World War II was one of the most far-reaching events in human history. It fundamentally changed the world like most other big wars couldn’t, and its effects can still be felt in many places.
Despite that, there are still a lot of misconceptions about the war, as a lot of information from that time came from propaganda and unreliable word of mouth. There are some World War II myths that desperately needed to be debunked.
Mussolini made the trains run on time
An old meme used to try and defend fascism. People will claim this about Benito Mussolini, saying he fixed Italy’s poorly maintained railway system, to spread the idea of fascist efficiency. The truth is that repairs to the railways were in occurring before Mussolini took power. He just took credit for it to make himself look good, and even then the railroads weren’t nearly as punctual as fascists supporters would like you to think.
The fascist regimes were efficient
Supporters of fascism like claim it’s more efficient that other forms of government. The idea being that a powerful government could get things done quickly without anything to hinder it. Mussolini and Hitler took power through violence in troubled times, Hitler in particular rose in a period where German politicians relied heavily on their personal street gangs to dispose of rivals.
Hitler rose up in a violent time through blood, betrayal, and once he was in power he did nothing to discourage it. As long as nobody crossed him they could get as violent with their ambitions as they wanted, and they did. Hitler’s regime wasn’t efficient, it was a corrupt cesspool of betrayal and murder.
Nazi Germany made better weapons than the Allies
The Nazis experimented with a number of technologies, which gave rise the idea that they had superior weapons to the Allies. But while they made some innovations, the new technologies were put to better use after the war. There most effective weapons were less flashy and more practical ones like the infamous MG42 light machine gun, simply because the Allies didn’t have a weapon like it.
Commonly praised weapon of Germans was the Tiger tank. The Tiger may have had heavier armor and a more powerful gun than Sherman and T-34s commonly used by the Allies, it was an overly complicated, impractical tank, that the Germans actually built in limited numbers. Just over a thousand Tigers were built, while tens of thousands of Shermans and T-34s were built. The Tiger didn’t account for many loses of tanks on the Allied side simply because most Allied tanks crews never encountered one.
What really caused most losses of the Shermans were humble anti-tank mines and man operated anti-guns, simply because they were the most common anti-tank weapon an Allied tank crew could come across.
Most of the same issues with the Tiger applied to the Panther. Far more Panthers were built than Tigers but still well under ten thousand. Simply based on the numbers of Tiger and Panther tanks built, Allied tank crews had less than a one in ten chance of encountering either. The Panther wasn’t as oversized as the Tiger, but even with that big gun and heavy slopped armor it was still handicapped compared to Allied tanks for how overly complicated its engine design was. In contrast, the Sherman was easy to fix.
Also while the Tiger and Panther tanks had reputation for supposedly interpenetrate armor, the Sherman and T-34 both got bigger guns later in the war that could pierce the frontal armor of the Panther, albeit only close range, and the side armor of the Tiger. Given how much more numerous those Allied tanks were, the more places they could pierce the frontal armor on the heavier tanks, the worse off the big tanks were.
Other weapons like the V rockets were frightening but didn’t make a big impact the war, even if the rockets were hard to shoot down. Conventional air raids were far more destructive than the rockets.
The Sherman tank was junk and the T-34 far superior
The Sherman gets an unfairly bad reputation. A large number would destroyed in the war but large numbers of other tanks were also destroyed, including the T-34. The USSR was in a bad situation when it was design the T-34. Hitler’s invasion was inevitable, they knew this, and unfortunately they had a lot of outdated tanks lying around. As they were desperate to stop Hitler, they needed to get as many tanks to the front line as quickly as they could. Desperation meant some corners were cut.
For further proof on why the T-34 wasn’t perfect, the Soviets developed a newer version later in the war called the T-34–85, in reference to its bigger gun. Aside from a bigger gun, the never version of the T-34 had a bigger turret to accommodate a fourth crew member. That should tell you that there a big deficiency with the tank.
The early version of the T-34 had a crew of four, while other tanks like the Sherman and Panzer IV had a crew of five. There was a good reason for this, because a crew of four couldn’t run a tank as effectively as a crew of five could. The Soviets realized this and built the T-34–85 to allow for an extra crew member.
Where having an extra crew man helped was allowing for an extra man in the turret. The early versions of the T-34 turret could only fit two people. German tanks had turrets that could fit a commander, a gunner, and a man to load the gun. This meant the T-34 was slow to find and engage targets, and German tank crews could typically get three shots for every one the T-34 fired.
The United States wasn’t the same bad spot with designing the Sherman so there was more time to iron out kinks in the tank. Not that it wasn’t without its problems, its hull mounted machine gun proved to a largely useless weapon, hence why you don’t see those anymore.
