When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events

Khalid Elhassan - August 25, 2020

The Second World War was history’s most massive conflict, fought at a scale that boggles the mind. More than 100 million armed combatants from 30 countries were flung at each other in a globe-spanning bloodletting that resulted in 70 – 85 million fatalities. A war so colossal was bound to entail many fascinating events, most of which are little known today. Following are forty fascinating things about some of the lesser-known events of that war.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Itter Castle. Riddip

40. War Takes a Weird Turn at Itter Castle

Usually, one of the more basic aspects of war is the clear demarcation between friend and foe. Especially in formal wars between countries, when you have people in one uniform going hammer and tongs after people in the enemy uniform. However, war sometimes throws weird curve balls, that results in one set of enemies fighting alongside each other against yet another foe.

Few examples of such strange curve balls are as dramatic as that which occurred at Schloss Itter, or Itter Castle, in Austria on May 5th, 1945. Just a few days before the war in Europe came to an end, a group of American GIs fought side by side with German soldiers against members of the SS.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Itter Castle. BBC

39. An Alpine Fortress With High-Value Prisoners

Itter Castle, nestled in the Austrian Alps, has existed as a fortress since at least the thirteenth century. It was rebuilt in the sixteenth century, was renovated in the nineteenth century, and became a hotel in the early twentieth century. After the Nazis annexed Austria to the Third Reich, they rented the castle from its owner. They eventually confiscated it outright during the war in 1943, and transformed it into a special SS facility for prisoners with potential value as hostages.

In its new role as a prison, the castle was administered by Dachau concentration camp, which lay about 90 miles away. It held high-value French captives such as former prime ministers Paul Reynaud and Edouard Daladier. The inmates also included former French Army commanders in chief Maurice Gamelin and Maxime Weygand; Charles de Gaulle’s elder sister Marie-Agnes Cailliau; and tennis star Jean Borotra. The castle also housed common inmates from Dachau, to perform maintenance and other menial work.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Charles de Gaulle’s sister, Mari-Agnes Cailliau, was among the French VIPs imprisoned in Itter Castle. Agence France Presse

38. Fears of Liquidation

For Nazi prisoners, the VIPs at Itter Castle were relatively well-treated. Their cells were converted into hotel guest rooms, they had adequate food, were free to walk within the compound, and were attended by a staff of prisoners from Dachau. However, things started to get hairy towards the end of the war in 1945, and Itter Castle’s inmates came to fear for their lives.

When Dachau concentration camp was liberated by advancing American troops, its commandant fled to Itter Castle. There, he committed suicide on May 2nd, 1945. Two days later, Itter’s commandant and the remaining guards abandoned the prison, leaving the inmates to their own devices. However, the prisoners were unable to leave, because of hostile Germans nearby. Particularly the SS, whom the prisoners were informed had been ordered to liquidate Itter Castle’s inmates.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A column of German prisoners captured by the US Army’s 103rd Division. Pintrest

37. Searching for Rescuers

Rescue could not come fast enough for the prisoners at Itter Castle, so they sought to hurry it along. On May 3rd, 1945, Zinomir Cuckovic, an imprisoned Yugoslav communist partisan working as a handyman in the castle, left on the pretense of running an errand for the commandant. He carried a letter seeking help, that he was to present to the first Allied soldiers he came across.

The nearest town was Worgl, about 5 miles down the mountain, but it was still occupied by German forces. So Cuckovic headed to Innsbruck, about 40 miles away. He got there later that evening, found some soldiers from the US Army’s 103rd Division, and handed them the letter. The GIs were unable to do anything immediately, but told Cuckovic to wait while something was worked out. The following day, an armored task force was sent. However, it was stopped by heavy shelling halfway to Itter, and was then recalled by superiors for encroaching upon another American division’s zone.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Major Josef “Sepp” Gangl. Stephen Harding

36. The Inmates Arm Themselves and Ally With the German Army

In the meantime, back at Itter Castle, the German commandant and guards had abandoned the prison. The inmates seized the castle, and armed themselves with weapons that the absconding guards had left behind. Not knowing what had become of Cuckovic, the inmates sent another prisoner to nearby Worgl. There, he made contact with the Austrian resistance, led by a German Army Major Josef “Sepp” Gangl, who had joined the resistance in the war’s last days, along with some of his soldiers.

