The “Human” Torch was actually an android created by scientist Phineas Horton, off of the tutelage of Victor Timely. He possessed the ability to surround himself with fire and control flames. In his earliest appearances, he was portrayed as a science fiction monstrosity, but quickly became a hero and adopted a secret identity as a police officer for the New York City Police Department.
The Human Torch was one of Timely Comics’ three signature characters, along with Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Like many superheroes, the Human Torch fell into obscurity by the 1950s. In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby repurposed his name and powers for a new character, Johnny Storm, a member of the Fantastic Four (who was actually a human mutate). Unlike Captain America and the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch has had only a small presence in the post-1950s Marvel comic books and is closely associated with the Golden Age.
After researching history, Johann Schmidt learned about the mythical Tesseract, an object of unlimited power which was left on Earth by the Asgardians centuries earlier. Believing it to be real he began searching for it, knowing it would give him power. In March 1942, Schmidt and his army invaded Tønsberg, Norway, looking for the Tesseract. After entering a church, Schmidt encountered the Church Keeper who refused to tell him where the object was. However, Schmidt found the Tesseract in the wall and shot the church keeper with his gun.
After gaining the Tesseract, Schmidt returned to his base in the Alps and gave the object to his top scientist, Arnim Zola, for studying. The Tesseract was shown to be so powerful that its energy could help the Axis powers conquer the entire world.
World War II in the Pacific (1941-43)
With the United Kingdom facing Germany in Europe, the United States of America was the only nation capable of combating Japanese aggression, which by late 1941 included an expansion of its ongoing war with China and the seizure of European colonial holdings in the Far East. On December 7, 1941, 360 Japanese aircraft attacked the major U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, taking the Americans completely by surprise and claiming the lives of more than 2,300 troops. The attack on Pearl Harbor served to unify American public opinion in favor of entering World War II, and on December 8 Congress declared war on Japan with only one dissenting vote. Germany and the other Axis Powers promptly declared war on the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the United States would build fifty thousand planes to fight the armies of Hirohito and Adolf Hitler. Howard Stark supported the American war effort by building one hundred thousand planes for the United States Air Force.
America Strikes Back
After a long string of Japanese victories, the U.S. Pacific Fleet won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, which proved to be a turning point in the war. On Guadalcanal, one of the southern Solomon Islands, the Allies also had success against Japanese forces in a series of battles from August 1942 to February 1943, helping turn the tide further in the Pacific. In mid-1943, Allied naval forces began an aggressive counterattack against Japan, involving a series of amphibious assaults on key Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. This “island-hopping” strategy proved successful, and Allied forces moved closer to their ultimate goal of invading the Japanese homeland.
“Hitler speaks of a thousand year Reich, but he cannot feed his army for a month. His troops spill their blood across every field in Europe. But he is still no closer to achieving his goals.”
“And I suppose you still aim to win this war through magic?”
―Johann Schmidt and Roeder.
In North Africa, British and American forces had defeated the Italians and Germans by 1943. An Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy followed, and Benito Mussolini’s government fell in July 1943. However, the German troops immediately occupied northern and central Italy, slowing the advance of the Allies.
On the Eastern Front, a Soviet counter offensive launched in November 1942 ended the bloody Battle of Stalingrad, which had seen some of the fiercest combat of the war. The approach of winter, along with dwindling food and medical supplies, spelled the end for German troops there, and the last of them surrendered on January 31, 1943.
“The war has damaged us all has it not, Agent Sousa? We will never be the men we once were.”
―Johann Fennhoff to Daniel Sousa.
In 1943, Johann Fennhoff was stationed in an army camp for the Soviet Armed Forces. While at the camp, he was reading a book called “The Tragic Life of Doctor Faustus”. During his reading, he was interrupted by a surgeon, who wanted his assistance during an amputation of the leg of a soldier, called Ovechkin. He was hesitant at first, but agreed to help nonetheless. Fennhoff used his hypnosis-technique on the soldier, who focused on the memory of a game of chess he had with his mother before he enlisted in the army. As Ovechkin was completely focused on the memory, the surgeons could amputate his leg without Ovechkin feeling any pain.
