WWII Curriculum – Day 2
WORLD WAR II CURRICULUM
Lesson Plan – Day Two
Phase One (1939 – 1940):
The period of history in Europe and the world at the outbreak of World War II. The tension in Europe has slowly built up to the brink of war over the past six years and now war erupts with the German aggression directed against Poland. Predictably, all the major European powers take sides, although two of the major players, Italy and Russia, do not show their aggression at the start.
The Student will learn facts and comprehend the events pertaining to:
- The events that led up to the start of World War II in Europe.
- The German invasion of Eastern and Western Europe
- The German occupation of the English Channel Islands
- The Italian aggression in France, Albania and North Africa
- The Battle over Britain for air superiority in the plan to invade England
- The Russian expansion in Eastern Europe
- The stalemate in the Far East between Russia and Japan
- The debate at home in American over involvement in the European War
Duration of instruction time required:
- 45 – 50 minutes
- World or American History Textbook
- Map of Europe
- Map of Asia
Supplemental materials (included):
- Photograph of German Labor Service Personnel
As German began its rearmament all able bodied young men were required to spend time in a Labor Service unit. This served as a precursor for those who would eventually be called up to serve in the Wehrmacht.
Question for the students: What do you think was the response from the German youth to their “mandatory requirement to serve in the Labor Service units? Answer: Most of the young Germans recognized that they had an obligation to support the government and felt duty bound to participate. Many knew that in order to continue in higher education or apprentice programs they had to get their service in the Labor Front completed.
- National Geographic Magazine, June 1936
The first overt demonstration of Hitler’s goals for German expansion occurred in March 1936 when the German army reoccupied the Rhineland area that had been previously occupied by the victorious Allied powers from World War I.
Question for the students: What do you think would have been the result if France would have challenged the German reoccupation? Answer: France at the time had the largest and most modern army in Western Europe while Germany was still reorganizing and expanding. Historians seem to think agree that Germany most likely would have been forced to back down.
- Austrian Magazine “Austria Week”, 7 November 1935
Just as Germany began to rearm and expand their post WWI army, so did Austria in a fashion that parallels that of Germany.
Question for the students: Do you think Austria was just as anxious to avenge their defeat from World War I and as such was just as militaristic as Germany? Answer: Austria had been reduced much more than Germany after World War I when they lost most of their empire. Hitler was born in Austria. Austria had many concerns, but it is hard to state that they would have been the same as Germany.
- Austrian Magazine “Austria Week”, 29 April 1937
When Germany first attempted to annex Austria in 1934, Mussolini demonstrated Italian resolve to provide support to the Austrian government as noted by his later meeting with the Austria Chancellor Schuschnigg in Venice, Italy.
Question for the students: Was Austria more worried about Italy than Germany at their borders? Answer: Italy at the end of World War I had wanted to gain a great deal of the Austro-Hungarian territory, however Italy by the 1930’s did not want Nazi Germany to get land from Austria either.
- Photograph of German Police Battalion marches into Imst Austria, 1938 (National Archives NARA file#: 242-HLB-2658-16)
All along the Austrian-German border, German military and para-military organizations began to occupy the country with the unification of 1938.
Question for the students: Judging from the crowd in the photograph, do you think that the Austrians were pleased with the German annexation of Austria? Answer: In the Austrian plebiscite vote, 90% of the Austrian people voted in favor of the unification.
- Life Magazine dated November 28, 1938
The spark that served to ignite the destruction of Jewish shops and businesses throughout Germany became known as “Kristallnacht”.
Question for the students: How does the article describe the event? Does it elicit sympathy and compassion from the world in response to the destruction? Answer: The world began to see the hateful actions of the Nazi government toward the Jews, however it does not appear that much of a response was generated in opposition to the Germans by foreign governments.
- Life Magazine dated April 24, 1939
The average English and French family are contrasted to the militaristic society of the average German family.
Question for the students: Do you think that the article is representative of the attitudes of these people in their countries at this time? Answer: The Munich agreement in September 1938 yielded “Peace in our Time” and for the most part the English and French hoped to avoid any conflict with Germany. However, for many people in Europe they could see that war clouds were on the horizon in mid-1939 when this article was prepared.
- Der Massenmord in Walde von Katyn, 30 April 1943
At the discovery of the ghastly remains of the Polish leadership the Germans went to the great extent of bringing recognized forensic experts from all the occupied European countries to the site of the mass graves. These experts dutifully testified that the deaths were caused by Soviet bullets at the time of the Soviet occupation of Poland in 1940.
Question for the students: Why do you think that the Germans picked such a diverse group of individuals and go to such great lengths to demonstrate they did not commit this act of mass murder? Answer: Responses may vary. The Germans at this point knew that the war was not gong well for them in the east. Perhaps this was an attempt to sow seeds of distrust among the allies and point out to the British and Americans that Stalinist Russia was more brutal.
- Photograph of Captured French and English prisoners of war at Dunkerque, June 1940 (National Archives; NARA file #: 242-EB-7-35)
Those French and English military personnel who were not fortunate enough to have escaped through the evacuation at Dunkirk were subsequently made prisoners of the Germans. For many, this period of captivity was to last for the entire period of the war.
