United States Army: World War II Neutrality (1939-41)


Figure 1.--The Roosevelt Administration proposed a peacetime draft, the first in American history (September 1940). As America began building a sizeable army, there wee shortages of just about everything. And there was a need to support Britain. Army chiefs resented ship arms to Britain when their new trainees had to train without arms. By 1941, the U.S. Army was dealing for the first time since the Civil War with substantial numbers of men. It was clear that maneuvers were needed to give the commanders experience wuth handling large forces. This was something that the Whermacht did annually and had been doing so since the 19th century. It was here their Blitzkrieg tactics were honed. The U.S. Army held large scale mauevers in northern Louisiana (August-September 1941). The locals had never seen anything like it, but on the whole welcomed the Army with open arms like this little boy having a go at the new Jeep. Three months later, America was at war.

Again when World War II broke out, the American Army consisted of only a small professional core. Thanks to the Roosevelt Administration, steps were underway to build an airforce, but the Army was still a mere shell. The buildup of the U.S. Army in World War II was largely overseen by one man--Gen. George C. Marshal, apatriot of the first order abnd the single most important American commander of World War II. He was not the most senior commander as Europe moved toward war. In fact he was afauirky obscure officer. Marshall was assigned to the War Plans Division in Washington D.C. (July 1938). He was then assugned as Deputy Chief of Staff. It was in that capacity, that Brigadier General Marshall attended a conference at the White House, meeting the President for the first time. President Roosevelt proposed a plan to provide aircraft to England to support the British war preparatiions. No concern was given to logistical support or training. The other attendees agreed with the President and support the plan, Marshall spoke up to qustion it. Many thought that this was the end of a promising career. President Roosevelt was determined to help Britain, but he also recognized the kind of man he needed to lead an experienced, unprepared Army about to enter the greatest war in history. President Roosevelt nominated Marshal over many senior officers to be Army Chief of Staff. Marshall was promoted to General officer and sworn in, irionically on thecsane day tht the German Panzers smashed into Poland (September 1, 1939). He would hold this post throughout World War II As Chief of Staff, Marshall organized the largest military expansion in U.S. history. The Roosevelt Administration proposed a peacetime draft, the first in American history (September 1940). Devisive debates were held in the Congress over drafting a sizeable force (1940 and 1941). As America began building a sizeable army, there wee shortages of just about everything. And there was a need to support Britain. Army chiefs resented ship arms to Britain when their new trainees had to train without arms. By 1941, the U.S. Army was dealing for the first time since the Civil War with substantial numbers of men. It was clear that maneuvers were needed to give the commanders experience wuth handling large forces. This was something that the Whermacht did annually and had been doing so since the 19th century. It was here their Blitzkrieg tactics were honed. The U.S. Army held large scale mauevers in northern Louisiana (August-September 1941). The locals had never seen anything like it, but on the whole welcomed the Army with open arms. Some 0.4 million men participated. Commanders had the opportunity to test all aspects of their fast-growing, inexperienced force. The tactical doctrines of mobility were tested out. Most of the best known American commanders of World War II participted (including Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, Dwight Eisenhower, Lesley McNair, and George Patton). Only a month before Pearl Harbor, the Congress almost ended the draft and allow those drafted to return home (November 1941). A month later the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbior brought Anmeruca and its inexperienced Army into the War.

Status at the Outbreak of War (September 1939)

Again when World War II broke out as with World War I, the American Army consisted of only a small professional core. Thanks to the Roosevelt Administration, steps were underway to build an airforce, but the Army was still a mere shell. The U.S. Army was not only small, but also poorly equipped. One assessment describes the size of the major services: U.S. Army (174,000 men), Navy (126,400), Army Air Corps (26,000), Marine Coros (19,700), and Coast Guard (10,000). Much of the equipment was World War I vintage. The Air Corps had some 2,600 planes. The Army totaled still only totaled 189,000 men when Hitler launched the War, less than many small European countries.

