World War II was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945, involving all of the word’s great powers separated into the Allies and Axis of Evil. To date, it is the deadliest conflict in human history, resulting in the deaths of 70 to 80 million people due to combat, genocide, disease, and the use of atomic weapons. Now, take a more in-depth look into the realities of World War II in these photographs that aren’t as common as those we typically see today.
Money Or Playing Cards?
Between World War I and World War II, Germany’s economy suffered greatly, with one of the biggest issues being hyperinflation. By this point, inflation was so bad that $1 US was worth 4.2 million DM, making paper money had become essentially worthless with people using it to fuel the fires in their hearth rather than use it to buy things.
For example, here are a group of young boys playing with them as though they are nothing more than playing cards. That’s a lot of money to be playing with!
Quite The Collection
During the German army’s ruthless campaign across Europe, they did far more than just take the land and people’s lives. They also took most anything worth value including looting museums and taking classic pieces of art and goods.
Pictured here, is an Allied soldier sifting through a stolen art collection that once belonged to the Axis officer Hermann Goering. He had taken these relics from all across Europe as his party expanded over the years.
Witnessing The Horrors
To see what was actually going on and the real reason that they were fighting, many British and American soldiers took it upon themselves to watch videos of the atrocities that had taken place in concentration camps.
It gave many of the soldiers a new meaning in their cause and a desire to fight harder than ever. Obviously, the films were painful to watch and left many of the Allied soldiers in tears.
Knowing It Was Over
When Hitler came to the realization that the city of Berlin was finally going to fall to the Allies, he called in all of his reserve soldiers in a final effort to hold off the enemy.
Although he didn’t partake in the fighting himself, during that time, he married his mistress, and the two went on to take their own lives in his bunker. This is an image of a young German soldier who has just been captured by the encroaching Allies.
Not The Enemies They Thought
During World War II, the Japanese population was brainwashed by the government via mass propaganda campaigns that the US soldiers were cruel, evil, and violent. They were taught that they would kill them without a second thought and to both fear and hate them.
However, this rare image shows otherwise, featuring a young American soldier helping a Japanese woman and her baby from their hiding place once it was safe for them to reveal themselves.
The Tables Have Turned
When Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe, many had no idea they even existed. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the thousands of bodies contained inside of the camps.
Unfortunately, even after they were liberated, many of the prisoners continued to die from disease and malnutrition. This image shows a former concentration camp prisoner standing over a German soldier who is now at the mercy of the Allies.
The Hungarian Mini Tanks
Wartime is when some of the most significant strides in military technology take place, as there’s no shortage of need for new and more effective weapons during a conflict. One of these new weapons was the Hungarian mini tanks.
While they may have seen as a good idea at the time, able to maneuver where regular tanks couldn’t, in the end, they proved to be ineffective, and they ceased to be produced. This is most likely because they were outgunned by larger tanks.
A New Way Of Life
After the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, life in Japan would change forever. The destruction of these bombs left countless dead and many of those who were lucky enough to live found themselves homeless.
With nothing left of their cities, its citizens had to survive by whatever means possible, even if it meant living out of broken-down buses in small communities. It would be years before many of these people got back on their feet.
Once A House
Adolf Hitler never shied away from anything that was fancy and new. At the height of his power, he could have just about anything his heart desired, which included numerous properties in his favorite places throughout Europe.
One of these was his famous estate in the Berchtesgaden hills. While it looked grand at one point, it was eventually reduced to rubble by American bomber planes. Shown above is what remained by the end of the war.
Aleksandra Samuskemo Was As Brave As They Come
Aleksandra Samusenko was a Soviet T-34 tank commander and a liaison officer during World War II. She was the only female tanker in the 1st Guards Tank Army and was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 2nd and 1st class.
She also earned the Order of the Red Star, which she received from bravery in the Battle of Kursk. During the fighting, she maneuvered her tank crew out of a deadly ambush, saving numerous lives.
Failed Kamikaze Attack
Kamikaze attacks by Japanese pilots were a frequent tactic used by the Japanese in the Pacific Theater, which involved a pilot crashing their plane into a structure or boat with themselves inside. However, kamikaze pilots weren’t always that effective.
