World War II
World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in human history. The Second World War, a protracted, total war fought for unlimited aims, was a global struggle between two powerful coalitions. For six years, the war unleashed atrocities on a scale never before seen, including the annihilation of six million Jews in Nazi death camps. Before it was over, more than 60,000,000 people lost their lives. And the world entered the nuclear age when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945.
Three events helped usher in World War Two: Japan overran Manchuria; Italy, under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia; and - most important -- Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. He rearmed the country, in violation of a treaty signed after World War One, and soon began to threaten other European nations. Arrayed against these powers were, principally, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and, later, the United States.
The Great War, the war that "made the world safe for democracy," had created tremendous dislocations which laid the groundwork for the collapse of democratic institutions in Europe, and set the stage for a second German attempt at conquest. The experience of the Great War compelled the Western democracies to develop alternative strategies and policies to support their national-security interests. The United States sought security through arms-limitation treaties, strict isolationism and neutrality laws. France, morbidly obsessed by the prospect of German resurgence, negotiated a web of alliances and tried to maintain its military preeminence (at least on paper.) Great Britain pinned its hopes for post-war security on participation in an activist League of Nations and a new European concert system. When these failed, both Britain and France turned to appeasement.
For their part, the Germans and Italians embarked on a different course founded on extreme nationalism, autarchy, rearmament and revision of the hated Versailles settlement. The Japanese defined national security in terms of an East Asian hegemony defended by powerful armed forces.
In October 1929, the Great Depression wreaked havoc throughout the world. Hitler's Nationalist Socialist Democratic Workers Party (Nazis) emerged as the majority party in Germany in the 1930 election, and President Hindenberg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Germany withdrew from the League of Nations in October 1933, and on 07 March 1936 German reoccupied the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty which had ended the Great War. On 30 September 1938 Hitler announced plans to annex the German Sudentenland, which had been transfered from Germany to Czechoslovakia by the Versailles Treaty, and on 14 March 1939 Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Adolf Hitler started the war in a bid to conquer the continent of Europe. After the conquest of Europe and its consolidation under Nazi rule, Hitler envisioned fighting further wars that would make Germany into a global superpower. Hitler aimed at nothing less than to enslave and exterminate whole peoples whom he deemed "inferior."
While Hitler's Germany advanced in Europe, Japan brought on the Greater East Asian War in the Pacific by its expansion in East Asia. A clique of aggressively militaristic officers and politicians gained control of the government during the 1930s. The goal of Japan's leaders was to create an empire that dominated the countries of East Asia and the sea lanes of the Western Pacific. The road to war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930s when differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria, which until then had been part of China. Japanese forces invaded China in July 1937, leading to a full-scale war which the Japanese military had neither expected nor desired. The Japanese war with China continued longer than the Japanese had expected, as Japan became mired in the vastness of China.
American strategic planning after WWI was largely conditioned by a popular reaction against war. Most military planning was theoretical, and Great Britain had the power to challenge the US. War Plan Orange was a paper plan to contain the Japanese in the Pacific by harassment and isolation. The U.S. Pacific Fleet in theory could win a war. The role of the Army would be to fight a delaying action until the Navy arrived. Later the Red Plan came into being, the possibility of a war with Great Britain and the need to defend the Panama Canal and the Western Hemisphere. The thinking was that the Northeastern United States was the most important section, thus the Atlantic Fleet should be the stronger. A two-ocean navy was needed more than a strong army. The Joint Planners, as a result of aggressive acts on the part of the Axis Powers, developed the Rainbow Plan which assumed Great Britain, France and the United States would act in consort to stop the Axis Powers. With the increasing tensions in Europe and Asia, during the late 1930s the War and Navy Departments in the United States had developed a series of contingency plans for fighting multiple enemies, known as the "RAINBOW" plans. The final revision, RAINBOW 5, emphasized the role of the Air Corps in frontier air defenses and air power projection. The Rainbow Plan was not a plan of operations, it merely outlined the objectives and missions of American forces in case of war.
On August 23, 1939 Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov signed nonaggression and trade agreements that partitioned Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union. The outbreak of war in Europe, with the German Blitzkrieg [lightning war] invasion of Poland on 01 September 1939, led to Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Canada soon followed on September 10, 1939, sending units of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division to Britain that December. The German Blitzkrieg into Poland was, however, soon followed by the Sitzkrieg "phony war" during the winter of 1939-1940.
The Sitzkrieg["sitting war" -- the opposite of the Blitzkrieg] or in French drôle de guerre was a waiting period of neither war nor peace. The German Wehrmacht had concentrated the bulk of its forces in Poland, and the western border at the Rhine was completely unprotected throughout September 1939. The Western Allies did not seize this opportunity to attack Germany during a moment of strategic weakness. The Germans behind the West Wall opposite the Maginot Line were inactive, doing their best not to provoke the French. During the eight months of the Sitzkrieg Germany rapidly rearmed, adding a million new soldiers, vastly increasing its ammunition stockpile, and trippling the number of medium and heavy tanks. The German generals feared a new world war, knowing it could not be won, and everything within their limited powers to discourage Hitler from attacking the West. By late November 1939, the invasion of the Low Countries had been postponed, and the Luftwaffe tested Allied defences by sending small formations of aircraft on recconnaissance missions. The British responded by scrambling flights from squadrons in France. As the Sitzkrieg gained momentum, Germany announced a blockade of Britain carried out primarily by German U-boats.
The Sitzkrieg ended with a renewed Blitzkrieg in April 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. The British sent an expeditionary force to France, which first deployed on the French-Belgian border, then moved to Dyle River in central Belgium. On 10 May 1940, the Nazi Army attacked France, bypassing the fortifications and forcing the British and French to fall back in confusion. The French analysis of likely German avenues of approach in May 1940 dismissed the Ardennes Forest because French armor doctrine indicated that the Ardennes was impassable to conventional armored formations. Therefore, the 1st and 7th French Armies were committed to meet what they thought would be the German main effort coming through Belgium. Likewise, the British committed the British Expeditionary Force to the defense of the French-Belgian border. They failed to account for new German doctrine used in Poland in September 1939. It emphasized new concepts: speed and maneuver rather than firepower and attrition warfare, air attacks deep in the enemy's rear, massed armor with motorized infantry on a narrow front, and momentarily accepting open flanks during deep penetrations. General Heinz Guderian's 19th Panzer Corps moving through the Ardennes Forest, crossing the Meuse River at Sedan, and continuing west across Northeastern France to the English Channel. After crossing the Meuse, Guderian left one division to guard his southern flank from a French counterattack. He did not wait for his supporting artillery or infantry, but continued the armor attack with great speed. Twice, the German General Staff ordered Guderian to stop his advance. The success he achieved seemed incredible.
The British narrowly averted a complete disaster by evacuating their forces through the French port of Dunkirk. With the defeat of France almost assured, Italy declared war on France on June 10. France signed an armistice with Germany on June 22 at Compiègne.
