Battle of Britain
Hitler believed that Great Britain would seek peace with Germany after the fall of France. But Britain fought on alone.
Hitler made preparations to cross the English Channel and invade Sothern England.
Before the Germans could invade, however, they must defeat Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF).
The Battle of Britain, which began in July 1940, was the first battle ever fought to control the air.
In August 1940, the German air force, the Luftwaffe, began to attack the RAF bases. Germany’s aircraft out numbered those of the RAF. But Radar stations along England’s coast provided warning of approaching German planes and helped the RAF intercept them.
Each side over estimated the number of enemy planes it had shot down. By September 1940, the Luftwaffe mistakenly believed it had destroyed the RAF. The Germans then halted their strikes against the RAF bases and began to bomb London and other civilian targets. They hoped to weaken civilian morale and force Britain to surrender. Air raids known as the Blitz took place nearly every night through the fall and the winter. In May 1941, Germany had finally given up its attempt to defeat Britain from the air.
Hitler decision to end the attacks on the RAF enabled Britain to rebuild its air force. Britain’s survival was important later n the war because the country served as a base for the Allied liberation (freeing) of Europe from Nazis rule. World War II had become a global conflict by the end of 1941. Fighting spread to Africa, the Balkan Peninsula of southeastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. The Axis and the Allies also battled each other at sea. In December 1941, the US entered the war.
Fighting in Africa
The Italians opened battle fronts in Africa at about the time of the Battle of Britain. Mussolini expected easy victories over the small British forces in British Somaliland (north Somalia) and Egypt. In August 1940, the Italians pushed eastward from Ethiopia and overran the forces in British Somaliland. The following month, Italian forces that were stationed in Libya invaded Egypt.
For two years, the fighting seesawed back and forth across Libya and Egypt. Britain fought to keep the Axis out of Egypt. Britain fought to keep the Axis out of Egypt. The Axis control of Egypt would have cut Britain off from oilfields in the Middle East and from the Suez Canal, the shortest sea route to Britain’s empire in Asia. Britain struck back at the Italians in December 1940, sweeping them out of Egypt and back into Libya. However, an Italian invasion of Greece then drew part of Britain’s force from Africa and ended the advance.
Early in 1941, Hitler sent tank units trained in desert warfare to help the Italians in northern Africa. The tank units, known as Africa Korps, were led by General Erwin Rommel.
Rommel’s clever tactics earned him the nickname “The Desert Fox”. During the spring, Rommel recaptured the Libyan territory the Italians had lost and drove into Egypt. The British again pushed the Axis forces back into Libya. In May 1942, Rommel broke through the British lines and reached El Alamein, only 200 miles from the Suez Canal. However, the Germans didn’t save Mussolini’s empire in eastern Africa. By May 1941, Britain had defeated the Italians in British Somaliland and Ethiopia.
Fighting in the Balkans
Hitler used threats to force Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania into joining the Axis. Those countries supplied Germany with food, petroleum, and other goods. The Yugoslavia’s government signed an agreement with the Axis in March 1941.
But the Yugoslavia’s armed forces rebelled and overthrew the government. Hitler enraged ordered Yugoslavia be crushed, German troops began to pour into the country on April 6th, 1941. Yugoslavia surrendered 11 days later. During that time, Hitler had to rescue Mussolini’s troops elsewhere on Balkan Peninsula.
Mussolini was tired of playing being Hitler’s junior partner and he badly wanted a victory to boost his standing. In October 1940, the Italian forces based in Albania invaded Greece. They expected to defeat the poorly equipped Greek army easily. The Greeks fought fiercely, though they were greatly outnumbered. By December, they had driven the Italians out of Greece and had overran part of Albania. Britain sent a small force to help Greece. But in April 1941, a much larger German force came to the aid of the Italians. By the end of April, the Axis controlled Greece.
The British troops in Greece withdrew to the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. On May 20th, 1941, thousands of German paratroopers descended on Crete and seized an airfield. More German troops then landed. The first airborne invasion in history gave Germany an important base in the Mediterranean by the end of May.
The defeats in the Balkans were serious blows t Britain. However, some historians believe that the detours into Yugoslavia and Greece were costly for Hitler because they delayed his invasion of the Soviet Union within eight weeks, and he had failed to prepare for a winter war.
The Invasion of the Soviet Union
Germany and the Soviet Union proved to be uneasy partners. Hitler viewed the Soviet Union as Germany’s Chief enemy. He feared the Soviet ambitions to expand in eastern Europe. Hitler also wanted to control to Soviet wheat fields and oil fields. His 1939 nonaggression put with Stalin served merely to keep the Soviet Union out of the war while Germany overran western Europe.
Stalin distrusted Hitler, and he sought to obtain more naval bases and to strengthen Soviet borders. In November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland.
The Finns surrendered in March 1940 after a fierce fight. In the summer, the Soviet Union seized the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania along the Baltic Sea.
Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, which was Code-named Operation Barbarossa, began on June 22, 1941. It took the Soviet Union by surprise. German tanks smashed through Soviet battle lines. During the first few weeks of the campaign, the German armies encircled and killed or captured hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops. As a German advanced, the Soviet people destroyed factories, dams, railroads, food supplies, and anything else that might be useful to the enemy. The Germans appeared headed for victory by late July. They then began to make mistakes.
