Battle of Berlin: Facts About the World War II Conflict

Here are some facts about the Battle of Berlin.

  • The Battle of Berlin took place during the last days of World War II, from April 16th to May 2nd, 1945. It was the last major battle in Europe during the war.

  • The Russian leader Stalin was anxious to reach Berlin before the British and American soldiers. He wanted to make sure Russia gained land and also wanted control of a nuclear research site.
  • Stalin’s plan was to completely surround Berlin and then attack it. Once the city was surrounded, the bunker in which Adolf Hitler and the other German leaders were hiding could be attacked.
  • About 2.25 million men were in the Russian armies that marched on Berlin. The Russians also had over 6,000 tanks, over 7,000 aircraft, and 95,000 vehicles.
  • During the battle, large areas of Berlin were destroyed. A million residents were made homeless, many of them existing on about 60 percent of their recommended daily calorie intake.
  • One of the heaviest bombings of Berlin took place on April 20th, which was Adolf Hitler’s birthday. More explosives were dropped on Berlin during the battle by the Allies than any other point during World War 2.

Battle of Berlin

  • About 81,000 Russian soldiers died during the Battle of Berlin, with about 280,000 wounded. The number of German casualties is estimated at between 100,000 to 450,000, and thousands of civilians also lost their lives.
  • The Battle of Berlin led to the German leader, Adolf Hitler, committing suicide. Germany surrendered on May 7th, a few days after the battle had ended.
  • Over a million Russian soldiers were awarded a medal commemorating the capture of Berlin.

Battle of Berlin - WW2

  • Each year on May 2nd, Poland commemorates the Polish soldiers who fought in the battle.
  • Berlin has several monuments and memorials to the soldiers who died during the battle. Some houses in the city still have bullet holes from the battle, which are never repaired.

Who Was Nancy Wake? Facts and Information About the White Mouse

Here are some facts about Nancy Wake.

  • Nancy Wake was a Special Operations Executive during World War II and was the most decorated British servicewoman of the conflict. She also worked for the French Resistance network.

  • Wake was born in 1912 in New Zealand, and ran away from home at 16 to become a nurse. She then lived in London, New York and Paris, working as a European newspaper correspondent.
  • When Germany invaded France in 1940, Wake joined the resistance and helped Allied prisoners to escape.
  • She also married a rich businessman, the first of her two marriages.

Nancy Wake

  • In 1942, Nancy Wake was imprisoned during a random round up of suspects. She escaped and travelled through Spain to England, by jumping out of a train window.
  • The German army called Nancy Wake the White Mouse, because she was so difficult to capture. By 1943, she was one of the people most wanted by the Germans, who offered a reward of 5 million francs for her capture.
  • In 1944, she became a Special Operations Executive agent. She parachuted into France in 1944, to assist the French Resistance, helping them to recruit over 7,000 people.
  • One of her tasks was to communicate regularly with London. Once, when her wireless radio wouldn’t work, she rode a bicycle almost 400 km in three days through German territory to deliver the message.

The White Mouse - Nancy Wake

  • After the war, Nancy Wake was awarded several medals including the George Medal. She worked at the British Air Ministry in Prague and Paris, and entered politics in Australia in the late 1940s.
  • After returning to England, Nancy Wake lived for two years in an expensive London hotel. The bill was paid by the hotel, and several anonymous helpers, one of whom may have been Prince Charles.
  • Nancy Wake died in a London hospital in August, 2011, aged 98. As she had requested, her ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix in central France.

HMS Belfast: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the HMS Belfast.

  • She was launched in 1938 and was originally part of the British Naval blockade against Germany during World War II. Towards the end of the war she saw service in the Far East.
  • The ship was 187 metres long, had a width of 19 metres and could travel at about 60 kmh. She carried over 12 large guns, as well as torpedoes and depth charges.
  • During World War II, she was the most powerful Navy cruiser. She intercepted a German battleship disguised as a neutral ship, and sunk the German battleship Scharnhorst in the freezing Arctic.
  • HMS Belfast is one of only three surviving bombardment ships which supported the D-Day Normandy Landings in 1944. The two other ships are museum ships in the United States.

