The War in Europe

American Arrival in Europe

The U.S. engagement in Europe during World War II began prior to the formal entry of the United States into the war, by supplying war materials to Allied states. In 1942, the U.S. military directly engaged in operations in Western Europe and the Mediterranean.

Learning Objectives

Describe the war aims and strategy of the “Big Three”

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During the first two years of World War II, the United States maintained formal neutrality, while supplying Britain, the Soviet Union, and China with war materials through the Lend Lease Act (1941).
  • In July 1941, Britain passed responsibility for Iceland to the United States. Roosevelt ordered the American occupation of Iceland on June 16, 1941.
  • In March 1941, the U.S. and the U.K. agreed on a strategy known as ” Europe first.” It presumed that the U.S. and the U.K. would use the preponderance of their resources to subdue Nazi Germany in Europe first.
  • From 1942, numerous bombing runs were launched by the United States aimed at the industrial heart of Germany.
  • In 1943, the U.S. participated in the Allies’ invasion of Sicily and Italy, which was the first major European theater operation in which the U.S. deployed substantial numbers of troops (representing about a third of the Allied forces deployed).
  • In the later stage of the war, the United States was heavily involved in the Operation Overlord (the code name for the Battle of Normandy).

Key Terms

  • Operation Pointblank: The code name for the primary portion of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive intended to cripple or destroy the German aircraft fighter strength, thus drawing it away from front-line operations, and ensuring it would not be an obstacle to the invasion of Northwest Europe.
  • Operation Overlord: The code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II. The operation commenced on June 6, 1944 with the Normandy landings (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day).
  • Lend-Lease: A policy, formally titled “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States,” enacted March 11, 1941, under which the United States supplied Free France, the United Kingdom, the Republic of China, and later the USSR, and other Allied nations, with food, oil, and material, between 1941 and August 1945. This included warships and warplanes, along with other weaponry.
  • “Europe first”: A strategy employed by the United States and the United Kingdom, according to which the United States and the United Kingdom would use the preponderance of their resources to subdue Nazi Germany in Europe first.
  • Quarantine Speech: A speech given by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 5, 1937, in Chicago, calling for an international “quarantine of the aggressor nations” as an alternative to the political climate of American neutrality and non-intervention that was prevalent at the time. The speech intensified America’s isolationist mood.

U.S. and Europe Before the U.S. Entry into WWII

During the first two years of World War II, the United States maintained formal neutrality (as stated officially in the 1937 Quarantine Speech, delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 5, 1937 in Chicago), while supplying Britain, the Soviet Union, and China with war materials through the Lend-Lease Act (1941). In July 1941, still before the formal entry into the war, Britain passed responsibility for Iceland (despite being a neutral state, Iceland was invaded and occupied by the British in May 1940 as a measure to prevent German military presence there) to the United States under a U.S.-Icelandic defense agreement. Roosevelt ordered the American occupation of Iceland on June 16, 1941, and the U.S. troops remained there for the duration of the war.

In the March 29, 1941 report of the ABC-1 conference, the Americans and British agreed on their strategic objectives. These included the defeat of Germany with the principal military effort of the United States in the Atlantic and Europe, and a strategic defense in the Far East. The resulting strategy, known as “Europe first,” presumed that the U.S. and the U.K. would use the preponderance of their resources to subdue Nazi Germany in Europe first. They would also fight a holding action against Japan in the Pacific, using fewer
resources. After the defeat of Germany—considered the greatest threat to Great Britain—all Allied forces could be concentrated against Japan. Despite the diplomatic assurances that Germany was “the prime enemy” in the war, official U.S. statistics show that the United States devoted more resources in the early part of the war to stopping the advance of Japan, and not until 1944 was a clear preponderance of U.S. resources allocated toward the defeat of Germany.

The United States also  supported the Allies in Europe during the Battle of Atlantic (1939-1945) prior to its official entry into the war. From September 1941, convoys, coming mainly from North America and predominantly going to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, were protected for the most part by the British and Canadian navies and air forces aided by ships and aircraft of the United States.

Formal Entry into the European Theater

The United States entered the war in the west with Operation Torch in North Africa on November 8, 1942, although in mid-1942, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) arrived in the U.K. and carried out a few raids across the English Channel. In 1943, the U.S. participated in the Allies’ invasion of Sicily and Italy. In July, the American seaborne assault landed on the southern coast of Sicily, and units of an airborne division parachuted ahead of landings. On August 11, seeing that the battle was lost, the German and Italian commanders began evacuating their forces from Sicily to Italy. On August 17, the Allies were in control of the island.

The first Allied troops landed on the Italian peninsula on September 3, 1943, and Italy surrendered on September 8 (although Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic was established soon afterwards). The first American troops landed at Salerno on September 9, 1943. The Germans launched fierce counterattacks. The U.S. 5th Army and other Allied armies broke through two German defensive lines (Volturno and the Barbara Line) in October and November 1943. After a heavy winter and challenges that it posed to the Allies, Rome fell on June 4, 1944. Following the Normandy invasion in June 1944, the equivalent of seven U.S. and French divisions were pulled out of Italy to participate in Operation Dragoon, the allied landings in southern France. Despite this the remaining U.S. forces in Italy with other Allies, forces pushed up to the last major defensive line in Northern Italy. The Italian Campaign ended on May 2, 1945 and U.S. forces in mainland Italy suffered between 114,000 and over 119,000 casualties.

From 1942, numerous bombing runs were launched by the United States aimed at the industrial heart of Germany. In January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference, it was agreed Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command operations against Germany would be reinforced by the USAAF, in a Combined Operations Offensive plan called Operation Pointblank. At the beginning of the combined strategic bombing offensive on March 4, 1943, 669 RAF and 303 USAAF heavy bombers were available.

In the later stage of the war, the United States was heavily involved in the Operation Overlord (the code name for the Battle of Normandy)—the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German occupied Western Europe. It commenced on June 6, 1944 with the Normandy landings (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day). General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), and British General Bernard Montgomery was named as Commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all the land forces involved in the invasion. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, Operation Bodyguard, using both electronic and visual misinformation. This misled the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings.

image

Key American military officials in Europe, Office of War Information, 1945: Senior American commanders of World War II in Europe. Seated are (from left to right) Gens. William H. Simpson, George S. Patton, Carl A. Spaatz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Courtney H. Hodges, and Leonard T. Gerow; standing are (from left to right) Gens. Ralph F. Stearley, Hoyt Vandenberg, Walter Bedell Smith, Otto P. Weyland, and Richard E. Nugent.

War Aims and Strategy

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, known as the “Big Three,” developed a plan of action for Allies in a series of informal meetings and official conferences.

Learning Objectives

Describe the war aims and strategy of the “Big Three”

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During the World War II, the Allies formulated a war strategy in a series of high-profile conferences, as well as contact through diplomatic and military channels. The ” Big Three ” consisted of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin.
  • Together with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the Big Three cooperated informally on a plan in which American and British troops concentrated in the West; Soviet troops fought on the Eastern front; and Chinese, British and American troops fought in Asia and the Pacific.
  • From January 14 to 24, 1943, leaders of allied nations met in Casablanca, French Morocco, to plan the allied European strategy for the next phase of World War II. Stalin refused to participate in the meeting.
  • Stalin eventually met with Roosevelt and Churchill at the Tehran Conference (November 28-December 1, 1943). Although the three leaders arrived with differing objectives, the main outcome of the conference was the western allies’ commitment to open a second front against Nazi Germany.
  • The Big Three met again major war conference in Yalta (sometimes called the Crimea Conference), held from February 4-11, 1945. The meeting was intended mainly to discuss the re-establishment of the nations of war-torn Europe.
  • The final major conference took place after Roosevelt’s death. From July 17 to August 2, 1945, the three major allied powers met in Potsdam, where they decided how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany.

Key Terms

  • Joseph Stalin: The Premier of the Soviet Union from May 6, 1941 until his death on March 5, 1953. Among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the Russian Revolution in 1917, he held the position of General Secretary of the party’s Central Committee from 1922 until his death.
  • Chiang Kai-Shek: A political and military leader of 20th century China, an influential member of the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT) who became the leader of the KMT in 1925. In 1926, he led the Northern Expedition to unify the country, becoming China’s nominal leader. He served as Chairman of the National Military Council of the Nationalist government of the Republic of China (ROC) from 1928 to 1948.
  • “Arsenal of Democracy”: A slogan used by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a radio address, in which he promised to help the United Kingdom fight Nazi Germany by giving them military supplies, while the United States stayed out of the actual fighting. The term came to specifically reference America and its industrial machine as the primary military supplier for the allied war effort.
  • The Big Three: A term used to refer to the leaders of the three major allied powers during WWII: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin.
  • Winston Churchill: A British Conservative politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the second World War. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century, he served as Prime Minister twice (1940-1945 and 1951-1955).

