• Weird History

Plot Holes In History That Actually Happened

Movie plot holes annoy and confuse audiences when filmmakers abandon storylines, characters suddenly gain superhuman powers, or the good guys storm in at the last minute to save the day. Occasionally, history does the same thing. While these instances aren't plot holes per se - especially since you can't edit reality like a story - real life can feature weird coincidences.

Since life always goes on - though history sometimes repeats itself - these historical plot holes are only observable after they've occurred. History consistently proves cliches: a savior appears at the last minute, underdogs come out on top, life evolves rapidly without warning, and a chain of coincidences causes a significant event. One Redditor asked other users about which parts of history serve as plot holes if seen in a movie; their answers proved the truth is often stranger than fiction.

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  • Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-209-0091-11/Nägele / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    A Single Russian Tank Held Off German Troops For An Entire Day During World War II

    From Redditor /u/bustead:

    A lone Soviet tank holding an entire German division for one day in the Battle of Raseiniai in 1941.

    What Actually Happened:

    In June 1941, as German troops advanced toward the Soviet Union in a campaign known as Operation Barbarossa, the Battle of Raseiniai erupted in Lithuania over local river crossings. Soviet KV tanks had walls too thick for average German bullets to pierce. On June 24, German troops spotted a single Soviet tank on their territory. Locals said the tank had appeared the night before; they believed it indicated the beginning of an attack, but the tank sat silently until it fired at an approaching German supply convoy.

    Though the Soviet soldiers in the tank needed supplies and treatment for injuries, they remained inside, occasionally firing at the German troops. Germany used a howitzer and an anti-aircraft turret against the Soviets, but the tank destroyed their weapons. Similarly, soldiers approached the tank at night to plant bombs, but the Soviets thwarted them with machine guns.

    The tank resisted the Germans for a full day; however, one German soldier destroyed the tank by throwing a grenade into a hole made by an anti-aircraft shell. It killed the entire tank crew. Impressed by the efforts of the Soviets, the Germans buried the bodies out of respect.

  • Photo: Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    The Gimli Glider Ran Out Of Fuel Midflight, But Landed Safely On An Active Drag-Racing Strip

    From Redditor /u/SmoreOfBabylon:

    I don't know who wrote the script to the Gimli Glider, but the whole deal was just contrived as hell. Kinda like if they'd made a Speed 3, or if The Asylum ripped off Sully.

    What Actually Happened:

    The story of the Gimli Glider is reminiscent of a disaster movie with weak explanations for the problem's existence. On July 23, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143 planned to fly from Montreal to Edmonton, with an in-between stop in Ottawa. Before the Boeing 767 took off, maintenance employees discovered the defective fuel gauge, which calculates the fuel needed for a successful trip. Instead of grounding the aircraft, the crew determined the fuel math manually.

    As Canada had recently adopted the metric system, and the crew forgot to use metric measurements. Consequently, the plane ran out of fuel 41,000 feet above Ontario. Warning lights flashed and an engine halted, taking power and electricity along with it.

    Skilled at flying gliders, pilot Robert Pearson regained control of the falling plane. Aware of a Royal Canadian Air Force base in nearby Gimli, he steered the craft in its direction. Unfortunately, the base had closed and became a drag-racing strip, which hosted a go-cart race at the time. Pearson landed safely with all passengers alive.

  • Photo: Kikuchi Yoosai, Tokyo National Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Typhoons Stopped Two Separate Mongol Invasions Of Japan

    From Redditor /u/Cannibal808:

    Not strictly a plot hole, but I'd probably choose the two Mongol invasions of Japan that were stopped both times by typhoons. Can't think of a more deus ex machina moment than that. And to top it off, it happened twice.

    What Actually Happened:

    Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai tried to invade Japan twice while carrying out his grandfather's legacy. According to Japanese legend, the younger Khan and his troops approached Kyushu by boat in 1274 and 1281, but typhoons prevented them from landing both times. During World War II, Emperor Hirohito retold this story as he sent pilots to crash their airplanes into enemy ships, calling them kamikaze - "divine winds" - after the legendary typhoons.

