The Secret War

Throughout World War II, a secret war was fought between the Allies and the Axis to obtain information about each other’s activities and to weaken each other’s war effort. Codebreakers tried to decipher secret communications, and spies worked behind enemy lines to gather information. Saboteurs tried to disrupt activities on the home front. Many people in Axis-held territories joined under cover resistance groups that opposed the occupying forces. All the warning nation’s used propaganda to influence public opinion.



Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Britain obtained, with the help of Polish spies, one of the machines Germany used to code secret messages.

In an outstanding effort, British mathematicians and code breakers solved the machines electronic coding procedures.

Britain’s ability to read many of Germany’s wartime communications was known as the Ultra Secret, which helped the Allies defeat Germany.

The Ultra Secret played an important role in battle.

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, for example, Ultra supplied advance warning of where and when the Luftwaffe planned to attack.

It also helped Montgomery defeat the Germans in Egypt in 1942 by providing him with Rommel’s battle plan.

The British carefully guarded the Ultra Secret and were cautious about using their knowledge so that Germany would not change its coding procedures.

The Germans had never discovered that Britain had broken their code.

Spies and saboteurs were trained by the warring nations. Spies reported on troop movements, defense build-ups, and other developments behind enemy line. Spies of Allied nations also supplied resistance groups with weapons and explosives.

Saboteurs hampered the enemy’s war effort in any way they could. For example, they blew up factories and bridges and organized showdowns in war plants. Germany had spies in many countries. But its efforts at spying were less successful in general than those of the Allies.

The US government setup a wartime agency called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to engage in spying and sabotage. The OSS worked closely with a British agency, the special Operations Executive. The Soviet Union operated networks of spies in Allied nations as well as in Germany and Japan.

Resistance Groups

Had sprang up in every Axis-occupied country. Resistance began with individual acts of defiance against the Occupiers. Gradually, like-minded people banded together and worked in secret to overthrow the invaders. The activities of resistance groups expanded as the war continued. Their work included publishing and distributing illegal newspapers, rescuing Allied aircrews shot down behind enemy lines, gathering information about the enemy, and sabotage.

In countries such as France, Yugoslavia, and Burma, resistance groups engaged in guerilla warfare. They organized bands of fighter who staged raids, ambushes, and other small attacks against the occupation forces.

All resistance movements suffered many setbacks. But the French resistance interfered with German efforts to turn back the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. The Norwegian resistance workers destroyed a shipment of heavy water headed for Germany. Heavy water is a substance needed in the production of an atomic bomb. Yugoslavia had the most effective resistance movement of all the Partisans. With the Allied help, the Partisans drove the Germans out of Yugoslavia in 1944.

Even in Germany itself, a small underground movement opposed the Nazis. In July 1944, a group of German army officers planted a bomb intended to kill Hitler. However, Hitler escaped the explosion with minor injuries. He ordered the plotters arrested and executed. The risks of joining the resistance were great. A resistance worker caught by the Nazis faced certain death. The Germans sometimes rounded up and executed hundreds of civilians in revenge for an act of sabotage against their occupation forces.


All the warring nations used propaganda to win support for their policies. Governments aimed propaganda at their own people and at the enemy. Radio broadcast reached the largest audiences. Motion Pictures, posters, and cartoons were also used for propaganda purposes.

The Nazis skillfully used propaganda to spread their beliefs. Joseph Goebbels directed Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment, which controlled publications, radio programs, motion pictures, and the arts in Germany and German occupied Europe.

The ministry worked to persuade people of the superiority of German culture and of Germany’s right to rule the world. After the war began to go badly for the Axis, the Germans claimed that they were saving the world from the evils of communism.

Mussolini stirred the Italians with dreams of restoring Italy to the glory of ancient Rome. Italy’s propaganda also ridiculed the fighting ability of Allied soldiers. Japan promised conquered peoples a share in the greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which would unite all eastern Asia under Japanese control. Using the slogan “Asia for the Asians”, the Japanese claimed that they were freeing Asia from European rule.

Nightly newscasts beamed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to the European mainland provided truthful information about the day’s fighting. The Nazis made it a crime for people in Germany and German-held lands to listen to BBC broadcast.

The US government established the Office of War Information (OWI) to encourage American support for the war effort. The agency told Americans that they were fighting for a better world. In 1942, the Voice of American, a government radio service, began broadcasting to Axis-occupied countries.

The warring countries also engaged in psychological warfare intended to destroy the enemy’s will to fight. American planes dropped leaflets over Germany that told the od Nazi defeats. The Axis nations employed a few traitors who broadcast radio programs to weaken the morale of Allied soldiers.

Example, Mildred Gillars, an American known as “Axis Sally”, made broadcast for Germany. Another American Iva Torguri D’Aquino was called “Tokyo Rose” broadcast for Japan. Such broadcast merely amused most troops.

World War II affected the civilian populations of all the fighting nations. But the effects were extremely uneven. Much of Europe and large parts of Asia suffered widespread destruction and serve hardship. The United States and Canada, which lay far from the battlefronts, were spared most of the horror of war. North American in fact, prospered during World War II.

