World War II (1939–1945)

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World War II (1939–1945)


German Nationalism

When Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) and the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 by popular vote, they did so largely by riding a wave of German nationalism. These nationalistic feelings were rooted in centuries of Central European conflict, were sharpened and intensified in the wake of defeat in World War I, and would reach their devastating peak in World War II (1939–1945).

The concept of a unified country called Germany is relatively new. When Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941) led his nation into war in 1914, the German Empire was not yet a half-century old. Yet in that short time, Germany had quickly risen to become one of Europe’s major powers. This rapid rise in power came about largely because of the population’s willingness to set aside old divisions and begin working toward building a new national identity to match their much older cultural and linguistic identity, which stretched back to the Middle Ages.

The First Reich

The seeds of German disunity lie in medieval power politics. At one point all of Europe was a patchwork of independent fiefdoms, loosely bound together under kings who were more often than not mere figureheads. As the Middle Ages came to a close in the fifteenth century, most of these fiefdoms were stripped of their power as the nations we know today began to take form under ever stronger kings and queens.

This process did not take place in Germany, which occupied the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire, for a variety of reasons. Chief among these were the Wars of Religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in particular the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), which brought widespread devastation to the region and effectively transformed the more than two hundred member-states of the Holy Roman Empire into independent states, reducing the emperor to a powerless statesman.

Over the next two centuries, Central European politics was dominated by the Austrian Empire, ruled by the powerful Hapsburg dynasty. Germany, trapped between the great powers of Russia, Austria, and France, became a buffer zone and a battleground, its fractiousness encouraged as a means of maintaining the international balance of power.

Frederick the Great and the Rise of Prussia

This balance would finally be upset in the eighteenth century with the rise of Prussia, an eastern German kingdom whose roots lay in the “Drive to the East,” a nineteenth-century term for the migration of German-speaking peoples into the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe. Prussia itself began as the territory of the crusading Teutonic Knights, who carved the territory out of the lands of the indigenous Prussians and gradually Germanized the region.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Prussia, under the leadership of King Frederick II (1712–1786), defeated all three of its neighbors during the Seven Years War and rose to become a new power in Europe. The seeds of eventual German unification were being sown.

Romantic Nationalism

The essential ingredient of unification, nationalism, did not begin in earnest until the early 1900s. French dominance in Central Europe, and resentment thereof, sparked a new recognition of the unity of German language, culture, and history. The Brothers Grimm and their collection of German folklore were a direct result of this new movement, which was soon dubbed German Romanticism. The philosophy of Romanticism represented the first expression of German nationalism, emphasizing ethnic unity in the absence of political unity.

The new philosophy espoused two central concepts of German history and culture: Pan-Germanism and Drang Nach Osten. Pan-Germanism sought to unite all German-speaking peoples within a single nation, where Drang Nach Osten (“drive to the east”) explained the gradual migration of German influence from west to east and further implied the continuing need for German expansion to provide Lebensraum (living space).

This complex nationalistic philosophy, combined with the heady revolutionary atmosphere of Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, led to Germany’s first attempt at unification in 1848. The Frankfurt Parliament’s efforts were ultimately stymied by an inability to join the far-flung German states in a single nation. Many of the states, such as Austria-Hungary and Prussia, contained significant non-German minorities.

Blood and Iron

With the failure of peaceful unification, Romanticism and Nationalism went their separate ways. The German cause was soon taken up by Prussia and its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), in particular, who advocated the creation of a unified state through “blood and iron.”

Bismarck was successful, although he opted to create a German state that did not encompass all German-speaking territories—missing, most notably, was Austria. Thus, the issue of pan-Germanism was left unresolved and German nationalism took on a distinctly militaristic tone.

The new militaristic brand of German nationalism, which emphasized the superiority of German culture and the need for expansion, would lead directly to two world wars. World War II in particular was a result of German nationalism expressed as national policy. Hitler’s pan-Germanic dreams of expansion led to Germany’s annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938–1939.

Pan-Germanic considerations, combined with Nazi dreams of reinstituting the “drive to the East,” led to the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. German nationalism, originally an expression of a desire for a long-fractured culture to coalesce as a sovereign nation, had turned into an instrument of militaristic imperialism. In the end, the results would prove disastrous for the very culture that German nationalism claimed to serve.

Global Economic Depression

On October 29, 1929, known as “Black Tuesday,” the New York Stock Exchange crashed. The fallout of this economic crisis would set off a worldwide depression that would have profound effects on the economic, social, and political structures of virtually every industrialized country and would set the world on a path to war.

The Roaring Twenties and the Crash

The 1920s were a decade lived in the shadow of World War I. International politics focused on efforts to ensure that war on such a scale could never happen again, while Europe tried its best to rebuild after the massive destruction brought about by the conflict. The U.S. postwar economy had burgeoned, and the United States had become a global power and established strong ties with the Old World industrialized nations as well as with Japan.

Unfortunately, much of this prosperity was funneled into speculation on the stock market, which resulted in ever-increasing profits that were built on wildly overvalued stock. When the market eventually corrected itself in 1929, the resulting “crash” ruined many investors and set off a domino effect of economic failure within the United States that would eventually become a worldwide economic failure.

Domestic and International Consequences

The United States, which had already been leaning toward an isolationist foreign policy, withdrew completely from world politics as it dealt with the calamitous effects of the Great Depression, as the economic downturn was called. Hardest hit were manufacturing industries and the mining and foresting industries that supported them. To make matters worse, the American Midwest, after decades of overfarming, turned into a literal “Dust Bowl” as once-rich topsoil dried up and blew away amidst record drought. By 1932, the worst year of the Great Depression, one in four Americans was unemployed, a disastrous condition for a country with no government-sponsored support system for the poor and disadvantaged.

A strong current of isolationism accompanied the Great Depression, not only in the United States but also in Europe. England and France, still struggling to recover from the massive expenditures of World War I, were severely affected by the economic downturn—for many of the same reasons as the United States was disastrously affected. France was perhaps the hardest hit of the three, nearly crippled by riots and a general strike in the mid-1930s.

As the situation worsened, desperation led to desperate measures; fringe political parties gained considerable popularity. Democracy found itself increasingly on the defensive as the Allied victors of World War I frantically attempted to keep their governments from completely collapsing.

The Rise of Totalitarianism

Events in Spain would demonstrate how very real the possibility of government collapse was. In 1936, the country fell into civil war. The democratically elected government and a fascist insurgency supported by Italy and Germany clashed in a war that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives. (The terms fascist and fascism refer to a system of government marked by strong centralized economic and social authority, usually in the hands of a dictator, coupled with aggressive nationalism.) The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) would end in a fascist victory that had in large part been assured because of the refusal of the Western democracies to intervene on behalf of the Spanish democracy.

With the major Allied powers distracted by their own internal difficulties, some nations turned to expansionist policies as their governments became increasingly radicalized in response to the global crisis.

Both Japan and Italy embarked on campaigns of territorial expansion as a means of stimulating their depressed economies—Japan attacked Manchuria and took it from China, and Italy overran the African country of Ethiopia. Both countries received international condemnation but no actual reprisals.

Japan, dependent on international trade, had been particularly hard hit by the Great Depression, which had led directly to a renewed policy of colonialism and a rejection of liberal democracy. A similar process in Germany would see the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

The Great Depression and the Rise of Nazism

The German Empire was created and destroyed by war—the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, respectively. The Germany that had emerged from “the Great War” in 1919 was economically crippled and politically divided. The young nation’s economic condition had never been weaker, and the worldwide economic crisis that began in 1929 only made things worse. It was this environment that allowed the National Socialist Democratic Worker’s Party (or “Nazi” Party) to thrive.

The Nazis had attempted to seize power before—in a coup attempt in 1923—but the political and economic climate was not yet desperate enough to support an extremist government. The crash of 1929 changed all that. The United States, which had been propping up the German democratic government with loans, had to cut off its flow of cash. Unemployment and inflation in Germany soared and politics began to take a radical turn.

The Nazis came to power in 1933 in this environment, taking advantage of the fractiousness of their political opponents and a public increasingly desperate for solutions. One year prior to Hitler’s rise to power, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected president of the United States. Both leaders would quickly embark on programs of renewal and rebuilding that would eventually bring their countries out of the Great Depression.

Although both programs were ultimately successful, they differed markedly in their objectives. For the Roosevelt administration, the restoration of a stable and prosperous economy was an end in itself. For Hitler, the overriding goal of Germany’s economic recovery was to restore his country’s military might.

The six years between the consolidation of Nazi power in 1933 and the invasion of Poland in 1939 saw Germany systematically flout or ignore nearly every provision of the Treaty of Versailles, which had put severe limits on German military, economic, and territorial expansion. With France crippled by internal strife and the United States pursuing a policy of isolation, England was left to its own response to these violations. That policy, appeasement, was largely a result of England’s weakened state in the wake of the global economic depression.

As with those from Italy and Japan, the warning signs coming from Germany were ignored. The Great Depression sapped both the economic means and the political will of the Western democracies to deal with these three emerging threats until it was too late. The global economic crisis permitted the rise of Hitler and other totalitarian regimes as well as their expansion over the course of the 1930s. The seeds sown during these difficult years would be reaped in the following decade.


Anti-Semitism, active discrimination against and hostility toward Jewish people, has a long and infamous history in Europe. From the Middle Ages onward, anti-Semitism fueled campaigns of terror against Jewish communities, often resulting in murders, mass killings, and even forced migration of entire communities. But it was not until the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in 1933 that a nation embraced anti-Semitism as official state policy. The execution of this policy, referred to by the Nazis as the “final solution to the Jewish question,” would result in the death of millions of Jews during the organized, state-run genocide known as the Holocaust.

Religious Anti-Semitism

In order to understand how an event as monumentally monstrous as the Holocaust could come about, one must go back to some of the earliest Christian writings. From the beginning, many Christians felt antipathy toward the Jews, whom they viewed as stubbornly refusing to accept the coming of the Messiah. Some laid blamed on all Jews for the role played by Jewish authorities in the crucifixion of Christ. The moderate voices, such as St. Augustine of Hippo, condemned the Jews for killing Jesus the man, but exonerated them of the charge of “killing God” (for Christians, Christ was both a man and God). Other Christian thinkers were not so kind.

The common belief among medieval Christians was that the Jewish people were being punished for their deicide—they had lost their land and their temple because of God’s wrath and were condemned to wander the earth. St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), a prominent Christian philosopher, was particularly vehement in his anti-Semitic writings, arguing at one point that the Jews should be enslaved by Christians.

In many ways, anti-Semitism arose from the Christian community’s discomfort with the presence of an “alien” culture in their midst. These feelings led to the passing of laws requiring Jews to wear some sort of distinguishing clothing, most infamously a yellow star, in order to provide a visual cue for Christians.

Accusations and rumors of the most outrageous sort were spread regarding Jewish customs. It was said that Jews kidnapped Christian babies and offered them in human sacrifice to God, using their blood in Passover ceremonies. With the coming of the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century, Jews were widely accused of causing the pestilence. Untold thousands of Jews were killed in the ensuing “reprisals.”

Anti-Semitic Christian writers—both Catholic and Protestant—often went to great lengths in describing the “monstrous” appearance of Jews, as if to emphasize how alien the culture really seemed. Jews were painted as spreaders of disease, filth, death, demonic possession, and infestations. The leader of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther (1483–1546), in what has been called the first systematic outline for the genocide of the Jewish people, claimed “we are not at fault in slaying them” and outlined a methodology for the systematic destruction of the Jews eerily reminiscent of the Holocaust.

Violence and Expulsion

Organized terror campaigns directed at Jewish communities trace their lineage at least back to the First Crusade in 1096, when the first gatherings of religious zealots on their way to liberate the Holy Land, believing that killing “non-believers” in the name of God was a holy act, fell upon Jewish communities in Germany. The worst episodes occurred in the towns of Mainz and Worms, where the resident Jewish communities were completely wiped out in what has been called “the first Holocaust.”

Anti-Semitic feelings were also secularly based: Christians, forbidden by the Church from lending money at a profit, turned to Jewish moneylenders to finance their ambitions. The debt-ridden nobleman or merchant might stir up a local purge of Jewish residents simply to clear his debts.

Savvy rulers usually recognized the importance of Jewish creditors to the economies of Europe, and Jews could often count on some sort of protected legal status. The primary motivation for anti-Semitic crusades remained religious, however, so this protected status could be just as quickly rescinded, as when Edward I of England (1239–1307) expelled the Jews from his country in 1290 after two hundred years of royal sanction.

Although escalating anti-Semitism in England had led to Edward’s decision, it was Spain in later centuries that would earn a particular reputation for its vehement anti-Semitism. In 1492, the same year Spain completed its reconquista with the conquest of the last Muslim kingdom on the peninsula, the Alhambra Decree was issued, ordering Spain’s significant Jewish minority to either convert or leave the country.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews chose to leave, but many converted. This would, in the end, prove unsatisfactory. The Spanish Inquisition was in large part founded to ferret out Jewish converts who might not have been totally committed to their new religion. The Jesuit Order, founded in 1540 by the Spaniard who later became St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1521), required its initiates to prove non-Jewish ancestry stretching back five generations.

Racial Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism continued to flare up in Europe through the ensuing centuries, but in the nineteenth century it would take an important turn. Throughout that century, many of the laws specifically targeting Jews were repealed throughout Europe. This so-called “emancipation of the Jews” finally recognized Jewish civil rights, granting full citizenship and equality for the first time. At the same time, anti-Semitism turned from being a religious issue and began to take on racial and cultural connotations.

In fact, the term “anti-Semitism” was first coined in the nineteenth century, at a time when the newly enfranchised Jewish community was beginning to enter into European (and American) circles that had long been closed to them. This new upward mobility, combined with the emergence of nationalism, particularly in Germany, and its emphasis on native culture and the separateness of Jewish culture, led to a major surge in anti-Semitic literature and rhetoric by the end of the nineteenth century.

That anti-Semitism was turned into a racial issue fit in nicely with the emerging theories of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution and “survival of the fittest” was quickly misappropriated and turned to racist ends. In effect, hatred of Judaism as a religion had been replaced with hatred of Jews as a people.

Major Figures

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was chancellor of Germany and headed the Nazi Party during World War II. Under Hitler, the German government attempted to enact the “final solution” to the “Jewish question,” resulting in the mass murder of six million Jews and three million others also deemd “undesirable” by the Nazi government.

Early Life and Career

Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria, on April 20, 1889, the son of an Austrian customs agent. He moved to Vienna in 1907, where he failed as a landscape artist. He became virulently anti-Semitic while in Vienna.

In 1913, he moved to Germany. He served in the Bavarian army in World War I, winning an Iron Cross for valor. The honor gave him German citizenship. In the 1920s, he entered German politics, advocating a nationalistic form of socialism. His talent for speaking took him to leadership of the National Socialist (or Nazi) party. In 1923, he attempted to take over Bavaria, a coup attempt called the Beer Hall Putsch (putsch is another word for coup). Jailed for the attempt, he wrote Mein Kampf, outlining his political philosophy.

After release from prison, he resumed leadership of the Nazis. He was elected chancellor of Germany in 1933 and soon took absolute power.

Opening of World War II

Hitler remilitarized Germany in defiance of the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. He rebuilt the German Navy, including a prohibited submarine fleet, created an air force, the Luftwaffe, and expanded the army well beyond the 100,000-man limit set by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler reintroduced conscription in 1935, also in violation of the treaty.

In 1936, Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, demilitarized after World War I. Germany absorbed Austria in March 1938, annexed the German-speaking Sudetenland districts of Czechoslovakia in September 1938, and occupied Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939.

In September 1939, Hitler demanded Danzig, an ethnically German city-state and important port. He also wanted to give East Prussia land access to Germany. The Polish Corridor, which gave otherwise land-locked Poland access to the Baltic Sea, separated the two parts of Germany.

The reaction of England and France to Hitler’s previous violations of the Versailles Treaty ranged from passive to supine. In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) negotiated away part of its ally, Czechoslovakia, giving Germany the Sudetenland in exchange for a promise that Hitler would seek no more territorial gains. Chamberlain called the agreement “peace in our time.” Hitler expected the Western allies to behave as passively with Poland as they had previously.

Hitler signed an alliance with the Soviet Union. It split Poland between the two nations and gave the Soviets the Baltic States and parts of Romania and Finland. In exchange, Hitler got a guarantee of neutrality from the Soviets. Britain and France, meanwhile, finally decided to try to set some limits and refused to allow Hitler to take control of the Polish Corridor.

When Germany moved into Poland in September 1939, France and Britain declared war. As Hitler conquered Poland, France and Britain sat passively on the western German border. In the spring of 1940, Germany moved north, gaining control of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and, soon thereafter, France.

Hitler next tried to subdue Britain through air power, using the Luftwaffe. The Royal Air Force defended Britain from the Luftwaffe. Hitler then attempted to starve Britain out using a submarine blockade, but the British stood fast and were never subdued by the Nazis.

Invasion of Russia

Stymied in the west, Hitler turned east. Hitler sent German reinforcements to help his Italian ally in North Africa. In May 1941, he invaded the Balkans, occupying Yugoslavia and Greece. The invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, was launched in June 1941. The Russians counterattacked in winter 1941–1942. Hitler’s generals wanted to fall back and fight a mobile defense. Hitler overruled them, demanding they stand fast. The tactic worked that winter. Afterwards, Hitler refused to allow mobile defenses, insisting that Germany hold every inch of ground it took. This led to military disasters in 1943 and 1944.


In December 1941, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States. Initially, things went well for Germany in 1942, but by year’s end, the momentum passed to the Allies. The Allies advanced throughout 1943 and early 1944, aided by Hitler’s blunders. The Western allies captured Sicily, landed in Italy, and captured Rome on June 4, 1944. Two days later they landed in Normandy, France. The Soviets pushed across the steppes, reoccupying most of their former territory, by spring 1944. Allied air power devastated German cities.

Eva Braun

Eva Braun (1912–1945) was Hitler’s mistress and, in the last day before their joint suicide, his wife. She was the daughter of a Bavarian schoolteacher, educated at a convent school and known for her wholesome, classically German good looks. She met Hitler while working as an assistant at the studio of Heinrich Hoffmann, the official photographer of the Nazis. She was only seventeen years old; Hitler was forty. Little is known of the earliest years of their association, but by 1932, she was his mistress. Evidently the relationship had its troubles, because in that same year, Braun attempted suicide. She tried again, unsuccessfully, in 1935.

Though kept out of the public eye and often ignored for long periods by her busy lover, Braun enjoyed a pampered existence. She lived in luxury at Hitler’s expense. In April 1945, Braun traveled to Berlin to be with Hitler even as the Soviet army approached the capital. The two were married on April 29 in a short civil ceremony. They committed suicide together on April 30—Eva by taking poison and Hitler by both poisoning and shooting himself.

Hitler refused to acknowledge what was happening. He insisted on impossible military offensives. He became increasingly paranoid. The paranoia increased after an assassination attempt on July 20, 1944, organized by army officers. On April 29, 1945, after the Soviets entered Berlin, he committed suicide in his Berlin command bunker.

Victor Emmanuel III

Victor Emmanuel III (1869–1947) was the last king of Italy. The Italian people abolished their monarchy in a plebiscite following World War II. This was largely due to Victor Emmanuel’s involvement with the fascists in the prewar years, and his actions during World War II.

Early Life and Reign

Victor Emmanuel was born in Naples on November 11, 1869. He was the only son of Umberto I, King of Italy (1844–1900). Victor Emmanuel became king of Italy as Victor Emmanuel III on July 29, 1900, after his father was assassinated.

At the outset of World War I in 1914, Italy was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. It chose to remain neutral at first. By 1915 Italy had negotiated a treaty to enter World War I on the side of the Allies (France, Great Britain, and Russia). When the Italian legislature opposed entry, Victor Emmanuel overrode the legislature and declared war. Italian casualties were high, and the gains of the Italians were minimal. The war was unpopular, as it left Italy victorious but in financial ruins.

Fascist Rise and Rule

Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) was the first of the major fascist leaders in World War II to seize power in his nation. In part, this was due to Victor Emmanuel’s actions. Italy suffered a severe depression in the years immediately following World War I, which led to the rise of Mussolini’s Fascist Party.

When Mussolini made his march on Rome in 1922, Victor Emmanuel refused to sign a proclamation of martial law that would have allowed the existing Italian parliamentary government to use the army against Mussolini. The king ordered the army to dismantle roadblocks around Rome and admit the fascist marchers to the capital.

The government resigned. Victor Emmanuel invited Mussolini to form the new government. The king stood aside as Mussolini transformed the Italian Republic into a dictatorship. He remained silent after political leaders opposing Mussolini were assassinated.

World War II

While Italy remained neutral at the beginning of World War II, it entered the war on the side of Germany in June 1940. France was collapsing, and Italy wanted parts of southeastern France. The French army limited Italian gains to a few thousand yards. Italy found itself in a major war, allied to Germany.

A disastrous invasion of Greece in 1940 led to the loss of a quarter of the Italian colony of Albania. The Italians had to be rescued by the Germans in 1941. Italy quickly lost most of its African Empire to Britain, except for Libya. Libya was held only due to German intervention with the introduction of the Deutches Afrika Korps. Even Libya was lost by the end of 1942.

On July 25, 1943, after losing Sicily to Allied invasion, Victor Emmanuel called Mussolini to the palace. Victor Emmanuel demanded and received Mussolini’s resignation as prime minister. He had Mussolini arrested and directed Pietro Badoglio to form a new government. The king also instructed Badoglio to negotiate an armistice.

An armistice between Italy and the Allies was signed on September 3. The Allies announced the armistice five days later, on September 8. Victor Emmanuel did not inform the Italian army of the armistice, nor did he order the army to defend its country. As a result, Germany disarmed the Italian army and occupied Italy. The king left Rome.

The combination of his long association with fascism and his flight from Rome ahead of a German invasion left the king highly unpopular. He did not abdicate, but transferred most of his royal powers to his son, the Crown Prince Umberto (1904–1983), shortly after leaving Rome.

Postwar Years

In 1946, Italy held a referendum on the monarchy. While Victor Emmanuel’s son was well regarded, Victor Emmanuel was still king and deeply unpopular. To sway the vote in favor of monarchy, Victor Emmanuel abdicated May 9, 1946. The act focused attention on the old king’s shortcomings, reminding voters why they wanted to eliminate the monarchy. The referendum abolishing the monarchy passed with 54 percent of the vote a month later.

Victor Emmanuel died in exile in Alexandria, Egypt, on December 28, 1947.

Benito Mussolini

Early Life and Career

Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), Italy’s fascist wartime leader, was born on July 29, 1883. His father was a blacksmith and his mother was a teacher. Both favored socialism. Mussolini became a socialist politician as a young man. He wrote and edited socialist newspapers prior to World War I, moving between Italy, Switzerland, and Austria-Hungary.

Mussolini served in the Italian army from 1915 through 1917, fighting in World War I. After the war, he created a new political movement blending socialism, Italian nationalism, and centralized government control. The movement was called fascism.

With assistance from Italian industrialists and the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, Mussolini was named head of the Italian government. Once in charge, Mussolini consolidated power and made himself the supreme leader of Italy. He was a model imitated by Hitler in Germany and Francisco Franco (1892–1975) in Spain.

As head of Italy, he centralized the economy and started Italy on a series of foreign adventures with the lofty aim of reconstituting the Roman Empire. By 1939, he had conquered Albania and Ethiopia and had assisted the Nationalists in Spain.

World War II

Mussolini led Italy when World War II started. Initially, he remained neutral, but he brought Italy into the war in 1940, allied to Germany. The decision was taken against the counsel of his military advisors. Mussolini’s motivations were complex. He did not think Germany would succeed. The Italian military was in poor shape. Mussolini was also a little jealous of Adolf Hitler. Mussolini entered the 1930s as Europe’s leading fascist dictator. By 1939, Italy had slipped. It was the junior member of the German-Italian Axis. By remaining neutral, Mussolini asserted his independence from Hitler.

The situation changed radically when France collapsed after the German invasion in May 1940. Italy had expansionist designs on southeastern France. These could only be realized if Italy were at war with France. Against the advice of the Italian army’s general staff, Mussolini declared war on June 10, 1940. France had already begun negotiating an armistice with Hitler.

Mussolini gained little by declaring war. The Italian army advanced only a thousand or so yards into France before being stopped by the French. The subsequent peace granted Italy only such lands as it had taken prior to the cease-fire. In exchange for a few thousand square yards of mountainside along the Franco-Italian border, Mussolini involved an unprepared Italy in a war against Britain. He also put Italy’s extensive Africa holdings at risk.

By spring 1941, Mussolini’s military misadventures required German assistance. In December 1940, the British invaded Libya and invaded Italian East Africa in early 1940. By February 1940, the British had cleared the Italians out of the eastern half of Libya. In May 1941, Italian East Africa fell.

German intervention saved Italy. Germany sent an armored corps to Africa to reinforce the Italians. Despite initial Axis successes, the British, who were joined by the United States in December 1941, pushed the Axis powers out of Libya at the end of 1942, and out of Africa entirely in early 1943.

Fall from Power

By 1943, the Italian economy was collapsing, the armed forces were demoralized, and the alliance with Germany was intensely unpopular. Since Mussolini still controlled the army and the national police, he ignored the unrest.

In July 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily. Most of Mussolini’s political allies within Italy were abandoning him. Mussolini called a meeting of the Italian Grand Council on July 24. The council passed a no-confidence resolution against Mussolini, which he ignored.

King Victor Emmanuel III soon demanded and received Mussolini’s resignation. When Mussolini left the palace, he was arrested. The Italian government moved Mussolini from one prison to another for the next two months. Finally, he was placed in a hotel atop Gran Sasso, a mountaintop ski resort in peacetime. On September 12, 1943, a German rescue freed Mussolini. The Germans landed gliders in front of the hotel to get troops to Mussolini.

Italy negotiated an armistice on September 3, 1943, and declared war on Germany on October 13. The Nazis organized the German-controlled portion of Italy as the Italian Social Republic, with Mussolini as the head. From September 1943 until April 1945 Mussolini “ruled” the Italian Social Republic. In actuality, he ran northern Italy for Hitler.

The Germans left northern Italy in April 1945. Mussolini attempted to flee to Switzerland but was caught by antifascist guerrillas and shot, along with his mistress. He died on April 28, 1945.

Emperor Hirohito

Hirohito (1901–1989) was Emperor of Japan from 1926 until his death in 1989. He is now known in Japan through his posthumous title, Emperor Showa.

Early Life

Hirohito was born on April 29, 1901. He was the oldest son of Crown Prince Yoshihito (later Emperor Taisho, 1879–1926). He became heir apparent in 1912 with the death of his grandfather (Emperor Meiji, 1852–1912) and the ascension of his father to the imperial throne.

When his father became ill in 1921, Hirohito was made prince regent. As prince regent, he toured Europe, the first Japanese emperor to leave Japan. Hirohito became emperor upon the death of his father on December 25, 1926.

Although until 1945 the emperor’s word theoretically was law, Hirohito seldom used his absolute powers. Japan entered World War II against his desires. Once at war, Hirohito supported it until Japan’s position was hopeless. He then intervened, ordering Japan’s surrender.

Hirohito in the 1930s

Throughout the 1930s, Japan’s government grew increasingly belligerent and militaristic. Nationalistic junior officers saw war as an opportunity for glory and fame. Any moves away from expansion were stopped by these officers, who resorted to physical intimidation and assassination to further their goals.

Many officers were willing to die for their nationalistic beliefs. A minority of senior Japanese leadership supported the militants, but they provided the militants with official cover. Moderates and those opposing Japanese expansion found themselves increasingly isolated.

As emperor, Hirohito was held to be a divine being, a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The emperor was theoretically an absolute ruler and commanded the Japanese military. He was, however, constrained by the Meiji Constitution (established in 1890) to be guided by parliamentary authorities, who spoke for the emperor.

Raised to defer to tradition and naturally reticent, Hirohito rarely used his absolute powers against the wishes of his cabinet. In 1928 and 1936, he acted against army officers attempting to seize power. In 1928, military plotters assassinated a Chinese leader to provoke a war with China. When the Japanese prime minister did nothing, Hirohito forced his resignation. In 1936, army officers initiated a coup, killing several civilian leaders and claiming to be acting in the emperor’s name. Hirohito ordered the coup suppressed.

The Road to World War II

Hirohito did little to directly halt Japan’s drift toward war. He probably supported the invasion of China in 1937. Hirohito blocked an alliance with Germany and Italy in 1939. He removed his objection to the alliance a year later, in September 1940, due to the insistence of his advisors and German successes.

America embargoed oil and steel shipments to Japan after it occupied French Indochina in July 1941. At that time, Japan was heavily dependent on American petroleum. Hirohito’s military advisors insisted that if the embargo was not ended by October 1941, Japan would have to go to war to secure oil from the Dutch East Indies. Hirohito insisted that Japan seek a political solution to the crisis and saw that negotiators were sent to Washington, D.C.

When those negotiations failed, Prince Fumimaro Konoe (1891–1945), then the prime minister, resigned. In October, Hirohito named War Minister Hideki Tojo (1884–1948) as the new prime minister but charged Tojo with finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Hirohito directed that the negotiations begin anew.

Mistrust on both sides was too high for this effort to secure an agreement. Faced with exhaustion of their fuel reserves, the Imperial Government decided in November that Japan must go to war in December. Hirohito was reluctant but went along with the decision.

World War II

Once Japan was at war, Hirohito fully supported it. He became an active participant in Japan’s war planning. Once Hirohito realized that Japan was losing, he began looking for ways to make peace. By July 1944, with the capture of Saipan by the United States, Japan’s defeat appeared inevitable. Hirohito fired Tojo. Determined to share the danger faced by his people, he remained in the Imperial Palace at Tokyo after the American bombing campaign began in late 1944.

As Japanese losses continued, Hirohito’s advisors advocated fighting literally to the last man. Only Prince Konoe opposed this, calling on Hirohito to make peace. Hirohito instead acquiesced to the “last man” strategy, a position that cost Japan an additional 1.5 million lives.

In August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, and the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Hirohito insisted that Japan surrender unconditionally. He recorded a surrender message to be broadcast to the Japanese people. Hirohito’s action sparked a revolt by militant junior officers. The coup attempt was put down, and the broadcast made.

Postwar Career

A month after Japan’s surrender, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur took charge of the occupation of Japan. Hirohito met with MacArthur, accepted responsibility for Japan’s entry into World War II, and offered to abdicate. Feeling that Hirohito was the only individual who could keep the occupation peaceful, MacArthur refused his offer. Hirohito became the only major Axis leader to keep his prewar position.

Japan’s new constitution recast the emperor in a largely ceremonial role. Hirohito renounced claims of divinity after the war. He remained as Japan’s emperor until his death on January 7, 1989. He watched Japan rebuild itself from ruins in 1945 to a major economic power in the 1970s.

He spent much of his time after the war researching marine biology, becoming one of the field’s leaders. Following his death, he was renamed “Showa,” or “period of enlightened peace.” The term commemorates the last forty-four years of his reign, when Japan was at peace.

Erwin Rommel

Erwin Rommel (1891–1944) was a leading Nazi general who battled the British, French, and Americans in France, Africa, and Italy.

Early Life

Rommel was born on November 15, 1891, the son of a professor. At his father’s insistence he entered the German army and was sent to Officers’ Cadet School. He received a commission in January 1912.

Rommel fought in the German army in World War I seeing action in France, Romania, and Italy. In Italy he was part of the elite Alpen Korps. He gained a reputation for tactical brilliance, especially in his command of a battalion during the Battle of Caporetto (1917).

Between the wars, he remained in the German army. He served as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School and the Potsdam War Academy. He also wrote books on infantry and armor tactics that became widely used textbooks.

He attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler. After Hitler gained power in 1933, Hitler made Rommel a liason from the Wehrmacht (the name of Nazi Germany’s armed forces from 1935 to 1945) to the Hitler Youth (a Nazi organization designed to indoctrinate German boys). Rommel’s performance in that role gained him command of the Führerbegleitbataillon(Hitler’s personal protection battalion), a position he held from 1938 until after the start of World War II.

World War II

In February 1940, Rommel was given command of the Seventh Panzer Division (a division of armored fighting vehicles). He commanded the Seventh Panzer during the invasion of France in May, proving able and aggressive. He led the crossing of the Meuse River that proved critical to German success.

During the French Campaign, he had his first encounter with the British, at the Battle of Arras. A battle that pitted British armored units against the Seventh Panzer, Arras was a precursor of later battles between the British and Germans in Africa. Rommel failed to cut off the British retreat to the English Channel coast because he was ordered to hold his position. After the evacuation of British and allied troops at Dunkirk in late May and early July 1940, Rommel drove his division to Cherbourg and was heading towards Bordeaux, France, when France surrendered.

Rommel was then transferred to command of the Fifth Light Division, a motorized unit. It was sent to Libya in February 1941 to help Germany’s Italian allies. The Fifth Light Division formed the core of the Deutsches Afrika Korps, which Rommel commanded. (The Fifth Light was later reorganized and redesignated the Twenty-first Panzer Division.)

In the spring of 1941, Rommel counterattacked British forces occupying Libya and chased the British out of the eastern coastal region of Libya. It was the beginning of a two-year struggle in Africa. Neither side had enough forces to push the war in Africa to a conclusion.

Small forces and the open desert terrain made Africa a war of maneuver, with both sides making long advances and retreats, depending upon supplies, reinforcements, and outside circumstances. The African campaign gave Rommel high visibility in both Germany and Britain. Hitler promoted Rommel to field marshal after one prominent victory, the capture of Tobruk. Rommel became the face of the German army to soldiers of the Western Allies.

The tide turned in Britain’s favor after the United States entered the war. The British built up a decisive advantage against the Afrika Korps at El Alamein. Rommel’s army was at its furthest advance. A British army under British General Bernard Montgomery overwhelmed the German lines, then chased the Afrika Korps out of Egypt and deep into Libya.

The Americans then invaded Western Africa in November 1942. Trapped between the two Allied armies, Rommel’s Afrika Korps was pushed into Tunisia and ultimately crushed. While in Tunis, Rommel counterattacked the American army at Kasserine Pass. The inexperienced Americans suffered a significant check. The American Second Corps, beaten at Kasserine Pass, was given to General George Patton, who succeeded in chasing the Germans out of Africa.

Following Africa, Rommel was sent to Greece to protect against an Allied invasion that never happened. Then, after the Allied invasion of Sicily and the fall of Mussolini, Rommel was transferred to command of Northern Italy.

In Italy, Rommel became involved in a controversy with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, his nominal superior. Rommel wanted to abandon southern Italy. Kesselring wanted to force the Allies to fight for every inch of Italian soil. Rommel was transferred to France in November 1943 to prepare to repel an Allied invasion.

In France commanding Army Group B, Rommel became involved in another dispute over strategy. Rommel believed Allied air superiority would prevent mobile warfare by the German armies. He felt that the place to stop the invasion was on the beaches, and he wanted German armor broken into small, battalion-sized units scattered immediately behind the beaches.

Field Marshal von Rundstedt, in overall command in France, opposed Rommel’s strategy. Hitler settled the dispute with a compromise between the two strategies. It put German armor reserves too far forward to permit concentration but too far back to support the beach defenses.

Rommel also felt that the Allies were as likely to invade at Normandy as at the Pas-de-Calais region. The rest of the German high command viewed Calais as the Allied objective. Rommel spent the months before the June 1944 invasion strengthening defenses along the French coast, especially in Normandy.

Rommel proved correct in both his predictions. The Allies landed at Normandy, and Allied air superiority prevented swift movement of German reinforcements. On July 17, 1944, while supervising the defense in Normandy, Rommel was wounded by an Allied fighter that strafed his staff car, and he was hospitalized.

In spring 1944, Rommel had become disillusioned with Hitler and the Nazis. He became affiliated with a German officer’s plot to kill Hitler. An assassination attempt on July 20, 1944, failed. Rommel’s complicity was discovered. Because Rommel was closely tied with Hitler, he was allowed to commit suicide. His alternative would have been to allow himself to be tried and executed as a traitor—with his family executed along with him. Rommel died by his own hand on October 14, 1944.

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) led the Soviet Union during World War II and into the Cold War that followed. He was one of the most powerful and ruthless dictators in the world. The war fought between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was one of the most brutal conflicts of the twentieth century.

Early Life and Career

Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in Gori, Georgia, on December 21, 1879. As a young man, he became involved in revolutionary politics and adopted the name Joseph Stalin (“Stalin” means “steel” in Russian). By World War I, he was deeply involved in Marxist political activities.

He attracted the attention of Communist revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin before World War I and was part of the Bolshevik faction that took control over Russia during the Russian Revolution (1917). Stalin was elected to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in 1917. In 1922, he became General Secretary. He was able to use this position to gain control of the Soviet government after Lenin’s death in 1924 (although it took him a few years to solidify his position).

In the years leading up to World War II, he ruled the Soviet Union with unparalleled ferocity. He created a famine in the Ukraine in order to starve out opponents and ruthlessly industrialized Russia. He crushed any opposition. In the late 1930s, he purged the Soviet army of over one-quarter of its officers because of a feared coup.

World War II

In 1938 Stalin was absolute ruler of the Soviet Union. In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Publicly it was a non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. Secret clauses gave territorial rights in other nations to Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets ceded to Germany the western parts of Poland. Germany gave the Soviet Union eastern Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, parts of Finland and Bessarabia, an oil-rich eastern province of Romania.

When Hitler invaded Poland, a European war broke out. Germany was opposed by France, Britain, and Poland. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact allowed Hitler to take Germany into a European war without fear of fighting on two fronts. As Poland collapsed, Stalin occupied Eastern Poland in mid-August.

In November 1939, Stalin exercised the rest of the treaty. The Soviet Union got the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Bessarabia without a fight. Finland chose to defend itself. Despite the unequal struggle, Finland repelled the initial Soviet invasion. Stalin purged the Soviet army officer corps in the late 1930s, executing anyone suspected of being less than completely loyal to Stalin. The Soviets lost many of their best military leaders to Stalin’s paranoia. Finland negotiated peace with the Soviets in 1940, conceding land but maintaining its independence. The Soviet army’s poor performance against Finland was one factor that encouraged the Germans to attack Russia in 1941.

Soviet intelligence warned Stalin that Germany was preparing to attack the Soviet Union. Stalin did not believe Hitler would attack the Soviet Union before ending the war against Britain and discounted the warnings. Stalin’s generals ignored or disregarded warning signs for fear of angering Stalin. When Germany invaded in June 1941, the Soviet Union was unprepared.

Initially, Stalin disastrously micromanaged the Soviet military. He ordered the army to stand fast. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers were surrounded by German armor columns, cut off, and forced to surrender. Stalin’s brutality in the 1920s and 1930s also led many so-called White Russians (anti-Communists) and Ukrainians to hail the Nazis as liberators.

When Stalin realized that the Russian people felt little loyalty to the Soviet government, he rallied them by telling them they fought for “Mother Russia.” He restored the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been suppressed by the atheistic Communists. He used nationalistic symbols like Alexander Nevsky (who repelled the Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century) and Tsar Alexander I (who fought Napoleon’s invasion in the early nineteenth century), despite their non-Marxist backgrounds.

The Nazis actually helped by behaving with even more brutality than the Communists. Stalin changed the war from a fight over Communism to a crusade to save Russia. Stalin also instituted a “scorched earth” policy. When the Soviet army was forced to retreat, anything that could be of use to the Germans was to be destroyed.

The Soviets stabilized the situation by November 1941. Stalin continued micromanaging the war in early 1942. Demanding an early counteroffensive, he gave the Germans an opportunity to destroy the reserves the Soviets had accumulated during the winter of 1941–1942 and regain the initiative. After that, Stalin returned control of military operations to his generals.