Axis Assessment

Before America entered the War, there were visits by Axis officers and diplomats who saw the pathetic condition of the US Army in 1939-40. Hitler simply ignored the United States in his military calculations. He was vaguely aware iof the danger, but the U.S. Army was so small and poorly equipped that he believed he could win the War before Ameruca could convert industrial capacity into effective military power. These observations helped convince the Japanese militarists that despite America's industrial might that Japan could seize its coveted Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). The Japanese assessnment was that it would take time for the United States to build a sizeable force. And that they would be firced to focus on Europe where the Japanese were expecting a German victory. Some believed that the United States wiould ultimately not be willing to expend the blood and treasure needed to retake the SRZ.

General Marshall (September 1939)

The buildup of the U.S. Army in World War II was largely overseen by one man--Gen. George C. Marshall, a patriot of the first order abnd the single most important American commander of World War II. He was not the most senior commander as Europe moved toward war. In fact he was a fairly obscure officer. Marshall was assigned to the War Plans Division in Washington D.C. (July 1938). He was then assugned as Deputy Chief of Staff. It was in that capacity, that Brigadier General Marshall attended a conference at the White House, meeting the President for the first time. President Roosevelt proposed a plan to provide aircraft to England to support the British war preparatiions. No concern was given to logistical support or training. The other attendees agreed with the President and support the plan, Marshall spoke up to qustion it. Many thought that this was the end of a promising career. President Roosevelt was determined to help Britain, but he also recognized the kind of man he needed to lead an experienced, unprepared Army about to enter the greatest war in history. President Roosevelt nominated Marshall over many senior officers to be Army Chief of Staff. Marshall was promoted to General officer and sworn in, irionically on thecsane day tht the German Panzers smashed into Poland (September 1, 1939). He would hold this post throughout World War II As Chief of Staff, Marshall organized the largest military expansion in U.S. history. Marshal could draw from his experience teaching and developing modern tactics as an instructor at the Army War College. He thus coordinated the rapid, large-scale expansion and modernization of the U.S. Army. Tioday he is is perhaps not as well known as the headline grabbing fiekld commanders, but Marshal's role was critical. He never led men in combat. He was, however, the precise person with the requisite talents that was needed in Washingtin at the side of Presuidentv Roosevelt. He was a skilled and thoughful organizer. And he had a talent for choosing and inspiring other commanders. Many of the top American commanders were brought forward by Marshall, often over more senior men. They included Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Terry de la Mesa Allen, Sr., Lloyd Fredendall, Leslie McNair, Mark Wayne Clark and Omar Bradley among others.

American Industry

America had a huge industrial capacity to manufacture arms. American military budgetswere very limited. The Roosevelt Administratrion gave a priority to the Navy and Air Corps (then aart iof the Army). With the outbreak of war in Europe, Congress began appriving large budgets, but not massively larger budgets. Not all manufacturers were interested in military contracts. With war orders from Europe flowing in, the Depression was finally weakening its hold on America. This mean corportations like GM and Ford were reporting increasing profits. And these seemed to be sustained profits. Military contracts mean expanding production for products which would after a few years no longer be needed. Thus the Roosevet Administratiion not only had to get increased defense budgets through Congress, but comvince important corporations to shift production limes to military equipment. Defense plants began to appear, but the priocess was at first slow.

Fall of France (June 1940)

Americans from the beginning favored the Allies, but wanted to stay out of the War. Many believed that the British and French should be able to handle the Germans. The French Arny was seen as the striongest in the wiorld. The Fall of Frabce (June 1940), shocked Americans. many who had once wanted to stay out of European entaglements were now willing to support more forceful American efforts. Many Americans were now willing to support Britain as long as it did not mean actually enttering the War. This significantly aided OPresident Roosevelt in his face down with the Isolationists.

Peacetime Draft (September 1940)

