*** war and social upheaval: World War II European campaigns phase 1

World War II European Campaigns--Phase 1 (1939-41)

NAZI invasionn of Poland
Figure 1.--.World War II began with the German invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939). The Soviet Union also invaded Poland, only two weeks later. All the focus was on the NAZI invasion, both by journalists at the time and by historians after the War. The War developed wih the Gernas fighting the Western Allies while Stalin seized largee areas of Eastern Europe. Most historians ignore the fact that this was not precisely the war Hitler wanted, especially war with Britain, but was exactly what Stalin wanted. The NAZI barbarities in Poland sre well documented, but the Soviet atrocities little noted except Katyn. For the Soviets, the invasion of Poland was a victoruius conclusion of the 1920-21 Polish-Soviet War.

World War II in Europe began with the German Blitxkrieg of Poland (September 1939). After the so-called Phony War, the German western (May 1940) overwealmed the British and French with the Luftwaffe and Panzer offensive. The fall of France left Hitler the master of Western Europe. The Royal air Foirce's valliant stand against theLuftwaffe made a cross-channel invasion of Britain impossible. Britain for more than a year stood along against the German juggernaught. Deterred by the RAF from invading Britain, Hitler launched the Wheremacht on the Soviet Union (June 1941), launching the greatest srtuggle in the history of warfare. Although staggered by the German onslaught the Red Army held in front of Lenningrad and Moscow. Incredibly a few days after the Soviets launched their Winter offensive, devestating the German front line. After the Japanese carrier attck on Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States (December 1941).

Blitzkrieg: Poland (September 1939)

The Germans more than any other military, correctly assessed the lessons of World War II. The War in Europe began in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. The Panzers crossed the Polish frontier on September 1 along with a devestating strike by the Luftwaffe. The Polish Army and Air Force was shattered. Over 1 million German soldiers surged into Poland. Hitler emerged from the Reich Chancellery in a new grey uniform with his World War I Iron Cross. In a speech at the Reichstag before cheering NAZIs he declared, "I myself am today, and will be from now on, nothing but the soldier of the German Reich." Whithin 6 days Cracow, the center of Polish nationhood, fell. Pincer movements began on September 9 to encirle the major remaining Polish forces. Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk on September 18. Warsaw fell a few days later after a ruthless bombing assault. The Blitzkrieg tactics that were to prove so devestaing in the West during 1940 were all on display in 1939. Neither the British or French showed much attention, abscribing Polish defeat to military incompetance. The French had promissed the Poles an offensive in the West. It never came. [Fest, pp. 602-603.]

German Plans

Hitler's ultimate objective was the East. The Non-aggression Pact with the Soviet Union, however, gave him the opportunity to deal with Poland. It also provided options about the next step in the War. While the ulimate objective was the Soviet Union, the Non-Aggresson Pact gave him an open hand to deal with the British and French. Hitler did put out peace feelers. The propaganda attacks in the German press against Roosevelt were muted. It is unclear what the conditions would have been. Perhaps not immediatelly, but almost assuredly Hiler would have evenually deanded Alsace. Nor does it seem likely that he would have dared attack the Soviet Union with the French Army in tact. This was especially true because both Britain and France as well as America had begun to rearm thus reducing German's military advantage, especially the critical superiority of the Luftwaffe. The mobility and concentration of force was the centraln The British and French, however, while unwilling to launch an offense to assist Poland, were not willing to make peace. Even Chamberlin could no longer accept German peace feelers after Poland. [Freidel, p. 324.]

Churchill and Roosevelt

It was within days after the German Panzers crossed the Polish border that one of the most remarkable personal relationships in history began. President Roosevelt wrote to the now First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill (September 11, 1939). It was a brief letter. President Roosevelt asked Churchill and the Prime Minister Chamberlain to keep him informed and thanked Chirchill for the biograhh of the Duke of Marlborough sent earlier. Both meant had recognized the danger posed by Hitler and a resurgent NAZI Germany, but were unable to convince their countrymen. Churchill was out of government. Roosevelt faced American isolationism. One historian writes that Roosevelt needed a firewall against the dictators. [Meacham, p. 44.] He and America did. Churchill for his part needed the industrial might of the United States. Churchill at the time their corresondence began had no idea how badly Britain would need American assistance. This first short letter was the beginning of not only a remarkable personal relationship, but the first step of a momentous alliance between Britain and america, perhaps the cloest and most effective alliance in history.