Question for the students: What is the image that is projected by this photograph? Answer: That both the British and the French are defeated and that Germany will win.
- PM New York Daily Newspaper, June 18, 1940
The world quickly became aware of the lightning conquest of France by Germany.
Question for the students: How do you see this article as propaganda? Answer: it seems to paint a story that Germany is very powerful and is able to defeat any forces that are in their path.
- Photograph of Mussolini and Hitler in Munich, June 1940, after the Fall of France (National Archives; NARA file #: 242-EB-7-38)
Mussolini was late in declaring war against France, but was quick to seek “co-conqueror” status with Hitler in order to share in the triumph.
Question for the students: Do you think that Mussolini now wanted to try and gain equal prestige with Hitler? Answer: Italy and Mussolini were very surprised as to the speed and ability of the German forces in their conquests in the east and west of Europe. He felt that if he did not act quickly Italy would not gain any further world status.
- Photograph of Hitler in Paris after the Fall of France, June 1940 (National Archives; NARA file #: 242-HLB-5073-20)
After the spectacular results of the German invasion of Western Europe Hitler wanted to avenge the German humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Question for the students: What does this picture seem to suggest to the viewer? Answer: One possible response is that Germany is so powerful that in just six short weeks it was able to achieve what four and a half years of trench warfare could not in World War I.
- German Red Cross Prisoner of War Correspondence Card
With the start of the war the German military machine engulfed all in its path and subsequently captured millions of prisoners. In the west these prisoners (both civilian and military) were afforded the provisions of the Geneva Conventions which govern their treatment in wartime. When the Germans captured the English Channel islands the occupants were provided with the opportunity for correspondence with their loved ones in England.
Question for the students: How long did it take for a Red Cross card to travel from the Channel Islands to England and what route did the card appear to take? Answer: The card was mailed on 10 January 1942 and assuming it was answered on receipt it was received in early May 1942. The card traveled from the Channel Islands to Germany on to Switzerland and then to England.
- British Ration Books for Food and Clothing
Rationing was introduced in England in order to save precious resources that would be needed to build the fighting strength. Everyone was expected to make the sacrifices necessary since there were no assurances that England could be supplied with all the products needed to sustain the war effort.
Question for the students: Why is rationing important? Could you accept rationing today if it were necessary to conserve and support the American fighting strength? Answer: Responses will vary. Students should recognize that England was an island that depended on imports to survive. In today’s world, it would be difficult to forgo many products that are taken for granted.
- German Food Ration Card
By early 1940 food and other commodities began to be rationed within Germany, a practice that would continue through the conclusion of the war in 1945 and afterward. This book shows the rations for butter, coffee and tea.
Question for the students: Do you think that the Germans anticipated or expected to have to ration various items? Answer: Responses may vary. During World War I Germany suffered heavily from the necessity of rationing all types of commodities on the home front. Some Germans may have feared rationing again.
- German Ration Card for Clothing
By the final year of the war, nearly every type of consumer product and goods were being rationed within Germany. The Allied armies on both the Eastern and Western European theaters had overrun a great number of locations that had previously provided both raw materials and finished products for the German home front. These areas and their resources were no longer available and serious shortages began to exist in Germany.
Question for the students: Can you imagine that you would have to ration clothing? What item of clothing could you do without? What item of clothing would consider so essential that you could not do without it? Answer: most students should reflect that their most important possession would be a winter coat. With a shortage of heating fuel and repeated winters that seemed to be colder, a warm coat was necessary just to survive.
Instruction evaluation (included):
- Ten question multiple choice quiz
- Answer sheet
Topics to be covered:
1. Start of World War II in Europe
- Reoccupation of the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles treaty
- Annexation of Austria
- Conquest of the Czech Sudetenland through the Munich Conference
- Occupation of the remainder of the Czech areas of Bohemia and Moravia
- German Invasion of Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France
- The German-Russian Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939
- The Russian invasion of Poland
- The Russian occupation of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
- The Italian invasion of France, Albania and North Africa
2. Continuance of the Asian Conflict by Japan
- The Japanese invasion and occupation of French Indo-China
- Preparation by the Japanese for eliminating further western influences and threats from the Japanese dominance of the Pacific region
3. Russia vs. Finland
4. Russia vs. Japan
- The Battle of Khalin-Gol
Instructor can provide to each student copies of the related materials as listed above and lead the students in a discussion of the events as they occurred chronologically and utilize the included documentary materials.
Instructor can highlight and summarize in a lecture format the events that encompass each of the above listed topics and utilize the included documentary materials.
Instructor can provide to each of the students copies of the various primary source documents (included) and perform a review and critique of each in the following manner:
a. What was the response of the world to the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938? Review the Life Magazine dated April 24, 1939
b. What was the overall feeling between the English, French and Germans prior to the start of the war in Europe? Review the Life Magazine dated April 24, 1939
c. Ask the students what prewar preparations allowed the German military to be so successful in their invasion of both Poland and Western Europe?
The Start of World War II in Europe
Once Hitler was placed in the powerful position of German Chancellor in January 1933 by President of the Weimar Republic, war hero Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler wasted little time in demolishing the that same Republic. Within one month there was the suspicious fire in the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin that allowed for the suspension of the individual rights. Within another month the “Enabling Act” was passed which allowed for the assumption of dictatorial powers by the government. These actions placed Hitler and his Nazi party solely in charge of the day to day governance of Germany. The Reichstag quickly became a “rubber stamp” organization to Hitler’s goals.
