numerical superiority and steadily widened the gap. However, they had not enjoyed numerical superiority throughout the entire conflict, and they did manage to hold on when they were outnumbered. By the war’s late stages, the Soviets achieved significant numerical superiority during offensive operations, but it was not because of unlimited manpower, but because Soviet commanders had grown adept at concentration of force, and because the necessary logistics had improved significantly.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Raising the Red Banner over the Reichstag in Berlin. Time Magazine

14. By War’s End, the Soviets Had Closed the Gap in Professionalism vis a vis the Germans

Stalin, especially early in the war, frequently overrode his military professionals’ advice and ordered ill-advised last stands or foolhardy attacks. Even without Stalin, Soviet commanders were more ruthless and less concerned about casualties than their Western counterparts. However, it was not a reflection of callousness, but a mark of their desperation early in the war, when they had to buy time at any cost.

Later in the war, when on the offensive, it reflected a rational calculation. The reasoning was that even a high price paid up front in an attack, so long as it resulted in an exploitable breakthrough, would translate into overall lower casualties. In the medium term, losses during rapid advances following a breakthrough were lower than the norm, while those of the reeling Germans were higher. As to the long term, the Soviets justified high losses in a successful breakthrough because they would bring the war to a speedier end, and thus bring the bloodshed to an earlier end.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
An American battleship sinking in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Encyclopedia Britannica

13. Did FDR Know in Advance About the Japanese Plan to Attack Pearl Harbor?

One of WWII’s worst myths first surfaced during the 1944 presidential campaign. In a nutshell, it claimed that president Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew in advance of the Japanese plan to attack Pearl Harbor, but allowed it to happen in order to bring the US into the war on Britain’s side against Germany. Aside from the absence of any evidence to support the myth, the claim is irrational and illogical.

The myth stems from the fact that American cryptanalysts had cracked Japanese codes and gleaned messages indicative of hostile intent. However, the messages did not specify the when and where of Japan’s aggressive designs. Warnings were issued to American commanders throughout the Pacific, but the ones in Pearl Harbor failed to take adequate precautions – as did Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, who was also caught unprepared despite the warnings.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Battleship USS West Virginia sunk and burning at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In background is the battleship USS Tennessee. History on the Net

12. The Myth Spreads Despite Its Irrationality

FDR saw Nazi Germany as the world’s greatest menace, and was busily rearming and preparing the country for what he deemed the inevitability of war against fascism. However, there is no causal nexus between allowing the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor, and the US going to war against Nazi Germany. It was Germany that FDR wanted to fight, not Japan. The Japanese attacking the US would have led to war against Japan, not war against Germany.

The US ended up in a war against Germany only because Hitler, to the consternation of his generals, gratuitously declared war on the US when he had nothing to gain, and everything to lose from doing so. Absent that irrational decision on Hitler’s part, there is little reason to think that Congress would have declared war against Germany after the attack on Pearl Harbor, since it was the Japanese, not the Germans, who had attacked us.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
FDR addressing a joint session of Congress the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. YouTube

11. Despite Its Illogic, There Was Never a Shortage of the Gullible to Accept the Illogical

Even if there had been a logical link between a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor leading to war against Germany, FDR’s alleged goal of getting the US into the war would have been accomplished just as well if US forces had been prepared. A Japanese attack defeated by alert US forces would have still been an act of war by Japan.

FDR would still have gotten the war he supposedly sought, without thousands of American servicemen and civilians getting slaughtered. The US Navy could have ambushed the Japanese and sunk their fleet before it launched a single plane against Pearl Harbor, and its mere presence in the vicinity of Hawaii would have been sufficient evidence of Japan’s hostile intent to justify war.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
British soldiers lining at the beaches of Dunkirk for evacuation. Encyclopedia Britannica

10. How Close Did The Nazis Get to Conquering Britain?

One of WWII’s greatest narratives is that of Britain teetering on a knife’s edge after the German blitzkrieg swept the Low Countries and France in 1940, at risk of invasion from Hitler’s hordes at any moment. While the summer and fall of 1940 truly were, in Winston Churchill’s memorable words, Britain’s “finest hour“, Britain was not as vulnerable to a German invasion as conventional wisdom has it.

