I. The War Begins
A. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia might be considered by some to be the starting point of WWII, but in the US perspective the war began in Asia. Even when the Germans re-occupied the Rhineland (territory given to
France after WWI), Europe did not stir. In 1937, Japan launched a full-scale attack on China—attacking its 5 northern provinces.
1. This threatened US investments and other interests in the region as well as US access to several vital materials—especially rubber.
2. When President Roosevelt tried to rally public support for a US response (he proposed some kind of “quarantine” on Japan) his efforts fell flat—the public wanted nothing to do with it.
3. The depth of the US public commitment to isolation was revealed when, in December 1937, the Japanese bombed and sank a US gunboat (Panay) in broad daylight. The Japanese claimed it was an accident and the US public forgave them.
B. Hitler began to make his move in 1938. In March, his forces swept into Austria and Hitler declared an “Anschluss”—Union– with Austria. He then demanded that Czechoslovakia give him the Sudetenland—land on the German border that was occupied mainly by ethnic Germans. Czechoslovakia refused, but while it had a decent army, it was no match for the Germans without the support of others. Instead of offering support, Britain and France met with Hitler in Munich to discuss his demands.
1. This produced the famous “Munich Accords.” Britain and France agreed to support Hitler’s claims on the Sudetenland in return for a promise from Hitler that, “This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe.”
2. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, went home to a hero’s welcome for having prevented war.
C. Despite his promise of Munich, Hitler seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia in early 1939 and started to threaten Poland. After signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin in August 1939, Hitler invaded Poland (September).
D. Having formal alliances with Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days after the invasion of Poland.
III. Global War
A. Following his victory in Poland, Hitler took little action for several months. Many believed that he was finished and would be satisfied with the territory he had conquered.
1. In the US, Roosevelt tried to get the Congress to allow the sale of arms to England and France, but he got only partial victory. Congress permitted the sale of weapons, but continued to demand that it be on a cash and carry basis—England and France would have to pay for anything they bought with cash. Isolationism was still strong in the US.
B. Then, starting in November, Hitler invaded the West—taking Finland, Denmark, Norway and Belgium en route to Paris. Joined by Italy, the Axis powers took France on June 22 1940.
C. With Britain now facing Germany virtually alone, attitudes in the US began to change. There was still a huge movement against entering the war, but Congress did approve measures that allowed the administration to begin making preparations for war.
1. In September, 1940, Congress approved the first peace-time military draft in American history.
2. By December, 1940, Britain was virtually bankrupt, and the Congress abandoned it’s “cash and carry” policy, implementing the new “lend-lease” policy. It allowed the President to “lend” or “lease” armaments to any nation deemed vital to the interests of the US.
3. The US became, in Roosevelt’s words, “the arsenal of democracy.”
4. Still, the US did not enter the war, and satisfied with an air campaign designed to weaken the British in preparation for an eventual invasion, Hitler turned his attention east. He invaded Russia, in violation of their mutual non-aggression pact, in June 1941.
5. Roosevelt, convinced that US entry into the war in Europe was inevitable, met with Winston Churchill, the British leader, in August, 1941
a. Meeting aboard the USS Augusta, Churchill agreed that if the US entered the war, England would support US plans for the post-war order. This agreement, called the Atlantic Charter declared that the aims of the war were not to capture anyone’s territory, but simply to restore democracy and freedom of the seas, to establish a post war trading system which focused on free and open trade, to develop post-war international institutions that would provide some kind of international security, and which would demand the disarmament of belligerent states.
b. Roosevelt knew that the American people would very likely resist entry into the war if these points were not agreed upon beforehand.
D. In Asia, the crisis in Europe emboldened Japan, which proceeded to invade Southeast Asia—taking territories controlled by the French and British there.
1. Roosevelt was finally able to get Congress to respond to Japanese aggression in Asia, but Congress would approve only an economic response. The US imposed an embargo on the sale of oil and steel to Japan first. Following the Japanese invasion of Indochina, which threatened US rubber supplies, the US froze all Japanese assets in American banks.
2. The German invasion of Russia was particularly important, because it made a Japanese assault on the Russian Far East less urgent. The Japanese realized that the US economic stranglehold posed a more immediate threat and moved up plans to attack the US directly. The original Japanese war plan was designed to avoid a direct fight with the US, as Japan believed it could achieve its objectives by seizing most of the territory from Russian Siberia to Indonesia, which was rich in natural resources that Japan needed.
E. The US gradually became more intimately involved in the British war effort as both American merchant ships and warships came to be used to ship arms and to protect others’ ships that were carrying arms. This led inevitably to numerous cases of German submarine attacks on American shipping.
F. Still, the US public wanted to stay out of the war. They would remain opposed to US entry into WWII until the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
1. Japan was desperate. Her oil reserves were very low and would have run out by the end of 1942.
2. Though the US was expecting some kind of attack, it was expected more in the Philippines than elsewhere.
3. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a complete surprise. It left the US Pacific Fleet crippled, killing 2,403 people, destroying 8 battleships and most the the Pearl Harbor aircraft fleet.
4. Nevertheless, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a failure for the Japanese.
a. They were unable to destroy the US aircraft carrier battle groups, which had gone to sea days before.
b. They failed to destroy the huge oil reserves at Pearl, which would have take months to restore.
c. The attack unified the American people, who immediately shifted from an isolationist to a war footing.
5. On the day following the attack, the US declared war on Japan. Germany declared war on the US shortly after and the war had become genuinely global in scope.