That same month saw the establishment of the first concentration camp at Dachau, outside of Munich. These concentration camps were originally intended to provide “protective custody” and allow for the “reeducation” of those who were unfortunate to have been detained there. At first many of the Nazi political opponents from the Communist, Socialist, and Catholic Center parties were arrested. Shortly thereafter they were joined by opponents from academic life, public media, religious organizations (both Catholic and Protestant) and governmental agencies who had voiced their previous displeasure against the Nazi party. Later additions were to include those who were considered as “undesirables” such as criminals, gypsies and homosexuals. Dachau was to serve as the “model camp” that all the subsequent concentration camps were modeled on.
A police state emerged in Germany that provided a very ordered society with the state at the center. Membership in the Nazi party became the quickest was to advancement in a wide variety of institutions throughout Germany. Public institutions, government bureaucracies and economic life were organized to provide support to the Nazi outlook in Germany. Within one year, Hitler eliminated his political rivals in the Nazi Party with the systematic murder of his old Munich friend Ernst Rohm and over 100 “threats” to the Nazi order of Germany. This was to become known as the “Night of the Long Knives”.
Recovering from the devastating effects of the hyperinflation of the 1920’s and early 1930’s Germany began to eliminate joblessness through a program of vast public works. All it is noted were intended to support a country that would be on a war footing. The order that came to Germany was accepted by the German people as something that was much better than the past chaos of the post World War I years. Hitler’s speaking ability incited the German populace with thoughts of German becoming once again powerful and to take her rightful place among the nations of Europe. The cost to the German people was life in a police state where they found that they had to pledge total allegiance to Hitler and his aims for Germany. Mandatory service in a variety of organizations for the youth and young adults of Germany began to prepare them for service in one of the branches of the armed forces. (See included photograph of German Labor Service Troops) Violating the provisions of the Versailles Treaty Germany began a rearmament program in all branches of the military. From glider and sailing clubs that taught the fundamentals to the labor service front, all Germans were intended to be involved in their country. Internal clashes with religious groups and denominations as well as those who disagreed with the course of the country found themselves in “protective custody” at a concentration camp. The Nazi party began to emerge as a semi-religious organization that was intended to supplant Christianity in the hearts and minds of the German people.
The first real challenge to Europe by the “New Germany” came on March 7, 1936. It was on this date that battalions of Germany soldiers marched over Rhine river bridges at Mainz and Cologne and reoccupied the Rhineland that had been restricted since the end of World War I. The German people were filled with a nationalistic spirit that Hitler was quick to capitalize on. At that time Germany was not of sufficient military strength to have withstood a challenge from the dominant power of France. Hitler was concerned that this gamble could fail. He was pleased when France did nothing to stop the remilitarization of Germany’s western border. (See included National Geographic Magazine, June 1936). Flushed with success, Hitler’s next goal was to expand German influence within Europe.
In mid-1936 Germany sent military equipment, primarily aircraft and their crews, to Spain to assist Franco and his Nationalists battle the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. This three year operation provided the German military with the opportunity to test out their evolving equipment, tactics, and personnel in a combat environment. This aggressiveness of German involvement outside of the country saw Hitler’s desire to create a “Greater Germany” that would include his birthplace, Austria. After a failed attempt by the Nazi’s to seize power in Austria, (See included Austrian Magazines 1935 & 1937) Hitler was able to bully the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg into allowing for the annexation of Austria to Germany in March 1938. (See included photograph of German Police Marching into Austria) This became known as the “Anschluss” and served as a harbinger of Hitler’s goals for the rest of Germany. As Hitler gained more for Germany through his diplomatic successes, his control over the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) increased. Initially, the German military aristocratic class looked on Hitler with distain and referred to him as “that Bohemian Corporal”. Recognizing the distrust of the German military and acknowledging the fact that he needed their support he began a campaign to gain their favor. It started in June 1934 when Hitler eliminated the growing rivalry and power of his own Nazi storm troopers who the German generals saw as threat. By 1938 Hitler had restructured the German military hierarchy with individuals he felt would be loyal to him. All the personal of the armed forces had earlier taken oaths that their loyalty would not be pledged to the German government as in the past, by to Hitler personally. This concept can be traced back to the time of Julius Caesar when his armies pledged their loyalty to him and not the Roman state. This concept would plague some German officers who had a strong sense of loyalty, but yet began to plot to remove Hitler from power prior to the start of World War II. Their numbers were few and they were never successful. Hitler now had total dominance of all aspects of the German government and society.
After Hitler’s success in Austria he next turned his attention to his neighbors in the east. To Hitler it was to be an issue of gaining more “lebensraum” (living space) for the German people. For centuries past there had been ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland bordering Germany, which was a part of the newly established country of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s design to incorporate these ethnic Germans into his growing greater Germany led to what became known as the Munich Crisis. In September 1938, Hitler and Mussolini met in Munich with Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of England, and Eduard Daladier, Premier of France who agreed to allow Germany to add six million ethnic Germans to his Reich. Strangely, Czechoslovakia was not present at the Munich Agreement which saw the extent that the major European powers would go to appease Hitler and thus forestall threats of war.