    Historians believed these two storms were mere folktales, especially since typhoons weren't typical for western Japan. They also didn't want to discount the efforts of soldiers defending their land from Khan. Scientists later tested the sediment from coastal lake bottoms, discovering metals and rocks formed into bigger rocks and excess salt.

    They speculated typhoons might have deposited this sediment there, and since carbon samples date it to around the time of Khan, the stories could be true. In the 1980s, researchers also found ancient Chinese artifacts in sunken ships, supposedly part of Khan's armada, in Imari Bay.

  • Photo: Verisimilus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Compared To The Slow Timeline Of Earth, The Cambrian Explosion Seemed To Happen Overnight

    From Redditor /u/Sodium100mg:

    The Cambrian Explosion. We have a perfect fossil record of nothing but algae, then one day the fossil record includes fully evolved animal life.

    What Actually Happened:

    According to modern scientific theory, until about 600 million years ago, life on Earth consisted of algae, plankton, and bacteria. Fossil records indicate life began evolving around this time, creating predecessors for types of currently existing and extinct species. About 30 million years later, life quickly progressed during the Cambrian Explosion. 

    Scientists have different explanations for why life advanced rapidly - one theory credits an increase of oxygen allowing nature to thrive. It's also possible a period of extinction occurred before the explosion, creating gaps in nature filled by creatures adapting. Additionally, genetic factors - such as having increased lifespans due to adaptation - were crucial in the Cambrian Explosion. These observations derive from the fossil record, however, so certain creatures might not have left behind fossils - the explosion could have been larger than initially thought.

  • Photo: Léon Morel-Fatio / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    French Soldiers On Horseback Captured A Dutch Fleet After It Became Trapped In Ice

    From Redditor /u/Abadatha:

    I'm pretty sure it was during the French Revolution that a cavalry regiment won a naval battle because the ships had frozen into the harbor.

    What Actually Happened:

    At the height of the French Revolution, neighboring countries joined the conflict amid concerns of France becoming a republic. There was a division of public opinion in the Netherlands; some citizens also wanted to become a republic. In 1795, a Dutch military group set out on 14 boats to support their exiled monarch in Britain. The ships attempted to avoid a winter storm by anchoring close to the island of Texel. Unfortunately, the ice forming overnight trapped them.

    The French learned of the stuck fleet and established a cavalry to approach the boat on horseback to coerce a surrender. To distribute the weight of many men and horses on the ice, they walked in several lines. Despite their wealth of guns and cannons, the Dutch ships surrendered - this was a rare, historical instance of when a cavalry beat a fleet at sea.

  • Photo: Mr. Puttnam and Mr. Malindine, War Office official photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Thousands Of Allied Soldiers Evacuated Dunkirk Thanks To Hitler Mysteriously Holding His Troops Back

    From Redditor /u/Charlie--Dont--Surf:

    The Dunkirk evacuation would be an eye-rolling example of "and of course the good guys' friends come galloping in at the last minute to save the seemingly doomed heroes..."

    What Actually Happened:

    By May 1940, Adolf Hitler's troops pushed French, British, and other Allied soldiers back to Dunkirk, trapping them along the coast and cutting off all escape routes. Operation Dynamo started in an attempt to rescue as many men as possible. Since the nearby Allied warships could not transport large numbers of people, the military asked British boat owners to help in the evacuation. The enormous Allied warships prevented entrance to the bombed-out harbor and the beach, so the smaller boats transported soldiers to larger ships.

