*** war and social upheaval: World War II campaigns

World War II Campaigns

World War II campaigns
Figure 1.--Patton's 3rd Army broke out of the Normandy beachhead in July 1944, and in cooperation with Mongomery's British forces encircled much of the Germany Army in France and had liberated Paris by August. As the Allies approached the German border, resistance increased. This French boy comforts his dog as American artillery pound German forces holded up in Dimars, a village in northern France. The photograph was taken August 21, 1944 by the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

World War II is generally dated from September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. There were in fact military engagements throughout the 1930s beginning with the Japanese seizure of Chinese Manchuria in 1931. Many of these conflicts influenced or in the case of Japan's onslaught against China continued and became an integral part of World War II. The 1930s were in fact a steady series of victories by European Fascists and Japanese militarists and the unwillingness of the Western democracies to confront the growing danger. When the Soviet Communists joined the Fascists in a Non-Agression Pact in 1939 it looked like the vallance of power had swung against the Western democracies which was further confirmed by the devestaing fall of France in 1940. Few at the time believed that Britain could hold out against the NAZI onslaught. Only America could save Britain, but the American people were stongly isolantionist and intent on staying out of the War. President Roosevelt with great skill and political courage managed to not only support Britain in its hour of maximum peril, but with considerable political skill managed to push through Congress measures that would lay the ground work for turning American into the Arsenal of Democracy, producing a tidal wave of equipment and supplies not only for the American military, but for our Allies as well in quantities that no one especially the AXIS believed possible. In an incredible 5 months of 1941, NAZI Germany was not only fighting a beleagered, isolated Britain but the two most powerful nations on earth, the Soviet Union amd America. Hitler's desire for Lebensraum and hatred of Comminism had led him to invade the Soviet Union in June. The Japanese attackon Pear Harnor in Devember brought America onto the War. Hitler's gamble in Russia almost succeed and the Panzers wre stopped within sight of Moscow. The Japanese attack on Park Harbor destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but the carriers FDR had insisyed on stopped the Japanese at the Coral Sea and Midway. Some of the major camapigns in the European and Pacific theaters are discussed here.

Early Aggressions

All three AXIS countries AXIS countries (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were involved in military campaigns before World War II finally began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. NAZI Germany renounced the Versailles Treaty as soon as Hiltler seized power, but the next few years was spent in supressing domestic oppositon and sreadily excluding Jews from national life. The NAZIs remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 and carried out the Anchluss with Austria in 1937. These actioins coukld be seen as domestic German matters. he nexyt target was Czecheslovakia which had been created by thge Versilles Peace Treaty. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich, but the NAZIs then seized the rest of the country in March 1939, areas without German poulations. The Germans beginningh in 1936 were also active in Spain helping Franco establish a Fascist regiment. The defenseless Basque village of Guernica was the first European city to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The Italians conducted a mercilless campaign in Libya to supress rebels, including the use of poison gas. This was generally seen as an internal colonial matter. This changed in 1935 when the invaded Ethiopia, using modern weaponms, again inclusing poison gas, to attack a largely unarmed country. They were condenmed by the Leagur of Nations and then walked out of the organization. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932 and established a puppet regim, Manchuko, under the figurehead last Chinese Emperor, Pu Yi. The Japanese invaded China itself in 1937. Theuy were also condemned by the League of Nations and withdrew. Japan drove deep into China, but was able to defeat thr Chinese which received miklitary assiastance from the Americans and British. The war with China was to tie down the bulk of the Japanese Army throughout World War II. A little known, but major engagement was fought with Soviets troops along the border. The Soviets wree commanded by Georgy Zukov and smashed the Japanese. This experience probably played a major role in convincing the Japanese to strike America rather than the Soviets in 1941.