Stalin issued an order in July 1942 declaring Soviet soldiers who surrendered as traitors. He also had political officers, or commissars, assigned to each military unit to ensure its political stability. With the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Hitler, Stalin’s image in the West changed. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, Stalin was seen as affable “Uncle Joe.” As the war ended, Stalin proved a tough negotiator. At a series of international conferences with Churchill and Roosevelt, he gained major territorial concessions for the Soviet Union. Half of what was once East Prussia is still part of today’s Russia. Stalin was also allowed to exert influence in the liberated nations of Eastern Europe.

Postwar Career

After World War II, Stalin occupied Eastern Europe. Existing governments were replaced with Communist puppets. Stalin attempted to expand Communism, both in Europe and Asia. He acquired nuclear weapons and established the Soviet Union as a world power. The Cold War Stalin started lasted nearly fifty years.

Stalin ruled the Soviet Union until his death on March 5, 1953. The cause of death was reported to be a stroke, but rumored to have been a poisoning.

Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), an officer in the French army in 1940, helped organize Free French forces in World War II. Fighting against Germany after France surrendered, he helped organize the French resistance movement. Eventually, he led French forces in the Allied armies after the Allied invasion at Normandy and during the liberation of France in 1944.

Early Life

De Gaulle was born on November 22, 1890. His family came from minor French aristocracy. De Gaulle attended the French military academy at St. Cyr, graduating in 1912.

He served as a French infantry officer in World War I and was badly wounded at Verdun in 1916. He was captured by the Germans and remained a prisoner of war for the rest of the conflict. He unsuccessfully attempted to escape five times.

After release, he remained in the French army. He volunteered for the French mission to Poland in 1919 and participated in the Polish-Soviet war of 1919–1921. Based on his experiences, he wrote The Army of the Future. In that book he predicted the future belonged to mobile warfare using tanks rather than static defenses behind fortifications. While his views were respected outside of France, especially by the German and Soviet armies, he was ignored by his own army.

France 1940

De Gaulle was a colonel in the French army in 1939. He antagonized the French military establishment with his writings about tactics. He claimed static defenses such as the French Maginot Line (a system of concrete tank obstacles and other defenses along the French-German and French-Italian border) had been rendered obsolete by tanks and mobile warfare.

On May 15, 1940, five days after the Germans invaded France, de Gaulle gained command of the French Fourth Armored Division. The Germans had already broken through French lines and were driving into the French rear areas. De Gaulle had minor successes against the Germans, including forcing German infantry to retreat at Caumont, on May 28. He was promoted to brigadier general after this victory.

On June 6, he was made France’s undersecretary of state for national defense and war by Paul Reynaud, who had sponsored de Gaulle during the interwar years. De Gaulle opposed French surrender, arguing that France could continue fighting from Algeria (which was then controlled by France) and its overseas colonies.

The Free French Movement

After France fell to the invading Nazis, Philippe Pétain (1856–1961) became head of the French government, called the Vichy Government. He negotiated an armistice. On June 17, de Gaulle rejected the French surrender and fled Bordeaux, where the French provisional government was seated, for London.

On June 18, with Winston Churhill’s approval and assistance, de Gaulle spoke on the British Broadcasting System radio and appealed to the French to continue fighting. “The Appeal of June 18” rejected the decision of the legal French government to sue for peace. It also called on French people everywhere to rally to de Gaulle and continue the fight against Germany. The speech was not widely heard on its day of broadcast. It was rebroadcast and widely reprinted. It marked the beginning of the Free French movement.

The governments of conquered nations such as Poland or Norway established themselves in exile. By defying the legal government of France, de Gaulle and others fighting in the Free French armies could be treated as illegal combatants. The Vichy government later convicted de Gaulle of treason in absentia for continuing to fight.

Despite the dangers, more than half a million French officers and men eventually rallied to the call. De Gaulle remained in an ambiguous position for much of the early part of the war. Both the United States and Britain initially recognized the Vichy government as the legitimate government of France. In 1943 the United States finally recognized the Free French as the legitimate government. Even then, de Gaulle was not yet recognized as the head of the Free French Government. This was partly due to de Gaulle’s prickly personality and his determination to treat Free French armed forces as independent of the Allies. He depended upon the United States and Great Britain for everything from weapons to the uniforms his men wore and the food they ate, so his allies found de Gaulle’s attitude annoying. In the end, no alternative to de Gaulle emerged. By 1944, he was acknowledged as the head of the French government-in-exile.

Initially, only a few patriots joined de Gaulle. A few minor French African colonies declared themselves to be Free French. After the United States joined the war, more support swung to de Gaulle and the Free French. The pace accelerated after the capture of French North Africa. Those colonies all then flipped from Vichy control to Free French. De Gaulle set up a government in Algiers.

By the time of the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, Free French forces had grown to over 400,000 men. Additionally, de Gaulle was coordinating the French Resistance within occupied France. In August, de Gaulle moved the Free French government back to French soil, operating at first in Northern France. After Free French soldiers liberated Paris, de Gaulle moved the government back to the traditional capital.

In addition to commanding the Free French Army, de Gaulle became president of the Provisional French Government in September 1944. He continued as president until January 1946. De Gaulle was part of the successful fight to secure a French occupation zone in Germany after World War II and to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Postwar Career

After the formation of the French Fourth Republic in January 1946, de Gaulle stayed outside of the political sphere for many years, disapproving of the new French constitution. He returned to public power in 1958 during the Algerian Crisis that destroyed the Fourth Republic. He then organized the Fifth Republic, which he headed from 1958 until 1968.

While head of France, he steered an independent course. He made France the fourth nuclear power, withdrew France from NATO, and opposed what he viewed as Anglo-American hegemony in the West.

He died in his home on November 9, 1970.

Winston Churchill

Winston Spencer Churchill (1874–1963) guided Great Britain to victory in World War II as prime minister of Britain. He rallied his nation from its darkest hour, after the fall of France and the evacuation of the British army at Dunkirk, and led Britain in a lonely fight against the Axis powers until America entered the war in December 1941.

Early Life

Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, on November 30, 1874. He was a descendant of John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722). His father was a younger son of the seventh duke and a prominent nineteenth-century politician.

Churchill attended Sandhurst, the British military academy, and was commissioned as a cavalry officer in 1895. After serving briefly in India, he became a war correspondent, both while in the British army and as a civilian. He entered politics following the Second Boer War (1899–1902).

He served as first lord of the admiralty and served briefly in the British army during World War I and became chancellor of the exchequer after that war. During that period he changed political parties twice, going from the Conservatives to Labour, and back to the Conservatives. By the 1930s, he had marginalized himself politically and held no prominent leadership roles.

Early World War II

Churchill spent much of the late 1930s as a Conservative Party back-bench member with no leadership positions. In part this was due to his taking unpopular positions, including support for the Duke of Windsor prior to then-King Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936. It was also due to his opposition to the Conservative Party’s policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler and advocacy of rearming Britain.

When World War II began, Churchill was invited into Neville Chamberlain’s wartime government. Churchill was named first lord of the admiralty—the British equivalent of secretary of the navy.

During the first eight months of World War II, Britain primarily fought a naval war. As a result, Churchill had a very visible public role. In May 1940, Germany invaded France, going through Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg. In a six-week campaign, the German army, spearheaded by panzer divisions and new blitzkrieg or lightning warfare tactics, defeated France and forced the British army in France to evacuate through ports along the French side of the English Channel. The British left most of their equipment in France.

In the wake of that disaster, the Chamberlain government fell. Because of the war crisis, no elections were held to elect a new government. Instead, Churchill was asked to organize a coalition wartime government.

Prime Minister Churchill

Churchill took over the government when Britain was at its darkest point. All of Britain’s other allies had been defeated by Nazi Germany. Italy joined Germany and declared war on England, forcing Britain to defend its Mediterranean holdings as well as Britain. The British army was virtually unarmed, and only the Royal Navy and especially the Royal Air Force (RAF) prevented a German invasion.

Churchill remained resolute, rallying the British people to continue the fight by delivering a set of inspiring speeches. He described the crisis of 1940 as Britain’s “finest hour.” He proclaimed RAF fighter pilots as “the few,” protecting England in the Battle of Britain, stating, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Churchill skillfully used the political and military resources Britain still had to oppose Hitler. He fostered a “special relationship” with the United States, as the other great English-speaking republic, to gain support from the United States while it was still neutral. During that period he worked closely with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to get Britain critically needed munitions and credit.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Churchill sent aid to the Russians despite his lifelong antipathy towards Communism. He explained his support stating, “If Hitler were to invade Hell, I should find occasion to make a favourable reference to the Devil.”

When the United States entered the war in December 1941 following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Churchill was relieved. Notwithstanding the losses suffered by the Americans and British in the Pacific, he viewed the war as won the day the United States joined Britain as a combatant.

After the United States entered the war and—as he had foreseen—began leading the Allied coalition to victory, Churchill began planning the shape of postwar Europe through a series of international conferences. At a total of nearly twenty such conferences, he helped redraw the map of Europe to the boundaries it generally still has today.

His primary focus was to remove Germany as a future threat to world peace. Churchill succeeded, but planted the seeds of the Cold War in the process.

Postwar Career

After the end of the war in Europe, elections in Britain voted Churchill’s Conservatives out, replacing him with a Labour Party prime minister. Churchill remained active in British politics following World War II, warning against the new Communist menace much as he had warned against the Nazis in the 1930s. In 1948, he coined the term “iron curtain” to describe the divide between Western and Eastern Europe.

Churchill returned as prime minister in 1955 and held office for two years. He retired from public life afterwards, devoting himself to writing. He died on January 24, 1965, and was buried in a state funeral.

Churchill the Communicator

More than any other leader of World War II, Churchill’s strength lay in his ability to communicate. Roosevelt and Hitler were both skilled orators, but both were clumsy with the written word. Churchill could not only write and give a speech; he was one of the great authors of the twentieth century.

Churchill’s books included not just political work, but also military commentaries, serious works of history and biography, and even a novel or two. He came to prominence in the late nineteenth century as a war correspondent, writing first-person accounts of British military campaigns in Africa and Asia. Later, he wrote major biographies of his father, Randolph Churchill (1849–1895), and his famous ancestor, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough.

Shortly before World War II, he wrote much of the magisterial four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which was released in the 1950s and is still in print today. After the war he wrote a six-volume history of World War II. Churchill won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953 on the strength of his collected works.

Isoroku Yamamoto

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (1884–1943) led the Imperial Japanese Navy from the beginning of World War II until his death in combat in 1943. He believed that Japan would lose a war against the United States. Regardless, he planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Early Life

Yamamoto was born as Isoroku Takano in Nagaoka, Niigata, on April 4, 1884. He belonged to a clan of minor samurai (a caste of military nobility in Japan). In 1916 he was adopted into the Yamamoto family, which lacked an heir to carry on the family name, and changed his name to Isoroku Yamamoto.

He attended the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, graduating in 1904. He was subsequently assigned to the cruiser Nisshin during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). He fought at the Battle of Tsushima, where he was injured, losing two fingers, and later attended the Japanese Naval Staff College in 1914.

Yamamoto spent nearly five years in the United States after World War I, attending the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard. After graduating, he spent two terms as a naval attaché in Washington, D.C. Following his return to Japan at age forty, he transferred to naval aviation and became commander of the aircraft carrier Akagi in 1929. He served on the delegation to the London Naval Conferences in 1930 and 1934.

Yamamoto opposed the Japanese annexation of Manchuria (part of China) in 1931, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and Japan’s signing the Tripartite Pact in 1940 (the pact allying Germany, Italy, and Japan against U.S. attack). The time he had spent living in the United States had given him an appreciation of the strengths of America that most of his colleagues lacked. He was opposed to a war with the United States; he felt Japan would lose. In November 1940, Yamamoto predicted the course of a Pacific war to Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe. “If I am told to fight … I shall run wild for the first six months … but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year.”

Prewar Planning

Superiors transferred him from an assignment with the Ministry of the Navy to a seagoing command in 1939, and soon thereafter made him commander in chief of the Japanese fleet. Yamamoto made significant improvements to the fleet. A strong believer in air power, he reorganized the fleet around the aircraft carriers. He put the six largest carriers into one force, presaging the carrier fleets that fought during World War II. He downgraded the role of battleships, opposing the construction of super-battleships Yamatoand Musashi as a waste of resources.

At the Naval Ministry in the 1930s, Yamamoto pushed development of the G3M (Nell) and G4M (Betty) twin engine bombers. Combining extremely long range with the ability to carry a torpedo, they gave Japan the ability to strike an enemy at long range. To escort them he fostered development of the A6M “Zero” fighter.

Once it became clear that Japan was going to fight, Yamamoto led efforts to develop the best plan to attack America. In January 1941, he recast the Japanese Navy’s traditional war plan. The traditional plan envisioned weakening the American fleet as it fought its way across the Pacific by attacking with submarines and aircraft attacks. Once American losses were large enough, the Japanese fleet would fight a decisive surface battle with the Americans. But when the Japanese practiced the strategy in war games, the Japanese usually lost.

Pearl Harbor

Yamamoto modified the war plan. He would start any war with a surprise strike at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Yamamoto’s plan involved a strike at the battleships that anchored there, the airfields around it, and the fuel and support facilities at the base. He intended to cripple the American fleet, destroy any aircraft present, and wreck the fuel and repair facilities.

The attack was launched on December 7, 1941. The Japanese successfully sank five American battleships and knocked out most of the military aircraft in Hawaii. However, the attack had three shortcomings.

The American aircraft carriers were not in port when the Japanese struck. The Japanese launched only two strikes, concentrating on the warships and airfields. The tank farm, submarine base, and repair facilities were all undamaged. Finally, the attack came before war was declared. This roused the American people against Japan and ensured that the United States would not seek a negotiated peace. President Roosevelt swiftly asked Congress for a declaration of war.

Midway and Afterwards

In the six months that followed, Japan and Yamamoto’s navy “ran wild.” They captured the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Malaya, and Burma. They also captured a wide swath of islands in the Central Pacific, giving Japan a wide belt of outposts for protection.

The Japanese offensive sputtered to a halt almost exactly six months after Pearl Harbor. The daring Doolittle Raid of 1942 (led by U.S. Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle) against Tokyo caused American morale to soar and motivated the Japanese Navy to extend their defensive perimeter. Yamamoto planned an offensive that would capture Midway Island in the Central Pacific, as well as several islands in the Aleutians.

The plan was overly complicated. Four independent naval forces had to converge on Midway. As a diversion, two additional task forces were sent to the North Pacific, to strike Alaska. Unknown to the Japanese, the Americans had broken the Japanese codes. They knew when the Japanese were coming and with roughly what ships. On June 4, 1942, the U.S. Navy ambushed the Japanese carrier strike force. All four Japanese fleet carriers sent to Midway were sunk before Yamamoto and the Japanese main body arrived on the scene. After Midway, the Japanese lost the initiative and never regained it. The Americans counterattacked in the Solomon Islands, recapturing Guadalcanal. Yamamoto became locked in a naval war of attrition around the Solomons.

Yamamoto commanded the Japanese fleet at the Battles of the Eastern Solomons and the Santa Cruz Islands in August, September, and October of 1942. From the Japanese perspective, both battles were bloody draws. By February 1943, the Japanese lost Guadalcanal and were retreating up the Solomon Chain.

In April 1943, Yamamoto was planning a new offensive in the Solomons. To boost morale, he planned an inspection tour. The plans were broadcast in code. The Americans intercepted the message, decoded it, and had Yamamoto’s itinerary.

A fighter ambush was arranged for a part of the tour where Yamamoto would be traveling by air in a G4M bomber. On April 14, 1943, American P-38 fighters successfully intercepted the Japanese and shot down the two Japanese bombers carrying Yamamoto and his entourage. There were no survivors on Yamamoto’s airplane.

Bernard Montgomery

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, First Viscount of Alamein (1887–1976) was the leading British general of World War II. He led the British army to some of its greatest triumphs. At the same time, he was accused of battlefield slowness, which lost opportunities and may have prolonged the war. He irritated many counterparts, including both American and British generals.

Early Life

Montgomery was born on November 17, 1887, in London, the son of a clergyman. Montgomery attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and received a lieutenant’s commission in 1908.

At the outset of World War I, he fought with his battalion in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the opening days of August 1914. He was injured in battle. After recovering, he served in staff positions in France through the rest of World War I, rising to the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel.

Between the wars he remained in the British army, serving in the German Occupation and in the Irish Rebellion of 1920. In the 1930s he was posted to positions in Palestine, Egypt, and India. In 1938, he organized an amphibious landing exercise that succeeded well enough to gain him command of a division—the Eighth Infantry Division—in Palestine. In July 1939 he was transferred to command of the Third Infantry Division in Britain.

World War II

Montgomery began World War II as a major general. His Third Infantry was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1939. Expecting a situation similar to that of the opening days of World War I, with a British retreat, Montgomery trained his division in retreat tactics.

In May 1940, the Germans invaded France, broke through the Allied lines at Sedan, and split the British and French Armies, surrounding both. Montgomery fell back to the English Channel with his division intact. He took command of the British Second Corps during Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk.

From June 1940 through August 1942, Montgomery, promoted to lieutenant general, commanded forces defending England from a possible German invasion. Initially he commanded the Fifth Corps, then the Twelfth Corps, and finally the South-East Army, in the invasion zone.

War in Africa

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps had chased the British to a defensive line deep in Egypt, near the town of El Alamein. Churchill relieved General Sir Claude Auchinleck, the British commander in Africa, with General William Gott. Gott was killed in an airplane crash, and Montgomery replaced Gott in August 1942.

Montgomery arrived August 13, coordinating the defense of Alam Halfa. Rommel attempted to encircle the strategic heights, but was repulsed in a battle fought starting August 31. Thereafter, Montgomery strengthened the British position and began planning for a counteroffensive.

Montgomery attacked October 23, 1942. He had spent nearly two months planning the attack while receiving massive reinforcements. Meticulously planned and deliberately executed, Alamein was characteristic of all of Montgomery’s battles. In a twelve-day struggle, he cut through the German lines and sent them retreating back to Tripoli, in Libya.

While criticized for a slow pursuit, Montgomery took the British Eighth Army to victory. He started the Germans on a retreat that ended with the expulsion of Axis forces at Tunisia, in May 1943.

War in Europe

Montgomery next led the British Eighth Army in Sicily, in July 1943. Prior to the invasion he changed the plans in a more conservative direction. The plan used had the American Seventh Army to shield the main thrust, provided by the British Eighth Army.

American commanders George Patton and Omar Bradley felt the U.S. Army could be doing more. Montgomery’s advance bogged down, and army boundaries were redefined, reducing the Americans to the role of spectators. Patton used this as an opportunity to capture Palermo. Patton then swept east to the campaign’s objective, Syracuse, along Sicily’s northern coast.

Montgomery next led the Eighth Army into Italy, invading at the toe and heel of the Italian peninsula. Soon afterwards he was transferred to Britain to take charge of the Twenty-first Army Group. This unit was to lead the invasion of France in spring 1944. Montgomery was glad to leave Italy, as he felt that Allied efforts were untidy and disorganized.

Montgomery commanded the ground forces during the Allied invasion of France in June 1944. Montgomery’s offensive after the landings was meticulous and deliberate. Montgomery’s caution irritated his American counterparts, but the British army was near the end of its strength. Montgomery wanted to minimize casualties.

Patton felt the best way to minimize casualties was to move quickly and end the war sooner. When the American Third Army raced across France, the British forces in the Twenty-first Army Group followed at a more deliberate pace.

Problems between Montgomery and the American generals worsened after the Allied offensive stalled at the German border in fall 1944. Montgomery conceived an airborne thrust through Holland, Operation Market Garden. It used airborne troops to grab a corridor for British armor to move into and hold. Montgomery’s land forces moved too slowly. The furthest airborne division, the British Sixth Airborne, was cut off and destroyed by the Germans.

Following the German offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944, Montgomery was given command of the northern flank of the battlefield. He chose to spend time “tidying up the battlefield” before counterattacking. He then gave a press conference that implied the American commanders, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, were not up to their jobs and had depended upon Montgomery to save the situation. Eisenhower almost relieved Montgomery of his command and was only dissuaded by the politics of such a move. Montgomery, who had not realized the impact of his words, later apologized to Eisenhower.

Postwar Career

In April 1945, Montgomery accepted the surrender of German forces in Northern Germany, Denmark, and Norway. After the war, Montgomery was made the First Viscount of Alamein. He served, with mixed success, as chief of the imperial general staff from 1946 to 1948. He also helped organize NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of Western nations) in 1950 and served as NATO’s deputy director from 1950 until his retirement in 1958. He served in ceremonial roles in the British Parliament until 1968 and thereafter retired to private life. He died on March 24, 1976.

Hideki Tojo

Hideki Tojo (1884–1948) served as prime minister of Japan from October 1940 to July 1944. A Japanese general, he was an ardent hawk who pushed Japan towards war with the United States. He was hanged as a war criminal after World War II.

Early Life

Hideki Tojo was born in Tokyo on December 30, 1884. He came from a samurai family (samurais were a caste of military nobility) and pursued a professional military career. Tojo graduated from the Imperial Military Academy in 1905, and as a junior officer, saw service in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905).

In 1915, he graduated from the Imperial War College. Between 1919 and 1922, he was sent abroad to Europe to further his studies. Upon his return, he served as an instructor at the War College. In 1935, he went to Manchuko—the Japanese puppet state in Manchuria. He served as head of the Japanese secret police in Manchuko. In 1937, he was promoted to chief of staff of the Kwantung Army.

Tojo in the Pacific War

Japan’s invasion of China led to diplomatic difficulties with the United States. Japan’s military hard-liners, including Tojo, wanted Japan to seek military solutions. The United States increased diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions in response to Japanese militancy. The Imperial Army then influenced the Japanese government to respond with increased belligerency.

Tojo also helped Japan to join a military alliance with Germany and Italy—the Tripartite Pact. One clause stated that if a nation not currently involved in the European war or Japan’s war in China attacked Germany, Italy, or Japan, the other two nations would enter the war against the attacker. The major neutral powers in 1940 were the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, the Tripartite Pact was a warning to these two nations that starting a war would create a conflict in both Europe and the Pacific.

The Tripartite Pact further increased American hostility against Japan. Japan had stationed military units in Indochina in September 1940 but left the French civil government in place. In July 1941, Japan occupied French Indochina. The United States responded with a total embargo of metal and petroleum products to Japan.

Rise to Prime Minister

Japan’s economy depended on American oil. The prime minister of Japan, Prince Fumimaro Konoe, wanted a diplomatic solution and entered negotiations to end the embargo. Tojo supported the army’s position that it would not give up gains in China.

Peace negotiations broke down in September 1941. The army insisted that if the oil embargo was not lifted by October, Japan had to fight to secure the oil needed to run Japan. Konoe was unwilling to go to war and his government collapsed in October. Tojo became prime minister and Emperor Hirohito called upon him to make one last appeal for peace. Tojo sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., to negotiate an end to the embargo. At the same time, he set the Japanese army and navy in motion to prepare an offensive that would secure the strategic goods Japan needed.

War with the United States

Six weeks later, when these negotiations failed to get terms acceptable to the Imperial Army, Tojo started the war. On December 7, 1941, he ordered the Japanese fleet to attack the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Simultaneously, Japan launched strikes against other American Pacific possessions. The war initially went well for the Japanese. Within six months, they captured all of their initial objectives, secured the economic resources they had sought, and established the defensive perimeter they desired. Tojo expected that either the United States would seek a negotiated settlement or find it impossible to break through Japan’s defenses.

The United States stopped the Japanese thrusts, refused to negotiate, and struck back militarily. When the Americans captured the Marianas Islands in July 1944, Japan was within striking range of American bombers.

The loss of these islands capped two years of Japanese military reversals. Tojo was forced to resign from office on July 18, 1944. He retired from the military and spent the rest of the war in seclusion.

Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the United States occupied Japan. In September, Tojo attempted suicide to forestall arrest for war crimes. He shot himself in the chest but survived. He was arrested and tried for waging aggressive war in violation of international law and for inhumane treatment of prisoners of war. In a trial that lasted two years, Tojo accepted responsibility for starting the war. He was found guilty in November 1948 and hanged on December 28, 1948.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) was president of the United States through most of World War II. He led the United States for all but four months of its active involvement in the war. He was the architect of the grand strategy that led the Allied coalition to victory in World War II.

Early Life

Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. After graduating from Harvard University, he attended Columbia Law School but left in 1907 after passing the New York State bar examination.

He entered politics in 1910. Between 1913 and 1920, he served as the assistant secretary of the navy under President Woodrow Wilson. In 1920, he was the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket that lost to Warren G. Harding. He served as governor of New York from 1928 to 1932.

In 1932, he beat Herbert Hoover in the presidential election. Roosevelt ran on a platform of ending the Great Depression, which had started in 1929. He instituted radical economic legislation in his first hundred days in office, a package known as the “New Deal.” He was reelected in a landslide in 1936. Thereafter, foreign affairs increasingly dominated his presidency.

Buildup to War

Roosevelt was in his second term as president when the growing threat of fascism led him to rearm the United States. As early as 1937, Italian aggression against Ethiopia and Japanese intervention in China caused Roosevelt to regard a second world war as virtually inevitable.

Once war started in Europe, Roosevelt threw his support towards the nations fighting Germany and Italy. In 1939, Roosevelt helped modify the Neutrality Acts passed by Congress in the 1930s so that he could offer aid to European allies. The Neutrality Acts were a response to America’s costly involvement in World War I and were designed to keep the U.S. out of foreign wars. Under the 1939 Neutrality Act, belligerent nations were permitted to purchase military equipment in the United States if they paid cash and transported the goods themselves. This system was called “cash and carry” and favored the Western Allies, like Britain and France.

After Germany conquered Scandinavia, then the Low Countries and France in 1940, Roosevelt expanded the U.S. Army. A conscription act was passed in September 1940, and the draft started in October. The nation’s first peacetime draft, the act was renewed in 1941, passing by one vote.

Roosevelt chose to run for an unprecedented third term in 1940, in large part due to his desire to fight Germany. He won reelection by a wide margin. Roosevelt became more aggressive about providing aid. He brought important Republicans into his cabinet, creating an essentially coalition government. He made America “the Arsenal of Democracy,” giving China, Britain, France, and later Russia access to American industry for their military needs.

Roosevelt gave Britain fifty World War I–era destroyers in exchange for long-term leases on British islands in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. In March 1941, when Britain was running out of money, Roosevelt sponsored a “Lend-Lease” act that gave nations fighting the Axis powers munitions and other military equipment and supplies.

By mid-1941, Roosevelt committed the United States to provide the Allies with “all aid short of war.” He met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1941 in Newfoundland to declare the Atlantic Charter, stating Allied objectives for World War II.

Roosevelt baited the Germans, allowing American warships to escort British convoys halfway across the Atlantic, with orders to attack German submarines if they encountered them. On several occasions in the fall of 1941, U.S. Navy destroyers and Nazi U-boats exchanged fire.

After Pearl Harbor

Roosevelt had embargoed petroleum shipments to Japan several months earlier. Japan responded by attacking the United States in December 1941 and launching a general offensive in the Pacific and Far East to seize the strategic resources they needed.

The centerpiece of the Japanese plan was an attack on the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor and on Army Air Corps bases in Hawaii. For maximum effect, the Japanese intended to surprise the Americans, attacking on a Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, immediately after issuing a declaration of war. Decoding problems delayed the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C., from delivering the declaration until several hours after the attack had ended.

The next day, Monday, Roosevelt declared to a joint session of Congress that December 7, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy” and asked for a declaration of war against Japan. Congress declared war that day, with only one dissenting vote. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

Despite the Japanese attack, Roosevelt gave priority to beating Germany first. He committed the majority of American resources to the European theater, starting with an invasion of North Africa in November 1942. By June 1942, and despite the emphasis on Europe and a disastrous first six months, the situation in the Pacific began to favor the Allies.

In January 1943, a conference was held in Casablanca, Morocco, attended by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Free French leader Charles de Gaulle. The leaders set terms for victory in World War II—the Allies would demand unconditional surrender by the Axis powers.

By 1943, the Allies were harvesting the fruits of Roosevelt’s prewar preparations. A “two-ocean” U.S. Navy existed, and U.S. Army and Marine Corps divisions were numerous enough to support simultaneous offensives in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. By the start of 1944, it was clear the Allies were going to win.

The Fourth Term

In order to influence the end of the war and the peace to follow, Roosevelt decided to run for a fourth term as president, although he was very ill. He was reelected with 53 percent of the popular vote.

Roosevelt participated in or fostered a series of conferences to shape the postwar world. At Bretton Woods, with forty-four nations participating, the International Monetary Fund was created. Conferences at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco created the United Nations. The postwar fate of Germany was discussed at the Second Quebec Conference in September 1944. Finally, in 1945, conferences at Malta and Yalta set plans for postwar Europe and for Soviet entry into the war in the Pacific.

Roosevelt died in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on April 12, 1945. The presidency passed to Vice President Harry Truman. Although Truman proved a fast learner, he was unprepared for the office. Roosevelt—despite being gravely ill—had kept Truman out of the decision loop. Truman was not informed about Roosevelt’s plans or intentions.

Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) commanded Allied forces in the Philippines at the start of World War II. Chased out of the Philippines, he went to Australia. There he was put in charge of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific. He led the counteroffensive that resulted in the liberation of the Philippines, and the eventual defeat of the Japanese Empire.

Early Life and Career

Douglas MacArthur was born on an army post near Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 26, 1880. He was the son of Captain Arthur MacArthur, who won a Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

MacArthur attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1903, and receiving a commission in the Army Corps of Engineers. Between graduation and the start of World War I, he served in a variety of jobs. He conducted a survey of the Philippines, worked as a military instructor, and served as aide to President Theodore Roosevelt.

When World War I began, MacArthur organized the Forty-Second Infantry Division. A unit made up of National Guard regiments from around the United States, the division was given the nickname “Rainbow Division” by MacArthur. He went overseas and fought with the unit in 1918, and commanded it in November 1918.

MacArthur was superintendent of West Point from 1919 to 1922. In June 1922, he was again transferred to the Philippines, where he served through the rest of the 1920s. In 1930 he returned to the United States, where he served as Army chief of staff through 1935. Following that, he went to the Philippines to organize their army.

The Philippines

When World War II started, Douglas MacArthur was in the Philippines, an American colony scheduled for independence in 1946. He was there to create a Philippine army. In 1937 he had resigned his U.S. Army commission, having accepted the rank of field marshal in the Philippine army in 1936.

Because of increased tensions in the Far East, the Philippine army was merged into the U.S. Army in July 1941. MacArthur, still in the Philippines, was recalled to active duty in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant general and given command of U.S. Army forces in the Far East. This included the Philippines.

On December 8, 1941, in conjunction with the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Luzon, the northern and major island of the Philippine archipelago.

The traditional defense plan for the Philippines hinged on retiring to the Bataan Peninsula and maintaining an army there until the U.S. Army and Navy fought their way across the Pacific to relieve Bataan. This plan hinged on supplies stored in Bataan. Prior to the war, MacArthur abandoned this plan in favor of an aggressive defense. He positioned most of his supplies and ammunition behind probable invasion beaches on Luzon.

MacArthur successfully forecast where the Japanese invasion would occur, but in 1941, the Philippine army was years away from being able to conduct the mobile defense that MacArthur’s strategy demanded. The Imperial Japanese Army was able to establish beachheads and to advance around the defenders. MacArthur was forced to declare Philippine’s capital, Manila, an open city and to retreat to Bataan.

Pre-positioned supplies were lost, and tens of thousands of American and Philippine soldiers were trapped in Bataan with little ammunition and less food. The troops were put on half-rations. Disease and hunger soon took their toll. The Japanese starved out the defenders by April 1942, and captured Corregidor Island soon after.

MacArthur intended to stay, but President Franklin Roosevelt ordered him out of the Philippines in March 1942. MacArthur arrived in Australia on March 20. After landing, he pledged to return to the Philippines.

Counteroffensive and Victory

MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor and given command of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific. In addition to United States military forces, MacArthur commanded a coalition that included Australian, New Zealand, and some British forces. MacArthur organized the defense of Australia but switched to the offensive after the Battle of Midway gave the Allies the initiative. He cleared the Japanese out of much of the northern side of New Guinea in 1942 and 1943.

MacArthur relied on air power and Allied naval superiority, developing an offensive technique called “island-hopping.” The technique involved bypassing a strong Japanese garrison and instead having Allied forces attack a weaker one within the range of Allied fighter aircraft. An airbase was to be built on the captured island and bypassed garrisons allowed to wither away.

With the assistance from naval forces commanded by Admiral Chester Nimitz, MacArthur fulfilled his pledge to return to the Philippines by late 1944. In October, American forces landed on Leyte Island in the Philippines. On October 20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore from a landing craft onto the beach at Leyte and proclaimed that the liberation of the Philippines had begun.

A long battle still lay ahead for the Allies before the Philippines were completely freed. Luzon was invaded in December 1944. Although Manila was quickly recaptured, Luzon was not secured until July 1945. Some Japanese forces did not surrender until the end of the war.

MacArthur was promoted to general of the army in December 1945. In April 1945, MacArthur was given command of all army forces in the Pacific. MacArthur oversaw the invasion of Okinawa, and was planning the invasion of Japan in August 1945, when Japan surrendered. MacArthur was part of the United States delegation that accepted the formal surrender of Japan on the quarterdeck of the battleship Missouri.

Following the Japanese surrender, MacArthur was appointed commander of Allied occupation forces in Japan. He allowed the Japanese emperor to remain as titular head of state. He also oversaw the development of a democratic republic in Japan.

Postwar Career

In 1947, MacArthur was named commander of the army’s Far East Command. He was in that post when North Korea attacked South Korea, an American ally. MacArthur led a United Nations force against North Korea and its Communist allies until April 1951. President Harry S. Truman relieved him of command for insubordination. Following his dismissal, he retired into private life. He died in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 1964.

George S. Patton

George S. Patton Jr. (1885–1945) was the leading American general during World War II. He is best known for his race across France in the late summer of 1944 when he led the Third Army from Normandy to the German border in a matter of weeks.

Prewar Career

Patton was born on November 11, 1885, into a family of military tradition. Although he was a California native, Patton, the grandson of a Confederate Army officer, attended the Virginia Military Institute before transferring to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated from West Point in 1909.

Following graduation he entered the cavalry. He became the Army’s youngest “Master of the Sword,” both writing an army manual on use of the saber and designing the last cavalry saber used by the U.S. Army, the 1913 model “Patton” saber. He was also part of the 1912 U.S. Olympic team, competing in the modern pentathlon.

In 1916, he participated in General John Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in search of Pancho Villa (a Mexican Revolutionary general who had led a raid into U.S. territory). He accompanied Pershing to France in 1917 after America entered World War I. There, he organized and commanded the first American tank brigade. He fought at both Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne offensives. He was injured during the latter.

Patton was assigned to the Second Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, in July 1940. An early proponent of the aggressive use of armor, Patton was given command of the division in April 1941. He was promoted to commander of what became the U.S. Seventh Army in January 1942.


Efficiency in training led Patton to a combat command. He took charge of Operation Torch, the United States force invading Casablanca in Morocco. He quickly captured his objectives, overcoming Vichy French resistance. (The Vichy government took control in France after the Germans conquered France; the U.S. considered the Free French government in exile the legitimate government of France.)

Following the defeat of the U.S. II Corps in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in March 1943, Patton was given command of the unit. He restored morale to the dispirited unit with an emphasis on strict discipline and hard training. Within a few weeks, the unit was battle-ready and participated in the final offensive that pushed the German Afrika Korps out of Tunisia.


Patton then took the U.S. Seventh Army to Sicily. The Seventh Army landed on the southern shore of Sicily on July 10, 1943, to the left (west) of the British Eighth Army, which landed south of Syracuse.

The Seventh Army only had a supporting role, covering the British advance up the eastern shore of Sicily to Messina. General Sir Harold Alexander, in command of Allied ground forces, then shifted the boundary between the Seventh and Eighth armies westward, to give General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army more maneuvering room. The move squeezed most of Patton’s command out of action.

Patton received permission to conduct a “reconnaissance” toward Palermo. Against orders, he then captured the town. (Patton later claimed the order stopping his reconnaissance was garbled in transmission.) His army then raced along the northern coast of Sicily, using three amphibious landings to leapfrog the Germans. The Seventh Army captured Messina on August 17.

Mussolini’s government fell after Patton captured Palermo, but the Sicilian campaign had few other results. Axis forces were permitted to evacuate to Italy, where Allied forces fought them again.

Despite his success, the campaign almost ended Patton’s career. He slapped two privates suffering from combat fatigue, a misjudgment that was widely publicized. General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, relieved Patton from command of the Seventh Army. Only Patton’s undeniable skill spared him from being sent home in disgrace.

Eisenhower used Patton as a decoy, a position the battle-hungry Patton found humiliating. The Germans believed that Patton would command the next invasion. Eisenhower sent Patton to Corsica, and then to Egypt, giving the impression that the Allies would next invade Southern France or the Balkans.

Patton was brought to England and given the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), a dummy command that was part of the Operation Overlord deception plans (Operation Overlord was the planned Allied invasion at Normandy). German spies were permitted to learn that the unit’s objective was to reach Pas-de-Calais—the Strait of Dover—where they concentrated their forces. The actual Operation Overlord invasion landed at Normandy.


Patton was sent to France following the Normandy invasion and was finally allowed back in the action. On August 1, he took over the Third Army, which he led on a stunning offensive. He broke through the German lines at Saint-Lô in Normandy, then sent his army in three different directions. One column was sent to clear the Brittany Peninsula. A second went down the Loire. A third went east, helping General Courtney Hodges envelop German forces in the Argentan pocket.

Patton and the Third Army then raced across France. Since the Allies had air superiority, Patton let airpower guard his flanks, making his enemies worry about their own flanks. By August 21, the Third Army was on the Seine River. Patton’s offensive charge finally died on August 31, when his army ran out of gas on the Moselle River outside Metz.

Patton resumed the offensive in early October, but the Germans had reinforced and resupplied the fortifications guarding Metz. Nevertheless, the seemingly unstoppable Third Army captured Metz on November, 23, 1944. Patton began planning an offensive into the Saar region of Germany.

On December 16, 1944, Germany attacked north of the Third Army, in the Ardennes. At a conference held on December 19, Patton pledge to counterattack the Germans within forty-eight hours. It proved to be his finest hour. Anticipating the seriousness of the German attack, Patton had his staff draw up plans for redeploying his forces prior to the meeting. On December 21, 1944, the Third Army began a thrust toward Bastogne, where an American force that included the 101st Airborne Division was besieged by the German Army.

A battalion of the Fourth Armored Division commanded by then Lieutenant-Colonel Creighton Abrams reached Bastogne on December 26. Patton’s quick action probably saved the Airborne Division from capture and broke the back of the German offensive.

In January 1945, the Third Army resumed its march into Germany. Patton occupied southern Germany and was headed toward Prague, Czechoslovakia, when the war in Europe ended.

After the war Patton was made military governor of Bavaria. He was relieved of that command, as well as command of the Third Army in October 1945 due to his vocal resistance to the Allies’ denazification program.

He was given the Fifteenth Army, a force that existed largely on paper. Patton died on December 21, 1945, after being injured in a car accident in Heidelberg, Germany.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890—1969), who led the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, was elected president of the United States in 1952 and was reelected in 1956. He was president during significant portions of the Cold War, which continued for three decades after he left office.

Born October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, Eisenhower was the son of David J. Eisenhower and his wife, Ida Stover. The family was impoverished and moved to Abilene, Kansas, within a year of his birth. From an early age, he helped support his family by selling vegetables and holding a job at a creamery, where his father also worked.

