Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History

Khalid Elhassan - October 20, 2019

As history’s greatest ever conflict, the Second World War saw its fair share and more interesting characters. However, in an event of such magnitude, with over 100,000,000 combatants, tens of millions of casualties, and hundreds of millions impacted in one way or other by events, many such characters are little known today. Some were good, some were scum, some played roles that had a huge impact on the course of events, while others had a relatively smaller impact. However, all of them were fascinating figures. Following are forty fascinating things about some of the more interesting but lesser-known WWII figures.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Allison Digby Tatham-Warter, as depicted in ‘A Bridge Too Far’. Reddit

40. The British Officer Who Went Into Combat Carrying an Umbrella

Try as one might, it is hard to come up with a more British-sounding name than Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter (1917 – 1993), a British Army paratrooper who went into battle carrying an umbrella. The son of a wealthy landowner who died when Digby was 11 from the lingering effects of WWI injuries, he graduated from Sandhurst – Britain’s West Point – in 1937.

Digby served in India, where he lived it up enjoying what rich British scions of the day did, like tiger hunting and pig sticking. When WWII broke out in 1939, he did not go out of his way to seek an active assignment that would take him away from his fun. However, his brother was killed in the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, and upon hearing the news, Digby volunteered for active service with the Parachute Regiment. It set him on the path to becoming a legend.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Digby Tatham-Warter. Wikimedia

39. Quirky Rich Kid

Upon joining the paratroopers, Digby was put in charge of a company in the 1st Airborne Division. It did not take long before he built a reputation, such as by procuring a Dakota airplane to fly his fellow officers to a posh party in London’s Ritz Hotel. However, although Digby partied hard, he also worked hard, and his company was chosen to spearhead the attempt to seize the Arnhem Bridge in Operation Market Garden on September 17th, 1944.

Digby was worried about radios’ unreliability, so he trained his men to respond to Napoleonic-era bugle calls. He also had trouble remembering passwords, and came up with an innovative solution: carry an umbrella. He reasoned that even if he forgot a password, any paratrooper who saw him would immediately realize that “only a bloody fool of an Englishman” would carry an umbrella into battle.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Arnhem Bridge. Weapons and Warfare

38. Digby’s Umbrella Came in Handy

Upon landing near Arnhem, Digby led his company to the bridge, wending his way through backstreets to avoid German armored cars on the main thoroughfares. In heavy fighting over the next few days, he was often seen strolling through the wrecked town, wearing a paratrooper’s red beret instead of a helmet, with a pistol in one hand, and an umbrella in the other.

The umbrella actually came in handy, when a German counterattack placed armor on the Arnhem Bridge. Digby led his men in a charge, bearing a pistol and his trusty umbrella, and adding to the incongruity of it all by wearing a bowler hat. He reportedly even managed to disable a German armored vehicle by thrusting his umbrella through its viewport, poking out the driver’s eye, or otherwise incapacitating him.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Digby Tatham-Warter, pictured in fake ID papers supplied him by the Dutch Resistance after he fled from Nazi captivity. Brits at Their Best

37. Capture and Escape

Market Garden called for the paratroopers to hold the Arnhem Bridge for two days, until relieved. However, the relief force got stuck, and after 8 days, a wounded Digby and the surviving paratroopers surrendered. He was sent to a hospital, but once the German nurses were out of sight, he snuck out. A friendly local woman put him in touch with the Dutch Resistance, who furnished Digby with civilian clothes and fake identity documents that described him as a deaf-mute. He then spent weeks bicycling around, helping the Resistance.

During those escapades, he helped push a German car out of a ditch without arousing suspicion. Eventually, he gathered about 150 Allied soldiers on the lam in the Dutch countryside, and led them to the safety of friendly lines. Digby was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, and after the war, he settled in Kenya, where he lived out his days as a safari operator until his death in 1993.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Simone Segouin, during the Paris Uprising that helped liberate the French capital in 1944. Rare Historical Photos

36. The Teen Heroine of Chartres

In August of 1944, Life Magazine correspondent Jack Belden entered the French town of Chartres, where he met a most interesting character: a gun-toting teenage girl who stood out from all and sundry around her. She was Simone Segouin, also known by her nome de guerre Nicole Minet, and Belden ended up doing a story on her that made her a temporary celebrity.