Historians assume that only around 19% of kamikaze attacks were successful. Featured is a failed kamikaze attack, with the plane being shot out of the sky by naval forces before it could hit its target.
A Strange Bear
This is one of the many photos taken of a man in a bear suit that went around taking pictures of himself in Germany. In Germany, between the 1920s and the 1960s, a collection of photos were found featuring a wide range of people posing with a bear.
The story goes that two friends wanted to make some money and stay warm in the winter, so they dressed up as bears where people could pay a small fee to snap a photo of them.
Axis Soldiers Liked To Laugh Too
Although World War II is marked as a dark stain on human history and to have experienced it would have been terrible, soldiers still liked to have fun when they could.
In this photo, a group of Axis soldiers can be seen laughing at their friend who has slipped on the ice! As embarrassing as this situation might have been for him, the photo offers an interesting glimpse into history for us.
The Burning Of A Concentration Camp
When allied soldiers were confronted with concentration camps, they were at a loss for words. They didn’t think that humans were capable of such evil, let alone that it was occurring without their knowledge.
Many of the camps were in such bad condition that they had no choice but to burn them down after saving as many living people left as they could. Here, Allied soldiers watch as the Bergen-Belsen camp is being burned because it was infested with disease.
Smiling Up Until The End
Georges Blind was a French man who was a member of the French resistance during World War II. He was arrested by an Axis patrol on October 14, 1944, and was taken to a camp in Schirmeck, Alsace, on October 24.
There, he was involved in multiple mock executions to get him to talk. In the photo, he can be seen smiling even though he could be shot by a firing squad at any second. However, he was not killed by a firing squad, and the exact cause of his death remains unknown.
Finding A Fellow-Soldier’s Grave
The soldiers on both sides of World War II saw things that they could have never imagined. Both sides lost countless lives, with the war being worse than ever thought. However, one thing that this Allied soldier never expected to find was the grave of a fellow soldier.
Yet, what made it unusual is that the enemy had buried the unknown soldier. On top of the grave that was dug, the soldier added a wreath.
The Aftermath Of D-Day
On June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day, 156,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of France to liberate the country and begin beating back the Nazis. Here is an image of surviving troops as they figure out what to do with the German prisoners they had just taken.
Although there was an incredible loss of life on both sides, it was one of the most successful battles for the Allies and marked a changing of the tide of the war.
The Men That Captured The War
Although many of the photographs taken during World War II turned out in black-and-white, that wasn’t always necessarily the case. Years after the war had ended, photographs were colorized to show what life during the war was really like.
The photographers here can be seen posing with their cameras as they prepared to board their plane to take shots of the war that would be taking place below. Photographers such as these allow us to see just how destructive the war was.
Bears Weren’t Unusual In Russia
While fighting was taking place all of Europe, some tend to forget that there was also fighting occurring in the frozen lands of Russia. Here is a snapshot of a Russian tank driver taking the opportunity to feed polar bear cubs.
While the Russians were used to this kind of climate, the Germans were not, which resulted in numerous hard losses as they tried to invade the country. Maybe they should have fed the polar bears!
A Well-Deserved Break
On February 4, 1945, Allied forces successfully liberated Belgium from Axis occupation. Although it didn’t mean that the war was over, it gave the soldiers a brief time to relax and enjoy their success.
Pictured are two Canadian soldiers enjoying a brief moment of peace. Moments like this were rare during the war, so soldiers knew to live it up when they had the chance, just like these two men.
More Than You Can Count
Although it may have seemed like the Germans had the upper-hand for the majority of the war in Europe, toward the end, the tables had certainly turned. This is an image of thousands of German prisoners of war taken on August 21, 1944, in Nonant-le-Pin, France.
By this point, the Allies had so many prisoners of war on their hands that they didn’t even know what to do with them, which is clearly shown here with them all crowded into one place.
Quite The Weapon
The terrifying German railway guns such as the Schewer Gustav were built with the intention of destroying many of France’s most important forts that rested on the French Maginot Line.
