The War--ETO and PTO

[ Background ] [ Nazis ] [ Road to War ] [ War]

 World War II, as noted, began in Asia with the "Double Seven Incident" at the Marco Polo Bridge and Japan's invasion of "China Proper." "Double Seven" refers to July 7, 1937. In Europe, the Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact of 1939 between Stalin's USSR and Hitler's Third Reich set up first the invastion, then the dismemberment of Poland and then the outbreak of World War II in Europe. On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Western Poland.    Britain and France declared war on Germany and moved troops to the Maginot Line on the French-German border. The Second World War began. Stalin declared Soviet neutrality and waited seventeen days before invading Poland from the East. The United States, engulfed in Depression, announced neutrality as well.
[PK photo by Hugo Jager, from National Archives, Patch HS, 200-SFF-52]

While Germany consolidated its hold on western Poland, Stalin and the Soviets, did likewise in eastern Poland in the fall and winter of 1939. Germany "nazified" its areas, and the Soviet Union "communized" its areas. Under the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbontrop Non-Aggression Pact, Hitler agreed to "look the other way" as Stalin and the Soviets advanced in Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Eastern Poland. Though partisans and guerrillas fought back, these unfortunate lands were conquered by the Red Army, emerging after the war as Soviet Socialist Republics.
Brtain, under Prime Minister Chamberlain, and Daladier of France's Third Republic, faced their German enemy across the Maginot Line. Carefully ordered by their officers not to open fire, and waiting for the truce between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to collapse into hostilities, they carried out what came to be known as the "Phony War" or Sitzkrieg. Given the rhetoric of the 1930's it seemed scarcely credible that Nazis and Communists would refrain from shooting at each other.
Meanwhile, Stalin's massacre of Polish political, religious, diplomatic, social leaders in the Katyn Forest in 1940 stands as grim testimony to the fate of eastern Poland. In 1943, German troops uncovered the mass grave at Katyn containing, some estimates say, as many as 4500 bodies. [ Katyn Forest] Much later--when Britain and the Soviets joined forces against the Axis nations, and although the code-breakers at Bletchley Park outside of London learned of the Katyn Massacre (and of additional grave-sites hiding atrocities that hid more than 5000 Polish bodies)--Churchill chose to "classify" the information for fear that knowledge of Soviet atrocities would cause a rift in the Grand Alliance. The United States, in particular, with its large Polish-American population, could not be allowed to know of the slaughter!  

For more information on the Katyn Massacre, visit
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The link above takes you to a "featured" Wikipedia article

On the Katyn Forest Massacres, several youtube sites (text at first, then photographs)
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In the spring of 1940, with control over western Poland secure, Hitler launched his blitzkrieg attack on the Western Front. Tactics honed in Poland, with efficient use of Stuka divebombers and rapidly moving tank or panzer divisions, German forces swept through Holland, Belgium, Luxumbourg, Denmark, Norway, and France. As France's British allies retreated to the beaches of Dunkirk, France's Third Republic fell.
   The only good news in Britain in the spring of 1940, as the nation stood alone against the Nazi-Fascist juggernaut, was the emergence of Winston Churchill as Britain's war-time leader and Prime Minister.. By June, 1940, Nazi Germany presided triumphantly over Norway, the Netherlands, Luxumbourg, Denmark, Norway, and France. consider the implications for the Netherlands East Indies, French IndoChina, and the French Empire in Africa! Having lost the lion's share of its military materiel at Dunkirk, Britain literally begged FDR for American aid, utilized its naval strength and the brave lads of the RAF. In one of his most famous speeches, Churchill rallied the nation, "'We shall go on to the end.... We shall defend our island.... 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...'" (Kennedy 441).

The Battle of Britain began in July 10, 1940. "...[w]ave after wave of Heinkel and Junkers bombers, accompanied by phalanxes of Messerschmitt fighters, began bombing British coastal installations... (Kennedy 452). Hermann Goering, head of the German Luftwaffe commented to Hitler, "'I plan to have this enemy.down on his knees...'" (452). Winston Churchill would call the Battle of Britain her "shining hour." It was a campaign fought in the skies above London between the Luftwaffe and and the RAF (Royal Air Force)--"never have so many owed so much to so few," Churchill said of the brave RAF pilots who tried for 57 days and nights to defend their capital during "The Blitz."

Throughout the summer months of 1940, the Luftwaffe rained destruction on strategic targets in preparation for Germany's invasion of Britain. In September, Hitler and Goering altered their plans to bomb, instead, London. On September 7, 1940, "348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters blasted London..." (Ibis) Fires raged throughout the city.