The draft was the central issue in American rearmament, just as it had been in German rearmament. At the time, manpower was critical to building a powerful military force. No country could have a creditable military force without a draft. The isolationists understood this and thus theyb made the battle over thedraft the their major stand against President Roosevelt and his reelectiion campaign. The United States in 1940 was still largely unarmed. In particular the U.S. army except for a small professional core practically did not exist. There were still calvalry units and the force that did eist was not armed with modern weapons. The United States in 1940 despite the wars raging in Europe and Asia had an army smaller than that of several small European countries. The American army was smaller than that of Romania. The fall of France had a sobering affect on many Americans (June 1940). The Roosevelt Admistration urging passage of a draft, the first peace-time draft in American history. Congress after an intensive debate passed the bill proposed by the Administration with some amendments. President Roosevelt on September 16 signed the Selective Service Act. The first draft had been during the Civil War. The draft envolved men from 21-35 years of age and involved only 1 year of training a military service. The votes in Congress were comfortable majorities as most Democrats and about half the Republicans supported it despite of the upcoming election November election. Undobtedly the radio bradcasts and newsreel images of first Panzers rolling down the Les Champs-Elysées (the Elysian Fields) and then London burning under the NAZI Blitz were making an impression on the American people. The army created by this draft was the army in place when the Japanese brought America into the War with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Training the Army (September 1940-August 1941)

President Roosevelt after Hitler and Stalin launched another war in Europe proclaimed a limited emergency and authorized increases in the size of the Regular Army and the National Guard (September 1939). The numbers, however were still limited. Only with Congressional passage of the Selective Service Act (Septmber 1940), were really large numbers of men available for military service. The Army held its first large-scale corps and army maneuvers in American history (Summr 1940). . The rapid defeat of France and the possible collapse of Britain dramatically accelerated defense preparations. Gen. Marshall and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson made plans to expand the Army to 1.5 million men. This required two separe actions. Congress approved inducting the National Guard into federal service and calling up the reserves (August 27, 1940). A few weeks later, Congress passed the Selective Service and Training Act--America's first peacetime draft (September 16). The Army launched a massive training program for the new recruits. The National Guard had only limited training and the new draftees had none. Army camps were opened all oer the Unted states. Some were World War I era camps. Many new camps were open. Many of the new camps were opened in the South where the weather permitted around-the year training. Many units had to train with very limited equipment because of shortages and the large numbr of me involved. The new U.S. Army achieved its planned strength (mid-1941). The U.S. Army stood at 27 infantry, 5 armored, and 2 cavalry divisions in addition to 35 air groups and a host of support units. But it was inexperienced, still poorly trained and was still far from prepared to deploy overseas against the much larger, metiquously-equipped, experienced, and highly professional German Wehrmacht. It took the British more than 2 years of combat to learn the fundamental of Blitzkrieg--essentially modern war. TheAllies and america would be in trouble unles the developing new army achieved a steper learning curve.

Equipping the Army

As America began building a sizeable army, there were shortages of just about everything. And there was not only a need to support America's own growing Arny, but also President Roosevelt was determined to aid the Allies (Britain and France). Congress amended the Neutrality Act to permit munitions sales to the French and British. Large orders from them begn the rettoling for the mamouth expansion of war production after Pearl Harbor. But at first these shipments made it difficult to equio the new aemy divisin being formed. he Army concentrated on equipping its regular forces as quickly as possible and after the passage of the Selective Service Act (September 19400, there were so many new men to equip that there wer shortages of virtully everything. Army chiefs resented diversions of the still limited American arms production from their new units to hard-pressed Britain. President Roosevelt authorizized the emergency transer of large stocks of World War I arms and munitions to Britain after the fall of France (june 1940). The British Expeditionary Force manage to escape the Germans at Dunkirk, but had to leave their equipment behind. Britainnws essentially disarmed and the Germans were preparing to invade. and with Germany prepared to invade. Gen. Marshall worried tht Brirain might fall and all the arms shipped tothem would fll into German hands. Many of the new American conscripts were having to train train without arms.

Anglo-American Scientific Collaboration (Novenmber 1940)

