World War 2 is full of strange events, amazing victories, heroic individuals, and devastating defeats. Amid all the anarchy and activity, there a some small coincidences and near miss that make you wonder how certain everything was. From curses to crosswords, here are five of the biggest bits of chance that shaped the war.
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5. Tamerlane’s Curse
On June 22nd, 1941 Soviet Archaeologists excavated the cursed tomb of Tamerlane from the Gur-e Amir mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Tamerlane was a brutal conqueror in the 14th century, famous for building pyramids of skulls at the gates of conquered cities. The man made the Mongols jealous when it came to atrocities.
On his tomb was inscribed an Arabic warning: “When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble.” The day Tamerlane was exhumed, Operation Barbarossa began. The Nazi invasion of Russia was the largest military invasion of all time. This supposedly fulfilled not only the first curse, but a second one inside the casket: “Whoever opens my tomb, shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.”
The Soviets were on the defensive until Tamerlane’s body was re-interred with full Islamic rites in November of 1942, when by chance or by ending the curse, the USSR began Operation Uranus and turned the Nazi tide back.
4. Deadly Double
After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the FBI set out to uncoer enemy spies hiding in the United States. One investigation focused on the origin of a suspicious ad placed in the November 22, 1941 issue of the New Yorker. Near the front of the magazine was a teaser promoting a new dice game, “Deadly Double,” by the Monarch Publishing.
The dice in the ad showed the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, 12 and 7, and had warnings written in three languages (including German) above it. More damning, another ad at the back of the magazine showed an air raid bunker with a company logo similar to the Nazi Reichsadler
“Deadly Double” was also suspected of being an allusion to Germany and Japan, but the FBI cleared the case as simply a strangely timed coincidence.
3. Crossed Words
Operation Overlord was one of the most secret plans in the whole war. Preparations for the Allies’ invasion on June 19th 1944 were deep buried under false leads and misinformation. Then, a month before the launch, code words for the battle plan began appearing in the crosswords of Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Specifically, the words Utah, Omaha, Mulberry, Neptune, Juno, and Overlord set off a hunt for Axis infiltrators believed to be leaking secret information. British intelligence interrogated the puzzles’ creator, a teacher, and eventually dismissed the link as a fluke to the public.
This was, however, to cover up the teacher’s inadvertent use of words that his students overheard. From who? Overly-chatty soldiers. Loose lips sink ships and all. A similar incident in 1942 regarding the Dieppe Raid, however, was never cleared and remains a “coincidence”.
2. Atomic Man
Following a business trip, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was leaving Hiroshima when he headed back realizing he had forgotten his travel pass. All normal, except it was August 6, 1945 and the Enola Gay was approaching fast. Inside? Little Boy, the first atomic bomb every used outside of testing. Yamaguchi recalled seeing two small parachutes, before there was “a great flash in the sky and I was blown over.”
The explosion occurred only two miles away, but Yamaguchi survived with serious burns and blindness. He reported back to work in Nagasaki before the week was through. And arrived August 9th, when the B-29 bomber Bockscar dropped Little Boy’s follow up act, Fat Man.
Again, the bomb was only two miles away. Again Yamaguchi survived, making him the only person to be at both atomic bombings and survive both. Not only did he survive, Yamaguchi survived to 93 and died in 2010.
1. Midway Miracle
Despite breaking Japan’s JN-25b naval code, the US needed a remarkable coincidence to secure victory in the June of 1942 Battle of Midway. Where did it all start? When a squadron of American dive bombers led by Lt.Commander C. McClusky got lost on the way to the fight.
Nearly out of fuel, McClusky continued flying blind until he chanced upon the wake of Japanese destroyer Arashi. The Arashi had been lagging behind the rest of the Imperial Fleet, and it helped point McClusky toward the battle.
American torpedo bombers on the scene were being slaughtered, but their low level flights set up the lost squadron. McClusky’s high flying late arrival was unseen, according to some accounts, until their bombing runs. And the timing meant the Japanese carriers were full of refueling planes when the bombs hit and the ships sank.