HMS Belfast

  • During the D-day Landings, she spent a month in the area, firing over 5,000 shells. The vibrations from firing the guns cracked some of the toilets on board the ship.
  • The ship carried two Supermarine Walrus biplanes. They were launched from the deck by a large catapult and picked up out of the water with a large crane.
  • HMS Belfast became part of the United Nations naval forces during the Korean War. During this time she sailed over 130,000 km and was hit by enemy fire only once.
  • In 1956 HMS Belfast was modernized, including added defenses against nuclear or chemical weapons. In 1961 she took part in independence celebrations for the African country of Tanganyika.
  • HMS Belfast opened as a museum in 1971 and over one and a half million people had visited by 1975. She became part of the Imperial War Museum in 1978.
  • Controversially, the HMS Belfast was airbrushed out of a 2012 London Olympics poster. The poster showed an aerial view of the River Thames, but the famous battleship was missing.

Lancaster Bomber: Facts About The World War 2 Aircraft

Here are some facts about the Lancaster Bomber.

  • The Lancaster Bomber was one of the most famous aircraft of World War II. It first saw service in 1941 and became the RAF’s main bomber during the war.

  • The first prototype Lancaster flew in January, 1941. A total of 7,377 Lancasters were made, after the first one rolled off the production line in October, 1941.
  • It carried a crew of 7 and could fly at about 454 kmh. The plane was just over 21 metres long, had a wingspan of 31 metres and a flying range of 4,000 km.
  • The Lancaster was normally armed with 8 Browning machine guns, as well as bombs. Some planes were modified so they could carry the so called Grand Slam bomb, weighing 10,000 kg.
  • During World War II, Lancasters flew over 156,000 sorties, or raids. They dropped over 50 million incendiary bombs and over 608,000 tons of explosive bombs.

Lancaster Bomber

  • One of the most famous bombing raids was a 1942 raid on Cologne, Germany. Over 1,000 bombers dropped bombs on the industrial city, destroying over 600 acres.
  • Many Lancaster crew members were given medals for heroic actions while flying. Guy Gibson had flown 170 missions by the age of 24 and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • Towards the end of World War II, Lancaster Bombers dropped food into the occupied Netherlands.
  • After the war, the Canadian Air Force used them and they were even used to transport passengers to South America.
  • The Lancaster features in several films about World War II. Most famous is the 1955 film The Dam Busters which documents the plan to destroy German dams with so called bouncing bombs.
  • Today, 17 Lancasters survive. One is used regularly in air shows as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and flew at the Queen‘s 80th birthday in 2006.

What next? Learn more about the Battle of Britain and the Spitfire, another important plane used during WW2.

Enigma Machine: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Enigma Machine.

  • The Enigma Machine was an advanced cipher or coding machine, developed in Germany after World War I. The Germans mistakenly believed the Allies would not be able to break the codes.

  • The machine was used to send top secret messages. It used a system of replacing one letter with another, and sent the messages using a standard Morse code transmitter.
  • A team of code breakers, mathematicians and electronics experts was set up to break the codes. Some of the team was skilled at chess, crossword puzzles and ancient writing.
  • The team was known as the Government Code and Cipher School. It was based in several huts in the grounds of Bletchley Park, a mansion near Milton Keynes.
  • One of the most well-known code breakers was Alan Turing. Turing devised several techniques to break German codes and was awarded the OBE by King George VI in 1945.