Against the tanks encountered most frequently, the Sherman’s armor was actually good enough to protect it. Tiger and Panther tanks could pierce it easily but the Sherman rarely encountered those so it’s not a huge issue that it’s armor couldn’t stop shells from tanks it would rarely encounter, not to mention the T-34’s armor didn’t fare any better.
Shermans had a huge advantage of other tanks in that its engine was easy to repair and maintain. Having the most powerful tank in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t fix it when it breaks down. The T-34 was easier to manufacture, but easy of manufacture and easy of maintenance don’t go hand and hand with complex machine.
Red Army tank crews actually liked the Sherman. It was roomier than the T-34 (relatively speaking, tanks are always cramped, even the much ones built today), and the crew had a greater chance of surviving wreck. The T-34 also had a number ergonomics with its crew compartment.
Roosevelt allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to happen
Similar to people who claim 9/11 was an inside job, we have people who claim Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen to justify entering WWII. This ridiculous theory, like all conspiracy theories, feels the need to over complicate things and not realize that stopping an attack on Pearl Harbor would have had the same result.
Roosevelt knew that he was not a soldier so he valued the input of his military advisors, and no military officer with their salt would advice letting the enemy attack your fleet while it’s still in port. The US navy repaired most of the material damage but nobody could have foreseen that.
The D-Day Invasion was blood bath
The popular image of Allied troops landing on Normandy was that it was hard fought struggle with men getting cut down by machine gun fire the minute they got out of their landing craft.
While that image makes for a good action set piece in movies and a fun level in video games that makes for a payoff to all the build up to the invasion, it’s also an exaggeration. The only time defense were strong offer any major resistance was on Omaha Beach. Only it and Gold Beach had casualties that broke a thousand.
As the Allies found out, the defenses on most of the beaches weren’t as strong as they expected. Some of the attacks ended with the Allied soldiers finding their spending time and effort trying to knock out fortifications that weren’t finished or didn’t exist.
The Red Army caused Japan’s surrender
So we don’t know everything about what happened with the Japanese leadership deciding to surrender. We know it happened after the second atomic bomb was dropped, and after the USSR invaded Manchuria.
However the Red Army being the primary cause of Japan’s surrender is unlikely. The Red Army didn’t have the means to invade Japan or launch the kind of air raids that the United States did. Their biggest concern of the USSR had been pushing Nazi Germany out of Russia, and their weapons development was built entirely around pushing the German invaders.
Air bases in Great Britain gave the Americans and the British a close enough based to launch air raids on Germany. Russia was too far away to even consider trying that. As such the USSR didn’t build any bombers that would allow a long range air raid on Germany or Japan. There was never a need to launch an amphibious invasion due to them fighting a land war so they didn’t build any amphibious landing craft.
The Red Army was a huge danger to the Japanese troops who were still on the Asian mainland but the main threat to the Japanese home island still came from the United States.
The power of the Bismarck
The German battleship Bismarck is arguably the most famous ship of the war thanks to the Royal Navy’s determination to sink it. While that makes for an interesting story, the Bismarck was nowhere near as good a ship as its fame would have you believe.
What made the Bismarck such a big target for the British was that she sank the HMS Hood. The Hood was the largest ship in service to the Royal Navy for 20 years which earned her a lot of prestige with the Royal Navy thinking she was invincible. The Bismarck sinking her the loss a big hit to British moral at a bad time in the war.
But the Hood was over 20 years old while the Bismarck was a newer ship, even without considering why she was sunk. While the Bismarck was on her fifth salvo at the Hood, one of her shells started a fire that ignited the Hood’s ammunition, causing an explosion that destroy the ship. It was a lucky hit.
The Bismarck herself was hardly the best battleship in the war. Germany had been restricted from building ships over a certain size for most of the period between the world wars until Hitler decided to just ignore the restrictions. However by that point Germany had fallen behind when it came to designing battleships and it showed.
She had a much shorter operation range than Britain’s King George V and America’s Iowa class battleships and carried fewer big guns. In between the war, it became standard for battleships to mount three cannons on their big gun turrets to allow more guns on fewer turrets. This meant less armor was needed, but the Bismarck still only used two guns per turret.
The secondary armament of the Bismarck also showed some behind the times thinking with of low angle turrets to aim surface targets. The US and Royal Navy didn’t use such guns, instead relying on dual purpose guns that could be used against surface targets and aircraft for added anti-air fire. The Germans showed they were more concerned about attacks from destroyers. Incidentally, part of why the Bismarck was sunk was because lucky hit from an out of date torpedo plan destroyed her ruder.
How the Germans used the Bismarck even showed a terrible disconnect between the navy and ship builders. She was armed for a traditional battle with warships but naval officers envisioned her as destroying commerce ships, something she didn’t have the range for at cruising speed for.