Born in 1925 into a poor peasant family near Chartres, about 55 miles from Paris, Simone grew up knowing how to hold her own among men, being the only girl among three brothers. She joined the fight in 1943, when a local French Resistance leader killed a collaborator in the center of Charters, then went on the lam. Moving about the countryside, he came in contact with then-17-year-old Simone, and impressed by her poise, recruited her into the Resistance as a courier.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
French Resistance members sabotaging rail tracks. Pintrest

35. The Teen Fighter

Simone Segouin was taught how to operate a submachine gun – a weapon with which she became highly proficient. She was also gradually brought up to speed on the activities of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, a combat alliance of militant communists and French nationalists. As a courier, she needed a bicycle to get about, but not having one, her first mission was to steal one from the Germans.

She pulled it off, and the bike was repainted and became her personal reconnaissance vehicle, allowing her to deliver messages and stake out targets. After demonstrating that she could handle herself in dangerous situations, Simone was allowed to take part in hazardous combat missions such as blowing up bridges, derailing trains, and killing or capturing Germans.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
A train derailment caused by the French Resistance. Getty Images

34. Killing Her First Nazi

Simone Segouin killed her first Nazi on July 14th, 1944. Around 5 AM, she waited in ambush in a roadside ditch, and when two Germans rode by in bicycles, she opened up with her submachine gun, killing both. She then went on the road, searched the bodies, collected their papers and weapons, then made her way alone through the woods, to deliver the haul to her Resistance hideout.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Simone Segouin posing for news reporters in 1944. US National Archives

She confessed to having enjoyed killing the detested occupiers, which came as no surprise to her comrades. She was intensely patriotic, and was inspired by her father, a decorated soldier who had fought in WWI. When first recruited into the Resistance, she was asked if she felt queasy about killing Germans, and she replied: “No. It would please me to kill Boche“. As she put it decades later, it was simple: “The Germans were our enemies – we were French“.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Simone Segouin in 1944. Rare Historical Photos

33. Simone Helps Liberate Her Hometown and Paris

Simone Segouin was with the Resistance fighters of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans when they helped liberate Charters on August 23rd, 1944. She helped capture 25 Germans, and shepherded them to POW pens. Simone and her comrades then linked up with the French 2nd Armored Division as it headed out to liberate Paris, and she was in the thick of the fighting that freed the French capital on August 25th.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Simone Segouin being greeted by the mayor of Courville-sur-Eure, at a ceremony naming a street in her honor. Daily Mail

For her performance, Simone was promoted to lieutenant and awarded a Croix de Guerre. After the war, she became a pediatric nurse, and in 2017, a street in Courville-sur-Eure, a small town near Charters in which she now lives, was named in her honor.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Joseph Rochefort. Wikimedia

32. The Code Breaker Who Tricked the Japanese Into Revealing Their Intentions

Jimmy Doolittle’s bombing of Tokyo in the spring of 1942 gave the Japanese military a black eye. So they set out to draw the US Navy into a climactic battle in which they hoped to inflict a crushing defeat on the Americans. Evidence began piling up that the Japanese were gearing up for a major move, but nobody was sure about their target.

American cryptanalysts had cracked Japanese ciphers, and knew that they planned to attack a target codenamed “AF”. However, nobody knew what AF was. So Navy cryptanalyst Joseph Rochefort tricked the Japanese into showing their hand. Suspecting that AF was Midway Island, Rochefort directed Midway’s radio station to send an uncoded message, stating that its water purification system had broken down and that the island was running out of drinking water. 24 hours later, American code breakers intercepted a Japanese message to the effect that “AF” was running out of water.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Zinaida Portnova. Valka

31. The Heroic Belorussian Teen

Belorussian teenager Zinaida Martynovna Portnova became a partisan and fought the Nazis during WWII. She became the youngest female recipient of a Hero of the Soviet Union award, the USSR’s highest distinction for heroic service to the country and society. Unfortunately, it was a posthumous award, as Zinaida was captured by the Germans and executed in 1944.

