One of the more little known aspects of World War II was the covert operation that were carried out by both Allied and Axis forces during the war. Many of these operations were truly astonishing, and honestly sound like they belong in a historical thriller film or spy novel than they do in real life.
But the truth is that each of the covert operations we are about to cover here today actually happened. Each of them are truly remarkable because they are either hard to believe or required considerable bravery from the men who carried them out (or both).
Here are the top covert operations of World War II:
Operation Gunnerside took place in February 1942 in the small town of German-occupied Vemork, Norway. Nine Norwegian men specially trained by the British Special Operations parachuted just outside of the town with the objective of blowing up a heavy water plant.
This was considered important because heavy water was critical for the Germans to produce plutonium, is a crucial elect in noted development of a nuclear weapon. German scientists were rushing to build such a weapon before the Allies could.
The heavy water plant at Vemork was very fortified and could not be taken out by bombing, so sending in a small team to destroy it was essentially the only option. The nine men, who were lead by a twenty three year old Norwegian soldier named Joachim Ronneborg, had to scale a five hundred foot cliff in the middle of the frigid winter and then infiltrate a heavily defended basement laboratory.
The team succeeded and planted explosives that blew up part of the base, and effectively halted all German plans to build any kind of a nuclear weapon.
Operation Mincemeat was carried out in 1943. The Allied forces had just forced German and Italian forces out of northern Africa, and were beginning plans to invade Southern Europe by striking at Sicily and Italy.
Of course, the Axis were anticipating such an assault and were readying their defenses. To help conceal Allied intentions of definitively invading Sicily, the British engaged in a high stakes deception game with the Germans to determine where exactly in Europe the invasion would occur. The idea was to divide German forces across multiple defensive fronts, rather than concentrating their forces in just one area. Such a strategy would increase the odds of Allied victory.
The Allied plan was called Operation Mincemeat, where they decided to allow the Germans to discover top secret documents...which were in reality fake.
The British used the corpse of a homeless man named Glyndwr Michael, and turned him into Major William Martin. A submarine crew pushed the Boyd out into the water off the coast of Spain, and he was handcuffed to a briefcase with the fake top secret documents, among other items.
According to these fake documents, the Allied invasion was to occur in Greece. Just as the British had hoped, the Spanish authorities discovered the body and sent the documents to the German high command. Even though Spain was not formally involved in the war, they were sympathetic to the Axis cause.
The German High Command and Hitler both believed the documents, and concentrated heavy defenses in Greece and the Balkans as a result. This took away forces they could have used to defend Sicily, making it significantly weaker when the Allies launched their successful invasion in the summer of that year.
Operation Frankton was considered by many to be among the most daring raids of World War II.
It took place in December of 1942. Ten British Special Forces soldiers were sent to a French port with the objective of destroying German defenses and causing mayhem. The ten soldiers literally paddles canoes into the port of Bordeaux in France with the objective of blowing up ships that were sending Germany resources from Asia.
Five canoes with two men each were launched by a British submarine off the French coast, hundreds of miles away from where the commandos had to strike. Nonetheless, the commandos paddled the whole way. This took them multiple days and they had to hide and camp out along the French shoreline along the way.
Two boats capsized and another one vanished, but the remaining two managed to make their objective. The four remaining commandos then used explosives to blow up six ships.
Of those four commandos, two were captured and executed by the Germans, but the other two were found by the French Resistance and smuggled into Spain. The operation was used to boost Allied morale, as at the time the Allies were losing the war. It also forced the Germans to dedicate more resources to protecting their ships.
Operation Vengeance was essentially America's revenge against Japan for the bombing of Pearl Harbor (or at least part of the revenge). The attack on Pearl Harbor was masterminded by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
In the spring of 1943, Yamamoto was seeking to build moral among Japanese forces following their defeat at the Battle of Guadalcanal. American intelligence had broken the Japanese code and discovered Yamamoto's itinerary. President FDR then personally ordered Operation Vengeance with the aim of killing Yamamoto as revenge for Pearl Harbor.
On April 18th, 18 American P38 fighter planes took off to intercept the the Admiral over Bougainville Island. A dogfight occurred in the sky, and Yamamoto's plane was sent crashing down into the jungle below with him in it.
Also known as the Gran Sasso raid, Operation Oak was the German operation to free Benito Mussolini.