Most of the people in the United States and Canada fully backed the war effort. Nearly all Americans and Canadians despised Nazism and wished to defeat it. Americans sought also to average the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Producing for the War

Victory in World War II required an enormous amount of war materials, including huge numbers of ships, tanks, aircrafts, and weapons. The United States and Canada built many plants to manufacture war goods. They also turned old factories into war plants. For example, automobile factories began to produce tanks and aircrafts.

The United States astonished the world with its wartime output. President Roosevelt called for the production of 60,000 aircraft during 1942 a goal many industrialists believed was impossible to achieve. Yet the United States war plants turned out nearly 86,000 planes the following year. Shipbuilding gains were just as impressive. For example, the time needed to build an aircraft carrier dropped from 36 months in 1941 to 15 months in 1945.

Canada also greatly expanded its output during World War II. Wartime expansion made Canada a leading industrial power by the war’s end.

Million of women in the US and Canada joined the labor force during the war after men left for combat. Women worked in shipyards and aircraft factories and filled many jobs previously held only by men. The number of working women in the United States climbed from about 15 million in 1941 to about 19 million in 1945. Canadian women replaced men on farms as well as in factories. They helped raise the crops that fed Allied troops.

New opportunities opened for American blacks during World War II in 1941. President Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practices Committee to prevent job discrimination in US defense industries. Large numbers of southern blacks moved to the North to work in war plants.

Mobilizing for the War

The US introduced its first peacetime draft in September 1940. Under the draft law, all men aged 21 through 35 were required to register for military service. The draft was later extended to men 18 through 45. More than 15 million American men served in the armed forces during World War II. About 10 million were drafted. The rest volunteered. About 338,000 women served in the US armed forces. They worked as mechanics, drivers, clerks and cooks and filled may other noncombat positions.

Canada also expanded its armed force greatly during World War II. At the outbreak of the war, the Canadian government promised bot to draft men for service overseas. Canada relied on volunteers for overseas duty until November 1944. By then, it suffered from a severe shortage of troops and began to send draftees overseas. More than a million Canadians, including about 50,000 women, served in the armed forces during the war.

Financing the War

The United States and Canadian government paid for the costs of World War II in several ways. In one major method, they borrowed from individuals and businesses by selling them war bonds, certificates, notes, and stamps. The US government raised nearly $180 billion from such sales. Canada’s government also raised several billion dollars.

Taxes also helped pay for World War II. Income increased tremendously during the war years. As a result, revenue from income taxes soured. In the US, the tax rate on the highest incomes reached 94 percent.

The government also taxed entertainment and such luxury goods as cosmetics and jewelry. Corporations paid extra taxes on higher-than-normal profits. Canadians also paid increased taxes during the war.

Despite greater borrowing and higher taxes, the US and Canadian governments spent more than they raised to pay for the war/ In the US, the national debt increased from about $49 billion in 1941 to 4259 billion in 1945. Canada’s national debt rose from $4 billion in 1939 to $16 billion in 1945.

Government controls over civilian life in the US and Canada expanded during World War II. In both countries, the national government established various agencies to direct the war effort on the home front. The agencies helped prevent skyrocketing prices, severe shortages, and production foul-ups. The War production Board, for example controlled the distribution of raw materials needed by US industries. The Office of Price Administration limited price increases in the United States. It also setup a rationing program to distribute scarce goals fairly. Each family received a book of ration coupons to use for purchases of such items as sugar, meat, butter and gasoline.

Canada’s government had even greater wartime powers. For example, the National Selective Service controlled Canada’s workforce. It forbade men of military age to hold jobs it termed “nonessential”. Such jibs included driving a taxi or selling real estate. Canada’s Wartime Prices and Trade Board determined wages and prices and set up a rationing program.

Treatment of enemy aliens

During World War II, the US government classified more than a million newly arrived immigrants from Germany, Italy, and Japan as unjustly. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, some Americans directed their rage at people of Japanese ancestry. In 1942, the anti-Japanese hysteria led the US government to move about 110,000 west coast residents of Japanese ancestry to inland relocation camps. They lost their homes and their jobs as a result. About two-thirds of them were citizen of the United States. Canada also relocated about 21,000 people of Japanese ancestry during the war.

In Germany, most of the people greeted the start of World War II with little enthusiasm. But Germany’s string of easy victories from 1939 to mid-1941, the Germans did not expect the war to lost much longer.

Civilian life

Food, clothing, and other consumer goods remained plentiful in Germany during the early years of the war. Imports poured in from Nazi-occupied countries of Europe. The Allied bombing of Germany got off to a slow start and did little damage at first. Germany’s situation had changed by 1942. The armed forces bogged down in the Soviet Union and there were fewer reports of German victories to cheer the people. The Allied bombs rained down day and night on German cities. Consumer goods became increasingly scarce. Yet the people continued to work hard for the war effort.