Zinaida was born and raised in Leningrad, but in the summer of 1941, when she was 15, she was hundreds of miles away from home, at a summer camp near her grandparents’ home close to the Soviet-German border in Belorussia. When the Nazis invaded, German tanks swept past Zinaida’s summer camp, and she found herself cut off behind enemy lines.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Zinaida Portnova during interrogation. Agenda Communista

30. Joining the Partisans

The German occupation was brutal, and 15-year-old Zinaida Portnova became radicalized when a German soldier struck her grandmother while confiscating the family’s cattle. So she joined the underground Komsomol – the youth division of the communist party – and its resistance group, dubbed “The Young Avengers”. Zinaida started by distributing anti-German propaganda leaflets, collecting and hiding weapons for the partisans, reporting on enemy troop movements, and engaging in opportunistic acts of sabotage of enemy vehicles.

After learning the use of weapons and explosives, she participated in raids and sabotage operations against power plants, pumps, and a brick factory in the vicinity of Vitebsk, during which an estimated 100 German soldiers were killed.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
A monument to Zinaida Portnova in Russia. Wikimedia

29. Becoming a Partisan Martyr

In 1943, Zinaida Portnova got a job in a kitchen that served the German garrison of Obol, and poisoned their food. When suspicion fell upon her, she demonstrated her “innocence” by eating the food to prove that it was not poisoned. When she did not exhibit immediate ill effects, she was released. She became violently ill soon thereafter, but survived. Fleeing Obol, she joined another partisan unit and served as its scout.

In late 1943, contact was lost with the Obol partisans, and Zinaida was infiltrated back into the city to investigate. She was captured almost immediately, but managed to grab a pistol her German interrogator had carelessly left lying atop his desk and shot him to death, as well as two guards who rushed in upon hearing the gunfire. She escaped the building, but was eventually tracked down and captured, after which she was tortured and executed on January 15th, 1944, at aged 17.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Harold Cole. Daily Mail

28. The Jailbird Who Double-Crossed the French Resistance

English career criminal Harold Cole (1906 – 1946) had the dubious distinction of serving during WWII in the British Army, the French Resistance – and double-crossing both by working for Germans. During his extraordinary wartime career, he lied and conned his way across France, joined the Nazis, and snitched on the Resistance, resulting in the arrest and execution of many.

Cole got started on crime early, and by his teens, he was a burglar, check forger, and embezzler. No criminal mastermind, by 1939 Cole had served multiple stints in prison. When WWII began, he lied about his criminal history to enlist in the British Army and was sent to France. Promoted to sergeant, he was arrested for stealing money from the Sergeants’ Mess to splurge on prostitutes. He ended up as a POW in May of 1940, when the Germans captured the guardhouse where he was locked up.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
French Resistance fighters in Wimelle, September, 1944. YouTube

27. Joining the French Resistance

Harold Cole managed to escape from the Germans, and made his way to Lille. There, he got in touch with the French Resistance, claiming to be a British intelligence agent sent to organize escape lines to get stranded and escaped British military personnel back home. The French believed him, and for some time, Cole actually did positive work, escorting escaped personnel across Nazi-occupied territory to the relative safety of Vichy France, from which they slipped into Spain and a ship back home.

However, Cole also embezzled from the monies intended to finance Resistance operations, in order to fund a high society lifestyle of nightclubs, pricey restaurants, expensive champagne, fast cars, and faster girls. When his thefts came to light in 1941, the Resistance arrested and locked Cole up, but while they were deliberating just what to do about him, he escaped.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
U.S. soldiers of Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division march along the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe in the background, on Aug. 29, 1944, four days after the liberation of Paris, France. Associated Press

26. Turning Coat and Joining the Germans

Harold Cole found himself on the run from the French Resistance after stealing from them, so he gave himself up to the Germans. He also gave them 30 pages of Resistance member names and addresses, and became an agent of the SS’ Sicherheitdienst, or SD.