A better athlete than student despite his obvious intelligence and ambition, Eisenhower graduated from Abilene High School in 1909 and then worked for two years to help cover the costs of an older brother’s college education. Eisenhower then got his chance for further schooling, entering West Point Military Academy in 1911. Again, his athletic pursuits, especially football, took precedence over studying, but he managed to graduate in 1915.

Launched Military Career

Entering the army as a second lieutenant after leaving West Point, Eisenhower began in the infantry at Texas’s Fort Sam Houston. During World War I, he led the tank training camps in the United States. Encouraged to learn military science, his ascent in the military began in earnest after he graduated from the Command and General Staff School and later the Army War College.

Eisenhower became aide to General Douglas MacArthur in 1933 and accompanied the general to his post in the Philippines. Eisenhower then became the chief of staff of the Third Army in 1939. After overseeing training for thousands of soldiers shortly before the United States entered World War II in 1941, Eisenhower joined the U.S. Army General Staff as chief of the War Plans Division.

World War II Hero

Eisenhower became the commander of U.S. military forces in Great Britain in 1941. A respected and skilled commander, he was able to work well with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and British generals. Eisenhower was also skilled on the battlefield, leading the 1942 invasion of North Africa that led to the Allies controlling the area by May 1943.

Now a four-star general, Eisenhower led amphibious invasions of Sicily and Italy in 1943. By the end of the year, he was named supreme commander of Allied forces. He then prepared for and led troops at the 1944 invasion of Normandy, a key Allied victory over Germany. Eisenhower oversaw the liberation of France and was involved in the Battle of the Bulge (winter 1944–1945). It was Eisenhower’s decision to allow the Soviets to capture Berlin, a city that featured prominently in the Cold War that commenced between the United States and the Soviet Union in the post-war years.

Postwar Popularity

After the war in Europe ended in 1945, Eisenhower returned to the United States as a popular war hero. He then returned to Europe to head the American-controlled zone in Germany for a time before serving a two-year stint as the Army’s chief of staff in the United States. Eisenhower retired from the military in 1948 and became the president of Columbia University. A two-year term there ended when Eisenhower agreed to become the commander of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the alliance of Western European nations and the United States against possible invasion of Europe by the USSR.

Though he had previously stated that he had no interest in politics, Eisenhower decided to run for president as a Republican in 1952. With a large margin of victory, he won the presidency that year as well as reelection in 1956. Working with both Democrats and Republicans, Eisenhower carved a middle path as president, supporting business and limited government interference in economic matters. He also oversaw the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the United States, including the desegregation of public schools.

Cold War President

As soon as he took office, Eisenhower had to deal with the ongoing Korean War. He presided over the end of the Korean War in 1953, negotiating a truce with Communist North Korea that divided the Korean peninsula.

Again choosing a moderate course, Eisenhower supported the building up of NATO in the face of potential Soviet aggression. At the same time, he wanted to improve the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union, offering several plans to open up the relationship between the two countries. Relations became severely strained, however, after the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane flying over the Soviet Union in 1959.

Eisenhower had to deal with other conflicts involving Communists worldwide. After Vietnam was divided into Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam in 1954, the United States supported South Vietnam. He oversaw the creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), which sought to contain the spread of Communism in the region. U.S. support for South Vietnam eventually escalated into the Vietnam War.

Closer to home, Eisenhower originally supported the Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista, but withdrew his backing in 1958. After Batista’s government collapsed and Communist Fidel Castro took over, Eisenhower cut off relations with the new ally of the Soviet Union before he left office in 1961. Eisenhower also approved the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of covert operations to limit Communist revolutions in Latin America.

Eisenhower had also allowed the CIA to execute a covert operation to prevent a possible Communist takeover of Iran in 1954. He later announced the Eisenhower Doctrine, which declared the United States would assist all Middle Eastern countries in the face of any Communist threat of expansion.

By the end of his presidency, Eisenhower was seeking peace worldwide and traveled to twenty-seven countries to that end. He even tried to meet with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to discuss a nuclear test-ban treaty. Though this summit did not happen because of the spy plane incident, Eisenhower retired a popular, well-respected president. He became an advisor to the U.S. Army and enjoyed his hobbies in retirement. Eisenhower died on March 28, 1969, in Washington, D.C.

The “Failure” Message

Eisenhower’s success as a general was due to his willingness to take necessary risks and to accept personal responsibility for those decisions, win or lose. One example of both was his decision to press on with the Normandy invasion, despite predictions of unsatisfactory weather.

Before every invasion Eisenhower prepared an announcement of failure, kept in his wallet against the need for it. Although he tore the others up, he showed the message he penned for D-Day to his naval aide, Harry C. Butcher. Butcher persuaded Eisenhower to save the message, which is presented below.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

The note is preserved at the Eisenhower Library.

Chester Nimitz

Chester William Nimitz (1885–1966) led the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He restored the morale of the Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor. His ability to assess risk, combined with a willingness to gamble when opportunity presented itself, allowed him to guide the Navy to victory over the Japanese Empire.

Early Life and Career

Chester Nimitz was born on February 24, 1885, in Fredericksburg, Texas. His father died before he was born, and Chester was initially raised by his mother and paternal grandfather, Charles H. Nimitz.

Lacking funds to go to college, Nimitz applied first to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, and then to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He received an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1901. He graduated seventh in a class of 114 in 1905.

Nimitz received an ensign’s commission in 1907, commanding the gunboat Panay in the Philippines. He later commanded the destroyer Decatur, which he ran aground. He was court-martialed and reprimanded, but continued his career. Between 1909 and 1913, he served in submarines, experience he put to good use in both world wars. Between 1913 and 1917 he was chief engineer on the fleet oiler Maumee, designing and installing the diesel engines used to propel the ship.

Following World War I, during which he served as chief of staff to Admiral Samuel S. Robison, commander of the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force, he was sent to Hawaii in 1920. There he oversaw construction of the submarine base at Pearl Harbor.

He attended the Naval War College from 1922 to 1923, where he developed a plan for a hypothetical naval war in the Pacific. After the Naval War College, he served in a series of seagoing commands of increasing responsibility. He was commanding a battleship division in 1939, when he was put in charge of the Bureau of Navigation (which was the Navy’s personnel department).

World War II

Nimitz was in Washington, D.C., serving as chief of the Bureau of Navigation when the Japanese attacked the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. President Franklin Roosevelt picked Nimitz to replace Admiral Husband Kimmel as commander of the Pacific Fleet. Nimitz was promoted to the position over twenty-eight more-senior flag officers. Nimitz assumed command of the Pacific Fleet on December 25, 1941.

The Pacific Fleet was at its lowest point when Nimitz took charge. Five of the eight battleships at Pearl Harbor on December 7 were out of action. Guam had fallen. American forces in the Philippines were under siege. On December 22, a Navy task force sent to relieve the besieged American outpost at Wake Island received orders to return to Pearl Harbor, just as they were ready to attack the Japanese off Wake Island. The Wake Island garrison surrendered the next day.

Nimitz immediately worked to restore morale. He shifted the Pacific Fleet from a defensive to an offensive posture, using his aircraft carriers to launch raids against Japanese garrisons on isolated islands.

He also demonstrated a willingness to gamble when the situation warranted. In 1942, Nimitz sent half the available aircraft carriers in the Pacific on the Doolittle Raid against Japan. He realized that the morale effects of a successful attack on the Japanese homeland would balance the risk.

Nimitz also coordinated the American naval ambush of the Japanese fleet invading the Midway islands. The Japanese intended to draw the American fleet into a Japanese trap. Instead the badly outnumbered American force sank four Japanese fleet carriers while losing only one. The June 1942 battle proved the turning point in the Pacific.

Nimitz coordinated submarine warfare against the Japanese merchant fleet. The submarine campaign took time to become effective, primarily due to faulty torpedoes and timid commanders. The torpedo problems were fixed, and more aggressive skippers took charge of the fleet submarines by early 1943. The campaign then made a substantial contribution to the victory against Japan.

Nimitz took command of all land, sea, and air forces in the Pacific Ocean Areas in early 1942. This included coordinating activities with General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the South West Pacific Area. MacArthur was responsible for the defense of Australia and the Pacific theater east of the Solomon Island chain.

Through subordinate commanders like Admirals William Halsey, Raymond Spruance, Marc Mitscher, Thomas Kinkaid, and Richmond Kelly Turner, Nimitz directed the American drives across the Pacific. Island-hopping campaigns up the Solomon Island chain and across the Central Pacific through the Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas island chains took the United States from Hawaii to striking range of Japan and the Philippine Islands by the end of 1944.

Nimitz was promoted to five-star fleet admiral in December 1944. He then directed United States forces all the way to Japan in 1945, coordinating the recapture of the Philippines with MacArthur, and leading naval forces to the capture of Iwo Jima and the Ryukyu Islands.

In August 1945, Nimitz was preparing the naval portion of the planned Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands—Operations Olympic and Coronet. The Japanese surrender following the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki eliminated the need for those operations. Nimitz was part of the American delegation that received the Japanese surrender party aboard Nimitz’s flagship, the battleship New Jersey.

Postwar Career

In December 1945, Nimitz became the chief of naval operations (CNO), replacing Admiral Ernest King. He continued as CNO until his retirement in December 1947. Following his retirement, he served in a number of high-profile and honorary diplomatic positions.

Uncomfortable about profiting from his wartime reputation, he turned down many opportunities to take high-salaried business jobs following his retirement. He served as a regent of the University of California for eight years, and helped raise funds to restore the Japanese warship Mikasa as a museum ship. He died following a stroke at his home on San Francisco Bay on February 20, 1966.

James Doolittle

James “Jimmy” Doolittle (1896–1993) is best known for leading the first bombing raid against the Japanese home islands in April 1942. He led the U.S. Eighth Air Force in the air war against Germany. He was also an aviation pioneer, air racer, and scientist who made major contributions to American aerospace technology in the twentieth century.

Early Life and Career

James Doolittle was born on December 14, 1896, in Alameda, California, but grew up in Nome, Alaska. He attended Los Angeles Junior College and the University of California. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1917, and was assigned to the Signal Corps.

Doolittle became a flying instructor during World War I, received a Regular Army commission in the Air Service, and became involved in military aviation. In 1922, he was given a degree by the University of California, and sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for advanced engineering study.

Assigned to aviation test facilities after graduating from MIT in 1925, he became a test pilot, aviation engineer, and air racer. He developed instrument flying techniques, allowing “blind” landings.

In 1930, he resigned his Regular Army commission to work as an executive for Shell Oil Company. He maintained a commission in the Army Reserves. While at Shell, he helped develop aviation fuels. He continued his activities as an air racer, becoming the first person to win every major aviation trophy. Throughout the 1930s, he served as a consultant to the United States government on military aviation issues. He returned to active duty in 1940.

World War II

In 1940, the United States was still neutral in the war in Europe, but feared the time would soon come when U.S. involvement would become necessary. Doolittle was assigned to Air Corps Procurement, where he coordinated the conversions of major American factories into military aircraft production facilities.

Doolittle was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was transferred to the Army Air Corps war planning division in January 1942. He developed a plan to attack Tokyo and four other major cities on the Japanese home islands. Japan was then too far away from American air bases to reach with land-based aircraft and too heavily defended to risk bringing an aircraft carrier close enough for aircraft to reach the Japanese homeland. Doolittle’s concept involved flying Army medium bombers off a United States Navy aircraft carrier. This would allow the carriers to successfully withdraw. However, the Army bombers could not return and land on aircraft carriers. They were to fly to China, an American ally, and be given to the Chinese Air Force.

Doolittle led the raid, which used sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers. The carrier group was discovered by the Japanese on April 18, 1942. The bombers were forced to launch earlier than they planned, too far from China to land safely. All sixteen bombers were lost after successfully bombing Japan, but the Chinese rescued most of the aircrews and spirited them to safety.

The Doolittle Raid boosted American morale at a critical phase of the war. It caused the Japanese to withdraw fighter squadrons to protect the home islands and motivated the execution of the successful Midway campaign. There the Japanese lost four major aircraft carriers.

Doolittle won a Medal of Honor for leading the raid and was promoted to brigadier general. Transferred to the European Theater of Operations, he remained there for the rest of the war. In England in the summer of 1942, he organized the Twelfth Air Force.

Doolittle commanded the Twelfth Air Force in Africa in the fall of 1942, during the Operation Torch invasion, and was promoted to major general. He commanded Army Air Forces in the Mediterranean for the African campaign and the subsequent invasion of Sicily and Italy. In March 1943, Doolittle led the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy.

In January 1944, he was transferred to command of the Eighth Air Force in England, and charged with achieving air superiority by the time the invasion of France, planned for June 1944, took place. He achieved this goal by changing the Eighth Air Force’s tactics. Beginning in February 1944, his unit concentrated on striking the German aircraft industry, as well as hitting communications and transportation.

After bombers hit a target, escort fighters were allowed to operate independently against German fighters. This included strafing German airfields, destroying aircraft on the ground. By May the Allies controlled the sky. In March 1944, Doolittle was promoted to lieutenant general.

Following victory in Europe in April 1945, Doolittle prepared to move the Eighth Air Force to the Pacific. World War II ended before the unit could enter into combat against the Japanese. Doolittle became the highest-ranking U.S. reserve officer of World War II.

Postwar Career

In 1946, Doolittle returned to civilian life, rejoining Shell Oil Company as a vice president. He served on the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) precursor. From 1948 to 1958, he worked for NACA. He was active early in the American missile and space development. He retired from both Shell and the Air Force in 1959, but remained active in aerospace.

Through special act of Congress in 1985, Doolittle was promoted to full general, on the retired list. He died on September 27, 1993.

100-Octane Gasoline

Doolittle’s most important contribution to the Allied victory in World War II took place before the war started. In 1930, Doolittle headed Shell Oil’s aviation fuels section. He pioneered the development and use of 100-octane gasoline.

Gasoline with a higher octane rating burns more efficiently. During the 1930s most gasoline was rated at 87 octane. It worked well for automobiles and provided satisfactory power for the aircrafts of the 1920s.

Doolittle realized that 100-octane gasoline would allow the development of more powerful aircraft engines. Engine manufacturers were reluctant to design engines that needed 100-octane gasoline unless adequate stocks of the gasoline were available. Refineries were reluctant to build plants that could produce 100-octane gasoline unless there was a demand for it.

Doolittle put his prestige as an aviation pioneer behind the development of 100-octane fuel at Shell. He convinced Shell to produce it, and stockpile the chemicals required to make the fuel. As a result, American aircraft engine manufacturers built new engines to use the fuel. By the start of World War II the United States had both more powerful aircraft engines designed for high-performance gasoline and adequate stocks of 100-octane gasoline to fuel the engines.

Pietro Badoglio

Pietro Badoglio (1871–1956) led the first government of Italy after the fall of Benito Mussolini’s fascist government (the term fascist refers to an ultranationalist government with strong central conrol). He negotiated Italy’s surrender to the Allies and brought Italy back into the war on the side of the Allied powers.

Early Life and Career

Pietro Badoglio was born in Piedmont, Italy, on September 28, 1871. He attended the Italian military academy at Turin and entered the Italian army as a lieutenant in 1892.

Between then and Italy’s entry into World War I in 1916, Badoglio participated in several Italian colonial campaigns in Africa, where he distinguished himself. He was a lieutenant colonel when Italy entered World War I and fought in Northern Italy through most of the war, rising to general and to a position as an aide to the commander in chief of the Italian army.

Badoglio was named an Italian senator after World War I, but remained in the army. He participated in Italian military missions to the United States and Romania in 1920 and 1921. Badoglio initially opposed Mussolini, but later allied with the fascists. He served on the Italian General Staff and then as governor of Libya from 1929 to 1933.

Italy invaded Ethiopia (then called Abyssinia) in 1935. After initial Italian reverses, Badoglio was given command of the Italian army in Ethiopia and captured the country in 1936. Badoglio received the title of “Duke of Addis Ababa” and was promoted to marshal. He subsequently became chief of the general staff of the Italian army.

World War II

Badoglio was opposed to Italy’s entry into World War II. Badoglio opposed the “Pact of Steel,” which allied Italy with Germany, creating the German-Italian Axis. He felt the Italian army was unready for war.

Badoglio’s judgment was proven by the Italian army’s poor performance against the French and subsequently when Italy invaded Greece from its then-colony, Albania. After initial Italian gains, a Greek counterattack pushed the Italians back into Albania. By mid-December, the Greeks held a quarter of Albania. Badoglio resigned as chief of staff in December. Germany rescued Italy by invading Greece in 1941.

For the next thirty months Badoglio was out of public service. Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III removed Mussolini as prime minister and appointed Badoglio in Mussolini’s place.

Badoglio began secret negotiations with the Allies to conclude a separate peace. An armistice was signed on September 3, 1943. It was followed by Allied landings at the southwestern tip of Italy and at Taranto on September 8. The Allies announced the armistice on that date. Badoglio had not yet informed the Italian armed forces of the armistice.

Italian units were surprised by the switch. Most either went home voluntarily or were disarmed by the Germans. Additionally Italian-occupied areas in France and the Balkans were taken over by the Germans.

The Italian garrison of Rome collapsed, and Badoglio and the Italian government were forced to flee Rome. They relocated, first to Pescara, and then to Brindisi, in Allied-controlled Apulia (the southeastern tip of Italy). On October 13, Badoglio’s government formally declared war on Germany and became a co-belligerent with the Allies.

Badoglio remained prime minister for less than a year. His ties to Mussolini’s fascist government made him unpopular. On June 8, 1944, Badoglio was removed from the position of prime minister and from the position of foreign minister, which he had assumed in February 1944. He was replaced by Ivanoe Bonomi (1873–1951), a committed anti-fascist. Badoglio retired from public life after leaving office in 1944. He died on November 1, 1956.

Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. (1912–2002) led the all-black Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron, the “Tuskegee Airmen,” during World War II. The son of the U.S. Army’s first African American general, he became the first African American to become a full general in the United States Air Force. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was instrumental in the postwar desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Early Life

Davis was born on December 18, 1912, in Washington, D.C. He was the son of Benjamin O. Davis Sr., then a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. His father went on to become the first black general in the Army.

Raised in a military tradition, Benjamin Davis Jr. decided two things as a child: that he wanted to become a pilot and that he wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Davis attended Western Reserve University in 1929 before transferring to the University of Chicago, which he attended from 1930 to 1932. In 1932, he received an appointment to West Point.

He was the fourth African American admitted to West Point. In his first year he was shunned—other cadets refused to speak to him, except for purposes of duty. He slept alone in a tent on bivouacs and ate silent meals alone. Despite the treatment, he stuck with it, and graduated thirty-fifth in a class of 216 in 1936.

African Americans were not then allowed to fly aircraft in the Army Air Corps. He was given an infantry commission as a second lieutenant. From 1938 until the start of World War II, he was assigned as an instructor of military science at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University).

World War II

In 1941, Davis was one of a first group of African Americans admitted to U.S. Army Air Corps pilot training. In late 1942, Davis was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel and was given command of the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron. The first fighter squadron in the Air Corps with African American pilots, the squadron trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field. That gave the squadron the nickname “the Tuskegee Airmen.”

Davis’s unit was sent to Europe in 1943. Davis led the Ninety-ninth in combat in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. The squadron proved both efficient and aggressive. The experiment was expanded, with other all–African American fighter squadrons joining the Ninety-ninth.

In 1943, Davis organized and commanded the 332nd Fighter Group, which was comprised of four African American fighter squadrons. In addition to the Ninety-ninth, the group contained the 100th, 301st, and 302nd fighter squadrons. Except for a brief period in November 1944, Davis commanded the 332nd from October 1943 until June 1945. The group fought in Italy, the Balkans, Germany, and Austria; they also supported the Allied invasion of southern France.

The 332nd Fighter Group shot down 111 planes and destroyed another 150 grounded planes during 15,000 sorties. Davis flew numerous combat sorties, winning a Distinguished Service Cross for leading a mission to Munich on March 9, 1944. In May 1944, he was promoted to colonel.

Postwar Career

Davis remained with the Army Air Force after World War II, transferring to the U.S. Air Force when it was formed in 1947. Between 1945 and 1946, he commanded Godman Field in Kentucky. Between 1946 and 1949, he commanded the 477th Fighter Bomber Group at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio. He attended the Air Force War College, graduating in 1950.

During the Korean War he commanded the Fifty-first Fighter Interceptor Wing in Korea, and was promoted to brigadier general in October 1954. From 1957 through 1968, he was chief of staff in increasingly important commands: the Twelfth Air Force in Germany, the air forces in Europe (a position with NATO), and U.N. Command in Korea.

Davis was instrumental in the racial integration of the Air Force in 1949, and was a civil rights advocate for most of his life. He helped draft the Air Force desegregation plan.

Davis retired from the Air Force in 1970 to become director of public safety for Cleveland, Ohio. He left the post shortly after taking it due to disagreements with the Cleveland mayor. Shortly afterward, he was appointed director of civil aviation security. He organized the “sky marshal” program used today to combat skyjacking and terrorism.

In 1998, Davis received a promotion to full general, a special post-retirement promotion similar to one granted Jimmy Doolittle. Davis died on July 4, 2002.

African American Units in World War II

African American soldiers traditionally demonstrated excellent performance in the U.S. Army through the end of World War I. However, in World War II, most large African American units performed poorly.

Poor performance was not the fault of the individual soldiers. Most fought bravely. The problem was that units like the Ninety-second Infantry Division (Buffalo Soldiers) and Ninety-third Infantry Division (Blue Helmets) were committed under-manned and poorly equipped—often with World War I surplus weapons. Additionally, the white senior officers assigned to these units were rarely the most gifted or motivated officers.

African Americans in smaller units—such as the 332nd Fighter Group or the 761st Tank Battalion—turned in excellent performances during World War II. The difference was leadership and training. The officers, whether white or black, believed in their men, and set high standards in training and combat.

Additionally, late in World War II, casualties, especially during the Battle of the Bulge (winter 1944–1945), led to a shortage of infantrymen. Replacements were sought from support troops. This included African American volunteers who were put in white infantry squads as replacements. These men fought well. The dichotomy between the good individual performance of African Americans and the poor performance of segregated divisions was one factor that lef to the desegregation of the Army in the years following World War II.

Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as president of the United States in April 1945. The decisions Truman made between then and August, when World War II ended, shaped the peace and the Cold War that subsequently followed. His two most important decisions were that of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan and of allowing the Russians a postwar sphere in Eastern Europe.

Early Life

Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, on May 8, 1884, to a farm family. He attended public school in Independence, Missouri, graduating from high school in 1901. Following graduation he worked as a railroad timekeeper and a bank clerk before returning to work on the family farm in 1906.

He served in the Missouri National Guard between 1905 and 1911. When the United States entered World War I, Truman helped organize the Second Regiment of Missouri Field Artillery. It was called into federal service as the 129th Field Artillery and sent to France. Truman was promoted to captain and commanded Battery D. He saw combat at Vosges, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. He remained in the reserves after the war, eventually gaining the rank of Colonel.

After World War I he returned to Independence, married Bess Wallace (1885–1982), and ran a haberdashery store. The business failed in 1922.

In 1922 he entered politics, running for county judge. Defeated in 1924, he was reelected to judge’s positions between 1926 and 1932. In 1934, he ran for United States Senate and won. He would hold that seat until he became vice president in 1944.

World War II

When World War II started, Harry Truman was a senator from Missouri. He had been sponsored by the Kansas City political machine run by Tom Pendergast (1873–1945) in his first Senate term. Truman barely won reelection in 1940 due to prior connections with Pendergast.

Following reelection, Truman became concerned about waste and corruption associated with American military buildup. He helped establish, and chaired, the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program in 1941. The committee, soon known as the Truman Committee, became the bane of war profiteers. By 1944 it was estimated to have saved the federal government as much as $15 billion. It gave Truman a reputation for integrity and honesty that transcended his earlier reputation as “the Senator from Pendergast.”

Truman was picked to replace Henry Wallace (1888–1965) as Roosevelt’s vice president in the 1944 presidential campaign. As vice president, Truman was outside Roosevelt’s circle of advisors. Truman was not informed about Roosevelt’s postwar intentions or even briefed about significant military projects. He did not learn about the existence of the Manhattan Project—the effort to develop an atomic bomb—until after he became president.

On April 12, 1945, Truman was called to the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) informed him that President Roosevelt had died, and Truman was then sworn in as president. He had been vice president just eighty-two days.

Truman faced enormous challenges. Roosevelt made several critical foreign policy commitments immediately prior to his death. At Yalta in February, Roosevelt had agreed to allow the Soviet Union to control much of Eastern Europe at war’s end and gave the Soviets greater influence in Asia. At Potsdam, Germany, in July 1945, Truman essentially ratified Roosevelt’s concessions in exchange for a Soviet pledge to enter the war in the Pacific against the Japanese.

These decisions shaped much of the history of the rest of the century. It created the conditions for the creation of a Soviet Bloc in opposition to the Western powers, leading to both the Korean and Cold Wars.

The Potsdam Conference also resulted in the Potsdam Declaration. It called upon the Japanese government to surrender unconditionally or face “prompt and utter destruction.” This was a veiled reference to the atomic bomb.

Truman had to decide whether to use the atomic bomb on Japan. One atomic bomb could destroy most of a city. The first bomb had been tested in July 1945, and by August, the United States had three more.

At the Battle of Okinawa, with 500,000 American troops engaged, the United States suffered 50,000 casualties, including over 12,000 dead. Conservative estimates set Allied casualties for an invasion of Japan in the hundreds of thousands. Fatality estimates ranged between 100,000 and 400,000 dead. (Japanese deaths would have ranged in the millions, but that was not a factor to the United States.)

Truman was a combat veteran who knew what ground combat was like. He had an alternative that offered a way to end the war without a bloody invasion. Truman took it. He ordered that the bomb be used. American B-29s dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. When the Japanese refused to surrender, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. On the same day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Japan surrendered on August 15.

Postwar Years

Truman remained president until 1953. He ran for reelection in 1948 and won, but did not run again in 1952 after getting mired in the Korean War.

In the immediate postwar years, he was responsible for a number of important initiatives. The fascist threat to freedom was almost immediately supplanted by a Communist threat. The Soviet Union fostered a communist takeover in China, North Korea, and Eastern Europe, preventing free elections in all of those areas.

In response, Truman established the Marshall Plan to help restore Western Europe to economic health and the Truman Doctrine—which stated American willingness to support nations faced with communist incursion. This included military and economic aid to Greece from 1946 to 1948 and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1950.

In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. Truman sent American military assistance to Korea and enlisted the aid of the United Nations to assist the South. The war degenerated into a stalemate after China became involved.

Domestically, Truman instituted a set of economic policies known as the Fair Deal as a successor to the New Deal. Truman also desegregated the American armed forces.

After leaving the presidency, Truman retired to private life in Independence, Missouri. Truman died on December 26, 1972.

Major Battles and Events


Anschluss is a German word that refers to the unification of Germany and Austria in 1938. It marked German leader Adolf Hitler’s boldest flouting of international regulations to that point and fostered the development of the Munich Crisis later that year and the invasion of Poland in 1939.

Austria after World War I

The end of World War I brought major changes to Central Europe. Germany was saddled with punitive economic and military sanctions. The other major defeated power, the Empire of Austria-Hungary, ceased to exist entirely. From that one empire emerged several countries: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia.

The Treaty of Saint-Germain (1919), signed by the Allies and the newly created Republic of Austria shortly after World War I came to a close, provided not only for the dissolution of the old empire but also for the awarding of Austrian territories to Italy and Romania. Most significantly, the treaty forbade Austria from unifying with Germany without the consent of the League of Nations.

The loss of its empire sent Austria into economic crisis during the 1920s; the concept of Anschluss soon gained considerable popularity. Support cooled, however, when Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933.

Hitler’s Involvement

Hitler, meanwhile, had long advocated unification of all German-speaking peoples and began working with the Austrian Nazi party as soon as he came to power, secretly providing funds and direction. In 1934, Austrian Nazis attempted a putsch, or uprising, against the Austrian government, which itself had developed strong ties with Italy and Benito Mussolini’s fascists.

The putsch was quickly put down, although not before Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated. Although Hitler had hoped to support the coup with military intervention, Mussolini’s massing troops on the Austrian border dissuaded him.

The Nazis were banned in Austria—many fled to Germany and continued to collude with their northern brethren—and Austria experienced a brief spasm of civil war. Dollfuss’s successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, took extreme measures against the Nazis remaining in Austria, rounding up many of them into internment camps. Although Schuschnigg had successfully restored order, world events would soon conspire to doom Austrian independence.

The Anschluss

By 1938, Hitler felt confident enough to begin pressing his expansionist agenda. His first target was Austria, which found its two main allies, France and Italy, drifting away—France, distracted by internal difficulties, was quickly stepping away from international politics, and Italy was just as quickly strengthening its ties with Germany, forging what would become the Rome-Berlin Axis alliance.

Responding to German pressure, Schuschnigg met with Hitler in February 1938 in an attempt to reach an understanding. In the subsequent agreement, Germany pledged to respect Austrian independence. In return, Austria pledged to act in accordance with German interests on the international stage and to decriminalize the Nazi Party. In addition, Schuschnigg appointed two pro-Nazi administrators—Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Edmund Glaise-Horstenau—to his cabinet. Again bowing to German pressure, he also fired his army chief of staff, Alfred Jansa, who had been developing a plan to defend against a possible German invasion.

Schuschnigg could clearly see that his new cabinet appointees were actively pro-German and that a confrontation over Anschluss was fast approaching. He decided to force the issue, taking the huge gamble of calling for a national referendum on the issue. To eliminate the Austrian Nazis’ strongest base of support, he set the minimum voting age at twenty-four. The referendum was set for March 13, 1938.

Hitler reacted to this development quickly, putting the Nazi propaganda machine into high gear. Announcing that the elections were biased and fraudulent, he vowed to intervene militarily if requested. Schuschnigg was forced to resign on March 11, and Seyss-Inquart, the new chancellor, to send a telegram asking for aid in advance of the referendum. German troops were in Austria on March 12.

There was no resistance. In fact, thousands turned out to cheer the Germans as they marched further into Austria. Hitler, seated in an open-top staff car, crossed the border at his hometown of Braunau and proceeded on what amounted to a victory tour. The degree of enthusiasm that greeted his procession surprised even Hitler and his staff. Hitler would later comment:

I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.

The unification of Germany and Austria was announced by decree on March 13. The referendum was eventually held on April 10. Unification with Germany was approved by a vote of 99.73 percent.

The effects of Anschluss were significant. Absorption of Austria increased Germany’s population and industrial resources and provided a common border with its Italian ally. More importantly, it signaled to Hitler the Western powers’ reluctance to provoke a confrontation. The Anschluss, the first time the German army had crossed over to foreign soil since the end of World War I, marked the beginning of Hitler’s expansionism. Within less than two years, his invasion of Poland would plunge Europe into World War II.

The Munich Pact

The Munich Pact of September 1938 marked the failure of appeasement (the policy under which European powers offered no resistance to Germany’s expansion in hopes of avoiding a war) and the beginning of the end of peace in Europe. Although the Pact averted war for a time, the price was steep: Czechoslovakia, a young country created in the wake of World War I, would soon cease to exist because of the events set in motion at Munich. Furthermore, the Pact emboldened German leader Adolf Hitler in carrying out his expansionist policies and seriously damaged the standing of the Western powers, England in particular.

German Expansionism

In the aftermath of World War I, Germany was crippled by expensive war reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s. Hitler and the Nazi Party rode the wave of resentment and frustration caused by these conditions, and Hitler was in total control of the country by 1933. Hitler’s goal was to undo the humiliations of Versailles and restore Germany’s status as a world power.

Throughout the next five years, Hitler began slowly to test the resolve of France and England, the leading architects of Versailles. The Saar and the Rhineland, occupied regions on the French border, were reoccupied shortly after the Nazis’ rise to power. Germany also set upon a course of rearmament, building up its air force, army, and navy, and developing new weapons and technology, all in defiance of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. France and England barely reacted.

By 1938, having fully consolidated his power in Germany and rebuilt the military, Hitler began to show his territorial ambitions. Using the logic of the Versailles Treaty, which had attempted to divide countries among cultural or ethnic lines, Hitler had long agitated for a “pan-German” state that included all German-speaking peoples within a single border.

In March 1938, Hitler made his first expansionist move, boldly annexing Austria in a bloodless invasion known as the Anschluss. Although this was a clear violation of treaty terms, France and England allowed it to happen without challenge.

The Policy of Appeasement

The situation for those two great nations by the end of the 1930s was troubled. The Great Depression had affected their economies as well as Germany’s, and both popular and government opinion was against policing foreign countries. Furthermore, memories of the Great War (as World War I was known) and the horrendous casualties and ruin that it brought were still quite fresh in people’s minds. Most people were eager to avoid the possibility of another war.

The task of directing the resulting policy, known as appeasement, fell to Britain. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was convinced that Hitler did not want war any more than France or England did, and he felt that if he made minor concessions to Germany, the possibility of a greater war would be averted.

Appeasement was also motivated by a major miscalculation of relative military strengths. France and Britain both felt that their armies were thoroughly unprepared to fight the resurgent German military, which was actually only barely coalescing as an effective fighting force. If appeasement bought time for the Western democracies to get their armies back on a war footing, it also allowed the nascent Nazi army, the Wehrmacht, to mature into an efficient fighting force.

The September Crisis

After the Anschluss, Hitler set his sights on the Sudetenland, a strip of western Czechoslovakia that ran parallel to the German border and contained more than three million German-speaking residents, most of whom were strongly opposed to Czech rule. Hitler began making demands that Czechoslovakia cede the Sudetenland to Germany.

A British mediator was dispatched to Czechoslovakia to attempt to reach a peaceful resolution. Simultaneously, Germany began massing troops on the Czech border as Hitler instructed his agents at the bargaining table to continue increasing their demands. Unlike Austria, Czechoslovakia was not prepared to bow down to German demands and pledged to resist German invasion.

On September 15, Neville Chamberlain arranged a meeting with Hitler to try and find a peaceful solution. At the meeting, Chamberlain promised Hitler, without consulting the Czech government, that he would allow the Sudetens self-determination in the form of a national referendum. The English prime minister departed in high spirits.

It came as quite a shock when Hitler increased his demands the next week during a follow-up meeting with Chamberlain: Germany would occupy the Sudetenland before the referendum could proceed, the better to ensure the election was carried out “fairly.” Even Chamberlain could not agree to this. For the first time since World War I, the major European powers began mobilizing their armies. War seemed inevitable.

It was Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator, who arranged a four-power conference at Munich in a last-ditch attempt at averting war. Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, was motivated less by a desire for peace than by his recognition that Italy was not ready to be dragged into war.

The Munich Conference

On September 29, 1938, Chamberlain, Mussolini, and Hitler were joined by France’s Édouard Daladier at Munich. Czechoslovakia, the nation whose fate was to be discussed, was not invited to the talks, nor was the Soviet Union, despite its status as a Czech ally.

The conference ended with an agreement for Germany to gain the Sudetenland outright. In addition to the Sudeten population of three million, Czechoslovakia also lost major manufacturing sites and its previously protected border with Germany. Germany’s concessions, if they can be called that, were in a separate agreement with Chamberlain. Germany agreed to use peaceful means in resolving all future disputes with England and guaranteed Czech sovereignty.

Political Fallout

Reaction to the Munich Pact was mixed. German diplomats and generals were pleased, but Hitler felt that he had compromised his policies. The Soviet Union felt slighted and marginalized by the Western powers. This alienation would lead directly to the drafting of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, the Soviet Union’s ideological enemy, in 1939. The Czechoslovkian response was, as can be expected, outrage. Nevertheless, the Czech president Edvard Beneš had no choice but to accept terms and hand over the Sudetenland on October 10.

In England, Chamberlain was greeted as hero when he returned from Munich, famously promising that he had achieved “peace in our time.” Not all were convinced. Future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a speech to Parliament, proclaimed:

We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat. We are in the midst of a disaster of the first magnitude.… Do not suppose that this is the end. It is only the beginning.

Churchill’s predictions would prove all too accurate. Defenseless, Czechoslovakia was at the mercy of German expansion. On March 13, 1939, German units occupied Prague as Beneš signed over Bohemia and Moravia to Germany. The remainder of the dismembered country, Slovakia, was set up as a Nazi puppet state. Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist.

By this point, even someone as committed to appeasement as Chamberlain could see that the policy had failed and that war was inevitable. France and England began mobilizing their armies and resolved to stand firm on the next issue of German expansionism. They would not have long to wait: German armies crossed into Poland on September 1, 1939, almost eleven months to the day after the Munich Pact. France and England declared war two days later.

The Invasion of Poland

The origins of Germany’s involvement in World War II, beginning with its invasion of Poland in 1939, lie mostly in the political fallout after the end of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles imposed stiff economic and military sanctions on Germany, wounding national pride and crippling the economy. Versailles also mandated Poland’s independence—the country had been subjugated for 123 years. Poland was thus reassembled with territories carved out of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. The new country was also granted Baltic Sea access by means of the “Polish Corridor,” the former German territory of West Prussia. The German city of Danzig (modern-day Gdansk, Poland), sitting at the outlet of the corridor, was declared a “free city.” German leader Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party would come to power by trading on the frustrations and difficulties that these concessions had stirred up.

Two of Hitler’s chief aims upon assuming power were incorporating all German-speaking peoples into a Grossdeustchland, or “Greater Germany,” and regaining German territories lost after the Treaty of Versailles. With the annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler accomplished the first goal—but at the price of alerting the world to his imperial ambitions. Thus, when Hitler turned his gaze to Poland in 1939 and demanded Danzig and the Polish Corridor be ceded to Germany, the Western powers of France and England were ready to fight.

The invasion of Poland came as no surprise. England and France, seeking to end their policy of appeasement, had each guaranteed Poland’s safety months before. What did come as a surprise was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. Signed on August 23, 1939, it was a non-aggression treaty between the two ideologically opposed countries that freed Germany from the worry of fighting a two-front war, as it had in World War I. The announcement of the pact shocked the Western Allies, who had not thought that two countries that had openly agitated for the other’s destruction could reach such an agreement. The reasons for Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s complicity would become all too clear in time.

The German Invasion

Hitler, who felt that he had been talked out of war at the Munich Conference in 1938, was determined to flex his military might in Poland. With the Soviet Union out of the picture, there was now nothing to stop Germany from attacking Poland. So, in the late hours of August 31, 1939, German operatives disguised as Polish saboteurs staged an attack on a German radio station near the Polish border. Armed with this flimsy excuse to begin hostilities, Hitler ordered his armies across the Polish border at 8:00 on the morning of September 1.

The first shots of World War II had actually been fired a few hours earlier by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, which opened fire on Polish positions near Danzig at 4:45 a.m. At around the same time, German planes began bombing Polish border towns.

As the German armies crossed the Polish border, England and France issued ultimatums demanding an immediate withdrawal. As expected, these requests were ignored, and the Western Allies declared war on Germany on September 3.

By that point, Polish forces were engaged all along the country’s long border, facing invasion from the north, west, and southwest. The defense plan was doomed to failure—there was just too much territory to protect. To make matters worse, the Poles were facing an entirely new kind of fight: blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.”

Lightning War

The philosophy behind blitzkrieg was to use tanks, airplanes, and infantry in close cooperation. The planes, primarily the infamous “Stuka” dive-bomber, would act as highly mobile artillery, blasting holes in enemy lines that would then be exploited by tanks and mobile infantry. Regular infantry units, which would occupy the new positions and eliminate enemy strong points, would then follow up these exploitations.

The new tactics proved a major success, although for all the attention received by the mechanized elements of blitzkrieg, it is important to realize that the vast majority of the German army was still made up of old-fashioned foot-soldiers and that the majority of casualties sustained by the Polish forces in battle were caused by artillery.