After the humiliating evacuation from Dunkirk and the collapse of her main ally in 1940, Britain stood alone against the German juggernaut. Things were grim, and to their credit, the British, led by their indomitable prime minister, soldiered on and fought the good fight when the easier course would have been a negotiated peace that left Hitler as Europe’s colossus. However, things were not as grim as is commonly thought.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of Britain. Wikimedia

9. Britain’s Leaders Harbored No Serious Fears of a German Invasion

Wartime propaganda painted Britain as a plucky and stolid underdog, gritting its teeth and girding its loins to repel an invasion that could come at any day. Britain was a plucky underdog, but Churchill and other British leaders knew that a German invasion, had it been attempted, would have stood no chance of success. Their main concern was not to repel an invasion, but to maintain public morale to continue what they knew would be a long and costly war, after a dismal start.

Churchill’s confidence came down to one word: logistics. The Germans simply lacked the landing craft and shipping capacity to transport and supply an invasion force large enough to subdue Britain. The main reason why the D-Day landings occurred in 1944, instead of 1943 as US commanders wanted, was the lack of sufficient landing craft in 1943. That problem was even worse for the Germans in 1940 – 1941.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Churchill inspecting bomb damage during the Battle of Britain. International Churchill Society

8. The Threat of a German Invasion Was Deliberately Exaggerated

Even as the Battle of Britain raged in the summer of 1940, Luftwaffe chief Herman Goering did not believe that winning would pave the way for an invasion. When the German effort shifted from attacking the RAF to bombing British cities, it was not a prelude to invasion – it had already been canceled by the time the Blitz began – but to break British morale and pressure Britain’s leaders into negotiating for peace.

While Britain’s leadership did not fear invasion, they wisely kept it to themselves: public morale and spirit of defiance were high in the face of an “imminent invasion”, and there was no reason to tamper with that and risk complacency. Moreover, the image of an endangered Britain played well across the Atlantic, enhanced American public and governmental sympathy for Britain, and solidified US willingness to support the British.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Members of the French Resistance during the liberation of Paris in 1944. El Pais

7. How Effective Was the Resistance in Western Europe?

Members of the Resistance were real-life romantic heroes, but they might have been over-romanticized. Popular myths have developed, particularly in Western Europe, to the effect that the Resistance was widespread, and that it tipped the balance in the Allies’ favor, spelling the difference between victory and defeat.

It is true that Eastern European resistance movements, such as the Soviet and Yugoslav partisans, contributed materially to victory with intense sabotage and guerrilla activities. However, the greatest contribution of Western Europe’s resistance lay in intelligence gathering: their sabotage and guerrilla efforts were negligible. It took great courage, and the men and women of the Western European resistance risked their lives on a daily basis, but their impact was more symbolic than substantive, contributing more to the locals’ pride and self-esteem after the war for having done something, than to the actual winning of the war.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
German atrocities such as this one were routine in Eastern Europe. Daily Mail

6. Resistance in Eastern vs Western Europe

Nazi occupation was not the same everywhere. The disparity between the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and the Balkans versus those of Western Europe was due to the manner in which the Germans treated their conquered subjects in different parts of Europe. German occupation in Western Europe was severe, but Jews excepted, it never approached the levels of psychotic cruelty and mindless brutality meted out to the conquered in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
A common scene during the German occupation of Eastern Europe. University of Hawaii

Western European communists made a drastic turn from acquiescence to German occupation during the period of Russo-German friendship to fierce resistance after Hitler attacked the USSR. However, the bulk of the occupied Western European civilian populations in the main did not exhibit a willingness to risk the horrific reprisals and atrocities the Germans were prepared to inflict upon restive subjects.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Collaborationist Vichy French police, the Milice, in Paris during the German occupation. Pintrest

5. Different Incentives Led to Different Levels of Ferocity in Resisting the Germans

Because they were not brutalized as badly as were, e.g.; Soviet or Yugoslav civilians, Western Europeans’ backs were not as much against the wall as were Eastern Europeans, where they felt they had nothing to lose. So those in the West never flocked to the Resistance in large enough numbers to transform it into a mass popular movement, as happened in the Balkans and the USSR.

During the war, the resistance in Western Europe was not as widespread or intense as is often depicted in film or fiction. Far more people were willing to accept German occupation and make the best of a bad situation, than were willing to resist and risk German vengeance. E.g.; far greater numbers of Frenchmen collaborated with the German occupiers than joined the Resistance, whose numbers only boomed following the successful D-Day landings, after which late arrivals swelled the ranks.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Stalin, overseeing the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Euromaidan

4. Did the German-Soviet Pact Really Hurt the USSR?

In late August of 1939, the world was shocked when avowed enemies Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union signed a treaty. Conventional wisdom has it that the German-Soviet Nonaggression Treaty, AKA the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, struck just a week before Germany invaded Poland, turned out disastrous for the USSR.