Gangl and the Austrian resistance were trying to protect Worgl’s townspeople from reprisals by the SS. Nazi diehards were firing at any building displaying a white flag or Austrian banner, and summarily executing males in civilian uniform, on suspicion that they were deserters. When it seemed to Major Gangl that advancing American troops were taking too long to reach them, he set out to find and hurry them along.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
US Army Captain John Lee. Stephen Harding

35. A German Detachment Allied with American GIs

Major Sepp Gangl managed to locate a reconnaissance unit of the American 12th Armored Division in the town of Kufstein, about 8 miles away. It consisted of four Sherman tanks, led by US Army Captain Jack Lee. Gangl approached the Americans under a white flag, explained the situation, and asked for help. Lee immediately sprang into action. He secured permission from his superiors to lead a rescue mission, then hopped into Gangl’s car to conduct a personal reconnaissance of Castle Itter with the German officer.

Captain Lee requisitioned more tanks and troops from a nearby unit and headed to Itter. However, his advance was halted by a rickety bridge. Lee was forced to leave most of his force behind, while pressing on with his tank, Besotten Jenny, and 14 American GIs. They were accompanied by Major Gangl, plus eleven German soldiers. En route, they attacked and defeated an SS detachment manning a roadblock. Upon reaching Itter Castle, Captain Lee deployed his men in defensive positions, and placed his tank at the main entrance. The stage was set for one of the strangest battles of the war.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
GIs and Germans defending Itter Castle. Tomahawk Talk

34. Fighting Off the SS

By May 5th, 1945, it was clear to everybody that the war in Europe was over. Hitler had committed suicide, the Soviets had captured Berlin, the Red Banner was flying over the Reichstag, and the Third Reich had all but crumbled. However, to Nazi diehards and SS fanatics, the war was still there to be fought. During the night of May 4-5, the SS launched probing attacks against Castle Itter. They were beaten back by its defending American and Germany Army soldiers, aided by prisoners armed with whatever they could lay their hands on.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Damage to Itter Castle. BBC

On the morning of May 5th, about 150 Waffen-SS launched their main attack. Captain Lee’s tank, Besotten Jenny, provided machinegun support, until it was destroyed by an 88 mm gun. The outnumbered and outgunned defenders kept up a desperate resistance, while Lee frantically sought help from any nearby American unit. He finally got through later that afternoon, and a rescue force was sent.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
French tennis star Jean Borotra. Bundesarchiv Bild

33. A Star Takes the Opportunity to Shine Once Again

The American rescue force headed to Castle Itter had incomplete information about the situation there, because communications were prematurely severed. So French tennis star Jean Borotra offered to jump off the castle’s wall, then sprint through the SS besiegers to reach the approaching American rescuers. Against the odds, he crossed about forty yards of open ground swept by bullets. He reached the rescuers, and guided them back to the castle, which they reached just in the nick of the time, before the defenders had fired their last bullet. The SS besiegers were routed, with many killed, and about 100 captured.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
The French Army’s former commander in chief, Maxime Weygand, leaving Itter Castle. Agence France Presse

The prisoners were rescued, and the French VIPs were sent back to France. Captain John Lee was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. Unfortunately for German Army Major Sepp Gangl, he was killed by an SS sniper while defending former French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud. He was the only defender killed during the battle. After the war, Gangl was celebrated as an Austrian hero. A street in nearby Worgl was named after him.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
F4F Wildcat. Flight Manuals Online

32. The Fighter That Swept the Japanese From the Skies

Early in the Pacific War, American naval aviators were shocked upon discovering that their standard fighter, the F4F Wildcat, was outclassed in many ways by the faster, more maneuverable, and longer-ranged Japanese Zero. Corrective procedures and tactics were adopted to counter the Zero’s advantages and play up to the Wildcat’s strengths. However, such measures were just a stopgap: what was really needed was a new and improved fighter.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
F6F Hellcats. Wikimedia

Grumman, which had been working on a successor to the F4F prior to America’s entry into the war, sped things up after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They took what became the F6F Hellcat fighter from the experimental stage to operational employment in a mere 18 months. It was everything that the Navy’s aviators had dreamt of, and more. It would end up sweeping the Japanese from the skies.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat makes condensation rings as it awaits the take-off flag aboard USS Yorktown, November 1943. National Archives

31. The Rugged Hellcat

The F6F Hellcat featured folding wings for easier storage in less space, thus allowing aircraft carriers to carry more fighters. The F6F was faster, more powerful, more maneuverable, and longer-ranged than its predecessor, and outclassed the enemy’s Zeroes in every way except maneuverability at low speed.

Hellcats first saw combat in August, 1943, and proved so successful that, by 1944, they were the Navy’s standard carrier-based fighters. 12,275 Hellcats were produced during the war, and they were the main platform which the US Navy used to clear the Pacific skies of enemy planes. A versatile and rugged aircraft, F6Fs spearheaded America’s advance across the Pacific. They conducted fighter sweeps over enemy airfields, flew combat air patrols to shield the forces below from aerial attack, and performed ground attacks in support of soldiers and Marines.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A Hellcat flaming a Zero. Pintrest

30. “The Ace Maker”

The F6F Hellcat’s standard armament was six .50 caliber machines, but some planes substituted a pair of 20mm canon for two of the machine guns. F6Fs could also carry a pair of 1000-pound bombs, but their most destructive load for ground attacks was half a dozen 5-inch rockets, whose salvoes exceeded a destroyer’s broadside.

