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american history
the allied victory

*in 1943, stalin was still pressing for the opening of another front in europe.  eventually, eisenhower agreed.  the plan was to launch and attack on france from great britain.  american, british, canadian, as well as refugee polish, dutch, belgian, and french troops massed in southern britain.  some were set up as decoys near dover, so that the germans reinforced calais, thinking the allies would attack there.

*instead, the allies attacked the shores of normandy.  several beaches were selected and given code names.

*on 6 june 1944 the d-day invasion began.

*americans attacked utah beach, not actually landing where they were supposed to, and theodore roosevelt, junior, led a quick and easy landing.  americans also landed at omaha beach, where over 2,000 were killed or wounded in minutes, making it the worse part of the invasion.  the british attacked gold and sword beaches, and canadians attacked juno beach.

*although casualties were heavy, half a million troops landed within a week, and by late july there were 2 million allied troops in europe.

*after landing in normandy in june 1944, the allies began to move across france.  although initially slowed down by the bocage, american troops, especially george patton’s third army, which used tactics very similar to those of the german blitzkrieg, moved so fast that their biggest problem was getting so far ahead of their supply lines that they could not get fuel for their tanks.

*in paris, the french resistance started an uprising that threw the germans out on 25 august, 1944.  after over four years of occupation, paris was free.

*a few days later the british and canadians freed belgium, and in september british and american troops moved into the netherlands, and even cross the border into germany.

*after liberating most of hitler’s conquests in western europe, the attack slowed at the rhine, as the germans fought harder in their fatherland.  hitler also reinforced the western army with new recruits, even hitler youth as young as 15.  in mid-december, 1944, the germans threw all their force into a massive counterattack.  hitting the first army hard, the germans pushed deep into the centre of allies, creating a bulge in the line.  this and the lengthy series of battles that followed was therefore known as the battle of the bulge.  many allied troops in small groups were cut off from the rest of the allies, the most famous being a detachment of the 101st airborne trapped at bastogne, who, when asked to surrender, replied ‘nuts.’  they held out until rescued by patton.

*in the ensuing weeks, first and third armies pushed the germans back, and began to move into germany again.  lasting from 16 december 1944 to 25 january 1945, the battle of the bulge was the largest battle on the western front and the largest single battle ever fought by the us army, involving 600,000 gis, with 80,000 american casualties, and an estimated 100,000 german casualties.

*in the east, the soviets were also pushing into german territories, both germany’s allies and conquered nations, and into germany herself.  after the fall of stalingrad, the german army had been repeatedly pushed back.  about 3 million germans and 11 million soviet soldiers died on this front.  after this struggle, the soviets wanted to take berlin as a matter of honour, and fought hard for it, often house by house as the germans fell back.

*this was a problem for the allies.  although stalin was very useful to us, he was still a communist, and an evil, tyrannical, murderous dictator.  we did not want him occupying too much of europe, so as he pushed west we pushed east, meeting at the elbe river near the centre of germany on 25 april 1945.

*with the war almost over, the allies had to decide what to do.  in february 1945, roosevelt, churchill, and stalin met at yalta in the crimea in the ussr.  there they agreed to divide both germany and the city of berlin into four occupation zones, for britain, america, france, and the ussr.  they also made plans whereby stalin would allow free elections in the other eastern european countries he occupied after driving the nazis out.  stalin also promised to enter the war against japan three months after germany’s surrender.

*as the soviets surrounded berlin and moved through its streets, hitler refused to flee the city.  he holed up in a bunker deep underground, where he committed suicide on 30 april 1945.  the german u-boat commander, admiral karl dönitz, was named the next führer of the third reich on 1 may and on 7 may 1945, he offered germany’s unconditional surrender.  this is known as v-e day.

*not long after the battle of midway in the pacific, america began a new strategy.

*america’s main strategy in 1943 and 1944 was called island-hopping.  americans would attack and seize japanese-held islands they thought they could take or that were important, and left others behind, using the navy and tactics much like the german wolf packs to prevent them from being re-supplied.  each time the us took another island, it created another base on which to store supplies and from which to launch future attacks.