In the summer of 1943, the Allies captured Sicily and invaded Italy. The Italian government then deposed dictator Mussolini. Mussolini was arrested and taken throughout Italy, and was eventually taken into an old hotel high in the Apennine Mountains called the Gran Sasso.
Adolf Hitler greatly feared that the Italian government switch sides to the Allies, which would tilt the war even further in the Allies' favor and severely weaken Axis defenses in Southern Europe. He therefore ordered an operation to rescue Mussolini, assigning the task to one of Germany's most skilled paratroopers, Otto Skorzeny.
Skorzeny and his men tracked Mussolini's movements throughout Italy, which proved difficult as the Italian authorities went to great lengths to conceal his whereabouts as much as possible. However, Skorzeny was able to intercept a radio communication that revealed Mussolini's location. In September of 1943, Skorzeny led German paratroopers to the Gran Sasso Hotel and captured him.
Mussolini was then named the head of the new Italian Social Republic, which essentially referred to the German-controlled Italian puppet government in all German-held Italian territory. The Italian Campaign would later drag on throughout the war, and proved to be very bloody but also greatly overlooked in contrast to the Western and Eastern fronts.
When did the Allies first land on the beaches of France in World War II? In June of 1944 during the Normandy landings, right?
Actually, that was the second Allied attempt to take back France. The first happened at a small port town along the northern French coast called Jubilee. 6,000 Canadian and British soldiers attempted to cross the English Channel and seize control of Dieppe, with the aim of destroying German military defenses and practicing a large scale invasion.
However, the Germans were well-prepared for the attack, and slaughtered or captured over half of the invading Allied force. The operation was called off by the British in less than ten hours.
The one good thing that came out of the operation was that the Allies learned a lot of lessons on what to avoid for the upcoming Normandy landings a few years later.
One reason the Allies were able to win World War II was because of air superiority, which enabled them to bomb German factories and production sites throughout the war. As a result, numerous German tanks, weapons, aircraft, and other pieces of equipment that were being built under total war production capacity were lost even before they could be deployed to the frontline.
But the Allies didn't just target the factories with their bombings. The Ruhr River dams of Germany were well known to the Allies for their strategic value, as well as for the presence of hydroelectric plants.
The Allies developed Operation Chastise. This was where a drum-shaped bomb was built that would be released with a special backspin, enabling it to skip over the river, strike the dam, and then sink and exploded.
Allied bombers successfully reaches the dams and the operation was successful. Massive flooding was caused all over the Ruhr valley, and two hydroelectric plants were left completely disabled. That being said, Allied aerial losses in the operation were heavy, so debates have been waged for years over whether the operation was necessary. However, it was undeniable moral victory for the Allies.
By 1944, the Axis were definitely losing the war on all fronts, and defeat was essentially inevitable. The Soviet Union, following their victory over the Germans at Kursk in 1943, launched a series of massive offensives across the entire Eastern frontline, and completely obliterated the German Army Group Center, robbing the Nazis of nearly a million men in an offensive called Operation Bagration. This was actually the worst defeat ever inflicted on Germany in history, even though it received far less attention than the Soviet victories at Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk.
In any case, the Germans aimed to make the Soviet advance across Eastern Europe as difficult as possible. The German High Command recognized that a military victory against the Soviet Union was impossible. That being said, the Soviet Union still possessed finite resources and were losing many more men and vehicles in battle than the Germans were. It was hoped that by inflicting as severe of losses as possible on the Soviets, the Soviet Union would agree to a truce.
Unfortunately for the Germans, this never happened and the Soviets continued to stampede across eastern Europe despite encountering mass casualties. Desperate, Hitler authorized Operation Zeppelin, a plan in late 1944 to assassinate Stalin and throw the Soviet government into chaos.
The Germans trained two Soviet defectors for the mission, who were both equipped with assassination weapons and given false documentation to help them slip through the Soviet lines and make their way to Moscow. The agents, who were one man and one woman, got married to one another and then were inserted via cargo plane into the Soviet Union. The agents then commandeered a motorcycle and drove onwards to Moscow, escaping the wreckage of the plane because it had been shot down by Soviet anti-aircraft fire.
They would have made it to the Soviet capital, and perhaps even been successful, had it not been for the fact that the Soviet military was tracking them throughout the countryside. Eventually, the spy couple was arrested at a checkpoint because they were suspiciously dry when it was pouring rain outside. The two were captured and executed seven years after the war in 1952.