Within Europe many ethnic groups and in particular the Jews were being singled out for hostile treatment that included loss of property, denial of employment and expulsion from their homes. This ended up creating a migration of people within Europe and away from Europe. In that process a young Jew (Herschel Grynszpan) who was living in Paris became distraught over the prospects of his father who was still residing in Germany. Grynszpan obtained a pistol and visited the German Embassy in Paris with the goal of killing the German Ambassador von Welczeck. Fate found the would be assassin in the presence of the Third Secretary of the embassy, Ernst von Rath who he then shot. Within two days von Rath was dead and Hitler unleashed a torrent of destruction on the Jews still living in Germany. (See included Life Magazine, November 28, 1938) This became known as the “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht) which was to foretell the brutality that would await the Jews of Europe in a few short years.
In the early spring of 1939, Hitler again pressed his determination to gain more living space for his Greater Germany. Through the excuse of internal troubles within the Czechoslovakian government Hitler was able to declare the country to be a “protectorate” of Germany and within six days the German military machine occupied the remainder of the country to include the eastern provinces of Bohemia and Moravia. With the addition of this country to the growing German state, the rest of Europe became alarmed and wondered where the ambitious Hitler would halt. (See included Life Magazine dated April 24, 1939) Realizing that Poland and the unification of Danzig and East Prussia to Germany appeared to be next, both England and France issued guarantees that if anything were to happen to Poland’s independence, Europe would be at War. Nevertheless Hitler continued his expansionist goals and began planning for the invasion of Poland. Realizing that Russia had become a world power that could pose a threat to him, Germany entered into negations with Soviet Russia to the east. The result was the Non-Aggression Pact of August 23, 1939. In essence it was to state that neither would attack the other and would remain neutral in the event of a third party attack. The next eight days would lead to hectic diplomatic activity between nearly every world power to include the United States, all in efforts to persuade Germany to back off from the brink of war in Europe. Unfortunately for the world nothing worked in this flurry of activity and leaders recognized the inevitability of what would be coming. Poland began to mobilize their military forces while Germany massed over one million men along the Polish border. Russia was strangely silent in the world voices that were calling for moderation and restraint.
In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939 Germany unleashed what was to become the legendary “Blitzkrieg” (Lightning War) that overwhelmed all of Europe. In the previous six years since Hitler’s assumption of power, Germany had rapidly rearmed and revitalized their military doctrine, strategy and tactics. The weaponry that was developed incorporated the lessons learned from Germany’s defeat in World War I. The German mechanization of their forces in World War I was never fully developed. This was the opposite of the Allied forces who introduced the tank in 1916 and mechanized much more effectively. Germany further incorporated the military concepts that had been developed by other nations during the Weimar Republic years. Of note was the fact that the Soviet Union was the first to pioneer the use of airborne forces. The Blitzkrieg that invaded Poland included the revolutionary idea of air-ground coordination in attacks against a forward enemy. The Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber with its sirens wailing would hammer an entrenched force which would then be overrun by the ground forces. Although Germany masterfully used this modernization/mechanization it could not hide the fact that the German military machine in the field was still dependent of horse drawn transportation for the bulk of its operations. Within two days of the invasion of Poland, England and France formally declared war against Germany and the die was cast that would plunge into the most destructive war in recorded history.
The valiant Poles fielded a military force in excess of 900,000 who put up a spirited defense of their country that exacted nearly 50,000 dead, wounded, or missing from the German Wehrmacht. Within days the conflict centered on the struggle to capture the Polish capital of Warsaw. This major city held out for almost two weeks against an onslaught that reduced portions of the city to rubble. Meanwhile, waiting to observe the success of the German invasion, the Soviet Russia decided to enter the conflict. On September 17, 1939 Russia invaded Eastern Poland meeting with nominal resistance. By the 5th of October it was all over and Poland was quickly divided between the two aggressors. The Soviet Union was pleased to regain some of the lands that they had lost under the terms of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and at the same time gain more of a “buffer zone” from Nazi Germany. The highly efficient German military machine additionally left a strong impression on the Russian military hierarchy that began to experience a bit of uneasiness regarding their new geographic neighbor. The Polish losses from the month long campaign resulted in nearly 300,000 who had been killed or wounded. The remainder of the Polish military became prisoners, although some did manage to escape to fight again.
Within six months one of the often overlooked tragedies of World War II occurred to the unfortunate Polish military officer corps. That event became known as the Katyn Forest Massacre. Many of the Polish leadership had been imprisoned by both the Germans and the Russians. It now has become clear with the passage of time that the Russians intended to retain their Polish conquest and eliminate any threat to that goal. Subsequently many of the senior Polish leaders from the military and civil sector were taken to the Katyn Forest in Eastern Poland and during the period of March-April 1940 were murdered with a bullet to the back of the head. The numbers who were thus executed in that fashion are estimated through varying accounts to between 5,000 – 15,000 men. Because of the international situation this event did not become widely known. In 1943 the Germans and the Russians were battling each other in the East and several German military units came across these mass graves. Realizing that this was not their own “handiwork” (the SS Special Action Groups or “einsatzgrouppen”) Germany quickly proclaimed through propaganda efforts the poles had died at the hands of the Russians (See included document pages from “Der Massenmord”). What is so unusual is the extent the Germans went to show that this was committed by the Russians. The revelation of the event ended up creating some animosity among the allies and Russia. While Stalin denied the event, the Allies in order to maintain their coalition against Germany ignored the protests of the Polish government in exile in England.