German Tactics: Blitzkrieg

German was outclassed in World War I by British tanks. The Wehrmacht, in part of this, even before the NAZI seizure of power began to secretly develop tanks. As tanks were banned by the Versailles Treaty, the initial work was done cooperatively with the Soviet Union. Once the NAZIs seized power, Germany set out to develop a modern tank force. Allied commanders dimissed the successes of the Panzers in Poland, crediting it to Polish inadequcy. The Allies on the Western Front possessed more tanks than the Germans and some highly capable models. What the Allies did not have was an effective tactical doctrine. The French spread their tanks, which did not have radios, out over a wide area and placed emphasis on infantry and artillery. German Panzer commander Hans Guderian proposed an entirely new tactical doctrine. Tanks were to be massed in Panzer Divisions which could concentrate forces in a small sector to achieve a breakthrough of the enremies front lines. Radio communication and Luftwaffe support added to the German tactical advantage. [Guderian]

Soviet Aggressions (1939-40)

Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled nearly as long a list of aggressions as the NAZIs. The Soviet Union also invaded Poland, only two weeks later. All the focus was on the NAZI invasion, both by jiurnalidrs at the time and by historians after the War. The War developed wih the Gernas fighting the Western Allies while Stalin seized largee areas of Eastern Europe. Most historians ignore the fact that this was not precisely the war Hitler wanted, especially war with Britain, but was exactly what Stalin wanted. The NAZI barbarities in Poland are well documented, but the Soviet atrocities little noted except Katyn. Operating within secret protocols to the Non-agression Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The GreatPatriotic War/Ost Krieg fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invsion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left largely unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the virtul partition of Europe. After Poland, the first target was Finland, but Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were also targets. The oviet invasion of Finland had significant repercussions. The Allies for a time considered actively aidinging Finland, but the Germans offensoives in the West soon made that impossible. The poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was a factor in Hitler'd decission to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated.

The Phony War (September 1939-April 1940)

The successful NAZI conquest of Poland was followed by inactivity in the West. Hitler was ready to move west and scheduled several Western Offensives, but the General Staff managed to disuade him for a variety of reasons, primarily the insuitability of the weather. The press styled the inactivity "The Phony War"--a term originally coined by isolationist Senator Borah in Ameeica. The French Army refused to sally beyond the saftey of the Maginot Line. In actuality, it was a deadly race with Britain and France attempting to rearm so that they could meat the inevitable German Western Offensive. The Germans had to knock out the Allies before they could rearm with the support of American industry. To the surprise of many, Hitler after Poland did not unleash the Lufwaffe on the Allies--not yet. [Freidel, pp. 328-329.] The initial panic by civilians subsided. British children that had been evacuated began coming home, especially as Christmas approached.

Denmark and Norway (April 1940)

Seven months after World War II began in Poland, the Phoney War came to an end in Scandanavia. The one Allied offensive in the first year of the War was planned to secure Norway. This would have tightened the North Sea blockade and at seasonally blocked the delivery of Swedish iron ore vitally needed by the German war economy. The Germans responded with a premtive offensive north invading Denmark and Norway (April 9). It was a rapidly organized invasion to counter a planned British attempt to move into Norway. The Danes did not resist. The Norwegians were caught totally unpreoared. The German Krriegsmarine suffered severe losses, especilly of its small, but modern destroyer fleet. The British fought on in northern Norway for 3 weeks, but the superiority of the Luftwaffe and the long-awaited German offensive in the West finally forced them to withdraw. The loss of Norway not only provided the Germans secure access to raw material, but meant that the U-boats could not br bottled up as they were in World war I. This however proved of minor importance when the German success in France gave Admiral D�nitz access to French Atlantic ports. It also meant later in the War that supplying Russia would be very difficult.