Both Britain and Germany had very substantial scientific establishments. NAZI rearmament policy suceeded in mobikizing its establishmrnt for war at an earky point. While the British Government was slow to react, it was by the time the war broke out lrgely mobilized. And while behind the Germans in many areas, the Brirish scientists had one great asset the Germans did not have--the United States. The importance if the Anglo-American alliance can not be overstated. President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill married the two countries to the hip even before the UnitedcStates entered the War. This was done formally with the Atlantic Charter, but actually began a few nonths earlier after Churchill became primeinister. Early in the War, Primemiidter Churchill decided to collborate fully with with the United States and share Britains secret weapon programs. This meant that British and American scientists could collaborate. One of tge impediment on working in sece=ret is tge inability to bounce ideas off others and share research findings. The Anglo Amrrican lliance meant Britush scientists could collaborate ith aider group of researchers. Also vital was the fact that the British had access to American industry which had the capacity io actually manufacure the weapons developed--and manufacture them in vast quantuties. Primeminister Chamberlain had been dismissive of the Americans before the War, convinced that he could prevent a War. Even after the War began, he was not inclined to embrace the Americans and did not have a good relationship with President Roosevelt. This changed with the appointment of Winston Churchill as primeminister (May 10, 1940). He had since his appointment to the Admiralty (September 1939) been corresponding secretly with the President. Churchill was anxious to secure American assistance hoping eventually for American entry into the War. He did not have a great deal to offer the Americans, especially as Britain was rapidly going bankrupt. One thing he could offer the Americans was advanced military and scientific technology that could assist America in its rearming effort. And a colalary concern was security. British Ambassador Lord Lothian wrote President Roosevelt suggesting an exchange of information (July). "Should you approve the exchange of information, it has been suggested by my Government that, in order to avoid any risk of the information reaching our enemy, a small secret British mission consisting of two or three Service officers and civilian scientists should be dispatched immediately to this country to enter into discussions with Army and Navy experts ... His Majesty's Government would greatly appreciate it if the United States Government, having been given the full details of any British equipment or devices, would reciprocate by discussing certain secret information of a technical nature, which our technical experts are anxious to have, urgently." President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill shared a fascination with secret operations. Mrs. Roosevelt saw it when they later got together in the White House as a kind of Boys' Qwn mentaility. The President was immediately attracted to the idea. He even dismissed the objections of General Marshall and other senior commanders. This showed the level of his commitment to cooperation because General Marshall was probably the individual among all others that he relied on for militaey advice. A British team led by Sir Henry Tizard, a British senior scientific adviser, arrived in America (late-August 1940). He met with American officials and brought with him a range of advanced military technology--radar technology was among the items. The 'Tizard Mission' was the beginning of the two-way exchanges that would play a vital role in the Allied victory. This should be compared to the reluctant Axis cooperation. What Tizzard did not bring was the Ultra secret. Churchill did not think the Americans including the President had a "need to know" and was very concerned about maintaining the Ultra secret. Soon after, Churchill learned that the U.S. Army SIS had cracked the Japanese Purple cipher machine. With the Americans produced a Purple analoge machines able to read diplomatic transmissions in real time (October 1940). He probably also learned that the Americans were also working on the JN-25 naval codes. This made the prospect of cooperating with the Americans much more enticing because of the increasing Japanse agreesivenes and the signing of the Axis alliance. British cryptologists were also working on Japanese codes. Top secret discussions followed quickly leading to an agreement (November 1940). The two countries agreed to provide for "a full exchange of cryptographic systems, cryptoanalytical techniques, direction finding, radio interception, and other technical communication matters pertaining to the diplomatic, military, naval, and air services of Germany, Japan, and Italy."

Arsenal of Democracy (December 1940)

Hitler concluded after Munich that allowing Chamberlain to deny him a war had been a mistake. He was not to be denied his war. Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939. The results of the German rearmament program were immediately apparent as Poland was quickly defeated. Next Hitler turned west. The allies (Britain and France) were rearming assisted by the Roosevelt Administration in America. The question became whether the democracies could rearm fast enough to close the German advantge, epecially the inballance in airplanes, before Hitler struck in the West. The German Western Offensive (May 1940) shocked the world. France fell within weeks and many thought that Britain would oon follow. President Roosevelt had to decide if scarce arms needed by the American military should be sent to Britain. They were and made a crucial difference in Britain's fight for survival. President Roosevelt first used the term "Arsenal of Denocracy" on December 29, 1940 in one of his Fireside Chats, radio broadcasts, to the American people. He explained the importance of supplying the people of Europe, at the time primarily Britain with the "implements of war". He said that the United States "must be the great arsenal of democracy". The very day he spoke, a Luftwaffe raid on London severly damaged famous buildings and churches in the city center and engulfed St. Paul's Cathedral in flames. [Gilbert, p. 356.] Hitler feared America more than any other country, but was convinced that Britain could be defeated before America could be mobilized or American industry could be effevtiverly harnassed for the war effort.