A complete German victory seemed imminent. Only Great Britain and her empire presented a credible barrier to Nazi conquests. German plans for a rapid invasion of Britain failed after the Royal Air Force denied the Germans air superiority in the Battle of Britain. Britain launched an retaliatory aerial bombardment which continued throughout the war with greater effect. Later that year, the Axis tried to defeat Britain by capturing the Suez Canal, which would have separated Britain from its Persian Gulf oil supplies and its Indian empire. The German action opened fighting in North Africa that continued through 1943. Germany also initiated unrestricted submarine warfare in the "Battle of the Atlantic." German submarines attempted to destroy British shipping, but never quite succeeded.
The war that is now called the Pacific front of World War II was called in Japan then The Great East Asia War, for the liberation of Asia from the European and American colonizers was the proclaimed Goal. In July 1940, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Matsuoka Yosuke stated the Japanese foreign affair policy as "to establish the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, with Japan-Manchuria-China line as its core." In September 1940 Japan concluded the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, and the Russo-Japanese Neutiality Pact in 1941.
The slogan The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere proclaimed the idealism of pan-Asiatic prosperity, but for the Japanese government it was also part of their strategy, entering into alliance with Germany and Italy to break the deadlock situation in the war with China, and to expand toward South East Asia to acquire its rich natural resources in lands where the control of the European colonizing powers had weakened their influence because of the war in Europe. The majority of the Japanese people embraced the idealism of The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, and justified their government's policy for the expansion southward.
The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The US increased military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan. Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil as a threat to the nation's survival. Japan's leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States.
The prospects for an Axis victory led the United States to take its first tentative steps toward direct involvement in the war. In September 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the transfer of 50 destroyers to Britain, in return for a lease on British bases in the Caribbean. That September, the United States initiated a peacetime Selective Service and a partial mobilization of the National Guard. In December 1940, Roosevelt announced the United States would provide military supplies to Britain under a policy termed "lend-lease." The President justified his actions by declaring that the United States must become the "arsenal of democracy." In the summer of 1941, Roosevelt ordered the Navy to escort merchant convoys as far as Iceland. This order resulted in an undeclared war between American destroyers and German submarines, and led to the sinking of the destroyer Reuben James by the Germans on 31 October 1941.
Historians of America's total military and logistic effort in World War II may well agree that the eighteen months of preparations before Pearl Harbor played a crucial, if not decisive, part in the outcome of the war. During this period the Military establishment of the United States was rehabilitated and the foundation laid for America's tremendous war production achievement. The RAINBOW plans were the war plans to defeat Italy, Germany and Japan. RAINBOW V, the plan in effect on 7 December 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, was the plan the US used to fight the Axis powers.
World War II affected Americans on the home front in ways that varied from the selection of movies to rationing of consumer goods. A crucial element of the home front effort was the mobilization of resources in support of the fighting forces. The tremendous mobilization of resources made the Allied victory possible. Mobilization included the training of personnel, and the production of weapons, ammunition, and equipment. These activities required an extensive domestic construction program to build the facilities necessary to train and equip the Allied forces. The military of the late 1930s lacked the materiel readiness to fight a sustained war, especially using the blitzkrieg tactics of World War II. The requirements for supplying materiel to Britain and the Soviet Union further amplified the challenges of industrial production.
|Very Heavy Bombers||0||0||4||91||1,147||2,657||3,899|
|Total by Year||1,209||8,723||26,448||45,889||51,547||26,254||160,070|
Immediately after the fall of France, the Navy also initiated an expansion program. On 19 July 1940, less than a month after the French surrender, Congress authorized the acquisition of 13 battleships, 6 aircraft carriers, 32 cruisers, 39 submarines, and 101 destroyers. The carriers were of the Essex variety, which constituted the backbone of the Pacific fleet in the forthcoming war. The increased number of ships was accompanied by a comparable expansion of shore facilities.
Though the conversion to wartime production in 1940 and 1941 provided a transition to declared war, even greater efforts were required after the United States entered the war. The industrial mobilization process begun during the protective mobilization phase intensified until the United States could overwhelm the Axis powers with its material resources.
Despite the shortages of raw materials, American industry soon began the transition to wartime production. Automobile factories converted their production lines to military vehicles, and other factories made similar conversions. Where existing facilities were unsuited for munitions production, new factories or shipyards were constructed to meet the production requirements. As the war progressed, the logistical advantages of the United States provided a crucial edge to the Allies. As the Axis powers gradually lost their war production capabilities to Allied bombing, the Allies increased their capabilities until the final defeat of Germany and Japan.
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had hoped the non-aggression pact he had signed with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1939 would hold. That pact divided Poland between Russia and Nazi Germany. Yet almost as soon as Hitler had subdued Western Europe, he began planning the offensive against the Soviet Union. On 22 June 1941 the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa - the Wehrmacht attack on Russia. Within a week 90 percent of the Soviet front line strength was destroyed. German forces soon laid siege to Leningrad -- the Soviet Union's second largest city -- and entered the western suburbs of Moscow. German troops were within sight of the Kremlin when Soviet forces rebuffed the attack. The Nazis invested the city of Leningrad, today called St. Petersburg, early in the war, and before the Soviets broke the siege after 900 days, 800,000 had died.
In late July 1941 Germany launched their first air raid on Moscow, and Russia sought to reciprocate with an air raid on Berlin. A successful raid on Berlin would be of tremendous propaganda importance, since the Nazis had claimed that the Soviet Air Force had been wiped out. In the night of 7-8 August 1941, a total of 15 heavily loaded DB-3 bombers attacked Berlin, and subsequently the Navy fleet air arm conducted more raids on Berlin, with the last attack coming made on 05 September 1941. When the Soviet forces had to leave Tallinn, further flights from the island airfieldss were impossible. In all, Soviet bombers performed 10 raids on Berlin, dropped 311 bombs and registered 32 fires.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, abruptly ushered the United States from defense to war and united Americans in a determination to defeat the Axis powers. The justificatory aim of the attack according to Japanese pronouncements was to liberate Asia from the colonial domination of the great American and European powers. American military planners had to make an important decision when the US entered the war. The country could not fight effectively at the same time in both Asia and Europe. It was decided to use most of American forces to defeat the German troops of Adolf Hitler. A strategic defensive was maintained in the Pacific until success in Europe permitted the transfer of forces to the Pacific for an offensive against Japan. This decision had important results, as Japan was able to win many of the early battles of the war in Asia.
The Second World War highlights the difficulties of waging coalition warfare. Germany and Japan, known as the Axis powers, were nominally alliance partners. Although the Axis powers largely operated independently of each other, they achieved some notable successes during the war's initial campaigns. These successes enabled them to expand territorially outward until well into 1942. These early victories came close to gaining for Germany and Japan the dominance they sought in Europe and East Asia. Germany and Japan had an alliance in name only. The inability of the Axis powers to set common strategic priorities seriously hurt their chances of winning. By failing to devise an effective coalition strategy, however, Germany and Japan lost whatever chance they possessed to retain the strategic initiative and defeat their enemies.