*these campaigns were horrible for both sides.  the japanese would not surrender.  of 31,629 japanese on saipan (one of the mariana islands), approximately 29,500 died. only 2,100 prisoners survived, many of these only because they were too wounded to take their own lives or they ran out of the means with which to kill themselves before being over-run.  even civilians gave their lives for the emperor, refusing to surrender, in part because they assumed americans would treat them as badly as they would have treated americans.  in the case of japanese soldiers that might be true—americans often shot them rather than take them prisoner.  civilians, though, were treated fairly, but most did not know this.  on saipan, civilians killed themselves by holding on to hand grenades or by jumping off cliffs to their deaths, even mothers holding infant children.  supposedly there were so many bodies off the coast of saipan after its capture that the navy had a hard time navigating the waters.

*after capturing the mariana islands, the us was close enough to japan to begin bombing her.  the us bombed every major city and industrial area flat, both to destroy japan’s industry and to terrify her people.  whereas the us did not use firebombs in europe, they did in japan, creating terrible firestorms, killing 100,000 people in one night in tokyo, on just one of many occasions.

*by the end of the war, the japanese economy was so badly injured that japanese school children made huge balloons out of paper and glue, which the military then tied to bombs, and cast into the air, hoping they might fly across the ocean and all on the us.  besides starting one forest fire on the pacific coast, these did no harm.

*in october 1944 americans invaded the philippines.  macarthur landed on the beach and announced for the benefit of the news cameras, ‘people of the philippines, i have returned.’

*as part of the reconquest of the philippines, the americans faced a new weapon, the kamikaze.  more than any other japanese soldier, these suicide pilots were ready to die for the emperor by diving bomb-laden planes into american ships.  despite this, the americans won the battle.  of 80,000 japanese in the philippines, 1,000 were captured, and the rest would die bravely fighting on into 1945.

*as americans got closer to the home islands, the japanese resistance grew stronger.  in the battle of iwo jima in february 1945, americans won 27 medals of honor, the most in any campaign.  of 25,000 japanese on the island, 216 were take prisoner, and it took 110,000 men to beat them.  when the island was taken, the marines raised the flag on the peak of mount suribachi.

*the last island before hitting japan itself was okinawa.  it was defended by 100,000 troops who swore to defend it to the death.  the us gathered 1,300 warships and 180,000 combat troops, making the invasion second only to that at normandy.  2,000 kamikaze attacks were made on american ships.  the battle lasted from april to june 1945, and 50,000 americans were killed or wounded and only 7,200 of 100,000 japanese surrendered.

*the home islands were next.  the problem was that the japanese fought so hard, and were willing to die to the last man.  military experts said it might take three million men or more just to start the invasion and that one third of them would be killed and wounded.

*fortunately, america had an alternative.  in 1939, fdr had gotten a letter from albert einstein, telling him about the possibility of a new kind of bomb of terrible power powered by splitting the atom.  eisenhower said he thought the germans were building one, and that the us needed to, too.  furthermore, einstein would help get physicists to work on the project.  roosevelt agreed, and under physicists to work on the project.  roosevelt agreed, and under top secret security, scientists worked on the manhattan project, trying to make an atomic bomb.  there were four major sites for this.  the first research and tests were done at the university of chicago.  once they knew a bomb could be made, they needed fuel.  plutonium was refined at hanford, washington, and uranium in oak ridge, tennessee.  the bombs were assembled in los alamos, new mexico, and tested nearby at alamogordo.  this was the most powerful bomb ever built.  the qestion was:  should it be used on japan?

*in april, 1945, just over a month after winning his fourth presidential election, fdr had died of a brain hemorrhage while on vacation at warm springs, georgia, and harry truman became president.  the atom bomb was a surprise to him, and he only knew it as a powerful weapon.  under the advice of experts, he chose to use it for three main reasons:
 1.  to end the war with as few american casualties as possible.  the invasion of japan was expected to cost one million killed and wounded.
 2.  to end the war quickly before the ussr could get  2.  to end the war quickly before the ussr could get involved and end up sharing japan with the us.
 3.  to test the bomb on a real target.

*on 6 august 1945, the enola gay dropped a uranium bomb on hiroshima, killing about 80,000 japanese and later infecting many with radiation sickness.

*on 9 august, another plane dropped the plutonium bomb on nagasaki, killing 39,000.

*on 14 august, japan surrendered on the one condition that they could keep their emperor, the next day americans celebrated v-j day, and on 2 september, 1945 the japanese formally signed the surrender agreement, ending the second world war.

this page last updated 24 october, 2009.
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