    The Dunkirk evacuation succeeded not only because help arrived at the last minute, but because Hitler pulled back his troops, giving many of the Allied soldiers time to escape. Historians have many explanations for the Führer's inaction: to avoid the complete humiliation the British; leave the destruction of those trapped at Dunkirk to the Luftwaffe instead of his tanks; extend a form of peace-offering with the British; or yield to a rampant oversight due to an alleged addiction to drugs. Whatever the reason, Allied troops evacuated more than 300,000 soldiers over nine days, leading many involved to call their success a miracle.

  • Photo: Ghirlandajo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    A Church Received Ransom Notes After The Ghent Altarpiece Was Stolen

    From Redditor /u/SizzlingApricot:

    There's the story of the stolen panel from a van Eyck altarpiece in Ghent, Belgium. It was mysteriously robbed in 1934 from the church and has never been found. There was an exchange of ransom notes with the police, but it came to a halt unexpectedly.

    A few months after the heist, a stockbroker who suffered from a heart attack confessed on his deathbed that "he alone knows the location" of the missing painting, and he directed his lawyer to a desk drawer where carbon copies of all ransom notes have been found - including an unsent letter, that contained a clue about the location. And still, no one could figure it out.

    Only last week [in June 2018], an amateur puzzler announced in a press conference promoting a book he'd co-written that he figured out the location from that last note, and that it's buried under a cobblestone square in Ghent. It involved cracking the codes, drawing routes on a map, true Da Vinci Code stuff. The authorities are taking it super-seriously and are looking into the best way to dig up the square. I truly hope it's there; it would be insane - I mean, the deathbed confession part seems a little excessive, no?

    What Actually Happened:

    The story of this artwork contains abundant mystery-thriller cliches. On April 11, 1934, a church steward discovered two of the 12 panels of the masterpiece known as the Ghent Altarpiece were missing from the church. Considered a Belgian national treasure, the artwork by Jan and Hubert van Eyck debuted in 1432; it is allegedly the first-ever oil painting. It carries a history of being stolen and sold, as well as being censored and almost burned.

    The authorities remained uninterested in the theft until a bishop received an anonymous note. The writer claimed they stole the piece, demanding a huge sum for its return, arranged via newspaper ads.

    The bishop soon received another letter containing a luggage-check ticket from a train station, which authorities used to obtain one of the stolen panels. They gave the money to the ransomers through a third-party priest, but the amount was much less than they requested.

    In November of the same year, stockbroker Arsène Goedertier suffered a heart attack - on his deathbed, he told his lawyer he knew the location of the missing painting. The lawyer found copies of the ransom notes in Goedertier's home, but no mention of where to uncover the art.

    As the Reddit user pointed out, in June 2018, new developments regarding the Ghent Altarpiece emerged. A report in The Independent confirmed this, saying:

    At a press conference in the city hall, [Gino] Marchal declared that the hiding place is beneath the Kalandeberg square in the center of the city... The new theory is based on the scribbled words left on the final note: oiseau, arte, jean, nina, erpe, and fourrure, along with the number 152.

    Mr. Marchal said he found locations linked to four of the words that were all 152 [meters] from a single point on the Kalandeberg. Plotting the routes also spelled out the letters for the name Nina, he claimed.

    However, Ghent's mayor, Daniël Termont, warned the public not to go digging for the painting.

  • Photo: Braun, USA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Sgt. Leonard Funk Allegedly Killed Or Wounded 40 Men In 60 Seconds

    From Redditor /u/ThesAndman6672:

    Leonard Funk. In January 1945 he was deployed to Belgium... during the Battle of the Bulge... In less than a minute his ragtag force killed 21 of the enemy, wounded 24 more, and recaptured the remainder.

    What Actually Happened:

    In January 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, decorated US Army sergeant Leonard Funk led the 82nd Airborne through a snowstorm for 15 miles to join up with another platoon. While they took German prisoners in one town, another German group caught Funk off-guard. More than 80 German soldiers stared him down; with an officer's pistol aimed at his head, Funk pretended to surrender.