To stop the aggression of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, the countries of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States formed a coalition known as the Grand Alliance. The members of this alliance possessed unlimited aims, entailing the overthrow of the regimes in Germany and Japan that had started the war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly called this "unconditional surrender." The Grand Alliance intended to carry out a military occupation of Germany and Japan, to punish German and Japanese leaders at war crimes trials, and to impose on them new governments that would no longer aim to overturn the international system. Only by fighting for such unlimited aims did the members of the Grand Alliance think that Germany and Japan could be prevented from starting future wars. Achieving these aims required that the members of the Grand Alliance totally mobilize their resources and harness their economies to the war effort.
The defeat of Germany and Japan critically depended on the ability of the Grand Alliance to hammer out a coordinated strategy. This task, however, was very difficult to do. The members of the Grand Alliance possessed ideological differences, divergent geopolitical aims, and dissimilar visions about the post-war international order. In addition, they were sharply divided about what strategy they should follow to defeat Germany and Japan.
The Soviet Union demanded an immediate attack across the English Channel by massed Anglo-American ground forces to defeat Germany. Britain's leadership, on the other hand, thought an early offensive across the Channel might prove disastrous. They advocated instead the strategic bombing of Germany, campaigns in secondary theaters to disperse German forces, and support for insurgencies in Nazi-occupied Europe. Meanwhile, American decision makers, although they favored a cross-Channel attack, faced a dangerous and determined enemy in Japan, which siphoned off resources from the goal of massing in Europe for a decision against Germany. Only by making important compromises did an effective coalition strategy emerge to defeat Germany.
Nominally dedicated to a Germany-driven strategy, the Army Air Forces began a slow buildup of bomber strength in England in anticipation of the strategic air campaign against the Third Reich. Necessary commitments of force to the Pacific theater slowed this expansion to some degree.
In the late 1930's it had been believed that heavily-armed bombers would always be able to penetrate enemy defences and by destroying installations behind the enemy's advance he would quickly become unable to wage war. Boeing had developed a revolutionary four engined heavy bomber to meet military specifications and this became known as the B-17 Flying Fortress. It was to be the weapon which the USAAF relied on to press forward with its strategy of daylight high altitude precision bombing by unescorted, but heavily armed, bombers. By 1942 the RAF had given up daylight bombing because of heavy losses inflicted by fierce German defences, and so advised the USAAF against this strategy. Nevertheless, the Combined Bomber Offensive was agreed, and while RAF Bomber Command flew at night, the USAAF resolved to fly by day.
The first attacks on German-controlled Europe by American bomber forces were flown by B-24 Liberator heavy bombers against the Ploesti oil fields of Romania in June 1942. These raids had been staged from bases in Egypt. The first strikes against Western Europe from English bases were conducted by A-20 Havocs against railyards in northern France in July 1942. The first B-17 raids followed in August 1942, and continued unabated until the German surrender in May 1945. These nonstop raids are credited with sapping Germany's warfighting capability through attacks on military, industrial, and population center targets.
The strategic air campaign over Europe was conducted by combined British and American air forces, organized into the Allied Strategic Air Forces. The original American contribution to this body was the 8th Air Force, which at first incorporated strategic and tactical air assets. By the end of 1943, the 9th Air Force was moved to England and assumed command of tactical air operations, thus forming the 8th Strategic Air Force and 9th Tactical Air Force [precursors of the post-war command system that included the Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command]. This reorganization was the result of lessons learned by the Army Air Forces over the sands of North Africa in the autumn of 1942. The Allied air forces had entered the conflict in that theater under the control of the local ground forces commanders. It quickly became clear that the resulting concentration of air activity on ground-support missions, without first gaining air superiority, led to extremely high casualties and ineffective support operations. It was decided that the air assets should be consolidated under the control of single command structure of the 12th Air Force. Its commander, General Carl Spatz, was free to shift his air assets as he saw fit, and was able to concentrate his forces to gain unquestioned air superiority over his German adversaries. Having done so, he was then able to better support the Allied armies among which the air assets had originally been dispersed.
This new organizational system served the Allies very well through the height of the war, as the 9th Air Force was able to provide extremely effective air support to the Allied armies driving across Western Europe following Operation Overlord in June 1944 -- especially after the arrival of powerful fighter-bombers such as the P-47 Thunderbolt. Meanwhile, B-17s and B-24s of the 8th Air Force maintained their strategic bombing campaign against German industry and morale, augmented by long-range fighter escorts such as the P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang.
With the German invasion of Poland, Einsatzgruppen (special action groups) had been formed to function behind the advancing army, rounding up Jews, aristocrats, professionals and clergy who were taken to natural ravines, pre-dug pits or wooded areas and summarily shot. These actions expanded with the June 1941 invasion of Russia, but this approach was problematic from the beginning. On 20 January 1942 Chief of the Security Police and of the SD, SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Heydrich, convened a conference at Wannsee in Berlin to arrange preparations for the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe. The Wansee Conference settled on of using extermination camps and railroads as the most efficient and preferred logistical mechanisms for would rendering Europe Judenrein (Jew-free).
The Nazis made death a system. It was Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's "final solution" to the "Jewish problem." Jews and other "undesirables" -- Gypsies, homosexuals and anyone who disagreed with Hitler -- were moved to the concentration camps. Those who could work in the slave labor camps did so until they died. Those who could not work went straight to the gas chambers and were murdered. Hundreds of concentration camps stretched across Germany and Eastern Europe. The largest was Auschwitz, in Poland. Established in 1940, it was really a series of camps, including concentration, extermination and forced-labor camps. More than one million people were murdered at Auschwitz alone, nine of 10 of them Jewish. The four largest gas chambers could each kill 2,000 people at one time. Nordhausen was the site of a concentration camp that supplied workers to underground factories that produced the Nazi V-1 and V-2 rockets. From 1943 until 1945, 60,000 prisoners worked in these factories. Of these, 20,000 died from various causes including starvation, fatigue and execution.
In May 1942 the Germans adopted a policy that gave the Russian Front first priority for troops, and garrisoned the west with those who, because of wounds or other disabilities, were unable to endure the rigors imposed by the Russian front. Over the year that followed, twenty-two infantry and six armored divisions left France for the Eastern Front, along with the best equipment and men from the divisions that stayed behind. They were replaced by soldiers who were over-age or convalescing from wounds and by units composed of Russian, Italian, and Polish defectors. A few first-line units were present on the Western Front, but most of the rest had been shattered in the east and required replacements and refitting. The weapons they used were often leftovers.
In July 1942, German troops set out towards the oil fields of the Caucasus and the warm water ports on the Caspian sea, and by September the Germans reached Stalingrad. On November 23 a Soviet counterattack surrounded the German Army, but Hitler forbade a retreat. By December 1942 the Germans had been stopped everywhere along a 200 mile semi-circular front around Moscow. The Battle for Stalingrad was one of the crucial battles of history. This industrial city on the banks of the Volga River became the objective of the German 6th Army. About 330,000 German troops stormed the city in August 1942. One Luftwaffe attack alone killed 40,000 civilians in the city. Yet the Soviets dug in and countered the German offensive, stalking the Germans in the city's rubble. By January 1943, a mere 12,000 Germans lived to surrender to Soviet forces, and the German forces trapped in Stalingrad surrendered on 02 February 1943. Subseqnetly, the Soviet's scored another victory during the largest tank battle in history -- the July 12, 1943, Battle of Kursk that involved a total of 1,200 tanks.