During World War II, the Allies formulated a war strategy in a series of high-profile conferences, as well as contact through diplomatic and military channels. The “Big Three” (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin), together with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, cooperated informally on a plan in which American and British troops concentrated in the West; Soviet troops fought on the Eastern front; and Chinese, British, and American troops fought in Asia and the Pacific. Roosevelt guaranteed that the U.S. would be the “Arsenal of Democracy” by shipping $50 billion of Lend Lease supplies, primarily to Britain, the USSR, China, and other Allies.

image

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek: Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China (left), Roosevelt (middle), and Winston Churchill (right) at the Cairo Conference in December of 1943.

The U.S. War Department believed that the quickest way to defeat Germany was to invade France across the English Channel. Churchill, wary of the casualties he feared this would entail, favored a more indirect approach, advancing northwards from the Mediterranean Sea. Roosevelt rejected this plan. Stalin advocated opening a Western front at the earliest possible time, as the bulk of the land fighting in 1942 1944 was on Soviet soil. In May 1942, Stalin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, met with Roosevelt in Washington and got a commitment from FDR to open a second war front in 1942 against the Germans, by way of England. However, In October 1942, Roosevelt was advised that military resources were desperately needed at Guadalcanal to prevent its being overrun by the Japanese. FDR heeded the advice, redirected armaments, and the Japanese Pacific offensive was slowed. The Allies undertook the invasions of French Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch) in November 1942. The operation marked the formal war entry of the U.S. in the West.

Casablanca Conference

From January 14 to 24, 1943 leaders of Allies met in Casablanca, French Morocco, to plan the allied European strategy for the next phase of World War II. In attendance were United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Also attending and representing the Free French forces were Generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud. Premier Joseph Stalin had declined to attend, citing the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad as requiring his presence in the Soviet Union.

Throughout the conference, Roosevelt’s attention was prominently focused on the Pacific war front and he faulted the British for what he felt was not a full commitment against Japanese entrenchment. The Italian strategy was agreed upon, a compromise between the two leaders, Roosevelt acceding to the Churchill approach for Europe. Churchill, in turn, pledged more troops and resources to the Pacific and Burma to reinforce positions held by Chiang Kai-Shek  against the Japanese. America would provide assistance to the British in the Pacific by supplying escorts and landing craft. The conference produced a unified statement of purpose, the Casablanca Declaration, which announced to the world that the Allies would accept nothing less than the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers.

In 1943 it was apparent to FDR that Stalin, while bearing the brunt of Germany’s offensive, had not had sufficient opportunity to participate in war conferences. Roosevelt made a concerted effort to arrange a one-on-one meeting with Stalin in Fairbanks. However, when Stalin learned that Roosevelt and Churchill had postponed the cross-channel invasion a second time, he cancelled.

Tehran Conference

Stalin eventually met with Roosevelt and Churchill at the Tehran Conference (November 28-December 1, 1943), held in the Soviet Union’s embassy in Tehran, Iran. It closely followed the Cairo Conference, which had taken place on November 22-26, 1943, and was attended by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek. Although the three leaders arrived with differing objectives, the main outcome of the conference was the Western Allies’ commitment to open a second front against Nazi Germany. The conference also addressed the Allies’ relations with Turkey and Iran, operations in Yugoslavia and against Japan, and the envisaged post-war settlement. A separate protocol signed at the conference pledged the Big Three to recognize Iran’s independence. One of the critical outcomes was agreement on Operation Overlord (Battle of Normandy) and general war policy. Operation Overlord was scheduled to begin in May 1944, in conjunction with the Soviet attack on Germany’s eastern border.

image

The Allied leaders of the European theater: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, meeting at the Tehran Conference in 1943: From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy, during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European Theater in 1943. Churchill is shown in the uniform of a Royal Air Force air commodore.

Yalta Conference

The Big Three met again major war conference in Yalta (sometimes called the Crimea Conference), held from February 4 to 11, 1945. The meeting was intended mainly to discuss the re-establishment of the nations of war-torn Europe, becoming a crucial turning point in the Cold War. Within a few years, with the Cold War dividing the continent, Yalta became a subject of intense controversy.

The outcome of Yalta focused on the post-war order. The priority of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. After the war, Germany and Berlin would be split into four occupied zones and Germany would undergo demilitarization and denazification. It was also agreed to reorganize the communist Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland that had been installed by the Soviet Union “on a broader democratic basis.” The Polish eastern border would follow the Curzon Line, and Poland would receive territorial compensation in the west from Germany. Citizens of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia were to be handed over to their respective countries, regardless of their consent. Roosevelt managed to obtain a commitment by Stalin to participate in the UN and it was agreed that Nazi war criminals were to be found and put on trial.

Potsdam Conference

The final major conference took place after the formal defeat of Nazi Germany  and after Roosevelt’s death. From July 17 to August 2, 1945, the three major Allied powers met in Potsdam, occupied Germany. They were represented by Stalin,  Churchill and Clement Attlee (who at the time replaced Churchill after his Labor party won the 1945 general election in the UK), and President Harry S. Truman.  They gathered to decide how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier, on May 8. The goals of the conference also included the establishment of post-war order, peace treaty issues, and countering the effects of the war. The Conference decided on the post-war fate of Indochina, Poland, and Germany. In addition to the Potsdam Agreement, on July 26, Churchill, Truman, and Chiang Kai-shek issued the Potsdam Declaration which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan during World War II in Asia.

The Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest military campaign of World War II, pitting the German Navy and Airforce against the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, the United States Navy, and Allied merchant shipping.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the tonnage war in the Atlantic between Allied merchant ships and the German Navy and Airforce.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945. At its core was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, and Germany’s subsequent counter-blockade.
  • The battle pitted U-boats  and other warships of the German navy and aircraft of the German Air Force (supported by Italy since 1940) against the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, the United States Navy, and Allied  merchant shipping.
  • New technologies (new weapons, radar, advances in cryptanalysis) played a vital role in the success of the Allies.
  • The breaking of the Enigma Codes was critical to the eventual victory of the Allied forces.
  • Though the German blockade ultimately failed, the Allies suffered tremendous losses.

Key Terms

  • Luftwaffe: The German air force until the end of the Second World War.
  • tonnage: The total shipping capacity of a fleet or nation.
  • cryptanalysis: The science of analyzing and breaking of codes and ciphers.
  • Enigma machines: A family of portable cipher machines with rotor scramblers invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I, and used later by a number of states, most notably Nazi Germany during World War II.
  • tonnage war: A military strategy aimed at merchant shipping. The premise is that the enemy has only a finite number of ships, and a finite capacity to build replacements for them. The concept was made famous by U-boat commander Karl Dönitz.
  • Kriegsmarine: The name of the German Navy from 1935 to 1945 (most of the period of Nazi rule). It was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest, continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945. At its core was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, announced the day after the declaration of war, and Germany’s subsequent counter-blockade. It was at its height from mid-1940 until the end of 1943. The Battle of the Atlantic pitted U-boats and other warships of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) and aircraft of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) against the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, the United States Navy, and Allied merchant shipping (or convoys). The convoys, coming mainly from North America and predominantly going to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, were protected for the most part by the British and Canadian navies and air forces. Beginning September 13, 1941, these forces were aided by ships and aircraft of the United States. The Germans were joined by submarines of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) after their Axis ally Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940.

The name “Battle of the Atlantic” was coined by Winston Churchill in February 1941. It has been called the “longest, largest, and most complex” naval battle in history. The campaign began immediately after the European war began and lasted six years. It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theater covering thousands of square miles of ocean. The situation changed constantly, with one side or the other gaining advantage as new weapons, tactics, counter-measures, and equipment were developed by both sides. The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, overcoming German surface raiders by the end of 1942 (withdrawn on Hitler’s orders), and defeating the U-boats by mid-1943, though losses to U-boats continued until the war’s end.

image

Two officers on the bridge of an escorting British destroyer keep a sharp look out for enemy submarines, October 1941: The Battle of the Atlantic pitted U-boats and other warships of the German Navy, along with aircrafts of the German Air Force, against Allied merchant convoys.

