WWII Curriculum – Day 3
WORLD WAR II CURRICULUM
Lesson Plan – Day Three
Phase Two (1941 – 1942):
The period of history in Europe and the world as the conflict ignited nearly every location and brought nearly every nation into the conflict.
The Student will learn facts and comprehend the events pertaining to:
- The German Invasion of Russia
- The events that brought the United States into World War II
- McCormack – Dickstein Committee
- Charles Lindbergh – Isolationists
- The American response to the Pearl Harbor Attack
- The three major turning points of 1942
- The Battle of Midway
- The Battle of Stalingrad
- The Battle of El Alamein
- The Unification of the Allies against Germany in Europe and North Africa
- Commando and “undercover” operations directed against the Germans in Europe
- Keeping Russia supplied with war material and equipment throughout the war
Duration of instruction time required:
- 45 – 50 minutes
- World or American History Textbook
- Map of Europe
- Map of Asia
Supplemental materials (included):
- Draft of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to Congress, “Day of Infamy” speech. (National Archives www.nara.gov)
Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech was delivered to Congress on the 8th of December and in it he declared war against Japan for their surprise attack on the American forces based in the Hawaiian Island chain. Copies of the address and a sound recording of the address are available on-line.
Question for the students: What would have been your feelings if you were tuned to the radio (remember no T.V. or internet!) and you listened to the address? Answer: Student responses will vary. For some who can remember they might recall their thoughts on September 11, 2001 or when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.
- Photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War against Japan, December 8, 1941. (National Archives NARA file#: 79-AR-82).
Roosevelt took immediate action against the Japanese after the Pearl Harbor Attack.
Question for the Students: What does the look on the face of President Roosevelt tell you about his thoughts as he is signing the Declaration of War? Answer: One thought could be that he realized the gravity of his actions and most likely the sacrifices that would be demanded from the American people by this action.
- American Civilian Internee Correspondence Card
Many foreign national civilians from the belligerent powers found themselves in the wrong places on the involvement of their country in the war. These individuals were allowed to maintain correspondence (although censored) with their loved ones.
Question for the Students: If you found that you had been interned by the Germans/Japanese for the duration for the war would you have tried to escape or do you think that you would be better off staying in an Internee Camp since, after all, you were not a solider or sailor fighting? Answer: This question should cause some critical thinking in the responses because civilians were afforded a different category under the Geneva Conventions that dictated the treatment of civilians.
- Map of the Pacific Theater of 1942 (Army Center of Military History)
Once the United States became involved in World War II a decision was made to prioritize the distribution of resources between the European and Pacific Theaters of War. In the Pacific, the main areas that would be the focus of the fighting to defeat the Japanese would be the Southwest Pacific and Central Pacific areas. The Southwest area was commanded by General Douglas MacArthur and was established to halt any Japanese advance to Australia. The Central Pacific, as well as the North and South Pacific theaters, would be commanded by Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Question for the Students: Compare both the European and Pacific Theaters of War. Which area involved the greater distances? Answer: The Pacific was a much larger area of operation for the Allied forces against the Japanese and the distances were much farther by comparison to Europe.
- United States Selective Service Registration Card
Beginning with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 all young men who were found to be physically fit and within certain age categories were required to register with their local “draft board”.
Question for the Students: The U.S. has not had a draft since 1973. However on reaching your 18th birthday males must register. How would you feel if you were subject to being called to active duty during World War II? Answer: Student response will be different depending on their personal feelings about the present political situation in Iraq. However, in a war that most recognized as necessary, many students should voice support for the American effort. There were cases of some men who actually committed suicide because they were classified as 4-F (unfit for service) which was looked on as a stigma!
- Notice of Selection for Induction in the United States Armed Forces
This is the letter that was sent to young men as the first step in the process of their being drafted for service in the American armed forces. Some men on receipt of this letter would then go out and join the service of their choice and hopefully get the job/position they desired. When drafted, an individual was placed in the service and position as dictated by the needs of the armed forces, which at times could be quite unpopular.