Although Hellcats did not enter service until the final two years of the war, they downed 5156 enemy aircraft. The Hellcat was nicknamed “The Ace Maker” for the seeming ease with which its aviators achieved that status: 307 F6F pilots became aces during the war. The plane achieved an enviable 19:1 kill ratio, and accounted for 75 percent of the US Navy’s air-to-air victories.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Type 94 Nambu Pistol. HK Museum of History

29. The Awful Japanese Pistol

The Japanese pistol used during the war, the Type 94 Nambu, was one of the worst sidearms ever issued to the military. Basic maintenance was difficult because it was overly complex and had too many parts, rendering disassembly and reassembly awkward. It tended to fire off unintentionally if jarred. On top of the design, defects were manufacturing defects caused by poor workmanship and inadequate quality control in the production plants.

Among the Type 94’s myriad problems was that it did not have a hammer, but used a firing pin instead – and a weak firing pin at that, which broke easily when firing. When firing, accurate aiming with the sights could be impossible because the front blade atop the muzzle and the rear ‘v’ were often misaligned.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Type 94 Nambu. Collectors Firearms

28. The Worst Sidearm of the War?

The Type 94 Nambu had too many parts, which made cleaning and daily upkeep overly onerous. The parts were not finely-machined and did not fit well with each other, which led to frequent jamming. It had a small grip and a correspondingly small magazine that held only 6 rounds. The magazine, which was held in place by bolt pressure inside the pistol, was hard to reload and insert. It often disengaged and came loose if the pistol was jarred, placed on a hard surface, or simply inserted into a holster.

The biggest problem, however, which made the Type 94 one of history’s most dangerous pistols, was its tendency to discharge unintentionally. The cause was a sear bar located outside the pistol that could easily snag on the user’s holster or uniform. If that happened while a round was chambered, and the pistol was then jostled, wiggled, or placed on a hard surface in a manner that depressed the sear bar, it could discharge accidentally, even with the safety switch in the ‘on’ position.

Read More:

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Mark 14 Torpedo. Hackaday

27. America’s Worst Weapon of the War?

The Japanese did not have a monopoly on defective weapons. America’s fighting men were the envy of their peers during the war, with their ample supply of well-designed and made weapons – at least well-designed and made compared to everybody else’s weapons. Unfortunately, that did not apply to the torpedo with which America entered the war: the Mark 14.

The Mark 14 Torpedo was the standard weapon of American submarines when the US joined the war in 1941. Unlike earlier torpedoes which detonated upon impact with a target ship’s hull, the Mark 14 used an advanced magnetic detonator. It was supposed to set off the explosive charge directly beneath the enemy’s keel and break its back – fatal damage to any ship. That was the theory. The reality turned out to be quite different.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Test during which the magnetic detonator used in the Mark 14 Torpedo failed to explode beneath the target, and the torpedo continued on. Wikimedia

26. Secrecy and Frugality Set the Stage for Disaster

The Mark 14 Torpedo’s concept of exploding directly before a target ship’s keel was good. It meant that a single Mark 14 would theoretically suffice to sink an enemy ship, regardless of size. Its predecessor, which relied on an impact detonator, usually required multiple torpedoes holing the enemy in various spots on the hull.

However, secrecy and frugality led to the live testing of only two torpedoes – and one of the two had been a failure. A 50% test failure rate however did not give the US Navy pause and prompt it to conduct further testing. Nor did it keep the Navy from approving the Mark 14 and issuing it to the US submarine fleet as its standard torpedo in 1938.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Mark 14 Torpedo. Pacific War Online Encyclopedia

25. A Problem-Plagued Weapon

It was only after America found herself at war that the Mark 14 Torpedo’s grave flaws became apparent. During the first weeks of the war, submarine commanders reported that the Mark 14 had serious problems with maintaining accurate depth so as to pass within the correct distance beneath an enemy ship’s keel. There was also trouble with the magnetic detonator, which frequently detonated prematurely or failed to detonate at all.

