THE WAR IN EUROPE
*Even before the attack on Pearl Harbour, Franklin Roosevelt was preparing for war. Cash and carry, Lend-Lease, and the destroyer deal were all intended to help the Allies without going to war ourselves, if possible. Instead, we would supply the Allies and be the ‘arsenal of democracy.’
*After the Fall of France, however, it was obvious the Allies could not do it alone, and that the US would have to increase her preparation efforts. In September 1940, Congress passed the Selective Service and Training Act, starting the first peacetime draft.
*December 7th, 1941 hit Americans in 1941 as September 11th, 2001 did more recently. It affected them that deeply, and thousands volunteered immediately. Only Jeannette Rankin of Montana voted against the war.
*Americans were told they were preparing to fight, not to end all war, but to make the world safe for Democracy.
*Not only white men fought, but so did Hispanics, Blacks, American Indians, and women (although mostly only in non-combat roles).
*The process of mobilising for war required government involvement to run things. To direct the war, FDR created the War Production Board (WPB) and the Office of War Mobilisation. These regulated much of the economy, especially manufacturing, during the war. Among other things, they supervised the Ford Motor Company’s transformation into a tank factory, and Henry J. Kaiser’s auto plants into facilities to produce Liberty ships, mass produced vessels made of pre-fabricated parts that could be assembled in 40 days, instead of 200.
*Federal spending rose during the war, as the US spent far more money than they had. Partly the government made money through war bonds, which made $186 billion and partly by raising taxes, but the government went deep into debt and has never really gotten out.
*Labor unions were asked not to strike, and when they tried, people reminded them ‘there’s a war on, you know,’ but strikes did increase late in the war, when the cost of living rose more than wages. In 1943, the government passed the Smith-Connally Act to limit the right to strike during the war.
*Shortages meant there was not enough food of some kinds, especially sugar, fruit, and coffee. Metal was all used in war materials, as was rubber. Nylon stockings, invented in 1939, vanished because nylon was used in making parachutes. The government had to ration certain types of food, gasoline, and many other non-essentials, and to buy rationed food or fuel, one had to present tickets from a ration book.
*Before the United States began fighting, FDR and Churchill met in secret and set up their plans for the war and after it in the Atlantic Charter. Among other things, the war plan required unconditional surrender and set its sights on Germany first.
*Initially, the United States just fought 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 powerful in the rest of the world, particularly in Africa. The Italians also had a colony in North Africa, and troops out of Libya attacked neighbouring French and British colonies. The goal was to ultimately seize Allied oil reserves in the Middle East. Germany sent a small force under the command of Erwin Rommel to Africa. This came to be known as the Afrika Corps, and opposed the British under Bernard Law Montgomery, who stopped them in Egypt at el-Alamein so they could not get to the Middle East.
*The overall commander of the US Army, and eventually of the entire Allied command structure, was Dwight Eisenhower.
*To hit the Axis from the other side, Americans and other Allied troops landed in the Vichy French colonies of Morocco and Algeria, where they first fought French troops, but later pushed east while Montgomery pushed west, until they drove the Axis out of Africa, especially the Italians, most of whom did not want to fight for Hitler, who had bad equipment, and who therefore often surrendered or quit, despite being individually brave soldiers.
*The British and French also had a
new and powerful ally. On 22 June 1941, Hitler, now that he had knocked
France out of the war and had Britain isolated on their island, thought
he could take the Soviet Union. German troops, assisted by Finnish
and Rumanian soldiers, poured across the entire Soviet border. Initially
the blitzkrieg worked. The Red Army was poorly trained, poorly led
(partly because Stalin had killed so many of his generals in his purges),
and for the moment easily defeated.
*Furthermore, many Soviet citizens, especially in Lithuania and the Ukraine, were so tired of Stalin’s cruelty that they welcomed the Nazis as liberators. In most cases, these Slavic subhumans would be proven wrong, as they were made to do forced labour and those who resisted were executed.
*The Red Army retreated, and it used the tactic of scorched earth, destroying anything useful they could not carry with them, so the Germans would not be able to use anything left behind. They were able to replace much of this, because since Hitler’s invasion, Stalin had benefited from American Lend-Lease.
*The Nazis laid siege to the city of Leningrad, and approached Moscow, although the winter, which began in October, slowed them down. In 1942, the Germans pressed on and surrounded the city of Stalingrad. During the next winter, however, the Red Army rallied and attacked the Germans, surrounding the Germans surrounding the city of Stalingrad, capturing over 90,000 starving Germans. Over 330,000 Germans died in the battle overall, and uncounted Russians, although guesses reach 1,100,000.
*In fact, Russia shouldered most of the burden during the war, losing 50 men for every one that America lost. Suffering terribly, Stalin begged the Allies to attack Hitler somewhere more important that Africa in order to open up a two-front war and take some of the pressure off the Red Army.
*Stalin wanted America and Britain to attack France, but Churchill thought it would be too tough. Instead, he suggested the ‘soft underbelly’ of Europe, taking Italy and from there, hopefully, moving into the rest of Europe.
*Italy was not as easy as we hoped. The island of Sicily was captured quickly by George Patton and Montgomery. Disgusted with Mussolini’s failure, the government of Italy removed him from office and the King of Italy ordered him arrested and Italy surrendered to the Allies. Hitler sent in special forces to rescue him and invaded Northern Italy, setting Mussolini back up as a puppet ruler of Northern Italy and sent the German army to back him up.
*Stopped by the Germans a ways south of Rome, the Allies attempted a sea invasion to get around the German line, landing at a beach named Anzio just 35 miles south of Rome. This force got stopped too, and Rome did not fall until 1944, and Northern Italy would remain under German occupation until April 1945, when the Germans surrendered, Mussolini was captured and killed by the Italians.
*The soft underbelly had proven not to be so soft, but the beaches of France did not look too inviting either. The US Army Air Corps and the Royal Air Force tried to open a front in the air. By 1943, the US and Britain were, at least in theory, following Churchill’s promise to ‘bomb the devils ‘round the clock.’ This was called strategic bombing, an attack on German factories, roads, and other facilities to 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, as the British called the years-long bombardment of London.
*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.
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This page last updated 12 November, 2003.