“June 1943. The Nazi army marches across Europe, leaving death and destruction. The Allied armies band together to create a new kind of soldier. A super soldier. At humanity’s darkest hour, a skinny kid from Brooklyn became Captain America.”
In June 1943, as part of the Strategic Scientific Reserve’s Project Rebirth, Abraham Erskine recruited the sickly Steve Rogers into the US Army. Rogers and other potential candidates for the Super Soldier experiment were moved to Camp Lehigh. Colonel Chester Phillips and Peggy Carter put the candidates through a series of physical tests. Meanwhile, Johann Schmidt, having discovered Erskine’s whereabouts, sent his agents to kill him.
Following a week of evaluation, Erskine picked Rogers as the subject for the Super Soldier experiment based on his strength of character, knowing that the serum will react to that character. Phillips was not impressed with the choice. A day later, Rogers underwent Erskine’s Super Soldier treatment and experienced a transformation which increased his strength and stamina. Heinz Kruger, an assassin sent by Schmidt, infiltrated the secret Strategic Scientific Reserve laboratory in Brooklyn where the experiment was held and killed Erskine. Kruger escaped but was captured by Rogers who was unable to stop Kruger from killing himself rather than be interrogated.
“My apologies, Doctor, but we both knew HYDRA could grow no further in Hitler’s shadow. Hail HYDRA!”
―Johann Schmidt to Arnim Zola.
Meanwhile, the German armies began to suffer serious defeats. The Battle of Kursk in July 1943, with which Adolf Hitler hoped to turn the tide of war on the Eastern Front in his favor again, ended in the devastating defeat of the German forces.
Hitler, who funded Johann Schmidt’s research for years, now expected from HYDRA’s scientists to make new weapons for the German armed forces. But the army never received promised weapons. Schmidt ignored all of Hitler’s calls.
Worried, Hitler sent three loyal SS officers, Oberstgruppenführer Roeder, Gruppenführer Schneider, and Sturmbanführer Hutter, to Schmidt’s base. Schmidt’s visitors were intrigued by the unusual uniforms and equipment used by the soldiers of HYDRA, but they told Schmidt that the Führer felt that “the Red Skull” was indulged long enough. Provoked, Schmidt showed them his Tesseract powered cannon. But when they discovered that he intended to invade Berlin and overthrow Hitler, Schmidt vaporized them all to silence them. Though Schmidt didn’t start an open war against the Axis, HYDRA no longer worked for Nazi Germany.
Shortly after, a battle was fought near Azzano in Italy between the American troops and the German Army. A company of HYDRA soldiers joined the battle, wiping out the Germans with their pulse rifles and capturing almost the entire American unit. The prisoners were soon transported to the Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility where they were forced to work as slaves.
“Sir, if you’re going after Schmidt, I want in.”
“You’re an experiment. You’re going to Alamogordo.”
“The serum worked.”
“I asked for an army and all I got was you. You are not enough.”
―Steve Rogers and Chester Phillips.
Rather than risk their only super soldier in combat, the US military leaders decided to use Rogers as a public relations tool, having him appear around the country at War Bond rallies as Captain America. The new hero soon became the subject of war movies and comic books. Meanwhile, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Strategic Scientific Reserve to concentrate its efforts on combating HYDRA.
Soon, Rogers’ War Bond show turned into a USO Tour show and was sent into Italy. In November 1943, Captain America was met with derision from soldiers who had actually been through months of grueling combat. When Steve found out about the casualties sustained by the 107th, the unit of his friend Bucky Barnes, he planned an impulsive rescue mission. Aided by Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, he flew behind the German lines into Austria, where he parachuted near one of HYDRA’s bases in the Austrian Alps, halfway between Kitzbühel and Klagenfurt.
Captain America sneaked into the base and freed 400 captured Allied troops including Barnes, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, Gabe Jones, Jim Morita, James Montgomery Falsworth, and Jacques Dernier. During the battle between the freed prisoners and HYDRA guards, Captain America confronted Schmidt and his top scientist Arnim Zola. After attacking Rogers and punching a hole in his shield, Schmidt ripped off his face mask to show him what Erskine’s serum did to his face. While Rogers and Barnes looked onward, Schmidt escaped in a plane while Zola took his car. Rogers and Bucky were able to escape from the facility before it exploded and walked with the released prisoners all the way back to the American camp in Italy.