The ability of the United States to project its power depended on sea control. In the Atlantic, Britain and the United States faced a serious threat from German submarines. This threat called into question the ability of the Grand Alliance to bring about the complete defeat of Nazi Germany. By working closely with the navies of Britain and Canada, by building large numbers of merchant vessels and warships, and by devising innovative methods and new weapons for antisubmarine warfare, the United States contributed to Germany's defeat in the so-called Battle of the Atlantic. Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic was a precondition for the defeat of Germany.
The divergent perspectives of the Allies on the European war were reflected in the conflict between British and American strategy. The British wanted to attack the German Army at the periphery of the Continent, what Churchill termed the "soft underbelly," and launch a large-scale invasion of the Continent as the final knock-out blow. The United States wanted to launch a large-scale invasion as early as possible to meet the enemy head on and inflict a decisive defeat, ending the war against Germany quickly with the least political complication. The Russians, fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front since 1941, wanted a second front on the West as soon possible.
As American combat strength increased through the early stages of the war, Allied forces launched their first offensive actions. One of these involved mounting a major raid on the French port of Dieppe in order to not only foster German fears of an attack on the Western front thereby forcing them to divert resources from other areas of operations, but also to provide allied forces with an opportunity to test new techniques and equipment while gaining experience on amphibious assault operations. Initially planned for July 1942, the raid did not take place until August 19, 1942. Involving more than 6,000 troops, most of which were Canadians, eight Allied destroyers and 74 air squadrons, the raid called for attacks at five different locations along a 16-kilometres front. The first four attacks would take place just before dawn and would be followed by the main attack on Dieppe. The raid ended during the early afternoon of that day. It resulted in more than 3,000 casualties, including almost 2,000 prisoners of war. Only 2,210 Canadians returned to England, out of the 4,963 who initially took part in the operation. While not a success, the operation did nevertheless set the stage for the eventual success of Operation Overlord, by forcing improvements to be made in tactics, techniques and fire support.
Initial western operations in the Mediterranean consisted of invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and then Italy. In November 1942, the Allies landed in North Africa. By May 1943, the British and Americans had cleared the Germans from North Africa. Next, they began a campaign against Italy, which soon resulted in the surrender of the Italian government. Although German soldiers continued fighting in Italy for the remainder of the war, the Allied victory secured the British lifeline to Asia through the Mediterranean.
In August 1943 the Western partners agreed that a major cross-Channel attack -- Operation OVERLORD -- would be launched in the spring of 1944. Germany, deceived by Gen. Patton's operations, expected an Allied invasion between Dover and Calais.
German strategy for 1944 rested on the realization that decisive offensives could no longer be mounted in the east and that the growing strength of the Western Allies made almost certain a major invasion attempt before the end of the year. The prospective invasion of western Europe presented both the gravest danger to the Reich and the most hopeful opportunity for turning defeat into victory. If the Allies were not stopped at the landings, their attack would carry at once into the heart of Germany; if they were stopped and their beachheads annihilated, it was unlikely that a new attempt could be made for a long time to come, and as many as fifty German divisions might thereby be freed for the struggle against the Soviet Union. On 04 June 1944, two days before the Normandy invasion, the Allies captured Rome.
May 1944 had been the time chosen at Washington in May 1943 for the cross-Channel invasion. With 39 divisions slated to participate in the invasion -- 20 American, 14 British, 3 Canadian, 1 French, and 1 Polish -- the number of US fighting men based in Great Britain alone would double in the first six months of 1944, rising from 774,000 at the beginning of the year to 1,537,000 in the week preceding the final assault. More than 16 million tons of supplies would be needed to feed and supply those men and their allies. Over 54,000 men, including the temporary housekeeping services of the entire 5th Armored Division, were required to establish and maintain installations for mounting the seaborne assault forces.
To mislead the Germans into believing that the Pas de Calais, rather than Normandy, would be the site of the invasion, Eisenhower's staff created a mythical 1st Army Group, with an order of battle larger than that of Montgomery's 21st Army Group. Basing the phantom force near Dover, just across the Channel from the supposed target, Eisenhower assigned Patton, the American general the Germans most respected, to command the phantom army. The Germans became so convinced that the Pas de Calais would be the Allied target that they held to the fiction until long after the actual attack had begun. As a result, nineteen powerful enemy divisions, to include important panzer reserves, stood idle on the day of the invasion, awaiting an assault that never came.
By 1944 Britain's secret services had deprived Germany of its eyes by identifying and either turning or eliminating virtually every enemy agent assigned to their shores. Allied warships had rendered German naval patrols in the English Channel ineffective, and Allied bombers had destroyed most of the German radar units that might have monitored air and naval traffic near the invasion beaches. The Luftwaffe might have made the difference by conducting reconnaissance flights over the coastal regions of Great Britain. The Allied buildup was proceeding at a frenzied pace, mainly in the south of England opposite Normandy. Yet no flights of the sort occurred during the critical early months of 1944.
Between January and June 1944, Allied fighters swept the skies clear of German warplanes and took a heavy toll in pilots. As a result, by June 1944 the enemy lacked both the aircraft and the airmen to mount more than a token resistance to Allied plans. Difficulties in assembling landing craft forced a postponement of the amphibious assault until June, but June 5 was fixed as the unalterable date by Eisenhower on May 17.
Loading of forces began on 30 May 1944, and all troops were aboard by 03 June. The Germans in France had no knowledge of these preparations, since they had mounted no air reconnaissance during the first five days of June, because of bad weather. As troops began to embark for the crossing, on 04 June heavy winds, a five-foot swell at sea, and lowering skies compelled Eisenhower to postpone the assault for 24 hours. Eisenhower felt that OVERLORD was going in with a very slim margin of ground superiority and that only the Allied supremacy in the air made it a sound operation of war. If the air could not operate, the landings should not be risked. A prearranged signal was sent out to the invasion fleet, many of whose convoys were already at sea. The ships turned back and prepared to rendezvous twenty-four hours later.
On the evening of 05 June The Germans intercepted the prearranged BBC radio broadcasts warning the French Resistance of invasion within forty-eight hours and directing the execution of sabotage plans. But the effect of the intercepted warnings to the Resistance on German preparedness was slight.
Shortly after midnight on 05 June 1944 the largest fleet ever assembled began the voyage across the English Channel. The armada consisted of 3,000 small landing craft, 71 large landing craft of various descriptions 9 battleships, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers, and as well as troop transports, mine sweepers, and merchantmen -- in all, nearly 5,000 ships of every type. The invasion convoys, carrying the combat teams of six infantry division, sailed on the night of June 5-6 from a dozen English ports.
The Battle of Normandy opened on D-Day, 06 June 1944, and continued into the French interior. Approximately 3,000 Americans, British and Canadians were killed in the June 6th invasion of Normandy.