Tonnage War

As an island nation, the United Kingdom was highly dependent on imported goods. Britain required more than a million tons of imported material per week in order to be able to survive and fight. In essence, the Battle of the Atlantic was a tonnage war: the Allies struggled to supply Britain, while the Axis attempted to stem the flow of merchant shipping that enabled Britain to keep fighting. From 1942 onward, the Germans also sought to prevent the build-up of Allied supplies and equipment in the British Isles in preparation for the invasion of occupied Europe. The defeat of the U-boat threat was a pre-requisite for pushing back the Germans. Winston Churchill later stated:

The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea, or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome.

The outcome of the battle was a strategic victory for the Allies—the German blockade failed, but at great cost.

Technology

The Enigma machines were a family of portable cipher machines with rotor scramblers. The code was first broken by the Polish General Staff’s Cipher Bureau in December 1932, with the aid of French-supplied intelligence material that had been obtained from a German spy. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the Polish Cipher Bureau initiated the French and British into its Enigma-breaking techniques and technology, but Germans continued to successfully cipher and use Enigma during World War II. Its effectiveness contributed to German successes also during the Battle of the Atlantic. British codebreakers, with brilliant mathematician Alan Turing leading the team, needed to know the wiring of the special naval Enigma rotors, and the destruction of U-33 by HMS Gleaner in February 1940 provided this information. In 1941, material captured by the Royal Navy allowed all U-boat traffic to be read for several weeks, until the keys ran out. The familiarity codebreakers gained with the usual content of messages helped in breaking new keys. In 1941, Enigma intercepts enabled the British to plot the positions of U-boat patrol lines and route convoys around them. Merchant ship losses dropped by over two-thirds in July 1941, and the losses remained low until November.

Other developments in technology advanced during the battle. For example, the mid-Atlantic gap that had previously been unreachable by aircraft was closed by long-range Consolidated B-24 Liberators. Further air cover was provided by the introduction of merchant aircraft carriers (MAC ships), and later the growing numbers of American-built escort carriers. In particular, destroyer escorts (similar British ships were known as frigates) were designed, which could be built more economically than expensive fleet destroyers, and were more seaworthy than corvettes. By spring 1943, the British had also developed an effective sea-scanning radar small enough to be carried in patrol aircraft armed with airborne depth charges.

Outcome

The Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allies in two months. There was no single reason for this; what had changed was a sudden convergence of technologies, combined with an increase in Allied resources. The Germans failed to stop the flow of strategic supplies to Britain. This failure resulted in the build-up of troops and supplies needed for the D-Day landings. The defeat of the U-boat was a necessary precursor for accumulation of Allied troops and supplies to ensure Germany’s defeat.

Historians still estimate precise losses and numbers very greatly, but it is clear that victory was achieved at a huge cost; between 1939 and 1945, approximately 3,000 Allied merchant ships, and 175 Allied warships, were sunk. Over 36,000 Allied sailors, airmen, servicemen, and a similar number of merchant seamen, lost their lives. The Germans lost 783 U-boats and approximately 28,000 sailors, nearly three-quarters of Germany’s 40,000-man U-boat fleet.

The North Africa Campaign

The North African Campaign of World War II (June 10th, 1940-May 13th, 1943) resulted in the huge loss of Axis troops, which greatly reduced the military capacity of the Axis powers, and led to all Italian colonies in Africa being captured.

Learning Objectives

Identify the effectiveness of the Western Desert Campaign, Operation Torch, and the Tunisia Campaign

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The North African Campaign included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts ( Western Desert Campaign ); in Morocco and Algeria ( Operation Torch ); and Tunisia ( Tunisia Campaign ).
  • The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign. It took place in the Western Desert of Egypt and Libya, beginning in September 1940 with the Italian invasion of Egypt.
  • In November 1942, Allied forces attacked Vichy-controlled French North Africa in Operation Torch, gaining control of Morocco, Oran, and Algiers.
  • In late 1942, the Tunisia campaign was launched, and in May 1943 the Axis forces in Tunisia, overwhelmed by combined British-American armies, surrendered.
  • Allied victories in North Africa set the stage for the invasion of Italy and significantly weakened the Axis powers.

Key Terms

  • Operation Torch: The British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on November 8, 1942.
  • Tunisia Campaign: Also known as the Battle of Tunisia, it was a series of battles that took place in Tunisia during the North African Campaign of the Second World Was, between Axis and Allied forces.
  • Scramble of Africa: Invasion, occupation, division, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the period of New Imperialism, between 1881 and 1914 (called also the Partition of Africa or the Conquest of Africa). In 1870, only 10% of Africa was under European control; by 1914 it had increased to 90%, with only Ethiopia (Abyssinia), the Dervish State, and Liberia remaining independent.
  • Western Desert Campaign: Also known as the Desert War, it was the initial stage of the North African Campaign during the Second World War.

The North African Campaign of World War II took place in North Africa from June 10th, 1940 to May 13th, 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign or Desert War), in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch), and Tunisia (Tunisia Campaign).

The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had colonial interests in Africa dating from the late 19th century (Scramble of Africa). The Allied war effort was dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German -occupied Europe. The United States entered the war in 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa on May 11, 1942.

Western Desert Campaign

The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign. It took place in the Western Desert of Egypt and Libya beginning in September 1940 with the Italian invasion of Egypt. The Italians halted to bring up supplies, and Operation Compass, a British five day raid in December 1940, led to the destruction of the Italian 10th Army. Benito Mussolini sought help from Hitler, and a small German blocking detachment (Sperrverband) was sent to Tripoli under Directive 22 (January 11). They were the first units of the Afrika Korps (Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel), and under nominal Italian command, but Italian dependency on Nazi Germany made it the dominant partner.

In the Spring of 1941 Axis forces under Rommel pushed the British-led allied forces back and reached Tobruk, which was besieged. The allied forces there held out and were relieved during Operation Crusader. They then pushed the Axis forces back to where they had started by the end of the year. In 1942, Axis forces drove the Allies back and captured Tobruk, but failed to gain a decisive victory. On the final Axis push to Egypt, the Allies retreated to El Alamein, where at the Second Battle of El Alamein the Eighth Army defeated the Axis forces. The Axis never recovered and were driven out of Libya to Tunisia, where they were defeated in the Tunisia Campaign. After the British defeats in the Balkan Campaign, the Western Desert Campaign had become more important to British strategy. For Adolf Hitler, the Eastern front dwarfed the desert war, which was a holding action of secondary importance. The Axis never had sufficient resources or the means to deliver them to defeat the British, who in their turn missed several opportunities to finish the campaign, by diverting resources to Greece and the Levant in 1941, and the Far East in 1942.

Operation Torch

The Soviet Union had pressed the United States and United Kingdom to start operations in Europe and open a second front to reduce the pressure of German forces on the Soviet troops. While the American commanders favored Operation Sledgehammer, landing in Occupied Europe as soon as possible, the British commanders believed that such a course would end in disaster. An attack on French North Africa was proposed instead, which would clear the Axis powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and prepare for an invasion of Southern Europe in 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt suspected the African operation would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943, but agreed to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Operation Torch started on November 8, 1942, and finished on November 11. In an attempt to pincer German and Italian forces, Allied forces, landed in Vichy-held French North Africa under the assumption that there would be little to no resistance. Nevertheless, Vichy French forces put up a strong and bloody resistance to the Allies in Oran and Morocco, but not in Algiers, where a coup d’état by the French resistance on November 8 succeeded in neutralizing the French XIX Corps before the landing and arresting the Vichy commanders. Consequently, the landings met no practical opposition in Algiers, and the city was captured on the first day along with the entire Vichy African command. After three days of talks and threats, Generals Mark Clark and Dwight Eisenhower compelled the Vichy Admiral François Darlan (and General Alphonse Juin) to order the cessation of armed resistance in Oran and Morocco by French forces on November 10-11, with the provision that Darlan would be head of a Free French administration. During Operation Torch, American, Vichy French, and German navy vessels fought the Naval Battle of Casablanca, ending in a decisive American victory.

The Allied landings prompted the Axis occupation of Vichy France. In addition, the French fleet was captured at Toulon by the Italians, something which did them little good as the main portion of the fleet had been scuttled to prevent their use by the Axis. The Vichy army in North Africa joined the Allies.