Question for the Students: Would you accept your selection notice or would you decide to go out and join the service of your choice? Answer: Responses will vary based on past experiences and interests in the military.
- Order to Report for Induction in the United States Armed Forces
This is the letter that was sent to young men indicating what service they were being assigned to and when and where they must report. There were cases of some individuals who did not get or did not respond to the letters. They were then subject to arrest by both civilian and military authorities.
Question for the Students: What would be your feelings if you were placed in a service that you did not want? Answer: Response will be dictated by personal interests.
- Office of Price Administration Gasoline Purchase Permit and Mileage Ration Coupons
As America was expanding and modernizing in the 1930’s the automobile became an opportunity for people to expand their lives with greater mobility. The restrictions imposed on automobile driving, gasoline, tires, oil, etc., seemed to impact all people. Emergency service people such as police, firemen, doctors, etc., were given exceptions to many of the automobile restrictions.
Question for the Students: What do you think would be the impact of having to curtail automobile usage during World War II? Answer: For many people who lived in the urban areas life without the automobile was not too bad since they could still use mass transit. However, people who lived in the country and in small towns would be impacted in a different way.
- Office of Price Administration War Ration Book One; Office of Price Administration War Ration Book No. 3; Office of Price Administration War Ration Book Four.
The concept of rationing went into effect on America’s entry into World War II. A wide variety of consumables from foodstuffs to clothing was rationed and controlled by the government under the Office of Price Administration (OPA).
Question for the Students: Notice on the Ration Books that it lists as a crime to improperly use the rations books or engage in Black Market activity. Do you think that everyone in America was honest in using the rationing system? Answer: Rationing was accepted by most Americans as something that was a “necessary evil” and the majority understood that it had a very real purpose. However, there were those people who were unscrupulous and who did engage in large Black Market and profiteering activities. Some of these individual were arrested and given lengthy prison sentences.
- United States Savings Bond Postal Savings Plan Booklet
A variety of methods were employed to encourage people to save money and purchase the various types of War/Defense Savings Bonds. In this case individuals could go to any local post office and purchase the various denominations of saving stamps and when the book was complete they could redeem it for a regular Savings Bond. In schools students were encouraged to buy a 10 cent stamp each week in their classroom.
Question for the Students: Would you consider participating in this way to support the war effort? Answer: The majority of young people would very dutifully purchase the savings stamps to the exclusion of eating lunch. For some younger students it was a social status that all wanted to say they were participating in the war effort until they were old enough to join the military.
- American Express Insignia of the Army, Navy & Marine Corps Card and American Express Training Camps and Insignia Card
Many businesses and corporations were trying to do their part to support the war effort. This included helping to inform the public about the military and the importance of being patriotic.
Question for the Students: Do you think that you would have made an extra effort to learn about the military services and the various installations that were located throughout the United States? Answer: Many young people had older brothers or even sisters who had joined the American armed forces. These types of cards were popular to help young people to learn about the military and could even be considered as being a type of propaganda.
Instruction evaluation (included):
- Ten question multiple choice quiz
- Answer sheet
Topics to be covered:
1. Expansion of the Conflict in Asia
- The United States Enters World War II
- Prioritization of Allied Strategy
- Europe First Policy
- The Japanese Threat
- Pearl Harbor
- Japanese Expansion at its Height
2. America Strikes Back
- Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
- Turning the Japanese Tide at Midway
3. The European Battleground
- Operation Barbarossa
- German Defeat in the East
- First Allied Victory – North Africa
- El Alamein
- Operation Torch
4. Mobilization of the American Arsenal of Democracy
- America Responds
- Cash and Carry Program
- Lend – Lease Program
- Staffing the Armed Forces
- Building the War Machine
- Home Front America
- Charles Lindbergh
- Alien Internment in America
- Supporting the War Effort
5. Keeping the Enemy off Guard
- The Commando’s
- Behind the Lines
- Special Operations Executive (SOE)
- Downed Allied Aircrew Escapes
- Espionage and Switzerland
- Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – Allen Dulles
- Anti-Nazi resistance in Germany
Instructor can provide copies of portions of the text to each student as well as copies of the related materials listed above and lead the students in a discussion of the events as they occurred chronologically and utilize the included documentary materials. Of note should be commentary relating to the adequacy of the preparation of the United States for eventual participation in the war.
