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5 Things You Didn't Know About World War II

On August 14, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced that Japan had unconditionally surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II.  You may know the major details of the war, but here are five things you probably didn't know about World War II.

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The Soviets and Japanese Didn't Formally Fight Until Just Before Japan Surrendered. # Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2684817. Stalin's fight against Hitler in Europe is one of the more well-known aspects of the war, but what many people don't realize is that the Soviets didn't fight in the Pacific theater until August 8, 1945. The same month that the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the Soviets finally declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria, which had been under Japanese control. In fact, this declaration and invasion may have been the actual reasons that Japan finally surrendered. The two bombs, dropped on August 6 and August 9, devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese government did try to negotiate with the Allies. But the Japanese did not surrender unconditionally until August 14, and the Soviet invasion may have been the final straw.

One Man Survived Both Atomic Blasts, and His Initial Exposure May Have Saved His Family. # The second atomic bomb dropped on Japan was larger than the one used at Hiroshima. Photo credit: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5296894. Whether Tsutomu Yamaguchi is a lucky or unlucky man is up to you, but there's no doubt he's one of the more amazing figures from the war. Yamaguchi was a naval engineer from Nagasaki who had been working in Hiroshima temporarily. Literally, on the day he was supposed to wrap up work in Hiroshima, the first atomic bomb fell. Yamaguchi survived and returned to Nagasaki but was burned so badly that his family in Nagasaki didn't recognize him. However, those burns may have saved his family. When the second bomb fell on Nagasaki—while Yamaguchi was in that city being berated by a superior who didn't believe that one bomb was responsible for what happened in Hiroshima—Yamaguchi's wife had taken their child out so they could look for burn ointment for Yamaguchi. All three survived, but part of the Yamaguchi house was destroyed. Had his wife and child been home, they might have been killed.

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Rationing in the U.K. and the United States Continued Well After the War. Food, clothing, and fuel were rationed heavily in the U.S. and U.K. during the war, with elaborate but useful points systems and rationing books used throughout the war. The end of the war brought a lot of relief, but it didn't end the rationing. The U.S. got relief first, with most goods coming off the rationing scheme in 1945 except for sugar. That didn't become a non-rationed good until 1947, though some areas were able to get more sugar earlier than that. The U.K. had to deal with rationing for a much longer time because much of its food stores and supplies now had to support the destroyed communities in mainland Europe. Clothes were rationed until 1949, and food rationing lasted until 1954—and in fact, it got worse after the war ended.

German Troops Tried to Willingly Surrender to Allied Forces After V-E Day Instead of Evading Capture. If your side loses in a war, what do you want to do? Most likely, you want to make it home safely, but for German troops stuck behind Soviet lines after May 1945, the idea of simply heading home wasn't an option. They faced capture by the Soviets, who they knew would not be nice about it. The Soviets were likely to tear the troops apart. So, the Germans actually tried to find the Allies—the British and Americans—because surrendering to them brought a greater chance of being treated less violently.

Britain and Argentina Nearly Got Into Their Own War Over Antarctic Territory. You don't hear much about Antarctica in World War II except rumors of a secret Nazi base (which were false rumors), but that continent was nearly the cause of a separate war between the U.K. and Argentina during WWII. Way back in 1904, the U.K. had let Argentina take over a station on the continent, but in WWII, the U.K. came back and asserted control over the area after Germans sent a boat to Antarctica. (However, there was later speculation that it had more to do with taking the region back from Argentina.) This angered the Argentinians, and the U.K. did not want things to escalate. But the country still sent a ship over and had the crew gradually claim more land and construct more bases. Amazingly, when the ship first encountered Argentinians, the Argentinians were in such tough conditions that they were happy to see the British.