Enigma Machine

  • The knowledge learned from breaking the Enigma Machine codes was known as ‘ultra’. It helped the Allies to prepare for the D-Day invasion and to shorten World War II by several years.
  • The Allies found it very difficult to decipher the codes, often going for months without doing so. The German Navy’s enigma messages were not deciphered for 4 years, from 1937 to 1941.
  • About 100,000 Enigma Machines were made. After World War II, the British and American governments sold some of the captured Enigma Machines.
  • Today, Bletchley Park is a museum, and has several Enigma Machines, as well as other computing exhibits.
  • Enigma Machines can also be seen in the Science Museum and several museums in the US.
  • The 2012 television series The Bletchley Circle is a fictional story of several code breakers hunting a murderer. The 2014 film The Imitation Game is based on the life of Alan Turing.

Nicholas Winton: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Nicholas Winton.

  • Nicholas Winton is a British humanitarian who saved many Jewish children from the Holocaust.
  • Just before World War II started, he devised a plan to rescue 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia.

  • Winton was born in London, in 1909. He was the son of Jewish German parents, and the family changed their name from Wertheim to fit in.
  • Winton was working as a stockbroker in London when his friend rang him from Czechoslovakia asking for his help.
  • When he returned to England from Czechoslovakia, he often worked late at night on his plan. He formed a committee, which consisted of himself, his mother, some volunteers and a secretary.
  • He contacted the governments of several countries to ask them if they would take the children. Only the UK and Sweden said that they would help.
  • The first group of children left Czechoslovakia on March 14, 1939. They flew to the UK, although 7 other groups travelled by train and boat across Europe and the English Channel.
  • Nicholas Winton didn’t tell anyone outside of the committee what he had done, until after the war.
  • His wife found a scrapbook with all the details, and 1988 he talked about his achievement on television.
  • Today, the rescued children call themselves ‘Winton’s Children’ and they often visit his house to thank him.
  • Further groups of children were scheduled to leave on September 1st, 1939 but they were stopped by the German invasion of Poland.
  • Winton celebrated his 100th birthday by flying in a small plane piloted by the daughter of one of the rescued boys.
  • In September, 2009, a special Winton train travelled from Prague to London.
  • Nicholas Winton has been awarded the OBE and the Pride of Britain Award. There is a Czech school named after him, as well as a small planet.

Berlin Wall: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about the Berlin Wall.

  • After World War II, Germany was divided into 4 zones. Three were controlled by America, Britain and France, while the 4th zone was controlled by the Russians and known as East Germany.

  • Because Berlin was in East Germany, it was also divided into the 4 zones. The Berlin wall was built by East Germany, to completely separate the Russian zone (called East Berlin) from the West.
  • The wall was built in 1961 and torn down in 1989. The tearing down of the wall led to Germany becoming a single country in October, 1990.
  • The wall was over 140 km in length, almost 4 metres high and had over 100 watchtowers along its length. The space between the West and East sides was often known as the Death Strip.
Berlin Wall
Construction of the Berlin Wall
  • Over 5,000 people successfully made it past the wall from East Berlin to West Berlin. They climbed over it, tunneled under it, and smuggled themselves in cars past guards.
  • However, over 100 people were killed trying to cross from East to West. The last person to die trying to escape was in March 1989, when their homemade gas filled balloon crashed.
  • The most famous border crossing on the Berlin Wall was Checkpoint Charlie. The checkpoint is now in the Allied Museum in what was the American sector of Berlin.
  • In July, 1988 the rock singer Bruce Springsteen performed in front of 300,000 people in East Berlin. He told them that he hoped the wall would come down, and 18 months later it did.
  • Several spy films feature the Berlin Wall. It can be seen in two classic British films of the 1960s, Funeral in Berlin and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
  • When the wall was torn down, pieces of it ended up all over the world. There are several pieces in the UK, including a section in London‘s Imperial War Museum.

Douglas Bader: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Douglas Bader.

  • Douglas Bader was a World War II fighter ace and a pilot in the RAF. He is best known for flying despite having lost both his legs in an accident.
  • Bader was born in London in February, 1910. He enjoyed sports at school and once shot his younger brother with an air gun while angry.

