Tag Archives: Second World War

Fun Friday Fact #18

Due to an oversight at the end of the First World War, Andorra found itself engaged in two world wars at the same time.

The tiny Pyrenean state’s name was omitted from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), meaning that the 11-man national army remained technically at war with Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 placed too much of a strain on the Andorran resources. The beleaguered country hastily signed a private treaty with Germany, finally concluding the First World War and confirming its neutrality in the Second. In benching itself for the second global conflict, Andorra joined a long line of heroes including Ireland, Switzerland and those once mighty empires of Spain and Portugal.

Note: neutral status provided no guarantees from attack. For example Britain invaded the neutral Iceland, whilst Hitler was quick to take over the low countries and add them to his treasure chest.

That was fun now, wasn’t it? I’m sorry to inform you, my beloved readers, that this will be my final Fun Friday Fact. It’s been real, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but I want to turn my attention elsewhere. I know you’ll understand. Goodbye, friends, goodbye.

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Fun Friday Fact #12

The first Allied shot of the First World War was fired by the Australian coaster Woniora. By coincidence, the first Allied shot in the Far Eastern theatre of the Second World War was fired at the same ship.  

A pretty remarkable state of affairs, I think you’ll agree.

On August 5th 1914, the UK having declared war on Germany only the day before, the Woniora fired on the German steamer Pfalz (not to be confused with the manufacturer of German planes) when it attempted to leave Australian waters. The Pfalz was captured and served out the rest of the war the Australian troopship HMT Boorara.

Then on September 3rd 1939, the Woniora was fired upon by a (n Allied) twin 6-inch gun emplacement at Point Nepean, the entrance to Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. The ship’s commander, Captain F. N. Smale, had ignored orders to heave-to for inspection.

If you’re interested, the first shot of the Second World War in Europe was fired at 4:47am on the morning of September 1st 1939 (thats 20 years, 9 months, 19 days and 18 hours after the last shot of the First World War) from the 13,000 ton German gunnery training battleship Schleswig Holstein. The target was the ‘Westerplatte,’ an area of Danzig, now Gdansk, containing Polish troop barracks, munitions storage and workshops.

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Fun Friday Fact #10

Fanta was invented by the Coca-Cola company to sell in Nazi Germany during the Second World War, because the Allies wouldn’t allow the import to Germany of the syrup needed to make Coke.

It must be true because Wikipedia says so. Apparently we have a certain Mr. Max Keith to thank for the refreshing orange drink. Mr. Keith, as you well know, was of course the man in charge of the German branch of the Coca-Cola company at the time. It seems he was unwilling to be put off by such a trivial thing as a World War, and, keen as ever to make some money, he decided to create a new product for the German market, using only ingredients available in Germany at the time (i.e. next to nothing) including whey and pomace – the “leftovers of leftovers”, as he later recalled. The name was the result of a brief brainstorming session, which started with Keith exhorting his team to “use their imagination” (“Fantasie” in German), to which one of his salesmen, Joe Knipp, banterously retorted “Fanta!” In other news, the German Fanta Klare Zitrone (“Clear Lemon Fanta”) variety became Sprite, another of the company’s bestsellers and its response to 7 Up.

But Coke’s relationship with the Second World War doesn’t end here. Oh no. The American salesmen were just as canny as their German counterparts. Before the outbreak of war, Coke was already a symbol of the American dream. Many GIs wrote home listing the drink as one of the things about home they most missed (losers). In response to this (or more likely because he got the sniff for a massive financial opportunity) Coca-Cola CEO Robert Woodruff made a point of supporting US troops, sending an order to: “See that ever man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca Cola for 5 cents wherever he is and whatever the cost to the company.”  Metal cans were introduced to meet the troops’ needs, and when the US Army landed in North Africa in 1943  3 complete Coca Cola bottling plants were brought ashore. 148 of Coke’s employees were sent abroad to oversee the installation and management of these plants. They were given US Army uniforms with the rank of Technical Observer and were treated as officers, although they had no military duties to speak of. They were affectionately known as the “Coca-Cola Colonels.”

The GI’s loved it. After all, how bad could a war be when a man was fighting the Italians and had a belly full of sugar? But at the same time as boosting the morale of American fighting forces, the  Coca-Cola company was slyly laying the groundwork for becoming an international symbol of refreshment and solidarity. Many of the bottling plants established overseas during the war continued to operate as non-military factories after the war’s end. Furthermore, GI’s liberating towns throughout Europe or working side-by-side with locals in the Philippines felt pride in sharing their favourite drink with their new-found friends. They thereby created an enormous consumer base throughout the world that would not have been possible without the Coca-Cola Company’s cooperation in working towards bettering the morale of the American fighting man. I suppose you can’t blame them really. And I do love me some Fanta.

A young boy and a bulldozer operator with the 64th Seabees enjoy a coke or two in Tubabao, Samar, the Philippines.

Well isn’t that nice?

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Fun Friday Fact #6

In the absence of tanks of their own, or indeed of anti-tank weapons, Japanese soldiers would position themselves in ‘foxholes’, triumphantly bearing a bomb above their heads, ready to detonate it when an Allied tank rolled overhead.