After the polish campaign Germany began to turn its attention to the West. In the next six months the war in Europe entered the period that became known as the “Sitzkrieg” or “Phony War”. Nothing really happened on the European land mass between the major combatants of the war. Germany used this time to replenish their personnel losses and supplies while repositioning their Wehrmacht to the western borders of Germany. England used the opportunity to send the British Expeditionary Forces to the lands in France and Belgium that they had occupied nearly 25 years earlier. In France, the government felt a small degree of security behind their legendary Maginot Line that had been erected in the 1930’s. Now England and France adopted a “wait and see” attitude as they prepared for the next stage of the German juggernaut.
The naval war at sea took a slightly different tack as the German submarine service picked up where it had left off at the end of World War I. Using stealth and daring and German submarine or “U-Boat”) was able to penetrate the port of the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The U-47 sunk the British battleship H.M.S. Royal Oak thus invigorating the idea that the U-Boats could successfully engage the most powerful navy in the world. At the start of World War II England still possessed the largest navy in the world. In the rearmament years Germany did not develop a naval force to level of the land or air forces. The result of this was that Germany still lacked the ability to engage the Royal Navy in an old fashion battle of ships. The German strategy followed by Grand-Admiral Erich Raeder was to focus on disrupting the supply ships of England through surface raiders and U-Boats. After a series of naval engagements in the Atlantic and Latin America the German surface navy was forced to return to port for the time being. This allowed the German U-Boat fleet under Admiral Karl Doenitz to begin their campaign against Allied shipping that was to prove very effective and led nearly to the starving out of England by late 1941. It was only with the American participation starting in 1942 that the German U-Boat menace was finally overcome.
The spring of 1940 saw the German Wehrmacht embark on a campaign to isolate England from the rest of Continental Europe. The goal of Hitler was to cut off all opportunities for contact with any power who could serve as an ally. The first phase of the German plan began on April 9, 1940 as German forces moved into Norway and Denmark. Denmark fell without a shot being fired as the invaders simply moved from their common border along the Northern German states. The Norwegian operation involved as seaborne landing all along the western coast which led to the rapid occupation of key cities. Although resistance would continue on until June, for the most part the Germans were there to stay. The British did contest the German operations in Norway with Royal Navy units sinking German transports and warships at Trondheim, Bergen and Narvik. The Norwegian government fled to London and established a government in exile, much as the Polish had done in 1939. By 1942 the German dominated government in Norway was using native inhabitants to carry out their orders. Most infamous of these people was a man by the name of Vidkun Quisling who was appointed as the “Minister-President” of the country. His conduct in support of the Germans was so egregious that at the end of the war he was tried for War Crimes in a special Norwegian court and subsequently executed. Today the term “Quisling” is used universally to describe someone who is a traitor to their country.
With the northern continental perimeter secured Hitler turned his attention to the low countries of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. On the 10th of May, 1940 the German military began its assault on these countries. Again utilizing the successful Blitzkrieg tactics the Germans were able to quickly overrun the ineffective defenses in each country. The German airborne forces made quick use of surprise to capture the large Belgian fortifications that had held up the German armies in the First World War. The Luftwaffe continually pounded the Dutch port of Rotterdam into submission as the Dutch government fled into exile in London. The German assault on Belgium forced both the British and Belgian armies back to the coast of the English Channel near Ostend and Dunkirque. The Wehrmacht penetrated into France through the Ardennes following nearly the same invasion route of 1914. Executing a turning movement the forces of Hitler moved towards the coastal city of Boulogne which effectively sealed in a pocket a large number of British, French and Belgian soldiers. This led to what was to become known as the “Miracle of Dunkirque (Dunkirk). This was given the codename of Operation Dynamo and was considered absolutely heroic by the British people. If anything this was the one bright spot for the allies in the German invasion of Western Europe. Over the course of ten days in late May and early June, nearly any type of seaworthy vessel sailed from England to the French coast and returned as many men they could carry to England. In the end nearly 220,000 British and 110,000 French soldiers were brought to England. The majority was only able to carry their personal weapons, but they would form a force that could be used against the planned German invasion of England. Those left behind were captured by the Germans and would spend the next five years in captivity. (See included photograph of soldiers at Dunkerque). However, one notable Frenchman who did escape the Germans was General Charles DeGaulle. He fled the advancing German armies after leading a tank brigade against the Germans in May 1940. Landing in England, DeGaulle established the “Free-French” government in exile in London. As time went on there was to be some conflict between DeGaulle and his British and American as well as the Nazi controlled government still residing in France. On the 18th of June, (See included PM Newspaper, June 18, 1940) Hitler met with Mussolini in Munich (See included photograph of Hitler and Mussolini in Munich) to decide what was characterize “as the fate of Europe.