The contact detonator was no better, as it often failed to set off the torpedo, even when it struck an enemy’s hull at a perfect angle with a loud clang that was clearly audible in the firing submarine. Worst of all was the Mark 14’s tendency to boomerang, missing its target and running in a wide circle to come back and strike the firing submarine. At least two American submarines were sunk by their own Mark 14 circling around and coming back to blow them up.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
US Navy Bureau of Ordnance Personnel inspecting a Mark 14 Torpedo in 1943. Pintrest

24. Refusing to Acknowledge the Problem

The US Navy ignored numerous reports about the Mark 14’s shortcomings. In one incident, a submarine commander fired a dozen torpedoes at a large Japanese whaler, but only managed to cripple it. Then, with the enemy ship dead in the water, he maneuvered his submarine and carefully positioned it so that his torpedoes would have a perfect angle of impact. He then fired off 9 more Mark 14s. Not a single one detonated.

Despite a flood of reports from its submarine commanders detailing the Mark 14’s shortcomings, it took the US Navy two years from the start of America’s joining the war to even acknowledge the possibility of a problem. Tests were finally conducted to find out what, if anything, was wrong. The tests verified what American submariners had been complaining about for two years. Remedial steps to address the problems were finally begun – two years later than should have been the case.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Handley Page Halifax B MK III “Gutsy Girty” of 427 Squadron at Leeming, Yorkshire with crew prior to another night operation. Royal Canadian Air Force

23. Britain’s Other Heavy Bomber

The Avro Lancaster is probably the British Royal Air Force’s best-known strategic heavy bomber of the Second World War. However, it carried the load along with an often-overlooked sister: the Handley Page Halifax. Along with the Lancaster, the Halifax was the mainstay of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, with 6127 built between 1940-1945. Halifaxes were less versatile than the Lancasters, because their bomb bay, divided into three compartments, could not carry huge individual bombs such as the 4000 lb “Cookie” or larger. However, Halifaxes could still carry 14,500 lbs of bombs that individually weighed up to 2000 lbs each.

First flown in 1939, Halifaxes entered service in November, 1940, and saw combat in March, 1941. At Bomber Command’s peak, it had 76 squadrons flying Halifaxes. Halifaxes were also used in Pathfinder units that flew in advance of RAF nighttime bombing raids to locate the targets, then mark them with flares and colored incendiaries for the following bomber streams.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Halifaxes. Bomber Command Museum of Canada

22. A Versatile Enough Bomber

The Halifax’s compartmentalized bomb bay’s inability to carry huge bombs led to its gradual replacement in operational squadrons by Avro Lancasters, starting in 1943. As Halifaxes were being withdrawn from strategic bombing, their role was gradually shifted to daylight tactical strikes to plaster enemy strong points, troop concentrations, transportation and communication hubs, and oil facilities. In the summer of 1944, V-1 missile launch sites were added to their targets.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Halifax bomber. Wikimedia

During the war Halifaxes flew 82,000 sorties, dropping 224,000 tons of bombs, at the cost of 1883 bombers. Halifaxes were also flown by the RAF’s Coastal Command on reconnaissance, meteorological, anti-submarine missions, and mine laying. They were also used in supporting roles such as parachuting Special Operations Executive agents into occupied Europe, dropping arms and supplies to resistance groups. They were also in electronic warfare, as glider tugs, and when necessary, Halifaxes were impressed as transports to airlift fuel to stalled armies during crises when ground resupply proved insufficient.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Panzer IV with a short barrel 75 mm gun. Bundesarchiv Bild

21. Germany’s Workhorse Tank of the War

The Panzerkampfwagen IV was Germany’s main tank of WWII, serving from its start in 1939 until Germany’s surrender in 1945, on all theaters. No other tank of the war saw such continuous front-line service or performed so credibly for so long. Far as longevity, the Panzer IV was the most successful tank of the war.

The reason for the Panzer IV’s longevity was its excellent design. It had a solid basic platform that lent itself to continuous adaptations and improvements as the war progressed, such as bigger guns and additional armor. Because of such adaptability, 8500 Panzer IVs rolled out of factories, more than any other German tank of the war.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Panzer IV with a long barrel 75 mm gun. Pintrest

20. German Armored Warfare Doctrine Required Different Tanks

German armored warfare doctrine in the 1930s expected two primary tasks from tanks. The first was to take out antitank guns and deal with infantry strong points, using high explosive shells. The second task was to take on and defeat enemy tanks and armored vehicles with armor-piercing shells. Thus, Germany developed two complementary tanks: the Panzer III and Panzer IV.

Panzer IIIs, armed with a 37mm gun that was considered adequate at the time, were the armor-killing tanks. They were to be supported by Panzer IVs, more heavily armored and armed. Equipped with a short-barreled howitzer-type 75mm gun for firing high explosive shells, Panzer IVs would operate alongside German infantry and take out enemy strongpoints and antitank guns. German tank battalions’ table of organization called for three Panzer III companies, supported by one heavy Panzer IV company.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A Panzer IV Ausf. G. Deutsches Panzer Museum, Munster, Germany

19. The Panzer IV Becomes a Jack of All Trades

The Panzer IV was operated by a five-man crew, connected by intercom. In the turret were the commander, gunner, and loader. The driver and the radio operator, who also served as machine gunner, were in the hull. For its main armament, the Panzer IV was initially equipped with a short barreled low velocity 75mm gun to fire high explosive shells, that could also fire armor-piercing rounds when necessary. A coaxial machinegun was mounted alongside the main gun, while a second machinegun was mounted in the hull’s front plate.