Blitzkrieg: France (May-June 1940)

The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobil style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The Panzers surrounded the Belgian Army which King Leopold III surrendered. The BEF was within Hitler's grasp. Paris soon fell and the French signed a NAZI imposed armistace. The collapse of France after only a few weeks was a disaster of emense proportions. It was the French Army that had provided the bulk of the allied War Western Front in World War I. The German victory was not accomplished with massivelyu superior numbers or weaponry. In fact they had fewer men and tanks. What they had was a superior tactical doctrine. The Germans were amazed to find, for example, that French tanks were not even equipped with radios, and a more disciplined fighting force. NAZI propaganda began to describe Hitler as " Der gr�sste Feldherr Allerzeiten " (the greatest field commander of all time). [Davidson, p. 483.]

Churchill Becomes Prime Minister (May 10, 1940)

Just as the NAZI blow in the West came, Prime Minister Chamerlain resigned. His position in Parliament had become untenable. "Go! In the name of God go!" shouted one MP. It was expected that Foreign Minister Lord Halifax would replace him. But Halifax declined. It is not know why he declined nor has he ever explained. Perhaps he realized he was not up to the job. Instead the Commons turned to Churchill. Later Churchill wrote, "At last I had the authority to give direction over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past lifehad been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial." Never has a British prome minister taken office in such a crisis. The news was bad and would get worse. Ambassador Bullit in Paris and Ambassador Kennedy in London cabled Washington with reports that got worse day by day. Neither had confidence in Churchill or the British. As the weight of the NAZI offensive fell upon France, Churchill atempted as best he could to keep the French in the War.

Britain's Decession (May 28, 1940)

Britain faced what many felt was certain defeat. At this time Britain could have made a deal with Hitler. Lord Halifax thought Britain had little choice. Halifax was Britain's Foreign Secretary and had supported Chamberlain's policy of apeasement to avoid warwith Germany. One of the unansweed questions about the War is why Halifax did not replace Chaberlain as primeminister. He was next in line and could have been primeminister rather than Churchill, yet he declined. No one knows why. Some believe he thought he was not up to the task. It may well be that as the German Wester offensive fell (May 10) that he did not want to be the primeminister presiding over a defeated Britain. Hitler admired the British. Hewould have offered an arrangement more attractive than that offered France. Britain could have kept its fleet and much of the Empire. Hitler in the end did not wantwar ith Britain. He wanted to secure his western front so he could fovcus on the Sovit Union in the east. Churchill refused, however, to treat with Hitler and the NAZIs. He was determined to resist as dire as the circumstances. Halifax and others in the war Cabinent believed that Britain should deal with Hitler. Churchill was narroiwly able to bring the War Cabinent with him. There would be no British Vichy. There was some support in Britain for reaching an understanding with Hitler. Some of the moneyed class saw Hitler and the NAZIs as a way of controlling the working class and confronting Bolshevism. In the end Britain would be saved, not by the gentry, but the minors, workers, and common people often living in squalid city slums. [Jesson] That commitment was to be shown by London's East End when the Blitz commenced. Churchill after the RAF had defeated the Luftwaffe and defeat was no longer eminent, replaced Halifax with a close ally, Anthony Eden. Halifax was disposed of by being made ambassador to the United States, a deft political move.

Dunkirk (May 1940)