  • He joined the RAF in 1928 and became known for his daredevil flying stunts. During one of these he crashed and had to have both legs amputated and artificial legs fitted.
  • In 1932 he was able to fly again, although he took an office job in London. He also recovered enough to be able to play golf, drive a car and dance.
  • When World War II began, Douglas Bader again joined the RAF. He crashed a plane while taking off but was later put in command of his own Spitfire squadron.

Douglas Bader

  • His plane was shot down over France in 1941, but he was able to escape by parachuting out. He was a prisoner of war in Colditz Castle for 3 years.
  • Bader is credited with shooting down over 20 enemy aircraft during the war and damaging several others. During his life he flew over 5,700 hours in both wartime and peace time.
  • The 1956 film Reach For The Sky, starring Kenneth More is based on Douglas Bader’s life. It won an award for best British film that year and was also the most popular film the same year.
  • The RAF museum warehouse in Stafford has one of Bader’s artificial legs. The other one was sold in a 2008 auction along with several other items belonging to Bader.
  • Douglas Bader died in 1982 of a heart attack, possibly caused by overworking. A German fighter pilot Adolf Galland, was at the funeral; he and Bader had known each other for 42 years.

The Blackout of World War 2: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the World War 2 blackout:

  • During World War 2, the blackout was a nationwide effort to turn off all lights in towns and cities. It was devised as a defence against German bombers, so they could not be guided by the lights.

  • The blackout was ordered two days before war broke out. London and other large British towns and cities had a blackout, as well as cities in Germany, France and other European countries.
  • Each home was given enough blackout material, which was usually a dark cotton fabric. Putting up and taking down the material quickly became a boring and unwanted daily task for most households.
  • Windows were covered in the dark material. Car headlamps were also blacked out, causing many accidents, and people were not allowed to smoke cigarettes or cigars outdoors.
  • Many small shops had to have an extra door fitted, to stop light from showing when people came in and out of the shop. Some large factories with glass roofs had to paint their entire roof black.
  • Because of the risk of car accidents in the dark, the speed limit was reduced to 20 mph. To help drivers and pedestrians, white lines were painted on roads, which are still there today.
  • The blackout offered some protection against the Blitz, the bombing of Britain that began in 1940..
  • The blackout was enforced by Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens, who made sure that no light could be seen from buildings. There were heavy fines for anyone who did not follow the rules.
  • In coastal areas, ships were also blacked out to prevent them from being seen against the shore. It made them less of an obvious target for German submarines.

Adolf Hitler: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Adolf Hitler.

  • Adolf Hitler was the leader of Germany’s infamous Nazi party, and the Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was also responsible for leading the world into war (a conflict known as World War 2) in 1939.

  • Hitler was born in 1889 in Austria, and was one of 6 children. He died by committing suicide in his bunker, in Berlin, Germany in 1945
  • Hitler rose to power during the Great Depression in Germany during the 1930s. He became leader of the Nazi party in 1921, and eliminated many of his opponents during the next decade.
  • In 1939, Hitler invaded Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, leading to England and France declaring war. In less than 3 years, Germany occupied much of Europe, the Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa.
  • It’s estimated that Adolf Hitler was responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews, a process known as the Holocaust. In all, Hitler and his army killed approximately 17 million civilians.
  • Hitler loved to watch funny films in his private cinema, including those featuring Jewish comedians.
  • Some historians have suggested that Adlof Hitler had Jewish ancestry.
  • Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian and a non-smoker.
  • He suffered from many diseases, including skin lesions and irregular heartbeat, he took 90 different types of medication during the war.
  • Hitler never took off his coat, regardless of how warm it was. He also never used scents or cologne, and often paced about the room whistling to himself.
  • Mein Kampf (meaning My Struggle) was a book written by Adolf Hitler in 1923, describing his political life and beliefs. In some countries the book is banned, although in America, about 15,000 copies are sold every year.
  • Hitler was a talented and keen artist. Although he was twice rejected by the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna. Today his paintings are valuable.
  • He died by committing suicide in his bunker, in Berlin, Germany in 1945, alongside his wife of only 40 hours, Eva Braun.