Panzer IVs functioned as anti-infantry and anti-antitank weapons, until the invasion of the USSR in 1941. That was when the Germans discovered that their tank-killer tank, the Panzer III, was outclassed by Soviet KV and T-34 tanks. Against Soviet armor, the Panzer III’s 50mm gun was ineffective. A bigger and more powerful gun was needed, but the Panzer III’s platform did not readily lend itself to such an upgrade. The Panzer IV’s platform did. Thus, Panzer IVs took on the antitank role in addition to their anti-infantry one. Swapping their short barrel 75mm howitzer-like guns for 75mm antitank guns, Panzer IVs took over from the Panzer IIIs.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A Welsh Guards Cromwell tank in 1944. Imgur

18. The Underrated British Tank

The Cromwell was the first British tank that combined decent armored protection with high speed, powered by a reliable Rolls Royce Meteor engine. By 1943, a new British tank was needed to handle the new Tigers and Panthers. However, the Cromwell’s turret could not accommodate the best available gun for destroying those panzers, the 77mm dual-purpose high velocity (HV) gun. It had had to settle instead for an inadequate medium gun.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A34 Comet. Wikimedia

That predicament led to the development of the A34 Cruiser Tank Comet Mark I, Britain’s deadliest tank against enemy armor. It was built on a modified Cromwell chassis with a larger turret ring for a wider and bigger turret that could accommodate the 77mm HV gun. That gun was lethal against Panthers, the Comet’s German equivalent, and at most ranges, against heavy German Tigers as well. It was also superior to the Panther’s 75mm gun.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Comet tank in Germany, 1945. Imperial War Museum

17. A Trend-Setter Tank

Entering service in 1944, the Comet’s superiority over the Panther was not limited to firepower. While the Panther had thicker armor, was roomier, and carried more ammunition, the Comet had a lower profile and was mechanically sounder. Its Rolls Royce Meteor engine – a conversion of the Merlin engine that powered P-51s and Spitfires – was far more reliable than the Panther’s Maybach engine.

The Comet’s Christie suspension system was also more durable than the Panther’s. Weighing 11 tons less than the Panther, while powered by an engine that produced equivalent horsepower, the Comet had a better power-to-weight ratio that gave it greater acceleration and made it 6 mph faster. Comets continued in British service until 1958, and with other militaries until well into the 1980s. The Comet led directly to the development of the Centurion, Britain’s primary tank of the post-WWII era.

Also Read: Epic Tank Battles in History.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A flight of Ju 88s over Crete in 1943. Bundesarchiv Bild

16. Germany’s Most Versatile Airplane of the War

Few WWII airplanes were as versatile as Germany’s Junkers Ju 88 medium bomber. The twin-engine Ju 88 was designed before the war as a fast bomber that could outrun fighters. That proved futile, as fighter advances by the time the war began made them significantly faster. Still, the Ju 88 succeeded as a versatile airplane that performed multiple roles, including level bomber, dive bomber, torpedo bomber, mine layer, as well as reconnaissance, heavy fighter, and night fighter.

The Ju 88 was just beginning operational deployment when the war began, and so saw limited service during the invasion of Poland. It played a greater role during the invasion of Norway in April, 1940, in both ground and anti-shipping roles. It saw significant service during the French campaign a month later. While contributing their fair share to the German victory, Ju 88s experienced high losses because of wing design defects that led to instability and accidents, exacerbated by inadequate crew training. The shortcomings were addressed with a retraining program and the introduction of longer wingspans with rounded edges to improve handling.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
A Ju 88 night fighter. Good Fon

15. An Aerial Jack of All Trades

Ju 88 modifications were introduced during the Battle of Britain. While they performed better than other German bombers, Ju 88s were nonetheless vulnerable when stripped of fighter protection, and still suffered from a variety of bugs. However, by battle’s end an improved version that resolved the design shortcomings, the A-4, had been introduced. With a 5500-pound bomb capacity and a 311 mph speed, the A-4 was the successful template upon which all future Ju 88s variants were based.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Ju 88 variants. German Aircraft of WWII