As the Panzers cut accross France, the British decided to evacuate the BEF. About 400,000 British an French soldiers began to fall back on Dunkirk. At this time the BEF was still within Hitler's grasp. It was not just the number of men that were at stake. The BEF was the professional core--the heart of the British Army. The men of the BEF would be the officers and NCOs of the British army that would eventually play an important role in defeating the Germans. The loss of the BEF would hsve crippled the Bitish war effort if not forced the British to seek terms. Churchill warned the Commons that it "should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings". The Panzers were only a few miles south of Dunkirk and facing no serious opposition. Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt. Some believe that he hoped this gesture would help convince the British to comes to terms, other believe that is was just as it was described at the time, aneeded pause to regroup and prepare for a more coordinated assault. [Davidson, p. 408 and Fest, p. 630.] What ever the reason, this 48-hour respite allowed the British to organize a defensive perimter around Dunkirk and begin an almost miraculous withdawl. Although King Leopold III surended the Belgian Army, the French First Army delayed the Germans. The BEF fell back toward Dunkirk, abandoing their equipment along the roads. Nearly 340,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, including French and Dutch sholdiers. This is even more important that it sounds as akmost all if the British sholdiers were regulars and would form the corps of the future British Army that would play such an important role in the War. All of the BEF's equipment, however, was lost and there was no replacemments for the lost equipment waiting for them back in England.

Britain Alone

From a distance of several decades we tend to see a supremely confident Churchill. We are moved by his defiant speeches. We read the stirring language in his six volume history of World War II. And of course we have the advantage of knowing that Britain did survive and triumph. This is not, however, a luxury Churchill had after Dunkirk. It was not atall clear at the time that Britain would survive. Churchill flew to Paris to try to bolster the reeling French. He saw it was a lost cause. France was broken and the Panzers were mioving south toward Paris. Churchill meeting with General Hastings Ismay on his staff announced, more in desperation than defiance, "We fight alone." Ismay replied, "We'll win the Battle of Britain." Churchill's response was, "You and I will be dead in three months time." [Reynolds] This was not view Churchill ever allowed to be seen pubically. That was understandable during the War. Churchill did not wanted it revealed even after the War. He thought it would affect his image. It well might. It certainly humanizes the man and I think makes his defiance of Hitler even more admirable. After the Germans entered Paris and the French Armistice, Britain was alone except for te Empire. The future was bleak. In World war I the British with French and Rusian assistance barely stopped the Germans until America entered the War. Now Britain had to do it on her own. Many in Europe and America (including the American Ambassador) thought Britain was lost.

Emergency American Arms (June 1940)

The miraculous evacuation at Dunkirk saved the British Army, but its equipment had to be abanoned on the beachs and surrounding countryside. The First Canadian Army was the only fully equipped force in Britain prepared to resist a German invasion. If the Germans had been able to invade at the time, they would have encountered a largely disarmed Britain. British factories could rapidly produce the needed arms and equipment, but they needed time and the Germans were not prepared to give them time. Britain turned to the United States for emergency arms delivries. President Roosevelt responded immediately and ordered U.S. military arsenals to send all available war materiel to Britain. Many in America opposed this step, including General Marshall. Arms for Britain mean that the Ameican Army would be less prepared. Roosevelt was, howevr adament. The shipments included a great del of World War I equiment. America shipped 500 French 75 artillery pieces as well as 0.5 million 500,000 Enfield rifles, 500 mortars and machine guns, and large quantities of amunitin which had also been left at Dunkirk. The rifles and machine guns proved to be of only limited use because the American 30-06 round was completely incompatible with the British 303 round. (This was a problem not resolved until the formation of the North Atlantic Trreaty Organization (1948). The American rifles were used mainly to arm the Home Guard and for training. The American artillery pieces and mortars, however, ewre vital. These shipments were only a fraction of the Lend Lease arms that were to follow, but they came when Britain was desperate. During the crucial summer of 1940, the Americn arms were a substantial part of the artillery available to the British Army. The RAF narrowly managed to preent the expected invasion, but if the Germans had come that summer this woukd have been the artillery available to the Army. [Moss] Roosevelt's decesion was made not only opposition from the U.S. Army, but in theface of the powerful Isolationist Movement that was organzing to ensure that he would not be reelected.