Tunisia Campaign

Following the Operation Torch landings, the Germans and Italians initiated a buildup of troops in Tunisia to fill the vacuum left by Vichy troops which had withdrawn. During this period of weakness, the Allies decided against a rapid advance into Tunisia while they wrestled with the Vichy authorities. Many of the Allied soldiers were tied up in garrison duties because of the uncertain status and intentions of the Vichy forces.

An officer is showing standing in open the top hatch of the tank.

War in North Africa: The Tunisian Campaign: German Tiger I of the 501st heavy tank battalion in Tunisia.

By mid-November, the Allies were able to advance into Tunisia but only in single division strength. By early December, German and Italian divisions had been shipped from Europe, and the remoteness of Allied airfields from the front line gave the Axis clear air superiority over the battlefield. The Allies were halted and pushed back, having advanced eastwards to within 19 miles of Tunis.

During the winter, there followed a period of stalemate, during which both sides continued to build up their forces. By the beginning of March 1943, the British Eighth Army—advancing westward along the North African coast—had reached the Tunisian border. Rommel and von Arnim found themselves in an Allied “two army” pincer. They were outflanked, outmanned and outgunned. The Axis forces surrendered on May 13, 1943, yielding over 275,000 prisoners of war. The last Axis force to surrender in North Africa was the 1st Italian Army. This huge loss of experienced troops greatly reduced the military capacity of the Axis powers, although the largest percentage of Axis troops escaped Tunisia. This defeat in Africa led to all Italian colonies in Africa being captured.

Sicily and Italy

The combined British, Canadian, and American forces defeated Axis forces in Sicily, allowing the Allies to take over mainland Italy.

Learning Objectives

Explain the significance of the Allied capture of Sicily and Italy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Italian Campaign  of World War II was the name of Allied operations in and around Italy from 1943 to the end of the war in Europe. In 1943, the Allied invasion of Sicily (codename Operation Husky ), launched the Italian Campaign.
  • Husky was highly successful. The defending German and Italian forces were unable to prevent the Allied capture of Sicily, but succeeded in evacuating most of their troops to the mainland, the last leaving on August 17, 1943.
  • In late July, a coup deposed Benito Mussolini as head of the Italian government. However, in the same year Mussolini established the second incarnation of the Fascist Italy known as the Italian Social Republic.
  • The Allied invasion of mainland Italy occurred on September 3, 1943.
  • By October 1943, all of Southern Italy was controlled by the Allies, and German forces in Italy surrendered in May 1945.
  • The Italian campaign was the most costly campaign in western Europe, in terms of lives lost and wounds suffered by infantry forces.

Key Terms

  • Italian Campaign: A World War II campaign that consisted of the Allied operations in and around Italy from 1943 to the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
  • Sicily Campaign: A major World War II campaign, in which the Allies took Sicily from the Axis. It was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of land combat, launching the Italian Campaign.
  • Operation Husky: The codename for the Allied invasion of Sicily during World War II.
  • Italian Social Republic: A second and last incarnation of the Fascist Italian state led by Duce Benito Mussolini and his reformed Republican Fascist Party. It existed from 1943 to 1945.

The Italian Campaign

The Italian Campaign of World War II was the name of Allied operations in and around Italy from 1943 to the end of the war in Europe. Joint Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) was operationally responsible for all Allied land forces in the Mediterranean theater, and it planned and commanded the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, followed shortly thereafter in September by the invasion of the Italian mainland and the campaign on Italian soil, until the surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy in May 1945.

Operation Husky

The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major campaign, in which the Allies took Sicily from the Axis. It was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of land combat that launched the Italian Campaign. It began on the night of July 9-10, 1943, and ended on August 17. Strategically, Husky achieved the goals set out for it by Allied planners: the Allies drove Axis air, land, and naval forces from the island; the Mediterranean’s sea lanes were opened; and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was toppled from power. It opened the way for the Allied invasion of Italy.

The plan for Operation Husky called for the amphibious assault of the island by two armies, one landing on the southeastern coast, and one on the central southern coast. The amphibious assaults were to be supported by naval gunfire, tactical bombing, interdiction, and close air support by the combined air forces. As such, the operation required a complex command structure, incorporating land, naval, and air forces. The overall commander was the American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces North Africa. The British General Sir Harold Alexander acted as his second in command, and as the Land Forces/Army Group commander. The American Major General Walter Bedell Smith was appointed as chief of staff. The overall naval force commander was British Admiral Andrew Cunningham.

The original plan contemplated a strong advance by the British northwards along the east coast to Messina, with the Americans in a supporting role along their left flank. When the Eighth Army were held up by stubborn defenses in the rugged hills south of Mount Etna, Patton amplified the American role by a wide advance northwest toward Palermo, and then directly north to cut the northern coastal road. This was followed by an eastward advance north of Etna towards Messina, supported by a series of amphibious landings on the north coast that propelled Patton’s troops into Messina shortly before the first elements of Eighth Army. The defending German and Italian forces were unable to prevent the Allied capture of the island, but succeeded in evacuating most of their troops to the mainland, the last leaving on August 17, 1943. Allied forces gained experience in opposed amphibious operations, coalition warfare, and mass airborne drops. The operation was highly successful, although many of the Axis forces managed to avoid capture and escape to the mainland.   More importantly, in late July, a coup deposed Benito Mussolini as head of the Italian government, which then began approaching the Allies to make peace. However, Mussolini was eventually freed, and the Italian Social Republic was created (1943-1945). It was the second and last incarnation of the Fascist Italian state, and it was led by Mussolini and his reformed Republican Fascist Party. Mussolini’s Social Republic exercised nominal sovereignty in northern and central Italy, but was largely dependent on German troops to maintain control.

Invasion of Mainland Italy

The Allied invasion of mainland Italy occurred on September 3, 1943, by General Harold Alexander’s 15th Army Group. On September 9, forces of the U.S. Fifth Army, expecting little resistance, landed against heavy German resistance at Salerno in Operation Avalanche. In addition, British forces landed at Taranto in Operation Slapstick, which was almost unopposed. There had been a hope that, with the surrender of the Italian government, the Germans would withdraw to the north, since at the time Adolf Hitler had been persuaded that Southern Italy was strategically unimportant. However, this was not to be; although, for a while, Eighth Army was able to make relatively easy progress up the eastern coast, capturing the port of Bari and the important airfields around Foggia. Although none of the northern reserves were made available to the German 10th Army, it nevertheless came close to repelling the Salerno landing, due mainly to the cautious command of Lieutenant General Mark Clark, the Fifth Army’s commanding general. The main Allied effort in the west initially centered on the port of Naples. The city was selected because it was the northernmost port that could receive Allied air support by fighter aircrafts operating from Sicily.

As the Allies advanced, they encountered increasingly difficult terrain. In the most mountainous areas of Abruzzo, more than half the width of the peninsula comprises crests and peaks over 3,000 feet that are relatively easy to defend; and the spurs and re-entrants to the spine confronted the Allies with a succession of ridges and rivers across their line of advance. The rivers were subject to sudden and unexpected flooding, which constantly thwarted the Allied commanders’ plans.

Losses

It is estimated that between September 1943 and April 1945, some 60,000-70,000 Allied and 60,000-150,000 German soldiers died in Italy. Overall Allied casualties during the campaign totaled about 320,000, and the corresponding German figure (excluding those involved in the final surrender) was well over 600,000. Fascist Italy, prior to its collapse, suffered about 200,000 casualties, mostly POWs taken in the Allied invasion of Sicily, including more than 40,000 killed or missing. Additionally, over 150,000 Italian civilians died, as did 15,197 anti-Fascist partisans and 13,021 troops of the Italian Social Republic. In the West, no other campaign cost more than Italy, in terms of lives lost and wounds suffered by infantry forces of both sides. The campaign ended when Army Group C surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 2, 1945, one week before the formal German Instrument of Surrender.

image

Allied Invasion of Sicily: During the Allied invasion of Sicily, the SS Robert Rowan (Liberty ship K-40) explodes after being hit by a German Ju 88 bomber off of Gela, Sicily (Italy).

The Strategic Bombing of Europe

During World War II, the Allies used strategic bombing in Europe and Asia in order to impede the Axis infrastructure and war production capacities, as well as terrorize civilians on enemy territories.

