Like a lot of you, I recently read an article that said that a lot of what we think we know about World War II is terribly wrong. For instance, I always thought that German engineering was the best in the world, well it appears that a lot of weapons used by the Germans were over-engineered. The Tiger tank, for example, with its Porsche-designed six-speed hydraulically controlled semi-automatic gear-box was exceedingly complicated and unsuitable for the front line when compared to the four-speed US Sherman tanks. Even German small arms like machine guns weren’t all that good and many tended to overheat due to their phenomenal rate of fire.
I always thought that German U-boats sank a huge amount of tonnage during the war when in fact they only managed to sink 127 ships or 0.7% of the 18,772 sailings in 1940. U-boats were actually quite easy to track in the North Atlantic. When they surfaced to charge their batteries, their radio signals gave away their position to a chain of fixed radar towers along the south and east coast of Britain. This information was then relayed to the merchant marine convoys who could then take evasive action.
A lot of Americans still think they won the war against Hitler, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was the Russians who won the war and paid for it with the loss of some 8 million dead, 20 times the loss of life among American servicemen. The Russians called it the Great Patriotic War and the turning point was the battle of Stalingrad.
And then there is the myth of six million Jews who died as a result of the holocaust. Today it is believed the numbers of dead are around one million Jews and non-Jews, not 6 million Jews. At the Nuremberg tribunal, the Allies charged that the Germans exterminated four million people at Auschwitz. The figure was invented by the Soviets and today no reputable historian accepts it.
Then there is the case of the “fake” gas chamber which each year is visited by tens of thousands of tourists. The French magazine L’Express acknowledged that “everything about the gas chamber is false” and it was actually built after the war. Today, Holocaust deniers have even raised the question as to the very existence of the gas chambers after Fred A. Leuchter, a leading American expert, carefully examined the Polish gas chambers in 1988 and concluded that the Auschwitz gassing story was absurd and technically impossible.
So maybe my imposter story about Rudolf Hess is perhaps not so surprising in light of the myths and falsehoods prevailing when one thinks about the events of WW2. The Playing Rudolf Hess novel is actually based on real events and on the known facts about the case. It’s a work of historical fiction and just the kind I like to tell.
Next week, I will you tell you how I got into historical fiction.
Meanwhile, can you think of any other myths and falsehoods about WW2?
Please share them in the comments section below.