World War II In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, the German armies marched into Poland. On September 3 the British and French surprised Hitler by declaring war on Germany, but they had no plans for rendering active assistance to the Poles. The Battle of Britain In the summer of 1940, Hitler dominated Europe from the North Cape to the Pyrenees. His one remaining active enemyBritain, under a new prime minister, Winston Churchillvowed to continue fighting. Whether it could was questionable.
The British army had left most of its weapons on the beaches at Dunkirk. Stalin was in no mood to challenge Hitler. The U.S., shocked by the fall of France, began the first peacetime conscription in its history and greatly increased its military budget, but public opinion, although sympathetic to Britain, was against getting into the war. The Germans hoped to subdue the British by starving them out. In June 1940 they undertook the Battle of the Atlantic, using submarine warfare to cut the British overseas lifelines. The Germans now had submarine bases in Norway and France.
At the outset the Germans had only 28 submarines, but more were being builtenough to keep Britain in danger until the spring of 1943 and to carry on the battle for months thereafter. Invasion was the expeditious way to finish off Britain, but that meant crossing the English Channel; Hitler would not risk it unless the British air force could be neutralized first. As a result, the Battle of Britain was fought in the air, not on the beaches. In August 1940 the Germans launched daylight raids against ports and airfields and in September against inland cities. The objective was to draw out the British fighters and destroy them.
The Germans failed to reckon with a new device, radar, which greatly increased the British fighters’ effectiveness. Because their own losses were too high, the Germans had to switch to night bombing at the end of September. Between then and May 1941 they made 71 major raids on London and 56 on other cities, but the damage they wrought was too indiscriminate to be militarily decisive. On September 17, 1940, Hitler postponed the invasion indefinitely, thereby conceding defeat in the Battle of Britain. U.S.
Aid to Britain The U.S. abandoned strict neutrality in the European war and approached a confrontation with Japan in Asia and the Pacific Ocean. U.S. and British conferences, begun in January 1941, determined a basic strategy for the event of a U.S. entry into the war, namely, that both would center their effort on Germany, leaving Japan, if need be, to be dealt with later. In March 1941 the U.S. Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act and appropriated an initial $7 billion to lend or lease weapons and other aid to any countries the president might designate.
By this means the U.S. hoped to ensure victory over the Axis without involving its own troops. By late summer of 1941, however, the U.S. was in a state of undeclared war with Germany. In July, U.S. Marines were stationed in Iceland, which had been occupied by the British in May 1940, and thereafter the U.S.
Navy took over the task of escorting convoys in the waters west of Iceland. In September President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized ships on convoy duty to attack Axis war vessels. The German Invasion of the USSR The war’s most massive encounter began on the morning of June 22, 1941, when slightly more than 3 million German troops invaded the USSR. Although German preparations had been visible for months and had been talked about openly among the diplomats in Moscow, the Soviet forces were taken by surprise. Stalin, his confidence in the country’s military capability shaken by the Finnish war, had refused to allow any counteractivity for fear of provoking the Germans. Moreover, the Soviet military leadership had concluded that blitzkrieg, as it had been practiced in Poland and France, would not be possible on the scale of a Soviet-German war; both sides would therefore confine themselves for the first several weeks at least to sparring along the frontier.
The Soviet army had 2.9 million troops on the western border and outnumbered the Germans by two to one in tanks and by two or three to one in aircraft. Many of its tanks and aircraft were older types, but some of the tanks, particularly the later famous T-34s, were far superior to any the Germans had. Large numbers of the aircraft were destroyed on the ground in the first day, however, and their tanks, like those of the French, were scattered among the infantry, where they could not be effective against the German panzer groups. The infantry was first ordered to counterattack, which was impossible, and then forbidden to retreat, which ensured their wholesale destruction or capture. The Beginning of the War in the Pacific The seeming imminence of a Soviet defeat in the summer and fall of 1941 had created dilemmas for Japan and the U.S.
The Japanese thought they then had the best opportunity to seize the petroleum and other resources of Southeast Asia and the adjacent islands; on the other hand, they knew they could not win the war with the U.S. that would probably ensue. The U.S. government wanted to stop Japanese expansion but doubted whether the American people would be willing to go to war to do so. Moreover, the U.S.
did not want to get embroiled in a war with Japan while it faced the ghastly possibility of being alone in the world with a triumphant Germany. After the oil embargo, the Japanese, also under the pressure of time, resolved to move in Southeast Asia and the nearby islands. Pearl Harbor Until December 1941 the Japanese leadership pursued two courses: They tried to get the oil embargo lifted on terms that would still let them take the territory they wanted, and they prepared for war. The U.S. demanded that Japan withdraw from China and Indochina, but would very likely have settled for a token withdrawal and a promise not to take more territory.