Learning Objectives

Assess the effectiveness of the Allies’ “precision bombing” of European cities

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Strategic bombing during World War II was the sustained aerial attack on railways, harbors, cities, housing, and industrial districts on enemy territory. The strategy was often imprecise and targets were frequently missed.
  • Despite the German use of strategic bombing in Poland in September 1939, in the first months of the war, the Allies attempted to avoid the strategy in order to minimize civilian causalities. The British government renounced the approach after Germany attacked France and the neutral Low Countries in May, 1940.
  • The Allies used the strategy in Germany and German-controlled areas of Europe, as well as in Asia, where the United States largely led the efforts.
  • Allied attacks on German sites critical to the extraction and processing of natural resources and war production were effective and aided in the collapse of Germany, although the overall effectiveness of the strategy remains a question of debate.
  • The real significance of the Allied strategic bombing campaign was Germany’s forced resource re-allocation.

Key Terms

  • United States Army Air Forces: The military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force. Although other nations already had separate air forces independent of the army or navy (such as the British Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe), it remained a part of the United States Army until the United States Air Force came into being in September 1947.
  • Area bombing directive: A directive from the wartime British Government’s Air Ministry to the Royal Air Force, which ordered RAF bombers to attack the German industrial workforce, and the morale of the German populace, through bombing German cities and their civilian inhabitants.
  • Strategic bombing: The sustained aerial attack on railways, harbors, cities, housing, and industrial districts on enemy territory.
  • air raid: An attack on a ground target by military aircraft, especially when dropping bombs.

Strategic Bombing

Strategic bombing during World War II was the sustained aerial attack on railways, harbors, cities, housing, and industrial districts on enemy territory. It is a military strategy distinct from both close air support of ground forces and tactical air power. During World War II, many military strategists believed that major victories could be won by attacking industrial and political infrastructure, rather than purely military targets. Strategic bombing often involved bombing areas inhabited by civilians, and sometimes bombing campaigns were deliberately designed to target civilian populations in order to terrorize, disorganize, and disrupt their usual activities. The strategy was used from the onset of the war, when Germany invaded Poland, and the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) began bombing cities and the civilian population in Poland, in an indiscriminate aerial bombardment campaign. As the war continued to expand, bombing by both the Axis and the Allies increased significantly.

The Allies and Strategic Bombing

Despite the German use of strategic bombing in Poland in September 1939, in the first months of the war the Allies attempted to avoid the strategy in order to minimize civilian causalities. The British government renounced the approach after Germany attacked France and the neutral Low Countries in May 1940. The Royal Air Force (RAF) carried out its first strategic bombing raid on Germany at Mönchengladbach on May 11, 1940. On May 15, one day after the German bombing of Rotterdam, the RAF was given permission to attack targets in the Ruhr Area, including oil plants and other civilian industrial targets that aided the German war effort, including  self-illuminating blast furnaces.

In 1942, Frederick Lindemann, the British government’s leading scientific adviser, presented a “dehousing paper” to the Cabinet, showing the effect that intensive bombing of German cities could produce. Lindemann’s paper put forward the theory of attacking major industrial centers in order to deliberately destroy as many homes and houses as possible. Working-class homes were to be targeted because they had a higher density and fire storms were more likely. This would displace the German workforce and reduce their ability to work. The plan was highly controversial even before it started, but the Cabinet thought that bombing was the only option available to directly attack Germany, and the Soviets were demanding that the Western Allies do something to relieve the pressure on the Eastern Front. Few in Britain opposed this policy, but there were three notable opponents in Parliament—Bishop George Bell and the Labor MPs Richard Stokes and Alfred Salter. No effort to examine the effects of bombing was ever made.

On February 14, 1942, the Area bombing directive was issued to Bomber Command. Bombing was to be “focused on the morale of the enemy civil population, and in particular, of the industrial workers.” Though it was never explicitly declared, this was the nearest that the British got to a declaration of unrestricted aerial bombing.

The first true practical demonstrations were on the night of March 28/29, 1942, when 234 aircraft bombed the ancient Hanseatic port of Lübeck. This target was chosen not because it was a significant military target, but because it was expected to be particularly susceptible. A few days later, Rostock suffered the same fate. Other German  targets suffered massive destruction,  and tens of thousands of civilians died as a result of bombing major cities, including Hamburg, (45,000 dead), Kassel (10,000), Darmstadt (12,500), Pforzheim (21,200), Swinemuende (23,000), and Dresden (25,000). The Allies also used the strategy in Italy, and in France, to attack sites critical to German war industry. The Soviets applied the strategy in their attacks on Romania, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Finland.

In Asia, the Allies dropped over 18,000 bombs on Thailand, and in August 1942, the United States undertook the first air raids in French Indochina. The American bombing campaign gained intensity after the surrender of Germany in May 1945, and by July, Japanese defenses were incapable of impeding their movement. The Americans had attained complete air supremacy. In 1944-1945, the British undertook several raids on the occupied Netherlands East Indies. They also bombed the Japanese-occupied Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The United States strategic bombing of Japan took place between 1942 and 1945. In the last seven months of the campaign, a change to firebombing resulted in great destruction of 67 Japanese cities, as many as 500,000 Japanese deaths, and some 5 million more made homeless.

U.S. Bombing in Europe

In mid 1942, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) arrived in the UK and carried out a few raids across the English Channel. The USAAF commanders in Washington, D.C. and in Great Britain adopted the strategy of taking on the Luftwaffe head on, in larger and larger air raids by mutually defending bombers flying over Germany, Austria, and France at high altitudes during the daytime. Both the U.S. government and its Army Air Forces commanders were reluctant to bomb enemy cities and towns indiscriminately. They claimed that by using the B-17 and the Norden bombsight, the USAAF should be able to carry out “precision bombing” on locations vital to the German war machine: factories, naval bases, shipyards, railroad yards, railroad junctions, power plants, steel mills, airfields, etc. At the beginning of the combined strategic bombing offensive on March 4, 1943, 669 RAF and 303 USAAF heavy bombers were available.

USAAF leaders firmly held to the claim of “precision bombing” of military targets for much of the war, and dismissed claims they were simply bombing cities. In reality, the day bombing was “precision bombing” only in the sense that most bombs fell somewhere near a specific designated target, such as a railway yard. Conventionally, the air forces designated as “the target area” a circle having a radius of 1,000 feet around the aiming point of attack. While accuracy improved during the war, survey studies showed that, overall, only about 20% of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. The sheer tonnage of explosive delivered by day and by night was eventually sufficient to cause widespread damage, and, more importantly from a military point of view, forced Germany to divert resources to counter it. This was to be the real significance of the Allied strategic bombing campaign—resource allocation.

Effectiveness

Much of the doubt about the effectiveness of the bomber war comes from the oft-stated fact German industrial production increased throughout the war. There is insufficient information to ascertain how much additional potential industrial growth the bombing campaign may have curtailed. However, attacks on the infrastructure were taking place. The attacks on Germany’s canals and railroads made transportation of materiel difficult. The attack on oil production, oil refineries, and tank farms was, however, extremely successful, and made a very large contribution to the general collapse of Germany in 1945. German insiders also credit the Allied bombing offensive with crippling the German war industry.

The impact of bombing on German morale was significant. Around a third of the urban population under threat of bombing had no protection at all. Some of the major cities saw 55-60% of dwellings destroyed. Mass evacuations were a partial answer for six million civilians, but this had a severe impact on morale as German families were split up to live in difficult conditions. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that the bombing was not stiffening morale but seriously depressing it; fatalism, apathy, and defeatism were apparent in bombed areas. The Luftwaffe was blamed for not warding off the attacks, and confidence in the Nazi regime fell by 14%. Some 75% of Germans believed the war was lost in the spring of 1944, owing to the intensity of the bombing.

image

The firebombing of Dresden, Germany. A pile of bodies before cremation, January 31, 1945, Bundesarchiv.: Death and destruction in Dresden left by Allied firebombing.

D-Day and After

The Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune and commonly know as D-Day, was the largest amphibious invasion ever to take place, and it was critical to the eventual victory of the Allied forces in Word War II.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the strategy behind the Normandy landings on D-Day

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Normandy landings (Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 (known as D-Day ), of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II.
  • It was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The amphibious (seaborne) landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment, and an airborne assault.
  • Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach.
  • Through the London-based French Forces of the Interior, the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance.
  • Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans lost 1,000 men. Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000 people.
  • Victory in Normandy, which stemmed from several factors, was critical to the eventual victory of the Allies in World War II.