On average, they weighed around 1,350 tons and were mobilized on railroad tracks with the ability to shoot at targets as far as 29 miles away. Unfortunately, for the Germans, it wasn’t the fastest weapon to reload, and could only fire one shell every 30 to 45 minutes.
Captured Railway Gun
Although the German railway guns may have been an extremely formidable weapon, they weren’t invincible, and their size made them a target for Allied forces. Here, American troopers can be seen proudly standing on top of a captured railway gun.
Easily one of the German’s biggest weapons, they were sorely disappointed when they learned that it had fallen into the enemy’s hands. Now, the railroads and the forts in France were safe, for the most part.
Getting Into Fighting Shape
Just over a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. The act required all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register for the military draft.
However, men weren’t just sent straight into the thick of the fighting. They had to be properly trained and in shape enough to prepare themselves for the physicality involved in warfare. Here, men can be seen training at a boot camp.
A Sight For Sore Eyes
Unfortunately, in almost all combat situations, stray animals can be found all over the place. So, it isn’t uncommon for soldiers to take them for their own as pets. Not only are they helping the animal, but it also helps to boost troop morale, keep them preoccupied, and take their mind off the constant danger.
These sailors found themselves a kitten and fashioned a little hammock for it to sleep in. You can tell by the looks on their faces that this was a sight for sore eyes.
When the Axis took over France, and more specifically Paris, they used it as a perfect opportunity to snap some shots for propaganda purposes. Here, Adolf Hitler can be seen walking down the recently-captured city of Paris with the iconic Eiffel Tower in the background.
Incredibly, he only managed to spend in Paris for a few hours before having to move on. He commented that it was one of the most beautiful cities he had ever seen.
When The Unthinkable Happens
It’s human nature for people to think that nothing bad will happen to them until it finally does. This is most likely what many of the citizens of Paris were thinking before Axis tanks were driving into their city.
This is an image of a man who just realized that his hometown of Paris had finally fallen to the Nazis and was now under their control. It’s an impactful look of shock and disbelief that’s hard to forget.
Pearl Harbor Shocked The World
In order to secure their power in the Pacific Ocean, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Hawaii. The attack was devastating, destroying many American ships, claiming the lives of more than 2,000 Americans, and dragging the United States into World War II.
In the photo, sailors stand and watch in horror as the USS Shaw explodes in the background. This attack would not go unanswered by the United States.
Remote Controlled Tanks Sounded Like A Good Idea, In Theory
During the war, the Germans were always trying out new kinds of weapons and technology with the hopes of staying ahead of the Allied forces. While they were successful in some aspects, they also had their fair share of failures as well.
One of these failures included these small remote-controlled tanks referred to as Goliaths by the Germans and Doodlebugs by the Allies. The idea was that they would be driven into enemy areas using a remote and then explode, but they weren’t as effective as expected.
Saved Just In Time
Unfortunately, the extermination of millions of people carried on up until the final days of the war. In fact, Allied forces ended up saving thousands of people being carried on trains on the way to extermination camps.
Here, a woman and her young child can be seen leaving a recently-saved train full of people in the final days of the war. If they had been reached any later, they might not have survived.
Hanging Out In The Cockpit
Here we have a GI waving from the cockpit of a crashed plane. It’s a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter aircraft, if we want to be specific. This picture takes place in Bavaria, Germany.
There were probably so many planes left in this position during World War II. This GI saw the photo opportunity and took full advantage of it! We’re unsure if this gentleman survived the remainder of the battle, but if not, he left behind a touching memory.
Rare Color Photo Of Woman Working On Bomber
There aren’t many color photos from WWII, so that makes this one even more special. Here, we have an anonymous woman working on a bomber at Consolidated Aircraft Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas.
She was a riveter, following the iconic Rosie the Riveter who shaped how women worked during the war. As she worked and smiled, her duty was pivotal in the grand scheme of things. America needed weaponry, and her assistance helped provide that.
There Were Even Gas Masks For Animals
Have you ever seen three Airedale dogs wearing special gas masks? Well, now you have! These pooches were at a Surrey kennel at the time of this picture and it shows how deadly things were.
You don’t want to see animals perish from toxic fumes, so fitting them with unique masks was the best plan of action. Lt. Col E. H. Richardson trained these dogs so they would be ready to carry out vital tasks.