Toward Allied Victory in World War II (1944)
“So, let’s get this straight.”
“We barely got out of there alive, and you want us to go back?”
―Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Steve Rogers.
While the US Army fought against the regular German troops, Steve Rogers was ordered to battle HYDRA’s forces across the Nazi-occupied Europe. Dressed in a new uniform provided by Howard Stark and equipped with the new shield made from the only available piece of Vibranium, he assembled his own personal team of soldiers. The unit, named the Howling Commandos, was composed of men which Captain America freed from HYDRA in Austria. Soon, they embarked on several raids against HYDRA, destroying many of their factories.
“Maybe you’ll get away, for now. But I’ll never stop hunting you. Me, and all those millions who think like me. Because you and your HYDRA buddies aren’t facing a man in this war. You’re facing an ideal. That all people deserve to be free. And you can’t kill an ideal with bullets… or smother it with bombs.”
During the first months of 1944, when the German air force launched the last “Blitz”, Johann Schmidt sent a group of HYDRA agents to London to steal some blueprints from the Strategic Scientific Reserve. The agents were successful, but while they were trying to reach their submarine to escape back to Germany, they were discovered and chased by Captain America who managed to capture all of them.
A German scientist, Wernher von Braun, developed the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missiles: the V-2s. Hundreds of V-2 rockets, or Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Retribution Weapon 2) were launched by the Wehrmacht, targeting London.
“Embrace your superiority, Hauptmann. Leave your inferiors to their doom. Or perish with them. These are your only choices.”
―Johann Schmidt to Captain America.
In April 1944, Captain America infiltrated a castle controlled by HYDRA on an island in the Nazi-occupied Danish Straits. After defeating a soldier equipped with the advanced exo-skeleton battle suit, he took control of a tank and used its laser cannon to kill several HYDRA soldiers. The Howling Commandos soon joined him in cleaning the place, and they finally broke into the control room, where they found Schmidt himself. However, “Schmidt” was actually only a remote controlled “sonogram”, an image formed of sound waves, one of Arnim Zola’s many inventions. They saw that Schmidt was studying a mystical Viking Runestone found in the castle. Schmidt remotely sent a catastrophic surge to the site through the “Vita-batteries”, intending to destroy the castle. Speaking through sonogram, Schmidt gave Captain America the choice of dying with the Commandos, or saving only himself. However, Captain America managed to slow the relic from exploding too early to make time for the Commandos to escape.
“The doctors here took the name of their organization – “HYDRA” – pretty literally. They were researching means of cell regeneration to enhance the combat effectiveness of Axis soldiers.”
―Gabe Jones to Captain America[src]
When the scientists of HYDRA developed the thunder lance torpedoes, the submarine Leviathan used them to destroy the Allied merchant freighter in the Mediterranean. However, Captain America, who was traveling on the sunken ship, boarded the submarine and captured it. Captain America and the Howling Commandos infiltrated the HYDRA U-base where they discovered that the mysterious “Hydra Serum” merged the entire base’s staff into one octopus-like creature. Captain America decided to take the creature to Howard Stark to separate it back into individual men.
“I was only spared because I had a gas mask to protect myself. My comrades were not so lucky. My brother wasn’t so lucky. When I found him, he had no eyes. Pieces of his flesh had been bitten off.”
―Johann Fennhoff to Howard Stark.
In June 1944, Johann Fennhoff and his brother were among the soldiers deployed to fight in Finow, Germany. Choosing to wear a gas mask, he was not affected when General John McGinnis deployed the invention called Midnight Oil. Fennhoff’s brother was killed in the massacre that resulted. Fennhoff discovered his beloved brother’s corpse without eyes and with pieces of his flesh ripped off, showing that he had suffered a horrifically painful death.
“General Patton has said that wars are fought with weapons but are won by men.”
On June 6, 1944–remembered as “D-Day”–the Allies began a massive invasion of Europe, landing 156,000 British, Canadian and American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy, France. In response, Adolf Hitler poured all the remaining strength of his army into Western Europe, ensuring Germany’s defeat in the east. Soviet troops soon advanced into Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, while Hitler gathered his forces to drive the Americans and British back from Germany in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945), the last major German offensive of the war.
