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22 Myths About World War II That Just Aren't True

A conflict as wide-ranging and destructive as WWII naturally gives birth to a number of urban legends and myths that become "common knowledge" - despite not actually being true. Many have been refuted numerous times, and some exist only as rumors or fringe conspiracies held to by a few outsider scholars. WWII was a complex global struggle, that took the lives of many, and it can be hard to know what legends about this conflict and this period of history are actually true, and which are completely false.

These myths and urban legends about WWII range from Hitler's jubilant jig to the conspiracy theories that say FDR knew Pearl Harbor was about to be targeted. First we look at what the WW2 myth is, then at the reality - which sometimes is stranger than the myth itself

Need more information? Check out the conflict's pivotal battles, most influential people, and the many films telling the stories of WWII.

  • France Surrendered Without A Fight

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    THE MYTH: 

    France rolled over to Germany in 1940 without resisting because the French are cowards.


    The fact that Germany did in six weeks during WWII what they couldn't do in four years in WWI is grossly oversimplified. While it's true that France surrendered quickly to Germany, French soldiers fought hard in the Battle of France, taking down over 150,000 people and destroying over German 800 tanks. The French army was let down by indecisive leadership, poor tactics, bad logistics, and commanders trying to fight a defensive conflict and avoid the high casualties of WWI.

  • Hitler Let The British Escape At Dunkirk

    Photo: War Office official photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    THE MYTH: 

    Adolf Hitler allowed 330,000 British soldiers to escape destruction on the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940 as a sporting gesture, or because they were fellow white people.


    The Dunkirk "halt order" would prove to be one of the most controversial military decisions of the conflict. German tanks were ordered to halt and regroup for two days at the exact same time as British soldiers were being evacuated from France. Some have alleged Hitler did this on purpose, and the dictator himself, late in his life, said it was a "sporting gesture" to Churchill.

    But the historical record doesn't bear this out. There's no military reason Germany's dictator would have wanted Britain's army to escape intact, and German armored units did need a break to rest and rearm. Such a break was actually requested by the German panzer commander in France - an order rubber stamped by Hitler. He was also convinced that his air force could destroy the British soldiers on the beaches. He was wrong, and those men would later return to France to liberate it.

  • Returning GIs Abandoned Thousands Of Cars In Belgium

    Photo: cszar / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0


    Unable to bring them home, US soldiers abandoned thousands of vintage cars that had been plundered from Occupied Germany, leaving them to rot in a Belgian forest.


    The pictures of this Belgian car graveyard, abandoned for 70 years, are indeed haunting. But as to who left the cars there and why - that's a mystery. Urban legend says the cars were dumped there by US GIs, but locals say it's just a car boneyard, no different from any dumping ground anywhere else.

    It's obvious from looking at the pictures you'll find online that the urban legend isn't true. Most of these cars are clearly from after the conflict, with some from the '60s and '70s. In any case, the car graveyard was a source of stolen spare parts for decades, until being permanently cleared in 2010.

  • The Death Match

    Photo: Photographer of IOC / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain


    A soccer team made up of Ukrainian players was wiped out after beating a Nazi team.


    The so-called "death match" between the ad-hoc Ukrainian team Start FC and German occupier team Flakelf did take place. But the players weren't executed en masse afterwards, and no research has found proof that any German official told the Ukrainians to lose or die, as many historical accounts of the time claim.

    What's probable is that several of the players, all of whom were on a work detail, were shot as a reprisal for a resistance act. Those players are immortalized in a statue outside the stadium of Dynamo Kiev, the most popular soccer team in Ukraine.