Lend Lease (March 1941)

Soon after telling Americans that America would be the Arsenal of Democracy, the President ammounced Lend Lease. This was a problem to supply American war materials to the Allies, at first primarily to Britain. The ternms were sale, lease, or loan. Lend-Lease bill became law (March 11, 1941). During the next four years, the U.S. sent more than $50 billion worth of war matériel to the Allies. The concept of lending military equipment was absured. Who would want a Sherman tank after it was blown up by a Panther tank or spent catridges. But it sounded good to Americans who by now supported all aid to Britain short of war and were still largely unaware of the intentions of the Axis. Most of the aid went to Britain and the Soviet Union. It kept Britain in the War, modernized the Red Army, and equipped a new French Army after D-Day. The amazing aspect of Lend Lease was not just the huge appropristion, but the ability of American industry to not only manufacture what the U.S. military needed, but what America's fighting Allies needed as well.

North Louisiana Manuevers (August-September 1941)

The U.S. Army as a result of the 1940 Selective Service (draft/conscription) Law was by 1940 dealing for the first time since World War I War with substantial numbers of men. The draft was apart of the preparadmes measures taken adter the Fall of France to the NAZIs. It was clear that maneuvers were needed to give the commanders experience wuth handling large forces. This was something that the Whermacht did annually and had been doing so since the 19th century. It was here that the Germans honed their devestating Blitzkrieg tactics. The U.S. Army clearly needed large scale manuvers as the inexperienced draftees began to swell the roles. General Marshall had appointed Lt. General Leslie McNair as director of U.S. Army training. General McNair had nearly 1 million men ready to train (June 1941). McNair had organized small scale maneuvers throughout the United States during 1940 before the draftees had begun to arrive in large vnumbers, mostly in the South because of the weather beginning June 1940. Units of different branches of the Regular Army began training in Louisiana before the draftees arrived. Here many young officers began learning tactics that they would employ in the coming war. Few realized how soon America would ve inolved. tHere were shortage of everything. Amrrican industry had not yet been mobilized for war and substantial quantiities of stores had been shipped to Britain. The new M-1 rifle, one of the few infantry weapons that was better than German equipment, was in extremely short supply. There was insufficient blank ammunition was in short supply as was field equipment of all types was in short supply. Much of the Army stores and weapons was of World war I vintage. Armored vehicles for the new Armored divisons being planned were virtually non-existent. he 1940 Maneuvers brought the shortage to light, buthey had not been solved by September 1941. McNir decided to goahead with the manuevers with whtever was at habd. McNair proceeded with 470,000 men over 3,400 square miles of land in northern Louisiana and areas of Texas. Lt. Colonel Mark Clark drew out the maneuver area on a map he got at a Louisiana filling station road map. Congress allocated $21 million dollars, then seen as a vast sum, to pay the expenses. To support house the men and equipment, camps including Camp Polk, Livingston, Beauregard, and Claiborne were constructed, as well as Army Air Fields at Lake Charles, DeRidder, Alexandria, Pineville, and Pollock. Over 19 full divisions were commited for the maneuvers, more than the entire U.S. Army today. It was one of the most important U.S. Army action since World War I. The locals had never seen anything like it, but on the whole welcomed the Army with open arms. Commanders had the opportunity to test all aspects of their fast-growing, inexperienced force. The tactical doctrines of mobility were tested out. Most of the best known American commanders of World War II participted (including Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, Dwight Eisenhower, Lesley McNair, and George Patton). The emphasis was on ground mobility and armored forces, although the Army did not yet have actual armored vehicles like tanks in any mumber. The manuevers made only limited effort to integrate close air suport into the maneuvers, a key element in the stunning German successes in Europe. The U.S. Army Air Corps wa still focused on strategic boming.

