War is a strange time, and there is perhaps no stranger one in history than World War II.
From rumors that the Nazis were involved in occult research — rumors that have been successfully mined in films like Indiana Jones and comic books like Hellboy — to ominous sightings, mysterious battles, and ghostly planes, World War II scarred the world, and left behind countless mysteries, many of which have never been solved.
We’ve written in the past about some of these, such as the vanishing Amber Room, but now we’re going to investigate a few of the spookiest, eeriest, and most uncanny enigmas left behind by the Second World War.
1. The Nazi Gold Train
In April of 1945, it was pretty clear to the Nazi forces that the war was almost over, and it wasn’t going in their favor. According to some accounts, they loaded a train with Nazi treasure, including gold and other valuables looted from Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and sent it on a trip through the Owl Mountains, where it disappeared. Some believe that the train vanished into tunnels created in the mountains as part of Der Riese, a secret facility built by the Nazis during the war. In spite of the efforts of countless treasure hunters over the decades, however, the so-called Nazi “ghost train” has never been recovered.
2. Foo Fighters
Even before the term UFO (or Unidentified Flying Object) had been officially adopted by the United States Air Force in 1953, pilots were spotting strange things in the sky. During World War II, they called these mysterious objects “foo fighters,” a name that was borrowed from the Smokey Stover comic strips of artist Bill Holman. Initially reported by the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, and named by their radar operator Donald J. Meiers, these objects were generally thought to be secret weapons employed by the Axis forces, though the Robertson Panel later determined that they were likely natural phenomena such as St. Elmo’s Fire.
3. The Disappearance of Flight 19
While technically occurring shortly after the end of the war, the disappearance of Flight 19 is notable in part because of its role in helping to establish the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. While on a training flight over that infamous patch of ocean, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers lost contact with the tower. A Martin PBM Mariner flying boat was launched to search for the planes, which were assumed to have crashed, but the Mariner disappeared as well. No wreckage or bodies were ever recovered, either from Flight 19 or the Mariner, and Navy investigators were unable to determine a cause for the total disappearance of, in all, some 27 men and six planes.
4. The Pearl Harbor Ghost Plane
There are plenty of stories of ghost planes and strange sightings in the sky surrounding World War II, but perhaps none are as astonishing as the “Pearl Harbor ghost plane.” On December 8, 1942—nearly a year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor—an unidentified plane was picked up on radar headed toward Pearl Harbor from the direction of Japan.
When U.S. planes were sent to investigate, they saw that the mystery plane was a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the kind that had been used by American forces in the defense of Pearl Harbor and not used since. They said that the plane was riddled with bullet holes, and that the pilot could be seen inside, bloody and slumped over in the cockpit, though he is said to have waved briefly at the other planes just before the P-40 crash-landed. When search teams explored the wreckage, however, they found no body, and no indication of a pilot, simply a diary that claimed that the plane had flown from Mindanao, an island some 1,300 miles away.
5. The Battle of Los Angeles
The attack on Pearl Harbor shocked America so much that it probably comes as no surprise that when an unidentified object was spotted in the sky over Los Angeles only a few months later, the response was swift. Witnesses described the object in question as round and glowing orange. It didn’t take long for searchlights to begin sweeping the skies or for anti-aircraft guns to fire more than 1,400 shells at the mysterious object. If anything was hit, no wreckage was found. In 1949, the United States Coast Artillery Association claimed that a weather balloon had started the shooting, while in 1983 the U.S. Office of Air Force History chalked the whole event up to a case of “war nerves.”
6. Hitler’s Globe
Made famous by Charlie Chaplin in his film The Great Dictator, Hitler really did have an enormous globe with a wooden base in his office. Manufactured by the Columbus factory, the globe was one of Hitler’s most prized possessions, but after the end of the war, it was never seen again. Some claim that a globe, recently auctioned by its owner, was Hitler’s, but historian Wolfram Pobanz disputes that, saying the globe in question actually belonged to Joachim von Ribbentrop.
7. Die Glocke
During World War II, Nazi propaganda popularized the idea of a number of Wunderwaffe, or “Miracle Weapons” that were supposedly going to help Germany win the war. Most of these weapons remained prototypes or even simply theoretical, but the idea of them entered the public consciousness, and has proven fertile ground for science fiction writers over the years.
In the year 2000, a Polish journalist named Igor Witkowski described a particularly chilling Wunderwaffe known as Die Glocke, German for “The Bell.” This bell-shaped weapon was said to be roughly 12 feet tall, and contained two rotating cylinders filled with a metallic liquid known as Zerum-525. When activated, the terrifying weapon was supposed to create a zone of effect around itself that would cause blood to coagulate inside the body and plants to decompose. Many of the scientists who worked on Die Glocke were said to have died while testing it, though the weapon was never used and, depending on whom you believe, may never have actually existed at all.
8. The Blood Flag
Before the rise of the Third Reich, the infamous Nazi flag had already made its appearance during Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. During the fighting that followed, the flag was soaked in the blood of Nazi Brown Shirts, and became a potent symbol of the movement.
Throughout the war, Hitler would use replicas of the flag, which was sometimes referred to as the Blutfahne, or “Blood Flag,” in rallies, but the flag itself was last seen in 1944. Some believe that the bloodstained flag was destroyed during the Allied bombing of Munich, while others assert that the flag still exists. Many have claimed ownership of it over the years, but no claims have been proven.
9. 17 British Soldiers at Auschwitz
In 2009, during excavations at perhaps the most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps, a list was found containing the names of 17 British soldiers. What is unclear is what the list was a list of. Were these former prisoners of war, or defectors who joined the SS? What’s more, some of the names had marks by them, which seemed to indicate something, though what they indicated remains unclear.
10. Who Turned in Anne Frank?
Through her famous diary, Anne Frank has become one of the most well known voices of the atrocities of the Holocaust. The diary was written while Frank was hiding in Amsterdam, but she ultimately died in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. While her diary shed light upon much of her life, the reason for her death remains a mystery. Someone must have reported her, but who ultimately made the anonymous phone call that led to the capture and execution of Anne Frank and her family?
11. Big Stoop
For a war that was fought more than 70 years ago, the number of Allied soldiers who remain listed as MIA is staggering, clocking in at more than 70,000. Many of these men disappeared in the war’s Pacific theater, where oceans, islands, and jungles made recovery—and discovery—difficult. Among these were the crew of a B-24 bomber called Big Stoop, shot down near Palau. For decades, the plane and its crew were considered lost, with no wreckage or bodies to be found. It wasn’t until 2004 that the plane’s fuselage was located by a team of divers, and not until 2010 that the families of the crew were able to bury at least some of their bones in Arlington National Cemetery, though mysteries still surround the exact fate of the bomber.
These are just a few of the strange and unexplained events that took place during and surrounding the Second World War. Even when the mysteries of war find solutions, the fog that war leaves behind often obscures as much as it reveals, and there can be no doubt that the aftermath of World War II left many other secrets behind, some of which we may still not be aware of even today.