Hitler’s general wanted to press on to Moscow. But Hitler overruled them. Instead, he reinforced the German armies heading north toward Leningrad and south toward the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. While the Germans wanted time transferring forces, Stalin bought in fresh troops. The German advance slowed in September, though the Germans took the city of Kiev in the South. Heavy rains fell in October, and the German tanks and artillery begged down in mud.
By November 1941, the Germans had surrounded Leningrad and had began to encircle Moscow. They reached the suburbs of Moscow by early December. The temperature then plunged to 40’ f. An unusually severe Soviet winter had begun early. German troops lacked warm clothing and suffered from frostbite. Their tanks and weapons broke down in the bitter cols. Winter had saved the Soviet Union.
Battle of the Atlantic
Britain’s survival in World War II depended on shipments of food, war materials, and other supplies across the Atlantic Ocean from North America. Throughout the war, Germany tried to destroy such shipments, while Britain struggled to keep its Atlantic shipping lanes open.
Germany’s surface fleet was far too weak to challenge Britain’s Royal Navy in battle during World War II. But individual German battleships attacked British cargo vessels. The Royal Navy hunted down and sank such raiders one by one. The biggest operation was against the powerful German battleship Bismark. In May 1941, a fleet of British warships chased, trapped and finally sanked the Bismark about 400 miles off the coast of France. Afterward, Germany rarely allowed its large warships to leave harbor.
The greatest threat to British shipping came from German submarines, called Unterseeboote or U-boats. The U-Boats prowled the Atlantic, torpedoing any Allied cargo ships they spotted.
The conquest or Norway and of France give Germany excellent bases for its U-boats. To combat the U-boats, Britain began to use a convoy system. Under that system, cargo ships sailed in large groups escorted by surface warships. But Britain had few such ships available for escort duty.
From 1940 to 1942, Germany appeared to be winning the Battle of the Atlantic. Each month, the U-boats sank thousands of toms of Allied shipping. But the Allies gradually overcame the U-boat danger. They used radar and an underwater detection device called sonar to locate German submarines. A long-range aircraft bombed U-boats as they surfaced. The shipyards in North America stepped up their production of warships to accompany convoys. By mid-1943, the Allies were sinking the U-boats faster than Germany could replace them. The crisis in the Atlantic had passed.
The United States enters the War
After World War II began in Europe in 1939, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the neutrality of the United States. Canada declared war on Germany almost at once. As part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, it entered the war on September 10th, 1939, one weak after Great Britain did.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A Democrat, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. He is often rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. Presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, to a Dutch American family made well known by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. FDR attended Groton School, Harvard College, and Columbia Law School, and went on to practice law in New York City. In 1905, he married his fifth cousin once removed, Eleanor Roosevelt. They had six children. He won election to the New York State Senate in 1910, and then served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Roosevelt was James M. Cox’s running mate on the Democratic Party’s 1920 national ticket, but Cox was defeated by Warren G. Harding. In 1921, Roosevelt contracted a paralytic illness, believed at the time to be polio, and his legs became permanently paralyzed. While attempting to recover from his condition, Roosevelt founded the treatment center in Warm Springs, Georgia, for people with poliomyelitis. In spite of being unable to walk unaided, Roosevelt returned to public office by winning election as Governor of New York in 1928. He was in office from 1929 to 1933 and served as a reform Governor, promoting programs to combat the economic crisis besetting the United States at the time.
In the 1932 presidential election, Roosevelt defeated Republican President Herbert Hoover in a landslide. Roosevelt took office while the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. During the first 100 days of the 73rd United States Congress, Roosevelt spearheaded unprecedented federal legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief, recovery, and reform. He created numerous programs to provide relief to the unemployed and farmers while seeking economic recovery with the National Recovery Administration and other programs. He also instituted major regulatory reforms related to finance, communications, and labor, and presided over the end of Prohibition. The economy having improved rapidly from 1933 to 1936, Roosevelt won a landslide reelection in 1936. Even so, the economy then relapsed into a deep recession in 1937 and 1938. After the 1936 election, Roosevelt galvanized opposition by seeking passage of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937 (the “court packing plan”), which would have expanded the size of the Supreme Court of the United States. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented passage of the bill and blocked the implementation of further New Deal programs and reforms. Major surviving programs and legislation implemented under Roosevelt include the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Social Security.
Roosevelt ran successfully for reelection in 1940. His victory made him the only U.S. President to serve for more than two terms. With World War II looming after 1938, Roosevelt gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China as well as the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union while the U.S. remained officially neutral. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, an event he famously called “a date which will live in infamy”, Roosevelt obtained a declaration of war on Japan the next day, and a few days later, on Germany and Italy. Assisted by his top aide Harry Hopkins and with very strong national support, he worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in leading the Allies against the Axis Powers. Roosevelt supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the war effort and implemented a Europe first strategy, making the defeat of Germany a priority over that of Japan. He also initiated the development of the world’s first atomic bomb and worked with the other Allied leaders to lay the groundwork for the United Nations and other post-war institutions. Roosevelt won reelection in 1944 but with his physical health seriously and steadily declining during the war years, he died in April 1945, just 11 weeks into his fourth term. The Axis Powers surrendered to the Allies in the months following Roosevelt’s death, during the presidency of Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman.
