Second World War: A Miscellany

Second World War: A Miscellany

by Norman Ferguson

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Second World War: A Miscellany by Norman Ferguson

Have you ever wondered...

• Who was the youngest WW2 serviceman to fight in battle?

• How low did the Dambusters fly?

• How many ships were sunk at Pearl Harbor?

From the Battle of Britain to the Siege of Leningrad, the horrors of the Holocaust to the D-Day landings, on the Home Front and abroad, the Second World War changed the political, social and economic structure of the world. Through its battles, aircraft, weapons, soldiers, campaigns and heroes, this comprehensive miscellany is a compelling guide to one of the most destructive and all-encompassing wars the world has ever seen.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783722518
Publisher: Summersdale
Publication date: 08/14/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Norman Ferguson is an author of The Battle of Britain and The First World War: A Miscellany, as well as other books on history, aviation and modern culture. He has worked as a web editor and copywriter.

Read an Excerpt

The Second World War

A Miscellany

By Norman Ferguson

Summersdale Publishers Ltd

Copyright © 2014 Norman Ferguson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78372-251-8


Allied and Axis Powers

The belligerent countries in the war formed part of wider alliances. The actions of the Allies were more coordinated than the Axis nations.

Axis powers

Germany – Italy – Japan – Romania – Bulgaria – Hungary

Main Allied powers

Britain – USA – Soviet Union – China – France – India – Canada – Australia – New Zealand – South Africa

The Commanders

Marshal Georgy Zhukov (Soviet Union)

A conscripted First World War soldier who went on to become a Marshal of the USSR, Zhukov played a vital role in the defence of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad. His strategic genius was put to great effect in the Red Army's offensive in 1944 and 1945, successfully pushing the Germans back.

Air Vice-Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris (Britain)

Harris resisted efforts by Allied commanders to divert bombers away from what he regarded as the main priority of Bomber Command: the heavy bombing of Germany. He believed throughout the war that only an aerial offensive could bring about a collapse in German morale and an end to the conflict.

Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding (Britain)

Known as 'Stuffy' for his detached manner, Dowding remained in the RAF after the First World War and at the start of the Second World War was head of Fighter Command. His steady guidance during the critical days of summer 1940 was ill rewarded, as he was removed from his position soon after. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Germany)

Hitler described Rommel as 'the most daring commander of armoured forces in the whole of the German army'. In the Battle of France he commanded a panzer division, and was given command of the Axis forces in the Desert War where his exploits earned him the name 'the Desert Fox'. Beaten in the Desert and North African campaigns, Rommel was given command of the Atlantic Wall defences. Suspected of involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler, he killed himself as his family would otherwise have been targeted by the German security forces. Whether Rommel was part of the plot or not remains unknown.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Britain)

Although tactless and egocentric, 'Monty' as he is universally known, was popular with the soldiers he led and the British public. He was not shy of generating publicity for his generalship, but, despite the unattractive elements of his personality, Montgomery was a successful war commander: he was in charge of the Allied forces that defeated the Germans in northern France in 1944 and his victory at El Alamein was a major triumph at an important point in the war.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower (USA)

Despite his lack of combat experience, Eisenhower was a perfect choice to be Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in north-west Europe. His calm patience and desire to find consensus allowed him to cope with the differing demands of his competing generals.

Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Japan)

Yamamoto realised the value of naval air power and was the originator of the plan to attack the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto had been against war with America, knowing that if it lasted, Japan would be defeated.



Germany needs peace and desires peace.

Adolf Hitler, 1935

Third Reich

Once Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 he instigated a programme of military rearmament, which, although against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, helped Germany's economy to recover following the Great Depression. Hitler's tightening of control over Germany allowed him the freedom to determine domestic and foreign policy. In the 'Third Reich' (Third Empire) Germany would seek to expand its territory beyond its borders and persecute those perceived as internal enemies, such as the Jews.

Munich Conference

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.

Neville Chamberlain, 27 September 1938. While this was taking place, defences were being built in Britain and the population prepared for possible conflict.

In 1938 Hitler's plans to annexe the Sudetenland, an area inside Czechoslovakia with a predominantly German population, created a crisis when German troops gathered at the border. In late September, representatives from Britain, France, Germany and Italy met in Munich and it was agreed that the Sudetenland would become part of Germany, as long as there were no further territorial aggressive moves. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain secured Hitler's signature on a piece of paper on which the FÃ1/4hrer promised that Germany and Britain would 'never go to war with one another again'.

On his return to Britain, Chamberlain was greeted with enthusiastic celebrations at having averted war – he appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the King and Queen – but many, including Winston Churchill, believed it was only a postponement.