Question for the students: Given the advance of Japan in China and the Pacific, should the United States have anticipated a war with Japan? Does this have any relevance with regard to the United States participation in the Iraq War since 2003?
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 further provide to each of the students for homework purposes copies of the various primary source documents (included) and perform a review and critique of each in the following manner:
a. Did the United States respond in a timely manner to the potential threat of Japanese aggression? Should the United States have enacted a National Defense Act prior to 1940?
b. What was the overall feeling of the American public once war had been declared?
c. Ask the students what prewar preparations allowed the Japanese military to be so successful in their invasion of the Pacific Rim and their attack on Pearl Harbor?
Expansion of the Conflict in Asia
The United States Enters World War II
Japan’s actions on the 7th of December 1941 were for the American people a “day that will live in Infamy”. (See included Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” Speech and Photograph) On that day World War II finally became a global war. Within four days of Pearl Harbor, both Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States was now faced with a situation that involved being at war in two completely opposite theaters. This situation would now be one that would cause severe stains on the American public, but one that would finally provide some hope for Great Britain.
Those Americans who found themselves overseas in occupied German, Italian or Japanese controlled lands were subject to immediate apprehension as enemy aliens and would be interned through the duration of the war. Some of the American diplomatic staff and their families were exchanged with the belligerent power. But many Americans who were engaged in business ventures, newspaper and journalistic activities or humanitarian endeavors would not be leaving. This posed a unique situation in which many of these people had to resign themselves to their fates. (See included Civilian Internee Postcard) On some rare occasions, some of these people were later exchanged for either German, Italian or Japanese people who were in similar circumstances in the United States. This exchange usually was conducted through either neutral Spain or Switzerland.
Prioritization of Allied Strategy
For one a year England had stood as a bulwark against the Germans and the Japanese. In the European theater, the English under the leadership of Winston Churchill had resisted the German onslaught. By late 1941 England was looking a serious shortages of food, coal and life essentials that by some accounts could only last for another six weeks. The German u-boat menace had severely reduced the importation of basic necessities. With the United States entry into the war, England finally saw a full ally in this global struggle. Earlier the United States had assisted the British government through the “Cash and Carry” and “Lend – Lease” programs.
Europe First Policy
In late December of 1941 the Arcadia Conference was held in Washington, DC. For over three weeks the British and American leaders discussed the strategy that would be followed until the conclusion of this Second World War. Between Roosevelt and Churchill, based on the recommendations of their senior military leaders a “Europe first” strategy was developed. England had been on the verge of collapse and the goal was now to keep England in the war and focus on defeating Germany and Italy first and then focus on defeating Japan later. The priority for resources would now be established to build up England as an island fortress for an eventual invasion of continental Europe. The pacific conflict against Japan was recognized as being a more diverse war in which naval forces would be strengthened to keep the Japanese at bay, while at the same time slowly strengthening ground forces for smaller scale operations. The build up of forces in England would become known as “Operation Bolero” and would lead to jokes about England getting ready to sink under the weight of the American men and material prior to the invasion of Europe.
With this arrangement a new and unified organization was created that became known as “Combined Chiefs of Staff”. This was an arrangement in which the American Joints Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff were melded together to discuss global strategy and make decisions that would shape the direction of the war effort. They would meet throughout the war along with both Roosevelt and Churchill and later with Joseph Stalin and his military staff. Several notable personalities, such as the US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and the Chairman of the British Chiefs of Staff, General Alan Brooke clearly emerged as dominating historical figures during these meetings and their role in organizing an eventual Allied victory.