Hitler Address (July 19, 1940)

Hitler after the Fall of France had achieved his objectives in the West. Now he wanted peace with Britain so he could focus on the East. He knew that Britain could never be a truly independent country when confronted with a NAZI-dominated Europe. He thus took on the mantel of a peace maker and made a major address, again to the Reichstag with the huge NAZI eagle as a backdrop. He offered peace to Britain and the retention of the Empire. Britain would have to recognize German control of the occupied countries. Hitler issued an "appeal to common sence". He also threatened Britain with annilation if they did not comply--hardly te words of a eace maker. [Black, p. 575.] This was no iddle threat as the Luftwaffe had already begun the initial phase of its air campaign with Britain. Churchill reportedly listened to the speech. There were those in Britain who wanted to make peace. Churchill was a persuasive speaker, but he did not control public opinion. The British public, however, were not persuaded. They vividly remembered Prime Minister Churchill returning from Munich and waving the pledge from Hitler of "peace in our time". Hitler had crossed a line, there would be no more easy victories. The British were prepared to fight and they were more prepared than the NAZIs and the Luftwaffe understood.

Operation Sea Lion (July-September 1940)

OKM had after the outbreak of the War initiated staff studies on the invasion of Britain. Little effort was given to the unndertaking and OKL and OKH gave no thought to it at all. Suddenly with the occupation of the Channel ports and the fall of France (June 1940) the opportunity presented itself. The loss of the BEF's weapons presented an opportunity that would never again be available. This was ballanced by the fact that the German Navy had been severely weakened by the fighting in Norway. The Germans did not rush the undertaking despite the fact that there was a narrow window of opportunity ending when the weather turned bad in mid-September. Admiral Raeder met with Hitler (May 21 and June 20), but there was no commitment made. Hitler appears to have believed that the British would reach the obvious conclusion that they were defeated and make peace. He seems to be unaware of the fsct that his violation of the Munich accords make it obvious that agtreements with him were worthless. Only by the end of June does he seemed to have realized that the British would not accept a Vichy sollution. OKW issued the first directive (July 2) and Hitler issued his F�hrer Directive (July 16). That only meant, however, that the planning began and the three services had major differences. In particular the Heer and Luftwaffe had unrealistic demand on the Kreigsmarine. The German Plan to invade Britain after the fall of France was code named Oprtation Sea Lion. As it evolved, the Kreigsmarine was to estanlish a narrow corridor across tghe Channel to the southeast coast. The Luftwaffe, mines, and U-boats would prevent the Royal Navy from attacking the troop transports and supply ships ferryong over the successive waves. The BEF had managed to escape capture at Dunkirk, but had to abandon their heavy equiment. Th American Naval Attach� reported that the British were no more prepared to defend the coast than Long Island. The British asked America for surplus World War I destroyers, but President Roosevelt was not yet ready to authorize this. He did ask General Marshall to find surplus arms, mostly small arms, that could be rushed to Britain. [Freidel, p. 336.] Given Germany's naval weakness, everything depended on gaining air superority over the Channel and invssion beaches. Here given the RAF's performance in France, many observers believed the Luftwaffe couild sccomplish this. It is not clear to what extent Hitler ever seriously contemplated an invasion. Some believe he simply wanted to threaten the British, asuming that they would agree to seek terms. The first step, however, would have to be air superority over the Channel. Hitler ordered the Lufwaffe to destroy the RAF. After the failure of the Luftwaffe air campaign, Hitler cancelled Sea Lion (September 17). The failure to subdue Britain was his first real reversal and came as a great surprise. Hitler had always maintsained that he would never commit Germany to a two-front war. Frustrated at the Channel, however, he turned his attention east toward the Soviet Union.

Battle of Britain (July-September 1940)

The fall of France meant that Britain stood alone and for a year had to valiantly fight the Germans without allies. American public opinion was deciseively isolationist--against involvement in another European war. Most Europeans and Americans thought Britain would soon colapse and further resistance was futile. But the British stirred by Prime Minister Churchill did fight. The British were battered, but held. Newreel footage of the Luftwaffe bombing London and other British cities had an enormous impact on American public opinion. It was the first German defeat of the War. The narrow, but decisive victory in the Battle of Britain changed the course of the War. As Hitler turned his evil view east toward Russia, a huge unsinkable aircraft carrier with a population willing to make virtually any sacrifice remained in his rear.