Some residents sought shelter in the tube stations. "Underground (subway) stations sheltered as many as 177,000" Londoners over the course of the next two months (Ibis).


As the bombing went on day after day, and night after night, some London families sent their children to safety: some went to the countryside; some went to Canada. If you read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, you will remember that the four children have been sent to the countryside for safety from "The Blitz." American president, FDR, worked valiantly to energize his isolationist nation into helping Britain and into preparing for a conflict that would inevitably involve the United States.
In December, 1940, FDR warned the nation in one of his fireside chats, "'If Great Britain goes down, the Axis Powers will control the continent of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and the high seas--and the will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere...'" (Kennedy 468-469). Continuing to combat his isolationist Congress, nation, and media leaders like The Chicago Tribune, FDR pledged to make the United States the "arsenal of democracy.

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While Hitler absorbed western Europe and initiated the Battle of Britain, Mussolini attacked France from the Southeast. Churchill observed laconically, "The hand that held the dagger has stabbed its neighbor in the back." Stalin took advantage of the Axis' western advance as a smokescreen to re-absorb Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia (lost at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 1918,) at however, considerable cost in Soviet casualties and lives, as described earlier.
Hitler could not tolerate Soviet advances on his eastern flank. His successful blitz of Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxumbourg, and France, meant that his western flank was secure. Thus, on June 22, 1941, he launched Operation Barbarossa, breaking the Molotov-Ribbontrop Non-Aggression Pact. 3.6 million men, supported by planes and tanks (Guderian's famous panzer divisions) rolled into eastern Poland and the Soviet Union on a 2,000 mile front that stretched from Finland in the far North to target Leningrad, Moscow in the center, and Stalingrad in the South. Historian David Kennedy termed Operation Barbarossa, "Hitler's boldest military venture..." (382).

The Great Patriotic War < >
And again < >
(advance to 3:18 for how Stalin got rid of Tukhachevsky, the great hero of the Civil War
and creator of the Soviet air force)

The Wermacht advanced deep into the Soviet Union reaching the very gates of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. Kiev, "the Mother of Russian Cities," fell during the onslaught. Thousands of Soviets were taken prisoner. It was on their thrust into Sovietized Poland that the Wehrmacht uncovered the grisly evidence of the Katyn Massacre. Arch anti-communist Churchill had no choice but to extend the hand of friendship to Stalin (Kennedy 483).

Eminent historian McKee considers the German invasion--more
than FDR's most concerted efforts evidenced in Lend-lease--to
be what enabled the brave Brits to hold on and hold out.


As the German regular army, the Wehrmacht, moved swiftly in its well-practiced blitzkrieg routines into Ukraine in the southern USSR, Einsatzgruppen--mobile killing squads--followed in their wake. They targeted Russians (defining slavs as untermenschen,) but they especially victimized Jews.


One of the most infamous places of slaughter lay near Kiev; at Babi Yar, thousands of Ukrainian and Russian Jews were marched out of town, stripped of their valuables and clothes, shot, and shoveled into mass graves, which they themselves had dug.

Photograph from the Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
Photograph from the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives


With his plans to annihilate European Jewry moving into high gear, Hitler found that murder--even mass murder such as occurred at Babi Yar--was inefficient. It was in the aftermath of the conquest of Poland and much of the western provinces of the USSR, that Hitler, in 1942, with the help of Heydrich, decided on The Final Solution.


For more about the Einsatzgruppen, visit

The German surprise attack on the USSR (Operation Barbarossa) made allies of old enemies. Britain and the Soviet Union, led by Churchill and Stalin respectively, united against their common enemy, Nazi Germany. Stalin emerged as "Good Old Uncle Joe." Stalin

In the winter of 1941-1942, much of Europe lay under the heel of Axis tyranny. It was difficult to imagine a "road back" in those bleak days.


While world events seemed to focus on the European Theatre, crises in the Pacific escalated. The fall of France (and the Netherlands) opened the door for Japan to expedite its "Asia for the Asians" dream. Correctly anticipating hostile actions from the United States, the Japanese tightened their alliance with the European Axis nations in the Tripartite Alliance in 1940, and signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, fighting for its life against Hitler's Wehrmacht and Einsatzgruppen.

 Relations between the United States and Japan worsened. Observers in both nations sensed the inevitability of outright hostilities. Admiral Yamamoto helped to develop the master strategy that, he hoped, would knock the United States out of the Pacific in a massive, pre-emptive, simultaneous "first strike" against Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake, Midway, and the Philippines. At the same time, Japan would attack British HongKong and Singapore.