A Shaken Man
Unless you’ve been out there, you don’t know the effects of war on a person’s psyche. As you can see in this image, one man sits in despair as he thinks about everything.
When will it end? Will I die soon? Are my loved ones okay? Many questions might run through your mind in this situation and the scary part is that you wouldn’t know the answers to any of them.
Germans Being Deported
One cold truth of war is that there’s no telling if you’ll have a home to call your own in the midst of things. In this picture, you see a small child holding her things getting deported from Czechoslovakia.
Around a quarter million Germans had to face this same fate after the collapse of German power in 1945. Having to put your child through this is something no parent wants to do, but it’s a sad fact of war.
A Dog In The Cockpit
Imagine seeing a dog flying through the air in a fighter’s cockpit. The British bulldog looks ready to soar into action alongside her fearless pilot! But realistically, that wouldn’t be a great idea for the dog.
You never know what could happen in combat and you wouldn’t want anything to happen to the poor dog. Hopefully, this photo was taken in a brief moment of fun during otherwise difficult times.
They’re Lifting A Tank!
How on Earth are they lifting a tank? Oh yeah, it’s made of rubber. In this image, we see what they called a decoy tank being lifted by several men.
When it’s time for war, spotting an enemy tank in the distance can change the course of battle. Unless those who see it immediately recognize that its a fraud, a rubber tank can be supremely helpful. This photo was taken in England.
Time For A Wedding
War couldn’t stop true love. Even with a bombed-out home, Miss Ena Squire-Brown donned her wedding gown and strolled down the walkway as she went to St. George’s Church in Forest Hill.
Miss Ena rose to fame as an international dancer thanks to her famed “Dove Dance.” Her future husband was Royal Air Force flying officer J.C. Martin. At least they kept their love alive and didn’t let the war prevent them from tying the knot.
Staying Fresh On The Fly
Who says there’s a bad time to get a haircut? Don’t tell that to RAF pilot, Flying Officer Francis Mellersh. In this color photo, we see the officer getting a cut between missions.
He’s reading John Buchan’s “Greenmantle.” during the cut as well. He looks cool and calm, but he’s more than likely mentally getting ready for a mission that could very well be his last. If he wants to look his best in battle, let him do it.
Pigeon In Action
The pigeon you see here served as Britain’s reserve of communications. The birds had great intelligence and proved their value with the Navy and Air Force when they served as message carriers.
As other modes of communication failed, Army pigeons rose to the occasion. After being trained for their routes, it was up to the winged-animals to get messages to others. In hindsight, that plan of action seems risky, but they managed to make it work.
Children And War
For most of us, the idea of a world war is terrifying and alien. For children growing up in the midst of WWI and WWII, it was simply life. Some of the most striking images taken during these times involve children.
In this candid snapshot, a little blonde girl in a gingham dress is pictured in 1917 by photographer Fernand Cuville. She innocently plays with her doll, while the backpack and guns of a soldier sitting next to her, a stark contrast to the otherwise common scene. This was taken on the Western Front in Reims, Marne, France.
Battle of the Aisne
WWI was brutal and vast. It destroyed large parts of France as the battle raged on between the Allied follow-up offensive against the right wing of the German First Army. The Aisne, a river that winds westward between Compiegne and Berry-au-Bac, would be the site for three battles over the course of the war.
French soldiers are pictured here as machine gunners take a position in the war-stricken ruins during the battle. Two soldiers man the gun, carefully loading bullets into it as two other soldiers check the surrounding areas.
Verdun Red Cross
While the soldiers were on the front line laying down their lives for their country, medical professionals were left to deal with the aftermath. From doctors and nurses to ambulance staff and clergy, all experienced the kind of trauma that they could never be prepared for.
Three women wearing Red Cross nursing uniforms stand alongside ambulance staff and a vehicle in September of 1916, during the Battle of Verdun on the Western Front. All gaze into the camera, not realizing that their image would forever encapsulate of one of the bloodiest wars in history.
Light Horse Regiment Soldier
In war, times to take stolen moments alone are few and far between. In this touching picture, Australian soldier George “Pop” Redding from the 8th Light Horse Regiment takes a moment to gather some flowers during the war against the Ottoman Empire.