As midnight of 05 June approached, the first of 822 aircraft carrying parachutists or towing gliders, roared overhead to the Normandy landing zones. They were a fraction of the air armada of more than 10,000 aircraft that would support D-Day. Early on the morning of June 6, elements of three airborne divisions jumped into the black sky above Normandy. The airborne troops were its vanguard, and their landings were a heartening success. The American 82nd and 101st airborne divisions, dropping into a deliberately inundated zone at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, suffered many casualties by drowning but nevertheless secured their objective. The British 6th Airborne Division seized its unflooded objectives at the eastern end more easily, and its special task force also captured key bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River.
Launched against the Normandy beaches, the largest amphibious operation in history involved 176,000 troops. The crossing was uneventful, and all four thousand landing craft were in position by first light. As dawn neared, bombers began to strike up and down the coast, flying the first of what would become, by the end of the day, more than 11,000 sorties against enemy batteries, headquarters, railroad junctions, and troop concentrations. At 0530, the fleet opened fire on the beaches. For the next hour, soldiers boarded their assault craft and started their run-ins as thousands of aircraft roared overhead, bombing and strafing German positions on, and just behind, the beaches.
Then, at H-Hour, 0630, the bombardment ceased and the first assault wave hit the beaches. When the seaborne units began to land about 6:30 AM on June 6, the British and Canadians on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches overcame light opposition. So did the Americans at Utah. The American 1st Division at Omaha Beach, however, confronted the best of the German coast divisions, the 352nd, and was roughly handled. Although victorious against the first wave of invaders at Omaha, the Germans could do little when the force on the beach began to renew itself. In the absence of much room to maneuver, the American attack was unoriginal, a straightforward frontal assault, but the weight of numbers and the enormous volume of supplies and equipment made the difference. By nightfall, 34,000 men were ashore on Omaha.
By midnight on the 6th, Allied power had prevailed all across the Normandy beachhead, and more than 100,000 men had come ashore. The Allies held a beachhead, however tenuous, on the continent. Meanwhile, the German high command, in the absence of Rommel, who was home on leave, began to respond. Hitler was initially unwilling to release the armoured divisions for a counterattack. When he relented after midday, elements of the 21st Panzer Division drove into the gap between the British 3rd and Canadian 3rd divisions at Sword Beach and Juno Beach and almost reached the sea. By June 12 the beachhead then formed a continuous zone, deepest southwest of Bayeux, where the 5th Corps had driven nearly 15 miles (25 kilometres) inland. With the beaches behind them, the Allies could afford to turn their eyes eastward to the Seine River and beyond.
In one of the worst mistakes anyone made in World War II, Adolf Hitler ordered his commanders to seek a decision in Normandy. Rather than withdraw, the Germans reinforced their units. Seeing the potential for a larger success, US forces planned to trap the bulk of the retreating German forces west of the Rhine, a long encirclement envisioned as a war-winning maneuver. But the American and Canadian armies did not meet at Falaise in time to trap all the Germans, and many escaped to fight again. The battle nonetheless marked the end of the fighting in Normandy, where Allied forces had literally destroyed two German armies. In practical terms, the battle determined the future course of the war. Six weeks of battle had left the Germans disheartened and susceptible to any farther blow the Allies might deliver.
An assassination attempt against Hitler on 20 July failed. By the winter of 1944, the Allies had turned the tide of the Second World War. Allied forces had liberated the Italian peninsula and were gaining ground in France and the Low Countries. By mid September 1944, the ground attack had reached the Rhine and some bombers were switched back to strategic bombing of Germany.
In mid-December 1944, in a desperate attempt to halt this steady advance, Adolf Hitler launched a furious and massive counteroffensive. On December 16, 29 German divisions flooded the Allied line in the Ardennes Forest region of Belgium and Luxembourg. The Battle of the Bulge had begun. Facing superior enemy numbers, rugged terrain, and bitter weather, the American troops at first fell back. But their determination to defeat the Nazis never wavered. For 6 weeks, US soldiers responded to fierce German offensives with equally determined counterattacks, refusing to succumb to the Nazi onslaught. The siege of Bastogne in Belgium remains an enduring symbol of their indomitable spirit. At that strategic crossroads, a small detachment of the 101st Airborne Division and other attached troops were encircled. When called upon to surrender by the much larger German force, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe dismissed the demand with his legendary one-word reply: "Nuts." Against all odds, he and his men held firm during the siege until reinforcements arrived and helped halt the German offensive at a critical point in the Battle. At the end of the Battle of the Bulge, some 19,000 Americans lay dead, and thousands more were wounded, captured, or missing in action.
By late January of 1945, the American and Allied counterattack had succeeded in pushing back the Nazi forces, eliminating the threat of further German offensives and ultimately sealing the fate of the Nazi regime. The Battle of the Bulge could not halt the Allied advances on both the Eastern and Western fronts.
Over 70% of the bomb tonnage dropped in Europe and the Mediterranean was delivered after D-Day. By February 1945 Allied air power was so overwhelming that thousands of tons of bombs were dropped on Berlin and on 13-15 February the fearful firestorm of Dresden resulted in over 35,000 deaths. Years of systematic bombing by American and British forces had reduced Germany to ruble. In January 1945 the Russians mounted their greatest offensive of the war. After Hitler committed suicide on 30 April German forces began surrending in May, and 08 May 1945 was proclaimed V-E Day - Victory in Europe.
The scope of the American contribution to the war against Germany and Italy started modestly and grew to enormous proportions. At the beginning of the North African invasion, the United States could provide only one corps. By the close of the war, six numbered American armies operated in western Europe, although the Fifteenth Army was not organized until the end of the war. Americans provided 61 of 91 Allied divisions in the western Europe theater of operations, plus 7 of 18 divisions in Italy. Four of the six Allied tactical air commands were American. Even these figures do not represent the full American contribution to the Allied victory. The United States provided ammunition, equipment, and other essential military supplies to British and Russian forces.
The Japanese military, deeply engaged in the seemingly endless war against China, badly needed oil and other raw materials. Commercial access to these was gradually curtailed as the conquests continued. The Japanese continued their expansion, and entered French Indochina in 1941. The United States responded with an embargo which made Japanese shortages of oil and raw materials even more acute as the war in China continued without resolution. In July 1941 the Western powers effectively halted trade with Japan. From then on, as the desperate Japanese schemed to seize the oil and mineral-rich East Indies and Southeast Asia, a Pacific war was virtually inevitable.
By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed U.S. officials (and they were well-informed, they believed, through an ability to read Japan's diplomatic codes) fully expected a Japanese attack into the Indies, Malaya and probably the Philippines. Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack east, as well.
The Japanese raid on December 7, 1941, marked the first of several major victories for Tokyo. The Japanese destroyed much of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. They attacked American bases in the Philippines, and within days Japan captured the American island of Guam. Japanese troops landed in Thailand, marched into Malaya, and seized Hong Kong. The Japanese moved into Indonesia and Burma. Even Hitler's troops in Europe had not moved so quickly or successfully.