Key Terms

  • Operation Overlord: The code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II. The operation commenced on June 6, 1944 with the Normandy landings (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day).
  • Operation Pointblank: The code name for the primary portion of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive intended to cripple or destroy the German aircraft fighter strength, thus drawing it away from frontline operations and ensuring it would not be an obstacle to the invasion of Northwest Europe. The directive that authorized is was released June 14, 1943.
  • Invasion of Normandy: The invasion and establishment of Allied forces in Normandy, France, during Operation Overlord in 1944 during World War II. It was the largest amphibious operation ever to take place.
  • D-Day: June 6, 1944; the date of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II (known also as Operation Neptune).
  • Operation Bodyguard: The code name for a World War II deception plan employed by the Allied states before the 1944 invasion of northwest Europe. The plan was intended to mislead the German high command as to the time and place of the invasion. The plan contained several operations, which culminated in the tactical surprise of the Germans during the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 (also known as D-Day), and delayed German reinforcements to the region for some time afterwards.

The Normandy Landings

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 (known as D-Day), of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German -occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.

Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. Operation Neptune was its first phase and aimed to establish a secure foothold. To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields. Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 American, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles, such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialized tanks.

image

D-Day: The Normandy Invasion: A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the U.S. Army’s First Division on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day) at Omaha Beach.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion. The Allies failed to achieve any of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until July 21. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five beachheads were not connected until June 12; however, the operation gained a foothold, which the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. Eventually, 39 Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: 22 American, 12 British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totaling over a million troops, all under overall British command.

Coordination with the French Resistance

Through the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance. The Allies developed four plans for the Resistance to execute on D Day. The Resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by messages personnels transmitted by the BBC’s French service from London. Several hundred of these messages, which included snatches of poetry, quotations from literature, or random sentences, were regularly transmitted, masking the few that were actually significant. In the weeks preceding the landings, lists of messages and their meanings were distributed to Resistance groups. An increase in radio activity on June 5 was correctly interpreted by German intelligence to mean that an invasion was imminent or underway. However, because of the barrage of previous false warnings and misinformation, most units ignored the warning.

Aftermath

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day,with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June. Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans lost 1,000 men. The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah) linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometers (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches; none of these objectives were achieved. The five bridgeheads were not connected until June 12, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometers (60 miles) long and 24 kilometres (15 miles) deep. Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day, and would not be completely captured until July 21. The Germans had ordered French civilians, other than those deemed essential to the war effort, to leave potential combat zones in Normandy. Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000 people.

Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day, Erwin Rommel, German Field Marshal in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion, reported that construction was only 18%  complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere. The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obligated to defend a huge stretch of coastline. The Allies achieved and maintained air supremacy, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain, and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks. Transportation infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies. Some of the opening bombardment was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact, but the specialized armor worked well, except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches. Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command were also factors in the Allied success.

The Allied Push

After the 1943 Battle of Stalingrad and the June 1944 Allied invasion of France, the Allies gradually defeated Germany in Europe; meanwhile in the Pacific, the United States and the Soviet Union continued to fight Japan until the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the war effort in the latter half of 1944, after D-Day

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Battle of Stalingrad was arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war. In its aftermath, German forces never regained the initiative in the East, and withdrew a vast military force from the West to replace their losses.
  • In 1943-1944, the Allies gained critical momentum. They initiated several operations against Japan in the Pacific, and the Western Allies invaded the Italian mainland. By late May 1944, the Soviets had liberated Crimea, largely expelled Axis forces from Ukraine, and made incursions into Romania.
  • After the Western Allies invaded France on June 6, 1944, Allied forces gradually defeated Germany on all the three European  fronts. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.
  • In the Pacific theater, the United States and the Soviet Union continued to fight Japanese forces that eventually surrendered on August 15, 1945.
  • The war ended on September 2, 1945, with Japan formally signing surrender documents.

Key Terms

  • Operation Bagration: The codename for the Soviet 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation during World War II, which cleared German forces from the Belorussian SSR and eastern Poland between June 22 and August 19, 1944.
  • Battle of Leyte Gulf: A World War II battle, formerly known as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, that is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II, and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history. It was fought in waters of the Leyte Gulf, near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar, and Luzon, on October 23-26, 1944, between combined American and Australian forces and the Imperial Japanese Navy.
  • Guadalcanal Campaign: A military campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and code-named Operation Watchtower, fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943, on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
  • Battle of Stalingrad: A major battle (August 23, 1942-February 2, 1943) on the Eastern Front of World War II, in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in Southern Russia, on the eastern boundary of Europe.
  • D-Day: June 6, 1944; the date of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II (known also as Operation Neptune).

German Loss in Stalingrad

Despite considerable losses on the Eastern Front, in early 1942 Germany and its allies stopped a major Soviet offensive in central and southern Russia, keeping most territorial gains they had achieved during the previous year. By mid-November, the Germans had nearly taken Stalingrad when the Soviets began their second winter counter-offensive, starting with an encirclement of German forces at Stalingrad, and an assault on the Rzhev salient near Moscow, though the latter failed disastrously. By early February 1943, the German Army had taken tremendous losses; German troops at Stalingrad had been forced to surrender and the front-line had been pushed back beyond its position before the summer offensive. Although Germans continued fighting on the Eastern Front, the Battle of Stalingrad, marked by constant close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, is often regarded as one of the single largest (nearly 2.2 million personnel) and bloodiest (1.7-2 million wounded, killed or captured) battles in the history of warfare. The heavy losses inflicted on the German Wehrmacht make it arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war. It was a turning point in the European theater of World War II. German forces never regained the initiative in the East, and withdrew a vast military force from the West to replace their losses.

image

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: American troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching “Omaha” Beach on D-Day (June 6, 1944). Note helmet netting; faint “No Smoking” sign on the LCVP’s ramp; and M1903 rifles and M1 carbines carried by some of these men. Original Source: Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Allies Gain Momentum (1943-1944)

After the 1942-1943 Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific theater, the Allies initiated several operations against Japan in the Pacific. By the end of March 1944, the Allies eliminated Japanese forces from the Aleutians and breached the Japanese Central Pacific perimeter at the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. They also neutralized the major Japanese base at Truk in the Caroline Islands. In April, the Allies launched an operation to retake western New Guinea.

In Europe, the Western Allies invaded the Italian mainland (September 3, 1943), following Italy’s armistice with the Allies. They fought through several lines until reaching the main German defensive line in mid November. German operations in the Atlantic also suffered. By May 1943, sizable German submarine losses forced a temporary halt of the German Atlantic naval campaign. In January 1944, the Allies launched a series of attacks in Italy against the line at Monte Cassino, and tried to outflank it with landings at Anzio. By the end of January, a major Soviet offensive expelled German forces from the Leningrad region, ending the longest and most lethal siege in history.

By late May 1944, the Soviets had liberated Crimea, largely expelled Axis forces from Ukraine, and made incursions into Romania, which were repulsed by the Axis troops. The Allied offensives in Italy had succeeded, and, at the expense of allowing several German divisions to retreat, Rome was captured on June 4.

1944

On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), the Western Allies invaded northern France. After reassigning several Allied divisions from Italy, they also attacked southern France. These landings led to the defeat of the German Army units in France. Paris was liberated and the Western Allies continued to push back German forces in western Europe during the latter part of the year. An attempt to advance into northern Germany, spearheaded by a major airborne operation in the Netherlands, failed. After that, the Western Allies slowly pushed into Germany, but failed to cross the Rur River in a large offensive.

On June 22, the Soviets launched a strategic offensive in Belarus (Operation Bagration) that destroyed the German Army Group Center almost completely. Soon after that, another Soviet strategic offensive forced German troops from Western Ukraine and Eastern Poland. The Soviet advance prompted resistance forces in Poland to initiate several uprisings against the German occupation. However, the largest of these in Warsaw, where German soldiers massacred 200,000 civilians, and a national uprising in Slovakia, did not receive Soviet support and were subsequently suppressed by the Germans. The Red Army ‘s strategic offensive in eastern Romania cut off and destroyed the considerable German troops there and triggered a successful coup d’état in Romania and in Bulgaria, followed by those countries’ shift to the Allied side.

