10 Unique People of the Second World War

  • May 05, 2010
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The Second World War was the largest armed conflict in modern history, with more than 100 million military personnel being mobilized. During the war, the world’s great powers organized themselves into two opposing military alliances, the Allies (read more about Allies in WWII) and the Axis (read more about Allies in WWII). The Axis powers included Germany, Japan, and Italy, while the rest of the world’s leaders joined the Allies. Many important military generals and soldiers emerged during the Second World War. However, this article will be examining ten unique people involved with the war, people who made an impact and provide an interesting story.


Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Homeland: Soviet Union

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was born in Bila Tserkva on July 12, 1916. She moved to Kiev with her family at the age of fourteen, where she joined a shooting club and developed into a sharpshooter. In June 1941, the 24-year old Pavlichenko was in her fourth year of studying history at the Kiev University when Nazi Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union. She was among the first to volunteer at the recruiting office, where she requested to join the infantry. Pavlichenko was assigned to the Red Army's 25th Rifle Division. She became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, of whom about 500 ultimately survived the war. Pvt. Pavlichenko fought for about two and a half months near Odessa, where she recorded 187 kills. When the Germans gained control of Odessa, her unit was sent to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, where she fought for more than 8 months.

lyudmila pavlichenko

In May 1942, Lieutenant Pavlichenko was cited by the Southern Army Council for killing 257 German soldiers. Her total confirmed kills during the Second World War was 309 people, including 36 enemy snipers. Pavlichenko is highly regarded as the most deadly female sniper in the history of warfare. In June 1942, she was wounded by mortar fire, and because of her growing status, was pulled from combat less than a month after recovering from her injuries. Lyudmila Pavlichenko was sent to Canada and the United States for a publicity visit and became the first Soviet citizen to be received by a U.S. President when Franklin Roosevelt welcomed her to the White House. After the war, she finished her education at Kiev University and began a career as a historian. Lyudmila Pavlichenko died on October 10, 1974, at the age 58. She is buried at the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow. In 1976, Pavlichenko was commemorated on a second Soviet postage stamp, and a Ukrainian cargo ship was named in her honor.


Juan Pujol

Homeland: Spain

Juan Pujol was born in Barcelona, Spain. He detested the expansion of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, after his experiences with fascism and communism during the Spanish Civil War. Pujol decided around 1940 that he wanted to make a contribution to the war by helping Britain. He initially approached British commanders, but they showed no interest in employing him as a spy. Pujol then established himself as a German agent, working out of Lisbon. Eventually, he made contact with British intelligence, and again offered his services. This time he was accepted and was relocated to Britain in the spring of 1942, and operated as a double agent under the aegis of the XX Committee. His spymaster was Cyril Bertram Mills, whom he knew only as Mr. Grey. The information supplied by Pujol to the Germans was orchestrated by Mills and included a certain amount of genuine events, in order to make the reports appear more convincing.

juan pujol

Juan Pujol became known by the British codename Garbo and the German codename Arabel. He was one of the most important double agents of the Second World War and played a key role in the success of Operation Fortitude, the deception operation intended to mislead the Germans about the timing and location of the invasion of Normandy towards the end of the war. The false information Pujol supplied helped persuade German intelligence that the main attack would come in the Pas de Calais, resulting in a decision to withhold troops from the area around the Normandy beachhead. The Germans paid Garbo (or Arabel, as they called him) a large amount of money to support his network of agents, which at one point totaled 27 fabricated characters.

For his efforts in aid of the Allies, Garbo received an MBE from the British government. In an ironic twist of fate, following the war Pujol encountered one of his German handlers who honored him with the Iron Cross for his contribution to the German war effort. The Nazis never realized that Garbo had fooled them, and thus he earned the distinction of being one of the few people during World War II to receive decorations from both sides. After the war Pujol faked his death and moved to Venezuela, where he lived in anonymity. He was later reported to be living in Choroní, a town inside Henri Pittier National Park by the Caribbean Sea. Juan Pujol died in 1988 and is buried in the Choroní town cemetery.