Taken in 1918 in Palestine by James Francis Hurley, the photograph provides a unique view of nature’s beauty against the harsh backdrop of a war that raged for four long, bloody years. Casualties in this part of the war, the Middle Eastern Theatre, would rack up into the millions.
A French Soldier in Thought
Before the war, parts of France were full of gorgeous architecture, lively, bustling squares, and a provincial way of life that residents called home. When the battles started, prized buildings were destroyed and beloved homes abandoned.
Here an unidentified French soldier takes a moment to sit and reflect on the scene in a town square in Reims in 1917. Behind him is the damaged library, while his bicycle sits propped up. His equipment sits neatly arranged around him as he forlornly surveys the scene, undoubtedly exhausted. Photographer Paul Castelnau took the candid shot. He passed away in 1944, a year before WWII ended.
“May God Punish England”
Alongside Serbia, Russia, France, Italy, Belgium, and the United States, the United Kingdom was part of the Allied Powers in WWI. The opposition, The Central Powers, was comprised of Austria-Hungry, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.
Tensions between Germany and England were particularly poignant, as is demonstrated here by the German army slogan painted in giant letters on the side of a damaged building in Aisne, France. “Gott Strafe England!” translates to “May God Punish England.” The photograph was taken by Fernand Cuville in 1917. The two countries would later come head-to-head once more in WWII.
For soldiers, a lot of war is waiting. Waiting to be told what to do, waiting to go into action, waiting for the opposition to make a move. It’s a long, often soul-destroying game that can only end in tragedy. For those on the front line, the difference between one movement can mean life or death.
Here, soldiers of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment hunker down behind the front line barricade at Nalin on January 17, 1918. With their weapons poised and ready for action, one man hands a grenade to his fellow comrade. As you can see, the terrain was dry and unforgiving.
A French Hospital
Conditions were so bad in hospitals at the height of the war that doctors and nurses were pushed to their limits. Not only was there the worry of an imminent bombing, but such vast quantities of casualties came through that some would simply die before they could be treated.
Here French military doctors and nurses stand in front of the Saint-Paul Hospital in Soissons, France, in 1917. This would’ve been a moment of solitude in a time that was turbulent and tense. After the war, much medical staff would leave the profession, unable to forget what they had seen.
Along with firearms and bombs, mines were one of the deadliest weapons used in WWI. Soldiers would plant bombs underneath vital positions unbeknown to the opposition, catching them unaware.
The above picture is of a mine crater, 116 meters wide and meters deep. The British placed 19 mines underneath German positions near Messines on June 7th, 1917. When they exploded, around 10,000 soldiers perished. According to experts, the blast was so huge that it could be heard in Dublin and London. The death toll was so high it was considered a great victory. Almost the entirety of the 3rd Royal Bavarian Division perished.
Australians in Egypt
When we think of soldiers riding into war, most of us think of them charging in on armored tanks or even on horseback. However, for the Australians fighting in the Ottoman Empire, camels were the most obvious choice.
The soldiers of the Imperial Camel Corps are pictured here by photographer James Francis Hurly on January 26, 1918. Situated near Rafa in the Middle East, the comrades wait for their orders as they stand assembled in a line, while their superior leads the way in front. Out in the distance, you can see a singular rider on a seated camel in the desert.
There were exactly 21 battalions of Tirailleurs Senegalais in the French Army during WWI. Most served in West Africa or in Morocco. When war broke out, they were transferred from Morocco to France, with five battalions serving on the Western Front.
These four soldiers served in the French Army as infantrymen, pictured taking a brief rest from warfare to recuperate. One can be seen peeling an apple with a knife, with guns and equipment prevalent in the scene. Photographer Paul Castelnau captured the moment on June 16, 1917. It’s one of the highest-quality colored pictures captured during the war.
The death toll attributed to WWI is devastating, estimated at around 20 million deaths (including civilians). A further 21 million people were wounded over the course of the four years.
