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 Middle East. 

*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 invaded Africa.

*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 captured.

*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 captured it.

*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 the south.

*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 itself.

*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 Allies down. 

*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.

*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 Countries.

*In the East, the Soviets were also pushing into German territories, both Germany’s allies and conquered nations, and into Germany herself.
*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 that did.

*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 top. 

*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.
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