The improved Ju 88s performed exceptionally well in the 1941 invasion of the USSR. In addition to level bombing, a shortage of Stukas necessitated the use of Ju 88s as dive bombers, a role they performed well. At sea, Ju 88s inflicted heavy losses on Soviet shipping. Ju 88s also met with success in Italy, where they proved exceptionally lethal against allied shipping. It was the most successful twin-engine German bomber of the war, and roughly 16,000, with dozens of variants, were produced during the conflict – more than any other German twin-engine airplane.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Battle of Leyte Gulf Maneuvers. Wikimedia

14. A David vs Goliath Naval Battle

The Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1945 was history’s biggest naval engagement. It was the outcome of a complex Japanese plan featuring many moving parts and attacks from various directions. The goal was to draw off the main US fleet guarding the American landings at Leyte Gulf and send it on wild goose chase. When that happened, a powerful Japanese fleet would fall upon the unprotected Leyte Gulf, and devastate the Americans there.

The plan worked well. Japanese aircraft carriers were dangled as bait for Admiral William F. Halsey, and he steamed off with his powerful 3rd Fleet to sink them, telling nobody. He left behind a small fleet of escort carriers and destroyer escorts that had been repurposed for ground attack and support duties. They had little in the way of anti-ship weapons. On October 25th, 1944, they found themselves as underdogs in one of history’s most lopsided David vs Goliath naval engagements. They pulled off an upset that averted an American catastrophe.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
American forces landing on Leyte. Encyclopedia Britannica

13. The “Tin Cans” Against the Might of Japan

While Halsey was off chasing the Japanese decoy fleet, 23 Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers headed towards the nearly undefended Americans in Leyte Gulf. They included the world’s most powerful battleship ever, the 18.1 inch gun Yamato. The powerful Japanese force showed up north of Leyte Gulf, steaming towards the landing site under the command of an admiral Kurita. The Americans were caught by surprise.

The only thing standing between the Japanese and a massacre of the Americans at Leyte Gulf was an underwhelming collection of escort carriers and destroyer escorts. Their northernmost contingent, which first came in contact with the Japanese, was commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, and was known as “Taffy 3”. It consisted of a measly 7 destroyers and destroyer escorts, nicknamed “tin cans” for their lack of protection.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Taffy 3 destroyers laying a smokescreen. Naval History and Heritage Command

12. Courage and Unstinting Sacrifice Earn a Miraculous Reprieve

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague knew that his destroyers’ 5 inch guns stood no chance against the 23 armored Japanese battleships and cruisers steaming towards Leyte Gulf. He also knew that thousands of Americans would die if the Japanese reached the unprotected ships in Leyte. So he ordered Taffy 3 into a suicidal charge. The desperate attacks of the American “tin cans” were supported by planes flying from the escort carriers. They made strafing attacks or dropped high explosives suitable for a ground attack but mostly useless against the Japanese ships. When they ran out of ammunition, the American pilots kept making dry strafing and bombing runs to discomfit the Japanese.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Taffy 3 destroyers laying a smokescreen while under fire. Pintrest

So reckless and incessant were those gadfly attacks that the Japanese admiral lost his nerve. Kurita convinced himself that the opposition he faced was far stronger than it actually was, and must be the first outer layer of a powerful US naval presence. Kurita had an overwhelming naval victory in his grasp. All he had to do was steam on for another hour, to bring his heavy guns within range of Leyte. Instead, he turned his ships around and sailed away, gifting the Americans in Leyte Gulf with a seemingly miraculous reprieve.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Yakovlev Yak-9. Wikimedia

11. The Soviets’ Most Successful Fighter of the War

Historians and history buffs with an interest in WWII’s aerial war often overlook the Eastern Front. Which is unfortunate, because the Eastern Front was the biggest conflict of the war – and history – from the standpoint of the numbers of men, material, and casualties. The war in the air in that theater was just as fierce as that taking place on the ground below. It also saw the debut and mass deployments of one of WWII’s most overlooked great fighters: the Yakovlev Yak-9.

A lightened upgrade of previous Yakovlev fighters, the Yak-9 was initially deployed in October, 1942. It saw its first combat soon thereafter during the Battle of Stalingrad. Standard armament was a nose-mounted 20mm cannon, plus one or two heavy machine guns. It was used mainly to support ground troops by shielding them from German air attacks, and strafing enemy troops when feasible.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Yak-9. World War 2 Wikia

10. The Luftwaffe’s Equal

In contrast to what came before, Soviet pilots considered the Yak-9 to be the equal of the German Bf 109 and FW-190 fighters. Especially at lower altitudes where the light Yak-9, although inferior to the Germans in armaments, proved their superior in speed and maneuverability and rate of climb. That made the Yak-9 excellent in low-level dog fights. It was also remarkably durable, able to absorb significant damage and punishment and still make it back home. The light fighter’s markedly improved performance over its predecessors did wonders to restore Soviet pilots’ morale.