Draft Extension Fight (November 1941)

Only a month before Pearl Harbor, the Congress almost ended the draft and allow those drafted to return home (November 1941). The isolations were not silenced with their defeat over Selective Service (September 1940), Roosevelt's Third term (November 1940), and approval of Lend Lease (March 1941). The Unites States virtually did not have an army before the Selective Srvice Act was passed. And even adter it the U.S. Army was still small, untrained, and poorly equipped. This was the first step in building a 6 million man army. The 1940 Selective Service Act authorized conscription for 1 year. As a esult, the isolations staged a major effort to defeat the renewal of the act in 1941. It would be the last major effort by the Isolationists. Despite the war in Europe and Japanese advances in the Pacific, there was considerable resistance in Congress for renewing the Selective Service Act. Many mothers anhd wives wrote to their Congrsssmen complaining. The resistance to renewal was led by the Republican minority, but the draft was such a sensitive issue that they were joined by enough Democrats that renewal was in serious question. The NAZI surprise attack on the Soviet Union was another clear indicator of Hitler's orientation toward war and Germny's military capcity. Any thinking soul could reason that fighting the NAZIs with allies was essential. At the time the 1940 debate took place, the survival of Britain was in question. When the 1941 debate took place, it was the survival of the Soviet Union that was in question. The isolationists, however, again resisted the draft. They convinced themselves that War with the NAZIs was not enevitable. Failire to renew Selective Service would have meant that the men drafted in 1940 would go home only a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. hus America would have entered World War II essentially without an army. I a razor-thin Congressional vote on the eve of Pearl Harbor, the Selective Serbice Act was renwed (August 1941). President Roosevelt was with Churchill at the Atlantic Conference when the House voted to renew Selective Service by 1 lone vote. The vote was 203 to 202. There were attempts to change votes and run a a vote count, but Speaker Rayburn gavelled them down. To gain even this margin, the bill had to include a commitment not to send draftees out of the Hemisphere without Congressional authorization. [Black, p. 656.] Renewal permitted the Army to keep the 1949-41 draftees. And now to add a second year class of draftees. A month later the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbior brought Anmeruca and its inexperienced Army into the War.

America Enters the War (December 1941)

When Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939), most Americans were admently opposed to entering another war in Europe. Americans had come to believe it was a mistake to have entered World War I. President Roosevelt was hopeful that the British and French with material American support could defeat the Germans. The German defeat and occupation of France and the ensuing Blitz on Britain began a major reassessment in America. Gradually public opinion shifted and despite a vigorous national debate led by the Isolationists, American's came to support President Roosevelt's policy of national rearmament and support for Britain. At the time of Pearl Harbor, however, a majority of Americans still opposed entering the war. The public supported all support for Britain short of war. In the end, the national debate was settled by the Japanese militarists and Adolf Hitler. The decesion for war by Japan and Germany was radically different. The Japanese after more than a year of intense study had convinced thenselves that Americans were soft and would not fight. Few Japanese commanders had any knowledgeable about America and Admiral Yamamoto's misgivings were very rare within the military establishment. Crowds in Tokyo cheered the Pearl Harbor success. The reaction in Berlin was very different. Hitler was shocked by the failure of Barbarossa before Moscow. And President Roosevelt had been ahorn in his side sibce the War began. With the Wehrmacht falling back in Russia, in was the only aggressive step open to him. It would be the last major NAZI initiative. The War would be decided in 1942 and he would spend the rest of the War reacting to Allied moves. The German people received the bews very differently than the Japanese public. The Gernans had fought the Americans in World War I and were aware that American entry in the War had been the turning point. Only the most ardent NAZIs were enthusiastic with the news. And Hitler's announcement that he had declared war on America reached the German people at the same time as the news of the Red Army offensive before Moscow. Unlike the Japanese military, many German military commanders realized that Hitler's high stakes gamble had failed. Presidennt Roosevelt was shocked at the devestation suffered by the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Inteligence reports had made in clear that the Japanese were preparing to strike, but Ameeican military commanders had not anticipated the blow would come at Pearl or that Japan had the military capacity to deliver such as powerful strike. Perhaps the most sanguine assessment was made in Britain by Primeminister Churchill.

Sources

Black, Conrad. (Public Affairs: New York, 2003), 1280p

Gilbert, Matin.







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Created: 12:42 AM 6/18/2013
Last updated: 1:34 AM 4/30/2015