II. The course of the war.
A. By mid-1940, England faced Germany alone. Instead of invading England immediately, Hitler decided to try to break down British defenses through an air campaign. The Battle of Britain was a long, sustained bombing campaign of England’s major cities.
1. Most historians now regard this as one of Hitler’s great mistakes. The bombing of London in particular united the British and strengthened their determination to fight to the last man. More important, it gave the British time to build up their own air force and to otherwise prepare for war.
2. A second major mistake of Hitler was his decision to invade Russia while the air campaign against England was still underway. The invasion of Russia in June, 1941, seemed to be an initial success—Stalin’s army was still unprepared and many of his Generals were inexperienced.
a. However, as virtually every European invader from the past has learned, a successful invasion of Russia has to be completed before the bitterly cold Russian winter set in. Though Hitler moved quickly into Russia, taking huge chunks of territory as quickly as he had in Poland and France, he was not able to capture Moscow before the winter hit.
b. Hitler’s army in Russia made another huge mistake—it treated conquered Russians with great brutality. This was a mistake because by most accounts, most Russians in Western Russia especially were not fond of life under Stalin. Had the Germans treated them well, they may have joined the German side. Instead, they became violently anti-German and conducted guerilla attacks on German forces throughout the war.
B. Upon entering the war, the first US goals were to win the War of the Atlantic and to drive the Axis powers out of North Africa and back into Europe.
1. Some 400 Allied ships were lost on the Atlantic to German attack in 1942, and that number increased to 900 in 1943. However, as US ship production achieved full operation, the US and British began to turn the tide in 1943.
C. Winning WWII in Europe
1. North Africa Campaign (Operation Torch)
a. Axis were winning North Africa (threat to Middle East oil and Suez Canal)
b. Erwin Rommel’s “Afrika Korps” sent
c. Oct. 1942 – Bernard Montgomery stopped advance at El Alamein – turning point
d. Nov. 1942 – Dwight Eisenhower landed in Morocco and Algeria
e. First action – U.S. battered at Kasserine Pass
f. May 13, 1943 – surrendered at Tunis (Tunisia)
2. FDR and Churchill met for Casablanca Conference (Jan. 1943)
a. Unconditional surrender of Axis called for.
b. Plan invasion of Italy through Sicily
c. Priority to win control of Atlantic
3. Battle of the Atlantic
a. By 1942, 500 Allied ships lost to Germans, 900 lost in 1942
b. Sonar, depth charges, air patrols, radar
c. Atlantic “won” by May, 1943
d. After summer, 1944, no Allied vessels lost
4. Sicily and Italy (Operation Huskey)
a. July 10, 1943 – 250,000 Am. and Br. troops landed in Sicily
b. July 25, Mussolini’s gov’t fell – he was imprisoned
c. Sicily fell in 38 days!
d. Italy agreed to surrender and switch sides!
-Pietro Badoglio new Premier
e. Battle of Italy became a “bloodbath”
5. While Battle of Italy going on, Allies met again to discuss strategy
a. Conferences in Washington and Moscow
b. Planned an invasion of Europe
c. Nov 23 – “Big Three” (FDR, Churchill, Stalin), or
“Grand Alliance” met at Teheran, Iran
-Stalin wanted relief
-Feb 1943 – Russians stopped German advance at
d. By end of 1943, events favoring Allies
-Bombing of Germany
-By Spring, 1944, Allies control the air
e. Planned invasion of Western Europe
(Eisenhower put in charge of “Operation Overlord”)
6. Operation Overlord
a. After France fell, Nazis fortified coast, weak spot was
b. Allies amassed 3m troops, tons of equipment in S. England
c. Prior to invasion, Allies sent 20,000 paratroopers to clear the beaches (five sites – Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword)
d. Feigned attack at Calais; Hitler fell for it!
e. At dawn, June 6 (D-Day) Allied army hit the beaches at Normandy
f. July 25, Allies broke out
g. Aug. 15, second invasion force landed on the Med. side of
h. Aug 25, Paris liberated
i. By Sept, Allies reached Germany (Siegfried Line); talk of
being home for Christmas
j. Germany launched V-1 and V-2 rockets at England
k. By late fall, Allies slowed down
7. Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes Forest, near Belgium)
a. Dec. 16, Germans lunched last counteroffensive
b. Pushed a “bulge” of some 50 miles into Allied line
(75 miles across)
c. Slowed Allied advance by 6 weeks; Russians entered
Germany from the east
d. 77,000 Allied casualties, 100,000 German
e. By late Jan, the “bulge” had been wiped out
f. But, before invading, one more conference
8. Yalta Conference (Crimea) – to plan for post-war Europe
a. Feb. 4-11, 1945
b. Ensured that Soviets would stay in war vs. Japan
c. Planned another world organization (United Nations)
9. Fall of Germany (1945)
a. Hitler still believed he could win!
b. March 6 – bridge at Ramagen (Rhine) captured
c. Took Ruhr Valley (heavy industry), dropped 245,000 tons of
bombs on German cities (“saturation bombing”)
d. Before victory complete, FDR died in Warm Springs, GA on
April 12, 1945
e. April 16 – Red Army launched massive attack on Berlin
f. April 25 – US and USSR armies met at the Elbe
g. April 28 – Mussolini captured with his mistress
h. April 30 – Hitler and Eva Braun commit suicide
i. May 2 – Berlin fell to Soviets
j. May 7 – Karl Doenitz (U-boat commander), Hitler’s successor,
surrendered to U.S.
k. May 8 – repeated with all Allied reps present
B. After defeating the Nazis, the Japanese still had to be defeated