In the ensuing roundup, over 150 Resistance members were arrested, of whom at least 50 were executed. Cole was present during the interrogation and torture of many of his former colleagues. However, the Allies finally invaded in 1944, and swept the Germans out of France. As Allied armies neared Paris in 1944, Cole fled in a Gestapo uniform.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Harold Cole. Amazon

25. Cole Tries to Save Himself With a Final Con

A month after Germany’s surrender, Harold Cole turned up in southern Germany, claiming to be a British undercover agent, and offering his services to the American occupation forces. He had already done a double cross by working for the Germans, so he now triple-crossed, turned against the Nazis, hunting and flushing them out of hiding, and murdering at least one of them.

The British eventually discovered Cole’s whereabouts and arrested him, but he escaped the prison where he was awaiting court-martial, and returned to France. There, French police received a tip that he was hiding in a central Paris apartment, and on January 8th, 1946, crept up a staircase to seize him. Their heavy tread gave them away, however, and he met them at the doorway, pistol in hand. In the ensuing shootout, Cole was struck multiple time, and bled to death.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Adolfo Kaminsky. Times of Israel

24. The Young Forger

French teenager Adolfo Kaminsky found himself under Nazi occupation after France was defeated in 1940. He was a precocious and self-taught gifted chemist, which he combined with a talent for forgery to make himself perhaps Europe’s best underground forger. He specialized in identity papers and forged documents that helped save the lives of thousands of Jews.

Adolfo was born in 1925 to Russian Jewish parents who had emigrated to Argentina, before the family relocated to France in 1932. To help support his family, Kaminsky dropped out of school at age 13 and got a job working for a dry cleaner. His work entailed the use of various compounds, which led to a familiarity with, and subsequent passion for, chemistry.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Kaminsky in his photography studio in 1947. Spiegel

23. Kaminsky Becomes a Self-Taught Chemistry Expert

Adolfo Kaminsky started reading up on chemistry, and took a part-time job working for a chemist on the weekend. That knowledge and love of chemistry ended up coming in handy during his subsequent career as a forger.

When France fell to the Germans in 1940, Adolfo was 15 years old. It did not take long before he felt the Nazi yoke. First, his home was seized early in the occupation to quarter German troops, and his family was evicted. The following year, the Nazis shot Adolfo’s mother dead.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Adolfo Kaminsky. Times of Israel

22. Becoming A Resistance Forger

In 1943, Adolfo Kaminsky’s family was rounded up and interned in a holding camp, preparatory to deportation to Auschwitz. They were only spared at the last minute, due to intervention from the Argentinean consul. In the meantime, Adolfo joined the French Resistance at age 16. Sent by his father to pick up forged identity papers from a Resistance cell, he discovered that they faced difficulties with a particular dye. The precocious chemist gave them a solution off the top of his head that immediately solved their problem.

Impressed, the Resistance recruited him and put him to work in an underground laboratory in Paris. There, he spent the rest of the war forging identity papers for those on the run from the Nazis and in need of fake ID, particularly Jews.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Adolfo Kaminsky in old age. Tienda Gourmet

21. Freedom’s Forger

By the time the Germans were kicked out of France, Adolfo Kaminsky had produced fake documents that helped save over 14,000 Jewish men, women, and children, from the horrors of the Holocaust. After the war, he worked as a professional photographer. However, he also continued his clandestine work as a master forger, lending his talents to disadvantaged peoples and liberation causes around the world.