Until the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May 1942, Japan's far-reaching offensives proceeded untroubled by fruitful opposition. American and Allied morale suffered accordingly. Under normal political circumstances, an accomodation might have been considered. Fresh from their successes, the Japanese decided (unwisely) to extend their defensive perimeter outwards from their main forward base of Rabaul, in New Britain. The Japanese put together two invasion forces; one intending to land troops at Port Moresby, on the southern tip of New Guinea, and a second to put troops ashore on the island of Tulagi, in the southern Solomons. Simultaneously, a powerful screening force centered on the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku was dispatched from Truk to prevent any interference from any Allied naval forces that might be in the area. As it turned out, the carriers Lexington and Yorktown were in the Coral Sea, the Americans having been alerted to the likelihood of such a Japanese move by radio intelligence. What followed on May 7-8, 1942 was the first true carrier vs. carrier battle, where neither task force actually came within sight of each other, and the issue was decided entirely by aircraft. The results of the affair was probably a tactical victory for the Japanese, as they managed to sink the heavy carrier Lexington, heavily damage the Yorktown, and sink a destroyer and an oiler.
The turning point came in June 1942 in the central pacific battle of Midway Island. Japan's geographical situation determined that the Pacific war should in large measure be a war for control of the sea, and to insure control of the sea, for control of the air over it. Before the war, American and Japanese naval planners expected that the outcome of a war between their two countries would be decided by major battles fought out by surface ships. Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto wanted to meet and destroy the remaining ships of the American fleet before Washington had time to rebuild them. But the US had broken Japanese naval codes and knew exactly where the Japanese ships would sail. Placing the US Fleet in the best places to stop the Japanese, the US won a great victory. The feared Japanese carrier striking force which had ranged across the Pacific and beaten its foes with near-impunity, had been destroyed at a stroke. For the Japanese Navy, this marked the end of any real strategic offensive capability.
The memory of the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor fueled a determination to fight on. Once the Battle of Midway had eliminated much of Japan's striking power, that same memory stoked a relentless war to reverse her conquests and remove her, and her German and Italian allies, as future threats to World peace.
Japan's industrial potential was approximately ten percent of that of the United States, and was always hampered by a lack of oil. Even though her research and technical design work was not purely imitative, Japan's ability to develop reliable operating equipment in the new fields was low. Japanese radar and communications equipment was weak. Japan could not build sufficient ships or escort vessels, and lacked construction equipment to build adequate airfields. Japan could not economically afford to build adequate shelters for her population, and could not both disperse her industry and also repair damaged plants. Japan chose dispersal rather than repair, but had insufficient means even to disperse effectively.
From February 1942 until July 1944, a war of attrition was fought by the air forces of the United States, Australia and Japan in Papua, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands. Although this period comprises more than half the length of the war in the Pacific, somehow more attention seems to be paid in popular histories to other aspects of that war, such as the actions of the carrier fleets of Japan and the United States. The air campaign in the South Pacific, however, was of extreme importance, not just to the persons of all sides who fought there, but to the outcome of the war. This is because it was in, over and around the island of New Guinea that the Japanese Army and Navy, and their air forces, were first stopped, worn down and finally pushed back.
The United States entered the Second World War with a Germany-first strategy. By 1943, however, American forces were on the offensive against both Germany and Japan. American military planners did not agree about the best way to launch such a counterattack. Admiral Nimitz of the navy wanted to capture the small groups of Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, then seize Taiwan, and finally attack Japan itself. But General Douglas MacArthur of the Army thought it best to attack through New Guinea and the Philippines.
The American leadership finally decided to launch both attacks at once. Plans to launch an offensive against the Japanese in the islands of the Pacific were initiated in 1943 at the Quadrant Conference held in Quebec. The American counter-offensive advanced along two axes. American forces under General Douglas MacArthur or Admiral William Halsey advanced along a southern route towards the Philippines. Meanwhile, other forces under Admirals Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance moved toward the Gilbert Islands, then the Marshalls, followed by Wake, the Eastern Carolines, and finally the Marianas. Both Nimitz and MacArthur succeeded. Allied military leaders found a way to defeat the Japanese, by avoiding the islands where the Japanese were strong. But sometimes the allies could not avoid battle, as they had to land on some islands to seize airfields for American bombers.
Until late 1944, securing a port and establishing airfields in southeastern China, from which bomber (B-29) raids could be launched on Japan, were considered essential parts of the strategic plan to defeat Japan. B-29s first flew in Operation MATTERHORN, which called for India-based Superfortresses to bomb Japan from forward bases in China. Opening a land supply route to China across Burma so that large numbers of Chinese Nationalist troops could be equipped was an essential prelude to the accomplishment of the strategic plan. Meanwhile, Chiang's Nationalist Government had failed to build up a strong military force and was engrossed with the revolt of China's Communists, led by Mao Tse-tung, who had gained control in North China. In September 1944 Japanese forces in China overran the airfields in South China and threatened areas slated for the construction of B-29 airfields. Progress of the offensive in the Pacific had by this time permitted a revision of Allied strategy, and it had become evident that islands in the Pacific which the Allies were capturing could be used to greater advantage than China as a springboard for an effective attack on Japan. In any event, President Roosevelt had displayed a growing disinterest in the China problem following his meeting with Chiang Kai-shek at Cairo in November 1943. Grandiose lend-lease plans for the eventual equipping and training of 30 Chinese divisions gradually evaporated.
The Pacific War was the largest naval conflict in history. Across the huge expanses of the Pacific, the two most powerful navies in the world (US and Japan) found themselves locked in a death struggle. The war was fought in every possible climate, from Arctic conditions in the Aleutians, to the appalling heat and swelter of the South Pacific. Every conceivable type of naval activity was represented: carrier aviation battles, surface engagements, bitterly fought night-fights, the largest amphibious landings of the entire war, and the stealthy, brutal battles waged by and against submarines.
The United States Navy fought a grueling war in the Pacific against Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy was a formidable antagonist. At first, the United States Navy was stretched to the breaking point just to contain Japanese expansion. Later, the growth of American naval power enabled a transition from defense to offense against Japan. This powerful American offensive across the Pacific destroyed Japan's imperial ambitions.
While the Army and Army Air Forces played crucial roles in bringing this victory -- especially in the South and Southwest Pacific campaigns, and in the strategic bomber offensive against the home islands -- the Navy undoubtedly played the key role in the war against Japan. This was most clearly demonstrated in the destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy in a series of carrier battles, and in the decisive Central Pacific campaign wherein naval air power was the only air power on which the US could rely for its assaults on Japanese-held island bases. None of this success would have been possible without an immense rise in the quality and numbers of the Navy's aircraft and aircraft carriers.
The Navy began the war with only eight aircraft carriers and about 5,000 aircraft. By mid-1943, just before the start of the Central Pacific campaign, it operated 12 large aircraft carriers -- including the first of the huge Essex-class vessels and 17 escort carriers, with 16 more due off the ways by the end of the year. The number of aircraft in service had risen to over 16,000. By the end of 1944, 25 major carriers and 65 escort carriers had come to dominate the seas, operating more than 36,000 aircraft. By the end of the war, these figures had risen to 28 large carriers, 71 escort carriers (as well as dozens of the even smaller "jeep" carriers used for ferrying aircraft across the Pacific), and more than 41,000 aircraft.