The Japanese Threat
As America was stunned and caught unprepared for their entry into the World War, the Japanese had responded to what they saw as a threat from the United States. Besides the English colonies in Asia and the Royal Navy presence, the Japanese realized that in order to gain the complete control of the Pacific rim of the world they would have to render the United States impotent. America at this time was still a peacetime nation, but had begun to grow with the National Defense act of 1940. This brought additional personnel into the US military and through the instance of General George Marshall in Congressional testimony a greater defense budget. This budget would translate into more armaments. In decades earlier the US Navy had focused their military presence on the west coast in ports like San Diego. But over time, the US Navy expanded their force projection and built up large facilities in the Pacific, such as the Pacific fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Under the prevailing naval doctrine, these forces could be quickly dispatched to any area in the Pacific that would suit the needs of American diplomacy. As such this would then set the stage for the eventual clash between the United States and the expanding Japanese Empire that culminated on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.
After World War II ended, controversy has continued through the modern period revolving around the notion that the United States aware of the Japanese intent to attack Pearl Harbor and the fleet at anchorage. In some regard this is a true statement, but after careful examination it becomes apparent that being aware is not the same as being prepared and ready to defend an anticipated attack. From mid-1940 American cryptographers had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and began to read the traffic between the Japanese foreign office and their embassy in Washington. This would later become the code that was named “Magic”. This enabled the United States to fully recognize that Japan was not really focused on peace and did give some early warning the Japanese were planning something on the military front against the United States. The Japanese military did not always share their plans with their own diplomats, which may explain why their embassy in Washington was not given the complete details of the impending attack at Pearl Harbor. The American Secretary of State Cordell Hull was not getting anywhere with the Japanese. By November 1941, the US Army code breakers learned that a large Japanese naval fleet was steaming somewhere in the Asian Pacific. American forces in the Pacific were warned that something was ongoing with the Japanese, but they were not given any details. And thus they were caught unaware at Pearl Harbor in early December 1941. One of the few positive actions that emerged from the surprise attack was that the US aircraft carriers were not in port on the 7th of December. Unknown to the Japanese, they had left Hawaii and were either out at sea or undergoing repairs on the west coast. Additionally, the attack on Pearl Harbor only resulted in the complete destruction of just two battleships, the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma, while the remaining damaged ships would eventually be repaired. The assault on Pearl Harbor cost the United States the loss of nearly 3,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and civilians, but this would be considered minor in the scope of things to come.
The architect of the Pearl Harbor attack was Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who was the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Fleet. While recognizing that war would be inevitable with the United States based on the string of events that was occurring in the Pacific, Yamamoto felt that a war with the United States must be decisive and immediate. Without this being accomplished, he felt that Japan would be doomed in any war with the United States. Admiral Yamamoto had good reason to fear the potential of the United States. Earlier he had been the Japanese Navel Attaché in Washington and had also been a student at Harvard University. In this regard he recognized that the United States could be called the “Sleeping Giant” both industrially and militarily.
The Japanese juggernaut quickly picked up speed after Pearl Harbor. With simultaneous action, the remaining British and American possessions, installations and facilities in Asia were brought under assault by the 8th of December 1941. The first to be struck was the British held Crown Colony Hong Kong which fell on the 25th of December. In organized assaults the Japanese hit the American garrison on Wake Island in what has become described as the “Pacific Alamo” that held out until the 23rd of December. In the southwestern quadrant of the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese stormed Malaya pushing the British forces back to Singapore which would eventually fall on 15 February 1942. On the 8th of December 1941 the Japanese efficiently occupied Thailand and focused on Burma. This operation was intended to cut the British supply lines from India to the Pacific. By May of 1942 despite American and British efforts, the Japanese were able to defeat the Chinese forces being advised by the Allies and gain complete control of south Asian peninsula. Further advances saw the Japanese begin a drawn out campaign in the Philippines against the United States that would last from the 8th of December 1941 to the final cessation of fighting on the 18th of May 1942. In this last action nearly 12,000 American men and women would enter into Japanese captivity that by the end of the war would be reduced by one third through starvation and brutal treatment and conditions.