By the 22nd of June the French had signed an armistice in the glade of Compiegne, the site of the German armistice of 11 November 1918 ending World War I. Hitler had Paris (See included photograph of Hitler at the Eifel Tower in Paris) and it was said that one of his first tourist visits was to the tomb of Napoleon who he was said to have admired. The terms of the armistice established a divided France. In the north, the Germans occupied all of the coastal areas that bordered the English Channel, effectively sealing off the continent from England. This included Paris and many industrial French cities of significance. The Germans further occupied the English Channel Islands which were 14 miles off the coast of Normandy and Brittany. These were the only part of England that was occupied by the Germans during the war. Hitler saw their occupation as an opportunity for propaganda against the English (See included German Red Cross Prisoner of War Correspondence Card). He further spent a great deal of manpower and materials fortifying the four main islands. In reality the allies ignored these islands as they saw no strategic value in them. After the Normandy invasions of 1944 the Channel Islands were again ignored and were cut off from the French mainland. The German forces on the islands finally surrendered the day after the war ended in Europe. The unoccupied part of France included the southern areas that bordered Spain and the Mediterranean Sea. The capital of this part of France was Vichy, a resort spa town. The new leader of France was the elderly Marshal Petain, the hero of World War I. For the next two years the French government would deal with the countries of the world from their seat at Vichy. This part of France would remain unoccupied by the German Wehrmacht until the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942.
Now the dominant force in Europe Hitler turned his attention to the last European power who resisted his conquest. England had always been shielded from invading European forces by the English Channel. The last successfully invasion of England had been in 1066 by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. Napoleons invasions plans of England had been ended in 1805 with the English victory of Lord Nelson at Trafalger. Hitler saw this as something that was necessary since England had rebuffed German attempts to negotiate a settlement to end the fighting. While some members of the English government were willing to reach an agreement with the Germans, the new and resolute Prime Minister refused. On the day that the Germans had invaded the Low Countries, May 10th, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was replaced by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Churchill was to become the personification of the English resistance to the demands of Hitler. For the next five years Churchill would be ruthless in his attempts to do whatever it took to defeat the German military. Ironically, within six weeks after the end of the war in Europe in 1945, Churchill was voted out of office. His contribution to England’s history was as their wartime leader which overshadowed all his other accomplishments.
Hitler’s plan for the invasion of England was given the code name “Operation Sealion”. Recognizing the superiority of England’s Royal Navy, Germany knew that they would have to obtain air superiority over the English Channel and southern England in order to protect their invasion forces. While the process to assemble and invasion fleet began, the Luftwaffe under the direction of their chief Herman Goering began an aggressive campaign to destroy any British air land and sea resistance. This struggle became known as the “Battle of Britain” and would last from the summer into the fall of 1940. Initially the Luftwaffe focused their aerial attacks on the airfields of the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.). The German Navy established a blockade around England. The plan was to begin to starve the English into surrender. Rationing was introduced as many products began to be in short supply. (See included English Ration Books) It should be noted the consequences of the war on England kept the British Rationing program in effect until 1954 when it was finally eliminated. As time went on the Germans felt that they were not making the progress needed so they shifted their attacks to the major cities of England. This respite gave the RAF the opportunity to rebuild and rearm. As the RAF was able to reorganize, their defensive measures became more effective to halting the German bombing attacks. This British use of Radar installations along the coast allowed them to accurately direct the fighters to intercept the German waves of bombers. British pilots were able to remain in combat continuously. When they were shot down by the Germans over England many were able to parachute to safety, return to their airfield and take up another aircraft. The British mechanics were able to recover their downed aircraft and cannibalize parts to keep the planes in the air. On the other hand, German aircraft and crews that where shot down were lost for the duration of the war. By September 1940 Hitler came to the realization that the losses Germany was sustaining over England in terms of manpower and material could not continue. Operation Sealion was called off; however Hitler directed the continued bombing of England. This was to become what would be known as the “Blitz”. German attention now turned to the east and their “ally” Russia.
Germany now entered the period that would begin to see the reality of war on the homefront. As Germany bombed England throughout 1940 and into 1941, England made it a point to do the same to Germany. The losses sustained by the RAF’s Bomber Command were horrific, but yet Churchill was determined to take the war to Hitler. Germany entered a period where rationing was introduced in order to provide sufficient materials for the armed forces. The English blockade of the European continent was also taking effect on the German war machine. (See included German Ration Cards)
After the Russians had concluded the Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939 with Germany the opportunity for expansion of territorial boundaries became more evident. In the decades of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Germany and Russia and their respective ideologies had continually come in conflict with each other. From the chaos of post World War I to the Spanish Civil War, Communism and Fascism were at odds with each other. Hitler made no secret of his distrust of Communism and the German people still had in their memories the chaos of the “Red Scare” of 1919 and 1920. However, both Hitler and Stalin as leaders would use whatever steps and actions necessary to strengthen their countries on the world stage. It was under this pretense that they agreed to respect each others borders.
After the Russian invasion of Poland in September 1939, Stalin was able to create a buffer between the ever powerful German military. To this end he now focused his attention on returning the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the umbrella of the Soviet Union. Through a series of agreements in September and October 1939, Russia was able to acquire various land, naval and air bases along the Baltic coast in each of these countries. This would further serve to give Russia a greater buffer against the German controlled Western Europe.