As France saw a lot of action, a vast number of military personnel were killed. Between 20th and 27th of August 1914 alone, the French lost 40,000 men. As the war continued the death toll rose, seeing pop up cemeteries litter hillsides. Jules Gervais-Courtellemont took the above picture of a French military graveyard in September of 1916. Each grave is marked with a makeshift cross.
The French Front
Soldiers were always required to look their best, with trimmed hair and shaved faces wherever possible – much like today. What’s more, taking pride in their appearance gave them a much-needed emotional boost. Of course, having a shave wasn’t number one on the list in wartime France, but it wasn’t last on the list either.
Fernand Cuville photographed this everyday scene of a barber attending to soldiers in a military encampment in 1917. One man is being freshly shaved while others wait for their turn underneath a canopy to shelter themselves from the unforgiving sun.
King George V and President Poincare
France and England aren’t just close in proximity, they have remained allies for many years. Here, King George V meets with the 10th President of France, Raymond Poincare, during WWI. The exact year is unknown, but it’s estimated at 1916.
The two leaders met at the British General Headquarters in France, likely to discuss strategies and their shared hope for an end to the fighting and bloodshed. King George V had been seriously injured in 1915 when he was thrown from his horse at a troop review in France. This and his heavy smoking habit would contribute significantly to his death in 1936.
When fighting in the Middle East, soldiers weren’t afforded the luxury of traditional ambulances. The terrain wasn’t usually passable by car, so instead, they used camels fitted with stretchers to take the wounded to safety.
Four camel ambulances are pictured here at Rafa, on the base used for the attack on Gaza in 1918. In the middle of the camels, there is a Red Cross banner to alert both parties that they were evacuating the wounded. The Red Cross has existed since the mid-1860s, created as a way to ensure medical workers were able to signify themselves as neutral during the conflict.
Not only were millions killed in the conflict, but the world lost a lot of important historical heritage, too. Just as each country was starting to put back together their towns and cities, World War II would roll around, bringing with it a new wave of destruction.
The Church of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint Protais was built between 1494 and 1657 on the site of two earlier churches in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. In March of 1918, a German shell fell on the church, killing 88 people and wounding 68 others when the roof collapsed during a Good Friday service. This photograph shows sandbags stacked up around the altar to try and protect it.
During a war, every move has to be meticulously organized and highly orchestrated. Lines of troops fill out landscapes like planted tulips. No matter where you were fighting during WWI you had to be sure that you were primed and ready to move at a moment’s notice. This was particularly true in the Middle Eastern Theatre.
Photographed by Frank Hurley, the squadron of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade are in formation, standing on the ruins of a building in Palestine in 1918. The soldiers would’ve been weather-beaten and exhausted, but they plowed ahead regardless. What other choice did they have?
A Hospital Gathering
In a war of this scale, casualties were constant, especially in areas that saw the most action like the Western Front. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals worked tirelessly around the clock in conditions that would be unfathomable today. It was one thing getting the injured from the front line to the hospital, and another thing entirely to treat them.
Here, the staff of field hospital 55 in Bourbourg, Nord-Pas-de-Calais take a moment to pose for a photograph on September 1st, 1917. Moments like this were few and far between, and perfectly encapsulate the resolve of the French military and medical staff.
Ruins In Belgium
In areas of conflict, nothing was safe. Residents soon abandoned their homes, frantically trying to move their families out of harm’s way. Sometimes, what was left was a stark contrast to what had once been.
Two ambulances are photographed here by Paul Castelnau, as they wait outside of a building completely destroyed by artillery fire in Belgium, circa 1917. Many important things happened that year in relation to the conflict. US President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, Jerusalem fell to Britain and Greece entered the war in support of the Allies. All of these events would prove important when it all came to an end the following year.
French Front Soldiers
Soldiers were expected to fight in the harshest conditions, with little in the way of nutrition. Not only were food supplies limited, but so were portions. French soldiers on the Western Front barely had enough to get by and often went hungry. Corned beef, bread, and biscuits made up the majority of their diet.
In this picture shot by Fernand Cuville in 1917, seven soldiers are gathered around a table for lunch. This time its soup, a welcome difference from the canned beef they’re used to. The makeshift table serves them well as they take a moment to gather their strength.