In September 1944, Soviet troops advanced into Yugoslavia and forced the rapid withdrawal of Germany in Greece, Albania, and Yugoslavia to rescue them from being cut off. In northern Serbia, the Red Army, with limited support from Bulgarian forces, assisted the Communist-led Partisans under Marshal Josip Broz Tito in a joint liberation of the capital city of Belgrade on October 20. A few days later, the Soviets launched a massive assault against German-occupied Hungary that lasted until the fall of Budapest in February 1945.

In the Pacific, U.S. forces continued to press back the Japanese perimeter. In mid-June 1944, they began their offensive against the Mariana and Palau islands, and decisively defeated Japanese forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In late October, American forces invaded the Filipino island of Leyte; soon after, Allied naval forces scored another large victory in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the largest naval battles in history.

Towards the Victory

On December 16, 1944, Germany made a last attempt on the Western Front by using most of its remaining reserves to launch a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes to split the Western Allies, encircle large portions of Western Allied troops, and capture their primary supply port at Antwerp to prompt a political settlement. By January, the offensive had been repulsed with no strategic objectives fulfilled. In Italy, the Western Allies remained stalemated at the German defensive line. In mid-January 1945, the Soviets and Poles attacked in Poland, pushing from the Vistula to the Oder river in Germany, and overran East Prussia.

In the Pacific theater, American forces accompanied by the forces of the Philippine Commonwealth advanced in the Philippines. On the night of March 9-10, the U.S. Army Air Forces struck Tokyo with incendiary bombs, which killed 100,000 people within a few hours. Over the next five months, American bombers firebombed 66 other Japanese cities, causing the destruction of untold numbers of buildings and the deaths of between 350,000-500,000 Japanese civilians.

German forces surrendered in Italy on April 29. Total and unconditional surrender was signed on May 7, to be effective by the end of May 8. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered, with the surrender documents finally signed aboard the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, ending the war.

image

Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri, September 2, 1945: Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Japanese Government, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), September 2, 1945. Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland, U.S. Army, watches from the opposite side of the table. Foreign Ministry representative Toshikazu Kase is assisting Mr. Shigemitsu.

The Allied Drive Toward Berlin

The crossing of the Rhine, the encirclement and reduction of the Ruhr, and the sweep to the Elbe-Mulde line and the Alps, all established the final campaign on the Western Front as a showcase for Allied superiority in maneuver warfare.

Learning Objectives

Summarize Eisenhower’s drive toward Berlin, including the crossing of the Rhine, the encirclement and reduction of the Ruhr, and the sweep to the Elbe-Mulde line and the Alps

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Western Allied invasion of Germany was conducted by the Western Allies in the final months of fighting in the European theater of World War II. This is known as the “Central Europe Campaign” in U.S. military histories. Western Allied forces were able to overcome the weakened German Army in early 1945, and soon pushed to the strategic Rhine river along most of the front. The crossing of the Rhine was achieved at four different points.
  • By April 13, the Ninth Army had cleared the northern part of the Ruhr Area, while elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps′ Eighth Infantry Division reached the southern bank of the Ruhr, splitting the southern section of the pocket in two.
  • Following the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, the Ninth and First American armies turned east, and pushed to the Elbe river by mid-April. The First and Ninth Armies stopped along the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, making contact with Soviet forces near the Elbe in late April.
  • Eliminating any German attempt to make a last stand in the Alps of southern Germany and western Austria was the final goal of the Western Allies in their drive toward Berlin.
  • Field Marshal Montgomery took the German military surrender of all German forces in the Netherlands, northwest Germany, and Denmark, on Lüneburg Heath, an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover, and Bremen, on May 4, 1945.

Key Terms

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: The 34th President of the United States (1953-1961). He was previously a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II, serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942-1943, and the successful invasion of France and Germany from the Western Front in 1944-1945.
  • Central Europe Campaign: A term used in U.S. scholarship that refers to the Western Allied invasion of Germany conducted by the Western Allies in the final months of fighting in the European theater of World War II. It started with the Western Allies crossing the River Rhine in March 1945, before fanning out and overrunning all of western Germany, from the Baltic in the north to Austria in the south. The Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945.
  • Operation Plunder: Name given to the assault crossing of the Rhine at Rees and Wesel by the British 21st Army Group on the night of March 23, 1945.
  • Rhine: A European river that begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps. It forms part of the Swiss-Austrian to Swiss-Liechtenstein border, the Swiss German border, and then the Franco-German border. It then flows through the Rhineland and eventually empties into the North Seain the Netherlands. Its crossing was critical to the eventual victory of the Western Allies in Europe during World War II.
  • Ruhr Pocket: A battle of encirclement that took place in late March and early April 1945, near the end of World War II, in the Ruhr Area of Germany. It marked the end of major organized resistance on Nazi Germany’s Western Front, as more than 300,000 troops were taken prisoner.

The Western Allied Invasion of Germany

The Western Allied invasion of Germany was conducted by the Western Allies in the final months of fighting in the European theater of World War II. It started with the Western Allies crossing the River Rhine in March 1945, before fanning out and overrunning all of western Germany, from the Baltic in the north to Austria in the south; the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945. This is known as the “Central Europe Campaign” in U.S. military histories.

Crossing the Rhine

The Western Allies recognized that the Rhine would present a formidable natural obstacle to their invasion of Germany, and focused their efforts on the area of the river in the fall of 1944. In February 1945, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt requested permission to withdraw east behind the Rhine, arguing that further resistance would only delay the inevitable, but was ordered by Hitler to fight where his forces stood. By the end of the month, Allied forces were close to the Rhine’s west bank. Von Rundstedt’s divisions on the west bank were cut to pieces in the “Battle of the Rhineland” (280,000 men were taken prisoner). With a large number of men captured, the stubborn German resistance during the Allied campaign to reach the Rhine in February and March 1945 had been costly. Total losses reached an estimated 400,000 men.

The crossing of the Rhine was achieved at four points: One crossing was an opportunity taken by U.S. forces when the Germans failed to blow up the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen; one crossing was a hasty assault; and two crossings were planned. Lieutenant General Omar Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the Remagen crossing made on March 7, and expanded the bridgehead into a full scale crossing. Bradley told General George Patton, whose U.S. Third Army had been fighting through the Palatinate, to “take the Rhine on the run.” The Third Army did just that on the night of March 22, crossing the river with a hasty assault south of Mainz at Oppenheim.

In the north, Operation Plunder was the name given to the assault crossing of the Rhine at Rees and Wesel by the British 21st Army Group on the night of March 23. It included the largest airborne operation in history, which was codenamed Operation Varsity.  In the Allied Sixth Army Group area, the U.S. Seventh Army assaulted across the Rhine in the area between Mannheim and Worms, on March 26. A fifth crossing on a much smaller scale was later achieved by the French First Army at Speyer.

Ruhr Pocket

The first step of Eisenhower’s plan was the eradication of the Ruhr Pocket. Even before the encirclement had been completed, the Germans in the Ruhr had begun making attempts at a breakout to the east. Having crossed the Rhine, both army groups fanned out into the German hinterland. In the south, while Third Army headed east, the First Army headed northeast and formed the southern pincer of the Ruhr envelopment. In the north, the U.S. Ninth Army (assigned to Montgomery’s British 21st Army Group) headed southeast, forming the northern pincer, while the rest of 21st Army Group went east and northeast.

By April 13, the Ninth Army had cleared the northern part of the pocket, while elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps′ Eighth Infantry Division reached the southern bank of the Ruhr, splitting the southern section of the pocket in two. Thousands of prisoners were being taken every day until April 18, when all opposition ended and the remnants of German Army Group B formally surrendered. Troops had been surrendering in droves throughout the region. The final tally of prisoners taken in the Ruhr reached 325,000. Tactical commanders hastily enclosed huge open fields with barbed wire, creating makeshift prisoner of war camps.

The Elbe-Mulde Line and the Alps

Following the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, the Ninth and First American Armies turned east and pushed to the Elbe river by mid-April. During the push east, the cities of Frankfurt am Main, Kassel, Magdeburg, Halle, and Leipzig were strongly defended by ad hoc German garrisons made up of regular troops, Flak units, Volkssturm, and armed Nazi Party auxiliaries. Generals Eisenhower (the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force on the Western Front) and Bradley concluded that pushing beyond the Elbe made no sense, since eastern Germany was destined, they believed, to be occupied by the Red Army.

The First and Ninth Armies stopped along the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, making contact with Soviet forces near the Elbe in late April. The U.S. Third Army had fanned out to the east into western Czechoslovakia, and southeast into eastern Bavaria and northern Austria. By V-E Day, the U.S. Twelfth Army Group was a force of four armies (First, Third, Ninth and Fifteenth) that numbered over 1.3 million men.