After observing the Hitler’s successes of 1938 in building a Greater Germany, Mussolini was determined to make Italy a master of regional conquests in the Mediterranean area as Germany had been in Central Europe. In April 1939, Italy launched their invasion of Adriatic neighbor Albania. Fortunately for Italy, Albania put up very little resistance. From this conquest, Italy began to hunger for more empire. The options for Mussolini pointed to the south and Greece. It is interesting to note that the actual combat performance of the Italian forces was mediocre at best. Yet feeding his ego he ensured that Italy projected to the world a powerful military machine that would rival the German juggernaut in the north. In May of 1939 it was Mussolini who coined the term “Pact of Steel” to describe a formal alliance that was signed between Italy and Germany. The only problem was that only Germany was really capable of living up to that description.
At the start of the German invasion of France in May 1940, Italy was still not sure about the wisdom of joining Germany in a war against the major European powers. Equally impressed as the Russians were, Italy saw the German military machine as something that was both efficient and victorious. Mussolini seemed as if he did not want to continually follow in the Hitler and all of his accomplishments and conquests. After a meeting with Hitler during the winter of 1939-1940 Mussolini felt that he had to do something or else he would always be in the shadow of Hitler. After watching the German Wehrmacht victorious in the west, Italy declared war on England and France on June 10, 1940. While the bulk of the French army was dealing with the Germans in the North, Mussolini invaded France through the Alpine borders. Even though Italy faced little real resistance in their invasion, they were in fact halted by the French after a few days. Italy had intended that now they would be able to claim some of the spoils from the war, however Hitler and French limited their conquests to just a few miles along the Franco-Italian border. Mussolini quickly realized that Italy’s participation in the war would always be secondary to the German performances and that Germany could easily win without them.
While the experiences with France in June 1940 did have some impact on the ego of the vainglorious Mussolini, Italy still continued to adjust their military objectives to try and gain some territorial conquests within the Mediterranean basin. In fact Italy did subsequently invade the Southern Balkans in October 1940 from their positions in Albania. Their goal was to take over portions of Greece and drive the British out. In reality, the Italians were forced back by a series of Greek counterattacks which brought the Greek forces past the original Italian start line in Albania. The Italians now feared they were about to be thrown back into the sea. It was also at this time that Mussolini was preparing to push to the Suez Canal from Libya in the west and from Italian Somaliland and newly conquered Ethiopia in the south. Ambitious as these plans were, they were not well coordinated or orchestrated. In the end in late 1940, the British Western Desert Force under General’s Wavell and O’Connor were able to utterly defeat the superior numbers of the Italian forces and capture nearly 100,000 prisoners. In each of these occasions, it was the powerful German military that had to come and rescue Italy and provide the margin of victory. These were major set backs for Mussolini who would again be frequently calling for help from his German partners.
Continuance of the Asian Conflict by Japan
With the onset of war in Europe in the spring of 1940 between Germany and the colonial power of France, the Japanese saw the opportunity to expand their imperialist hopes in the Far East. Realizing that the French would be preoccupied in their actions with Germany, the Japanese focused their attention on the French held colony of Indo-China. With the newly established Vichy regime in place, Japan demanded concessions and the “right” to use the Indo-China port facilities. Having no other choice, France allowed the Japanese presence. Shortly three months later, the Japanese began to occupy the Northern portion of Indo-China that would enable the Japanese to provide further opportunities to engage the Nationalist Chinese. On this action the United States took action to place an embargo on the export of scrap iron and steel to any country outside of the Western Hemisphere with the one exception being England. The Japanese within a day later signed the “Tripartite Pact” with Italy and Germany creating what would become known as the “Berlin, Rome and Tokyo Axis”.
As World War II wound on into 1941 Japan was able to arrange for an end to conflicts that involved Indo-China with neighboring Thailand. Using diplomacy, Japan was able to obtain more natural resources from Thailand and made permanent their presence in the French colony. It was at this time that Russia and Japan concluded a neutrality pact that was the result of the Japanese defeat by the Russians a year earlier at Khalin-Gol. The expansion of the Japanese presence and the projection of their interests began to cause even more alarm in the United States. By the summer of 1941 the United States took the steps to “freeze” the Japanese government assets in the U.S. The ripple effect of this action caused England to follow suit in the freezing of Japanese assets.
Fear of Further Japanese Expansion
The aggressiveness of the Japanese in the Far East caused great concern among the American leadership. Warnings were issued by the U.S. to Japan that included the stipulation that American would take any and all steps necessary to protect their interests in the Pacific. By October 1941 Japan’s course for war with the United States seemed certain as a very militaristic governing body came to power. This new leader, General Hideki Tojo, was supported by the chief’s of both the Army and the Navy. In November 1941 the Japanese ruling cabinet prepared plans that called for the simultaneous attacks against British interests in Malaya, the American interests in the Philippines, the Dutch interests in the East Indies and the American base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. With this action, the future course of the war would be set which would now include the United States of America.
