18 Rare WW2 Photos You Weren’t Shown In History Class
World War II was one of the most devastating conflicts in mankind history. It cost millions of lives and took place across many continents. The armed forces of the Axis and Allied nations had around 70 million people fighting in WWII. Artists and photographers captured millions of photos from WWII. World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945 and here’s a look at the photos that tell stories from the War.
1. Necessity Breeds Ingenuity
All sorts of weird configurations of firing weapons were created in World War II out of necessity. In this case, a Russian squad in training during the Crimean Front in 1942 was photographed with a seemingly mobile machine gun. While the photo was staged for publicity, in reality, they likely had to carry the beast to move quickly. The wheels did little help moving through rubble.
2. Lost Forever
In many cases, clear war photos of German personnel were likely the last known memory of a given individual, as in the case of this fellow on the Soviet front reading a letter from home. If a German soldier did not die on the Russian front, he was captured and sent to Siberia to die in a labor camp in most cases. The Russians were not forgiving of their war enemies as the western allies were.
3. Keep Calm and Carry On
The whole spirit of London through World War II was about resistance at every level, even if it meant some of the most mundane acts. In this case, a London City library has been bombed out but some of the book aisles are intact and unburnt. So, ignoring the obvious disaster, patrons are looking for something to read like a normal day at the library.
4. A Shooting Gallery
Many of the landing craft trying to reach the beaches of Normandy were blown apart in the water with the men inside never having had a chance to even fire their rifles once. This particularly LC made it in one piece as the photographer was obviously inside and lived to develop the film. In some cases the LC got stuck and soldiers had to jump out and swim with all their gear. A number of them drowned being weighted down too much.
5. A Moot Point
How many German rifles did it take to execute a hated resistance leader? In this case a whole squad was photographed before they opened fire on Georges Blind for being a successful French Resistance leader before being caught and executed. The French Resistance were particularly effective and hated by the occupying German forces in France.
6. The Shocking Horror of the Holocaust
If one considers the fact that each one of these rings represented one married woman sent to a concentration camp the scale of murder in just this box is horrifying. Jews were routinely stripped of any jewelry, wealth, jewelry and decent clothing they were wearing before entering a camp. German camp personnel had every intention of monetizing the belongings once they were collected with gold even pulled from teeth when found in a Jew.
7. Death is a Better Fate
It was well understood by the end of the war that anyone stuck on the Russian side of occupied Germany was going to be brutalized for being a German. In many cases women, rather than being captured as the Red Army approach, killed themselves. In this photo Austrian women took poison together to avoid being raped or worse.
8. The Collaborator
The French were particularly incensed with women who had collaborated with the Germans during the War. Keep in mind, France had been an occupied country for a number of years early on, so many people under the propped up duchy government were identified later on for punishment. In this case a collaborated is punished with the usual head-shaving and she has a child from a German soldier as well. Most of the women were teenagers during the occupation and dated German soldiers for better conditions and food. But the fact that they turned their back on resistance made them dirt in their countrymen’s eyes after liberation.
10. The Handicapped Tank
While American industry was quick to pump out hundreds of Sherman tanks for the European Front, they were thin tin cans for German artillery, tank and anti-tank fire. In this photo a Sherman M4 took a direct hit to the front, the shell punch right through the armor into the driver’s seat and exploded inside torching the crew and destroying the tank.
It took a lot to take out a German Tiger tank. Note in this photo of country fighting in Italy the Tiger was using a dead Sherman tank for cover before it too was destroyed. Many times German tank had to be hit from the rear with artillery or anti-tank weaponry because their frontal armor was simply too thick for the shells fired from the much smaller Sherman tank’s cannon. A typical tactic was to draw out the German tank and flank it and then fire from the rear. That also meant at least one target had to take the brunt of the German tank’s fire.
12. Opened Up Like a Tin Can
The extent of damage a Sherman tank would take from a direct hit meant that most crews were on suicide missions in high profile easy battlefield targets. This photo of a ruined Sherman M4 shows how much the armor was peeled back by a broadside hit, resulting in instant death for the crew inside when it was hit. The tank remains sit in the Bastogne War Museum today as a reminder of American tank crew sacrifices in the War.
13. Protect Your Feet
Trenchfoot, blisters and footrot were real problems for soldiers. If they couldn’t march, they couldn’t be effective on the field. In this photo for marketing a British officer is inspecting and checking soldiers’ feet for potential problems. By the end of the war many German soldiers who had survived were either walking with boots they had stolen from dead bodies or with whatever they could wrap their feet in to protect from the cold.
14. The Gunner’s Nest
The German machine-gunner team could be absolutely devastating on the field. The Germans had mastered and method of carrying multiple barrels. When one barrel got too hot from firing, they would remove it, replace it with the backup and go back to firing. As long as they had a supply of bullets, a machine gun nest could decimate anyone nearby trying to advance.
15. Camp Horrors in People
German camp guards and personnel were punished as much as possible once the Allies arrived and liberated concentration camps. One of the first tasks of punishment for them was for such personnel under Allied rifle guards to bury the very victims they had killed en masse in the camps as seen in this photo with Bergen-Belsen former camp guards. Notably, a good number of the Nazi camp guards were women. In some cases, the guards captured were tried and hung from the very gallows they had used on Jews and camp victims.
16. Brainwashed Kids
What do you do with a kid who was shooting a gun at you? By the end of the European front and surrender of Germany, the last soldiers fighting Americans were literally children indoctrinated under the Hitler Youth program. These two boys captured in Aachen had been firing at American troops prior to their restraint.
One of the biggest problems Allied tanks had to worry about towards the end of the European front was the Panzerfaust or anti-tank weapon. Often carried by a teenager who would run up near the side of a Sherman and fire maybe only 10 feet away, this deadly weapon would burn a hole right through the side of the tank and light up the inside like an instant oven. It was extremely effective and one attack could stop a column moving almost instantly. It was also lightweight and easy to carry and fire as show by this German teen soldier.
18. D-Day Mayhem and Chaos
This photo provides no justice to the gut-wrenching experience of getting off a landing craft onto a D-Day beach. Thousands of bullets, shells and artillery were flying, many were shot in the water and never made it to the beach. Others spent their last hours on the beach before dying as squad after squad inched forward to take out pill boxes and enemy fire. And even those lucky enough to come after the first waves lost a good number in fighting only days or weeks after arriving in Europe for the first time.