Aresnal of Democracy

American public opinion moved by British valor and German brutality began to shift away from isolationism. President Roosevelt initiated a massive armament program, provided military aid to the British and their allies within the limits of Congressional imposed neutrality. American actions provoked German, Italian, and Japanese retaliation before their official entry into the war. American surplus World WarI destroyers were given to the British to fight the U-boats in exchange for bases. The U.S. Navy, unbeknowst to most Americans, was also deployed against the north Atlantic U-boat menace, months before America entered the War. The U-boats were perhaps the most deadly German threat to Britain of the War. Churchill and Roosevelt met in November 1941 and forged the alliance that would save western democracy.

North Africa: The Western Dessert (1940-42)

Once it was clear that the French Army was defeated, Mussolini decided to join Hitler and declared war on France and Britain. Even though German armies were pouring through France, Mussolini's attack in the south was unsuccessful. Mussolini also invaded Egypt from Libya, hoping to seize the Suez Canal (September 13, 1940). Although badly outnumbered the British 8th Army not only stopped the Italians but counter attacked (December 9, 1940). The British move toward Benghazi with a series of victories. The Italians are near collapse. Hitler in order to prevent the fall of Libya orders a small armoured force to Libya to support the Italians. The force under Erwin Rommel begins to arrive March 22, 1941. Rommel and his Africa Korps stop the British and even though he has only a small force launches a counter-attack (March 30, 1941). Rommel drives the British back into Egypt. Here Rommel's inovatic tactics and the superority of the German Panzers were critical. ANZAC resistance at Tobruck helps to stop Rommel. A British counter offensive drive Rommel and the Italians back into Libya (November 18, 1941). It is at this time that Churchill honors a pledge to assist Greece weakens the 8th Army. Rommel strikes and again drives into Egypt (January 21, 1942). This time Rommel takes Tobruk (June 21, 1942). He moves toward Suez, but is stopped after a ferocious battle at El Alemain (July 2, 1942). A standoff occurs as the two armies prepare for a show down. Churchill gives Montgomery command of the 8th Army (August 13, 1942). This is the highwater of the German war effort. Rommel is only a few miles from Suez and Von Paulitz's 6th Army is investing Stalingrad. Here America's entry into the War begins to swing the ballance. American industry provided Montgomery, with supplies and equipment in massive quantities. The Germans bogged down in the Soviet Union can not devote the men are material needed by Rommel. The British defeat of the Italian Navy in the Mediterrean means that much of the supplies sent to Rommel are sunk. The British are assisted in this effort by Ultra.

NAZI War Planning (1940)

After the RAF's victory, any NAZI invasion of Britain would not be possible until Spring 1941. At this stage of the War, the initiative lay with the NAZIs. The perponderance of power meant that the future direction of the War would be determined by the German F�hrer. Britain was the only country still at war with Germany. Some British officials thought that an invasion was coming. Churchill thought that a move through Spain to seize Gibraltar and an offensive against Greece to secure the Balkand would be most likely. [McJimsey, p. 136-138] No one envisioned that Hitler would strike at the Soviet Union and open a Eastern Front while Britain was still fighting. In fact Churchill told Hopkins in that, "This war will never see great forces massed againstr one another." Churchill was right about another aspect of the War when he briefed Hopkins, a struggle for mastery of the air (January 1941). [Mc Jimsey, p. 138.] Hitler's mind was clearly fixed east. British resisantnce had come as a surprise to him. With the RAF and Royal Navy undefeated, Hitler saw no way of defeating Britain. He convinced himself that the British would hold out, hoping to draw America or the Soviet Union into the War. He had from the beginning seen the East as the true prize in the War. At the onset of the War he was determined to avoid a two-front war. With the Wehrmach stopped bybthe Channel, Hitler convinced himself that the only way of forcing Britain to make peace was to destroy the Soviet Union and removing any hope of military assistance to the British. But before the NAZIs could strike at the Soviet Union the Reich's southern flank would have to be secured.