I believe it is peace for our time.

Neville Chamberlain, 30 September 1938

Territorial expansion

Before the war Germany annexed or occupied the following territories:

1936 – Rhineland
1938 – Austria
1938 – Sudetenland
1939 – Czechoslovakia
1939 – Memel/Klaipeda Region (Lithuania)



I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by eleven o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.

Neville Chamberlain, radio broadcast, 11.15 a.m., 3 September 1939


In early 1939, another crisis arose as Hitler turned his attention to Poland. In an effort to halt this aggressive move, Britain promised support to guarantee Polish independence. Hitler did not want to provoke war with Britain, France and the Soviet Union, and in August a non-aggression pact was signed between Germany and the Soviet Union. This paved the way for the Polish invasion and the inevitable war that would result.

Deceptions of the War: Gleiwitz

On 31 August Germany stated that Polish troops had attacked a German radio station near the German– Polish border, and were shot by German troops. Although dead Polish soldiers were found, it was part of a ruse: SS soldiers had dressed concentration camp prisoners in Polish army uniforms and shot them to provide a reason for the German invasion.


On 1 September, 52 German army divisions launched their attack in the first use of 'blitzkrieg' tactics. This form of warfare saw aircraft, tanks, artillery and troops concentrated in rapid assaults to achieve breakthroughs in their opponent's defences. The Polish ground forces were initially overrun and their air force destroyed on the ground, but the Poles were still able to fight a fierce defensive action. On 17 September the Soviet Union invaded the east of the country and a week later Warsaw surrendered. The two aggressors divided up the conquered nation.

Divided Poland (square miles)

Germany – 73,000

Soviet Union – 77,000


Number of Polish troops taken prisoner by German forces in the 1939 invasion. Around 200,000 were killed or wounded. German losses came to around 44,000.


Number of Polish towns and villages burnt to the ground by German troops who also carried out atrocities such as raping women and publicly humiliating Jewish men.


In the wake of the advance, members of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) carried out mass executions of Polish civilians. Over 16,000 members of the Polish elite, such as university staff, aristocrats, priests and Jews, were lined up and shot.

British Home Front


As war began, bombing was expected immediately and sections of the civilian population were evacuated from cities expected to be targets. Not everyone went – more than half those eligible refused to go: parents were reluctant to send their children to stay with strangers. Over half of those who left returned home when the feared air raids didn't take place immediately.


Children – 827,000
Mothers with children aged under five – 524,000
Teachers and helpers – 100,000
Pregnant women – 13,000
Disabled persons – 7,000
Total – 1,471,000


For the first time in the history of the zoo we have no poisonous animals here.

Spokesman for London Zoo, 2 September 1939

All poisonous snakes and insects were destroyed and valuable animals such as zebras, Ba-Bar the baby elephant, giant pandas and four chimpanzees (out of the eight who took part in the daily tea party) were transported to other zoos. The zoo remained open.


Number of pets put down by the RSPCA in London in the first week of the war in order to save food.


Blackout regulations were in force by the start of the war, under the emergency lighting regulations, which meant no interior lights were to be visible outside. Offenders could go to prison for up to three months and pay a £100 fine. Vehicle headlights had to be masked and street lighting was switched off.

Put that light out!

Commonly heard exhortation by air-raid wardens.


Number killed between September and December 1939 in road accidents – double that for the same period the previous year.

The Mayor of Willesden was injured when his car and an ARP ambulance came into collision in Salisbury Road on Tuesday night. He was taken to Willesden General Hospital where he was stated to be comfortable. Five others were hurt.

The Times, 29 August 1940


Number of people charged with blackout offences in 1940.

44 million

Number of gas masks issued. Britain was the only country to equip its entire population. Babies under two years old were placed inside a respirator that encompassed their whole body, while children aged two to five were given 'Mickey Mouse' masks, so named because of their resemblance to the cartoon character. As it turned out, no gas attacks were made in the war.


Rationing had been carried out in the First World War and was reintroduced, with petrol being rationed in September 1939, food in January 1940 and then clothing in June the following year. An adult in 1942 was given 60 clothing coupons, which were to last a year. Certain clothing items were allocated as per below:



With food scarce, home-grown produce was encouraged. Allotments almost doubled in number to 1.4 million.


In the face of potential food shortages, scientists considered providing plankton for human consumption. Although rich in fat, proteins and vitamin A, it was too difficult to harvest successfully.


Number of wartime prosecutions for black-market crimes. The war saw a rise in crime of over 50 per cent, with looters and burglars helped by the darkness of the blackout, and spivs selling contraband goods.