Polish forces put up a spirited resistance on land and in the air, but by the second week of hostilities they were falling back toward the interior. Despite promises of opening a second front, France had made only small advances into German territory and was reluctant to move beyond the range of its great fortress guns on the Maginot Line, a system of fortifications in France near the German border. The British, likewise, were unable to offer much help and were reduced to dropping propaganda leaflets over German towns.

The Polish rallying point was the “Romanian Bridgehead,” a mountainous area with its back to neutral Romania from which the Poles hoped to set up a defensive perimeter and wait out the winter, confident their Western allies would launch a major offensive in the spring and relieve the pressure.

The Soviet Invasion

Such dreams were quickly put to rest, however, when the Soviet Union, acting on a secret protocol in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, invaded Poland from the east on September 17. Realizing the situation had become untenable, orders were sent out to units still in the field to go to neutral Romania—and then to France and England—and live to fight another day. In the end, 120,000 Polish soldiers and airmen escaped capture and would go on to fight under French and British command for the remainder of the war.

As the majority of the Polish army was retreating south and escaping the country, the Germans surrounded the capital city of Warsaw. In a brief siege that came to characterize the brutality of the new war, Warsaw was pounded into rubble by relentless bombing raids and near-constant bombardment from artillery ranging from mortars to massive railway guns.

Warsaw capitulated on September 28, just four weeks after the first German troops had crossed the border. Although the Polish government never officially surrendered, the invasion of Poland was declared over by October 6. The speed of the victory shocked the world. Poland once again ceased to exist and was divided up between the victorious German and Soviet states.

The Battle of Flanders

In the spring of 1940, Hitler gave the warning order to his generals—an attack on the West was imminent. The first war plan for the invasion of the “Low Countries”—Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg—was compromised on January 10 when a German airplane crashed in Belgium with the documents of the plan on board. The Belgians were able to send intelligence from that plan to the French and British.

A new war plan, named “Sickle Stroke” took form. The plan called for a German flanking maneuver through the Ardennes Forest that would bypass the vaunted French Maginot Line, cross the Meuse River between Sedan and Dinant, and then drive quickly to the coast of the English Channel, dividing the British expeditionary force from the French army.

Hitler could not have asked for more ideal opponents for his conquest in the West. The Allied forces were not ready to fight modern warfare. Although the French had 101 divisions, many were not in fighting form. These second-class French divisions contained older reservists and out-of-shape soldiers with low morale. The French still used horse cavalry and light armored cars that were no match for the German Mark III Panzers. They were also a defensive army, not a maneuver army. Many French troops were tied down at the Maginot Line—eighty-seven miles of fortifications that cost the French government more than seven billion francs after World War I. However, despite the Maginot fortress, there were 250 miles of undefended border between France and Belgium. The Belgians, led by General Robert van Overstraeten, the chief military advisor to the Belgian King Leopold III, did not coordinate their defenses very well with the French and British, even though it was assumed most of the initial fight against the Germans would take place in Belgium. The Belgians had 600,000 troops in twenty-two divisions, but no joint defensive plans with the other Allies.

The French had more tanks than the Germans (3,000 versus 2,400), but the French assigned most of their tanks to their slow-moving infantry, and the Germans put seven of their Panzer divisions in General Gerd von Rundstedt’s fast-moving Army Group A. There was no mass of Allied tanks to stop the Germans. The French had only five pure armored divisions—three active and one still forming. Rundstedt was to take the seven Panzer divisions through the Ardennes and then slice toward the coast. These divisions could cover thirty-five to forty miles a day and, unlike the infantry, did not have to travel on roads. The German tanks had air support from the Luftwaffe (German air force) at all times. The British had five infantry divisions in the fight and only one newly organized armored division in 1940.

Holland was strictly neutral in 1940. The Dutch had not fought a war since 1830; they sat out World War I. Their entire army consisted of ten divisions and only 125 aircraft. Upon attack, they planned to fall back into “Fortress Holland”—Amsterdam and Rotterdam—and hope the canals and dykes of the low country would delay the enemy. The tactics worked during the Eighty Years War against Spain three hundred years earlier, but this was 1940, and air power was at its height.

Germany’s Luftwaffe flew over the canals and simply bombed and strafed all Dutch airfields, nearly eliminating the Dutch air force on the ground. On May 10, 1940, 2,500 German aircraft attacked airfields of Belgium, Holland, France, and Luxembourg and destroyed fleets of aircraft on the ground.

At dawn on that day, 16,000 German paratroopers, in a classic airborne operation, landed deep in Dutch territory and seized key bridges. The paratroopers held the bridges until German Panzers linked up with them for the drive westward. The main attack began. Two and a half million German troops—104 infantry divisions, nine motorized divisions, and nine armored divisions in three army groups began the invasion into Belgium, Holland, France, and Luxembourg.

First the German planes struck deep into the Netherlands. The Luftwaffe bombing of Rotterdam killed 814 civilians and forced Dutch Queen Wilhelmina to escape with the Royal Navy to Britain. As the Dutch army retreated to Fortress Holland, it left the flank open on the Belgians’ left. The Belgians were also soon flanked by the Third and Fourth Panzer divisions on the right. By May 13, the rest of the German Army B entered Holland. Hitler demanded complete surrender by the Dutch, and they surrendered after the bombing of Rotterdam.

The Allies, expecting to see the Germans repeat their 1914 attack into Flanders, were surprised by the German advance through the Ardennes. Both Belgian and French infantry retreated at the sight or even the rumor of German tanks. Some even ran from friendly tanks. On May 17, German General Heinz Guderian’s tanks had reached the River Oise. General Walther von Reichenau’s army reached Brussels, and British General Bernard Montgomery’s Third Division fell back toward the coast. The only bright spot for the Allies was Colonel Charles de Gaulle’s Fourth Division, which counterattacked and was able to delay the Germans—but only briefly. De Gaulle was later promoted to brigadier general and given command of an armored division. However, the Allies had to fall back to the Dyle Line, to the east of Brussels. General Montgomery had his Third Armored Division dig in on the Dyle Line.

On May 20, Guderian’s divisions reached Abbeville, and that divided the Allies in two. Since the French had no strategic reserves, panic went up and down the retreating French forces. French General Alphonse Georges wept openly in the French headquarters. The Allies struggled to hold Somme-Aisne lines while the Germans sent three prongs of attacking armor columns to the northwest. Guderian’s tanks captured Boulogne on the French coast and trapped the British at Calais on May 22–23. King Leopold surrendered to the Germans the next day at nearly the same area Belgium had taken up defensive positions against the Germans in World War I. The British Expeditionary Force and the French First Army were backed up to Dunkirk, on the north coast of France, and trapped.


The evacuation of more than 300,000 British and allied troops from Dunkirk, on the north coast of France, in late May and early June of 1940 was viewed as a near miraculous feat. The troops were rescued in the nick of time, just ahead of the Germans, by British naval vessels along with all manner of private boats, yachts, and fishing vessels whose owners were eager to help.

The troops at Dunkirk had been cut off from the rest of allied forces by a successful German advance across France in late May. It seemed Germany was poised to crush the British and French forces outright. But on May 24, German leader Adolf Hitler inexplicably ordered all German tanks to stop for two whole days. He wanted to be sure he had enough tanks to take Paris. He did not want his tanks to be stuck in the mud of the canals around Dunkirk. He also may have wanted to have the Luftwaffe get the credit for destroying the Allies on the beaches. Hilter did not know that most of the remaining French and British army was stranded at Dunkirk. If he had, he might have had his tanks finish the job in May. Whatever the reason for stopping the German tank advance, it gave the Allies precious time to escape.

Two major breaks came the Allies’ way. The British had an immediate plan to evacuate Allied troops from Dunkirk—Operation Dynamo. Meanwhile, the British were able to crack the Enigma code. Enigma was the code used by the Luftwaffe to communicate with the Wehrmacht. Essentially, the British knew German operational plans for the rest of the war. This is how Churchill kept up his confidence. He knew Hitler’s eyes were on Paris and not on an immediate airborne, naval, and amphibious attack into Great Britain.

Hitler, however, immediately realized that the Allies were evacuating Dunkirk and sent his forces to finish them of. With a brave rear guard of French troops providing security and Allied pilots holding off the Luftwaffe, Operation Dynamo was able to commence on May 27. Fifty German aircraft were shot down that day while 850 British ships of all makes and sizes began the evacuation. The armada was made up of warships, private yachts, and fishing boats—basically anything that could float and haul troops. The group of ships picked up thousands of British and French soldiers from the beaches. In eight days, these vessels, later joined by French and Belgian ships, rescued 226,000 British soldiers and 112,000 French soldiers. Although the Germans sunk some of the ships from the air, more than 338,000 men were rescued in seven days. It took 222 naval vessels and 665 civilian boats to complete the evacuation. The British Army lost most of its equipment and began importing arms from the United States. Hitler figured that Britain would sue for peace and his attention turned first to Paris and later to the Soviet Union. He underestimated the resolve of Churchill and the British and the industrial and fighting capacity of the United States. At this point, the conquest of France was his next objective.

Battle of France

On June 3, 1940, German planes bombed Paris, killing 254 people. This only foreshadowed the violence that was to come. The Nazi plan for France was to decimate the land and its people so that they would never revolt under Nazi rule. German leader Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich would make France pay for German humiliation after World War I. By the end of June, Nazis were marching into Paris.

First Moves on France

Although they were on the other side of the English Channel, the British were as nervous as the Parisians about German aggression in the late spring of 1940. The British Isles would have been an easy target for the Germans at that time. Only five hundred heavy guns existed in England. The head of the Fighter Command, Sir Hugh Dowding, estimated that the British could last only forty-eight hours in the skies battling the Germans. The skeleton force of ground troops in England was armed only with rifles. Fortunately, the British High Command, due to the breaking of the Enigma code (the code the Germans used to encrypt their military messages), knew that Hitler was targeting Paris and had no immediate plans for Great Britain. However, the British populace did not know that, and they braced for the worst.

It was time for Winston Churchill to shine. He chastised, cajoled, enthused, and inspired his countrymen to fight. After all, there were still 136,000 British troops in western France. In addition to that force, 200,000 Polish soldiers carried on the fight as well. These were the Poles who escaped the invasion of their country by retreating through Romania, and they made it to France in time to defend Paris. Hitler reorganized and redirected his massive army toward the French capital. A total of 143 German divisions along a 140-mile front stared down at the Allies from the north.

Churchill’s Speech to the House of Commons

Shortly after the bombing of Paris by the Nazis on June 3, 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered one of his many famous addresses, this one to the British House of Commons. In it, he vowed: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ….”

On June 5, the Germans started the battle for France with a massive artillery and air attack. French General Maxime Weygand devised a plan to organize his defenses in echelons along the Somme and the Aisne Rivers while tying in to the existing Maginot Line. He had only sixty-five divisions and only a few bruised and battered armored regiments. Several of his divisions were filled with older reserve soldiers. His other troops manned the Maginot Line and could not maneuver. The Weygand Line still looked like a good plan on paper, but the French, British, and Poles were no match for the mass and tempo of the attacking Germans. The Weygand Line broke in many places, although it actually held in some areas where the Allies did damage to the Germans. But there were no reserves available in order to counterattack and take advantage of any favorable situation.

The Allies suffered too many casualties, ran out of ammunition, or simply melted away as the Germans advanced. The British and the French Ninth Corps had the left flank near the coast of Abbeville, but were quickly rolled up by Rommel’s forces, and their backs were soon to the sea. The Royal Navy tried another Dunkirk-type of evacuation, but heavy fog stymied those plans. The Germans had barely even started the main attack and Allied forces were already in disarray. This was just the beginning of the rout.

The main effort came from the center as Rundstedt’s A Group started in Sedan on June 9, with German General Heinz Guderian’s Panzers leading the way. The Germans broke out of the French defenses at Chalons and were able to strike east of Paris. The French government escaped to Bordeaux on June 10. On June 11, the French had completely lost thirty-five divisions. The French, seeing that the situation was dire, told the remaining British troops to evacuate, and a second “Dunkirk” was ordered for the British troops at Cherbourg and other ports in the area. More than 130,000 British troops escaped—and this time, they were able to keep their equipment. The advancing Germans were in close pursuit, only miles away, on June 18, the last day of the evacuation.

The French knew it was time to sue for peace. They instead deemed Paris a free city and told the Germans that no resistance would take place in Paris upon their arrival. Churchill tried to get the Americans to come to the aid of the French. He asked the French prime minister, Paul Reynaud, to send a telegram to President Franklin Roosevelt pleading for American intervention—to declare war if possible. Hitler publicly claimed in a radio interview that he had no plans of violence for North or South America. Roosevelt said the United States would do everything to help the French—support them with arms and materiel—but the United States would not declare war. By the time Roosevelt’s return telegraph was delivered to the French, German troops were entering Paris.

Two million people had already fled the city. The 700,000 who remained faced German martial law and nightly curfews. The Germans hung a huge swastika flag under the Arc de Triomphe, and a military band soon led the Fourth German Army as it marched down the Champs Elysées.

The Germans forced the French to sign the armistice in the same railcar in which the Germans were forced to sign their armistice following World War I. Most of France would become a zone of occupation for German troops, and all French troops became prisoners of war. The defeated French were allowed a consolation—a puppet government in the city of Vichy. Churchill told the British Parliament that the Battle of France was over and the Battle for Britain was next.

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was the struggle between German and British air forces from July through October 1940. Germany bombed England repeatedly in the hopes of neutralizing the Royal Air Force (RAF) in advance of a planned German invasion.

The Battle of Britain marked the first time a military campaign was to be decided in the air without armies and navies. In World War I, aircraft were used as tools for reconnaissance or bombers, but not as the main means of attack. Later military planners identified bombing as a strategic asset during the Spanish Civil War. They found bombing from the air could scare and demoralize the civilian population—even breaking a whole country’s will to fight. An early air-war proponent, Giulio Douhet (1869–1930), wrote that aircraft could bomb the enemy’s supply and industrial base. He believed that air power could attack the factories and kill the people who made the guns and munitions. This theory formed the foundation of air power in World War II.

The Battle of Britain began on July 10, 1940, with German attacks on British ships in the English Channel. On August 13, when 1,485 Luftwaffe (German air force) planes crossed the English Channel, the British lost only fifteen airplanes, while Germany lost thirty-nine. The British were showing surprising skill in the air, and this was not what the Luftwaffe expected. By day three, the Germans had already lost 190 aircraft. This was the first phase of the German attack and it amounted to the classic force-on-force aerial dogfight.

Hitler’s plan, Operation Sea Lion, was designed to first destroy the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and then invade the British Isles. The German army and navy prepared for an amphibious landing across the English Channel. Weapons President Frankin D. Roosevelt had promised Britain during the fall of France began arriving. The British army planned for the defense of their homeland. They were arrayed in depth and were ready to counterattack the Germans if they established a beachhead. British intercepts of coded German messages would later discover that the Germans had no plan for invasion until after they decisively won the battle in the air. This was good news for the British because it bought them time to prepare the ground defense.

But first the Royal Air Force would fight the Germans in the air. Hermann Göering’s Luftwaffe was formidable. It consisted of at least 2,800 planes—900 fighters and 1,900 bombers in three fleets. But the British were not without their strengths. In addition to cracking the Enigma code (the German military’s encryption code), the British had an early warning system called “Chain Home.” Chain Home consisted of fifty radar warning systems that covered the southern shores of England. Radar was a British invention that sent out a pulsing radio beam to a target. The transmission was then reflected and received at the radar station. This beam was timed, and the delay of the pulse was measured. This sequence gave a reading of distance, bearing, height, and speed. Another advantage was the British industrial output. Aircraft were now being produced at a more rapid pace than they were in Germany—500 Spitfires and Hurricanes per month to the Germans 140 ME 109s and 90 ME 110s. However, the British had only around 1,500 trained pilots compared to Germany’s 10,000. The Germans had a tremendous edge in bombers—nearly 1,300 heavy bomb-laden aircraft. These bombers were enough to defeat Britain, but Goering’s Luftwaffe had devised no overall air plan. They improvised daily, and the British were able to buy time and hang on.

The Germans kept changing tactics and objectives. They switched to attacking the British airfields from late August until early September. Then the Luftwaffe began bombing London day and night, but this only worked to harden British resolve. The German bombing switched again to nightly raids on London—the “blitz”—until October 30. Some 40,000 British civilians were killed. This period of the war was made famous by the roof-top radio broadcasts of American reporter Edward R. Murrow (1908–1965). Murrow painted a picture of the aerial war over Britain each night for millions of Americans listening to their radios at home. The blitz resulted in an aerial stalemate as the Royal Air Force and some 2,000 antiaircraft guns confounded the Luftwaffe.

However, the Luftwaffe began to inflict more and more damage to Britain. The Germans appeared to be winning. Morale was sinking as more and more civilian areas were attacked. The bombing was so bad that some British air crewmen, mechanics, and refuelers refused to service the planes on some airfields.

During much of August, the Germans were shooting down RAF planes faster than Britain could make them. If the Germans had intensified bombing in the cities and on the airfields, the battle’s outcome might have been different. Instead, German leader Adolf Hitler diverted much of the Luftwaffe to the Eastern Front in preparation for the attack on Russia. The Germans almost became the first air force to decisively win an air campaign in the history of war. The cracking of the Enigma code, the invention and implementation of radar, and heroic RAF flying saved the day for England.

The Lend-Lease Act

Though not yet an active player in the war, the United States became the “Arsenal of Democracy” with the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941. It was the first appearance of the United States as an industrial giant and superpower. The idea behind Lend-Lease was simple. The ally, either Britain or the Soviet Union, received military aid in the form of equipment, and would repay the United States after the war. The payback details were left up to the U.S. president to decide. The designers of the legislation did not want the Allies to be shackled to enormous war debt after hostilities ended.

Some in the State Department and in Congress wanted the British to have to repay the United States for the value of the equipment plus interest. But most people in Washington, D.C., saw the need to help the Allies against German leader Adolf Hitler and not take advantage of their plight. Lend-Lease was also seen as a way to win the war against Hitler without direct involvement by the United States. Some American negotiators wanted the British to compensate the United States after the war by supporting U.S. trade and economic policy. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted the British to see that a world interdependent on free trade with democracies supporting capitalism would be better than the imperial system of colonialism to which Britain had grown accustomed. Roosevelt looked strategically beyond the war and beyond Lend-Lease itself toward what the world order would be like in the coming decades.

Effects Abroad

The British economy grew by sixty percent from 1939 to 1943, but expenditures on war material made up half of the gross national product. The British had an elaborate means of rationing all types of resources—from food to oil—but it relied on the United States for its war supplies. For example, all the British armored divisions in 1944 used American Sherman tanks. In 1941, the United States supplied 11.5 percent of the military equipment for Great Britain. By 1944, the percentage of equipment supplied by the United States climbed to at least 28 percent. The Americans also kept the British civilian population fed. The United States provided at least 29 percent of the food that the British ate each year during the war.

When Germany declared war on the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, the Soviet Union also became a beneficiary of the Lend-Lease program. The United States sent military equipment to the Soviet Union through Vladivostok, Murmansk, and the Persian Gulf. The military aid came in equipment of all kinds, including tanks and airplanes.

But the major need the United States filled for the Soviet Union was basic vehicular transportation. The United States provided 427,000 two-and-a-half-ton Dodge trucks to the Soviets, whose combat maneuvering and logistics would not have been possible without the American trucks. The American arsenal of democracy provided much more to the Soviets, including thirteen million pairs of boots, five million tons of food, two thousand locomotives, eleven thousand freight cars, and 540 thousand tons of rails for railroads. The United States also sent the Soviet Union high-grade gasoline for aircraft fuel, since the Soviets had no way to refine oil to such a high grade of petroleum.

Effects at Home

The “arsenal of democracy” concept had a huge effect on the U.S. economy, which had been mired in a depression during the 1930s. Although Roosevelt’s New Deal policies put some people back to work, the economy did not recover until the nation switched to a war-footing after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Plants in the United States in 1939 were only working forty hours a week, and there were nearly nine million unemployed people. By 1944, plants were operating at an average of ninety hours a week, and there were nearly nineteen million new jobs in the country. The United States was producing 40 percent of the world’s military equipment. For example, tank production went from a few hundred a year in 1940 to 17,565 tanks a year in 1944. The U.S. produced only 2,141 airplanes in 1940 compared to nearly 100,000 in 1944. By comparison, Germany produced fewer than 40,000 airplanes and about half that many tanks in 1944; Japan produced 28,180 airplanes and 401 tanks. The United States had come a long way from the 1930s when it had only one mechanized force—the Seventh Cavalry Brigade—with only 224 light tanks.

Japanese Expansion

The Japanese had been fighting in the Pacific since 1937. The Japanese called this theater of combat the “Greater East-Asian War.” Japan had fought on the side of the Allies in World War I, but between the two wars it became more aggressive in an effort to gain more natural resources to feed its defense industry. Japanese cultural westernization, industrialization for the production of consumer goods, and modernization of the military happened at lightning speed during the two decades leading up to World War II.

Strategically, Japan eyed China for the purpose of using it as a buffer against Western encroachment. Japan planned on gobbling up China for its resources as well. In 1931, Japan occupied Manchuria, including Korea, to the north across the Sea of Japan. In 1937, Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) challenged Japanese plans of occupation in China, and war soon broke out. The Japanese struck in Peking, and they soon controlled the entire east coast of China. By 1938, Nanking fell, and Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the interior to Chungking. The economic rewards for the Japanese invasion of China were welcome, but were not enough to satisfy Japan. China would be able to supply most of the food requirements for Japan, but it could only meet 15 percent of Japan’s need for natural resources for its industry.

Supplying the Empire

To get more natural resources, particularly oil, iron, and rubber, the Japanese would have to look outside its borders. The Japanese army favored a land attack to the north against the Soviet Union, while the navy favored expansion to the so-called “Southern Resource Area,” toward French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies. The army had clashed with the Soviets along the Manchurian border in 1938 and 1939, but the Japanese were no match for Soviet tanks, and further attacks against the Soviets were deemed too difficult. Attacking American interests (Wake Island, the Philippines), French colonies (Indochina), and British territories (Burma, Malaya) in the Southern Resource Area appeared to be less risky and have greater potential reward. The Japanese simply planned to take oil and other resources from the Allies by force. However, they never planned the next step—they had no plans to secure and protect the resources once they took them.

During the 1930s, in the early days of Japanese conquest, one Japanese officer stood out. General Hideki Tojo had served in Manchuria and was later promoted to vice minister of war. Tojo’s fierce militarism and nationalism shone brightly. After an attempted coup failed in 1936, Tojo became the minister of war under the new Japanese head of state, Prince Konoe. The new foreign minister, Yosuke Matsuoka (1880–1946), helped Japan enter into the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940. Matsuoka also negotiated a neutrality agreement with the Soviet Union. The strategy to seize resources from the Southern Resource Area was in its final preparations, and now its leadership team was in place. After Tojo was named prime minister, the hardliners had their man at the reins. War with the Allies was imminent.

Engaging the Allies

The United States and Britain had long-term economic interests in China. The United States supported Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and had intervened in Chinese affairs since the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901). For decades, American missionaries and teachers served in China to spread Christianity and western ideals and norms. American sailors and soldiers had also served in China. Other Americans got rich from China trade, so there were strong pro-China sentiments in the United States. Heavy sympathies toward China did not make U.S. diplomacy any easier with Japan, although there was a technological breakthrough that would work to the Americans’ benefit.

The United States had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code, called “Magic,” and messages intercepted from the Japanese would help the Americans decipher some Japanese intentions, but they did not thwart the Japanese military’s early strikes into the south. The French and British were ill-prepared militarily in the Pacific to match the Japanese advance. The French in Indochina capitulated quickly. The French Vichy government let the Japanese use harbors in the north of Indochina, and the Japanese promptly used these locations as a jumping-off point to attack China and the Dutch West Indies.

Tojo’s strategy was simple. He wanted to check Communist influence from Mao Zedong in China and destroy the Chinese nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek. He wished to conquer a host of nations and then include Indochina, Thailand, Malaya, Burma, and the East Indies (Sumatra, Java, and Borneo) under a new Japanese sphere of influence.

The first part of the plan, the occupation of French Indochina, took place on July 24, 1941. The Japanese negotiated with the Vichy government in France for permission to move Japanese troops from Hanoi in the North of Indochina to Saigon in the South.

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was alarmed at the Japanese aggression. On November 17, Hull met with the Japanese ambassador, Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura. Nomura refused to back down. Japan wanted more colonies in the Pacific and refused to give them up. President Franklin Roosevelt, in turn, froze Japanese assets in the United States and began a total embargo on oil and gasoline exports to Japan. The United States also wanted all Japanese forces removed from China and Indochina. Tojo saw these ultimatums as a de facto declaration of war.

The Japanese gave one more list of demands to Hull on November 26, but they were already mobilizing their army and navy. They would strike Hong Kong, Malaya, and the Philippines in December of 1941, in conjunction with the attack on Pearl Harbor. They planned to synchronize their attacks against the Southern Resource Area in the Pacific with an attack that was planned to destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7.

Pearl Harbor

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was hit by a surprise attack by Japanese aircraft. While the raid was successful, it was not a decisive or lasting victory. After the attack, the U.S. entered World War II immediately against both Japan and its ally, Germany.

The Pacific Fleet was usually headquartered in San Diego, but after the German invasion of France in 1940, the Department of the Navy decided to extend the fleet’s stay in Pearl Harbor. A week earlier, the Japanese had sent a massive battle group to the South Pacific that included the Imperial Navy’s best fighting ships: six new carriers and an armada of battleships, light cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.

At dawn on December 7, 230 miles north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the sky was dense with Japanese fighters and bombers. Three hundred sixty-six Japanese aircraft were streaking toward Pearl Harbor. Two U.S. Army privates at an experimental radar station reported the enemy planes. However, their superior officers thought these were part of a B-17 squadron flying in the area. The destroyer Ward had attacked a two-man Japanese submarine a few minutes earlier. The destroyer had fired some of the first American shots of World War II.

The Japanese had planned to surprise the Americans, and they kept the Pearl Harbor attack completely secret, even from the highest echelons of their command. Only a few operational planners knew about it. The 366 Japanese planes achieved total surprise on that Sunday. Four American battleships were destroyed and sunk in the harbor. Four other battleships were badly damaged, and eleven other American warships were sunk. The Japanese destroyed 188 U.S. planes and killed 2,330 U.S. personnel: 1,177 on the battleship Arizona. Fortunately, the American carriers were at sea and were spared. The Japanese lost only twenty-nine aircraft and five mini-submarines in the attack. Only sixty-four Japanese were killed, and one was taken prisoner.

The American ships were poorly defended. Few sailors were topside on Sunday mornings. Army personnel on land thought the Japanese planes were part of an exercise. Three-quarters of the 780 antiaircraft guns on the ships at Pearl Harbor were idle, with no one manning them. The army had only four of the thirty-one antiaircraft guns on shore engaging the enemy. A second wave of 168 Japanese fighters and bombers arrived at 9:00 a.m. and finished off the West Virginia and the badly damaged Nevada, Maryland, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

Strikes in Southeast Asia

The Pearl Harbor attack, although it seemed isolated, was really part of a larger plan. The Japanese were simultaneously attacking the Southern Resource Area of Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, and the Philippines.

In Malaya, the Japanese destroyed most of the British Air Force on the ground. The Japanese made amphibious landings at Kota Bharu along the Malaya-Thai border. The British garrison stationed on the Malay Peninsula was not accustomed to jungle fighting, and they were soon overrun. A Japanese naval force landed near Bangkok, and Thailand surrendered. The British commander in Malaya attempted to put his remaining ships to sea, but they had no air cover and were easy targets for the Japanese. The British were pushed back to Singapore and later surrendered.

In the Philippines, the Japanese planned an aerial attack on the American air forces in Manila and an amphibious attack on Luzon. The American planes were inexplicably parked outside their hangars on December 8, 1941, even though the Department of the Navy told General Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. forces in the Far East, to keep his forces under high alert after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese destroyed most of the U.S. force in the Philippines with that single attack.

In Burma, British, Indian, and Burmese troops were no match for the Japanese. They were ill-equipped and undersized. The whole force amounted to only two small divisions. The Japanese army attacked across the Burma-Thai border on January 12, 1942. The British retreated to Rangoon and lost most of their heavy equipment. Rangoon later fell, despite the efforts of the Chinese “Flying Tigers,” an all-volunteer force of pilots from countries who had just declared war on Japan, such as the United States, Australia, and Canada.

Strikes in the Pacific

This was the first stage of the plan—to attack and seize countries that would become supply points for Japan’s defense industrial base. The second part of the plan was for the Japanese to construct an island chain for resupply and logistics that would run from the Kurile Islands off the coast of Siberia through Wake Island, the Marshall Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Bismarck Islands, northern New Guinea, Malaya, and then to the Dutch East Indies. After Japan attacked and secured this logistical trail of islands, it would consolidate the territory and occupy it. Each group of islands would serve as a station to resupply Japan. The difficult part would be for Japan to hold this territory. Chief Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned against the Pearl Harbor attack. He compared the sneak attack on the United States to awakening a sleeping giant. Yamamoto also thought the island strategy was too fragmented and spread-out to be effective, but he resigned himself to implementing the plan.

Some Japanese officers wanted to modify the plan and steer the Japanese naval forces toward the remaining American carriers to finish off the U.S. fleet. But the Pearl Harbor attack had gone well—past anyone’s expectations—that Yamamoto determined it was best to get his force out of harm’s way and execute the rest of the island plan. The Japanese also attacked Guam, Wake, and Midway islands, protected by the United States. Yamamoto felt that it was time to turn his attention to the middle of the Pacific and begin the island strategy. He also felt he was on borrowed time; the American giant would soon be awake, and Japan would be forced to defend its newly won territories.

Bataan Death March

The Bataan Death March was the forced march of about 55,000 prisoners of war held by the Japanese from the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines to Camp O’Donnell, which was to be used as a prisoner of war camp. Most of the prisoners were ill and starving and thousands died in the course of the march.

The Japanese Invasion

In 1941, the Philippines was a U.S. protectorate. The islands had been a Spanish colony since the sixteenth century. In 1898, when the Americans were victorious in their war with Spain, the Philippines were turned over to the United States. By the 1930s, the Philippines had something close to a democratic form of government, and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur commanded its army. However, the Filipino army was really only a “Scout” division that numbered twelve thousand troops. It had ten other divisions that were loosely organized but not ready for combat. In 1934, Congress had passed a law that put the Filipino army under control of the United States, even though the rest of the Philippines had some form of independence. American troops seemed to have a significant footprint on the islands, but there were really only sixteen thousand troops, organized in just two regiments, plus a handful of surface ships and submarines, and just 150 aircraft.

In December 1941, MacArthur was told by radar operators that a large Japanese attack was coming from the air, but the American planes were left outside the hangars and parked right next to each other. The Japanese promptly destroyed the American air force on the Philippines. Admiral Thomas Hart (1877–1971) believed that the ships anchored at Subic Bay would be safer at sea since there was no air cover. However, that left the Philippines with no air support or naval gunfire to repel an invasion from the Japanese.

The Japanese had already started the invasion. The Fourteenth Army simply landed on the largest island at Luzon on December 10 and marched toward Manila. On January 23, General Masaharu Homma tried another amphibious landing behind the American lines in Bataan and had great success at first, but artillery fire from Corregidor was able to pin the Japanese down.

MacArthur was forced to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula and to the island fortress of Corregidor. Bataan had two mountains that were covered by jungle. MacArthur’s troops chose to defend on the first mountain range, but they did not extend their defense down into the jungle of the valleys. The Japanese saw this mistake and were able to flank the first line of defenses. Now the Americans had to retreat to the alternate line of defense at the second mountain. There were only about ten square miles with 83,000 soldiers and 26,000 civilians who were refugees from the Japanese invasion. The Japanese had bombed Manila, despite it being a free city.

Supplies were low and the defenders began rationing food. MacArthur thought he had enough food and water for six months, but he did not count on all the refugees that would be involved. Everyone went from half-rations down to one-third rations. The Americans and Filipinos were running out of food, water, ammunition, and hope. They were then put on one-quarter rations, and disease and malnutrition were running rampant. Twenty-four thousand soldiers were wounded, sick, or otherwise unable to fight. President Franklin Roosevelt was in a difficult spot. He wanted MacArthur to remain in command, but it looked like the garrison would have to surrender. It would be a major coup for the Japanese and a huge blow to American morale if MacArthur were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to abdicate his command and leave by boat to Australia on March 12, 1942.


On April 3, the Japanese began their final offensive, and it was too much for the Americans and Filipinos trapped on Bataan and Corregidor. Homma had plenty of aircraft and artillery fire to support his attack. The assault was on a wide front and difficult to defend against. The Japanese were overrunning American and Filipino positions. General Edward King surrendered his command to the Japanese General Homma on April 8. The Japanese then shelled the island fortress of Corregidor into submission and final surrender—more than sixteen thousand Japanese artillery shells landed in Corregidor. The island had no real defense against bombing attacks from the air, and the Japanese made the defenders on Corregidor pay. Two thousand Americans died on Corregidor and over eleven thousand were taken prisoner. Total losses in the Philippines debacle totaled over twenty thousand for the Americans and Filipinos.

The March

Thus began the Bataan Death March. The Japanese forced all prisoners—9,300 Americans and 45,000 Filipinos—to march ninety miles to a prison camp at Camp O’Donnell. Many died of sickness, starvation, and exhaustion along the way. Prisoners found to be lagging by the Japanese were often bayoneted on the spot. Some escaped and later formed an insurgent army that would resist the Japanese throughout the war. In fact, the Filipinos were the only native people who rebelled against Japanese rule during World War II.

Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway

The battles of the Coral Sea and Midway in May and June of 1942 marked the turning point in the U.S. war with Japan. After suffering multiple defeats in the first six months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, U.S. forces saw the momentum shift in their favor.

After Pearl Harbor

If there was anything positive to come out of the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, it was not readily apparent. However, the U.S. Navy got one break. Its fleet of carriers was out at sea during the attack, and the ships were able to escape, although the Japanese carrier fleet still outnumbered the American fleet by ten to three. The shock of Pearl Harbor would eventually awaken the American nascent defense industrial base. American shipbuilders would be able to exceed Japanese production and increase the Navy’s ship count across the board. The shipbuilding would come later. But first, the U.S. Navy needed a victory.

Victory would come in the sky—World War II in the Pacific would hinge on the maneuvering of aircraft carriers and the skill of the naval aviators. The Japanese carrier fleet, called the First Air Fleet, had five hundred aircraft with six large carriers and four light carriers. The Japanese had numerical superiority in carriers, and they had better aircraft. They considered the sailors serving on carriers as the elite of their navy. In 1941 and 1942, the Japanese Zero was the better fighter plane. Their Kate and Val torpedo and dive-bombers had longer ranges and greater payload capacities, although they were somewhat slower than the U.S. bombers. The Americans, on the other hand, had better pilots. The Americans spent the interwar period successfully training naval aviators.

Battle of the Coral Sea

The U.S. navy had three carriers in the Pacific: the Lexington, the Saratoga, and the Enterprise. The Yorktown and the Hornet would later transfer from the Atlantic fleet. Carrier warfare in 1942 was risky. It was difficult to land on carriers; there was no airborne or ship-borne guidance system. There was also no radar on the American ships at that time. The U.S. dive-bomber, called the Dauntless, was also used for reconnaissance. These planes were the eyes and ears of the fleet. Pilots and copilots had to find their way to the target with good vision, manual navigation, and luck. Naval aviators who were unable to link up with the carrier often ran their planes out of fuel and were forced to bail out. It was an exceedingly dangerous business. If the carrier changed course, the aircraft would have a difficult task in locating it again. And safely landing on the carrier was not an automatic exercise.

The Americans were fortunate to have cracked the Japanese diplomatic code. The Japanese were overconfident after their victory at Pearl Harbor, and they flashed and telegraphed their naval strategy, plans, and tactics with carelessness. This helped the U.S. Navy get back in the fight. The first battle happened close to Port Moresby, near Australia in the Coral Sea. The Lexington and Yorktown were sent to block the Japanese invasion force. The Japanese had three carriers in the attacking group. It was the first carrier-on-carrier battle in modern warfare. The U.S. and Japanese were separated by 175 miles of ocean, but dive-bombers and torpedo bombers from both sides found the enemy’s carriers.

The fighting was fierce. The Japanese carrier Shokaku was badly damaged, and the Americans had already sunk the light carrier Shohoin a previous encounter. The Yorktown was slightly damaged, but the Lexington caught fire when its fuel line burst on the flight deck. The ship was abandoned before it sank. The Battle of the Coral Sea was important for the U.S. Navy. It stopped the Japanese navy in that part of the Pacific and gave the American sailors and aviators much valuable battle experience and confidence. The Yorktown sailed back to Pearl Harbor, and her damage was repaired in forty-five hours. She then steamed back to link up with the Enterprise and the Hornet.

Battle of Midway

In 1942, U.S. code-breakers had intercepted a new Japanese plan. The Imperial navy wanted to invade Midway, and the Japanese First Air Fleet was sent to do the job. The First Air Fleet had four carriers steaming to Midway with a total of 272 Japanese bombers and fighters. The Americans had three carriers with only 180 fighters and bombers. The U.S. navy also had aircraft on Midway Island itself—a group of Catalina amphibious flying boats and B-17 Flying Fortresses. The flying boats did an important job of reconnaissance, and one spotted the Japanese invasion fleet on June 3. This confirmed earlier intelligence, and the U.S. Navy would be in a good position to eventually defend Midway. However, the Americans garrisoned on Midway who were to defend against the Japanese attacking force were not as lucky. The Flying Fortresses and Catalinas tried to bomb the attacking Japanese vessels, but they were no match.

Aircraft from the American carriers attacked the Japanese four times, but they were unsuccessful. The Americans had luck on their side during the fifth attack. Japanese Admiral Chuichi Nagumo had planned to make a torpedo bomber attack of his own against the American carriers. However, the invading Midway force called for another bombing run against the Americans on Midway. Thus, Nagumo had his aircraft change from torpedoes to bombs. This took precious time. But he was still able—initially, at least—to repel the attacks from American torpedo bombers and dive-bombers.

There was one American bomber group that was able to get a clear shot at the Japanese carriers. One of the dive-bomber groups from the Enterprisehad actually gotten lost. Thirty-seven Dauntless dive-bombers had flown 175 miles in the wrong direction. Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky was able to make corrections in their course, and by happenstance, the Americans stumbled upon the Japanese carrier group. The Americans had fat targets. All of the Japanese planes were refueling; bombs and torpedoes were on the flight deck. The Akagi caught fire and was abandoned. The Kaga was next. It was hit by four American dive-bombers. The Soryu suffered three hits, and it lost propulsion—this made it an easy target for an American submarine, which hit it later. The Hiryu got away temporarily, but dive-bombers from the Enterprise caught up with her. The bombs set her on fire, and the Japanese crew scuttled the ship.

The Japanese navy was put on the defensive. Their shipbuilders would add only six more carriers during the rest of the war. The Americans would build fourteen new heavy carriers, nine light carriers, and sixty-six escort carriers. It would be a defensive war now for the Japanese in the Pacific—one that would be costly for the Americans.


The Battle of Guadalcanal lasted for more than six months between August of 1942 and February of 1943. It involved land, air, and sea forces of the United States and Japan in a heated fight for control of the island of Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands. It was the first major victory of the Allied offensive in the Pacific during World War II.