Adolfo created documents for thousands of freedom fighters, such as the Algerian FLN, refugees, exiles, and pacifists. As the Jerusalem Post summed his career: “He grew to be a humanist forger, a utopian outlaw, the Robin Hood of false papers, preparing passports and identity cards for the world’s oppressed.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Chiune Sugihara. Wikimedia

20. Chiune Sugihara Saved 6000 Jew From the Holocaust

Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara (1900 – 1986) risked himself and family, and eventually sacrificed his career, to save the lives of thousands of Jews during WWII. He did it from his office in the Japanese consulate in Kovno, Lithuania, where he used his consular authority to issue visas that facilitated the escape of Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Jewish refugees waiting outside Sugihara’s consulate in Kovno. Times of Israel

The Japanese government eventually caught on to what Sugihara was doing, it ordered him to stop. He did not, and continued to issue visas in defiance of his superiors’ directives until his consulate was closed and he was recalled. By the time he was done, Sugihara had saved roughly 6000 Jewish refugees. That was about five times as many Jews as had been saved by the more famous Oskar Schindler, of Schindler’s List.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Eta Wrobel. Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation

19. Fleeing the Holocaust and Resisting the Nazis

In 1918, Eta Wrobel was born in Lokov, Poland, into a large Jewish family of ten children. Her father taught his offspring to help others, no matter the circumstances, and she took that to heart. When the Germans conquered Poland, things got horrifically bad for the country’s Jews, but Eta, who described herself as a “born a fighter“, was determined to do what she could to resist.

So she began forging false identity papers for Jews, until 1942, when Eta’s ghetto was liquidated, and she and her family were packed off to concentration camps. Fortunately, she and her father managed to escape en route and fled into the woods near Lokov. Unfortunately, she was the only one of ten siblings to survive the Holocaust.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Eta Wrobel. Jewish Partisans

18. Taking the Fight to the Nazis

After fleeing from Lokov, Eta Wrobel helped organize a Jewish partisan group of about 80 people, and took the fight to the Nazis. They harried the occupiers by ambushing supply convoys, mining roads, and conducting hit and run raids. It was a harsh existence, without adequate shelter, supplies, or medical care. On one occasion, she was shot in the leg, but the sole doctor around was busy with somebody more seriously injured. So Eta extracted the bullet herself: she dug it out of her leg with a knife, then sterilized the wound with vodka.

After the Nazis retreated in 1944, Eta was asked to become mayor of her town. She got married later that year, and moved to the US in 1947, where she raised a family. Looking back at her partisan years, Eta reasoned that: “The biggest resistance that we could have done to the Germans was to survive“.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Stan Scott. Pintrest

17. The Kid Commando

Young Stan Scott was a 13-year-old Briton when WWII began, and he desperately wanted to join the action. Fired up by the Battle of Britain, he could no longer contain his enthusiasm, and in 1941, when he was 15, Stan lied about his age and claimed to be 18 in order to enlist. However, his mom found out, and to his chagrin, the teenage recruit was yanked out of training and sent back home.

A year later, Scott successfully enlisted at age 16, and after training, he was assigned to guard airfields in southern England. That did not satisfy his desire for action, however, so he volunteered to join the Commandos, and passed their entrance tests. As seen below, he took to life in that elite outfit like a fish to water.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Commandos training with the Fairbairns-Sykes Knife. Commandos Veterans Association

16. The Knife-Fighting Expert

Stan Scott developed expertise with the Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife, and became an authority on its fighting techniques. He distilled its technical use thusly, after the war: “”If I’m going into somebody and I’m going to use this, I don’t have to push it forwards. Just grab him and pull him onto the knife. You got it?

But mostly, if you’re going to do a job on a sentry, you don’t do what they say – lift his chin up and cut his throat like that. Yes, lift his chin up, but put the knife in by the jugular vein, which is both sides of the throat, push it through, punch it forward. You rip out the lot. Bit of a messy job, but that’s it.”

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Stan Scott. History Extra

15. Excelling in the Commandos

Stan Scott attracted the attention of his superiors during Commando training. When a recalcitrant recruit doubted the efficacy of the outfit’s hand-to-hand techniques in defending against a knife-wielding attacker, Stan proved their effectiveness by breaking his arm during a demonstration when he came at Stan with a sheathed knife.