    Funk reportedly lowered his submachine gun before quickly raising it again, firing at the Germans. His small force allegedly wounded over 20 German soldiers and killed 20 more within a minute, causing the remaining men to surrender quickly. Funk's actions in this battle won him the Medal of Honor.

  • Photo: Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A Double Agent Tricked Germany With False Information And Helped The Allied Forces Succeed At Normandy

    From Redditor /u/Mullet_Police:

    Pujol Garcia's work as a double agent would probably come off as a farce. Just reading his Wikipedia page is comical enough... not only did the Germans pay out-of-pocket for a nonexistent spy's pension, they also paid Pujol Garcia to coordinate a 20-some-man spy ring (none of which existed, besides Pujol Garcia) throughout World War II. Talk about bamboozled.

    What Actually Happened:

    Born in Spain, Juan Pujol Garcia endeavored to become a British spy. He approached the British three times in 1941, offering to obtain information about Germany, but they turned him down. Determined to enter the spy game, Garcia offered his services to German intelligence instead. He fabricated a story about being pro-Nazi and a member of the Spanish government on his way to London.

    Germany hesitated, but ultimately hired Garcia and sent him to London to set up a spy network. However, he instead moved to Lisbon, Portugal, using British magazines and reference books to create fake reports written by fictitious agents.

    MI6 finally accepted Garcia and teamed him up with a British agent who helped him concoct a fake spy ring of at least 27 agents. They wrote intelligence letters for the Germans, overwhelming them with information. Their intricate system required an imaginary radio mechanic to pass the intel along.

    Garcia earned the nickname "Garbo," thanks to his acting ability, but his most significant contribution to World War II was his influence on the events at Normandy. Germany learned of the Allied forces' plans to invade, but Garcia convinced them that the alleged attack was a fake, and the real invasion would happen further up the coast. Germany believed him and failed to send many troops or tanks to the beach, helping to make D-Day a success for the Allies.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The World's Most Unsinkable Ship Met Its End Due To Many Unfortunate Coincidences

    From Redditor /u/sebrebc:

    Titanic would be considered lazy writing. The worst maritime accident at the time, and it happened with what was billed as the first unsinkable ship on its maiden voyage.

    What Actually Happened:

    The world's biggest and supposedly most unsinkable ship hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people. However, the Titanic didn't sink only because of the iceberg; many other unfortunate coincidences occurred.

    Fourteen years before the Titanic set sail, Morgan Robertson wrote Futility, a novella involving the "world's biggest" ship named Titan, deemed "unsinkable," before hitting an iceberg and sinking.

    In the Titanic's case, radio personnel ignored another ship's warnings about icebergs; the craft traveled at full speed in a dangerous area, and the captain may have accidentally turned toward the iceberg instead of away. There weren't binoculars available since the crew member with the storage locker key had transferred off the ship. Shoddy engineering could have caused the hull to break on impact. The Titanic carried only enough lifeboats for half of the total occupants, and many seats remained empty during departure. 

    Some stories claim Captain Edward J. Smith was making one of his last trips before retirement, so his character was cliche as well.

  • Photo: Carl Pietzner / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Serbian Nationalists Assassinated Franz Ferdinand For Being In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time

    From Redditor /u/Hyperdrunk:

    It's considered one of those peculiar cases where luck meets circumstance; the car of Archduke Franz Ferdinand got lost down an alley where a co-conspirator of the guy who just tried to blow them up happened to be sitting in a second-floor balcony with his pistol, right where their car stalled. It's as if fate decided that Franz Ferdinand was meant to die that day, and after escaping his fate from the bomb, it circled back and got him anyway with a bullet.

    What Actually Happened:

    Coincidence contributed to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but not as the above story embellished. On June 28, 1914, Ferdinand and his wife traveled through Sarajevo. Nedjelko Cabrinovic, a Serbian nationalist angry about his country's annexation by Austria-Hungary, threw a bomb at their car. Stories vary about how they deflected it, but the bomb detonated under the next car instead, injuring Ferdinand's men. Ferdinand decided to visit the wounded in the hospital instead of following through with his other plans.