Shift in Strategy

The Battle of Midway had allowed U.S. military planners to change their way of thinking. No longer were they licking their wounds. The Americans took a new posture—they intended to go on the offensive and attack the Japanese. Still, geography favored the Japanese. The Imperial navy and army stretched for thousands of miles of ocean and islands in the Pacific. The Americans would have a lengthy and costly campaign on their hands. They would need to win back territory island by island, capture or rebuild an airfield, and then use the new airfield to launch a new attack on the next island. The main objective would be Tokyo and the home islands of Japan, but these targets were 2,000 miles from the American fleet.

Admiral Ernest King, the chief of naval operations, and General George C. Marshall, the army chief of staff, decided to divide the responsibilities in the Pacific between two flag officers. The Pacific fleet would be led by Admiral Chester Nimitz and the army would be led by General Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific area, with his headquarters in Australia. The Navy would devise the planning and logistics for the amphibious landings that were necessary for the island hopping strategy’s success.

That left the marines to fight on the ground and perform the most difficult part of the campaign. This would be particularly challenging because the marines were the smallest branch of service and had the smallest budget. To make matters more difficult, MacArthur was not popular with the navy admirals or marine generals. They saw him as a prima donna and glory-chaser. These personality conflicts made teamwork difficult in the Pacific.

Commanders of the Pacific forces finally reached a compromise. The Americans would take the southern route to attack Japan. The navy and marines would be commanded by Nimitz, although MacArthur would have some command of naval ships, naval and marine aircraft, naval logistics, and marines for certain missions in his sector. This arrangement, of course, was not popular with the navy and marines. MacArthur had inexplicably allowed his air force to be destroyed on the ground in the Philippines during the initial attacks by the Japanese in December 1941. He was warned that an attack was coming, but his planes stayed on the ground. Now he would be demanding navy and marine air support after he lost his own aircraft.

But the commanders from all the services agreed on the order of battle in the Pacific on July 2, 1942. The first task would be for Nimitz and the navy to attack and hold Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands east of New Guinea. The second task would go to MacArthur, who would lead his army into New Guinea and its offshore island of New Britain. After holding New Guinea, MacArthur would advance on the Japanese air base at Rabaul on New Britain and link up with Nimitz. The third task would then be a combined attack.

Taking Guadalcanal

The navy and marine corps drew a difficult mission with Guadalcanal. The difficulty again lay in the geography. Guadalcanal was surrounded by three other islands of the Solomons group held by the Japanese. Approach from New Zealand was the only avenue of advance to the island. This approach (“the Slot”) made getting ashore very risky, and resupplying the beachhead would be difficult as well, because successfully dodging Japanese mines, submarines, and attacking aircraft while navigating the Slot would be necessary.

The amphibious landing on August 7, 1942, was not a problem. The First Marine Division established a beachhead on Guadalcanal, and it also made successful landings on the offshore islands of Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo. The Japanese had only 2,200 troops on Guadalcanal, and they were quickly swept away by the marines. The Japanese high command reacted with alarm. They saw Guadalcanal as an important part of their key defenses and decided the island needed to be retaken at once. A large Japanese force descended on the Americans. The Japanese surprised the American fleet on August 8 and 9. They sunk four U.S. cruisers and damaged one cruiser and two destroyers.

Holding Guadalcanal

On August 18, the Japanese sent a marauding force back to Guadalcanal, and the reinforcements kept coming. The attackers were supported by naval gunfire and countless air attacks from Japanese fighters and bombers. The Americans had rebuilt and lengthened the original Japanese airfield and renamed it Henderson Field. The Japanese would not leave it alone, and waves of air attacks harassed the defenders on Henderson Field.

More naval battles would follow at Guadalcanal. The battle of the Eastern Solomons was a costly victory for the Americans, because the Enterprisewas damaged. The Americans destroyed a Japanese carrier, cruiser, and destroyer as well as about sixty aircraft, while the Americans lost twenty aircraft. The land battles on Guadalcanal were especially fierce. The Americans were learning what it was like to engage an enemy that was willing to fight to the death without surrender. American marines and soldiers suffered from the extreme conditions of relentless heat and humidity. Malaria and dysentery were common. The fight in defense of Henderson Field occurred at what was soon called “Bloody Ridge.” Japanese destroyers, nicknamed the “Tokyo Express,” ran the Slot to resupply their own troops and nightly navy battles took place.

One of the major battles during this time period was the Battle of Cape Esperance, in which the Americans surprised and sank a small force of Japanese carriers. The Japanese repaid the Americans with their own victory at the Battle of Santa Cruz, southeast of Guadalcanal, on October 26. They sank the carrier Hornet and damaged the Enterprise. The Americans shot down one hundred Japanese planes and lost only fifty of their own, but the loss of the Hornet hurt the most.

The marines fought a lonely fight at Guadalcanal. Heavy rains in October grounded U.S. planes, and this prevented air support. Japanese Zeroes were able to fly and harass the Marines with endless strafing runs. The fight switched to a significant naval battle in November called the Battle of Guadalcanal—a duel between battleships. The newer American battleships were able to take hits from the Japanese and dish out their own punishment. The Japanese lost their flagship Hiei on November 12, and the Kirishima two nights later.

By the end of 1942, both sides were sick and weary. The Americans had built up their number of ships in the region and cut off Japanese supplies, which quickly sapped the strength of the remaining soldiers on the islands. The U.S. XIV Corps took control of operations on Guadalcanal, and by February had pushed the Japanese off the island.

Battle of the Bismarck Sea

In early March 1943, U.S. and Australia air forces attacked a Japanese convoy on its way to New Guinea in the Bismarck Sea north of New Britain. They inflicted heavy troop losses and kept the Japanese on the run across the Pacific.

MacArthur Prepares

In the early winter and spring of 1943, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur was readying his forces for his assigned task of taking Rabaul in New Britain, the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago. The island-hopping strategy—taking islands and then using or improving the existing air strips to attack Japanese shipping and logistical chains—was not cost-efficient. It required large quantities of troops, ships, and airplanes. MacArthur asked for five extra divisions and 1,800 aircraft. The Pacific front already had 460,000 American troops and only 380,000 Americans were serving in Europe. A second front in the European war was to soon open in North Africa. The generals in Europe resented MacArthur’s request. General George Marshall and others in Washington were exasperated by the inter-service bickering going on in the various theatres.

The commanders finally agreed on a plan called Operation Cartwheel. Admiral Chester Nimitz was named commander of the entire Pacific theatre. Admiral William Halsey was given command of southern Pacific operations, while MacArthur retained his command of the Southwest Pacific area out of Australia. This soothed the egos of all three men temporarily. The plan was that MacArthur would envelop Rabaul from the south, and Halsey would come from the north. Halsey would have responsibility for the Solomons, and MacArthur would have New Guinea and the southern Bismarcks. Halsey’s objective was Bougainville—located along the Solomon chain of islands. By that time, MacArthur would have the north shore of New Guinea and most of New Britain under control; he would then meet with Halsey in a two-front “pincer” movement focused on Rabaul.

The Japanese still had a say in direction of this fight. The Seventeenth Army was at Rabaul under General Hitoshi Imamura. Imperial headquarters decided on reinforcements and sent the Eighteenth Army with two new divisions under General Hatazo Adachi. In March 1943, the Japanese tried to send 7,000 troop reinforcements to Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea in the Bismarck Sea. They were discovered by American reconnaissance aircraft, and an attack force was sent to stop them.

American Success

The Allies had been improving their bombing tactics. MacArthur had given a new Army air corps commander, General George Kenney, more latitude to improve bombing results. American pilots had previously almost always reported bombing successes after missions. But later research and bomb damage assessment in after-action reviews revealed less success. Kenney sought to change these results. He saw that the root of the problem lay at the air corps bombing practice of high-elevation targeting. He instead had his medium bomber aircraft pilots fly at low altitudes and use guns, cannons, and fragmentation bombs. The first attack he tried used the old high-altitude bombing technique, and only one enemy ship was sunk. The next day, 137 American bombers, using the new bombing tactics and escorted by American and Australian fighters, sunk all eight of the Japanese transport craft seeking to reinforce Rabaul. The enemy Zeroes were at high altitude and missed the Allied low-altitude bombing run. Thirty-five hundred Japanese soldiers drowned. Other craft hauling badly needed aircraft fuel and spare parts were also sunk by the American bombers. The American and Australian fighters shot down 102 out of the 150 Japanese fighters involved in the battle. The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was an important morale booster for MacArthur’s forces.


Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto decided that the gains the Americans were making in New Guinea and the Solomons were unacceptable. He sent a large force of aircraft toward Guadalcanal and Tulagi in April 1943. The Japanese thought they had success against the U.S. navy, but Japanese aviators over-reported their success as well. Yamamoto decided to visit the front anyway and congratulate his pilots. Cryptanalysts monitoring Japanese communications intercepted the message regarding Yamamoto’s visit. Admiral Nimitz saw this as an opportunity to get the Japanese leader and score a blow to Japanese morale. A squadron of P-38s intercepted Yamamoto’s passenger plane on April 18 and destroyed it over Bougainville, depriving Japan of one of its key leaders.

Battle of Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942–February 1943) was, by some measures, the bloodiest battle in history. It pitted Germany against the Soviet Union in a fight for control of the Soviet city of Stalingrad. An estimated 1.5 million people died in the battle. Both sides fought ferociously, but the Soviets were finally able to claim victory.

Germany Looks East

German leader Adolf Hitler’s plan to occupy France and thus force Britain to sue for peace did not work out the way he envisioned. The Battle of Britain kept Hitler’s forces occupied too long. He was itching to get on with the main part of his master plan, which involved an invasion of Russia. Germany and Russia had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact in 1939, but this self-serving document did little to change the fact that the Fascists in Germany and the Communists in Russia despised each other ideologically. Each side actively sought to destabilize the other, and the Fascists and Communists even used the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s as a battleground for their conflict. However, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact allowed Hitler to secure his eastern front from attack while fighting to the west. For Stalin, the pact gave him security from a two-front war (against Japan in the east and Germany to the west), and there was always the possibility that Russia would get to stay out of the conflict while Western and Central Europe destroyed one another.

While he signed the treaty, Hitler never really planned to adhere to the terms of the Molotov-Ribbnetrop pact. “Lebensraum,” Hitler’s belief in more “living space” for the German people, focused on the Soviet Union and the Slavic people. He wished to conquer the Soviet Union and turn it into an agrarian colony for Germany. The Nazis would then control all the natural and agricultural resources of Russia. The Slav resistance would be eliminated, and the Nazis would have the living space they needed to occupy that part of Europe and Asia.

Hitler first needed to conquer the Soviet Union, and this required opening up another front of the war. In the summer of 1942, the German attack began to the north, near Kursk, with the Thirteenth, Fortieth, and Twenty-First armies attacking into Voronezh. The main avenue of approach was the so-called “Don-Donetz Corridor.” This pocket was formed in the valley between the Donetz River to the west and the Don River to the east. On July 23, the Führer’s Directive Number 45 (also called Operation Brunswick) instructed Army Group A to destroy the Soviets beyond Rostov on the coast of the Sea of Azov. This would deny Soviet resupply and escape lines through the Black Sea.

The Sixth Army was assigned the main effort; it would then be augmented by the Fourth Panzer Army and would speed down the Don-Donetz Corridor and seize Stalingrad. Hitler saw Stalingrad as the decisive point. If he could quickly attack and hold Stalingrad, the Germans could break the Soviet will to fight. Army Group A would then be able to rush south toward the Caucasian oil fields. The Germans enjoyed early success with this plan. The Soviet defenders seemed to melt away. The summer weather was fair, and the Germans even stopped to bathe in the Don River.

By August 1942, the Stalingrad front around the western part of the city had formed. Kletskaya and Kachalinskaya, suburbs of Stalingrad, were surrounded. Soviet defenders of Kalach, located to the west of Stalingrad, had to fall back to the city itself. Stalingrad sat in the valley of the Don and Volga Rivers. If the Germans could hold Stalingrad, they could effectively break the Soviet lines of communication from the Caspian Sea in the south to the Bryansk front in the north. The main fighting moved into the center of the city during the last weeks of August. There was a strip of wooden buildings surrounded by factories that ran for nearly twenty miles along along the west bank of the Volga River. Most of the heavy fighting was taking place there. That part of the central city was reduced to rubble during the coming weeks. The battle lines were drawn clearly around Stalingrad by the fall of 1942. Hitler looked for a quick way to end the siege of Stalingrad, but Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had other plans.

Stalin Digs In

The Soviets wanted to attempt a daring counterattack. The plan was for the Soviet Sixty-second Army to destroy the Germans in the city while other Soviet troops attempted a flanking maneuver to envelop the Germans on the southern part of the Volga. However, the Soviets decided they needed every soldier to defend the city. Stalin had already rushed reinforcements and personally supervised the defense plans.

He ordered his troops to take “not a step backward.” Stalin monitored his generals closely to watch for any signs of morale loss or plans of retreat. The city was getting close to falling. The Germans had torched the wooden buildings in the city’s central business district. The Soviets were backing up against the Volga River—some lines were between four and ten miles away from the river. This line of defense was held by three divisions of the Sixty-second Army. The unit had sixty tanks, and its troops were skilled street fighters. However, the Germans moved three infantry divisions in one thrust—and four infantry and Panzer divisions in another—toward the street fighting from the north of the city along the Volga. It looked like the Soviets were doomed. The Germans aimed their artillery, and shells were soon falling close to the Soviet defenders.

The fight in Stalingrad was dirty and man-to-man. It was a platoon- and squad-level fight. The Germans and Soviets pounced on each other with rifle and pistol fire along with plenty of hand grenades. They used sewers as tunnels and crept along rooftops using chimneys and fire escapes to travel from building to building.

The Germans attempted one last breakthrough in mid-October. Five German infantry divisions and two tank divisions supported by some two thousand Luftwaffe sorties pushed the Soviets to the limit. They finally broke through at the Stalingrad Tractor Plant. But the advance slowed, and the front stabilized. The Soviets still held on to part of the tractor plant and part of the barricades factory. They lost the Red October Factory. The Soviets had reinforcements and hospitals to treat the wounded on the other side of the Volga, and they were able to ferry supplies, ammunition, and fresh troops to help relieve the defenders.

Perseverance Pays

Italian, Romanian, and Hungarian troops—German allies—were on the outskirts of the siege. The Soviets worked to break this fragile outer shell. Marshal G. K. Zhukov’s plan had two movements—one from the southwest and the city, and one from the Don River area, that consisted of three tank and eight infantry armies in total. By November 23, the pincers came together at Kalach on the Don River west of Stalingrad. The plan immediately started working. The Third and Fourth Romanian Armies were routed. The Fourth German Panzer Army was in retreat, and the Sixth Army was stuck inside Stalingrad. Stalin’s counterattack had come after all.

Now the weather and the elements were on the Soviet’s side. Winter was coming soon, and the Germans were not ready for it. They tried a change of commanders and brought in new reinforcements for a winter breakthrough attack, but this failed. The German allies from Italy, Hungary, and Romania lost their will to fight during the cruel winter of 1942–1943. The German forces finally surrendered on February 2, 1943. The Soviets took control of more than 100,000 German prisoners. The Germans had lost the entire Sixth Army—twenty-two divisions. It was the first Soviet victory of the war—its story would go down in history as an epic example of Soviet solidarity and bravery.

Invasion of Sicily

The Allied invasion of Sicily was launched July 9, 1943. This amphibious and airborne attack was the beginning of the campaign to take Italy.

In the spring of 1943, German leader Adolf Hitler was occupied with several theaters of combat. The Allies had increased the rate of bombings raids over Germany. The sea battle on the Atlantic raged on, and the eastern front in the Soviet Union was dragging. Hitler was displeased with the performance of Italian troops in general, especially in North Africa. Italy simply was not mobilized to fight World War II. It lost 600,000 lives during World War I. Italy’s economy could only provide one-tenth of what Germany’s could provide to defense industries. Many of its young males had immigrated to America. Italy could also not keep up with the United States and Britain in terms of the production of tanks, ships, and airplanes. The combat equipment it did produce was often technologically generations behind the equipment of the Allies.

What was even more difficult for Italy was that many Italians did not view allied countries such as the United States and Britain as mortal enemies. The Italians who defended new conquests in North Africa often did not want to be in the fight in the first place. Thus, the number of Italians taken prisoner in East Africa in 1941, in Libya in 1941–1942, and in Tunisia was a staggering number—over 350,000. Italian cities were also receiving daily and nightly bombing raids from Allied aircraft. This weakened the country’s resolve to fight. There were even plots to stage a coup against Mussolini.

Allied Offensive

The British at this time wanted to strike from southern Europe and open an offensive against Hitler’s “soft underbelly” in southern France and the Balkans. The invasion of Sicily was a surprise to Hitler, although not a surprise to Mussolini. The Allies also deceived many commanders in the region by planting fake plans on a dead body. This ruse led them to believe that the invasion would be on Corsica, Sardinia, or Greece.

The Allies planned the invasion to be in Sicily after all. In the early morning darkness on July 9–10, 1943, a huge Allied force began the attack. It was one of the first joint and combined arms invasions. The Allies again used a strategic feature that was to serve them well throughout the war—unity of command. Instead of several commands from different nationalities bickering and quarreling with one another, the Allies were led by one commander, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower had done an adequate job in the previous North African campaign, and diplomacy was Eisenhower’s strength. He could massage the fragile egos of General George Patton and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

General Sir Harold Alexander commanded the Allied Fifteenth Army Group made up of Patton’s U.S. Seventh Army and Montgomery’s British Eighth Army. The attack on Sicily was the second great amphibious assault (North Africa was the first) of the war. It was a challenge for the Allies. The command staffs had to be integrated, because American, British, Canadian, and French troops took part in the invasion. And these were also joint commands with separate army, navy, and air force components and differing tactics, techniques, and procedures.

At least 160,000 troops took part in the invasion. They used 14,000 vehicles, 600 tanks, and 1,800 artillery pieces. The amphibious fleet consisted of 3,000 landing craft. The combined Allied Air Force had 3,700 aircraft commanded by British Air Marshal Arthur Tedder that used bases in Tunisia and Malta. The Axis Powers had 200,000 troops defending Sicily. The Italian Sixth Army had five ill-trained and ill-equipped coastal divisions, five infantry divisions, and two German armored divisions. The Germans and Italians had 1,600 planes.

Patton’s Seventh Army landed at Licata, Gela, and Scoglitti on the western side of the island. Montgomery’s Eighth Army attacked the eastern tip between Cape Passero and Syracuse. Both of the army groups used airborne troops to land behind enemy lines. However, the bad weather and wind scattered the airborne drops and also complicated the landing procedures. Despite the weather, the Allies achieved some surprise. The Germans were able to recover first and counterattacked the American landings at Gela. The American First Infantry Division suffered the brunt of these attacks. The British troops on the western side of the army defended against similar attacks. Naval gunfire and ground artillery helped both armies gain traction.

More airborne drops continued the fight on July 11 without much success. Some of these troops were killed by friendly fire. By July 12, both army groups established strong beachheads and were able to bring in reinforcements and supplies. Italian troops were melting away and the two German Panzer Divisions were conducting a fighting withdrawal.

Alexander’s plan was to have Montgomery’s army conduct the main effort and drive to Messina while skirting Mount Etna. This would block the German and Italian escape routes. Patton was to serve as the supporting element on the western coast, and he immediately looked at the map and saw glory. Patton commanded his forces to head north and he reached Palermo before Montgomery. On July 22, Patton was in control of Palermo and he now focused on beating Montgomery to Messina. There was difficult fighting against the retreating Germans in Troina and Fratello, but Patton was able to reach Messina before Montgomery. The Germans evacuated to the mainland of Italy and the U.S. Third Infantry Division entered Messina on August 17.

The Allies suffered 16,000 in total casualties, including 7,319 in American losses. Most of the Axis losses were Italian prisoners, but in total the casualties were 164,000, including nearly 32,000 Germans killed, wounded, or captured.

Monte Cassino

The Allies faced the Germans in a series of battles at Monte Cassino, Italy, in the first months of 1944. They were attempting to break through German lines and head for Rome, with the aim of driving the Germans out of Italy.

Although the campaign to wrest control of Italy from the Germans had started quickly, with Field Marshal Montgomery making diversionary attacks on the southern tip of the Italian boot and General Mark Clark conducting amphibious landings at Salerno in September 1943, the Allies had bogged down in central Italy. After Mussolini’s death, the Italians had negotiated for peace under Marshal Pietro Badoglio. But the Germans still remained in Italy, and they were ready to fight under General Albert Kesselring.

The Allied Invasion of Italy

Kesselring first showed his mettle during the Salerno invasion, the Allied landing in Italy. On September 9, General Mark Clark’s (1896–1984) Fifth Army, made up of the U.S. Sixth Corps and the British Tenth Corps, hit the beaches at Salerno. They thought they would achieve total surprise and did not even prep the landing zones with artillery fire. Kesselring had shifted a German armored division to the Sele River to meet the American and British forces. The Royal Air Force (RAF) supplied air cover, but the Germans brought down substantial machine-gun and artillery fire on the beaches. There were heavy Allied losses at first, but artillery forward observers soon called in naval gunfire, and many of the German positions were silenced. Four small beachheads were established, and troops and supplies came pouring in. However, the terrain still favored the defending Germans. The Allies were caught in the lowland of the seven-mile-wide Sele River valley.

Kesselring regrouped his forces for a counterattack on September 12 and 13. He had four armored divisions and two infantry divisions. The Germans succeeded in pushing the Americans back to the original landing zones. The Allies kept up an intense barrage of naval gunfire and air force bombing runs, but time was running out. The Eighty-second Airborne was able to join the fight and augment the Sixth Corps’ area of operations. The Americans began to gain momentum. Both Allied Corps were able to finally push the Germans back. The Germans achieved what they sought—to delay the Allies at Salerno and keep Montgomery from advancing northward too quickly. The Germans could now fall back and form a tough defense along the Volturno River north of Naples that stretched east to Termoli.

Axis Defense

The terrain of central Italy favored the defending Germans. The mountain ranges are as high as 10,000 feet with steep peaks and gullies all over the landscape. Kesselring put nine divisions of his best troops on the coast to protect his flanks on the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. The natural terrain of the Appenine Mountains made for a good defense. The rivers along the mountain valleys flowed quickly and were difficult to cross. The British and Americans did not communicate very well on the attack either, and the winter weather was coming on soon. If Kesselring had commanded more troops, the Italian campaign would have been even more difficult for the Allies, because they could only deploy nine divisions of their own. The Germans had fortified positions in the mountains. Rome was 120 difficult miles away.

The main Allied attack was in the west near the great fortress abbey of Monte Cassino. This location was known as the Gustav Line—the strongest position of the whole Kesselring defense. The fortifications were ten miles deep and interlocked with the Garigliano, Liri, and Rapido rivers. The Allies conducted five attacks on the Gustav Line between October 12, 1943, and January 17, 1944. The Americans pushed up toward the Volturno River but found the Germans had blown up all the bridges. The mountain fighting had gone on for a month, with heavy casualties to the Allies. They only gained about forty miles after the landings at Salerno. There were already 9,690 casualties—6,843 of these were Americans.

The Fifth Army had drawn the assignment of attacking Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line. They had to wait out winter snowstorms until January 5, when American and French units tried to attack and reach the Rapido River below the Cassino Heights. General Clark ordered the Thirty-sixth Division from the Texas National Guard to assault across the Rapido. It was an exceedingly dangerous mission. The valley was full of German mines that had to be cleared. Then the force had to use boats to cross the river while machine guns and artillery fired down from Monte Cassino.

Clark had predicted this operation would result in high casualties, and he was right. It took the Thirty-sixth Division three days to cross the river. A few of the subordinate units reached the other side, but they had no machine-gun or artillery support. Maneuvering on the other side of the river was impossible. So these units were forced to swim back to the other shore. One thousand soldiers of the six thousand–strong division died in the battle. This stopped any further attacks toward Rome up the north-south corridor of Highway 6, the most direct route. Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower favored sending reinforcements and then making an amphibious landing at Anzio in an attack called Operation Shingle. The Allies were now attempting to bypass the Gustav Line, and it would be up to the invasion force at Anzio to break through and advance to Rome.


The Allied difficulties on the Gustav Line and at Monte Cassino in early 1944 emphasized the need to do something different to break through the German defenses in central Italy. The planners decided to make the amphibious landing at Anzio, about fifty miles northwest of Cassino. The idea was to cut the communications of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s Gustav Line and isolate it from resupply. If the Allies had success at Anzio, they could then move on to the Alban Hills, key terrain twenty miles south of Rome. Once the Allies were in possession of the Alban Hills, they could rain artillery fire down on German positions.

The operational art behind the planning of Anzio was superb; however, implementing the operation was going to be difficult. First, it was unusual for the main effort of an attack to have a smaller number of personnel than the support. The Allies were short on landing craft and troops. Most of the support shipping and manpower was focused on the coming Allied invasion of France (called Operation Overlord, but remembered as D-Day). The landing on Anzio was meant to be synchronous with the attacks on the Gustav Line and Monte Cassino, but those attacks were conducted too far apart to be of mutual support. Kesselring was also one of the best defensive commanders the Germans had, and some of his troops were elite forces. After some compromise at the flag-officer level, the Anzio operation called “Shingle” was finally in motion. Operation Overlord allowed some of its landing craft to be transferred to Italy, and the planners agreed to delay their attack until later in the summer. The Pacific theater contributed some ships to the Anzio landing as well. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army would be assigned the job of attacking the Gustav Line and conducting the Anzio landing. British General Bernard Montgomery left the Eighth Army to assume command of parts of Operation Overlord in Britain. He was replaced by General Sir Oliver Leese. Leese would take the Eighth army on a slow advance up the Adriatic side of Italy.

Allied Landing

The Texas Thirty-sixth Infantry Division was met by the Fifteenth Panzer Grenadier Division at Monte Cassino, and the Americans lost almost two regiments (killed or captured). Kesselring sent his reserves to hold that part of the Gustav Line. This made the Anzio landing a surprise to the Germans, because they had few troops in the area. The U.S. Sixth Corps made the amphibious assault, and they were made up of about four and a half divisions of around 50,000 soldiers and 5,200 vehicles under the command of Major General John Porter Lucas. Lucas felt that he did not have enough troops for the mission. A rehearsal for the invasion resulted in a number of landing craft being sunk, and this reduced morale. The landing was successful after a heavy naval bombardment, and most of the troops were ashore by January 22, 1944, without much enemy resistance. The U.S. Rangers and British commandoes went on the beach first, and they established a beachhead for the British First Division.

Their objective was the Alban Hills, and Clark decided to wait until most of the Sixth Corps was ashore and ready to fight. Allied aircraft had the advantage in the sky, but could not immediately protect the troops. The delay in the advance gave the Germans time to go counterattack. Naval gunfire kept the Germans from overrunning the Allies. But by January 24, there were already three German divisions facing the attackers. Action on the Gustav Line simmered down, and Kesselring was able to divert troops from this stronghold to relieve Anzio. German leader Adolf Hitler ordered reinforcements from France, Germany, and the Balkans to help Anzio. General Eberhard von Mackensen moved his Fourteenth Army headquarters down from northern Italy to command the defense of Anzio. It looked like the Allies were in for a major fight.

Stalled on the Beach

The early fighting favored the Germans. Three U.S. Ranger battalions were tasked to attack the Alban Hills, but they were ambushed and nearly destroyed. The U.S. Third and Forty-fifth Divisions were blocked and sputtered to a halt. The same thing happened to the British First Division and the U.S. First Armored. By early February, the Sixth Corps had not advanced beyond the same narrow beachhead. The Germans held the high terrain and continued to fire down at the Allies. There was no room for construction of a friendly airfield, and thus the Luftwaffe was able to challenge Allied air power. The German fighters constantly disrupted resupply efforts on the beachhead.

Then the Germans decided to counterattack on February 15 and push the Allies back to the sea. After two weeks of fighting, it looked like the Germans were going to get their way. Clark felt the pressure—army high command in Washington, D.C., and the media had already questioned his expertise after the failures on the Rapido River.

He had to act. He first fired Lucas and replaced him on February 23 with Major General Lucian K. Truscott Jr.,who had previously led the Third Infantry Division. Truscott was able to expand the beachhead a little, and he personally led units at the front to restore morale, but the delays were costly in manpower and planning. During the four months from the original Anzio landing and the second Allied offensive in Italy, the Americans had 23,000 casualties while the British had 9,203. The Anzio offensive still needed landing craft to haul supplies and reinforcements. That meant the landings in France would have to wait.

Onward to Rome

The Americans wanted no more delay for D-Day, but Churchill thought the British could lead the attack on France from Italy through central Europe. The higher command compromised and agreed on a new all-out offensive in Italy. General Sir Harold Alexander took control of the planning in Italy and directed the Eighth Army to turn west from the Adriatic side of Italy and attack the Monte Cassino area and then rush to the north to link up with Clark’s Sixth Corps. This meant that Clark had to achieve a breakthrough at Anzio. The plan started working on May 11, but with heavy casualties.

Alexander’s Fifteenth Army Group had the mission of attacking the Cassino area on the Gustav Line. The U.S. Fifth Army, the U.S. Second Corps, and a Free French Corps toiled on a front from the east coast of Italy to the Rapido River. This group moved toward the north while the Eighth Army, the British Thirteenth Corps, and a Polish Corps moved to attack the Gustav Line at Cassino. All attacks worked fairly quickly, and Clark’s Sixth Corps was finally able to break out at Anzio. Truscott was ordered by Clark to take the Alban Hills before turning north to Rome. The Germans were able to escape by taking Highway 6 to the north of Rome while Clark entered Rome to parades on May 5. It would be a short celebration because attention would turn to Normandy and the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

Battle of Normandy

The Battle of Normandy was the massive Allied invasion of France, popularly known as D-Day. It took months of planning and preparation, as the Allies knew that the Germans occupying France were fully expecting an attempted invasion, and they would have to fight hard to land troops successfully. On June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower gave the command for the invasion to commence.

German Preparations

The Germans thought they were prepared for an Allied invasion of France. Their top two commanders, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, disagreed about what to expect. Rundstedt believed that coastal defenses were only effective to slow the enemy and that it was essential for troops to remain in reserve and wait to strike the enemy at the most opportune moment. Rommel believed less in reserves and more in massing maneuver elements at critical areas. Rommel, upon arrival from a post in northern Italy, immediately ordered more mines to be laid on the avenues of approach of an amphibious invasion and on obvious landing zones to defend against raids from airborne troops.

Rommel also found that his defending force was not mobile and was mainly made up of infantry and airborne infantry tied to their positions. There were forty-six of these divisions, which would total sixty when the Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions were added—around 500,000 German troops. Rommel did not think that he had enough tanks. If he was forced to keep his few Panzers in reserve, he knew the Allies, with their multitudes of Sherman tanks, would eventually overwhelm his defenses. Air support would also be a problem for the Germans. The vaunted Luftwaffe was down to 300 aircraft in France. The Allies would have over 12,000 aircraft on D-Day. However, the Germans were very proud of their Atlantic Wall—the miles of entanglements and obstacles skirting the Normandy beaches. The material was taken from the old French Maginot Line (a system of fortifications along the French-German border). But this defensive fortification was not complete; Rundstedt was not much of a taskmaster, and the soldiers assigned to build the Atlantic Wall took their time.

Allied Groundwork

Operation Overlord was the code name for the cross-channel invasion of Normandy. The Allies had a plan that aimed to confuse the Germans as to where the landing would take place. The Allies hoped to make the Germans think the assault would take place in the Pas-de-Calais through the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel. German leader Adolf Hitler, strangely enough, thought part of the Allied attack could come from Norway, and he even had eleven divisions stationed there from 1944 until the end of the war. The Allied ruse was called Operation Fortitude, and it relied on broadcasting misinformation about the plans for Pas-de-Calais. Operation Fortitude cast U.S. General George Patton as the leader, since the Germans were more likely to believe that the fiery general would be in charge of an operation of this magnitude. Some of the German intelligence apparatus fell for the trick, but Hitler was not fooled. He knew that Normandy would be a good location for the landing, and in the spring of 1944, he told his subordinates to focus defense efforts in that area.

Rommel was still concerned about German armor. He thought it better to pick one beach and place at least one armored division there instead of keeping the whole force in reserve. If the gamble paid off, the Panzers could do a lot of damage to an amphibious landing. If the Panzers were placed badly, they could always recover and maneuver to get back into the fight. In contrast, Field Marshal von Rundstedt wanted to keep the tanks in reserve. Hitler settled the argument between the two generals and gave each three armored divisions with the instructions that Rundstedt would get Hitler’s personal approval before deploying the tanks. British General Bernard Montgomery, who had fought against Rommel frequently, thought Rommel would have total control of those tanks and would deploy them forward at Normandy. Fortunately for the Allies, Rommel did not get his way.

The Allies also had air superiority in France. This was not only important for the invasion itself, but also in the weeks and months leading up to that day. The Germans did not have the planes to do a very good reconnaissance across the English Channel. If they had, they would have known that the objective was Normandy because that was the only part of the channel deep enough for all those ships.

Operation Overlord code named the beaches of Normandy from west to east: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The naval part of Overlord was awesome—6,483 ships, including 4,000 landing craft, were to take part in the attack. Seven battleships, twenty-three cruisers, and 104 destroyers would provide naval gunfire to prep the landing zone. One thousand Dakota transport planes would deposit three airborne divisions in France—hundreds of other aircraft would haul the gliders filled with infantry, artillery men, and engineers. Thousands of Allied bombers would be escorted by 5,000 fighters while the bombers dropped 5,000 pounds of bombs on the German defenses near the beaches.

The Fight Begins

On June 6, 1944, Operation Overlord, or “D-Day” as it became known, began. More than 176,000 troops came ashore on five separate beaches on a sixty-mile stretch from Varreville to Caen. The invading troops faced mines, barbed wire, and pill boxes with machine guns and artillery. The battle on Omaha Beach was the bloodiest. There were only four paths from the beach, consisting of long and steep valleys. The Germans occupied fortified defensive positions along the entire beach. The weather was also the worst at Omaha. The troops were supposed to be supported by “floating” tanks upheld by floating canvas aprons known as “bloomers.” Twenty-seven of the thirty-two tanks did not float but sank to the bottom, killing their crews. The advancing infantry troops were cut to pieces by the Germans.

The three infantry divisions were scattered by the winds of the terrible weather on D-Day. The 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions had the most casualties, and it was difficult for them to succeed in their assigned tasks—to block the escape routes of retreating Germans.

There were difficulties throughout Normandy. The weather was terrible. The bombers and naval gunfire missed their targets. The underwater obstacles stopped or slowed the landing craft. Many soldiers were shot before they even got to the beach, and those who did make it ashore barely moved. But the leaders on the beach took over, grabbing their men and leading them up the beaches. Small groups started advancing as more troops landed on the sand. The destroyers crept close to the beaches and supplied naval gunfire to support the ground troops. The American Fifth Corps barely hung on at Omaha, but they carved out a small beachhead by that night.

The three British beaches—Gold, Juno, and Sword—were naturally protected by reefs. The British faced the same problems as the Americans and losses were heavy, but they repulsed a counterattack by the Twenty-first Panzer Division and were able to establish small beachheads. The Germans were not ready. Some of the officers, including Rommel, were not even in the area of operations during the attack. Rundstedt’s plan was to slow the Allies up at the beaches and then use the tanks to finish them off. But the German tanks were needed immediately and the defenders needed quick decisions from their command—neither need was met.

The transformation of the Normandy beaches from a killing zone to a modern harbor was an amazing feat of maritime engineering. Tugboats brought in what Churchill called “floating ports.” The British leader designed great concrete boxes that would be supported by a complex network of girders, beams, and plates to build a port in a matter of weeks. “Mulberry A,” the American port, was destroyed by a storm, but “Mulberry B,” the British port, survived. After ten days of prep work, all manner of Allied ships were transporting supplies and reinforcements to France. It was now up to the Allied ground troops to begin taking France back from the Germans.

Teheran Conference

The “Big Three” Allied leaders—Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin—realized that there would be a new world order after the war, and they knew it was time to make plans for postwar reconstruction and alignment. There would have to be some balance of power among the Western democracies and the Soviet Union. Stalin saw a chance for Communism to spread into areas where developing countries could throw off the yoke of British rule and then choose Communism as their form of government. The “Big Three” met in Teheran from November 28 to December 1, 1943, to begin planning the peace now in their sights.

The immediate issue was to achieve the peace. The Allies agreed to a massive, coordinated invasion of German-occupied Europe, which would begin in the spring of 1944. The plan was codenamed “Operation Overlord,” but it is more widely remembered as D-Day. They agreed that the invasion of France would need a supreme allied commander and that General Dwight Eisenhower should take that role.

The conference participants were also interested in protecting themselves, their allies, and their spheres of influence for the duration of the war and beyond. They agreed to support Turkey and Iran should they need it, but the issue of Poland’s fate was more complicated. There was a Polish government in exile in London. There were also thousands of Poles now hoping for a free, independent, and democratic country after the war. But Russia had been invaded via Poland many times throughout history. Stalin was not going to let the Western democracies encroach on Poland—he demanded that about the eastern one-third of the prewar Poland be annexed to the Soviet Union. Churchill and Roosevelt reluctantly agreed. The East-West divide that characterized the Cold War had thus begun.

Battle of the Bulge

The horribly bloody Battle of the Bulge pitted American and British forces against the Germans in the snow-covered Ardennes Forest starting in December 1944. The Germans “bulged” westward into Allied lines, with the aim of dividing then encircling the Allied armies. Although the Germans were ultimately unsuccessful, the battle cost the Allies dearly. The Americans suffered more than 80,000 casualties.

Progress through Europe

After the breakthrough at Normandy on D-Day, the Allies gained momentum. The British were able to take Brussels on September 3, 1944, and the Allies captured Antwerp the next day. The rest of Belgium and Luxembourg was soon in Allied hands. However, there was a problem behind these triumphs: How to keep the advancing Allied armies supplied? The Allied air force had been so good at destroying the Nazi’s system of logistics, especially rail roads, that the fast-moving generals like Bernard Montgomery and George Patton had to depend on trucks and roads. This was a problem as winter approached. The taking of Antwerp was good news since it was the largest port in Europe. However, neither Patton nor Montgomery was pleased. They each thought the Allied advance should be on a narrower front and, of course, each general thought he alone should be getting all the food, fuel, and ammunition he requested.

Operation Autumn Mist

The Germans faced many problems after their failure at Normandy. German leader Adolf Hitler thought that the Allied advance was only temporary and that it was overextended. His answer was to counterattack, a folly that had been the undoing of German armies in the Soviet Union and North Africa. Hitler first wanted reinforcements and had his generals comb through the ranks to take any person from the rear to serve in newly formed divisions. Most of these new soldiers were young and inexperienced or old, sickly, and wounded. The plan was to recreate the blitzkrieg successes of 1940 with a winter attack through the Ardennes Forest to retake Antwerp. This surprise attack would be called Wacht am Rhein or “watch on the Rhine.” When the operation actually began, it was named Operation Autumn Mist. The operation included twenty-five fresh German divisions of 150,000 additional soldiers. They hoped that retaking Antwerp would allow V-2 rockets to be fired into London continually and it would allow the Germans to cut-off, encircle, and destroy the British Second and Canadian First Armies. Further attacks on the Americans would follow.

Winter in northern Europe was the worst time of year to fight; snow and ice made much of the forest impassable. The Ardennes Forest offered the Germans cover from the Allied Air Force; however, it was difficult to traverse the terrain. Most passages through the forest only allowed four tanks abreast to travel. It would be slow going. Although the Germans were able to refill old elite divisions such as the First, Second, Ninth, and Twelfth SS Panzer Divisions and the Second, Ninth, 116th, and Lehr Panzer Divisions, the new troops were far from elite. These were often rear-echelon soldiers with no combat experience; some had even been taken from Poland and Czechoslovakia. These troops did not speak German, and many actually wanted to be fighting for the Allies instead.