After completing the tough training regimen, he was assigned to No. 3 Commando, and finally saw action on D-Day, in 1944. Stan got his first taste of combat that day in the fighting to relieve the airborne troops who had captured Pegasus Bridge, and consolidating Allied control of the area. After weeks of combat, he was severely wounded near Honfleur. Upon recovering from his wounds, Stan returned to frontline duty, went on to fight in at least five river crossing assaults, and took part in the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Odette Sansom and her daughters. Code Name Lise

14. WWII’s Unlikely Spy

Odette Sansom, a housewife and mother of three from Somerset, heard a broadcast in 1942 from the British Admiralty appealing for photographs of the French coast. Having grown up in northern France, she had some photos, but sent them to the wrong address: the War Office, instead of the Admiralty. She attracted the attention of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a clandestine organization ordered by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze!“, and was swiftly recruited.

Within a few months, Odette was inserted into occupied France, as a member of an SOE cell. What followed were harrowing adventures, narrow escapes, romance, capture, torture by the Gestapo, and stints in concentration camps. When the war was over and the dust had settled, Odette Sansom emerged as WWII’s most highly decorated spy – male or female.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Standard SOE radio transmitter and receiver. Wikimedia

13. Odette Gets Started

Upon arrival in southern France, Odette Sansom’s first task was to arrange room and board for her SOE network’s radio operator, who had no ration card – a necessity at the time. She pulled that off and other early assignments, but things got hairy barely a week after her arrival, in November of 1942. That was when the Germans, reacting to the Allied landings in North Africa, invaded and occupied the nominally independent rump France, in which Odette and her SOE network operated.

The new conditions worsened the network’s internal strife. Odette was kept busy with her secret courier work between the SOE and various Resistance elements, while the network descended into chaos. That led to sloppy security work, which almost got Odette captured by the Germans during a failed attempt to arrange a clandestine night time airplane landing.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Wehrmacht dogs. Digital Cosmonaut

12. Fleeing From Nazi Dogs

Odette was nearly undone in late 1942, when a French Resistance contact, tasked with finding an out-of-the-way landing area, bungled the job. The site was supposed to be suitable for the night time landing of a modified Hudson bomber, that was to whisk an SOE operative and four French generals back to Britain. Unfortunately, the contact ineptly chose an airfield located about 1000 yards from a German antiaircraft battery.

A new landing site was selected, this one an abandoned airfield about 500 miles away. After dodging German and collaborationist Vichy police, Odette and her party made it to the airfield, only to discover that the control tower and a nearby barracks were occupied by German troops. It was a trap, and the party was forced to scatter, with Germans hot on their tail. Odette crashed into bushes, with German dogs nearly snapping at her heels, plunged into an icy stream, and battled the freezing current to the other side, where she finally shook off the pursuit.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
French policemen, under Gestapo supervision, rounding up Jews in Marseille for deportation. Frank Falls Archive

11. Hiding in a Nazi Brothel

On another occasion, Odette Sansom was acting as a courier between SOE and a French Resistance bigwig in another city, but the task dragged on, and she missed the last train back home. All hotels were booked, and the last thing she wanted was to get arrested for violating curfew, and risk a search that might reveal incriminating documents. So Odette hid in a whorehouse that catered exclusively to German soldiers, run by a madam sympathetic to the Resistance.

It was as safe a hideout as any, because such an establishment was the last place the authorities would expect to find an anti-Nazi. However, on that particular night, the whorehouse was raided by German military police searching for a deserter. The quick-thinking madam kept them from entering Odette’s room, by claiming it housed her niece, who was infected with smallpox.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Inmates of Ravensbruck concentration camp. All That Is Interesting

10. Tortured by the Gestapo

The Gestapo eventually tracked down and arrested Odette Sansom. When she refused to spill the secrets she knew, she was taken to Fresnes Prison outside Paris. There, she was interrogated over a dozen times by the Gestapo, who burned her back with red hot irons, and pulled out all of her toenails. She screamed in agony, but insisted that she knew nothing.

