World War II’s Weirdest Paranormal Mysteries

World War II’s Weirdest Paranormal Mysteries, by Matthew L. Swayne

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

I'm not exactly breaking new ground when I say that military history and haunted history are intimately connected. Ghosts of entire armies still trudge through the fields and forests of Europe, according to paranormal buffs and folklorists. There are so many ghost stories lingering around American Civil War battlefields that a cottage industry of ghost tours and haunted hotspot guidebooks have blossomed around those sites.

Experts on these hauntings say the connection between conflict and haunted activity is no mystery. The equation goes something like this: Death + High Emotional Intensity = Ghosts. My question before writing Haunted World War II was: Would the world's greatest conflict create the world's greatest collection of stories about spirits and tales of the supernatural? I'll let the readers judge from themselves, but I found that World War II, arguably history's most violent conflict, serves as the source of a considerable amount of ghostlore, as well as accounts of paranormal activity and high strangeness. Here are Haunted World War II's top ten weirdest tales that help stake the war's claim as history's most haunted conflict.

  1. Warbirds Still Fly UK's Haunted Skies
    During World War II, the skies above the United Kingdom buzzed with every make and model of warbird that the Allied—and often, the Axis—powers could produce. Bombers, fighters, and transports made England the world's biggest aircraft carrier. After the war, you would expect the skies of the UK to quiet down a little. But, dozens of witnesses claimed to have seen World War II-era planes cruising the blue yonder above England. When the witnesses raise the alarm, authorities often can't explain the appearance of these ghost planes. There are no air shows scheduled, nor do air traffic controllers have any record of these planes.
  2. Apparition Invasion
    After writing a bunch of books about ghosts and ghostlore, I thought I had written about it all—ghost mules, haunted Mexican restaurant restrooms, and possessed tour buses—but I could not imagine an entire beach being haunted by legions of ghosts. But, that's exactly what a group of holiday vacationers said they encountered while on holiday at the beaches of Dieppe, site of a bloodily botched raid in World War II. During the early morning hours of August 4, a few weeks before the anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, or Operation Jubilee, the group said they heard the bark of cannons and the shouts and screams of soldiers. This band of spirit brothers even had air cover, the witnesses said, adding that they heard the scream of dive bombers. When the vacationers went out to investigate the next morning, they found no sign of a real armed incursion and promptly reported their experiences to paranormal authorities.
  3. A German General's Ghost in the US?
    You might expect the ghost of German General Erwin Rommel to be gliding through the sands of North Africa, or staring out onto the English Channel from the cliffs over Omaha Beach, or even appearing in his homeland of Germany. But, believe it or not, your best chance of running into the spectral version of the Desert Fox is in the American South. People claim they saw Rommel's ghost in graveyards and in a hotel in Virginia. The bit of ghostlore is based on Rommel's supposed secret visit before the war to America to study Civil War battlefields and tactics. Historians say there's no evidence of that secret mission. Believers say the ghost is evidence enough for them.
  4. The Not-So Passive Pacific
    The Pacific Theater was the scene of World War II's most violent battles. In Okinawa, a Pacific island about 1,000 miles from Tokyo, that battle became personal. Japanese strategists knew that if the Americans seized Okinawa they would have a base suitable to stage an invasion of Japan's mainland. They filled the imaginations of the island's civilians with tales of supposed American atrocities. When the US did invade, thousands of Okinawans reportedly jumped off cliffs to their deaths. Visitors to the island say that they have heard the beat of footsteps rush by them to the cliffs and heard screams. Some have even said when they heard the footsteps and simultaneously felt a breeze blow by them. Others believe the presence of spirits passed directly through them as the ghosts re-enact their last, desperate leap.
  5. Haunted Harbors
    America's battleships played key offensive and defensive roles during World War II. Many of these ships were brought back to the states, where they became both museums to preserve history and floating tributes to the sailors who served on board these floating fortresses. Some of those sailors are still around, according to legends. Moored in the appropriately named Cape Fear River, the USS North Carolina, for instance, is supposedly haunted with several ghosts. Witnesses have seen, felt, and heard the ghostly presences while touring, working, and investigating on board the ship.
  6. Signs and Synchronicities
    Famed Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the term "synchronicity" for events that seem related but aren't causally connected. Others might call this phenomena "signs." Jung must have had a field day during World War II when synchronicities became part of the headlines in war coverage. In one case, an advertisement, which featured a graphic with dice sporting a 12 and 7, seemed to predict Japan's pending attack on Pearl Harbor. In another bizarre case, code names for aspects of the D-Day invasion cropped up in crossword puzzles. Now, people wonder whether these were just coincidences, or the manifestation of unknown forces.
  7. Freaky Foo Fighters
    Everyone knows that the modern UFO era began with Kenneth Arnold's 1947 sighting of a formation of unidentified craft flying, "like a saucer if you skipped it across water" over Mount Rainier in Washington. Or did it? During World War II, several pilots claimed to see objects fly near, or even at, their formations. Descriptions of the crafts resembled what Arnold saw during his jaunt over the Cascades. The pilots dubbed these weird flying machines "foo fighters," and many UFOlogists say these sightings ushered in the first credible reports of UFOs in modern history.
  8. Ghost Tank
    We've heard of ghosts, ghost ships, ghost planes, and even ghost trains, but, at least according to one group of witnesses, a ghost tank may still be patrolling the former battlefields of the Eastern Front. Witnesses told a newspaper that one night, while scouring the fields for artifacts from the war, a team of war trophy hunters say they distinctly heard the unmistakable clanking of steel treads and the roar of an engine cutting through the otherwise silent darkness. Too scared to investigate at the moment—I mean, who wants to take on a vaunted Soviet T-34 tank, let alone the ghost of one?—they did report finding what looked like the twin tracks of some type of vehicle in the ground. And the tracks were fresh!
  9. The Churchill-Lincoln Spirit Summit
    Abraham Lincoln's ghost. Winston Churchill in the nude. OK, now that I implanted those images into your mind for the rest of your life, let's go on with the ghost story. Throughout the war, Churchill visited the White House several times. According to several sources, during one such visit, the prime minister stayed in what is now called the Lincoln Bedroom. He had just popped out of a bath, went into the bedroom—completely unclad—and saw, leaning against the fireplace, Abraham Lincoln. The unflappable prime minister simply said, "Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage." Lincoln, Churchill said, acknowledged the prime minister with a knowing look and then, like all good former heads of state who are, technically, dead, slowly faded away.
  10. 007 Meets 666
    Secret agents during World War II came from all walks of life. Some were military, some were civilian. Only one claimed to be the anti-Christ, however. According to historians and paranormal theorists, Aleister Crowley, a magician, occult legend, and master provocateur, served as a secret agent—or secret agent provocateur—during the war. These experts even suggest that future James Bond creator Ian Fleming, an intelligence officer during World War II, enlisted Crowley's magical talents to cast a spell that eventually lured Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's head henchman, to secretly fly to England on a so-called peace mission. Another story says that Prime Minister Winston Churchill's "V for Victory" sign was actually an occult gesture proposed by agent 666 himself, Aleister Crowley.

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018. All rights reserved.