After he became Japan’s premier in mid-October, General Tojo Hideki set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept a settlement without war. Tojo’s deadline, which was kept secret, meant that war was practically certain. The Japanese army and navy had, in fact, devised a war plan in which they had great confidence. They proposed to make fast sweeps into Burma, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Philippines and, at the same time, set up a defensive perimeter in the central and southwest Pacific. They expected the United States to declare war but not to be willing to fight long or hard enough to win. Their greatest concern was the U.S.
Pacific Fleet, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. If it reacted quickly, it could scramble their very tight timetable. As insurance, the Japanese navy undertook to cripple the Pacific Fleet by a surprise air attack. A few minutes before 8 AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based airplanes struck Pearl Harbor. In a raid lasting less than two hours, they sank four battleships and damaged four more. The U.S.
authorities had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and knew an attack was imminent. A warning had been sent from Washington, but, owing to delays in transmission, it arrived after the raid had begun. In one stroke, the Japanese navy scored a brilliant successand assured the Axis defeat in World War II. The Japanese attack brought the U.S. into the war on December 8and brought it in determined to fight to the finish.
Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11. Air Raids on Germany As a prelude to the postponed cross-channel attack, the British and Americans decided at Casablanca to open a strategic air (bombing) offensive against Germany. In this instance they agreed on timing but not on method. The British, as a result of discouraging experience with daylight bombing early in the war, had built their heavy bombers, the Lancasters and Halifaxes, for night bombing, which meant area bombing. The Americans believed their B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators were armed and armored heavily enough and were fitted with sufficiently accurate bombsights to fly by daylight and strike pinpoint targets. The difference was resolved by letting each nation conduct its own offensive in its own way and calling the result round-the-clock bombing.
The British method was exemplified by four firebomb raids on Hamburg in late July 1943, in which much of the city was burned out and 50,000 people died. American losses of planes and crews increased sharply as the bombers penetrated deeper into Germany. After early October 1943, when strikes at ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt incurred nearly 25 percent losses, the daylight offensive had to be curtailed until long-range fighters became available. The Invasion of Italy Three American, one Canadian, and three British divisions landed on Sicily on July 10. They pushed across the island from beachheads on the south coast in five weeks, against four Italian and two German divisions, and overcame the last Axis resistance on August 17. In the meantime, Mussolini had been stripped of power on July 25, and the Italian government had entered into negotiations that resulted in an armistice signed in secret on September 3 and made public on September 8.
On September 3 elements of Montgomery’s British Eighth Army crossed the Strait of Messina from Sicily to the toe of the Italian boot. The U.S. Fifth Army, under General Mark W. Clark, staged a landing near Salerno on September 9; and by October 12, the British and Americans had a fairly solid line across the peninsula from the Volturno River, north of Naples, to Termoli on the Adriatic coast. The Italian surrender brought little military benefit to the Allies, and by the end of the year, the Germans stopped them on the Gustav line about 100 km (about 60 mi) south of Rome. A landing at Anzio on January 22, 1944, failed to shake the Gustav line, which was solidly anchored on the Liri River and Monte Cassino.
The Plot Against Hitler A group of German officers and civilians concluded in July that getting rid of Hitler offered the last remaining chance to end the war before it swept onto German soil from two directions. On July 20 they tried to kill him by placing a bomb in his headquarters in East Prussia. The bomb exploded, wounding a number of officersseveral fatallybut inflicting only minor injuries on Hitler. Afterward, the Gestapo hunted down everyone suspected of complicity in the plot. One of the suspects was Rommel, who committed suicide. Hitler emerged from the assassination attempt more secure in his power than ever before. The Liberation of France As of July 24 the Americans and British were still confined in the Normandy beachhead, which they had expanded somewhat to take in Saint-L and Caen.
Bradley began the breakout the next day with an attack south from St-L. Thereafter, the front expanded rapidly, and Eisenhower regrouped his forces. Montgomery took over the British Second Army and the Canadian First Army. Bradley assumed command of a newly activated Twelfth Army Group consisting of U.S. First and Third armies und …