Eventually, the Germans gave up on trying to squeeze information out of her, and sent her to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. There, the camp commandant, Fritz Suhren, kept her on a starvation diet, and housed her in a punishment block cell, from where she could hear other prisoners being tortured. She survived, and testified against him and other prison Ravensbruck prison guards after the war. He was convicted and executed.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Odette Sansom in uniform. Wikimedia

9. Becoming WWIII’s Highest-Decorated Spy

After the war, Odette Sansom was personally decorated by King George VI, receiving awards such as Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and the George Cross (GC) – the highest non-military decoration for gallantry. Between those and French awards, such as the Legion d’Honneur, she became WWII’s most highly decorated spy.

Her adventures were portrayed in the 1950 film Odette, in which she was depicted by Anna Neagle. She married an SOE operative with whom she had become romantically involved during the war, but it ended in divorce in 1956. She remarried, to another SOE agent, with whom she remained until her death, in 1995.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Sakae Oba. Wikimedia

8. The First Famous Japanese Holdout

When Japan threw in the towel and surrendered in 1945, millions of her soldiers, sailors, and airmen were spread out across the territories then still under Japanese occupation in Asia and the Pacific. Most of them laid down their arms and surrendered, but a minority did not. Whether they did not receive the orders to surrender – communications had gone to hell by war’s end – or whether they got the orders but did not believe them, thousands of Japanese refused to give up.

Thus was born the trope of the Japanese holdouts, hiding in jungle-covered islands. Of those, Imperial Japanese Army Captain Sakae Oba’s holdout was relatively brief compared to others, some of whom kept fighting for decades. However, Oba’s holdout was the first that captured widespread media and public attention, and thus introduced the trope of Japanese bitter enders to popular culture.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Marines in Saipan. WW2 Wrecks

7. Oba’s Guerrilla Campaign

Born in 1914, Sakae Oba joined the Japanese Army in 1934. After years of service in Manchukuo and China, he ended up in the island of Saipan, three months before the US Marines invaded in June of 1944. Despite fierce resistance, the Marines gradually beat back the Japanese defenders. At the end of their tether, Japanese commanders decided to go out in a final blaze of glory, and ordered a massive banzai charge – the largest such charge of the entire war.

Captain Oba was among the few Japanese survivors. Rounding up and taking command of 46 other Japanese soldiers, along with 160 civilians, he struck off into the island’s jungles. After hiding the civilians in concealed caves and remote villages, Oba led his men in a guerrilla campaign, raiding American outposts and supplies, ambushing patrols, and taking potshots at sentries.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Sakae Oba. Learning History

6. The Elusive Fox of Saipan

American commanders in Saipan sent out numerous patrols to track down and finish off Sakae Oba’s guerrilla’s, but to no avail. A massive dragnet was organized, with American military personnel lined up across the entire island, separated from each other by only two meters, and sweeping Saipan from end to end. The holdouts still avoided detection, leading to the reassignment of the chagrined officer in charge of the operation. Oba’s elusiveness led the Marines in Saipan to nickname him “The Fox of Saipan”.

Captain Oba continued fighting after the war had ended, dismissing as enemy propaganda the news of Japan’s surrender that were blared via loudspeakers and contained in leaflets airdropped over the jungle. All in all, he held out for 16 months after Saipan had fallen, and for 3 months after the war had ended.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Sakae Oba surrendering his samurai sword. Pintrest

5. Convincing Oba to Give Up

American officials finally brought in a Japanese general who had commanded a brigade in Saipan, and sent him in to try and find and reason with Sakae Oba. The general tramped the jungle while whistling Japanese military tunes, until he drew out some of the holdouts. They took him to their commanding officer, and after presenting Oba with official documents from Imperial General Headquarters ordering him to surrender, the holdout ended.