The defense of the American interests in the Philippines was led by Army General Douglas MacArthur would become more well known through his military exploits and his personal idiosyncrasies. It is ironic to note that prior to World War II one of MacArthur’s young military aides in the Pacific was an army Lieutenant Colonel who would by the end of the war hold a rank that would be equal to that of MacArthur. That young officer was of course Dwight Eisenhower. To his credit, MacArthur was able to resist the Japanese invasion and cede positions that were indefensible in order to buy time to reorganize his defenses. There are critics that MacArthur did not do enough to prepare his forces to resist the Japanese invasion, but in reality the Philippines was at the end of the American military chain and did not receive anywhere near what it would need to successfully halt the aggression. In March of 1942 MacArthur was ordered to proceed to Australia in order to assume command of all Allied forces in the South Pacific. By May even the island fortress of Corregidor in the mouth of Manila bay had fallen. At the end of the fighting in the Philippines the Japanese had gained complete control of the majority of the island archipelago. This control would never be complete as there were small bands of both American and Filipino’s who refused to surrender and who would carry on a guerilla campaign against the Japanese that would last until the end of the war in 1945. It should be noted that among the American forces that were captured by the Japanese were a group of US Army and Navy women who had served as nurses throughout the fighting. These women would also endure, braving the hardships and difficulties that would faced them over the next three and a half years of captivity. Of the 77 Army and Navy nurses who would enter captivity, all would survive the war in various conditions. These heroic women would spend their captivity providing care and comfort to the Allied military in Japanese captivity. In the years after the war, there was more than one American would state that it had been the efforts of these nurses who had kept them alive physically and morally throughout the war.
At the end of the war more details emerged surrounding one particular event that occurred during the early Japanese occupation of the Philippines. This event came to be known as the “Bataan Death March”. It would later be a term which was synonymous with unparallel brutality and suffering. The Allied forces that survived the fighting and surrender of May 1942 were forced to march nearly 65 miles to their imprisonment at what would become known as “Camp O’Donnell”. Of the 70,000 who began the march nearly 7,000 would die by the end. Many of these were murdered by their captors who, for the most part, looked upon the Allied soldiers as being dishonorable in their surrender. These men would die from beatings, bayoneting, shooting, and starvation.
Japanese Expansion at its Height
In January 1942, the Japanese began a conquest of the island chains of the Bismarck’s, the Solomon’s and into Papua, New Guinea. This expansion caused great concern to the Allied forces in Australia since the Japanese had now come within a hundred miles of the northern city of Darwin. To the far north the Japanese forces had sent a diversionary force to capture and occupy the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. This would be the only American territory that would be actually occupied by the Japanese during the course of World War II. However, as it turned out this would be the greatest extent of the Japanese expansion. By the spring of 1942, the Japanese had reached the maximum extent of their expansion and imperial ambitions.
In the early part of the Anglo-American alliance meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff resulted in the Pacific theater of World War II being divided into different areas of operations. This was intended to allow for the most efficient planning to be organized and intended to counteract the Japanese forces with available resources. (See included Map of the Pacific Theater) The major areas of operation for the Allied forces would be focused in areas that would become known as the Central Pacific, the South Pacific, and the Southwest Pacific. Adjacent to the Southwest Pacific would be the area that would become known as the China, Burma, India (CBI) Theater. The Southwest Pacific would take on the mission of island “hopping” fighting that would lead from Australia through New Guinea, the Solomon’s, the Dutch East Indies to the Philippines. This would be characterized as being an “Army” operation under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur. The North, Central and South Pacific would be a predominantly Navy operation and would be under the leadership of Admiral Chester Nimitz. Under Nimitz, the Navy and Marines would see very unforgiving and vengeful fighting at places that would become household names such as Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It would be these two personalities would lead the Allied forces in their push against the Japanese for the next three years.
The China, Burma, India theater would be a campaign that would involve Allied support China in an effort to halt further Japanese expansion. In effect this theater was one that would sometime see an eruption of rivalries between the Chinese Nationalist and Communists rather than a struggle against the Japanese. Thrown into this was also inefficient organization as well as corruption among the various Chinese leaders. For some Chinese the Japanese invasion was merely a temporary interruption in the conflict for supremacy of the country.