Their confidence had been severely shaken by the catastrophic losses they had suffered in the first year of the war. Such losses were caused by poor training and tactics, but more importantly, by inferior airplanes that were no match for the modern fighters flown by the Luftwaffe. The restoration of its fighter pilots’ confidence in their equipment finally allowed the Red Air Force to begin clawing its way back up and gradually stabilize the situation on the Eastern Front. The Soviet air arm slowly replaced the marked aerial inferiority exhibited against the Germans with aerial parity, then aerial superiority, and by war’s end, aerial supremacy.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Yak-9. Go Aviator

9. The Red Air Force’s Most Produced Fighter

After its successful introduction over the skies of Stalingrad, the Yak-9 gradually became the USSR’s main fighter of the war. By 1944, there were more Yak-9s in service than all other Soviet fighters combined. As with other fighters that did particularly well in the war, the Yak-9’s success was due in no small to the versatility of its basic design. That allowed for steady improvements as the war progressed, and for the airplane’s use in various roles.

In addition to a defensive fighter, the adaptable Yak-9s were also put to use such as reconnaissance, long-range bomber escorts, and nighttime fighters. Armed with 37mm or 45mm cannons, they were used for tank-busting and general ground attacks. When equipped with bomb loads of up to 1000 pounds, the planes could also serve as light bombers. The Yakovlev Yak-9 was the most produced fighter in the history of the Red Air Force, with over 16,000 rolling out of Soviet factories.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Japanese officials signing their country’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Japan Today

8. The Marooned Japanese Who Kept Fighting the War

WWII formally ended on September 2nd, 1945, with representatives of the Japanese government signing instruments of surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo’s harbor. However, that did not bring an immediate end to all the fighting, or acts of resistance from diehards against history’s verdict of an Allied victory. Many Japanese in scattered outposts throughout the Pacific and Asia either did not receive word of their country’s surrender or refused to believe it, dismissing it as fake news and enemy propaganda.

Eventually, most of them faced reality, accepted facts, and laid down their arms. Some, however – whether out of stupidity, insanity, pride, or some confluence of bizarre factors, refused to surrender. Instead, they hung on for months, years, and in some cases, even decades, before they were either killed or captured. Few holdouts had a tale as dramatic – or salacious – as that of a band of marooned Japanese in the small island of Anatahan.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Anatahan Island. US Geological Survey

7. Shipwrecked Castaways

In June, 1944, the US Navy sank a convoy of 3 Japanese supply ships off Anatahan, a small Marianas island about 75 miles north of Saipan. 36 soldiers and sailors survived, and managed to swim to Anatahan, where they were taken in by the Japanese head of a coconut plantation and his wife.

The US military successfully invaded the Marianas in 1944, seizing the main islands and bypassing the smaller ones such as Anahatan. The Japanese on that island, lacking means of communication with their chain of command, were cut off and effectively isolated from the outside world. Matters soon grew dire on the resource-poor island, as the castaways barely managed to keep body and soul together, surviving on coconuts, lizards, bats, insects, taro, wild sugar cane, and any edible that they could find.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Still from a movie about the Anatahan castaways. Culture Trip

6. Salvation Falls From the Heavens

Things improved somewhat for the Anahatan castaways in January, 1945, when a B-29 bomber, returning from a raid on Japan, crashed on Anatahan. Scavenging the wreckage, the castaways fashioned the plane’s metal into crude instruments and useful items, such as knives, pots, and roofs for their huts.

Parachutes were turned into clothing; oxygen tanks were used for storing water; springs from machine guns were fashioned into fishing hooks; nylon cords were used as fishing lines, and some pistols were also recovered. Conditions remained difficult, but the timely crash of the bomber had saved the castaways. They had been facing slow starvation, until seemingly divine aid fell from the sky and gave them a fighting chance at survival.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Still from a movie about the Anatahan castaways. A Pessimist is Never Disappointed

5. A Japanese Lord of the Flies

In addition to the daily struggle for survival, Anatahan’s demographics resulted in added layers of difficulty, further complicating the castaways’ plight and gradually leading to a Lord of the Flies dynamics. There was only one woman on the island. Unsurprisingly, 30 men stranded for years on a small island that contained only one woman led to problematic interactions, as the men competed for her affections.

The object of their attentions, Kazuko Higa, had arrived on the island with her husband in 1944. Her husband disappeared in mysterious circumstances soon after the castaways washed ashore. So she married a Kikuichiro Higa as protection against the marooned shipwrecks. However, one of the castaways shot and killed her new husband, only to have his own throat slit soon thereafter by yet another aspiring beau.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Still from a movie about the Anatahan castaways. This Island Rod

4. A Castaway Femme Fatale

Over the years, Kazuko Higa developed into a full-blown femme fatale. She transferred her affections between a series of beaus, each of whom ended up violently assailed and chased off, or murdered, by some of the other frustrated men. Matters were not helped when the men discovered how to ferment an intoxicating drink known as “tuba”, or coconut wine. As a result, they often spent days on end drinking themselves into a stupor, interspersed with bouts of alcohol-fueled rage and fighting.