While the Twelfth U.S. Army Group made its eastward thrust, General Devers′ Sixth U.S. Army Group to the south had the dual mission of protecting the Twelfth U.S. Army Group’s right flank, and eliminating any German attempt to make a last stand in the Alps of southern Germany and western Austria. The U.S. Sixth Army Group fanned out to the southwest, passing to the east of Switzerland through Bavaria, and into Austria and northern Italy. The Black Forest and Baden were overrun by the French First Army. Determined stands were made in April by German forces at Heilbronn, Nuremberg, and Munich, but were overcome after several days.

Elements of the U.S. Third Infantry Division were the first Allied troops to arrive at Berchtesgaden, which they secured, while the French Second Armored Division seized the Berghof (Hitler’s Alpine residence) on May 4, 1945. German Army Group G surrendered to U.S. forces at Haar, in Bavaria, on May 5. Field Marshal Montgomery took the German military surrender of all German forces in the Netherlands, northwest Germany, and Denmark on Lüneburg Heath, an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen, on May 4 1945. Since the operational commander of some of these forces was Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, the new Reichspräsident (head of state) of the Third Reich, this signaled that the European war was over.

image

U.S. Army soldiers supported by a M4 Sherman tank move through a smoke filled street in Wernberg, Germany during April 1945.: The crossing of the Rhine, the encirclement and reduction of the Ruhr, and the sweep to the Elbe-Mulde line and the Alps all established the final campaign on the Western Front as a showcase for Allied superiority in maneuver warfare.

The Collapse of Nazi Germany

Following the successful landings in Normandy (June 1944), the Western Allies gradually defeated Nazi Germany on the Western Front, while the Soviet Union triumphed on the Eastern Front. The joined efforts culminated in the final defeat of Germany at the Battle of Berlin.

Learning Objectives

Identify the events leading up to the collapse of Nazi Germany

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Following the June 6, 1944 landings in Normandy, the defeat of Nazi Germany was only a matter of time. The failed Ardennes Offensive (December 16, 1944-January 25, 1945) was the last major German campaign of the war. Soviet forces entered Germany on January 27.
  • Hitler’s refusal to admit defeat, and his repeated insistence that the war be fought to the last man, led to unnecessary death and destruction in the closing months of the war.
  • The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European theater. Before the battle was over, German Führer Adolf Hitler and some of his followers committed suicide.
  • Berlin’s defenders surrendered on May 2, but fighting continued to the northwest, west, and southwest of the city, until the end of the war in Europe on May 8 (May 9, in the Soviet Union), as German units fought westward so that they could surrender to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets.
  • Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic came to an end on April 25, 1945, and on April 27, partisans caught Mussolini, ending the reign of Italian Fascism.

Key Terms

  • Battle of Berlin: The final major offensive of the European Theater of World War II, during which the Red Army breached the German front. It was designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union.
  • Vistula–Oder Offensive: A successful Red Army operation on the Eastern Front in the European Theater of World War II in January 1945. It saw the liberation of Kraków, Warsaw, and Poznań.
  • Italian Social Republic: The second and last incarnation of the Fascist Italian State; led by Duce Benito Mussolini and his reformed Republican Fascist Party. It existed from 1943 to 1945.
  • Ardennes Offensive: A major German offensive, known also as the Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944-January 25, 1945), launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg on the Western Front, toward the end of World War II in Europe. It severely depleted Germany’s armored forces on the Western Front, and Germany was largely unable to replace them.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the tide turned against the Nazis, who suffered major military defeats in 1943. Large-scale aerial bombing of Germany escalated in 1944, and the Axis powers were pushed back in Eastern and Southern Europe. Following the Allied invasion of France, Germany was conquered by the Soviet Union from the East, and the other Allied powers from the West, and capitulated within a year.

On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces established a Western Front with the D Day landings in Normandy. On July 20, 1944, Hitler narrowly survived a bomb attack. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in 7,000 arrests and the execution of more than 4,900 people. The failed Ardennes Offensive (December 16, 1944-January 25, 1945) was the last major German campaign of the war. Soviet forces entered Germany on January 27. Hitler’s refusal to admit defeat, and his repeated insistence that the war be fought to the last man, led to unnecessary death and destruction in the closing months of the war. Through his Justice Minister, Otto Georg Thierack, Hitler ordered that anyone who was not prepared to fight should be summarily court-martialed. Thousands of people were put to death. In many areas, people looked for ways to surrender to the approaching Allies, in spite of exhortations of local leaders to continue the struggle. Hitler also ordered the intentional destruction of transport, bridges, industries, and other infrastructure—a scorched earth decree—but Armaments Minister Albert Speer was able to keep this order from being fully carried out.

Battle of Berlin

Starting on January 12, 1945, the Red Army began the Vistula-Oder Offensive across the Narew River, and, from Warsaw, a three-day operation on a broad front, which incorporated four army Fronts. On the fourth day, the Red Army broke out and started moving west, up to 30 to 40 km (19 to 25 mi) per day, taking East Prussia, Danzig, and Poznań, drawing up on a line 60 km (37 mi) east of Berlin along the Oder River.

The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European theater. Following the Vistula-Oder Offensive of January-February 1945, the Red Army had temporarily halted on a line 60 km (37 mi) east of Berlin. When the offensive resumed on April 16, two Soviet fronts (army groups) attacked Berlin from the east and south, while a third overran German forces positioned north of Berlin.

The first defensive preparations at the outskirts of Berlin were made on March 20, under the newly appointed commander of Army Group Vistula, General Gotthard Heinrici. Before the main battle in Berlin commenced, the Red Army encircled the city after successful battles of the Seelow Heights and Halbe. During April 20, 1945, the First Belorussian Front, led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, started shelling Berlin’s city center, while Marshal Ivan Konev’s First Ukrainian Front had pushed from the south through the last formations of Army Group Center. The German defenses were mainly led by Helmuth Weidling. The units consisted of several depleted, disorganized Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS divisions, along with poorly trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth members. Within the next few days, the Red Army reached the city center where close-quarters combat raged.

Before the battle was over, German Führer Adolf Hitler and some of his followers committed suicide. The city’s defenders surrendered on May 2, but fighting continued to the northwest, west, and southwest of the city until the end of the war in Europe on May 8 (May 9, in the Soviet Union) as German units fought westward so that they could surrender to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets.

image

A devastated street in the center of Berlin, just off the Unter den Linden, July 3, 1945: The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, was the final major offensive of the European theater.

The Fall of Fascist Italy

The Western Allies’ invasion of Sicily launched on July 9, 1943, combined with previous Italian failures, resulted in the ousting and arrest of Benito Mussolini later that month. On September 3, 1943, the Western Allies invaded the Italian mainland, following Italy’s armistice with the Allies. Germany responded by disarming Italian forces, seizing military control of Italian areas, and creating a series of defensive lines. German special forces then rescued Mussolini, who then soon established a new client state in German-occupied Italy, named the Italian Social Republic, causing an Italian civil war.

In 1944, Mussolini urged Hitler to focus on destroying Britain, rather than the Soviet Union, as Mussolini claimed that it was Britain that had turned the conflict into a world war, and that the British Empire must be destroyed in order for peace to come in Europe. As the situation became desperate with Allied forces in control of most of Italy, and as the Allies resumed to pushing the Axis forces north of the Gothic Line from February 1945, Mussolini declared that “he would fight to the last Italian.” He spoke of turning Milan into the “Stalingrad of Italy,” where Fascism would make its last glorious fight. Around April 25, 1945, Mussolini’s republic came to an end (Liberation Day). On this day, a general partisan uprising, alongside the efforts of Allied forces during their final offensive in Italy, managed to oust the Germans from Italy almost entirely. On April 27, partisans caught Mussolini, his mistress (Clara Petacci), several RSI ministers, and several other Italian Fascists while they were attempting to flee. On April 28, the partisans shot Mussolini and most of the other captives. The RSI Minister of Defense, Rodolfo Graziani, surrendered what was left of the RSI on May 2, when the German forces in Italy capitulated; this put a definitive end to the Italian Social Republic.

image

Mussolini rescued by German troops from his prison in Campo Imperatore on September 12, 1943: In 1943, Mussolini established a new client state in German-occupied Italy, named the Italian Social Republic, causing an Italian civil war.