While the main combatants in the Pacific would be the American, British and Japanese, the Russians had a vested interest in the outcome of the fighting. It would not be until the 8th of August 1945, two days after Hiroshima and one day before Nagasaki, that Russia would declare war on Japan. This was an agreed strategy that the Russians had insisted on in their early talks with both Roosevelt and Churchill. Their emphasis was to defeat the Germans, who posed the greatest threat to their existence, first and then when the war in Europe was ended Russia would turn their attention the east. In this regard it can be said that is why the Russian influence over Japan in the post war world was greatly reduced.
America Strikes Back
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo
With the string of Japanese successes throughout the Pacific the morale of the Allied powers was at it nadir. The Axis advances had brought a large amount of the world under the control of Japan, Germany and Italy. It did not appear that any of these countries could be halted. With the need for some type of response to the constant assault of the Axis both Roosevelt and Churchill recognized the need to boast the flagging spirits of their country. In Europe daring raids like the British attack on the German naval base at St. Nazaire, France or the foolish British-Canadian attack on German coastal fortifications at Dieppe, France were at least showing that the Allies had not given up. In early 1942 the American military formulated an operation that would serve as both surprise to the Japanese at home and also demonstrate the coordinated efforts of the American sea and air forces.
The concept was straight forward and simple. Use air power to bomb Japan. However, American planners realized that getting these bombers over Japan would be the greatest challenge. Beginning in early 1942 US Army Air Forces were beginning to develop into a strong fighting organization. Recognizing his ability as both a pilot and a natural leader, Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle was briefed on a top secret mission to carry the war to Japan. He quickly was enlisted and set about recruiting a group of 16 five-man crews to fly a twin engine B-25 bomber. The B-25 was selected because it was easy to maneuver and could take off and land on short airfields. The mission was to place these 16 planes on an aircraft carrier and get within 400 – 500 miles of Japan, take off, bomb key military and industrial targets and land at secure airfields in China. The naval ship selected for this mission was the aircraft carrier the USS Hornet. Loading the planes on board under the cover of darkness the Hornet and her escorts departed the west coast for this rendezvous with destiny. On the morning of 18 April 1942 the mission was launched early, nearly double the distance from what had been planned. This was because a Japanese ship had been spotted in the path of the task force. Within three minutes the ship had been sunk, but it was not known if it had sent out a radio transmission back to Japan. Thus within the span of the morning hours the first real attempt to bring the war to the Japanese homeland began. The cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka were the main targets. After dropping their bombs and heading off in the general direction of China fate began to take a hand in the outcome of each aircrew’s flight. In the final accounting 13 of the crews were able to reach China, while three did not. One crew landed in Russia and was interned for the war. Several crews were forced to bail out over Japan and were eventually captured. In total eight men became prisoners of the Japanese and three were subsequently “executed” by the Japanese. After a series of harrowing adventures Doolittle and his surviving men, many in badly injured state were able to make their ways out of China through help of the Chinese people. For his effort on this mission Doolittle was to earn the Medal of Honor. Strategically the Doolittle mission of little significance. The damage that was caused was minor in the grand scheme of the Japanese war industries. But of most importance was the fact that the raid gave the American public a much needed boost in sagging spirits and in the end it let the Japanese government know that the war was now on their doorstep.
Turning the Japanese Tide at Midway
Now that Japan was at the extent of their expansion, the Allied forces began to concentrate their focus on a plan that would enable them to strike with purpose. The first real encounter between the American forces and the Japanese navy occurred in May 1942 at what was known as the Battle of the Coral Sea. This first major encounter of surface vessels became notable for demonstrating the new nature that naval warfare had taken at the state of World War II. Because the Americans had broken the Japanese naval code, they were able to counteract the actions of the Japanese forces. Both of the combatant forces relied on their air wings to provide the offensive combat. The surface ships of both sides never saw each other during the entire period of the engagement. After suffering the loss of a carrier and other vessels, the Japanese called off their attempt to invade Port Moresby. The Japanese lost more aircraft while the Americans lost more ships. However, while being a draw, strategically it was a success for the Americans as they forced the Japanese to abandon their plans for further expansion.