Siege of Bastogne
“Did you get that leg in combat?”
―Rufus Hunt and Daniel Sousa.
In December 1944, Bastogne was the site of an engagement between Allied and German forces. One of the soldiers fighting on the American side was Daniel Sousa. While fighting, Sousa was hit in the femur by shrapnel, necessitating an amputation.
The End of the War in Europe (1945)
At the beginning of February 1945, the heads of all three major Allied countries, the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, had a meeting near Yalta in Crimea. The Big Three agreed to require Germany’s unconditional surrender and began plans for a post-war world.
Johann Schmidt and Arnim Zola examine the destroyed HYDRA factory
“You are failing! We are close to an offensive that will shake the planet, yet we are continually delayed because you cannot outwit a simpleton with a shield!”
―Red Skull to Arnim Zola.
By the beginning of 1945, Captain America and the Howling Commandos progressively managed to destroy most major HYDRA operations, depriving Arnim Zola of any real ability to work on his scientific projects. Eventually he had to be moved via armored train, which Captain America and the Howling Commandos attacked. In the ensuing battle, Bucky fell off the train, seemingly dying, but Zola was captured and handed over to Allied forces.
Planning the Last Battle
“Schmidt believes he walks in the foot steps of the gods. Only the world itself will satisfy him.”
―Arnim Zola to Chester Phillips.
Meanwhile, Arnim Zola was brought to the Strategic Scientific Reserve base where he was questioned by Colonel Chester Phillips. Phillips noted that his lack of the Cyanide Pills normally used by HYDRA agents to prevent capture suggested that he did not want to die personally. Zola told him everything he knew about HYDRA and revealed Schmidt’s plans of world domination, most notably an imminent attack on the American mainland.
“After turning the tide of World War II, he made the ultimate sacrifice, restoring peace and saving this universe.”
Though the Third Reich crumbled, HYDRA was finally ready to launch an offensive that would shake the planet. With the giant super bomber, the Valkyrie, and its flying Tesseract-powered bombs, Schmidt intended to bring the United States of America to its knees by bombing major cities across the country.
As a diversion, Captain America attacked Schmidt’s base. He was captured, and just as Schmidt prepared to kill him, the Howling Commandos broke in, followed by the US Army detachment led by Colonel Chester Phillips and Peggy Carter. After the fierce battle, the base was captured, but Schmidt escaped on the Valkyrie and was preparing to carry out his plan to bomb America. Rogers was able to get aboard the plane and battled Schmidt for the final time. In the wake of the battle, Schmidt touched the Tesseract and disappeared. Rogers, realizing that there was no safe place to put the plane down without risking the weapons going off, decided to crash the plane in the Atlantic. After the final assault, Rogers was presumed missing in action.
Unaware of the Red Skull’s defeat, the HYDRA General Werner Reinhardt continued his experiments with a dangerous new weapon known as the Obelisk, which had the power to kill anyone it came into contact with. Reinhardt collected a group of men and women of various ages and races to touch the Obelisk and test how it killed people. Eventually one of the captured villages, a woman named Jiaying was able to touch the Obelisk without being harmed, causing it to glow a strange golden color. As Reinhardt ordered the woman to be experimented on, one of his lieutenants came in to inform him of Schmidt’s demise at the hands of Captain America.
Werner Reinhardt attempted to empty the HYDRA Research Facility in Austria and escape with several mysterious artifacts of unknown origin. But the facility was attacked by the Howling Commandos and a group of US Army soldiers led by Peggy Carter. The surviving HYDRA members were taken into custody. Before he was taken away, Reinhardt warned Peggy that if one head was cut off, two more would grow, indicating that HYDRA will survive.
In February 1945, an intensive aerial bombardment preceded the Allied land invasion of Germany. The last German offensive on the Eastern Front at the Lake Balaton area in March 1945 was easily stopped by the overwhelming Soviet forces. By the time Germany formally surrendered on May 8, Soviet forces had occupied much of the country. Adolf Hitler was already dead, having committed suicide on April 30 in his bunker in Berlin. Many of his deputies, including Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel, also committed suicide.
On May 9, 1945, the German Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel had to sign the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany at Soviet headquarters in Berlin.