World War II was one of the first wars to be heavily documented on film. While several photos of this significant time in our country’s history have become iconic, there are countless others that deserve attention in their own right.

Here are 20 lesser-known World War II photos that remind you that war is not only horrifying, but truly bizarre. From strange masks to soldiers with swords, you probably didn’t see any of these images in your school textbooks!

1. Canadian soldiers wore traditional sporrans to make fun of the fact that the country did not have traditional military uniforms at the time.

1-weird-world-war-twoWW2 in Color

2. Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle used to order his troops to surround him with bayonets before single-handedly disarming each of them—supposedly quite calmly—without any of his own weapons. This photo of one such demonstration was taken in 1943.

2-weird-world-war-twoReddit / bryceguy72

3. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American government issued Mickey Mouse gas masks in case of a chemical attack. The idea was to make them seem less scary, but they clearly had the opposite effect.

3-weird-world-war-twoAtlas Obscura

4. These men may seem strong, but the only reason they were able to lift this tank was because it was an inflated balloon. The Allies employed its “Ghost Army” of inflatable decoys after D-Day in Northern France and Germany to create the illusion that they had more power than they did.

4-weird-world-war-twoReddit / Soundhaugden

5. The Germans had their own version of decoy tanks, known as the Panzerattrape, though they weren’t nearly as convincing.

7-weird-world-war-twoReddit / nomoreoreos

6. This strange vehicle, called the Hafner Rotabuggy, was a hybrid of a Jeep and a rotor kite. Introduced in 1943, it was intended to be used off-road after safely being dropped from an aircraft eight feet above ground.

5-weird-world-war-twoReddit / figgernaggot666

7. Dogs (usually Alsatians) with explosives strapped to their bodies were used by Russians against the Germans to charge toward enemy tanks. They were essentially suicide missions; since the dogs were shot at or often scared of the tanks, they were (thankfully) ineffective.


8. Besides all the other problems that Nazis had to face during Operation Wunderland II—which aimed to cut off Soviet naval convoys and supply routes in the Arctic Kara Sea—they had to fight off polar bears.

8-weird-world-war-twoTwitter/ Notable History

9. It was actually common for Nazi soldiers to pose in photos with fake polar bears… even though the real ones sometimes tried to kill them! This was the mascot for the soda Fanta, a drink which still exists today.

10-weird-world-war-twoThe Guardian / Jean-Marie Donat

10. “Mad Jack” was the nickname earned by Lieutenant Colonel John Churchill after he held 42 German soldiers hostage while wielding a sword in occupied Norway during a 1941 raid. He’s pictured below (right, with sword) in Inveraray, Scotland during a training routine.

9-weird-world-war-twoWikimedia Commons / Imperial War Museum

11. Most likely, these young women were part of the Faith and Beauty Society (a wing of Hitler Youth) for German ladies between the ages of 17 and 21.

11-weird-world-war-twoUBB Central

12. These Italian soldiers were trained to identify mines under the cover of darkness.

12-weird-world-war-twoDaily Mail

13. These Royal Navy soldiers were given ultraviolet treatment to make up for the lack of vitamin D while stationed on naval crafts.

13-weird-world-war-twoDaily Mail

14. These British soldiers were terribly burned on D-Day, but tried to enjoy a smoke nonetheless.

14-weird-world-war-twoDaily Mail

15. This milkman was determined to remain chipper and do his duty even after the German “Blitz” of 1940 left London in ruins.

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16. Pilots needed to have their hair cut between missions to avoid it getting in their eyes. This Supermarine Spitfire pilot enjoyed his on the tarmac in Fairlop, Essex in 1942.

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17. Nazis loved German shepherds, and even liked to treat them like human soldiers.

17-weird-world-war-twoRare Historical Photos

18. A naval officer in Corpus Christi, Texas donned this suit to protect him from chemical weapons and gas.

18-weird-world-war-twoBusiness Insider / Howard R. Hollem/The Library of Congress

19. These high-altitude oxygen masks, clothes, and goggles were used while attacking Germans from high in the sky.

19-weird-world-war-twoRare Historical Photos

20. A Chinese soldier in Burma in 1940 made a special monkey friend!

20-weird-world-war-twoWorld War 2 Database / C. Peter Chen

World War II may have been hell, but that doesn’t mean it was any less fascinating. It’s enough to make you wonder what else we haven’t learned about this turning point in history!

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