    This decision led his car to travel on a different street - one where Gavrilo Princip, an associate of the previous would-be assassin, also happened to be. He recognized the car and fired, fatally striking both Ferdinand and his wife, triggering the events leading to World War I. Add to this story the fabricated facts such as the assassin enjoying a sandwich when Ferdinand passed by, the car breaking down in front of him, and the vehicle being cursed - these are the makings of one lazy, yet entertaining blockbuster.

  • The Atomic Bomb Was A Secret, Last-Minute Superweapon

    From Redditor /u/mikeash:

    They ran out of budget to [signal] the end of World War II, so the writers invented this ridiculous superweapon that ends the war with two swift strikes. Then, despite getting into many more wars after that, the superweapon is never used to win them.

    What Actually Happened: 

    The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. The bombs ended World War II, but the blasts killed over 100,000 people. 

    Created under the Manhattan Project, the atomic bombs' construction and testing were secretive - only certain government personnel knew the truth. The US Army built entire secret cities for workers to live in, informing them they were working on a war effort. The government chose low-population areas, building green spaces and single-family homes in planned communities.

    When the first and only test bomb went off, the shockwave and 7-mile-high mushroom cloud were unmistakable; the Army explained this as an explosion of a high-powered ammunition magazine. Fierce debates about the usage of the bombs continue to this day.

  • Photo: Ewen Montagu Team / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Operation Mincemeat Used A Real Corpse With Fake Documentation To Trick Hitler Into Moving His Troops

    From Redditor /u/Heknarf:

    Operation Mincemeat, for example. Get a tramp from the morgue who died eating rat poison. Give him a new name and make him a captain. Dress him up as said captain with identity documents. Strap a briefcase to his wrist full of fake intelligence to hide the actual invasion point in Sicily.

    Drop him out a f*cking plane into the sea near Spain, so he'll wash up and the Spanish will pass on the information to the Germans. Write a fake newspaper article commemorating the fake captain, and informing people of his MIA status. Wait for the lulz. Hitler fell for it completely...

    What Actually Happened:

    James Bond creator Ian Fleming proposed Operation Mincemeat while employed as an assistant in the British Naval Intelligence, adopting the idea from a detective novel. To mislead Germany about Allied forces' plans to attack, the British tricked them with the dead body of a British man. They obtained a corpse from the morgue (cause of death: rat poison) and planted fake documents on it, including keys, ticket stubs, and letters concerning imminent attacks against Germany. They renamed the corpse "William Martin."

    After Spanish fisherman found "Martin" and gave him to the Germans, the ruse succeeded. Hitler moved his troops away from Sicily to guard against attacks in locations stated in Martin's letter, enabling Allied forces to more easily seize Sicily.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After His Defeat And Exile To Elba, Napoleon Escaped With An Army And Reclaimed His Throne For A Short Time

    From Redditor /u/Socialist7:

    Napoleon's escape from Elba.

    What Actually Happened:

    Isn't it lazy writing when characters with concluded arcs return to the story or star in a spinoff series? The same could apply to Napoleon Bonaparte who, after his defeat by Russia and exile to the island of Elba in 1814, decided to stage a comeback. Still allowed to call himself emperor - this time as leader of 12,000 island residents - Napoleon kept his comfortable life. He built roads and mines, as well as improved the island's legal system and schools.

    Less than a year after his banishment, Napoleon heard rumors about transferring to a more remote island, so he planned his escape. During his time on Elba, he recruited followers for a small navy and military force of more than 2,000 men.

    In February 1815, Napoleon set out on the brig Inconstant, painted to look like a British ship, along with a small fleet of loyalists. He landed in France, quickly assembled a more massive army of followers, and reclaimed his throne. Napoleon's second rule lasted only 100 days; it ended with his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. He became an exile on St. Helena, a secluded volcanic island.