Number of times Walter Handy claimed to have been 'bombed out' of his home in five months. Victims were paid compensation for the loss of their home, and with so many houses lost and officials unable to devote time to verifying every case, the system was open to fraudulent claims. Handy was jailed.


Name given to prostitutes who operated in central London. The rise in the number of enlisted men in the capital saw a corresponding increase in female sex workers.


Number of unemployed workers in 1939. The demands of the war economy ensured almost full employment by 1945, with those registered unemployed falling to 54,000.


Number of women jailed for refusing to carry out war work.


Lord Haw-Haw was the nickname given to William Joyce, an Irish-American Nazi supporter who broadcast propaganda from Germany. Seven million people in Britain tuned in to his radio shows, in which he taunted his listeners. At the war's end he was put on trial and hanged as a traitor by the Allies.


Around 6,000 conscientious objectors spent the war carrying out construction and labouring jobs, although some worked at disarming unexploded bombs.


Conscription began in April 1939 when single men aged between 20 and 22 were called up for six months' service in the armed forces. At the start of the war, the criteria was expanded to all men aged between 18 and 41, and in December 1941 the upper age was raised to 51.


September 1939 897,000
June 1940 1,656,000

Reserved occupations

In 1939 a list of reserved occupations was issued to prevent industrial production being affected by skilled workers leaving their employment, as had occurred in the First World War. The occupations included:

accountant – ambulance driver – architect – bank clerk – basketmaker – blacksmith – bricklayer – cabinetmaker – candlemaker – cartographer – chemist – civil servant – clockmaker – coastguard – coppersmith – crane driver – dentist – docker – doctor – engineer – farm worker – fish-hook maker – fisherman – gardener – glazier – gunsmith – jeweller – joiner – laundry worker – lighthouse keeper – mason – meteorologist – miner – optician – poultryman – prison warder – railway worker – riveter – salesman – saxophone maker – scissors maker – steeplejack – surveyor – tailor – teacher – toolmaker – trade union official – train driver – upholsterer – vet


The Phoney War

After the invasion of Poland, the war settled into a period of relative calm. France and Britain had a numerical advantage over Germany but there were no attempts at mounting a major offensive. Germany's best troops were in Poland and its western border with France was not heavily defended. French troops did make advances but the opportunity to strike further into Germany was not taken. From September 1939 until May 1940 the war was given these terms:

'Phoney War'
'Bore War'
'Twilight War'
Britain (Winston Churchill)
'La Dôle de Guerre' France

Forces (divisions) on French–German border (September 1939)

German 23
French 108


Number of soldiers in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sent to France in September. The number reached almost 400,000 over the winter.

First losses

With the war only hours old, German U-boat U30 launched torpedoes at the SS Athenia, a liner en route to Canada from Glasgow. The resulting 118 civilian deaths – including 28 Americans – caused outrage. U-boats had been forbidden from attacking civilian ships unless they were pre-warned, but the commander claimed it was a Royal Navy cruiser. The mistake was a propaganda coup for the British who were able to highlight the similarities with the sinking of the Lusitania in the First World War.


Number of sailors who died on the Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak on 14 October 1939, from the ship's complement of 1,146. German U-boat U-47 was able to make its way into Orkney's Scapa Flow from where it launched torpedoes and escaped undetected. Among those lost were 120 sailors aged between 14 and 18.

First casualty

On 9 December 1939, Corporal Thomas W. Priday was part of a patrol in eastern France when he was killed by a booby trap, laid by his own side. He was the first British Army casualty.


Number of British ships sunk by German U-boats, mines and ships between September 1939 and May 1940.

The day will come for total settlement with Hitler and his gang. Whose side will you be on? Shall your fathers, sons, brothers, who are already in Hitler's pay in foreign countries, shall the whole German people suffer for this? Remember: he who sows hatred – will reap revenge!

Text of propaganda leaflet dropped on Germany. Around 65 million were dropped by the RAF in the early stages of the war.

The Battle of the River Plate

I alone bear the responsibility for scuttling the panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee. I am happy to pay with my life to prevent any possible reflection on the honour of the flag.

Captain Hans Langsdorff, 20 December 1939

With these words, Langsdorff wrapped himself in the German navy flag and shot himself. His ship, the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, had been scuttled three days previously after taking shelter in the Uruguayan port of Montevideo following its involvement in the Battle of the River Plate with three British warships. Thinking there were more Royal Navy ships waiting at sea than there actually were, Langsdorff ordered his ship to be put out of action.


Excerpted from The Second World War by Norman Ferguson. Copyright © 2014 Norman Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Maps: Major Battles and Important Locations of the Second World War,
Allied and Axis Powers,
The Phoney War,
The War in Facts and Figures,

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