The war against Japan that spanned the Pacific Ocean dominated the Navy's attention and most directly shape its development. It was, in fact, the war for which the Navy and the Marine Corps had been preparing over the previous decades. It was a conflict in which naval power, especially naval air power and amphibious assault operations, played the decisive role. In the vast expanses of the Pacific, the possession of strategic island bases and the actions of carrier task forces would shape the course of the war. The massed might of the Army and Army Air Forces would play important roles in the South and Southwest Pacific, where land masses were more closely spaced, but even there the Navy and Marine Corps could be the deciding factor. In the Central Pacific, however, the immense distances between isolated island chains meant that the only air power available to support attacking US Marines was that based on Navy carriers. Here, then, was where the Navy fought its war and where naval aviation played its most decisive role.
Pearl Harbor had left the Pacific Fleet crippled, stripped of most of its fighting capacity except for the three major carriers that had been out to sea when the Japanese planes dove from the clouds. By necessity, then, the Navy confined itself to a series of delaying and harassing actions launched from these vessels during the first days of the Pacific war as the Japanese advanced across the Pacific basin in a lighting offensive.
In the beginning of 1942, gloom was descending over the United States like a winter twilight. On all fronts, the United States and its allies were reeling from the blows of the Axis powers. In the midst of these dark days burst the light of the Doolittle Raid on Japan. The US Navy conceived the raid as a way to raise morale. It entailed launching Army twin-engine B-25B Mitchell bombers from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet to bomb selected cities in Japan. It was a way to strike back, to demonstrate that no matter how bleak the future looked, the United States would not give up. Leading the attack was Army Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, an aviation pioneer and daredevil racer. The 16 bombers struck Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohama on 18 April 1942. The raid inflicted little physical damage to Japan, but it gave a needed lift to morale in the United States. In Japan, the psychological damage of the attack was more important.
Carrier actions in the Doolittle Raid and the Battle of the Coral Sea dominated the first 6 months of the war, during which time Navy pilots flew the relatively inferior aircraft that were already in service at the beginning of the war. These included the Brewster F2A Buffalo and the Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, and the TBD Devastator torpedo bomber. This early phase culminated in the US victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, where the tide of Japanese victories was stemmed for the first time. The Doolittle Raid had convinced Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto, chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, that he had to extend Japan's defensive perimeter. He aimed the extension at Midway Island. If Japan held that strategic mid-Pacific atoll, no carrier task force could approach. The battle of Midway was a decisive victory for the United States. Many called Midway the turning point of the war in the Pacific.
The Allied counter-offensive in the South Pacific began in August 1942 with Marine landings on Tulagi and Guadalcanal, opening stiff fighting for the latter island that would continue for 6 months. At the same time, the Japanese push to conquer New Guinea was effectively turned back, ending the immediate threat to Australia by depriving Japan of air bases on the southern half of the island.
Over the course of 1943, the Army and Navy brought the Solomons campaign to a successful completion and made great strides toward completely ridding New Guinea of its Japanese invaders. By November 1943, the Navy's Central Pacific campaign had swung into action with the seizure of the Gilbert Islands following victories at Tarawa and Makin. Here, the Navy relied on its growing fleet of aircraft carriers -- both the immense Essex-class vessels and the smaller carrier vessel escorts (CVEs) -- to provide the air power necessary to seize air superiority from Japanese land-based aircraft and provide floating bases from which Marine Corps and Navy pilots could conduct their devastating close air support missions on behalf of the assaulting ground forces. Also, superior new aircraft that had been on the drawing boards in December 1941 were entering the inven-tory during 1943. These included the F6F Hellcat, the SB2C Helldiver, and the TBF Avenger, as well as the Marines' F4U Corsair.
During 1944, the Central Pacific campaign proceeded apace, with the Marshall Islands falling to the Marines after fighting on Kwajalein and Eniwetok in February 1944. Air assaults on other Japanese bases in the Central Pacific followed immediately thereafter, including attacks on Truk, Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. South Pacific operations in New Guinea were completed in April 1944. The Navy then returned to the Central Pacific to seize the Marianas Islands after victory on Saipan, followed by the seizure of Guam in June 1944. These islands were quickly turned into large airbases for the Army's B-29 Superfortresses, which began a devastating bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands.
In the Pacific Theater the 5th, 7th, and 13th Air Forces supported the island-hopping campaigns across the Southern and Western Pacific, and the 10th and 14th Air Forces did the same in India and China. This area also benefited from the activities of the Air Transport Command [a precursor to the Military Airlift Command in the post-war years] as it flew supplies over the Himalayas from Burma to China.
The 20th Strategic Air Force (SAF) was organized in April 1944 to conduct the strategic bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands from bases in the Central Pacific. The 20th SAF was a unique organization. First, it was the only Army Air Force command to fly the giant B-29 Superfortress, the largest Very Heavy Bomber built to that point, with immense payload, high operational speed and altitude, and incredibly long range. Second, it reported directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and not to the local Theater Commander. This was the specific intent of General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the Air Force, who intended to demonstrate that a modern industrial nation such as Japan could be defeated through the use of strategic air power. He therefore molded the 20th Strategic Air Force to his vision of an independent postwar Air Force.
Provoked into action by the American landing in the Marianas Islands, the Japanese fleet committed six carriers with some 430 fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes to the First Battle of the Philippine Sea. The air battle on 19 June 1944, now called the Marianas "Turkey Shoot," became one of the US Navy's greatest victories of World War II when the US Navy fighter pilots shot down 369 enemy aircraft. The bulk of Japan's surface strength and naval air power was destroyed in the finest day of combat in the history of US naval aviation. Morotai and Pelau followed in September 1944, and the reconquest of the Philippines commenced at Leyte in October. The hard-fought Battle of Leyte Gulf resulted in the destruction of most of the remainder of the Imperial Japanese Fleet, laying the way for an advance against the Japanese home islands.
Until June 1944, U.S. planners had assumed that south China and Taiwan would be the principal invasion objectives of advancing Allied forces, including the British, and that the war might last into 1948 or longer. In June 1944, however, U.S. planners of the Joint War Plans Committee, subordinate to the Joint Planning Staff (JPS), outlined a new possibility, a rapid advance of U.S. forces by sea, culminating in the early invasion of Japan itself. The Bonins, the Ryukyus, and the China coast near Shanghai were to be intermediate objectives, secured between April and June 1945, with a landing then on Kyushu to take place on 1 October 1945. However, all of this was to begin only after the invasion of Taiwan and the south China coast. These plans, in fact, were titled "Operations Against Japan Subsequent to Formosa [Taiwan]." In other words, the June 1944 plans represented a hybrid or transition phase that retained major invasions on the China coast but added major invasions of Japan's home islands. A series of American successes caused planners to take the next evolutionary step, which was to eliminate entirely the earlier preoccupation with the China coast and aim American advances solely at Japan. fall, which called for a 1 December landing on Kyushu.