American Isolationism

There has always been a strong isolationist strak in American political life. Americans separated by two great oceans have since the Revolution seen ourselves as different and apart from the rest of the World. From the beginning of the Republic, President Washington warned of entagling foreign alliances. For much of our history, Britain was seen as the great enemy of American democracy and Manifest Destiny. America's first involvement in a European War and the United States played a critical role in winning that War. Had the Germany not insisted on unrestricted sunmarine warfare, in effect an attack on American shipping, it is unlikely that America woukd have entered the War. Many Americans in the 1920s came to feel that America's entry into the War was a mistake. There was considerable talk of war profiteering. Many were detrmined that America should avoid war at any cost. This feeling was intensified with the Depression of the 1930s and the focus on domestic issues. With the growing military might of a a rearmed Germany, others such as Charles Lindburg, thought that America could not win another war. Many not only opposed American envolvement, but even military expebdutures. Aginst this backdrop, President Roosevelt who did see the dangers from the NAZIs and Jaoanese militaists, with great skill and political courage managed to not only support Britain in its hour of maximum peril, but with considerable political skill managed to push through Congress measures that would lay the ground work for turning American into the Arsenal of Democracy, producing a tidal wave of equipment and supplies not only for the American military, but for our Allies as well in quantities that no one especially the AXIS believed possible.

Strategic Concepts

The strategies adopted by the principal combatant countries are not entirely known. This in part because German strategy was entirely devised by Hitler who only shared his plans with a small number of associates. After the bloodletting of World War I, few in Europe wanted war. This was true in Germany as well. World War II was essentially the creation of German Fu�hrer Adolf Hitler who did want a war. A war which he could use to create his New Order in Europe. Major decessions by Hitler were made on the basis of largly imagined racxial doctrine. Combatant decessions were also made on the basis of very poor understanding of their adversaries. Hitler appears to have diverged from basic military doctrine as he sems to have convined himself tht NAZI propaganda of German sperority was correct. Americans badly underestimated Japanese capabilities. The Japanese for their part deasically understimated the American charactr and the potential of American industry.

European Theater

The war in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. After the so-called Phony War, the German offensive in May 1940 overwealmed the British and French leving Hitler the master of Western Europe. Britain for more than a yea 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, Hitler dclared war on the United States (December 1941). The war had ben transformed and theNAZis now faced an Allied colalition of staggerin proportions. Whole AXIS armies wer cut of and destroyed at Stalingrad (January 1943) and North Africa (May 1943). The invasion of Sicily and then Italy itself knocked Italy out of the War. The Red Army dealt the Wehrmacht a desestating blow in the greatest tank battle in history at Kursk (July 1943). The D-Day invasion of France (June 1944) presented the badly weakened Wehremacht with a two front war. The German army in France was mauled at Falaise. The last German offensive occurred again in the Ardenes (December 1944). Allied armies were penetrating into Germany from east and west (March 1945). The Allies encountered the unimagenable beastiality of the NAZIs as they over ran concentration camps in Poland and Germany. The Soviets took Berlin and Hitler shot himself (April 1945). Admiral Donnitz replacing Hitler ordered the military to surrender (May 1945).

African Theater

Fighting in Africa was primarily in North Africa and commonly considered as an off-shoot of the European theater. The principal World War II campaign fought in Africa was the fighting in the Western Desert launched by the Italians with an invasion of British occupied Egypt (October 1940). The Germans joinedcthe campaign (March (1941). The campaign was finally won by the British at El Alemaine (October 1942) after which the fighting shifted to the Vichy colonies with an Anglo-American invasion--Operation Totch (November 1942). Hitler prolonged the campaign by rushing reinfotcements to Tunisia, but the Allies finally completed the campaign by taking Tunis and Bizerte and large numbers of Axis prisioners (May 1943). While this was the principal campaign, there were a number of smaller operations. The British and Free French failed to take Dakar from Vichy (1941). The British took Italian East Africa (1942). German and Japanese submarines were able to resupply in Vichy controlled Mozambique. Gradually the Free French were able to seize control of the Vichy-controlled collonies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Pacific Theater