Hiroo Onoda

Homeland: Japan

Hiroo Onoda was a trained Japanese intelligence officer who attended the Nakano School. On December 26, 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines, and was ordered to do all that he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor if necessary. He was ordered to not surrender or take his own life. However, on February 28, 1945, U.S. and Philippine military forces captured the island. Within a short time of the landing, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had either died or surrendered. Hiroo Onoda ordered the men to take to the hills, while he continued his military campaign. In October of 1945 the Japanese men saw their first leaflet which claimed that the war was over. The paper read "The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains.” However, the soldiers mistrusted the announcement and concluded that the leaflet was Allied propaganda.

hiroo onoda

Towards the end of 1945 leaflets were dropped by air with a surrender order printed on them from General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army. Onoda once again dismissed the letters. In 1952, family pictures were dropped from an aircraft urging the men to surrender, but the three soldiers concluded that this was a hoax. The men continued their guerilla warfare for decades after the war. In 1972, one of the Japanese soldiers was shot and killed when he was caught burning rice that had been collected by farmers. At that time, Onoda was left alone in the mountains. However, in February of 1974 he met a Japanese college dropout, Norio Suzuki, who was traveling the world. The men became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter, and the Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer, Major Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. He flew to Lubang and on March 9, 1974 informed Onoda of the defeat of Japan in WWII and ordered him to lay down his arms.

Lieutenant Onoda emerged from the jungle 29 years after the end of World War II, and accepted the commanding officer's order of surrender. He was still wearing his uniform and had his sword. He also still had his Arisaka Type 99 rifle in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades. This makes him the penultimate fighting Japanese soldier of World War II, before Teruo Nakamura. Onoda killed some thirty Philippine inhabitants of the island and engaged in several shootouts with the police over the years, but the circumstances of the events were taken into consideration, and he received a pardon from President Ferdinand Marcos. Upon return to Japan, Onoda became a celebrity and was so popular that some Japanese urged him to run for the Diet. Hiroo Onoda currently spends three months of the year in Brazil and is politically active.


Jack Churchill

Homeland: England

Fighting Jack Churchill was born in Hong Kong to English parents and was educated at King William's College on the Isle of Man. He graduated from Sandhurst in 1926 and served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment. During the middle of the 1930s Jack used his archery and bagpipe talents to play a small film role in the movie The Thief of Bagdad. After Poland was invaded in 1939, Churchill quickly volunteered for the Commandos. In May 1940, Churchill and his unit, the Manchester Regiment, ambushed a German patrol near L'Epinette, France. Churchill gave the signal to attack by cutting down the enemy Sergeant Feldwebel with his barbed arrows, becoming the only known British soldier to have killed an enemy with a longbow in the course of the Second World War. Mad Jack soon became known as the English soldier who fought battles armed with a bow, arrows and a claymore (sword).

jack churchill

Churchill was second in command during a raid on the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway on December 27, 1941. “As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, Churchill leapt forward from his position and played The March of the Cameron Men on bagpipes. He then threw a grenade, and began running towards the bay.” For his actions at Dunkirk and Vaasgo, Churchill received the Military Cross and Bar. In 1944, his unit was ordered to raid the German held island of Brač. During the attack, a mortar shell killed or wounded a large portion of his men. Churchill was knocked unconscious by the grenades and was captured. He was flown to Berlin for interrogation and then transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In late April 1945 Churchill was transferred to Tyrol together with about 140 other prominent concentration camp inmates.

After the German Army was defeated, the prisoners were left behind. Churchill walked 150 miles to Verona, Italy where he met an American armoured column. The Pacific War was still ongoing and Churchill wanted to fight, so he was sent to Burma, but by the time he reached India, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed, and the war abruptly ended. Churchill was said to be unhappy with the quick end of the war, saying "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!" He is also quoted as saying “any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed." In his later years, Jack Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became a passionate follower of the surfboard. Back in England, he was the first man to ride the River Severn’s five-foot tidal bore and ended up designing his own surfboard. Jack finally retired from the army in 1959, with two awards of the Distinguished Service Order. He died in Surrey in 1996.