In reality, while Soviet leader Josef Stalin proved calamitously wrong in trusting Hitler to honor the agreement, and in stubbornly ignoring warnings of impending German attack in 1941, the fault lay with Stalin. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact actually served Soviet interests, and while the Soviets did not make the best use of it, they were better off for having signed it. From a Western and Polish perspective, the Pact was horrible, but from a Soviet perspective, it made good sense.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, cheerfully selling out Czechoslovakia in 1938 to appease Hitler. ThoughtCo

3. The View From a Soviet Perspective

During the run-up to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the Western Powers had demonstrated their unreliability during the Munich Crisis, exhibiting greater distaste for dealing with Stalin than with Hitler. The Soviets made solid offers to defend Czechoslovakia, but the Poles refused them permission to march through Poland to reach Czechoslovakia. To be fair to the Poles, their stance was not wholly irrational.

The Soviets were still smarting from their defeat in the 1919 – 1921 Polish-Soviet War, and they claimed the western third of Poland. The Poles thus feared that if the Red Army entered Poland, it might never leave. So the Poles were faced with two evils, but as things turned out, they ended up choosing the greater evil. In the meantime, Britain and France negotiated halfheartedly and ended up appeasing Hitler.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
The Red Army entering Estonia in 1939, after it was offered to the USSR on a platter by Hitler as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Wikimedia

2. The Western Powers Had a Weak Hand When Dealing With the Soviets – And Played It Poorly

After the appeasement at Munich, the Soviets had something to offer both sides. The Germans negotiated seriously and made attractive offers, while Britain and France did not. And the Poles, looking at the only force that could physically come to their defense, declined the help. As the Soviets saw it, they owed the Western Powers and Poland nothing. Indeed, they had outstanding border claims against Poland.

The Germans offered to satisfy those claims, while the British and French offered little. That mattered to the Soviets, who were the ones expected to do the bulk of the fighting and dying in a war against Germany. Indeed, Germany’s foes’ offer of so little in exchange for the high price the USSR would pay for siding with them, seemed like sheer chutzpah – especially when contrasted with the benefits of a benevolent neutrality with Germany. Unsurprisingly, the Soviets accepted Hitler’s offer.

Fabricated Stories About World War II Still Known by Many
Soviets counterattacking near Moscow in December, 1941. World War 2 Database

1. The Soviets Ended Up Benefiting From the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

The Pact bought the Soviets nearly two years in which to prepare for war. Poor as the Soviet military’s performance was in 1941, it was even less prepared for war in 1939. Moreover, the Pact, which gave the USSR nearly half of Poland, pushed the Soviet borders hundreds of miles westwards, giving the USSR that much additional buffer. That mattered quite a bit, as space and distance proved decisive to Soviet survival when the Nazis suddenly attacked in 1941.

In 1941, the Germans came within 10 miles of the Kremlin, before they were turned back. Without the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Germans would have launched their invasion from a start line hundreds of miles further to the east. The same effort that ran out of steam within sight of the Kremlin, would likely have pushed far beyond had it started hundreds of miles closer to Moscow.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atkin, Ronald – Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940 (2000)

Benn, David Wedgewood, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Vol. 87 No. 3 (May 2011) pp. 709-715 – Review: Russian Historians Defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Berend, Ivan T., Holocaust and Genocide Studies Volume 30, Issue 1 (Spring 2016), pp157-160 – Europe on Trial: The Story of Resistance, Collaboration, and Retribution During World War II

CIA Center For the Study of Intelligence, Review – What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa

Clark, Alan – Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (1985)

Deak, Istvan – Europe on Trial: The Story of Resistance, Collaboration, and Retribution During World War II (2015)

Encyclopedia Britannica – German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact

Encyclopedia Britannica – North Africa Campaigns

Fleming, Peter – Operation Sea Lion: The Projected Invasion of England in 1940, an Account of the German Preparation and the English Countermeasures (1957)

Groves, Leslie R. – Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (1983)

Historic UK – The Evacuation of Dunkirk, May 1940

Keegan, John – Oxford Companion to World War II (2001)

Kitchen, Martin – Rommel’s Desert War: Waging World War II in North Africa, 1941-1943 (2009)

Murphy, David E. – What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (2005)

Ranker – 23 ‘Facts’ About World War II That Just Aren’t True

Rhodes, Richard – The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)

Skeptoid – No, Hitler Did Not Let the British Escape at Dunkirk

Toland, John – Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (1982)

Wikipedia – Operation Sea Lion

Wikipedia – Rasputitsa

Wikipedia – The Death Match