They would also throw themselves under the tracks of a tank, strapped with explosives, of course. That’s when they weren’t lobbing coconuts at the tanks… This fact, fun as it is, demonstrates a real point – that the Japanese were not ready to fight a modern war like the war that found them in 1943-45. Early naval victories over the Allies in the pacific were cancelled out by the emergence of a new super power in the form of the USA. The Japanese, however brave were their troops, were not an equal match for what in two short years had surpassed the Germans as the most modern fighting force in the world. Let’s not forget that in her rise to the top of the food chain (1941-43), America had overtaken nations that had been gearing for war for 8-10 years. That is an astonishing achievement. Japan, on the other hand, was fighting with rifles that had been used in 1903. Indeed their men still trained with bows and arrows. Their soldiers were expected to work miracles with no resources whatsoever, and the most startling thing of all is that quite often they did! But the Second World War was a war of technology. The Japanese had no answer to the Anglo-American bombing campaigns, and the war in the pacific was over long before the Atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’m hanging here people; this is the best I can do. Give me a break alright. There’s no need to be so pushy.

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Fun Friday Fact #5

The production of Advent calendars was halted by wartime shortages.

Christopher Hitchens is dead and suddenly the world is a much more gloomy place. But life continues and it’s that time of the week again. We must carry on as best we can. We’re looking at a Christmassy one today, it being the season and all that.

It’s a haunting image, isn’t it? The Advent calendars I mean. All those long dark days of despair. But war is tragedy, my friends, and tragedy comes in many guises.

The Advent calendar is a German invention that began in 1851 with a Mr. Gerhard Lang, whose festive mother used to mark for her son each day of Advent by attaching little candles to pieces of cardboard. In an effort to cling on to this childish high, or at least to profit from it, a now adult Mr. Lang created a calendar of his own.

After the war, the production of (German) Advent calendars (as I understand it the only serious kind of Advent calendar around at the time) resumed in 1946. Eisenhower is generally credited with the popular spread of the tradition across the United States, although it is safe to say that the calendars we enjoy today probably bear little resemblance to their more stoic German predecessors

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Fun Friday Fact #3

German submarine U-1206 sank as the result of a malfunctioning toilet. 

Brilliant. Don’t believe me? The following account comes from Wikipedia:

‘U-1206 was one of the late war boats fitted with new deepwater high-pressure toilets which allowed them to be used while running at depth. Flushing these facilities was extremely complicated and special technicians were trained to operate them.

On April 14, 1945, 8 miles off the Scottish coast, while cruising at a depth of 200 feet, misuse of the toilet caused large amounts of water to flood the boat. According to the Commander’s report, while in the engine room helping to repair one of the diesel engines, he was informed that a malfunction involving the head caused a leak in the forward section. The leak flooded the submarine’s batteries (located beneath the toilet) causing them to release chlorine gas, leaving him with no alternative than to surface. Once surfaced, U-1206 was discovered and bombed by British patrols, forcing Schlitt to scuttle the submarine.’

One can just imagine it…
It begins with some unfortunate soul, clutching a copy of Mein Kampf, settling down to make mud and, after aggressive effort, entirely laying the toilet to waste. Perhaps he was whistling at first. Maybe he was smiling as he shed his load. But that’s all before he turned around and caught sight of the utter devastation his fine brown offspring had wrought. Nervous eyes bulging in horror at the sheer magnitude of the damage, he knew at once what he had to do. There was no question of his calling for expert advice; he must expel all evidence of the crime himself. Plunger in hand, he advanced upon the sleeping monster, laying dormant in the very middle of its watery empire, and set upon it with admirable courage. But in this errand he was thwarted; the great leviathan would not be moved. Haunted by the rising smell and the tap-tapping at the door by a lingering mother-to-be, the sweating culprit grew reckless. He tried anew to assert his control of the seas. A desperate leg was placed on top of the cistern for purchase; the flush was throttled with two quivering hands. And in the fading light there came the rushing sound of inevitability.
Alas history teaches us that man does not always triumph over his creation. In his haste for freedom, our gentle hero succeeded only in inflicting his sin upon his unsuspecting and undeserving crew mates. Thus it was, in my mind at least, that one man’s after dinner lust brought about the foundering of a state of the art weapon of war.

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The Full Monty

The Full Monty, meaning ‘complete’, or ‘the whole thing’ (more recently with nudist connotations) could have originated from a number of competing claims. It is typically attributed to the tailoring business of Sir Montague Burton. In this context, a complete three-piece suit, i.e. one with a waistcoat, would be ‘the Full Monty’.

Sir Montague was certainly famous enough to have sired the phrase, but personally I prefer to believe that it owes its existence to Field Marshall Montgomery, leader of the infamous Desert Rats. It might have been something to do with his habit of wearing his full set of medals, or his insistence on his troops eating a full English breakfast every day, or his rigorous training regime. Take your pick.

Incidentally, the American equivalent – ‘the whole nine yards’ – may also have originated from the Second World War, where aircraft gunners would apparently give their enemy ‘the whole nine yards’ by firing their entire ammunition belt (as opposed to the normal practice of short, controlled bursts) the belt being nine yards long. However the evidence in this case is more than a little shaky.

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