Autumn Mist was a good plan to achieve tactical surprise. The Americans certainly did not expect a winter attack through the Ardennes. They had only four divisions defending that area of operations—the Fourth, Twenty-eighth, and 106th Infantry Divisions plus the Ninth Armored Division. The Fourth and the Twenty-eighth were attempting to rest and refit after the Battle of the Huertgen Forest, where they had lost 9,000 troops. The 106th had never seen action, and the Ninth Armored was relatively inexperienced.

On the morning of December 16, 1944, Operation Autumn Mist began with the American Twenty-eighth Division caught on its heels. These soldiers did some damage to the attacking German Sixth and Fifth Panzer Armies, but the Americans quickly fell back. The 106th Division was surrounded.

The Germans managed to execute a plan called “Operation Greif,” which wreaked havoc behind Allied lines. The 150th Brigade was a German special operations unit whose 150 members spoke flawless English and wore American uniforms. They were sent to cause confusion behind American lines through sabotage and terrorism. As a result, the Germans were able to achieve tactical and strategic surprise, push through and widen a salient toward Antwerp, and reach American fuel dumps to resupply their own tanks. It was very close to an Allied disaster. German troops commanded by First Panzer Division Lieutenant Colonel Joachim Peiper executed more than eighty American prisoners at Malmedy Road. The pocket of Germans in Allied territory created a “bulge” on the map, leading to the American name for the Ardennes operation: “Battle of the Bulge.”

“Nuts!” to Surrender

The American troops were able to hold their ground after the initial surprise. The Ninety-ninth and Second Divisions blocked the Sixth SS Panzer Army at the Monschau Forest and Eisenborn Ridge. The American Fourth Infantry held valiantly against the Fifth Panzer and German Seventh Army’s repeated attacks. The inexperienced Ninth Armored actually did a good job at holding St. Vith. The 101st Airborne Assault Division was surrounded in Bastogne, but the “Screaming Eagles” division (as the 101st is known) held out bravely. This siege of Bastogne is remembered for the famous words from the 101st’s commander in Bastogne, Brigadier General Tony McAuliffe: when handed a demand for surrender from the German commander, his reply was, “Nuts!”

Now it was the Germans who were overextended. Their wide axis of attack was divided at St. Vith and Bastogne. Montgomery brought two of his British divisions in support, but it was Patton who saved the day. Somehow, with only twenty-four hours of planning, Patton’s Third Army halted its current attack going from west to east in the southern part of France near Metz. Patton then turned his army to the north and raced up to Bastogne to relieve the beleaguered 101st Airborne.

The weather finally broke on December 23 and the clear skies enabled the Allied air force to cause extensive damage to the remaining German tanks. The next day, Patton’s Fourth Armored Division linked up with the 101st in Bastogne and made short work of the Germans there.

Despite its successful outcome, the Battle of the Bulge was a painful reminder to the Americans about the danger of being caught unprepared. Many of the Americans were still in their summer uniforms in December. The Germans were better prepared to fight in the cold and they were also able to hurt the Americans with the infiltrations of Operation Greif and its coordinated terrorist attacks behind friendly lines. The Americans were fortunate they had the personnel, spare parts, fuel, and equipment to prolong the fighting in December 1944. Without inspiring performances by many American units, the Battle of the Bulge could have been a disaster for the Allies.


The Battle on Land

On June 15, 1944, just days after the D-Day invasion, Operation Forager began in the Pacific’s Marianas Islands. The American island-hopping strategy was still in effect, as was the Japanese will to fight to the last man. The Americans established a beachhead at Saipan, but the Japanese defenders were intensely dedicated.

Admiral Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58, a battle group of aircraft carriers, softened Saipan’s defenses by destroying 200 Japanese fighters and bombers while they were still on the ground. The carrier-based American planes also sank a dozen cargo ships. Admiral Richmond Turner’s amphibious force of 127,000 U.S. personnel in some 530 warships came ashore. Mitscher’s battleships, cruisers, and destroyers bombarded Japanese positions on Saipan. The Second and Fourth Marine Divisions came ashore and immediately engaged with Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s Thirty-first Japanese Army. The marines barely established a beachhead, and the Twenty-seventh Infantry Division had to land as reinforcements. Mitscher’s carrier battle group had to leave to join the Philippine Sea Battle, which left the Saipan invaders with no air or naval gunfire support.

The Americans advanced slowly because the Japanese had prepared a careful defense. By July 19, most of the enemy had been killed when 3,000 surviving Japanese carried out a last-ditch bayonet attack. The American losses were 3,126 killed, 13,160 wounded, and 326 missing. Japanese Admiral Nagumo and General Yoshitsugu Saito committed suicide on July 6, and three days later, 7,000 more Japanese would commit suicide rather than be captured by the Americans. Only 2,000 surrendered.

The Battle at Sea

When Saipan was attacked, Admiral Jizaburo Ozawa’s fleet steamed through the southern Sulu Sea to defend it. Ozawa had a force of five battleships, five heavy and four light carriers, eleven heavy and two light cruisers, and twenty-eight destroyers. Admiral Raymond Spruance had seven heavy and eight light carriers, eight heavy and thirteen light cruisers, and sixty-nine destroyers. The Americans had 956 aircraft, and the Japanese had 473, but Ozawa could control an additional one hundred planes from the islands of Guam, Rota, and Yap in the Marianas Islands.

The sea battle started on June 19, 1944, when the Japanese spotted the Fifth Fleet’s ships. These were 300 miles away from Ozawa’s advance guard of four light carriers and 500 miles from his main group. Mitscher’s Task Force 58 of four carrier battle groups was ninety miles northwest of Guam and 110 miles southwest of Saipan, but Spruance and his battle group were nearby. Ozawa decided to launch four successive raids, and Mitscher was ready and sent his fighters to intercept them. He also cleared his flight decks by putting his bombers in the air. American submarines in the area attacked Ozawa’s ships and sank the carriers Taiho and Shokaku. Taiho was the newest and largest of Japan’s carriers. Shokaku’s planes had attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Capture of Guam and the Mariana Islands

The American capture of Guam and the Mariana Islands in the summer of 1944 marked a significant step in the American “island-hopping” campaign against Japan. By the end of the campaign, Japanese air and naval power in the Central and South Pacific would be destroyed for good, and the first regular bombing raids on the Japanese home islands would soon be staged out of airfields on the island of Guam.

Guam is the largest of the Mariana Islands at thirty miles long and nine miles wide. A U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War in 1898, the island fell to invading Japanese forces on December 11, 1941. Although it was not fortified, its natural barriers of coral reefs and sheer sea cliffs, along with its sizeable Japanese garrison, promised a hard battle for the approaching Americans in 1944. It was, however, a target worth taking. In addition to the ability to base bombers on the island, the deep harbor at Apra was big enough for even the largest carriers and battleships and would provide an ideal naval base.

Turkey Shoot

The Marianas campaign kicked off with the invasion of the island of Saipan, and at sea, the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, which took place from June 19 through June 20, 1944. In what was later dubbed “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” American planes downed three hundred Japanese fighters and sank three aircraft carriers with small losses on the U.S. side. The Japanese fleet, deprived of nearly all its trained aircrew, was forced to retreat toward the home islands.

Meanwhile, because of stiff Japanese resistance, the Saipan campaign took longer than anticipated. Originally scheduled for June, the invasion of Guam was postponed until late July.

Invasion of Guam

On June 21, elements of the Third Marine and Seventy-seventh Infantry Divisions came ashore along both sides of the Orote Peninsula. The plan was to cut off the peninsula and its airfield, but the landings were slowed by Japanese artillery fire. The shelling sank twenty Marine LVTs (Landing Vehicle Tank), while the Army units, lacking amphibious assault vehicles, were forced to wade ashore from the reef line. By the end of the first day, two beachheads had been established on small strips of land on either side of the peninsula.

The first of several ferocious Japanese counterattacks were launched against the American positions that night using infiltration tactics. The attacks were repulsed amidst chaos, confusion, and high casualties on both sides.

Despite the regular counterattacks and the difficulty of supplying the units on land from beyond the coral reefs, the beachheads were finally linked on July 28. The airfield on Orote and Apra Harbor were both taken two days later. Now well supplied, the American forces began pushing inland.

The Japanese, meanwhile, had been decimated by the counterattacks. The commanding general, Takeshi Takashima, had been killed in combat on July 28 and his successor, Hideyoshi Obata, began a general withdrawal inland. In addition to the casualties sustained, the troops were running low on ammunition and provisions, and had only a few tanks and heavy guns left.

Obata intended to make a stand in the mountainous center of the island, but at the two-day battle for Mount Barrigada, the main line of Japanese resistance was broken and the withdrawal turned into a full-blown retreat with the Americans in close pursuit.

The disorganized Japanese forces made their way toward the north of the island where they were eliminated piecemeal. By August 10, American forces had secured the island and declared victory. Out of the 36,000 troops who had landed on Guam, 3,000 were killed and over 7,000 were wounded. The Japanese lost more than 18,000 men. Only 450 surrendered.

Long-term Holdouts

As it turned out, there were some Japanese on Guam who were not killed and did not surrender after the invasion. On December 8, 1945, four months after the end of the war, three U.S. marines were ambushed and killed by several Japanese soldiers who were still holding out in the jungle. Even more remarkably, local residents in 1972 stumbled across Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese soldier who had been living in a jungle cave for twenty-eight years, unaware that the war was over.

In 1944, as Guam was being cleared of most of its remaining Japanese resistors, five airfields capable of handling the new B-29 Superfortress Bombers were being hastily constructed. By November of that year, regular bombing runs on the Japanese home islands were taking off from Guam as the Americans drew ever closer to their ultimate victory.

Battle of Leyte Gulf

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, fought between October 23 and October 26, 1944, marked the end of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as an effective fighting force and the beginning of U.S. naval superiority in the Pacific. A confused, running battle marked by missed opportunities on both sides, Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle of the war. It also marked the debut of the dreaded kamikaze suicide attacks by Japanese fighter pilots.

Competing Strategies

By mid-1944, U.S. strategy in the Pacific was split along two possible routes of advance towards the Japanese home islands. General Douglas MacArthur, representing the army, lobbied hard for a return to the Japan-held Philippines, which he had been forced to abandon in 1942, and then an invasion of the island of Formosa (Taiwan). Ultimately, the navy plan under Admiral Chester Nimitz would win out, but in October 1944, the go-ahead was given to invade the Philippines.

The Japanese had meanwhile identified four axes along which the U.S. might advance and had prepared contingency plans for each one. Those “victory” plans called for committing nearly all available resources to a big push against the Americans in an effort to halt or reverse their advance.

When it became apparent that the Americans were targeting the Philippines, three Japanese task forces set sail. Their objective was to drive off the American navy and shell the landing beaches. A total of sixty-four warships, including the 64,000-ton super battleships Musashi and Yamato, made their way east towards the Philippine island of Leyte.

Opposing Fleets

The invasion of Leyte took place under the auspices of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet, which boasted more than 700 vessels and 500 aircraft. Screening the landings was Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet, a carrier-heavy task force of 100 warships and more than 1,000 planes.

The Japanese fleet, in contrast, was forced to place its hopes entirely on its battleships and heavy cruisers. The “Marianas Turkey Shoot” of the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, as well as battles around Formosa, had severely depleted the carrier-based air power of the IJN. In fact, the only role the fleet’s carriers were to play in the upcoming battle was to serve as a decoy force meant to lure away Halsey’s Third Fleet.

Opening Battles

As the decoy carrier force steamed north, the main bulk of the Japanese fleet split into two groups for its approach to the Philippines. The objective was to circle around the island of Leyte from two directions, rendezvous, and attack the beaches, but it was not to be.

The larger of the two Japanese groups headed for the San Bernardino Strait on October 23 under the leadership of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita. Before passing through the strait, however, the fleet was spotted by two American submarines, which quickly managed to torpedo and sink two heavy cruisers and badly damage a third. Carrier planes from Halsey’s Third Fleet, alerted to the fleet’s approach, also swept in, and in five assaults managed to sink the Musashi and cripple another heavy cruiser.

Japanese land-based aircraft in turn sank the U.S. carrier Princeton, but the losses at sea were too much for Kurita, who turned back, thoroughly shaken. Taking his withdrawal for a retreat, the American forces disengaged. However, after regaining his composure later in the day, Kurita once again reversed course and headed back towards the San Bernardino Strait, now behind schedule for the rendezvous with the southern fleet.

The southern task force, under Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura, consisted of the balance of the war fleet—two battleships, a heavy cruiser, and four destroyers—and would have an even worse time of it than Kurita’s fleet. Nishimura, along with a smaller following force under Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima, headed for the Surigao Strait on the southern end of Leyte, and Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet was waiting.

Kinkaid had set up a blocking force of battleships and cruisers stretching across the narrow strait and had deployed destroyers out ahead of his blockade along the flanks of the anticipated Japanese advance.

The two sides contacted each other around midnight on October 24. In the ensuing battle, Nishimura’s fleet was almost annihilated: Only a single badly damaged cruiser and a lone destroyer escaped the trap. The only American loss was a destroyer damaged by American shelling.

Shortly after Nishimura’s retreat, Shima’s task force also ran into the trap but managed to extricate itself with fewer losses. Nevertheless, pursuing forces sank a cruiser and destroyer. The southern strike had been stopped cold.

Final Clashes

Despite learning of the destruction of Nishimura’s fleet, Kurita, having reached the San Bernardino Strait, decided to press ahead on the morning of October 25. Halsey’s Third Fleet should have been waiting to stop him, but instead the American force was steaming north to intercept the dummy carrier fleet—Halsey had fallen for the Japanese deception. Despite the earlier losses, a real chance now existed for Kurita to break through to the landing beaches at Leyte Gulf.

All that stood in his way was a small screening force of Seventh Fleet escort carriers and light destroyers under Admiral Clifton Sprague. Over a fearsome two-hour battle, the tiny, unarmored American destroyers fought a desperate rear-guard action against the massive Japanese warships, covering the retreat of Sprague’s light escort carriers. The Japanese fleet’s attack was broken up by relentless torpedo attacks and raids from the carrier planes, many of which were not equipped to fight heavy cruisers and battleships.

Despite these valiant actions, things were looking bad for the Americans: one carrier and three destroyers had fallen victim to the massive Japanese guns. But it was at this point that Kurita suddenly called off the attack. The vice admiral was increasingly worried about the return of Halsey’s Third Fleet and felt that he had lost tactical control of the battle.

As Kurita retreated, Japanese airfields on Leyte launched the first-ever kamikaze attacks. These attacks, in which a pilot would sacrifice his own life by crashing his plane into an enemy ship, caught the Americans completely off guard, and another escort carrier was then sunk. After suffering such a mauling, pursuit of Kurita’s retreating fleet was not possible. Meanwhile, far to the north, Halsey’s Third Fleet had found and engaged the decoy carrier force and hurt it badly, sinking four carriers, a cruiser, and four destroyers.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the last major naval engagement of the war. The Imperial Japanese Navy, although not completely neutralized, had lost its effectiveness—never again would it attempt to oppose an American landing.

U.S. Recapture of the Philippines

The U.S. recapture of the Philippine Islands, which began with the landing at Leyte on October 20, 1944, fulfilled a promise made by General Douglas MacArthur when he was forced to flee the islands in March 1942. His succinct statement, “I shall return,” was not an idle vow—over six months of fighting, American and Filipino forces would dislodge the Japanese from one island after another, eventually securing independence for the Philippines.

Objective: Manila

By January, the Army was ready to take Luzon and the capital city of Manila. The city of Manila was home to 800,000 people and was a cosmopolitan blend of American, Spanish, and Asian influences. A colonial Spanish fort called the Intramuros dominated the city center, which was surrounded by the Pasig River. In 1942, Manila had been declared an open city to avoid damage to its historically and culturally significant architecture. Although the Japanese made no similar declaration in 1945, there was no intention to make a stand in the city.

There were no expectations of resistance in Manila from MacArthur’s camp, either. After the American landings at Lingayen Gulf on January 9 and a weeklong battle for Clark Air Field, the race was on to be the first to enter the city. General William Chase formed a “flying column” from mechanized elements of his First Cavalry Division and sped toward the capital, sometimes at speeds up to fifty miles per hour. Following behind at a much slower pace was the Thirty-seventh Division.

More landings took place forty-five miles south of the city on January 15, and elements of the Eleventh Airborne Division dropped unopposed on January 31. These airborne actions and the efforts of Filipino freedom fighters made it possible for the advancing forces to move quickly across intact bridges and river fords.

Unexpected Resistance

By February 3, the First Cavalry Division had reached the outskirts of the city, liberating 4,000 foreign prisoners from the makeshift internment camp at Santo Tomas University. General MacArthur reported the next day the imminent capture of the city. His staff began planning a victory parade.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Despite the orders of their superiors, the local garrison commanders in Manila, led by Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji, were determined to resist. As the Americans approached, they turned Manila into an urban fortress, strengthening its already robust concrete buildings (built to withstand earthquakes) and blockading the streets. Three army battalions (around 2,000 soldiers), plus about 16,000 naval troops, were set to defend the city to the last.

Even as MacArthur’s staff were planning the victory parade, elements of the Thirty-seventh, First Cavalry and the Eleventh Airborne were reporting stiffening resistance as they approached Manila. The Thirty-seventh, in particular, was soon to encounter the toughest resistance, advancing slowly street by street and house by house in some of the most brutal urban fighting of the Pacific campaign.

Despite initial orders to avoid destruction of property whenever possible, it soon became apparent that only overwhelming firepower would dislodge the Japanese from their positions. Tanks and artillery firing at close range brought down houses that often contained civilians as well as Japanese. Meanwhile, as the Japanese retreated they would demolish their formerly occupied buildings whenever possible.

After a week of fighting, with the capture of Nichols Air Field on February 12 the encirclement of Manila was complete. The push into the city began in earnest, but the hardest fighting was yet to come.

The Intramuros, dominated by Fort Santiago, held out for five days, from February 23 to February 28. In the process of taking the fortified center, the area was nearly leveled by American artillery. With the surrender of the Financial Building on March 3, the last resistance in the city was eliminated. Out in Manila Harbor, Fort Drum held out until April and was only neutralized when 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel were pumped in and ignited. The resulting explosion destroyed the fort and the last resisters within.

A City in Ruins

American casualties were around 6,000, with 1,000 of that number dead. The Japanese had lost 16,000 in their stubborn defense of the city, but it is undoubtedly the civilian population that suffered most. At least 100,000 citizens perished in the month-long fight for the city, either caught in the crossfire or executed deliberately by the Japanese in what has come to be called the “Manila Massacre.”

The Philippine Campaign

Ultimately, ten U.S. divisions would take part in the capture of Luzon, a larger force than was committed to Italy or North Africa in the European theater. The effort was well worth it—the fall of Luzon gave the Allies effective control of the Philippines.

Subsequent actions throughout the Philippines gradually rooted out the last large pockets of Japanese resistance. Members of the Filipino guerilla resistance, who proved invaluable in locating hidden Japanese strongpoints in the jungles and mountains, often ably assisted these operations.

As the fighting raged in Manila in February, General MacArthur convened a meeting of leading Filipinos with the intention of declaring the restoration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. After reminding the assemblage that his country had fulfilled its promise to return, he declared the Philippines a bastion of democracy in Asia. The United States granted Philippine independence on July 4, 1946.

Berlin Raid

The Berlin Raid of February 3, 1945, was the culminating effort of a nearly four-year strategic bombing campaign directed against the capital of Germany. The motivation of the raid—to aid advancing Soviet troops in their approach to Berlin—reflects the shifting nature of a military strategy that was never fully sure of its objectives.

Strategic Bombing

At the beginning of World War II, the Allied view of strategic bombing—the use of bombers not in direct support of military operations—was decidedly negative. Bombing of civilian targets by the Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War seemed to only reinforce the view that such actions only strengthened civilian resistance—and that the bombers were really just war criminals.

This attitude began to shift, however, after the German terror bombing of the Dutch city of Rotterdam and especially once Great Britain came under attack during the “blitz” of 1940. Having been driven off the continent after the fall of France, the only way the British could strike back against Germany was through bombing campaigns.

At first targeting only industrial cities, the strategy was gradually expanded to include purely civilian targets as well. The commander of the Royal Air Force (RAF) bomber wing, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, summarized the thinking succinctly: “[The Germans] sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”

Strategic bombing even became a political tool once the Soviet Union was invaded. Joseph Stalin placed constant pressure on the Allies to open a second front, but they were in no position to do so right away. Through steady bombing of Germany, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt argued, the Allies were doing their part by disrupting German war production.

Berlin Raids

By 1943, the once-reserved Allies had turned to terror-bombing of their own—the “firebombing” of Hamburg in July caused a massive firestorm that killed fifty thousand people and left one million homeless.

As bomber range improved throughout the war, Berlin increasingly became a target. Not only was it an important manufacturing center, but the attacks on the German capital were thought to have a great effect on the morale of both sides.

Although the first raid on Berlin occurred on August 25, 1940, the attacks did not begin in earnest until 1943. From November 1943 to March 1944, the RAF conducted sixteen raids that killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In those raids, the Royal Air Force lost 500 aircraft and 2,700 crew over the city, which boasted the most extravagant air defense of the war, including the infamous “flak towers,” massive concrete air-raid shelters/gun platforms.

Operation Thunderclap

The United States Army Air Force (USAAF), which had concentrated on precision bombing of military and industrial targets up to this point, began formulating a plan, known as Operation Thunderclap, to carry out a mass bombing campaign in 1945 in support of the Soviet advance from the east.

The raids were launched, in part, as a sign of unity with the Soviet war effort. Although the plans for Thunderclap were scaled back somewhat, several large raids, including the infamous Dresden raid, were launched by the USAAF in the early part of the year over the objections of officers such as James Doolittle, commander of the Eighth Air Force.

The raid of February 3 was the largest ever suffered by Berlin. A total of 937 bombers and 613 fighter-escorts flew over the city that day, dropping enough bombs to kill about 3,000 people and “de-house” 120,000. Several important buildings were damaged, including the Reich Chancellery and Gestapo Headquarters.

Perhaps most notably, the February 3 raid marked the end of the career of Judge Roland Freisler, the infamous head of the People’s Court who sentenced untold hundreds of political prisoners to death. Judge Freisler was crushed by a collapsing ceiling when the People’s Court took a direct hit during the raid.

Legacy of Strategic Bombing

Strategic bombing raids on Berlin ceased soon after the USAAF raid—the Soviet Air Force was close enough to take over the task. As for the overall effectiveness of the Berlin Raid, it seems to have had little impact. As the Allies knew going into the war (but soon forgot), indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets does not kill the will to fight and often has the opposite effect. Berlin, despite the devastation suffered during two years of prolonged bombing, continued to function as before. Civilians still went to work, even if they no longer had a house to return to. Production in the city continued to rise throughout the war, reaching a peak in December 1944.

The losses suffered in return, particularly by the RAF, were unacceptably high in the light of such small returns. Whatever gains could be realized from strategic bombing elsewhere, the raids on Berlin failed to achieve their objective of hastening the end of the war.

The Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, which took place during the week of February 4–11, 1945, was the last great wartime meeting of the three major Allied leaders. It was held to determine the shape of the postwar world and is seen by some as the beginning of the Cold War.

Hidden Agendas, Conflicting Personalities

The resort town of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula in what was then the Soviet Union, was chosen to play host to Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and their advisors and foreign ministers in what was only the second such meeting of the “Big Three,” the first having taken place in Teheran, Iran, in 1943. The purpose of the conference was multifaceted. Roosevelt was looking for guarantees on promises Stalin had made at Teheran and to move ahead on plans for the formation of the United Nations. Stalin was looking to expand his influence in Europe and the Far East. Churchill, ever suspicious of Soviet motives, was mainly concerned with fencing in Stalin’s ambitions as best he could.

The Yalta Conference was characterized by icy relations between the British and the Soviets, with Roosevelt—ailing and only two months from death—trying to act as mediator. Although Churchill did not trust Stalin, Roosevelt realized that the Western allies had no choice but to negotiate in good faith.

The Americans did manage to secure further promises from Stalin on the issue of the Far East: The Soviet Union was to declare war on Japan within three months of the end of the war in Europe. In return, the Soviet Union was promised possession of the southern Sakhalin and Kurile Islands in the Pacific as well as temporary territorial rights in Mongolia and northern China.

The other issues on the table proved more difficult to resolve. Stalin and his advisor, Vyacheslav Molotov, were wary of the United Nations, which they regarded as a Western plot to marginalize Soviet postwar influence. Although no final agreement was reached, Stalin agreed to dispatch Molotov to the first meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco in April 1945, after Roosevelt promised him a Security Council veto and individual ambassadors for each of the Soviet Republics.

Postwar Europe

The question of how to handle postwar Eastern Europe proved the most difficult to resolve. Stalin wanted to keep the lands acquired when the Soviet Union had invaded eastern Poland in 1939 as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He proposed shifting Poland’s borders west to the Oder River, taking territory away from Germany, including the rich territory of Silesia. The former German territory of East Prussia was to be divided between Poland and the Soviet Union.

Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to this plan, somewhat reluctantly, when Stalin promised that in return Poland would be allowed free and democratic elections “as soon as possible” after the war. This was particularly important, because there were two Polish governments in exile. The 1939 government had fled to London and had the backing of the West, while Stalin had created what amounted to a second, communist government under his sponsorship. The Poles, said Stalin, would be allowed to choose between the two.

The Yalta Conference also outlined Allied plans for the occupation of Germany. The country was to be divided in the immediate aftermath of the war into four sectors, each administered by one of the victorious allies: Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Berlin was to be occupied by all four powers as well, regardless of what zone of control it fell under.

As for the long-term plans for Germany, the Big Three were unable to reach a consensus. Stalin favored a plan initially put forth by Henry Morgenthau Jr., U.S. secretary of the treasury. The Morgenthau Plan called for permanently dividing Germany into separate states and the complete dismantling of German industry. The apparatus of German heavy industry would then be shipped off to the victorious countries and Germany would be forced to adopt an agrarian, or farm-based, economy.

Although the Morgenthau Plan had initially met with Roosevelt’s approval, public criticism and Churchill’s vehement opposition had cooled his enthusiasm. As such, no final agreement was reached on how to handle German recovery after the war, and a reparations committee was formed to make further recommendations at a future time. In the end, all four Allied powers would implement the Morgenthau plan to one degree or another in the first two years after the Allied victory in Europe.

Controversial Legacy

Yalta’s legacy did not become immediately clear. Stalin honored his promise to enter the war in the Pacific and attacked Japanese armies in Mongolia three months to the day after the German surrender in Berlin. However, this proved to be one of the few Yalta promises that he did honor.

Most infamously, Poland was not allowed free elections. The 1947 elections that were held were rigged in favor of the Soviet-backed party, and Poland had become a socialist state by 1949. This, along with the West’s agreement to allow Stalin to keep his conquests of 1939–1940 (Eastern Poland and the Baltic states), led many in postwar America to accuse Roosevelt of “selling out” Eastern Europe to Stalinism.

It is, of course, important to consider the context of the Yalta Conference. At the time, Soviet armies had already occupied most of Poland and much of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, Roosevelt’s position of bargaining in good faith was the only reasonable and productive position to adopt. There were no indications at the time of the conference that the decisions made there would lead directly to the Cold War.

Battle of Iwo Jima

The Battle of Iwo Jima, which lasted from February 19 to March 16, 1945, was one of the bloodiest engagements of the Pacific war. Often considered the marine corps’s finest hour, the order to take the island, and the payoff gained for the amount of blood spilled, remains controversial to this day.

Strategic Importance

The island of Iwo Jima is situated 1,100 miles south of Tokyo in an archipelago known as the Volcano Islands. Considered a “home island,” the battle there marked the first American attack on Japanese territory.

Iwo Jima is a tiny volcanic island, eight miles square, dominated by the dormant cone of Mount Suribachi, which rises more than 500 feet above the surrounding terrain. The rest of the island is filled with volcanic crags and crevasses—some emitting foul-smelling sulfuric fumes—and covered with fine, loosely packed ash-like soil. Despite these inhospitable conditions, the order was given to take the island in early 1945.

Iwo Jima’s importance lay not in the objectives of the navy or army, but in the American strategic bombing campaign. The B-29 “Superfortress,” the first long-range bomber, had been flying missions against Japan since the fall of the Marianas in 1944. Possession of Iwo Jima, which hosted three airfields, would provide a base for fighter escorts. Furthermore, it would neutralize the island’s role as a base for bomber interceptors and forward warning station. As preparations for the invasion of Okinawa were moving ahead, the order was given to take Iwo Jima.

Appointed to head the invasion were two masters of amphibious warfare: Marine General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith and Admiral Raymond Spruance. The island was expected to fall quickly. Unbeknownst to the Americans, however, Iwo Jima had slowly been turning into a giant fortress under the guidance of Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi.

Japanese Preparations

Kuribayashi knew his appointment to head the defense of Iwo Jima in 1944 would mean his eventual death—once the Americans attacked, the island’s defenders would be on their own. His strategy, then, was to sell the island dearly. It was hoped that such a fearsome defense of as tiny and insignificant an island as Iwo Jima would dissuade future invasions of Japan itself.

The strategy, developed by Kuribayashi in the months leading up to the battle, was a radical departure from previous Japanese defensive plans. Instead of trying to halt the invasion on the beaches, the Americans were to be allowed to come ashore with little harassment. The defense was to be elastic and adaptable and was to focus on killing large numbers of Americans.

To fight against the awesome firepower that American air and naval superiority could bring to bear, Kuribayashi ordered the construction of a warren of hundreds of underground bunkers and blockhouses, many with walls up to four feet thick, connected by over eleven miles of tunnels. Manning these fortifications would be an eventual force of 22,000 men armed with hundreds of heavy guns, mortars, rockets, machine guns, and even twenty-two tank turrets mounted in static positions.

The concrete used to construct the bunkers—a mix of cement and the local volcanic ash—would prove especially strong. The tunnel defense rendered American bombs and shells almost completely ineffective.

Mount Suribachi

So it was that when—after a three-day naval bombardment that poured 6,000 tons of shells into the island—the invasion began at 9:00 a.m. on February 19, the marines coming ashore soon found themselves facing a well-prepared, entrenched enemy who was unperturbed by the preliminary shelling and determined to fight to the very end.

The initial landing wave brought 30,000 men from the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Marine Divisions ashore. As Kuribayashi had planned, the landings were unopposed, at least at first. As the beaches filled with marines, however, the Japanese opened fire from positions in front of the beaches and up on nearby Suribachi.

The volcanic soil of the beaches proved impossible to dig into and taxing to advance through, but the marines had no choice but to push ahead. Thanks to support from naval guns and tanks coming ashore, a beachhead was secured by the end of the day and Mount Suribachi was surrounded, but at great cost.

In the following days, as more of the eventual 82,000 marines came ashore, positions around Suribachi were consolidated and preparations were made to push toward the airfields on the other side of the island.

By the fourth day of battle, the marines had encountered the Japanese bunker/tunnel network and were expecting a fierce fight for Suribachi. A patrol was sent to the top of the mountain to probe resistance. The patrol, surprisingly, encountered little action on its journey to the top. Another team was sent up with an American flag to raise on the mountain’s summit. Once again, there was little resistance and the flag was raised.

The ensuing story has passed into the annals of American military history. As the flag was going up, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was coming ashore. He reportedly saw the flag and asked for it as a souvenir. A second, larger flag was sent up to replace the first. Photographer Joe Rosenthal was on the scene as the second flag went up, but almost missed the shot, taking a quick picture “from the hip.” The resulting image, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” immediately became an icon of the American struggle for victory and is among the most familiar images of World War II.

Battle for the Island

The fight was far from over, though. Of the six men captured in the famous photograph, only three would survive the next month of fighting. The slow advance toward the north end of the island, where Kuribayashi and most of his troops had created a strongpoint, was arduous and bloody. Bunkers thought to be “cleared” would suddenly become active again as they were reoccupied by Japanese troops moving up through the tunnel network. It came down to the work of flamethrowers, including a flamethrowing adaptation of the Sherman tank dubbed the “Zippo,” and grenades to clear out and collapse the bunkers, one by one.

As the marines closed in, Japanese tactics became increasingly desperate. Toward the end several silent, nighttime wave attacks were launched and were only repelled by concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire. The last of these attacks, on one of Iwo Jima’s captured airfields, lasted the length of the night of March 25. A combined force of marines, Seabees (members of naval construction batallions), and aircrew desperately defended the field against an assault of 300 Japanese that reportedly included Kuribayashi himself.

Death Toll and Legacy

Despite the fact that about 1,000 Japanese remained in the tunnels below the island, Iwo Jima was declared secured the next day. Slowly, the remaining Japanese surrendered—the longest holdouts did not give themselves up until several years after the war ended—but the vast majority of the garrison had fought to the death: 20,000 Japanese died in defense of Iwo Jima.

American casualties were staggeringly high as well: nearly 7,000 killed and more than 18,000 wounded. In terms of overall casualties, the invading marines had lost more men than did the defenders. This high toll caused many to question the worth of taking the island. Using Iwo Jima as a fighter base, the original rationale for taking the island, proved unnecessary. Other islands continued to serve as warning stations for bomber attacks until the end of the war. But the island did provide an important sanctuary for returning American bombers in desperate straits—over 2,000 B-29s would make emergency landings there over the next five months.

Perhaps most importantly, the struggle for Iwo Jima was a huge boost to the American war effort. The “Mount Suribachi” photo was immediately turned into a war bonds poster and the surviving men from the photo were brought home for publicity tours. Naval Secretary James Forrestal perhaps put it best upon seeing the first flag go up: “the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.”

Firebombing of Tokyo

The firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 was one of the most devastating and controversial bombing raids of World War II.

The Pacific Bombing Campaign

Although the first raid on Tokyo occurred in 1942—the famous “Doolittle Raid”—regular bombing missions could not begin in earnest until 1944, when the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was able to establish bases within bombing range of the Japanese home islands.

As the bombing raids began in earnest, American commanders in the Pacific were confronted with the same problems that had dogged strategic bombing in Europe—precision attacks on industrial and military targets were deadly, because they required bombers to fly during daylight and at a comparatively low altitude. Flying higher (at altitudes up to 40,000 feet) put the bombers safely out of range of antiaircraft fire but significantly reduced the accuracy of the bombs. Japan’s high surface winds exacerbated the situation, and the early Tokyo raids were hitting their targets only 10 percent of the time.

The other option, long favored by the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Europe, was to saturate an area with bombs, dropping the explosives indiscriminately. These area raids could be undertaken at night or from high altitudes, because accuracy was not a concern. Losses could thus be greatly reduced. The downside, of course, was the fact that the bombs were bound to land mostly on civilian targets. Over time, as World War II developed into “total war,” this method became part of the Allied bombing strategy—area bombing was used to try to break a civilian population’s will to fight as well as to destroy the actual means of war production.


Although the USAAF participated in only a few area bombings in Europe—the most notable example being Dresden in 1945—it soon adopted the strategy in the Pacific after the initial precision raids on Japan proved unsatisfactory. There was significant pressure from politicians and the military brass to see returns on the $4 billion investment that had been made in the B-29 bomber program, and General Haywood Hansell, an advocate of precision bombing, was replaced by General Curtis LeMay.

General LeMay immediately began to reorganize and improve the bomber fleet, replacing inefficient staff officers and raising training standards for pilots and crew. He also made the decision to switch to a strategy of area bombing, known as firebombing.

The first deliberate firebombing of the war occurred during a raid on Hamburg, Germany, in 1943. Using incendiary bombs, the aim was to create a “firestorm,” essentially a self-sustaining tornado of superheated flame similar to a blast furnace. At Hamburg, the firestorm’s 1,500-degree, 150-mph winds set the asphalt streets on fire, incinerated civilians inside bomb shelters, and sucked pedestrians off the streets. The effect on German morale and industry was devastating. The German armaments minister, Albert Speer, later reported that after Hamburg he feared six or seven more raids of that magnitude would drive Germany completely out of the war.

The paper and wood buildings of Japan, LeMay realized, would prove all too vulnerable to firebombing. In addition to the effect on civilian morale, LeMay reasoned that area bombing would be more effective in Japan because the country lacked large industrial centers. Most of its factories were dispersed among small businesses and cottage industries and were hard to target with precision bombing.

Target: Tokyo

The first firebombing raid on Japan targeted the city of Kobe on February 3, 1945, and was judged an overwhelming success. Tokyo was first firebombed on February 23, and again on March 9.

The March 9 raid, in which Tokyo was pounded for two hours by more than 300 B-29s, was as lethal and destructive as the later atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Employing a mix of incendiary bombs and the first napalm bombs (napalm is a sticky, highly flammable compound), the raid destroyed sixteen square miles of the city and killed about 100,000 Japanese.


The long-term impact of the firebombings remains controversial. General LeMay remained convinced that even without the atomic attacks his bombing raids would have won the war by October, although he also later admitted, “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.”

His estimation of the effectiveness of the raids was borne out by Prince Fumimaro Konoe of Japan, who attributed the eventual Japanese surrender to the prolonged bombing attacks. Other Japanese officials, however, indicated the Soviet Union’s entry into the war in August 1945 was the final motivating factor in Japan’s surrender.

Others have pointed out that Japan’s industry was already failing by the time the firebombing raids began and that a more effective target would have been Japan’s power plants. Loss of electricity would have negatively impacted civilian morale and the country’s ability to wage war at a relatively low cost of life.

One thing is for certain: The firebombing of Tokyo demonstrated the effects that total war had on strategists and how much things had changed over the course of the war. In 1939, as World War II got under way, the first British bomber raids on Germany dropped propaganda leaflets, which the crew were careful to untie, lest a bound bundle fall from the sky and injure or kill any civilians. Conventional military wisdom was strongly opposed to waging war on civilians through saturation bombing. By 1945, 100,000 civilian casualties were deemed acceptable in the name of victory.

The Battle of Okinawa

Although it was not expected to be, the Battle of Okinawa was the last major engagement of World War II. The fierce fighting that took place on that island over the course of nearly three months would raise fears of the tremendous costs that would be required in the anticipated assault on Japan and would inform the subsequent decision to employ atomic weapons in an effort to break Japanese resistance without a bloody invasion.

Okinawa Island was targeted for attack due to its strategic importance. Situated in Japan’s Ryukyu Island chain, an archipelago that stretches from Kyushu to Taiwan, the island, little more than 300 miles from Kyushu, was seen as an ideal staging point for an invasion of the home islands.

Opposing Forces

The commander of the invading Tenth Army, Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., was the son of a Confederate general and had distinguished himself as commander of the Alaska Defense Command earlier in the war. Bolivar’s command, code-named Operation Iceberg, consisted of two marine divisions and four army divisions and would be backed up by powerful American and British naval support.

The Japanese were commanded by General Mitsuru Ushijima, who could call upon one of the best-prepared and abundantly equipped Japanese defense forces of the war. Although the Japanese navy had been effectively neutralized, Ushijima could count on air support, including the dreaded kamikazesuicide corps. With 100,000 troops under his command, Ushijima adopted the strategy developed during the defense of Iwo Jima and ordered his men to construct underground fortresses connected by an extensive tunnel network.

Unlike Iwo Jima, Okinawa held a large civilian population that, as in most cases, would end up suffering the greatest losses, both in life and property. To make matters worse, the Okinawans had been convinced by wartime propaganda of the brutality of the invading Americans and were prepared to sacrifice their lives rather than surrender.

In the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific campaign, the Tenth Army came ashore on April 1, 1945. Ushijima’s strategy was to not try to fight the invasion on the beaches, so the occupation of the north side of the island was relatively easy, with all resistance ceasing in that sector by April 20.

The Battle on Land

It was as the marines and soldiers pushed south that they ran up against the first determined resistance—the “Shuri line,” named for the defensive lines anchored at the ancient Shuri Castle.