Most people in the US thought that their country should stay out of World War II. Yet most Americans hoped the Allied victory. Roosevelt and other interventionists urged all did “short or war” to nations fighting the Axis. They argued that an Axis victory would endanger democracies everywhere. Isolationists, on the other hand, opposed US aid to warring nations. They accused Roosevelt of steering the nation into a war it wasn’t prepared to fight.
All the countries in North and South America would eventually declared war on the Axis. But only Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the US sent troops. The United States played a key role in the final Allied victory.
The Arsenal of Democracy
Roosevelt hoped to defeat the Axis powers by equipping the nations fighting then with ships, tanks, aircraft, and other war materials. Roosevelt appealed to the United States to become what he called “the arsenal of democracy”.
At the start of World War II, the US neutrality laws forbade the sale of arms to warring nations. The Congress soon changed the laws to help Britain and France. A new law permitted warring nations to buy arms for cash. But by late 1940, Britain had nearly run out of funds for arms.
Roosevelt then proposed the Lend-Lease Act, which would permit him to lend or lease law materials, equipment, and weapons to any nation fighting the Axis. The Congress approved the act in March 1941. In all, 38 nations received a total of about 450 billion in aid under Lend-Lease. More than half the aid went to the British Empire and about a fourth to the Soviet Union.
Japan, not Germany, finally plunged the United States into World War II. By 1940, the Japanese forces were bogged down in China. The Chinese government, led by Chiang Kai-Shek, had fled to Central China. But China refused to give up. To force China to surrender Japan decided to cut off supplies reaching China from Southeast Asia. Japan also wanted the rich resources of Southeast Asia for itself. Japan’s military leaders spoke of building an empire, which they called the Greater East Asia co-Prosperity sphere.
Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975)
was a political and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in exile in Taiwan. He was recognized by much of the world as the head of the legitimate government of China until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was the longest-ruling non-royal leader of China, having ruled for 46 years.
Chiang was an influential member of the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Nationalist Party, as well as a close ally of Sun Yat-sen’s. Chiang became the Commandant of the Kuomintang’s Whampoa Military Academy and took Sun’s place as leader of the KMT following the Canton Coup in early 1926. Having neutralized the party’s left wing, Chiang then led Sun’s long-postponed Northern Expedition, conquering or reaching accommodations with China’s many warlords.
From 1928 to 1948, Chiang served as chairman of the National Government of the Republic of China (ROC). Chiang was socially conservative, promoting traditional Chinese culture in the New Life Movement and rejecting both capitalism and western democracy alongside Sun’s nationalist democratic socialism in favor of an authoritarian government. Unable to maintain Sun’s good relations with the communists, Chiang purged them in a massacre at Shanghai and repression of uprisings at Kwangtung and elsewhere.
At the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which later became the Chinese theater of World War II, Zhang Xueliang kidnapped Chiang and obliged him to establish a Second United Front with the communists. After the defeat of the Japanese, the American-sponsored Marshall Mission, an attempt to negotiate a coalition government, failed in 1946. The Chinese Civil War resumed, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Mao Zedong defeating the Nationalists and declaring the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Chiang’s government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics in a period known as the “White Terror”. After evacuating to Taiwan, Chiang’s government continued to declare its intention to retake mainland China. Chiang ruled Taiwan securely as President of the Republic of China and General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975, just one year short of Mao’s death.
Like Mao, Chiang is regarded as a controversial figure: supporters credit him with playing a major part in the Allied victory of the Second World War and unifying the nation and a national figure of the Chinese resistance against Japan, as well as his staunch anti-Soviet and anti-communist stance; detractors and critics denounce him as a dictator at the front of an authoritarian autocracy who suppressed and purged opponents and critics and arbitrarily incarcerated those he deemed as opposing to the Kuomintang among others.
The United States opposed Japan’s expansion in Southeast Asia. In 1940, Japanese troops occupied northern Indochina (today part of Laos and Vietnam). In response, the US cut off important exports to Japan. The Japanese industries relied heavily on petroleum, scrap metal, and other raw materials from the United States. Tension rose after Japan seized the rest of Indochina in 1941. President Roosevelt then barred the withdrawal of Japanese funds from American banks.
General Hideki Tojo became premier of Japan in October 1941. Tojo and Japan’s other military leaders realized that only the United States Navy had the power to block Japan’s expansion in Asia. They decided to cripple the US Pacific Fleet with one forceful blow.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked without a warning the US Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The bombing of Pearl Harbor was a great success for Japan at first. It disabled much of the Pacific Fleet and destroyed many aircraft. But in the long run, the attack on Pearl Harbor proved disastrous for Japan. It propelled enraged Americans to arms.
The US, Canada, and Great Britain declared war on Japan on December 8th, 1941. The next day, China declared was on the Axis. Germany and Italy declared on the US on December 11th. World War II had become a global conflict.