World War II: European Liberation--Country Pages

Figure 1--Here Americn soldiers join the celebration in thec town square of a newly liberated French towm (August 1945). These celebrations took place throughout France after the Normandy breakout and the Dragoon landings in southern France. Thecelbrtions in Paris are the best knowm, but there were smaller, but no less enthusiastoc celebrations in every nook and crny of France. Unlike Normandy, there was little German resistance. The Germans were desperate to get back to the defenses of the West Wall as soon as possible. Put your cursor on the image for a closer view.

As Allied and Soviet armies converged on the NAZI Reich from east, south, and west, the process of liberating occupied Europe began. The process was, however, very different in the East and West. As the Red Army moved west, the celebrations in The East were muted because of the terrible discoveries of NAZI attrocities. And beyond the Russian heartland, many Eastern Europeans were concerned for good reason that they were just exchanging one totalitarian occupier for another. The Poles were espcially dubious, although the Soviets were less brutal than when they had earlier entered Poland. Stalin for some reason was, perhaps deference to the West, was no longer intent on destroying the Polish nation, but now decided to move it west. This was in part a way to reduce the future German power potential. And while now accepting aPolish nation, Stalin almost unbelievably unleashed the NKVD on the brave men and women of the Home Army that had resisted the Germans. The Poles were not the only Eastern Europeans worried. Many in the Baltic had fought with the Gemns. And other countries were Axis allies. In the West, the situation was radically different. The libeation of Westernn Europe actually began in Italy, one of the Axis powers (June 1944). A year earlier the Germans had occupied their former partner. Liberation began in began in earnest with D-Day (June 1944). Most French people by this time had turned on the collaborationist Vichy regime. Joyous celebraions followed with Allied armies driving the Germans out of one occupied capital after another. The greatest celebration was of course the liberation of Paris (August 1944). It was one of the great celebrations in all of French history. The Allies rached Brussels (September 1944), Luxembourg was liberated by the Allies (September 1944), but the Germans returned briefly during the Bulge. The British reached Grece after the German withdrawl (October 1944). The Allies entered the southern Netherlands (October 1944). Tragically it would take months to get across the Rhine and reach Amsterdam (May 1945). Unlike France, the War would last several more months in Belgium and the Netherlnds. Unlike the East, there was no doubt among the population in the west that the Americans and British were true liberators--and history would prove them correct.

The Liberators

The NAZIs had occupied both Western and Eastern Europe. The liberation of Western Europe ws primarily accomplished by three countries: Britain, Canada, and the United States. All three cobined to launch the liberation of Westetn Europe on D-Day. The United States was the one indespensible country. Without America, the British and Canadians could never have ammassed the power to reenter continental Europe. Not only was America the most populace nation, but it was the an industrial giant which became the Aresenal of Democracy. America not only armed and equipped its own military, but those of its allies and the Soviet Union as well. Hitler and Stalin who launched the War did not see isolationist America as an immediate problem, just as the Kaiser had not a generation earlier. The United States in 1939 was mot a threat. It did not have a large army or arms industry. Hitler's and Stalin's assessment was that they could complete their conquest of Europe befpre America could intervene. The American Army was not only smaller than that of most European armies, even small countries like Romania and the Netherlands, but also virtually unarmed. It was the British after saving their Army at Dunkirk that would prevent the NAZIs from totally dominating Europe and thus place a crucial role in the liberation of Western Europe. Canada although having a small population also played a vital role, fighting with the British. Perhaps more than any other World war II beligerant, Canada would punch far beyonnd its weight. More countries wre involved in the Italian campign, but this was ironnically the liberation of Fascist Italy. The situation in the East was very different. The Soviet Union was not an Allied nation, but rather a cobeligerent. The Soviets began the War as a NAZI ally conducting their own series of unprovoked aggressions. The Soviets only changed sides because they were attacked by the NAZIs in Opperation Barbarossa. It was the Soviet Red Army that broke the back of the Wehrmacht. But what followed in Eastern Europe was not the liberation that took place in the west. The Red Army drove out the NAZIs, but in doing so were relacing one evil tyrammy for a lees murderous, but still repressive regime.