By 1951, there had been 12 murders on Anatahan, in addition to numerous fights, as the men violently vied for the affections of the island’s sole female. Jealous rivals stabbed one of Kazuko Higa’s lovers with a knife on 13 separate occasions. That did not stop him from returning to his amorous pursuit as soon as he recovered from each failed attempt on his life.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Anatahan castaways as depicted in a 1950s movie. Pintrest

3. Left to Languish

Elsewhere in the Marianas, American authorities learned of the Japanese on Anatahan after natives from nearby islands informed the US Navy of their presence. However, the small island was off the beaten path, lacked military significance, and the Japanese marooned there posed no threat. So the castaways were allowed to languish in isolation as the war continued and reached its climactic conclusion elsewhere.

After Japan surrendered, authorities remembered the Japanese on Anatahan. Printed leaflets were airdropped on the island, informing its denizens that the war was over and directing them to surrender. However, the castaways dismissed the leaflets as propaganda, and refused to believe that their government could have thrown in the towel. The island was even less important after the war ended than it had been while the conflict raged, and its inhabitants were just as isolated and harmless to the outside world. So the American authorities did not deem it worth the trouble to send in US forces to root them out.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Kazuko Higa after turning herself in. Paleric

2. Reality Finally Breaks Through

The Japanese of Anatahan were left to their own devices. From time to time, an airplane would drop leaflets over the island, repeating that the war was over and directing the Japanese to surrender. However, the marooned soldiers and sailors persisted in disbelieving the leaflets’ veracity. Things went on like that, for years.

That changed in 1950 when Kazuko Higa sighted a passing US vessel. She raced to the beach, flagged it down, and asked to be taken off the island. It was only then that the authorities learned that the Japanese on Anatahan did not believe that the war had ended. When the information was relayed to Japan, the holdouts’ families were contacted. They wrote letters to their kin, verifying that it was no enemy trick, and that the war had, indeed, ended years earlier.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Anatahan castaways surrendering. WW2 Wrecks

1. The Castaways Return Home

The letters, along with an official message from the Japanese government, finally convinced Anatahan’s holdouts. They surrendered in 1951, and were shipped back to Japan. There, their story became a sensation, resulting in numerous books, plays, and movies.

When US and German Soldiers Fought Together and Lesser-Known World War II Events
Surrender of Anatahan castaways. WW2 Wrecks

The most well-known of the Anatahan castaways, Kazuko Higa, was nicknamed “The Queen Bee of Anahatan Island” by the Japanese press. She found temporary fame as a tropical temptress, selling her story to newspapers and recounting it to packed theaters. However, after public interest receded, she fell into prostitution and abject poverty, and died at the age of 51 while working as a garbage collector.


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

BBC – The Austrian Castle Where Nazis Lost to German-US Force

Bomber Command Museum of Canada – Halifax

Cox, Robert John – The Battle Off Samar: Taffy III at Leyte Gulf (2010)

Defense Media Network – The Mark 14 Torpedo Scandal

Encyclopedia Britannica – Panzer IV

Firearm Blog – The Worst Pistol Ever: Type 94 Nambu

Forsyth, Robert – Ju 88 Aces of World War 2 (2019)

Harding, Stephen – The Last Battle: When US and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe (2013)

History Net – Goldilocks Fighter: What Made the F6F Hellcat ‘Just Right’?

Hornfischer, James D. – The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the US Navy’s Finest Hour (2005)

How Stuff Works – Yakovlev Yak-9

Japan Times, May 3rd, 2014 – A Homage to the Queen of Anatahan

National Air and Space Museum – Junkers Ju 88

New Yorker, The, March 17th, 1962 – The Stragglers: Even if it Takes a Hundred Years

Tank Encyclopedia – Comet Cruiser Tank A34

Tank Encyclopedia – Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. A

Technology Org – Probably the Worst Handgun Ever Made: What Made the Nambu Type 94 So Terrible?

Warbird Alley – Yakovlev Yak-9

War History Online – 19 Facts About the Grumman F6F Hellcat With Photos

We Are the Mighty – The Mk. 14: America’s Horrible World War II Torpedo

Wikipedia – Battle for Castle Itter

Wikipedia – Comet (Tank)

Wikipedia – Handley Page Halifax

Yorkshire Museum – Handley Page Halifax Mk III