UNITED STATES HISTORY
Turning the Tide
*While planning the Atlantic Charter, Franklin Roosevelt and
Winston Churchill agreed to defeat Germany first, but initially
the United States just fought the Nazis at sea, to keep U-boats
from sinking ships carrying supplies and food to Great
Britain. Allied ships banded together in convoys for
protection, then the German U-boats formed ‘wolf packs’ supplied
by a ‘milk cow’ to launch concerted attacks of up to 20 U-boats at
once. In just the month of June 1942, the Germans sank 175
ships. Later, aircraft and sonar were used to locate
submarines, and U-boats became much less of a threat.
*Although the Allies had been driven out of Europe, the British
Empire was still vast, but depended on the Suez Canal to connect
most of the Empire with Britain. The Italians also had a
colony in North Africa, and Axis troops out of Libya attacked
neighbouring French and British colonies. The goal was to
cut off the Suez Canal and ultimately seize oil reserves in the
*When the British began beating the Italians in Libya, Hitler sent
Erwin Rommel—the Desert Fox--and the Afrika Korps to fight
back. They did well in their push to the Suez Canal until
General Bernard Montgomery stopped them at El Alamein in Egypt in
October 1942, and then slowly pushed them back.
*By this point Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union, and although
General Winter had slowed him down, it had not stopped him as it
did Napoleon, and by early 1942 he was pushing deeper into
Russia. Stalin begged United States and Britain to invade
France to relieve the pressure on the USSR, so the US and UK
*The overall commander of the American and British forces in this
invasion, and eventually Supreme Commander of the entire Allied
military in Europe, was Dwight Eisenhower.
*The invasion was called Operation Torch, with most Allied troops
landing in Vichy French Morocco. They expected to be greeted
as liberators, but the French fought back, killing about 500
British and American soldiers and losing about 1,400 of their own
(in addition to about 2,700 wounded on both sides combined).
Eventually members of the Free French Resistance led a coup and
ended Vichy French resistance to the Allies.
*From there American forces under General Patton moved east and
linked up with Montgomery’s forces in Tunisia in May, 1943.
275,000 POWs were captured and all Axis colonies in Africa were
conquered, but Rommel managed to return to Germany before being
*In the Soviet Union, the Red Army had surrounded an entire German
army at Stalingrad, and after 6½ months( 17 July, 1942-2 February,
1943) of brutal fighting, freezing, and starvation, finally
*The Battle of Stalingrad may be the bloodiest battle in the
history of the world. The Axis lost about 850,000 men
killed, wounded, and captured, and the Red Army at least 1,129,000
million casualties—close to two million men on both sides.
*Now that the US and UK had secured North Africa, Stalin again
begged them to invade France and take pressure off the Soviet
Union. Therefore, they invaded Italy.
*Winston Churchill believed that Italy was the ‘underbelly of
Europe,’ and that attacking the Axis there would allow the Allies
to fight the Italians, who were regarded as weaker than the
Germans, and let the Allies work their way up into Germany from
*Before invading the boot of Italy, the Allies decided to create a
base of operations in Sicily, invading the island on 10 July,
1943. Patton and Montgomery quickly took over the island;
the last Italian forces withdrew on 17 August, 1943, by which
point the Allies had already begun bombing Italy, even Rome
*Even better, or so it seemed, the Italian Fascist Party voted
Benito Mussolini out of office on 25 July, 1943, and King Victor
Emmanuel III had him arrested. The king then appointed a new
Prime Minister who dissolved the Fascist Party, and he and the
king began secret negotiations with the Allies.
*The Allies began invading Italy on 3 September, and won small
battles from which the Italians retreated.
*On 8 September, Italy surrendered to the Allies and on 13
October, joined the war against the Axis. This would seem
like a great Allied victory in and of itself, but in the short run
it meant that Hitler would divert Germany forces to Italy where
they would prove much harder to defeat than the Italians.
*Elite Germany paratroopers even rescued Mussolini from prison and
set him back up, largely as a puppet ruler of northern Italy.
*By the end of 1943, the Allies controlled much of Southern Italy,
but got stuck in the mountains just south of Rome for almost eight
months until the Germans abandoned Rome and the Allies occupied it
on 4 June, 1944.
*Fighting continued in Italy until the spring of 1945. Italian
Royalists and communists fought against fascists (and each other),
giving the Italian campaign aspects of a civil war.
*While fighting in Italy, the US Army Air Corps and the British
Royal Air Force had begun, in 1943, to ‘bomb the devils around the
clock.’ This was called strategic bombing, an attack on
German factories, roads, and other facilities to weaken Germany’s
ability to support the war effort. The Air Corps, with good
sights, bombed specific targets during the day. The RAF, who
could not aim as well, practised carpet bombing at night, dropping
bombs indiscriminately on large areas. They also used
firebombs, which do not need to be aimed too well. In
Hamburg, fires raged out of control to the extent that they sucked
all the oxygen out of the air in places, and the Hamburg fire
department invented the term ‘firestorm’ to describe this type of
massive, out-of-control fire. More than 40,000 civilians
died in four firebombings of that city alone. To the
British, though, this was just revenge for the Blitz, including
attacks late in the war by V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets.