The fighting that ensued was slow and hellish. Every bunker became a strongpoint that could only be rooted out by using what General Buckner called “blowtorch and corkscrew” tactics. The brutal fighting quickly leveled buildings and reduced forests to fields of shattered tree stumps.

Holed up in their tunnels, the Japanese were not above sending Okinawan civilians out at gunpoint to collect water and provisions. Many of these civilians died in the “steel typhoon” that raged on the surface.

As April turned into May, and May came to a close, the seasonal monsoon rains arrived, turning the churned-up countryside into a muddy morass. In conditions reminiscent of trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I, marines and soldiers pressed grimly forward. Shuri Castle was eventually taken in an assault by elements of the First Marine Division.

The Battle at Sea

Meanwhile, out at sea, Japanese air attacks had been wreaking havoc on Allied vessels. Over the course of the battle, 4,000 sorties, many of them kamikaze, were launched, sinking thirty-eight U.S. ships (and damaging another 368) and killing 4,900 personnel—the worst single-battle U.S. naval losses of the war.

Elsewhere at sea, the super battleship Yamato put to sea on a sort of kamikaze mission of its own: Its objective was to shell American positions on Okinawa until destroyed, but it had barely made its way out of Japanese home waters before it was caught by torpedo-bombers and sunk. It took eight bombs and thirteen torpedoes to bring down the world’s largest battleship; 3,000 of its crew went down with the ship. The sinking of the Yamato marked the final Japanese naval action of the war.

Casualties and Aftermath

After the fall of Shuri Castle, it took another month’s hard fighting to take Okinawa. By June 21, the island was declared secure. Three days earlier, General Buckner, the American commander, was killed by one of the last artillery shells fired in the battle. The Japanese commander, General Ushijima, committed ritual suicide (seppuku) as the last Japanese resistance crumbled.

Only 7,000 Japanese voluntarily surrendered out of the initial 100,000 defenders. The vast majority, 66,000, chose death over the “dishonor” of surrender. American casualties were more than twice those suffered at Iwo Jima or Guadalcanal—7,900 dead and 72,000 total casualties, including a record number due to combat stress.

The Okinawan civilians suffered the most: A full third of the island’s population, at least 140,000, were dead by the end of the battle, either caught in the crossfire or by their own hands. At least another third were wounded. It was a civilian loss rate comparable only to Stalingrad.

Surrender at Rheims

Between the beginning and the end of the Battle of Okinawa, the war’s global scale had shrunk considerably. The German surrender at Rheims on May 7, 1945, marked the cessation of hostilities between Germany and the Western Allies. The following day, known as V-E (“Victory in Europe”) Day, would see the capitulation of German forces in the east and the end to war in Europe.

Unconditional Surrender

The road to Rheims began two years earlier at the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, when President Franklin Roosevelt announced a new policy of accepting nothing less than unconditional surrender from the Axis powers. In other words, there could be no negotiated peace. The Axis nations had no choice but to allow the Allies to dictate terms. The rationale was that the fascist governments of Italy and Germany were in effect criminal administrations that had come to power illegally. The Allies, in refusing to deal with a “criminal” government, would delegitimize the fascist governments. This move, which demanded the complete surrender and dismantling of not only the military but also the sovereign government, was unprecedented in international law.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was meeting with Roosevelt at Casablanca to discuss war strategy, was caught off-guard with the announcement, but he quickly pledged his support despite his reservations—demanding unconditional surrender would in all likelihood stiffen Axis resistance, which is exactly what happened. Members of the German Underground, who had previously been working with the Allies to topple German leader Adolf Hitler’s regime, found themselves backed against a wall. Many chose to support their country, disregarding their reservations about who was leading it.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was likewise upset by the call for unconditional surrender. After all, the Germans hardly needed yet another incentive to devote every last ounce of blood and sweat to the defense of their homeland against the Soviets. In typical Stalinist fashion, however, the Soviets’ leader was able to turn the new policy to his own political advantage and soon threw his support behind it.

Although Italy did surrender unconditionally in 1943, the negotiations that preceded the surrender slowed the Allied advance and allowed German troops to move into the peninsula, turning Italy into a battleground.

Germany’s Collapse

By May of 1945, Germany was facing a similar fate. After the Allied invasion of France in 1944, the German army had been forced back across the Rhine by a slow and steady advance along a broad front in accordance with the strategy dictated by General Dwight Eisenhower. Allied and German attempts at delivering a “knockout blow,” during Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge, respectively, had failed. As unglamorous as it was, Eisenhower’s strategy was winning the war.

With the crossing of the Rhine in early 1945, the Allies were able to trap 450,000 German troops in the “Ruhr Pocket.” During April, the Allies tightened the noose until, as the month came to a close, more than 300,000 of the surviving German troops surrendered together.

Elsewhere, the drive into Germany had continued. Americans liberated Bavaria, which they had feared would prove a stronghold of fanatical Nazi defense. Allied units pressed further into Germany, eventually meeting advancing Soviet units at the Elbe River. Germany had been cut in half.

Meanwhile, in a bunker in Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. In one of his last official communiqués, he named Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor, urging the architect of the U-boat campaigns to carry on the struggle. Dönitz instead wisely decided that the time had come to end the war—but not before saving as many Germans as possible from the vengeful Soviet hordes currently overrunning eastern Germany.

Dönitz’s Plan

Dönitz came up with a plan to arrange for the surrender of selected units in a staggered progression, keeping up a line of resistance in the east as long as possible while units further west surrendered, thus enabling troops and civilians to flee into the unoccupied territory of Schleswig-Holstein or across Western Allied lines. This ran contrary to Allied policy, which, under the auspices of unconditional surrender, demanded a simultaneous end to hostilities across the whole of the European theater.

Nevertheless, local units were able to arrange surrender terms with Allied commanders in Italy on May 2 and with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and the U.S. Sixth Army on May 5. It was only when General Eisenhower was approached by local commanders that Allied policy was put into practice and terms for total, unconditional surrender of all German forces were drawn up. Dönitz had not managed to buy as much time as he would have liked, but nonetheless about two million soldiers and civilians were able to find safety behind Western lines.

Surrender Terms

The terms signed at Rheims were straightforward. They called for a cessation of hostilities to take effect at 11:01 p.m. on May 8. They also forbade the scuttling of ships or sabotage of equipment. These provisos were put in place in response to calls from the Nazi propaganda machine encouraging Germans to resist the occupying armies and to form so-called Werewolfunits, whose mission was to cause as much damage and mayhem as possible.

Although the surrender at Rheims only addressed military surrender, and included a provision that allowed for later peace treaties to supersede it, it is generally held to be the official end of the war, in part because what little political structure remained in Germany would soon cease to exist entirely.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

After the German surrender in May, Japan was left with the Allies’ undivided attention. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which took place on August 6 and August 9, 1945, forced a Japanese surrender without costing the Allies a bloody invasion of the home islands. The two bombings, which remain the only nuclear attacks in history, ushered in a new age and permanently changed the nature of warfare, politics, and international diplomacy.

The roots of the atomic attacks stretched back to 1939, when a group of scientists, including the famed physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955), concerned that Germany was developing a program to build atomic weapons, approached President Franklin Roosevelt. Such weapons, the scientists argued, were a theoretical possibility, and the United States would do well to form an exploratory committee with an eye towards developing such technology before the Nazis did.

The Manhattan Project

Roosevelt took their advice, and the exploratory committee developed into the Manhattan Project, a top-secret government effort that funneled $2 billion into building an atomic weapon. Under the guidance of a brain trust of top physicists, the theoretical possibility was on the verge of becoming an atomic reality when President Roosevelt died in April 1945.

Newly sworn-in President Harry Truman was then told of the bomb and its destructive potential. He was further informed that the bomb would be ready in four months. As it turned out, Germany did not last that long, surrendering on May 8. With the intended target of the bomb now out of the war, the question of whether to use the weapon on Japan quickly arose.

The Potsdam Declaration

At the victorious Allies’ German Potsdam Conference in July 1945, Truman warned Japan to surrender immediately or face “utter devastation,” although he did not provide any further details. Meanwhile, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first atomic bomb was successfully tested on July 16.

August 1945 was the decisive month of the war in the Pacific. The Soviet Union, in accordance with agreements reached at Yalta, was gearing up to enter the war against Japan. Whether this factored into the American decision to use the atomic bomb is unknown.

What is certain is that the main reason for using the bomb was the goal of a quick surrender of Japan, which would eliminate the need for an invasion of the home islands. Such an invasion was set to begin in November. After the bloodbath on Okinawa, the prospect of fighting two million determined Japanese defending their homeland, backed by 5,000 or more kamikazefighters, motivated the Americans to avoid an action that would likely result in millions of deaths and total Japanese casualties in the tens of millions.

Several options for demonstrating the bomb’s capabilities in a non-lethal way—detonating it in front of a panel of international observers or dropping it into Tokyo Bay—were dismissed because a detonation failure would only strengthen Japanese resolve.

Truman authorized the use of the bomb in early August. A target committee had selected several cities that were both military and psychological targets, and from this list the city of Hiroshima, an important military-industrial center, emerged as the primary target, in part because it was the only city on the list without a POW camp.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gaytook off from its base on Tinian with an escort of two other bombers carrying instrumentation and photography equipment. By 08:15 a.m., the bombers were over Hiroshima and the bomb was released. The blast, equivalent to 12,500 tons of TNT, created a fireball that reached 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit and killed around 70,000 people instantly. Outside the one-mile blast radius, fires quickly began to spread, eventually burning down four square miles of the city.

On August 8, as authorities in Tokyo began to slowly appreciate what had just happened, the Soviet Union entered the war, invading Manchuria and scything through the Japanese Kwangtung Army stationed there. The following day, ahead of a predicted weeklong period of bad weather, a second bomb was hurriedly dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The second blast was somewhat contained by the hills around the epicenter; at least 40,000 people were killed outright, including some survivors of the Hiroshima blast who had fled that city three days before.

Japanese Surrender

The Japanese government, which had been making conditional peace overtures through Moscow, agreed to a near-unconditional surrender at the behest of Emperor Hirohito. The only condition the Japanese now insisted on was the preservation of the Imperial line. This was agreed to and Hirohito made a radio address on August 14—after a militarist coup attempted to stop the broadcast—announcing Japan’s capitulation and asking his disbelieving subjects to “endure the unendurable.”

The relative roles that the atomic bombs and the Soviet invasion played in the Japanese decision to surrender have been a source of endless debate. Even Japanese officials, in postwar interviews, seemed to give conflicting assessments. Regardless of the effectiveness of the atomic attacks, the suffering they unleashed cannot be denied.

In the confused hours after the attack on Hiroshima, Radio Tokyo supplied some of the first accounts of the aftermath of the bombing:

With the gradual restoration of order following the disastrous ruin that struck the city of Hiroshima in the wake of the enemy’s new-type bomb on Monday morning, the authorities are still unable to obtain a definite checkup on the extent of the casualties sustained by the civilian population. Medical relief agencies that were rushed from neighboring districts were unable to distinguish, much less identify, the dead from the injured. The impact of the bomb was so terrific that practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death by the tremendous heat and pressure engendered by the blast. All the dead and injured were burned beyond recognition. With houses and buildings crushed, including the emergency medical facilities, the authorities are having their hands full in giving every available relief under the circumstances. The effect of the bomb was widespread. Those outdoors burned to death while those indoors were killed by the indescribable pressure and heat.

Home Front

Manhattan Project

Launched in 1942, the Manhattan Project was a secret government program charged with developing an atomic bomb. Beginning in the late 1930s, a number of leading physicists—including Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, and Leó Szilárd—recommended that the United States work on atomic technology because it was believed that Nazi Germany had already begun creating its own atomic weaponry. It was feared scientists working for Adolf Hitler would develop an atomic bomb first and give Germany an upper hand in World War II.

Formally called the Manhattan Engineer District, the program was overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but relied on the efforts of many of the foremost scientists of the day as well as intelligence operatives and thousands of support staff. The Manhattan Project ultimately cost about $20 billion.

The project was managed by Brigadier General Leslie Richard Groves (1896–1970). He compartmentalized the knowledge gained throughout the Manhattan Project so that nearly everyone who worked on it only possessed a small amount of information related to his or her specific task or area. Even people who labored at one site generally had knowledge only of what they were specifically working on, and they could not talk about the project with anyone outside of work. Communication between research teams was monitored by the military, and official communications between sites was encrypted. All mail to people working on the project’s sites was also censored.

Because only a select few knew how all the pieces to the Manhattan Project fit together, it was easier to maintain secrecy that way. Despite this security measure, some Soviet spies gained some knowledge of the process that made its way back to the Soviet Union before the end of World War II.

Division of Work Sites

Another way secrecy was maintained was by dividing the work on the Manhattan Project between five sites scattered throughout the United States. Each location played its own significant role in the development of atomic bomb technology. In Berkeley, California, physicists at the Radiation Laboratory provided knowledge, both theoretical and practical, that was vital to the electromagnetic separation process. At the University of Chicago, the Metallurgical Laboratory was able to generate the first chain reaction and create the first small-scale production process for making plutonium. Enrico Fermi made key contributions working in Chicago, including supervising the first controlled sustained chain reaction.

There were also two massive manufacturing centers for the Manhattan Project. One industrial site was located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where three primary plants produced key atomic elements of the bomb in necessary quantities. There, electromagnetic separation took place on a larger scale, plutonium was produced, and uranium underwent separation. The other industrial factory was located in Hanford, Washington, where plutonium was created for use in the plutonium, or Fat Man, bomb ultimately detonated over Nagasaki, Japan.

The Los Alamos Lab

The most famous site where work on the Manhattan Project took place was in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The headquarters for the science behind and the design of the atomic bomb, the laboratory was run by physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), who also served as the Manhattan Project’s scientific director. At Los Alamos, physicists developed the theoretical data needed to construct the bomb. They also designed both of the bombs ultimately used on Japan in 1945. It was also in New Mexico, at a remote area near Alamogordo, that a test plutonium bomb, dubbed Gadget, was successfully detonated on July 16, 1945. This test blast was stronger than expected—with a one-mile radius from the blast center totally destroyed.

Manhattan Project Reaches Fruition

Once it was shown that the atomic bomb technology actually worked, the Manhattan Project reached its final stages. Some scientists wanted the United States to demonstrate the new weapon’s muscle before using it on Japan, or at least warn the Japanese about the bomb and its destructive power. Many who worked on the Manhattan Project were unaware the atomic bombs would be used in a military operation a short time later.

To the surprise of much of the world, President Harry Truman ordered the first atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Truman then had another dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Approximately 110,000 people died immediately and another 100,000 were injured in both cities because of the atomic bombs. Later, at least 200,000 more people died as a result of illness or injuries from the bombings. Many thousands faced life-long struggles with the effects of the radiation and impact-related problems.

By dropping both bombs, the United States proved to Japan that it was ready and willing to employ atomic technology to bring an end to the war. Though Japan was planning to resist the American invasion, its leader, Emperor Hirohito, decided that Japan would surrender. Japan capitulated on August 14, 1945. The Manhattan Project itself was disbanded early in 1947 when control of the United States’ nuclear arsenal was transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian entity.

The Manhattan Project and the atomic weaponry that came out of it launched the nuclear age. The way wars could be fought was changed, as was international relations, because the possession of advanced technology came to define elite power. Because of the ever-present threat of a nuclear holocaust, society and culture were also transformed. A number of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project later became proponents of controlling the use of nuclear weapons and promoted the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.


During World War II, the United States, like many countries involved in the conflict, employed rationing policies. These policies regulated the commerce of consumer goods, especially foodstuffs, products made with metal, and rubber-based items like tires. The policies’ twofold goal was to ensure military operations and American allies had the supplies they needed and to guarantee that American consumers were given fair, but often limited, access to certain commodities in the face of war-created shortages.

Early Rationing Efforts

Rationing efforts began in the United States before the country officially entered World War II on December 8, 1941. From May 1940 to August 1941, several government entities were created in response to economic pressures created by the war then raging in Europe. These government entities ensured that prices of certain commodities, like scrap metals, remained stable, and they had limited powers until the creation of the Office of Price Administration (OPA) by several presidential executive orders in mid-1941.

While the OPA was primarily focused on controlling prices and stabilizing the cost of living as much as possible, it was also charged with overseeing American rationing efforts. The first item to be rationed was rubber tires, on December 27, 1941. By April 1942, items rationed by the OPA included cars, sugar, typewriters, and gasoline. Before the end of World War II, products being rationed included coffee, shoes, stoves, meat, cheese, butter, oils, processed foods, and bicycles. Though such products were rationed, a significant black market developed in the United States through which many of these items could be obtained by those who could afford to pay high prices.

Methods of Rationing

The federal government controlled rationing through several means. Coupons, valid for a certain amount of certain products, could be used every few weeks. Other food products were rationed by the OPA through a point system combined with stamps, which allowed consumers some dietary flexibility. Every person received five blue stamps (for processed foods) and six red stamps (for meat, fat, and some dairy) every month. Each stamp was worth ten points each, and every item had a point value.

The point value of each item was determined by the OPA based on the availability of the product as well as the amount of consumer demand. Point values were not fixed for the duration of the war, but could change, especially if availability changed. For example, in 1943 there was an extraordinarily large crop of peaches in the United States, so the point value of peaches was lowered.

The use of such rationing systems was generally supported by Americans during World War II. It made ordinary citizens feel they were part of the war effort. Rationing was a patriotic, public expression of the needed sacrifice to achieve victory. Such sentiments were also expressed in communities by activities such as the planting of “Victory Gardens,” as home vegetable and fruit gardens were called.

Victory Gardens

The Victory Garden movement was a government-sponsored program created to address food shortages during World War II. Even before the United States joined the conflict, the federal government encouraged Americans to plant gardens, but the initial push was not heeded by the public. By 1941, public sentiment had shifted and the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoted the concept. The agency wanted every civilian who was bodily able to plant a Victory Garden—to supplement rationed food for themselves as well as to provide produce for the hungry in other places in the world. Strongly encouraged by posters and other printed matter, adults and children planted Victory Gardens on every available piece of land. By 1943, there were 20 million Victory Gardens in the United States that produced several million tons of food in that year alone. Because of the amount of produce produced by Victory Gardens, more of the commercial harvest could be sent to soldiers and allies, another gesture that greatly helped the war effort.

By August 1945, the rationing of certain products ended. The sale of gasoline and food products were no longer regulated after that month. All rationing ended on September 30, 1945, though price controls remained in effect to some degree through the end of 1947 to help the transition to a peacetime economy. The OPA itself ended operations on May 29, 1947.

Japanese Internment

Soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the United States were arrested and forced to spend years in internment camps to allay the fears of some Americans living in the same area. From December 1941 to February 1942, a number of state politicians from California, Oregon, and Washington put pressure on President Franklin D. Roosevelt to address concerns over the Japanese and Japanese Americans living in their states. At the same time, Western Defense Command head General John L. Dewitt (1880–1962) and other important army officers encouraged the president to act on the issue. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942.

Under this order, anyone of Japanese ancestry serving in the armed forces was immediately removed from military service. In areas of internment, which included parts of states along the West Coast, a curfew was ordered by the army for the 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans living there. Over time, this curfew became increasingly restrictive.

On March 31, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was used to begin forcing internment in camps for all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. (While there were more Japanese and Japanese Americans living in Hawaii—approximately 158,000—than on the West Coast, only 2,000 people of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii were forced to go to internment camps. It was believed that their vital importance to the Hawaiian economy was the primary reason for not forcing a mass internment there.)

Internment Starts

After the order was given, Japanese Americans had to go to control stations and record the names of every member of their family. Next, they were given a time and place to show up at an assembly area. From there, they would proceed to an internment camp. Japanese Americans who were being forced to go to camps had anywhere from four to fourteen days to prepare for relocation.

Before going to the assembly area, internees had to get rid of most, if not all, of their personal property as well as their businesses. They were only allowed to bring what possessions they could physically carry to the camps. Because of this situation, other Americans sometimes paid much less than the worth of the property to internees who were desperate to get rid of their assets. Those Japanese Americans who did not sell their possessions and property sometimes lost their land to foreclosure because they were unable to make payments while living at the camps.

The federal government also benefited from this state of affairs. The Federal Reserve Bank offered to store some internees’ cars, and then the army made offers to purchase these cars cheaply a short time later. By late 1942, any cars not sold to the army were seized for use in the war and their owners received nothing.

The Camps

The first internment camp to open was located in southern California and was called Manzanar. Between 1942 and 1945, nine more camps opened; each held about 10,500 internees. They were located in other locations in California as well as in Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas. About 120,000 Japanese Americans spent time at these camps over the three-year period.

Life inside the camps was not easy. The camps consisted of many tar paper-covered wooden barracks. Each barrack was partitioned into tiny one-room apartments that held families or groups of unrelated individuals. The small apartments were furnished only with army cots, blankets, and a light bulb. There were no private bathrooms or cooking and dining facilities, only shared spaces for those activities.

At first, there were no schools for children interned at the camps, though they were later opened up. To pass the time, internees at some camps grew their own food in gardens or started some manufacturing projects. For the most part, however, the Japanese Americans in the camps had nothing to do. Some put their unused energy into rebellion, creating more tension at some camps.

Stays in the internment camps were sometimes short. After being deemed loyal by the government, some Japanese Americans were allowed to leave. Usually not permitted to remain on the West Coast, they often moved to the East Coast or the Midwest to take jobs. Some even worked as migrant farm workers in the western states and even helped save the sugar beet crop there in the summer of 1942.

Legal Challenges

Many Japanese Americans did not accept the legality of their internment and took their cases to court. College student Gordon Hirabayashi (1918–) was born in the United States and refused to accept a curfew and internment because he believed it violated his rights as an American citizen. Convicted and sentenced to jail time, his case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.

Another American citizen, Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu (1919–2005) was working in the defense industry when internment began. To avoid being forced to go to a camp, he moved, changed his name, and tried to claim he had a different ethnic background. Korematsu was caught, and like Hirabayashi, convicted and sent to prison. After being paroled, he was sent to an internment camp. When Korematsu’s appeal of his conviction finally reached the Supreme Court in the fall of 1944, the legality of the order was again upheld, with public safety trumping the acknowledged racism.

Leaving the Camps

Though the legitimacy of internment camps was not in doubt, the end of the program was declared on December 18, 1944. All the camps were also ordered to be closed by the end of 1945, though the last camp closed on March 20, 1946. Fearing what awaited them outside of the camps, a number of internees did not want to leave as the war neared its end. To force them to go, weekly departure quotas were created in the second half of 1945. Only about half of the Japanese Americans who were sent to the camps returned to the West Coast, and those that did often found their jobs, businesses, and their property long gone.

While Japanese Americans lost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in property and wages because of internment, it took four decades for the United States to formally admit any fault. In 1988, the U.S. Congress apologized for the internment program and offered a one-time $20,000 payment for living internees as compensation. The bill was sponsored by a former internee, Congressman Norman Y. Mineta (1931–).

Servicemen’s Readjustment Act

Passed in 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act helped discharged World War II military personnel resume their civilian lives. Also known as the GI Bill of Rights or the GI Bill, this legislation originally allotted $13 million for various projects, including its best known program: a free college education for veterans. Because of the GI Bill, America was forever changed. A new group in American society was now able to obtain a college education. As a result, the American middle class expanded, and many veterans who had received higher education expected that their children would go to college as well.


The GI Bill was considered important because of what had happened to returning veterans after World War I. Their postwar benefits were modest at best. They were given a train ticket to go back home and a small payment. Benefits were limited to a little vocational rehabilitation. Because of this lack of support, many discharged American soldiers had difficulty finding employment and faced financial problems. Homelessness was also an issue. The U.S. government promised $1,000 one-time bonuses to World War I veterans in 1924, but the money was not to be paid until 1944 at the earliest. The ravages of the Great Depression compelled tens of thousands of veterans, known as the “Bonus Army,” to march on Washington to demand their bonuses. In the summer of 1932, protesters had violent clashes with the police, and later, the U.S. Army.

The U.S. government hoped to better integrate the millions of World War II veterans back into American society. People also realized that the country owed returning soldiers a debt of gratitude for their defense of American interests. In addition, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came to office on the strength of his “New Deal” to end the Great Depression, believed generous benefits to veterans would protect the U.S. economy after the war.

Though there were some opponents of the bill—a few educators were concerned about lower admission standards for universities, for example—Congress and President Roosevelt ensured the passage of Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944 by enlisting the help of the American Legion. The GI Bill was signed into law by the president on June 22, 1944. The act provided for five primary benefits for veterans who had served at least ninety days after September 1940 and were honorably discharged.

One program created by the legislation was low interest rate mortgages for veterans. Such loans allowed them to buy homes, farms, and businesses so that they could contribute to the expansion of the peacetime economy. Another program provided unemployment income of $20 per week for up to one year while veterans looked for employment. Job placement assistance, vocational training, and dishonorable discharge reviews were also provided, and more Veterans’ Administration hospitals were slated to be built.

Free College Education

More than fifteen million veterans had access to a free college education along with a monthly allowance as part of the GI Bill’s most significant program. Specifically, each veteran received a minimum of one year of full-time schooling. Veterans were also allowed an additional educational period of time equivalent to his or her service in the military. This benefit had a limit of forty-eight months. In addition, each veteran was allotted $500 per year for tuition, books, fees, and related costs, as well as a minimum of $50 per month for living expenses.

Before this time, college was generally limited to students from higher-income families, primarily because of the high cost involved. The GI Bill led to a revolutionary change in who attended college and created a new segment of American society with access to a higher education. As a result, the new college graduates took higher-income jobs and expanded the middle class.

Because of the vast number of veterans taking advantage of the program, colleges and the college experience also changed. Universities had to deal with the large numbers of veterans who were usually older than average college students. Campuses, including classrooms and dormitories, were rapidly expanded. In 1947 alone, 49 percent of all students in American colleges were military veterans.

Existing colleges could not handle the increased demand created by the GI Bill, so new schools, primarily state universities, were established to fill the need. This demand also meant that more professors were needed to teach the students, so graduate schools and the number of people with advanced degrees also increased in number throughout the country.

The original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act expired in July 1956. By that date, at least eight million veterans took advantage of its schooling and training provisions. The end cost of these programs was $14.5 billion. Similar bills were passed later in the twentieth century to provide educational and other opportunities to men and women after they complete their military service.


While the technology for television existed before World War II, it was not until after that conflict ended that the broadcast medium became a widely used and society-changing phenomenon. Imagined by writers for many years, television began in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s when the basic components needed to create television were in place. The term itself came into being in 1900. By the 1920s, the technology had developed to the point that an image could be broadcast, though it was not yet of usable quality. John Logie Baird demonstrated an early, crude version of television at a department store in London, England, in 1925.

Experimental Broadcasts

Further steps forward were made in the 1930s. By 1931, eighteen experimental television stations that developed and tested the technology were licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and operated in the United States. However, the medium was opposed by radio broadcasters, who saw it as a threat. The Great Depression also limited the amount of available funding to improve television.

Despite such problems, several inventors continued to further develop television technology. Because of the work of people like Vladimir Zworykin and Philo Farnsworth, television had been refined to the point of being ready for commercialization by 1938. That year, RCA was prepared to manufacture televisions commercially as well as set up a national broadcasting system. But because of the opposition of RCA’s competitors, the launch of commercial television was delayed by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). However, experimental television broadcasting stations continued to work on refining the technology.

In 1940, the FCC ruled that the broadcast standards that RCA was attempting to establish would be unfair to its competitors. The FCC then revised television broadcasting standards, and announced new guidelines on May 3, 1941. Within two months, two networks, CBS and NBC, began commercial broadcasts from their New York City stations.

Commercial Broadcasts

CBS and NBC offered fifteen hours of broadcasts per week, but the cost of television sets slowed the expansion of the medium. By the end of the year, as the United States prepared to enter World War II, television broadcasts were limited to a few major cities. Only about 10,000 to 20,000 television sets received these broadcasts because many Americans did not want to spend money on an expensive receiver that might soon be obsolete.

Postwar Expansion

During World War II, the federal government stopped the growth of television. The FCC would not allow any new television stations to be constructed during the war because building materials were needed for the war effort. While the television industry could not expand under these restrictions, the technology did improve because of the war. New electronic devices, such as the sensitive television camera called the image orthicon, were created. Introduced by RCA in 1945, that camera proved important in television’s postwar growth.

After World War II, television stations were allowed to be built again. However, it took several years for the industry to fully develop. Investors were hesitant to support the cost of constructing stations when the medium was still unproven and the profitability unknown. It cost ten times more to build a television station than a radio station, so it was established businesses—such as television set manufacturers, newspapers, radio networks, and even bigger independent radio stations—that often built stations in the early postwar years.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the television industry experienced rapid growth. A number of new television networks came into existence. By 1948, NBC had twenty-five national affiliates, while CBS was seen as the best news network. ABC was also in existence, but could not gain its footing until it was sold to United Paramount Theaters in 1951. Other networks, such as DuMont, also operated in television’s early days, but by the early 1960s, networks other than NBC, ABC, and CBS had disappeared.

There were also technical difficulties caused by television’s expansion. In 1945, the FCC developed a channel allocation plan. By 1948, the overwhelming growth of television in the Northeast United States alone meant that the plan was no longer viable. There were only thirteen VHF (very high frequency) channels available for broadcast, one of which was using the same channel as another and therefore had to be several hundred miles away in order to avoid signal interference. For cities relatively close together, such as New York City and Philadelphia, this situation created allocation difficulties for the FCC.

FCC Freeze

To address these issues, the FCC froze the licensing of new television stations from 1948 until April 14, 1952. During the freeze, fewer new television stations were built, but the burgeoning industry continued to grow in other ways. Existing stations had the time to set production and broadcast standards, for example.

When the freeze ended in the spring of 1952, the FCC came up with two ways to address the channel allocation problem. While VHF channels would be cautiously allocated geographically, the FCC also allowed commercial stations on the UHF (ultrahigh frequency) band. In addition to tackling channel allocation, the FCC also dealt with a conflict between RCA and CBS over which technical standard would be used for future color television broadcasts. Each network came up with a different, incompatible system. This clash was decided in RCA’s favor in 1953.

Early Programming

While these situations were being dealt with and battles being fought, the growing television audience was still buying receivers and being entertained. While there were 16,000 television sets in American homes in 1947, a mere two years later, the number jumped to four million. By the beginning of 1951, there were eleven million sets in homes.

Much of television’s early programming consisted of shows and stars that were popular on radio and had migrated to television. Comedies such as Ozzie and Harriet and Amos and Andy, talent shows like Original Amateur Hour, detective dramas such as Dragnet, quiz shows, and children’s programs like Superman all were hits on radio before finding a new audience on television. News and public affairs programming and reporters also moved from radio to television. For example, reporter Edward R. Murrow found fame on the radio during World War II and became a respected news authority on television, as did the political talk show Meet the Press.

The most popular television format in television’s early days was the variety show, which had its origins in vaudeville theater. Two well-liked programs were Toast of the Town, which was hosted by Ed Sullivan, and Your Show of Shows, which featured Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

The biggest early hit of television was also a variety show. Launched in 1948, Texaco Star Theater featured television’s first superstar, Milton Berle. Berle captured nearly 95 percent of the available TV audience in the fall of 1948, but his ethnic, urban humor had limited appeal outside of the Northeast. As television expanded, Berle lost his audience and was dropped from his program in 1955. By then, television had firmly established itself as a vital entertainment and news medium in America.

International Context

Sino-Japanese War

Although 1939 is commonly accepted as the first year of World War II, the initial phase of the war in Asia actually got under way in 1937 with the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conflict between Japan and China would characterize the entirety of the war in the Pacific theater until 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Road to War

The Sino-Japanese War was the result of expansionist Japanese policies that had pursued slow and steady encroachment into China since the beginning of the twentieth century. For example, the Mukden Incident of 1931, in which the Japanese staged an attack on their own railway and then blamed it on the Chinese, had allowed Japan to take control of the northern territory of Manchuria.

Japanese influence in Asia had risen considerably after Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. The Japanese position in China was further strengthened by China’s serious internal divisions, particularly the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek competing for power with Mao Zedong’s Communists.

Although Mukden heightened tensions in the area, the war proper did not start until six years later, when a minor skirmish on July 7, 1937, between Japanese and Chinese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge in Peking rapidly escalated, at the encouragement of the Japanese government, into full-blown hostilities.

A Multilayered Conflict

The Japanese, worried about the possibility of war with the Soviet Union, hoped to turn the Marco Polo Bridge incident to their advantage by forcing a negotiated settlement with the Nationalists. As fighting spread in the north, Japanese forces encountered resistance at the vital port city of Shanghai, the gateway to the Nationalist capital at Nanking. Chiang Kai-shek, after allying with the Communists, had decided on a policy of total war with Japan. Shanghai was to be the proving ground of that new strategy.

For three months the two armies fought a bitter and bloody battle in the streets of Shanghai and on nearby beaches, where the Japanese conducted amphibious assaults in an attempt to flank the city. The Chinese were hopelessly outmatched militarily, and the battle failed to elicit any foreign offers of aid. By November, the city had fallen and the Japanese were moving inland. However, Chinese resistance at Shanghai had a major negative effect on the morale of the Japanese troops, who had been taught to view themselves as superior to their Chinese enemies and were shocked to encounter such fierce fighting. Furthermore, the delay of the Japanese advance bought the Nationalists valuable time to relocate vital industrial and governmental infrastructure further inland.

Rejecting Japanese calls for surrender, Chiang Kai-shek fled Nanking ahead of the invaders, relocating his capital to Chungking, in the west of China. The Japanese fell upon Nanking, taking the city on December 12, 1937. Until February 1938, the city’s citizens would suffer looting, murder, rape, arson, and a host of other atrocities at the hands of the Japanese army in what would come to be known as the “Rape of Nanking.”

The Rape of Nanking strengthened Chinese resolve to resist the Japanese to the bitter end. It also drew international condemnation, with President Roosevelt calling for an economic “quarantine” of Japan and the League of Nations issuing a censure of Japan. Yet no aid or intervention was offered, and the Japanese armies, 300,000 strong, continued to push into China’s interior.

The Chinese, Communists and Nationalists alike, did all they could to slow the Japanese advance, even breaking dams on the Yellow River to cause floods and wash out bridges. Gradually, these efforts, combined with the sheer vastness of the country, sapped the invaders’ momentum and brought about stalemate.

During this period, the Chinese Communist Party made significant gains in membership and support, especially in Japanese-occupied territories. As stalemate with Japan set in, the Nationalists began to oppose their Communist rivals, who were also subject to Japanese attacks. Nevertheless, the Communists were able to lay claim to vast areas of occupied land behind Japanese lines, waging continual guerilla attacks on railways and isolated garrisons.

Japan’s “No-Win” Situation

By the time the events of December 1941 brought the United States and its allies into the war in the Pacific, which effectively merged the Sino-Japanese conflict with the greater Pacific war, the Nationalists controlled the inland territories of China. The Japanese controlled the coast, major cities, and the railways that connected them, and the Communists basically controlled the rest of the country.

Japan, seeking a quick resolution in China, had been dragged into a quagmire, a “no-win” situation from which it could not extricate itself. The war in China would continue to tie down Japanese resources and manpower all the way through to 1945, when the Soviet Union, entering the Pacific war in its final weeks, would cut like a scythe through the Japanese armies in the north.

The toll of the eight years of war in human lives was enormous. Chinese losses, civilian and military, were 20 million at least and possibly as high as 35 million. Japanese military losses were probably around one million killed, wounded, or missing. In the end, the once-mighty Japanese army was destroyed, the Chinese Communists—who went from a membership of 40,000 at the beginning of the conflict to 1.2 million in 1945—continued to rise in popularity, and the involvement of the United States and the Soviet Union in Asian politics during and after the war dramatically increased.

The Rape of Nanking

The Rape of Nanking occurred during a period of several weeks in late 1937 and early 1938 in which the Japanese army ran riot through the streets of the Nationalist Chinese capital and committed atrocities upon the people. The Rape of Nanking was the most infamous event of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a conflict that lasted from 1937–1945 and eventually became part of World War II. The incident earned Japan international condemnation, greatly increasing sympathy for the Chinese war effort abroad and providing the Chinese people with even greater motivation to resist Japanese aggression. The war crime eventually led to trade embargoes and the attack at Pearl Harbor.

The Dark Side of Bushido

The underlying factors that caused the tragedy of Nanking can be traced to the new national policies adopted by Japan as it became a player on the world stage in the late nineteenth century. After three centuries of isolation, Japan raced to catch up with European advances in technology, commerce, industry, and warfare. In order to ensure its survival in international politics, Japanese policy quickly became markedly aggressive and militaristic.

The code of bushido, which had long guided the actions of Japan’s samurai class (samurais were military nobiligy), were adopted and modified for indoctrination in all Japanese citizens. The new bushido emphasized fanatical devotion to the state, aggression, lack of concern for self, disdain for Japan’s enemies, and the glory inherent in fighting and dying for the Japanese emperor. Gone were bushido codes of chivalry and compassion. Surrender was viewed as the most shameful act possible, and those who did surrender—whether friend or enemy—were to be viewed with the utmost contempt. From 1872, with the publication of the new “Soldier’s Code,” Japanese soldiers were trained in this new brutal and racist ideology.

The Battle of Shanghai

When war broke out with China in 1937, the Japanese armies were prepared to win a quick and easy victory, fighting against the “inferior” Chinese. When these supposed inferiors put up a three-month resistance at Shanghai, fighting off the technologically superior Japanese in an endless series of bloody engagements, the invaders’ morale was shaken to the core.

When Shanghai fell in November 1937, the Japanese pressed inland, making for the capital city of Nanking. The Chinese Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, evacuated his government ahead of the advancing army, pledging to keep fighting. The Japanese, meanwhile, were hoping the fall of Nanking would signal the end of the war.

At the head of the Japanese army was aging general Iwane Matsui (1878–1948). Even before reaching Nanking, Matsui could see that his army was quickly getting out of his control. Planes strafed refugee columns, and troops looted farmhouses and villages, burning them to the ground afterwards. These actions were too widespread and well organized to have been the actions of individuals or small groups acting on their own. General Matsui scolded his subordinate officers for their complicity in these actions but was met only with derisive laughter.

Moderate voices in Japan, meanwhile, were pushing for a cease-fire before the army reached Nanking and were offering Chiang Kai-shek the opportunity to reach a negotiated settlement. But the government, dominated by warmongers, pressed for an immediate assault on the Chinese capital. After four days of heavy bombardment, the city capitulated on December 13.

Seven Weeks of Terror

General Matsui was replaced by Prince Asaka, the emperor’s uncle, who issued the secret order as his troops moved into the city to “kill all the captives.” Although he was probably referring to military captives, this order set the tone for what was about to occur.

Inside Nanking were about 70,000 troops and a quarter-million civilians. Many soldiers and noncombatants had fled as the Japanese approached the city—overloaded refugee boats on the Yangtze were regularly fired upon by Japanese planes—and the city government had fled with Chiang Kai-shek. The only people with any position of authority left in Nanking were a small group of foreigners—Germans, British, Americans, and Dutch, a rag-tag group of missionaries, businesspeople, and academics who were able to establish a two-mile-square “safe zone,” from which they witnessed many of the atrocities committed by the Japanese as they did their best to provide comfort and shelter to the beleaguered residents of the city.

As they moved in and occupied Nanking, the Japanese troops began to run riot through the city. Their reign of terror would last seven weeks and would encompass looting, arson, murder, and rape, all on massive scales.

The looting commenced almost immediately and bore the unmistakable signs of official complicity—troops were seen loading looted items into army transport trucks by the dozens. Whole warehouses were stripped bare, as were residential homes, businesses, and even refugees, who would be stopped on the street and relieved of what meager possessions they still carried.