Russia vs. Finland
By November 1939, emboldened with their successes in Poland and the Baltic States, Russia had made the same demands on Finland as they had of the other Baltic nations. However, Finland rejected the Russian demands for “basing rights” and quickly mobilized their small armed forces along the Finnish-Soviet border. Realizing that the Finns would not back down to the Russian demands, Russia launched air strikes against major Finnish cities. Shortly thereafter Russia launched their armies against Finland in several key areas with the goal of breaching their defenses and quickly capturing the capital of Helsinki. The ineffective League of Nations subsequently took steps to expel Russia in December for the aggressive acts against Finland. It is interesting to note that in nearly every act of aggression from Germany, Japan or Italy the League of Nations took some form of administrative action, but was never able to sustain interest from members to further sustain outrage against the aggressor.
From the onset the invasion on Finland proved to be a disaster for the Russians. The Finnish soldiers fighting on their own territory and with a strong determination not to fall under the hold of Communism routed the Soviet forces and inflicted disproportionate causalities to the invaders. Initially, the Russian soldiers were ill equipped for the type of winter warfare they fought, poorly led by incompetent generals and lacked even the most rudimentary clothing for the harsh conditions. The Finns were able to literally wipe out two complete Soviet divisions with a loss ratio of nearly 270 Russians killed for ever Finn lost.
Stung by the tenacity of the Finns, the Russians realized that they would have to regroup which they quickly did. During this period it becomes interesting to note that both England and France were in the preparation phase of sending some form of support to the beleaguered Finns, but were denied permission for transit passage by both Norway and Sweden and thus their support became a moot point. More interestingly is the fact there were over 11,000 volunteers, to include hundreds of Finnish-Americans, who actually flocked to Finland to help in the conflict against Russia. However their efforts were too little and few to stem the coming onslaught of the Soviet Union that was to begin in several months.
By February 1940, the Russians had completely changed in their ideas and methodology for the invasion of Finland. More equipment, better leadership and training and most importantly overwhelming combat power in the form of infantry, armored and aviation units that would literally smother the numerically inferior Finns. Within several weeks of heroic and devastating defensive struggles, the Finnish lines were breached and by a series of Russian tactical maneuvers over the next several weeks the Finns realized their cause was lost. By mid-March 1940 Finland had agreed to the Russian demands and capitulated. Russia had the territory that it had wanted but at a substantial cost. Although Finland suffered nearly one in four causalities among their armed forces, Russia suffered in numbers that even today are not fully known. Some estimates place the total number of Russian causalities in terms of killed and wounded in excess of 500,000.
The Russo-Finish war of 1939-1940 demonstrated two object lessons for the world at large and the Germans in particular. That Russia would use whatever the number of personnel necessary to seize their objectives and that cost in human terms did not really matter. The second lesson, and one that did initially create a false impression, was that the Soviet Union was militarily weak in terms of leadership and equipment. While realizing that this thought at the time was incorrect, it did lead to some interesting planning and strategy development by Nazi Germany. When the Germans saw how a small body of well trained and motivated soldiers such as the Finns could defeat the massive Russian military a false conception was created that would serve to fuel the German planning for their own subsequent invasion of Russia. This false assumption on the part of Germany would in the end serve to be the genesis of the German defeat in World War II.
Russia vs. Japan
The Battle of Khalin-Gol (also known as Nomonhan Bridge) is certainly one that is not widely discussed or studied in the history of World War II with the scrutiny of the Normandy campaign, the Battle of the Bulge or the Pacific Island campaigns. However, militarily speaking the results of the battle altered the standings for the balance of power and political situation between the World War II experiences of both Russia and Japan in the Far East.
The Battle of Khalin-Gol was the result of the growing Japanese expansion in Manchurian territory and the Soviet Far Eastern provinces. The continued conflict between the Chinese and the Japanese caused some concern in Moscow who was concerned with the potential of Japanese incursions into the areas that had strong Soviet interests. In the summer of 1938 both Russia and Japan clashed near Vladivostok along the very ill defined border between Russian Siberia, Korea, and Manchuria. The outcome was indecisive with Russia retaining some key territory. In the spring of 1939, again the Japanese renewed their hostilities, this time on the other side of Manchuria, near the Mongolian border. Initially the Japanese were successful in pushing the Russians out from the area. However after the Russians regrouped and were given new leadership in the form of General Georgi Zhukov along with numerically superior infantry, armor and artillery forces. Following the Soviet practice of mass, the Japanese were outnumbered nearly three to one and were pushed back with substantial losses. Some sources list the causalities between the two forces as about equal, while others say the Japanese had more. While Zhukov certainly added with his presence to the conflict, the Russian superiority in numbers certainly contributed to the victory.
As a result of the battle, the Japanese came to an armistice with the Russians to halt the fighting, which was subsequently confirmed with a treaty in June 1940. Stalin still felt some concern about the close proximity of the Japanese to Russia’s eastern border, but the Japanese experience at this time made their decision to focus eastward much easier to make. As a result of the Russo-Japanese treaty neither side aggressively assaulted the other until the closing days of World War II in 1945. Russia was now able to focus its attention on the advances of Hitler in the west while Japan could focus their attentions to the goal of dominating the entire Pacific Ocean area to the south and east. The successes of Zhukov against the Japanese helped to propel his standing with Stalin. It was Zhukov who was later brought from the east to halt the German tide outside Moscow in the fall of 1941.