Greece and Yugoslavia (1940-41)

Germany's famed statesman, the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, had insisted that the Balkans was "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." Hitler had hoped to avoid commiting the Wehrmacht to the Balkans and made considerable progress toward that goal. Mussolini undid Hitler's carefully laid plans by invading neutral Greece through its Albania bases (October 28, 1940). Mussolini's 1940 invasion of Greece complicated Hitler's time table for Barbarossa. The invasion was not coordinated with Hitler in advance. (The Axis partners never coordinated their operations like the Allies.) Mussolini announced it when Hitler arrived on a visit. "F�hrer, we are on the march." The Italian troops were beaten back and the Greek troops overtook over one third of Albania. Greece had a Fascist Government that could have possibly brought into the Axis or at least would have remained neutral. Instead Mussolini turned the Greeks into a British ally. The British sent about 50,000 troops to help Greece, which they had to deplete from Egypt. This was important bercause critical to the German invasion was access to the Romanian oil fields. Germany had been relying on Soviet oil deliveries to supplement its synthetic oil production. The Soviet deliveries would end of course when Germany invaded leaving the Germans dependant on Romanian oil until the Soviet Caucauses could be seized. Greek successes against the Ilalians had created an Allied belingerant that could provide air fields to attack the Romanian oil fields. Hutler thus saw a German intervention to seize Greece and secure Germany's southern flank would be necessary. As a result, German forces in Romania were reeinforced and efforts were made to bring Yugoslavia into the NAZI orbit so that the Panzers could move through that country to attack Greece. Hitler had forced Yugoslavia to join the other AXIS Balkan partners, but the Government was overthrown necessitaing a full sacle German invasion. Hitler had to come to the rescue Mussolini. The Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia simultaneously on April 6, 1941. Belgrade was subjected to Luftwaffe terror bombing for rejecting an alliance with the NAZIs. The Germans swept through Yugoslavia and Greece and took Crete with a daring, but costly parachute assault. (Hitler never again allowed a parachute assault.) Greece was defeated on April 27, 1941. Despite the success in the German success, it proved to have been a strategic dissaster. The Balkans diversion delayed Operation Barbarossa by at least 6 weeks. If Hitler had started his invasion to of the Soviet Union May it seems highly likely that they would have seized Moscow if not have defeated the Red Army. As it was the Wehrmacht was stopped on the outskirts of Moscow in December, 1941.

The Balkans Partisan Struggle (1941-44)

The NAZI conquest of Yugoslavia took inly a week with the lost of 100 men. What happened afterwards was anything but bloodless. A guerilla war began began between the NAZIs and Italians the two Yugoslavians partisan groups (Tito and Mihajlovic) and the Greek guerillas. This was a very complicated struggle. Croat national forces joined the Germans as did Muslims in Kosovo. Tito the communist was a Croat and Mihajlovic was a Serb. The ethnic disputes had begun befre the War and with NAZI encouragement, Yugoslavia became a vast killing field. The Yugoslav and the Greek guerillas managed to tie down almost 1 million German soldiers. It proved to be a costly diversion for the Axis, causeldy largely by Mussolin's miscalculation. The Mihaljlovic partisans became known as the Chetniks. They gradually became reluctant to attack the NAZIs, in part because of the horendous reprisals and also hostility to Tito's partisans. Because of this reluctance, the Allies gradually lot faith in the Chetinks and began supporting Tito's partisans. Mihaljlovic's partisans saved over 500 American airmen in Operation Halyard and got them back safely to the Allies. The NAZIs were shooting 100 civilians for every German soldier killed. A HBC reader, tells us, "My friend John Roberts who was saved by the Serbs when his B-24 was shot down. John told me his story how the Serbs hid him and later was put on a boat in the Adriatic sea and was picked up by a US Navy ship. After the war John contacted the Serbs who help him and was told about one hundred civilians from that village were shot to death. John past away a few years ago and he was one of the 500 airmen that were saved in the Operation Halyard pipeline."