*As the Allies fought in the mountains south of Rome, the Soviet
Union still suffered from partial German occupation, and Stalin
again asked Britain and the US to invade France.
*From 28 November to 1 December 1943, the Big Three—Roosevelt,
Churchill, and Stalin—met in Tehran to work out the conclusion of
the War. The US and UK promised to invade Germany in 1944,
Stalin would remain neutral against Japan for the moment, Poland’s
post-war border with the USSR was agreed upon (allowing Stalin to
keep most of the land taken under the Nazi-Soviet Pact), and
discussions on creating the United Nations began.
*At last, the Allied prepared to invade France, taking many of the
best troops away from Italy.
*To confuse the Germans, the Allies began Operation Fortitude in
Britain to convince the Germans that they would attack
Calais. In southern England, General Patton was put in
charge of inflatable rubber tanks, plywood artillery, made-up
infantry units, radio units that talked about fake manœuvers to
each other, and a network of spies and double agents.
Similar groups were set up in Scotland. The Germans were
deceived about the Allies real intentions.
*In fact, the Allies under Eisenhower attacked Normandy on D-Day,
6 June, 1944. The Normandy invasion involved over 130,000
troops supported by 195,700 naval and merchant marine personnel,
making it the largest amphibious assault in history to that point.
*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, the
deadliest beach of the invasion. The British attacked Gold
and Sword beaches, and Canadians attacked Juno beach.
Soldiers from all the conquered nations of Europe also fought
alongside the Americans, British, and Canadians.
*Although casualties were heavy, half a million troops landed
within a week, and by late July there were 2 million Allied troops
in Europe under the command of General Eisenhower.
*After landing in Normandy in June 1944, the Allies began to move
across France. 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 a few even crossed the border into Germany despite German
attempts to blow up the bridges across the Rhine to slow the
*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
*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 known therefore 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, American forces 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.
*After the Battle of the Bulge, though, most Germans knew they
were defeated, and in many cases put up less resistance to
Eisenhower’s forces in Germany than they had in France and the Low
*In the East, the Soviets were also pushing into German
territories, both Germany’s allies and conquered nations, and into
*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. Austria
was to be jointly governed by all the Allies.
*In lands east of the Elbe River, the Soviets promised to hold
free elections and allow the conquered territories to govern
themselves, although Poland was to be dominated by the Soviets for
security reasons. Stalin also wanted to demand $20 billion
from Germany, but FDR and Churchill rejected this, remembering the
problems that resulted from the reparations of Versailles.
*At Yalta, the Big Three also agreed to FDR and Churchill's old
plan to create a new and improved League of Nations—a group of
United Nations. This was formed in April 1945, and the US
joined. All member nations (at the time mostly Europeans and
Americans, since most of Africa and Asia were colonies of Europe)
sat in a General Assembly, and 11 countries (expanded to 15 in
1965) sat on the Security Council, with the USA, Britain, France,
USSR, and China getting permanent seats and unilateral veto
power. The UN would take concerted, military action, where
necessary, to prevent wars before they started and crush those
*The Allies insisted upon an unconditional surrender and would
only take it after invading and clearly conquering Germany on
their own soil because no-one wanted another generation of Germans
to grow up with a new version of the old stab-in-the-back legend
that might lead to the rise of another demagogue like Hitler.
*After the fall of Stalingrad, the German army had been repeatedly
pushed back. About 5 million Germans and their allies and 11
million Soviet soldiers died on the Eastern Front, either in
battle, from wounds, or in POW camps (where the Germans and
Soviets treated each other with much greater cruelty than they
showed any other POWs, or even than the Japanese showed to most of
their POWs—Germans were shipped to Siberia and Soviets to
concentration camps); both sides were also extremely cruel to the
other’s civilian populations.
*After their terrible struggle with the Germans, 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.
*On 27 April, Mussolini and his mistress were on their way to
Switzerland from which they planned to escape to Spain when they
were captured by communists. The next day they and several
others travelling with them were executed—Mussolini’s last words
were supposedly ‘aim for the heart.’ On the 29th Mussolini’s
and his mistress’s bodies were hung on meat hooks from the roof of
a gas station where passers-by threw rocks at it.
*His body was buried in an unmarked grave, but later dug up by
post-war fascists, hidden by them, re-captured by the government,
held for ten years, and then reburied in his home town in a marble
crypt with fasces on the sides and a bust of Il Duce on
*The German Army in Italy surrendered on 29 April, 1945, and the
monarchy was restored. In 1946 the Italian people voted to
end the monarchy, and Italy became a republic.
*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 8 May
1945, he offered Germany’s unconditional surrender on V-E Day.
This page last updated 13 November, 2018.