The Japanese military during the 1930s gained almost complete control over the government. Civilian politicians attempting to resist the military were assassinated. The depression of the 1930s hit Japan hard. The militarists decided that the solution to the economic crisis was to carve out an empire in Manchuria, China, and southear Asia. This meant war. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations as a resulted of the criticism of her military operations in Manchuria and China (1933). Japan invaded China proper in July 1937, launching the Second Sino-Japanese War. The well equipped Japanese forces rapidly occupied almost the entire Chinese coast of China and ten moved up rivers and railroad lines into the interior. The Japanese in the process committed war atrocities on an unpresidented level against the Chinese civilian population. Despite the Japnese onslaught, the Chinese government never surrendered. America even before entering the war against Japan funelled supplies to the Chinese through Burma. A covert operation set up the Flying Tigers to provide the Chinese a creditavle air capability. Japan joined the Axis powers Germany and Italy which since 1939 had been at war with Britain. Hoping to avoid war in the Pacific, the United States and Britain responded to the Japanese actions with an oil boycott. The result was an oil shortage. The Japanese militarists were unwilling to change their policy. The only force standing between the Japanese and thecresources of Southeast Asia was the United States Pacific Fleet and the British garison at Singapore. A Japanese carrier taskforce on December 7, 1941, executed a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was a brilliant tactical victory for Japan, but perhaps the greatest mistake in modern military history as it brought a suddenly united America into the War. The American carrier victory at Midway dealt a crippling blow to the Imperial Navy in June 1942. American shipyards were turning out the new Essex clss carriers that would engage the weakened Imperial Navy in 1943. These carriers in 1943 and 1944 destroyed the Iperial Fleet. With new island bases wresstle from the Japanese, the United States begins the stratehic bombardment of the Japanese mainland. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, and the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8. The success of the Soviet Army convinced evebn many hard-line military officers that defeat was inevitable. Emperor Hirohito on August 14 decided to surrender unconditionally. The formal surrender was held underneath the guns of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Asian CBI Theater

The Asian theater of World War II is sometimes included as part of the Pacific War, but they were actually a largely different theater of war. Japan in both instances was the aggressor country, but there were major differences between the two, includung the countries Japan attacked and the geographic area. The Asian theater is sometimes called the China, Burma, India (CBI) theater. Not included is this acronym is Indochina (Vietnam). Malaya, and Singapore. The CBI Theater was really two separate thraters, China and Southeast Asia. Japan began its campaign against China by seizung Manchuria (1931). It then invaed China proper (1937), a campauign theu called the China Incident. The campaign in China proved to be no incident and Japan proved incapable of desisively defeating the Nationalist forces, although they seized large areas of China. China was at the center of the Pacific War which ws fought largely in Oceania. It was Japan's desire to finally emerge victorious from the 'China Incident' that led to the Pacific War. Much of the Japanese Army was deployed to China, but after some major battles at the onset, the Chinese developed the stategy of avoiding combat basically withdrawing to the unterior where theJapanese could not get at them. So by the outbreak of the Pacific War, China while occupying most of the Japanese Army was not a major combatant. The remainder of the CBI theater was with the exception of Thailand, colonies of Britain and France. With France defeated by the Germans (1940) it was the British that were the recipient of the full force of the Japanese offensive after Pearl Harbor (1941). The result was the rapid loss of all those colonies in Southeast Asia and by a smaller force than that of the British defenders. Within only a few months, the Japanese were on the borders of India. Britain's 'protected' sunjects were shocked by the ease and rapidity of the Japanese conquest. Some were elated by the defeat of the British, but soon found themselves in the hands of a more brutal and rapacious conquerer. The British managed to repulse Japanese efforts to invade India. It was the most poorly reported theater of the War and fought against a backdrop of intractable jungle, tropical diseases, and nationalist unrest. America aided Britain to an extent, but American military planners were determined not to commit major forces to the Asian continent. The Japanese perpetrated attrocities against POWs and civilian interness as well as the indigenous population. And Britain's reputation was sullied by the horendous Benhal famine which could have been prevented.


Atkinson, Rick. The Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-43 (Henry Holt, 2002), 681p.

Beavers, Anthony.

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Domarus, Max. Hitler Reden und Proklamationen 1932-45 Vo. 1-2 (Neustadt a.d. Aisch: Velagsdruckerei Schmidt, 1962-63).

Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.


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Created: June 25, 2000
Last updated: 4:30 AM 7/16/2013