Looting was often followed by arson. Japanese troops made use of the extensive selection of explosives and incendiaries available to them, setting fire to entire city blocks at once. Combined with the heavy shelling the city had sustained earlier, the mass arson laid waste to what had once been one of China’s most beautiful cities.

It is the Japanese treatment of Nanking’s citizens, however, that assured that the war crimes committed there would be remembered as heinous. First the Japanese made promises of safe conduct for the Chinese soldiers and then later promised all males of military age, who remained in the city, would also enjoy safe conduct. Those who believed the Japanese reported to them and were tied up in large groups and machine-gunned or bayoneted.

Others were singled out and used for bayonet or sword practice. One Japanese newspaper at the time proudly reported, in a light-hearted tone, on two officers who had made a game of running through the streets of the city and seeing how many civilians they could cut down with their katanas.

Other atrocities, which were verified by eyewitness testimony, included men, women, and children being roasted alive over open fires, doused with gasoline and set on fire, burned with caustic chemicals, beheaded, gutted, or buried up to their necks and tortured.

Another instrument of terror and oppression wielded by the Japanese was rape. Women and girls ranging in age from nine to seventy-six were raped, often repeatedly, and often by many soldiers at a time. Rape became so widespread that it was not unusual to see it happening on a city street in broad daylight. These incidents were often accompanied by murder, either of the victim or of her children or family. Many of the victims were kept in makeshift prisons, enslaved by Japanese officers.

The total number of Chinese deaths suffered during the Nanking campaign and occupation is unclear, but it has been estimated to be no fewer than 150,000 and perhaps as much as 300,000. At least 20,000 women were raped between December 1937 and February 1938. The economic devastation suffered by Nanking and the surrounding countryside was immense. One estimate had the average city-dweller losing the equivalent of six years’ income during the seven-week occupation.


Nanking exposed the end result of the Japanese army’s policy of racist brutality. The average Japanese soldier, himself subject to harsh discipline and bleak prospects, turned his anger outward against people he had been taught to hold as sub-human.

The only Japanese general prosecuted specifically for the events at Nanking was General Matsui, who had been the one who was appalled at the initial behavior of the Japanese army. He had retired from the army and set up a temple at Nanking to pray for the victims. He offered no defense at his trial and was sentenced to death. Many of the other generals at Nanking also received death sentences for crimes committed later in the war. Prince Asaka, due to his royal connections, escaped prosecution and punishment entirely.

The Holocaust

From 1933 to 1945, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, Germany waged an increasingly hostile campaign of hatred, exclusion, and systematized murder against its own Jewish population and the Jewish populations of its conquered territories. This horror is known as the Holocaust.

Hitler and Anti-Semitism

The roots of the Holocaust lie in centuries of European anti-Semitism, the widespread hatred of and discrimination against members of the Jewish faith. Although originally based in religious bigotry, anti-Semitism began to take on ethnic and racist overtones in the nineteenth century, when Jews were increasingly portrayed as an outsider race that had infiltrated the “pure” European population, diluting its “greatness” in the process.

Anti-Semitism was widespread in every country in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, and these views were soon adopted by a young Austrian serving in the German army in World War I by the name of Adolf Hitler. After Germany’s capitulation in 1918 and the subsequent signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Hitler was one of a great many Germans left searching for a scapegoat to blame for the defeat. He soon found solace in like-minded political groups that singled out “international Jewry,” Communists, and the new German government. By 1921, Hitler had taken control of what would eventually become known as the Nazi Party.

A central goal of the Nazi agenda was a solution to “the Jewish question,” although the proposed solution was often presented as an expulsion, rather than wholesale murder, of Germany’s Jews. These views were not kept secret—Hitler wrote about them extensively in his autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in the mid-1920s. When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Hitler wasted no time in turning his views into national policy.

“Anti-Semitism of Reason”

The Nazi approach initially downplayed widespread anti-Semitic violence, attempting instead to develop, as Hitler put it, “anti-Semitism of reason.” To that end, a series of escalating discrimination laws accompanied by increasingly menacing social and economic harassment by Nazi operatives slowly accrued over the next five years. The policy did meet with “success”—half of Germany’s Jewish population had emigrated by 1939—but it was not working quickly enough. Furthermore, the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 had stripped German Jews of their citizenship and property rights, making it difficult, from both an economic and bureaucratic standpoint, for them to leave the country. Worse still, Jews were finding it increasingly hard to find countries that were willing to take them in for fear of inviting a flood of refugees from Germany.

The year 1938 is often cited as the first year of the Holocaust proper. That year, Germany’s Anschluss, or unification, with Austria, brought with it a significant Jewish population. Reinhard Heydrich, head of the secret police and one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, dispatched his deputy Adolf Eichmann to Vienna to draft a plan for the systematic expulsion of the Austrian Jewish community. The methods developed there led to the forced expulsion of all Polish and Russian Jews from Germany later in the year.


The night of November 9, 1938, remembered as Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass,” marked the first mass pogrom, or anti-Semitic riot, since Hitler’s rise to power. Instigated by the Jewish shooting of a German ambassador, the violence was on a nationwide scale, all of it unofficially endorsed by the government—many of the rioters were members of the Gestapo (secret police) and SA (stormtroopers) in civilian clothing.

Nearly every Jewish synagogue in Germany, 1,574 in all, was either damaged or destroyed in the course of that single night. Additionally, thousands of Jewish-owned shops were vandalized, their windows smashed out with sledgehammers. About one hundred Jews were killed. Thirty thousand Jewish men, mostly academics and professionals, were rounded up and deported to concentration camps, prisons that had initially been set up to hold the Nazis’ political prisoners. The event earned international condemnation, but Kristallnacht was only the beginning of the greater horror that would soon come.

The outbreak of war in 1939 and the German conquest of Poland brought one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, two million strong, within German borders. Nazi administrators, in particular, Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945), head of the Security Services (SS), became increasingly concerned with how to deal with such unprecedented numbers of “undesirables.”

Ghettos and the Final Solution

It was Reinhard Heydrich (1904–1942), head of the German secret police, who first suggested moving Poland’s Jews into urban ghettos as a means of concentrating their population. Beginning in 1941, this plan was put into practice. The cities chosen were situated on major railway hubs, the better to facilitate later transportation, although to where exactly was still unknown.

Once they had resettled the Jews in ghettos, which crammed huge populations—the Warsaw Ghetto alone numbered 300,000—into tiny, segregated plots of land, the Nazis set about instituting a policy of “destruction through work.” Thousands would die of starvation and exhaustion as they were forced to contribute to the German war effort through what amounted to slave labor.

Meanwhile, as German forces overran vast swaths of Soviet territory in 1941, millions more Jews fell under the Nazi shadow. A deadly equation of Lebensraum (as Germans referred to their need for “living space”) plus “the Jewish question” led Himmler and Heydrich to one conclusion—eradication of the Jews would free up living space and provide a “final solution” to the issue of what to do about the Jews of Europe.


The mass killings that characterize the Holocaust began in the rear areas of the German advance in Russia. Heydrich’s SS Einsatzgruppen, or Special Task Forces, followed behind the army proper, rolling into recently conquered towns and villages and rounding up the local Jewish population. Their mission was simple: to make Germany’s newest acquisitions Judenfrei—“free of Jews.”

The most infamous Einsatzgruppen action took place at Babi Yar in the Ukraine. On September 29–30, 1941, over 33,000 Jews were lined up and machine-gunned in a gorge near the town. Such actions were typical; over its two-year operational period, the Special Task Forces would execute over a half-million Soviet Jews.

Yet it became clear early on that this was not a practicable solution. The mass killings took a powerful psychological toll on the executioners—Heinrich Himmler famously vomited after witnessing the execution of one hundred Jewish captives—and the Einsatzgruppen themselves were deemed too imprecise and too much of a drain on resources.

The Wannsee Conference

Opposing Himmler and Heydrich, Luftwaffe General Hermann Göring had long advocated using Jews as a slave labor force rather than exterminating them. In an effort to end the argument once and for all, Heydrich called a conference of the top Nazi brass in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. The Wannsee Conference, held in January 1942, provides the clearest example of the systematic and premeditated nature of what was to follow.

The plan outlined at Wannsee called for the establishment of death camps whose sole purpose would be the industrialized slaughter of Europe’s Jews. The ultimate goal was nothing less than the destruction of every Jew in Europe, including those in countries not controlled by Germany. From Ireland to Cypress, all eleven million European Jews were to be exterminated. This end would be accomplished by converting several existing concentration camps into death camps. These camps would serve one purpose: the efficient and orderly murder of millions of people. One camp in particular, Auschwitz, has become the icon of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz and the Death Camps

The typical Auschwitz experience began with the evacuation of a ghetto or other Jewish community. Taking only what they could carry, the ghetto residents would be herded onto freight railway cars and told they were being relocated to a resettlement camp. The journey in the open-topped cars, exposed to the elements and without food and water, could last for days, and many would die during the trip.

Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the vast majority would be sorted into a group destined for “de-lousing showers.” A few—those deemed fit for manual labor or possessing special skills, or worse, singled out for medical experimentation by the infamously sadistic Dr. Josef Mengele (1911–1979)—would be spared, but the rest would be told to strip down and line up for the showers. The charade was maintained until the end—guards issued instructions to carefully sort and mark belongings for later collection and promised hot coffee and food after the showers.

The “shower rooms” were actually giant gas chambers that held around 1,000 people. The most commonly used agent, Zyklon B, was a nerve gas that would kill everyone in the chamber in twenty minutes or less. The bodies were at first buried in mass graves, but soon giant crematoria were constructed. These huge furnaces burned hundreds of corpses at a time.

Meticulous records were kept of deportation numbers, as well as the spoils collected from victims of the camps—Jewish dentist-prisoners were forced to extract gold teeth from the gassed bodies at Auschwitz, and the prisoners’ possessions that had been brought along were collected and redistributed to the German civilian population.


As their fate became increasingly clear, many in the ghettos and the camps rose up in futile rebellion. The remaining residents of the Warsaw ghetto famously held their own for four weeks before being crushed by overwhelming force. None of the ghetto uprisings were successful. There were also uprisings at Treblinka (another concentration camp) and Auschwitz, as well as periodic escape attempts, some of which were successful.

Some of these escapees were able to find someone who would believe their incredible stories, and these accounts eventually reached the ears of the Allied leadership. Initial reports were filed away as uncorroborated and too outrageous to be true, but as the evidence began to mount, the stories began to be believed. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and New York Times both reported on the existence of death camps in June 1944. Yet despite these stories, no one was prepared for the scale of killing uncovered as the Allied armies marched into German territories from all sides in 1945.

With the war turning against Germany, Hitler and Himmler made sure that the death camps continued to operate at full capacity, giving camp-bound trains priority even over military transports. Few realized that for Hitler the extermination of the Jews even trumped winning the war. Himmler and many other Nazi officials were terrified of the consequences to themselves that would come when the full scale of their “final solution” was discovered by the Allies.

Pressing into Germany in 1945, the Allies found concentration camps filled with starving, sick, and half-dead prisoners. Along with the Jewish captives, there were Soviet POWs who had been living in conditions nearly as miserable—two to three million died between 1941 and 1945 in the prison camps—as well as Romani and other “undesirables” (homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses).


The reaction of soldiers and reporters upon first seeing these camps was one of sheer disbelief, horror, and outrage. BBC reporter Richard Dimbleby, reporting from the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, gave a typical account:

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which.… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them.… Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live ….. A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms.… He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

General Eisenhower and other high-ranking Allied leaders later toured the camps and ordered that what they saw be filmed and photographed to preserve for the historical record. Local German civilians were brought in and forced to tour the camps as well, even in some cases being assigned to burial duty. The culpability of the German people as whole during the period of the Holocaust remains a hotly debated issue, but it is certain that the Holocaust could not have functioned without the cooperation of German government and industry.

The total number of Jews killed during the Holocaust will perhaps never be known exactly. The estimates range between five and six million, fully two-thirds of the prewar population. Many of those responsible for the mass murder were tried and executed, both in the immediate aftermath of the war and at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. The three most infamous perpetrators of the Holocaust—Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich—all met their deaths before they could be brought to justice, Hitler and Himmler both choosing suicide and Heydrich dying in 1942 at the hands of a Czech assassin.


Rise of Communist China

During World War II, China was not directly involved with the conflict but was at war separately with Japan. From two to fifteen million Chinese died as a result of the Japanese occupation of and hostilities toward China. Though Japan was defeated by the Allies in 1945, a war continued in China. Even before Japan started a war against China, China had been suffering from an intense internal conflict. It had begun in 1912 with the end of imperial China after the 1911 Republican Revolution. China fell into political chaos while it was an ostensible republic from 1912 to 1927.

Decades of Civil War

In 1920, Communism was introduced into China and soon came into conflict with the ruling Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang. The long-running civil war in China was fought between the Nationalists and the Communists. The Nationalists had gained control of China in 1927 and moved away from revolutionary policies that had been previously implemented. The Communists left their urban base and moved to the countryside, where Mao Zedong emerged as the party’s leader and led a reorganization effort.

The rival parties continued their fight for a decade, until Japan invaded China in 1937 and launched the Sino-Japanese War. Japan and its control of certain territories within China were already controversial, but the invasion took this hostility to a new level. While both Chinese parties fought against the Japanese as World War II was being fought, their conflict still raged behind the scenes. The power of the Nationalist Party eroded during the eight-year conflict with the Japanese, while the Communists gained regional power.

The civil war grew more intense after the Japanese surrender in 1945, with the Communists gaining ground on the failing Nationalists. By July 1946, the whole of China was engaged in total civil war. For the next three years, the internal conflict continued, and the Communists gained control of an increasing number of major Chinese cities. Though the Communists lacked the military power and material support of the Nationalists, they gained popular support and benefited from the collapse of the corrupt and often ineffective Nationalist government.

In October 1949, at the civil war’s end, the Communists, still led by Mao, were in total control of the country. The nation was then known as the People’s Republic of China. The Nationalist Party removed itself to the island of Taiwan by December of that year.

Creation of Communist Society

Under Mao’s leadership, a Communist government was established in China and began rebuilding the shattered country using Communist principles. Nearly all westerners were expelled from China, and the extraterritorialities were ended. (Extraterritoriality was a quasi-colonial system by which other countries essentially ruled parts of China and did not have to follow Chinese laws.) Western powers soon boycotted the country.

During the 1950s, China saw economic and social reforms implemented by Communist leaders, beginning with land reform. Collectives and agricultural cooperatives were emphasized as villages were turned into communes. Though Chinese society was changing, the economy remained primarily agricultural, with little industrialization. The Communist revolution in China was initially peasant-based. Chinese society also evolved. The practice of multiple wives was banned by the Communists, for example. Women gained legal equality through the 1950 Marriage Law.

Internationally, China and the Soviet Union were initially strong allies under the 1950 Treaty of Friendship. The Soviets agreed to provide aid, including military and technological assistance, to China. However, this alliance did not last the decade. There was a dispute between them over how they handled the Korean War early in the decade. Later on, the countries split over how they interpreted communist principles. China was also upset that the Soviets would not share their knowledge of how to make an atomic bomb. The relationship turned hostile and remained so for several decades.

Controversial Movements

By 1958, Mao and the Communists tried to quickly force industrialization in China through the “Great Leap Forward.” This strategy continued to emphasize the establishment of rural communes as well as small steel foundries. The strategy was an economic failure. By pushing industrialization on a country still relatively undeveloped, the Communists had caused agriculture to suffer. Bad weather compounded the problem. China then experienced widespread famine. This food crisis became one of the largest ever seen in the world: between fifteen and thirty million people died of starvation.

In 1966, Mao launched another change intended to better his country by empowering youth, students, and lower-level party members. The Cultural Revolution, also known as the Great Proletarian Revolution, forced massive social and political changes on China. The Communists tried to destroy all traditions and accepted societal elements by wiping out sites of religious and historic importance and locking up teachers and intellectuals. They also tried to obliterate the concept of social class. Even the Communist Party and the Chinese government were affected by the movement. They were both purged of important leaders while retaining their basic structure, causing two years of turmoil. As a whole, the Cultural Revolution lasted until the death of Mao in September 1976, when China again began embracing a more market-centered economy and relaxing control over citizens’ private lives.

Rise of the Soviet Union

During World War II, the Soviet Union suffered heavy loss of life and property. In the postwar period—as a reluctant ally of the United States and Great Britain—it enjoyed increased political importance and prestige on the world stage. From twenty to forty million Soviet citizens died between June 1941 and May 1945. Seven million of these were soldiers—the Soviet Union lost more soldiers than any other country involved in the conflict. During the two-and-a-half year German siege of Leningrad, one million Soviet civilians died. The homes of about twenty-eight million Soviets were destroyed, and at least 70,000 communities suffered extensive damage. A key aspect of the Soviet infrastructure—the railway—also saw thousands of miles of destruction. In addition, there was the loss of an extensive number of livestock and related agriculture products, which contributed to an extensive famine in the Soviet Union in 1947.

Despite this dire situation, the Soviet Union was able to rebuild and to expand its domain, and it emerged as a significant world power. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin remained in control of the Soviet Union. He had laid the groundwork for the Soviet Union’s postwar recovery during World War II. The Soviet Union had marched the Red Army into Germany and several other Eastern European countries as World War II waned. In retribution for the way the German army treated Soviet soldiers and civilians when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, Soviet forces killed up to one million German civilians during the invasion of that country.

Expansion of Influence

Before the war’s end, the Allies, including the Soviet Union, decided to divide Germany into four zones. Each zone would be occupied by a major power in the war—the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. While the Allies had significant disagreements during the war, their differences were intensified after the war end. The Soviet Union was already Communist, and it turned the part of Germany it controlled—the eastern section—into a Communist country. Thus was the “Cold War” born—the Soviet Union became the leading Communist nation, and the Allies sought to prevent further expansion of Soviet and Communist influence in Europe and around the world by means other than war.

The Soviet Union had extended its influence to other European countries and sometimes took over whole nations and parts of nations. For example, it absorbed the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in the early 1940s. These three countries remained part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. The Soviet Union also added the eastern tip of Czechoslovakia as well as parts of eastern Poland and Germany to its territory at the end of World War II.

The Eastern Bloc

Soviet-influenced Germany became the country of East Germany in 1949 and was significant member of the Eastern Bloc. The Eastern Bloc of nations consisted primarily of Central and Eastern European countries that the Soviet Union had liberated from Germany at the end of World War II. These nations included Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. (Yugoslavia, China, and Albania were also initially part of the group, but a conflict with Yugoslavia resulted in its expulsion in 1949. A rift between China and the Soviet Union during the 1950s led to both China and Albania withdrawing in 1959 and 1960, respectively.)

Stalin’s liberation of these countries was about controlling them—although not strictly for the purpose of expanding Communism. By dominating the Eastern Bloc nations, the Soviet Union hoped to prevent invasion through those countries by another country, which had happened a number of times in the preceding centuries.

Providing financial support to reconstruct these countries, the Soviet Union put local Communist parties in power and essentially ran them. While locals initially supported the Soviet-friendly regimes because they resisted the Nazis and supported reform and social justice, popular backing soon waned under the Communist restrictions that were backed by Soviet military might. Members of the Communist Party gained the best government jobs in these countries, and noncommunists were removed from office. The media was also controlled and censored by the Soviet-dominated Communists.

While there was vast short-term economic growth from the late 1940s to the early 1950s because of industrialization and the forced implementation of collective programs, Eastern Bloc societies were also forced to undergo rapid change. These societies faced mass terror campaigns that created upheaval and unrest. The absolute Soviet dominance of the Eastern Bloc countries ended with Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953. After that, Soviet control was loosened, and more civil unrest occurred. The Eastern Bloc remained intact until the late 1980s.

French-Indochina War

In the wake of World War II, tensions in an arranged power-sharing agreement between Vietnam and France over the area known as Indochina (what is now known as Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) erupted into full-scale war. The French-Indochina War, also known as the First Indochina War, lasted eight years and eventually led to the Vietnam War.


Indochina became a colony of the French during the 1880s. France continued to control the area until World War II. During the war, Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) and his Vietnamese Communist Party wanted to bring communalism, a form of Communism that also included the values of traditional Vietnamese society, to an independent Vietnam. To that end, they founded the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (the Revolutionary League for the Independence of Vietnam) in 1941. Commonly known as the Viet Minh, the independence movement had the support of many different nationalist groups in Vietnam.

By that time, France’s hold on Indochina had temporarily ended. After France was taken over by the Germans in 1940 and the puppet Vichy government was installed, Germany’s Japanese allies seized the opportunity to use Vietnam as an operations base. Within a year, Japan controlled the whole of Indochina, though the French ostensibly maintained a colonial presence. While the Viet Minh fought the Japanese, with some support of the Americans, the Japanese brutally dominated Vietnam until World War II’s end in 1945.

At the immediate conclusion of World War II, the Viet Minh took advantage of the power vacuum in Vietnam. Ho declared the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, an independent country, on September 2, 1945. This republic only lasted a few days, because liberated France wanted to reclaim control of its colonial empire in Indochina as part of a postwar rebuilding effort.

While political decisions were being made about the area, the Allies put occupation forces in Vietnam. The disarmament of the Japanese military was overseen by the Chinese Nationalist troops in the north and the British in the south. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had not supported the French colonial rule of Indochina before his death, but his successor, Harry S. Truman, was more concerned with gaining French support against the Soviets. Thus, Indochina returned to French rule with the backing of the United States. The Vietnamese, led by Ho, and the French were to share power in Vietnam, which was to be seemingly autonomous within French-controlled Indochina.

This power arrangement was undermined by both sides in several ways. There were communication breakdowns between France and Vietnam, and the power-sharing agreement was defined in imprecise terms. French economic interests put pressure on the French government to keep a significant French presence there. And Ho still wanted to gain complete independence for his country.

The War Begins

Hostilities in the region escalated when Chinese smugglers were captured and both sides claimed jurisdiction in the situation. The French and Vietnam forces began fighting in Haiphong over the matter in November 1946. France took the conflict to a new level within a few days, using air, ground, and naval forces on the city. By December, the fighting had reached Hanoi, and Ho told his people to resist the French. The French Indochina War had begun, and within a year, the conflict enveloped the whole region.

Early in the war, France removed Viet Minh forces from the cities, so Ho and his leadership went north to an area near the border with China. With his military advisors, he developed a three-pronged strategy. It began with constant, harassing guerrilla warfare, and then moved to creating a stalemate with the French by isolating and destroying smaller French units. In the final stage, a considerable offensive against the French would bring the war to an end. While the plan was not fully executed, it contributed to France’s ultimate defeat.

Viet Minh Victories

The first phase of the Viet Minh strategy worked to perfection from 1947 to the middle of 1950. While the guerrilla hits on the French were successful, the Vietnamese senior military commander, Vo Nguyen Giap (c. 1911–), also had the added benefit of time to build up and train his army. The Vietnamese also gained modern weapons from the newly Communist country of China after 1949. The French checked Ho and his independence desires by reinstalling Emperor Bao Dai (1913–1997) as a figurehead on the Vietnamese throne in 1948.

Giap moved to phase two of the plan in the fall of 1950, when his 300,000-soldier army began attacking French outposts in northern Vietnam. Beginning with the small garrison at Dong Khe, the Viet Minh forced the French troops from the post and then took several more in the border region in the fall of 1950. The French were surprised and unprepared for the strength and determination of the Viet Minh and saw 6,000 troops killed or captured.


Under the command of Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (1889–1952) and with American aid, French troops rallied to significant victories in 1951. While the Viet Minh also had heavy troop losses at Vinh Yen, Mao Khe, and other villages in the Hanoi-Haiphong corridor, they continued to battle the French. However, the French public questioned the cost of the war and de Lattre died of cancer in early 1952, unexpectedly bringing phase two of the Viet Minh strategy back into play.

Most of 1952 and 1953 were spent in a stalemate between the two sides. While the French began building the Vietnamese National Army to augment their own forces, Giap prepared for an attack on Laos. The assault came in April 1953, and he nearly made it to the royal capital of Luang Prabang. As monsoon season came on, Giap was compelled to withdraw his troops. As the Viet Minh made their way back to Vietnam, the French decided to make their stand at the small village of Dien Bien Phu. After an intense six-month battle, the French lost Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954. The French-Indochina War reached its inconclusive end.

France had suffered greatly because of the conflict. Nearly 100,000 French soldiers lost their lives. The United States had also become increasingly involved in the war, and by its end, was paying about three-quarters of its cost. But because the French still controlled significant amounts of Vietnam, at war’s end, the Geneva Accord saw Vietnam being artificially divided into two countries. There was a communist north, led by Ho, and a noncommunist south, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, part of the former French puppet government. The arrangement was meant to be a temporary solution until elections could be held, but, following U.S. advice, Ngo Dinh Diem delayed elections because he thought the Communists would win. When Ho tried to take over South Vietnam a few years later, the United States became involved in an even more devastating conflict in the region: the Vietnam War.

Truman Doctrine

Announced in 1947 by President Harry S. Truman, the Truman Doctrine was the president’s policy vision on how to address the increasingly aggressive actions of the Soviet Union in the post–World War II period. Though it initially addressed the tumultuous situation in Greece, Truman envisioned the principles of the Truman Doctrine being applied worldwide to contain the spread of Communism. The Truman Doctrine guided American foreign policy for decades.


While the Soviet Union was an ally of the United States and Great Britain during much of World War II, the Communist country proved to have its own agenda after the end of the conflict. The Soviets began creating a sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe as well as parts of Germany, installing and supporting Communist regimes in countries they were in charge of rebuilding beginning in 1946. Though this development concerned Great Britain and the United States because of their uncertainty about Soviet intentions, they initially did not object to the Soviet Union’s actions in Europe. This attitude soon changed, in part because of fresh memories of the expansionism of Nazi Germany. During the 1930s, country after country fell under its control without any serious challenge.

As the postwar era continued to unfold, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the greatest powers on the world stage and intense rivals in the nascent Cold War. This rivalry saw its first clashes in Greece and Turkey. The royalist, right-wing government in Greece was threatened by Communist revolutionaries who were backed by Eastern European Communists. Nearby Turkey was also a target of pressure from the Soviet Union for partial control of the outlet from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Great Britain had been the primary supporter of both countries but no longer possessed the resources to continue to do so because of its own postwar problems. Britain asked the United States to intercede.

Truman’s Call for Aid

Truman decided to act. He decided to end appeasement of the Soviets to ensure Communism would not spread. On March 12, 1947, he delineated what became known as the Truman Doctrine in a speech before a joint session of Congress. Initially, Truman asked Congress for $400 million in military assistance for Greece and Turkey, which was granted despite a growing isolationist attitude and aversion to giving more foreign aid.

In his speech, Truman also made clear that this call for aid was only part of a new approach in American foreign policy. Because of the United States’ new importance in the world, he stated, it must now act in support of all free countries threatened by military subjugation or pressures from other countries. Both economic and military support were necessary. While there was some opposition to the principles he outlined, Truman eventually gained the backing he needed, because the growing fear of Communism in the U.S. outweighed any apprehension about increased government spending.

Doctrine’s Effect

After the Communists were defeated in both Greece and Turkey, Truman’s goal became ensuring Communism would not spread from Eastern and Central Europe through Western Europe. To further support the principles of the Truman Doctrine, the United States supported funding the Marshall Plan, which helped pay for the rebuilding of Europe. Later, America entered into its first peacetime military alliance with many other Western European countries—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The Truman Doctrine expanded its scope when the Korean War broke out in 1950. There, a struggle between democratic and Communist forces led to the principles of the Truman Doctrine being applied to Asia as well as other countries around the world. Because of the doctrine, the United States later became involved in the Vietnam War, another conflict involving Communist-backed forces. While the Truman Doctrine furthered the Cold War, it also led to the end of Communist influence in nearly every country in the world before the end of the twentieth century.

Marshall Plan

A product of the Truman Doctrine to contain Communism, the Marshall Plan (also known as the European Recovery Program) was the United States’ contribution to the recovery of Europe and one of the most important government initiatives of the twentieth century. It consisted of financial aid for industry, transportation, finance, and farming so that free trade and freedom would continue to be part of European life after the devastation of World War II. By supporting the rebuilding of European countries, America ensured that Communism and the influence of the Soviet Union would remain limited.


From 1939 to 1945, the duration of World War II in Europe, every country on the continent suffered physical and economic devastation because of the conflict. Numerous bombing raids on both sides obliterated many of the industrial and transportation centers all over Europe. Because of the wide swath of destruction, European nations could not easily recover on their own, even though countries like Great Britain received billions of dollars in loans. In 1948, overall economic output was 13 percent below 1938 levels in Europe. The situation was worse in Germany, where it was 55 percent lower.

The stagnant economy made life difficult for Europeans, who had little hope for the future. Refugees numbering in the millions still lived in camps for many months after the end of the war. In Great Britain and other countries, certain foodstuffs like bread were still being rationed as they had been during World War II. While the United States gave billions of dollars in aid to eleven European countries between July 1945 and March 1948, the economies of European nations deteriorated further.

At the same time, the Soviet Union’s influence was on the rise. While that country also suffered greatly, perhaps more than any other nation in Europe, Soivet leader Joseph Stalin focused on consolidating Communist influence, if not control, of many Eastern and Central European countries. After gaining dominance over these countries, Soviet efforts were focused on Greece and Turkey. The Truman Doctrine’s military aid ensured the Communists did not gain control in those countries, but Italy and France seemed to be the next targets by the end of 1947. Stalin encouraged Communists in every country to challenge the capitalist status quo.

Emergence of the Plan

While the United States had also suffered during World War II, there had been little damage to its infrastructure. The nation was economically strong at the end of the conflict and did not have a particularly difficult transition to a peacetime economy. By 1948, American economic output was 65 percent higher than 1938 levels. As the United States was realizing its new status as a world leader, the threat of Communism to war-ravaged Europe became clearer.

Recognizing the threat, William Clayton (1880–1966), an official with the U.S. State Department, created a solution he called the European Recovery Program (ERP). Clayton wanted the United States to give European countries billions of dollars in aid and loans. These dollars were linked to initiatives created in Europe by Europeans to rebuild key industries and infrastructures and to ensure Europe’s full recovery.

Secretary of State George Marshall announced the initiative at a speech at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, while accepting an honorary degree. The Marshall Plan, as the ERP became commonly known, had support within the State Department, but it needed key allies in Congress and the federal government to become a reality. The State Department worked closely with the Republicans, who controlled Congress, though many conservative Republicans held the isolationist view echoed by public opinion.

Many Americans wanted to return political focus to the United States and see an end to the high taxes that had been prevalent throughout the war. A promotional campaign worked to change the minds of Americans, reminding them that the post-World War I policy of isolating Germany and its allies led to World War II. The ERP could prevent World War III. Supporters also advocated the Marshall Plan as a means of enhancing American national security.

The Plan in Action

By February 1948, the Soviets had grabbed control of Czechoslovakia, and Americans realized that isolationist policies would be detrimental to their interests. The ERP gained widespread support. As passed by Congress and signed into law on April 3, 1948, the ERP was a four-year program with at least $13.4 billion in aid. This figure included $1.5 billion in loans. The integrated plans for recovery were to be developed by the Europeans based on how best to restore their finances, create capital investments, reestablish a market economy, and rebuild the infrastructure in their countries.

The money and support of the Marshall Plan were offered to all European nations, including the Soviet Union and the Eastern and Central European countries in its sphere of influence. Stalin refused the aid and would not allow the countries controlled by the Soviets to take any money either. To further his hold on these countries, he put the so-called Molotov Plan into place, which made them economically integrated with the Soviets.

Stalin also tried to undermine American efforts by encouraging Communists in Western Europe to whip up anti-American sentiment. This effort was in vain as most Western European countries—except, most notably, Finland and Switzerland—took part in the Marshall Plan. It was welcomed by most nations and proved essential in Western Europe’s economic and psychological recovery, as well as in its return political stability in the late 1940s and for decades afterwards. The Plan’s programs also helped the American economy by creating a multibillion dollar market for American materials and products.

The Marshall Plan came to an end on March 31, 1951, because of the economic demands of the new Korean War and declining support in the United States. It did, however, have its desired effect in Europe. Moreover, the groundwork laid by the ERP eventually led to the formation of the European Union four decades later.

Birth of Israel

At the end of World War II, the modern state of Israel was born, to much opposition by the Arab world. The history of the modern founding of this country had its roots in the early twentieth century. Based on the teachings of nineteenth century Zionist philosopher Moses Hess, Zionist Jews who wanted to found a Jewish state in what was then Palestine began moving to the area in 1904 and continued to do so through World War I.

Palestine as British Mandate

In the aftermath of World War I, Great Britain was given the mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations. While it was the ruling power of a predominantly Arab Middle Eastern country, Britain also recognized that both Jews and Arabs were also historically connected to the land that made up Palestine, and that Jews had a claim to a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 formally recognized the right for a Jewish state.

Because the British mandate acknowledged the Jewish claim and supported Zionist Jews who wanted to found a Jewish state in Palestine, large numbers of Jews immigrated to Palestine in the 1920s and much of the 1930s. This population movement led to conflicts with the Arabs already inhabiting Palestine that the British could not settle. There were armed battles as Jews protected kibbutzim (agricultural settlements) from attacks by Arabs, beginning in the 1920s and continuing through the founding of Israel.

By the late 1930s, the British tried to appease the Arab population by restricting Jewish immigration, but Jewish activists living there smuggled in Jews leaving Europe to avoid the Holocaust. This situation increased tensions between Jews, Arabs, and the British government.

Palestine Divided

Before World War II ended, the British mandate was challenged by both Jews and Arabs. Each group wanted independence and its own country, but Britain no longer supported a Jewish state and continued to try to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. In 1947, Britain bowed out of the conflict by turning over its Palestine mandate to the newly formed United Nations (UN), though it formally retained control for another year. The UN created a proposal to divide Palestine into two separate nations, one Jewish and one Arab, a concept that was supported by the United States. The UN formally voted on partitioning Palestine on November 29, 1947, and the measure passed by a vote of thirty-three to thirteen.

The plan was supported by the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, but not the Palestinian Arabs, who wanted to retain the whole of what had been their country. Because Arabs in Palestine could not organize any opposition or count on the support of fellow Arabs in the Arab League, Palestine was officially divided on May 14, 1948, after the British ended their control of the area the previous day. The state of Israel was then officially proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), the head of the governing Jewish Agency, at the Tel Aviv Museum. He also became Israel’s first prime minister and minister of defense.

As soon as Israel was founded and British troops began withdrawing, nearby Arab countries that opposed the creation of Israel—Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and what became Jordan—invaded Israel and launched a war against the Jews. With the support of the United States (the first country to formally recognize Israel, on May 15, 1948), Israel defeated the allied Arab countries in January 1949 and signed peace treaties with each nation over the next six months. Many Palestinian Arabs were forced to leave their homes and go to newly created refugee camps in adjacent Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The conflict between Jews and Arabs over the land lasted for decades, occasionally broke out in armed war, and continues to this day.

Indian Independence

In 1947, India gained its long-sought independence from Great Britain. Over the course of a century, Indians had pursued their independence and received it in small steps.

The Indian subcontinent was divided into often warring states for centuries, and the idea of a united Indian country stretching over the entire region was embraced only by philosophers and poets until the nineteenth century. When the British made India a colony under the auspices of the East India Company in the eighteenth century, they also gave the country a national identity, though one that was deemed inferior in every possible way to the national identity of white nations. The British also exploited the Indians economically, taking their land and raw materials and limiting the advancement of the Indian peoples within the British colonial system.

Origins of Modern India

As the Indians embraced the concept of nationalism in the mid-1850s, an independence movement was born. The first open demonstration calling for Indian independence came with the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, known in India as the 1857 Indian Revolt. It was caused by British economic mistreatment of Indians, increased British intrusion into the states and provinces of India, and disdain for Indian religious law.

Though the rebellion was put down, the British made changes in how India was administered. With the passing of the Government of India Act, control of India was removed from the East India Company and put directly under the British government. Also, Indians were then allowed to serve as counselors to the British colonial ruler, the viceroy.

British exploitation of India and its people continued in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries despite these changes. Indians were only permitted to hold positions in the lowest level of civil service, and were used as a cheap police force for the whole of the British empire well into the second decade of the new century. The Indian people saw their food supply compromised as many rice farms were turned into cotton farms to provide raw materials for cotton mills in Britain. India’s own cotton industry suffered as the products of these mills entered the Indian market without tariffs.

Independence Movement Grows

Because of this British exploitation, the Indian National Union was founded in 1885. It was soon known as the Indian National Congress, and later the Congress Party. The group initially wanted to see more local Indians in political representation. Soon, the Indian National Congress became identified with the independence movement, because the British continued to act in ways that were offensive to Indians. While India supported the British war effort during World War I, sending troops and backing the British did not result in more freedom. It only led to more authoritarian legislation such as the 1919 Rowlatt Acts.

Some Indians protested the laws, resulting in the Amritsar Massacre. A British general ordered his troops to fire on Indians who were peacefully demonstrating, resulting in the deaths of four hundred Indians and injury to one thousand more. In the wake of this event, more Indians withdrew their support from the British who seemed to have supported the massacre.

New leaders of the Indian independence movement emerged in the early 1920s, including Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), known as Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi had been educated by the British, studying law in Great Britain. Though of upper-caste Hindu background, he lived humbly and was able to garner support among both educated Indians and the masses. Gandhi came up with a noncooperation policy that proved effective in the movement. Working with Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) also wanted independence, and both men envisioned the new country of India as a Hindu state.

While the independence movement went forward in the decades between the world wars, there was a Muslim minority living primarily in the northwest area of the subcontinent that felt threatened by the idea. A Muslim member of the Congress Party, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), resigned to serve as the head of the Muslim League, which wanted to found a Muslim state. This division did not greatly affect the independence movement.

Independence Nears

The British control of India was becoming a heavy load for the mother country between World War I and World War II. In addition to having a trade deficit with India, Britain could find few young British citizens to serve in the Indian civil service. Although human rights legislation was introduced in India, Great Britain did not want to enforce the laws and often lacked the means to do so. India was allowed to languish with an ineffective Indian army and no evolution in existing institutions.

Independence took another step forward in 1935 when the British parliament gave India a new constitution. More people gained the vote, and individual provinces had more independence. As Great Britain entered World War II, the British viceroy decided, without the Indian people’s consent, that India would support the war effort. The Muslim League gave limited cooperation to Great Britain in the hope of gaining British support for their own separate state, because part of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Indian policy was support of the Muslims. The Congress Party refused to assist the British in any way.

To win India’s support during World War II, the British devised the Cripps Plan. The primary provision was a promise to grant full independence to India at the end of World War II. Because of previous failed promises by the British, Gandhi and Nehru demanded the British leave the subcontinent in August 1942 so that Indians could establish self-governance. Churchill and the British government put Gandhi, Nehru, and some of their supporters in prison. The Congress Party was also banned. While order was temporarily restored in India, the end was near for British rule.

Independence Achieved

In prison, Gandhi went on numerous hunger strikes. Riots were also threatened by his supporters. By 1944, Gandhi, Nehru, and their followers had been freed from prison. The following year, the British tried to appease Indian demands for independence with the 1946 proposed Cabinet Mission Plan. This idea offered to create a federal state divided into provinces with significant amounts of power. It was rejected by the Indians.

A year earlier, a new administration had taken office in Great Britain, led by Labor Party leader Clement Attlee. He supported Indian independence and publicly announced it would be given as soon as the transfer of power could be safely completed. One big task remained. Though Gandhi and the Hindus did not want a divided country, the Muslim League successfully argued for a separate Muslim state called Pakistan. This division was granted with the Indian Independence Act of 1947. The last British viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900–1979) supervised the transfer of power and the division of the subcontinent. Independence Day came on August 15, 1947, for both India and Pakistan.



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