Rudolph Hess: Flight to Britain (May 10, 1941)

Deputy F�hrer Rudolph Hess in one of the most bizzare events of World War II flew to Britain (May 10). He was worried about Hitler's upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union and wanted to make peace with Britain so as to preclude a two-front war. Hess had studied under German geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer and ideas of geo-politics were prominent in his thinking. He seems to hsave influenced Hitler along these lines in the early-1920s. A great deal of speculation exists on this episode. Most historians believe that Hess made the flight without Hitler's approval. Hess was the NAZI Deputy F�hrer and handled NAZI Party administration. He had been Hitler's closest associate, but his place in the NAZI hierarchy had in the early years been eclipsed by Goebels, G�ring, and Himmler. A successful mission to Britain would have reestablished his position in the NAZI hierarchy. Hess in an impressive piece of flying came very close to the loction in Scotland that he was trying to reach, the home of a British airistocrat that he felt would be sympathetic to NAZI peace feelers. While the event was a curiosity in Britain and America, it was of much more pressing interest further east. Stalin saw it a confirmation of what he feared most--that the British would seek an arrangement with the NAZIs and end the War. It was one of many reasons that he dimissed warnings about the German buildup in eastern Europe received from the Americans and British. He was conviced that the British in particulrly were trying to draw him into a war with Germany. He was confident that Hitler would not strike east until Britain had been defeated. [Kershaw, pp. 281-82.]

Figure 2.--This photograph of a Russian or Ukranian boy was taken by a German soldier, probably in July 1941. Moticed the destroyed Russian tank in the background, one of the obsolete types before the arrival of the T-34s. The Germans took large number of photographs during the first months of Barbarossa, almpst like tourists. Later there are far fewer such images.

Operation Barbarossa (June 1941)

The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy he Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the Germna preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The German scaptured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns too the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gr�faz ".

America Enters the War (December 1941)

A Japanese carrier taskforce executed a stunning surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). Hitler in sympsthy declared war on America (December 10). America was unprepared for war. The Japanese and NAZIs were unaware of the dangers of war with an industrial potential of the United States. They were convinced that America's war profuction could not be accelerated or a national will to wage war coalese in time to make an effective contribution. As a result of Pearl Harbor, American isolationism instantly evaporated. The nation was aroused with an almost crusading zeal. A massive army, navy, and aircorps had to be trained an equipped. The economy had to be reorgazized for war. All of this was underway in an amazingly short period, astounding not only the Germans and Japanese but the British and Russians and Americans themselves. The industrial capacity of the United States soon created an outpouring of ships, planes, tanks, and war material of virtually every discription that was unprecedented in history. It culminated in the building of the atomic bomb. In a steadily rising wave, the force of the American war production was visited on the Axis countries. The nature of the Japanese attack and the Batan death march galvanized the Americam people to wage a total war in both Europe and Asia. Allied War propaganda, however, did not begin to fully depict the horrors taking place in the occupied countries--especially Eastern Europe. American military production steadily expanded making possible the launching of a second front in Europe with the D-Day invasion of June 1944 and the destruction of industrial Germany and the Luftwaffe through a massive air campaign.


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Jenkins, McKay. The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and te assault on Hitler's Europe (Random House, 2003).

Jesson, Henry. And Beacons Burn Again - Letters from an English Soldier (New York: London: D. Appleton-Century and Company, 1940). The title comes from a fmous English poem, "A Shropshire Lad". These beautifully written letters reveal both a personality and an era. The author returned to England at the outbreak of the war and found himself in the midst of the apathy and inaction which prevailed in England at that time.

Kershaw, Ian. Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941 (Penguin Press: New York, 2007), 624p.

McJimsey, George. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor and Defender of Liberty (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987), 474p.

Meacham, Jon. Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship (Randon House, New York, 2003), 490p.

Moss, Norman. Nineteen Weeks: America, Britain, and the Fateful Summer of 1940 (2004).

Reynolds, David. In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World war (Random House: 2005), 631p.


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Created: June 25, 2000
Last updated: 9:16 AM 3/15/2013