In January 1945 US troops invaded Luzon in the Philippines, and fighting in the Southwest Pacific was largely over by February. Also in that month, the Marines seized Iwo Jima in order to secure the bomber routes to Japan and provide an advanced base from which to stage Air Force fighter escorts. April brought the invasion of Okinawa, and its final capture in late June -- after 2 months of bloody land fighting and costly kamikaze attacks -- eliminated the last impediment to the invasion of the home islands. By the middle of 1945, the two axes of advance had converged at Okinawa, on Japan's doorstep.
Next the Allies began preparations for a bloody invasion of Japan. On 29 March 1945, the Joint Chiefs of Staff set a tentative schedule for the overall invasion plan, Downfall. By the end of May 1945, planners had shelved the China operations altogether and considered a direct advance on Japan only. To end the war quickly, planners adopted the ambitious, but potentially costly, strategy of invading Japan's heavily defended homeland itself. Olympic and Coronet, America's planned landings on Kyushu and the Tokyo Plain respectively, represented the largest amphibious invasions ever planned.
The war termination strategies adopted by the United States remain controversial despite the passage of more than fifty years. Germany and Japan were determined and resourceful adversaries. Bringing about their complete defeat, while holding down American casualties and managing the United States' relationships with allies, posed difficult strategic choices for American decision-makers. Nothing better illustrates these difficulties than the decision to use nuclear weapons to force Japan's surrender. With the atomic attacks on Japan, the Second World War thus became the first nuclear conflict.
With a combined American air bombardment and naval blockade, Japan had been defeated by the summer of 1945, if not earlier. But even in defeat the Japanese Army intended to fight in defense of the homeland. Both sides still expected the allies to launch a final invasion into Japan itself. But the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 06 August 1945, and another on Nagasaki on 09 August 1945. More than one-hundred-thousand persons were killed. While individual fire-bomb raids had actually inflicted heavier casualties than either atomic bomb attack would, the psychological effect of a single weapon of such explosive force had the desired effect, spurring the precipitate surrender of the Japanese government. The Soviet Union entered the war against Japan, and Tokyo surrendered within days, with V-J Day declared on 15 August 1945. On 2 September 1945 World War II ended when representatives of Japan signed the instruments of surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) in Tokyo Bay.
Suddenly, sooner than expected, the war ended. More than twenty-five-million soldiers and civilians had died during the six years of fighting. Germany and Japan were defeated. The Soviet Union was strong in much of Eastern Europe. And the United States found it had become the world's strongest military, economic, and political power. World War II was a watershed in the history of the Uinted States. Wartime developments in science and technology provided new tools for the solution of prewar problems that had been put aside and new ones created by the exigencies of the war. The contribution of science to the security and prosperity of the Nation was more widely recognized than ever before.
- "EXPLAINING HITLER" Voice of America 07 October 1998
- A War That Was Not Left to the Generals Eliot A. Cohen Joint Forces Quarterly Summer 1995 [203 kb PDF] -- Roosevelt, and to an even greater measure Churchill, exercised a directive, forceful control of a kind that most members of the defense establishment today would find unusual - and perhaps improper.
- The Meaning of World War II Williamson Murray Joint Forces Quarterly Summer 1995 [405 kb PDF]
- Deflating British Radar Myths of World War II Gregory C. Clark; Richard M. Muller (Faculty Advisor) Air Command and Staff College 1997 - England's Chain Home radar was a dead end technology with serious shortcomings, but was skillfully melded to an innovative command and control system.
- The Military Utility of German Rocketry During World War II Kirk M Kloeppel Maj; Richard Muller (Faculty Advisor) Air Command and Staff College 1997 -- During the period from August 1943 to August 1944, CROSSBOW sorties comprised 14% of sorties flown and 16% of total tonnage dropped.
- TESTIMONY - THE REICH'S EX-LEADERS EXPLAIN WHY THEY WERE BEATEN 62-66 of July 1945 IMPACT [a CONFIDENTIAL wartime publication of the Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Intelligence] "Germany lost the war the day it started. Your bombers destroyed German production, and Allied production made the defeat of Germany certain."
- ULTRA and the Myth of the German "National Redoubt" Marvin Meek, ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE - 04 JUN 1999 -- This study investigates the creation of a mythical fortifications system called the German National Redoubt and the use of ULTRA to confirm its existence. The work includes a brief background of the Redoubt and examines how the state of intelligence at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force helped turn enemy propaganda into reality.
- HyperWar HyperText History of the Second World War,
- Alphabetical List of Sites
- World War II
- Places of World War II
- WWII @ TheHistoryNet
- Marshall University FTP Archive
- World War II Texts and Archives @ Hanover College
- Secrets of War
- World War II Documents
- USAAF Combat Chronology
- WORLD WAR II Lotsa.Links@TheAmericanWarLibrary
- World War II - American Theater @ US Army Center for Military History
- World War II - Asiatic-Pacific Theater @ US Army Center for Military History
- World War II - European-African-Middle Eastern Theater @ US Army Center for Military History
- A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE U.S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, Center of Military History United States Army Washington, D.C., 1992
- COMMAND DECISIONS
- THE WOMEN'S ARMY CORPS: A COMMEMORATION OF WORLD WAR II SERVICE
- U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES IN WORLD WAR II
- The Army Nurse Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service
- AIRBORNE OPERATIONS: A GERMAN APPRAISAL
- THE ARDENNES: BATTLE OF THE BULGE
- CROSS-CHANNEL ATTACK
- GERMAN ANTIGUERRILLA OPERATIONS IN THE BALKANS (1941-1944)
- OMAHA BEACHHEAD (6 June-13 June 1944)
- OPERATIONS OF ENCIRCLED FORCES
- REAR AREA SECURITY IN RUSSIA: THE SOVIET SECOND FRONT BEHIND THE GERMAN LINES
- ST-LO (7 July - 19 July 1944)
- THE GERMAN CAMPAIGNS IN THE BALKANS
- TRAINING FOR MOUNTAIN AND WINTER WARFARE
- US ARMY IN NORTHERN IRELAND, 1941-1945
- UTAH BEACH TO CHERBOURG
- CENTRAL PACIFIC
- CHINA DEFENSIVE
- U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Aces
- Bureau of Medicine and Surgery chronology from Navy Medicine
- Casualties, World War II
- Code Talkers, World War II
- Cruise Books of the United States Navy in World War II
- Fleet Admirals
- Indianapolis, USS, Loss of
- Operation Tiger
- Pearl Harbor, Ships Present at 0800 on 7 December 1941
- Presidents who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II
- Prisoners of War, World War II
- Information on PT 109 and Patrol Torpedo Boats
- Ships Present during Japanese Surrender Ceremony, 2 September 1945
- Battle Streamer: American Theater 1941-1946
- Battle Streamer: Asiatic-Pacific Theater 1941-1946
- Battle Streamer: European-African-Middle Eastern Theater 1941-1946
- Bibliography: World War II General Works
- Bibliography: World War II-Atlantic Theater
- Bibliography: World War II-Pacific Theater
- Bibliography: World War II-Biography
- The submerged wreckage of U-1105
Air Force Documents
- THE UNITED STATES STRATEGIC BOMBING SURVEY Summary Report (European War)
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