On December 1st, 1945, Oba marched his charges out of their jungle hideouts, and in a dignified ceremony, surrendered his sword and his command. Upon repatriation to Japan, he Oba led a productive life, working in the private sector, before turning to politics and getting elected to his city’s council. He died at age 78, in 1992.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Charlotte Sorkine’s wartime fake ID. The Forward

4. Charlotte Sorkine Noshpitz and the Nazis

In 1925, Charlotte Sorkine Noshpitz was born in Paris to a Romanian mother and a Belorussian father. Her Jewish family were among the educated upper crust, and one of her grandfathers was an anthropology professor. Charlotte was raised in a highly intellectual household, whose routines included a weekly salon that often hosted French luminaries of the arts, letters, sciences, and academia.

Her life took a drastic turn for the worse after the Nazis defeated France in 1940. The collaborationist Vichy regime enacted a raft of discriminatory laws that revoked the French citizenship of naturalized Jews, and authorized the internship of foreign Jews or the restriction of their residence. When out in public, Charlotte and her family were forced to wear yellow stars of David sewn to their clothes to identify themselves as Jews.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Charlotte Sorkine. Washington Jewish Week

3. Charlotte Fights Back

By 1942, Charlotte’s father was in hiding, and that year, her mother was arrested in a roundup and deported to Auschwitz. Her father and brother fled to Nice in southern France, and were followed soon thereafter by Charlotte, who joined the local Resistance at age 17. After her father stumbled upon her stash of weapons, she arranged false identity papers to get him out of the country and out of her hair.

Charlotte led her father to believe that she would go with him to Switzerland, but at the border, she bid him adieu as she handed him to a guide who escorted him into Switzerland. His daughter turned around and returned to the fight.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
French Resistance members in the summer of 1944. All That Is Interesting

2. Resistance Exploits

Charlotte Noshpitz’s Resistance tasks included stashing and transporting weapons and money, often beneath the Germans’ noses, and creating and supplying fake documents. She also guided fugitives to the French border and safety beyond in Switzerland or Spain. In addition to escorting freedom fighters and political opponents of the Nazis and their French puppet regime, her charges included many Jewish children.

She also took part in direct action such as planting explosives – including a bomb that went off in a Paris movie theater where SS members were gathered. She also fought in the 1944 Paris Uprising that preceded that city’s liberation.

Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History
Charlotte Sorkine’s Awards. The Forward

1. Life After the War

For her wartime services, Charlotte Noshpitz was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance, the Croix du Combattant Volontaire de la Resistance, the Médaille des Services Volontaires Dans la France Libre and the War Commemoration Medal. After the war, she resumed her education, studied psychology at the Sorbonne, art history at the Louvre, as well as languages.

Charlotte sailed to the United States to further her mental health studies and to examine a model health treatment center in Kansas for replication in Paris. During a rough crossing of the Atlantic, she met and befriended Ernest Hemingway. After her return to France, she married in a ceremony attended by her Resistance compatriots, and settled into family life and a rewarding professional career.


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

Barber, Neil – Fighting With the Commandos: Recollections of Stan Scott, No. 3 Commando (2008)

Brits At Their Best – Armed With an Umbrella

Carlson, Elliot – Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway (2013)

Daily Mail, August 29th, 2015 – The Hotpants Hotshot: Formidable Derring-do of the Nazi Hunting, Gun Toting Pin Up Teen of the French Resistance

History Net – Joe Rochefort’s War: Deciphering a Code Breaker

Imperial War Museum – Odette Sansom, GC

Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation – Eta Wrobel

Kaminsky, Sarah – Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger’s Life (2016)

Life Magazine, September 4th, 1944 – The Girl Partisan of Chartres

Loftis, Larry – Code Name Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy (2019)

Murphy, Brendan – Turncoat: The Strange Case of British Sergeant Harold Cole (1987)

Pegasus Archives – Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter

Ryan, Cornelius – A Bridge Too Far (1974)

Sakaida, Henry – Heroines of the Soviet Union (2003)

Spiegel, August 25th, 2011 – The Hidden Life of the Humanitarian Forger

United States Holocaust Museum – Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara

Wikipedia – Sakae Oba

Wikipedia – Zinaida Portnova

WW2 Wrecks – The Last Samurai: Sakae Oba and the Largest Banzai Charge of the War in the Pacific