The attack on Pearl Harbor took place on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. It marked, as President Roosevelt put it in his address to a joint session of Congress, "a date which shall live in infamy." On that day, he went on, American had its "rendez-vous with destiny." General Homma and his troops also invaded the Philippines, where Americans and their Filipino allies fought heroically until well into the spring. Bataan fell, leading to the horrors known to its survivors as "The Bataan Death March." See photo essay below.


 President Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur to evacuate the Philippines, leaving General Wainwright in his stead. General Wainwright surrendered to General Homma. The Death March commenced. 

For more on the Philippines campaign and the events surrounding Bataan, including survivor account, visit
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Another survivor account
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Youtube version of Bataan Death March--maybe too grim/graphic
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Thus, by December, 1941, all of the various regional conflicts resolved into the Second World War (WWII.)
Japan and the USSR were not at war against one another until August, 1945.
  The Axis
Japan--Tojo and/or Hirohito
 The Allies

 General Tojo Hideki ran Japan's war-time cabinet for Emperor Hirohito, whose actual role in the war remains clouded. Mussolini's and Hitler's faces should be familiar from earlier on this site. German (and Italian) domination of Europe was mirrored by Japanese domination of Asia as the Axis powers reached their zenith in 1942; correspondingly, the Allies were at a nadir..      
Emperor Hirohito

 By 1942, Germany and Italy dominated virtually all of Europe, while Japan increased its control over large portions of Asia. The map to your right is misleading in the sense that Germany occupied France and its African colonies, while Italy seized Ethiopia. Though neutral, Iran was friendly to the Axis and unfriendly to the Allies. Imagine the significance if Germany took Egypt and Suez and/or Japan took India! Indeed, General Erwin Rommel tried to seize Egypt, and Japan did invade India. Both of these campaigns failed.

In 1942, Japan announced the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, their "Asia for the Asians" vision of an Asia liberated from western rule and domination. Graphic to your left indicates the extent of Japanese conquests and how the Pacific was almost transformed into a "Japanese Lake."

The turning points in World War II came in 1942-1943:
*Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, spring, 1942;
*Operation Torch in North Africa, fall, 1942;
*The Battle of Stalingrad, winter, 1942-1943.

The "Road Back" had begun!

In the spring of 1942, almost simultaneous with the fall of the Bataan, United States Navy halted the Japanese effort to take Australia at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May and defeated Japan at Midway a month later. In the graphic to your right, airplanes on the carrier, Yorktown, prepare for their early morning attack

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*Operation Torch--a joint British and American effort in November, 1942--launched the North Africa Campaign. Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps was defeated at El Alamein, and the Axis did not take Suez.

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The Battle of Stalingrad, August, 1942 - February, 1943, halted the German advance into the Soviet Union as the Red Army retook Stalingrad (now named Volgograd.) It enjoys the dubious honor of being the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare, claiming 2,000,000 casualties by the time it was over. Soviet and Russian historians claim that it was Stalingrad not Normandy that marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi juggernaut. A Soviet soldier waves his national flag in Stalingrad's central plaza.

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For Americans, and as presented in United States history classes, the turning point in World War II came with Operation Neptune, also code named Operation Overlord, more familiarly known as the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches, June 6, 1944. The movie, Saving Private Ryan, and the HBO series, Band of Brothers, presented the heroic events of D-Day to American viewers. An older movie, The Longest Day, did the same.

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[ War Memoir ] of American GI, Alex Braun

 The "Big Three"--Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin--met periodically during the course of the war, first at Tehran in 1943 and below at Yalta in February, 1945. FDR's declining health should be apparent. Death would take FDR in April.


As the fighting ground to its grisly conclusion in both ETO and PTO,
Allied leaders met to craft a peace; alas, differences between their
post-war goals poisoned their relations. At Potsdam in July, 1945, Truman replaced FDR while Clement Attlee replaced Churchill. Stalin's hatchet man, Molotov, stands behind him.

Visit the following youtube sites for
insights into Yalta, Potsdam, the emergence of the Iron Curtain,
and growing tensions, as seen in the Berlin Blockade and Berlin Airlift
The Yalta Conference < >
Potsdam--From World War to Cold War < >
NB--Churchill showed up for opening days but was replaced by the new Labor Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, replaced him;
though out of office, Churchill warned the world about the communist threat/Red Menace. In 1946, at Fulton,
Missouri, he delived his famous "Iron Curtain Speech"

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Britain and the United States responded to Stalin's 1948 Berlin Blockade with the Berlin Airlift
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Color footage of D-Day
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Works Cited


DeAngelo, Don. "World War II Seminar." San Diego: University of San Diego, 1997.

Ibis Communications, Inc. "The London Blitz, 1940." EyeWitness to History. Online available.
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Kennedy, David. Freedom from Fear. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.