Countries Invaded and Occupied by the Axis Powers

NAZI Germany at the peak of its power occupied or controlled most of Europe, including large areas of the Soviet Union. Hitler's control extendd from the Volga to the Pyrenees and Channel. No one in history had so totally controlled Europe in sxope and detail. Czexhoslovakia was the country occupied for the longest time (March 1939), although Poland was occupied soon after, by both the NAZUs and Soviets (September 1939). The occupation varies grearly from coyuntry to counrry. For some countries, especially Poland, NAZI/Soviet ocupation was horrific. The difference being that Soviet occupation was not genocidal. For countries like Denmark and Norway, NAZI occupation was relatively correct. The difference was basically the racial composution of the population. The Western llies began liberating Western Europe withe inasion of Italy (September 1943), but Italy wa an Axis country. The liberation of the Axis occupied countries began with the Normandy D-Day Invasion in France (June 1944). Then after bitter fighting in Normandy, Paris and the rest of France was liberated (August 1944). Jubilent crowds greeted the Americans, British , and Canadian soldiers that swept through France on the heels of the retreating Germans. Next came Belgium, Luxembourg and southern Netherlands. The British reached Greece (October 1944). The remaining countries in the West ocuured after bitter fighting in the Bulde came the nirthern Netherlands (April 1945) and Denmark and Norway (May 1945). American troops also entered western Czechoslovakia, but withdrew becauseof previous arrangments with the soviets (May 1945). In each of these countries, the pople of the liberted countries were allowed to determine their future in free democratic elections. In the East, the Soviet Red Army drioe west, but this can hardly be called a liberation. There was little dancing in the street when the Red Army arrived. For many in Eastern Europe, they viewed thearrival of the Soviets as simply exchanhing one ruthless totalitarian occupier for another. The Baltics wereanned as was easter Poland. Stalin moved the Polish people and nation west. The other countries were convertd in Communist people's republics. Unlike the Americans in the eest. the Soviets were about to allow the people of Eastern Europe to freely determine their futures for themselves.

German Axis Allies

Germany had a number of Axis allies, but very few were close or willing allies. Its principal ally was Europe's first Fascist state--Italy. It was, however, not as thorougly Fascist as Germany. And Germany had to invade Italy at the end of the war as was the case of most of its allies. Only two of it allies were actually fervent supporters--Austria and Croatia. Most of the NAZIs allies were overrun by the Red Army at the end of the War. Only the Italy and western Austria was linerated by the Western Allies. The Italians genuinely believed they were liberated. the Austrian reaction was more mixed. In the east, only Finland was able to avoid a Soviet occupation and Stalinist NKVD police state and the inevitable political executions and concetreation camps.


Austriaas thecfirst foreign country seized by the NAZIs, but it was not exactly invaded. For most Austrians, the arrival of the German Army was seen as liberation. Austria was a willing participant in Hitler's New Order and and a strong supporter of Hiler after the Anschluss. Hitler was received by jubilant crowds when he entered Vienna. And throuhout the NAZI era, Austriabs were some of Hitler's most loyal supporters. s the population was German, Hitler annexed Autrua to the Reich as Ostmarrk. After the war, many austrians attempted to make the case that they were just another occupied country. The facts were, however, very different. Austria like Germany was divided into four occupation zones.




Finland had no political afinity with the NZIs. Actually it was not an lly, but a co-beligerant. It was, however, the only country tht fought with the NAZIs that prived a real military benefit.



The Italian campaign (1943-45) was esentialy the story of the liberation of Italy (1943-45). Therewas much more involved, however, than the military campign. After all Italy was ine of the three main Axis powers with a substantial Fscist Party that remained allied with the Gmans even after Italy switched sides (September 1943). The Hermans occupied their forner ally and fought af=dooges and very effective defense to keep the allies from entering the Reich from the south. Partisans with considerable Communist participation fought ith the Allies as they drove north. As the German begn to surrender, the question became if Italy was going to become dominatd by the Communists.




Germny was a special case. It was hear the NAZI tryranny rose. The NAZIs with the Depression crisis quickly became the most important political party in Germany. Still a minority of the popiultion had voted for the NAZIs. A much larger proportion of the population came to support Hitler and the NAZIs. He became greatly admired by the great majority of the population. Only the disaterous reverses in the war began to undermine his stature. And even as German cities were blasted into ruins and war casualties mounted, he still had many suopporters. Many saw him as the only defense against the closing ring of Soviet and Allied armies. One hotly debated issue after the War was how much of the population were NAZI supporters and how many participate in NAZI crimes. This issue is probably unanswerable. What is know is that the German people did not welcome the Allies as liberators as was the case in Fascist Italy. Most Germans, but certainly not all, did not believe that they were living in one of history's great tyrannies or that their coubtry was guilty of some of the greatest crimes in human history. It was only when German radio announced that Hitler fell in battle (only later did it become known that he had committed suiside) did the almost mystical bond beteen Hitler nd the German people begin to unravel. The German people, at least those in the Western occupation zones were liberated in 1945, although very few understood it at the time. Many were, however, releaved that it was the Western Allies and not the Soviet Red Army that was occupying them.


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Created: 2:21 AM 1/9/2015
Last updated: 12:31 AM 5/4/2017