After the combat in the South Pacific within a month the Japanese were again attempting to expand the limits of their empire. This time the target would be Midway Island, roughly halfway between Japan and the Hawaiian island chain. With the advance knowledge of the Japanese plans the American forces were able to prepare for the expected assault. While significantly outnumbered by the Japanese in both aircraft and surface vessels, the American forces proved to be better prepared strategically. In this second great naval air battle of the war, the United States used its advance knowledge of Japanese intentions to full advantage. Over the course of the next three days the carrier aircraft of each side pounded the other and through a series of fortune events the Americans were able to sink all four of the Japanese carriers, while suffering the loss of just the aircraft carrier Yorktown. This event was called one of the decisive battles of the history World War II because it effectively ended the expansion of Japan in the Pacific. For the remainder of the war Japan would prove to be on the defensive. The effect that this action had on the Japanese navy was that they were no longer invincible and was now totally deprived of the ability to be on the initiative. The bravery of both sides was particularly noteworthy as entire squadrons of both American and Japanese planes were destroyed as they engaged in the combat.
The Japanese defeat at Midway provided a much needed respite for the American fears of a west coast invasion. Clearly the American public had the feeling that the Hawaiian Islands would be Japan’s next goal and that would be followed by an invasion of the mainland. Subsequent research after World War II has indicated while this may have been a very legitimate plan for the Japanese; it would have lacked the much needed resources to make it a reality. Japan was stretched very thin and after Midway it was starting to show. Gone were the continued successes and the unimpeded ground conquests. It would now become a battle that would be determined by which side could produce the greatest amount of military equipment. Japan had years to prepare for the war while the United States did not. However, as Admiral Yamamoto had earlier predicted, Japan had now awakened the “Sleeping Giant”.
The European Battleground
With hindsight historians are able to predict that people did not completely understand the lessons of past conflicts. Did Adolf Hitler study history? Was he aware of the shortcomings that Napoleon had to deal with in his invasion of Russia in 1812? Modern analysis will demonstrate that Hitler had lacked a complete understanding of the character and nature that warfare in Russia would take. Germany had participated in World War I and many of the German leaders of the Second World War understood the problems of the dynamics of Russia. It must be remembered that in World War I Hitler had fought predominantly against the British in Belgium and France.
After failing to bring England to her knees in the summer and fall of 1940, Germany began to focus on the threat of an uneasy ally in the east. Russia had finally subdued tiny Finland and was moving into the Baltic Republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Further, in order to feed their growing thirst for petroleum Russia was also eying the oil fields to the southwest. Was Germany threatened by this movement? It can be argued that Hitler felt that he should strike Stalin first before Russia could organize and force Germany into a defensive war. In truth Russia under the leadership of Stalin was not as militarily prepared as it could have been and this was recognized by Hitler. After all, had not Germany had an unbroken string of successes since September 1939? With this in mind the German high command began to plan for the invasion of Russia (Code named “Operation Barbarossa”) for the spring of 1941. For planning purposes, the timetable was well thought out and was expected to lead to a final German victory before the onslaught of the Russian winter. Hence Germany would not prepare for a winter war.
Unfortunately for Germany her weak ally to the south, Italy had become intractably mired in the Balkan Peninsula in the early spring of 1941. Originally, Hitler had hoped that Yugoslavia would join the German coalition of Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria and thus produce a strong southern flank that would serve to protect Germany as she entered Russia. In the fall of 1940, Italy had launched an ill-advised and ill-suited invasion of Greece from Italian occupied Albania. By the onset of winter the Italian forces had been pushed back into Albania and had suffered a loss of one quarter of their lands. The British began to fortify Greece with troops taken from the victorious North African forces that had pushed Italy out of Egypt. Worried about a potential British threat to his south and the demise of his ally, Hitler launched a lightning “Blitzkrieg” against Yugoslavia with a goal of moving into Greece and driving out the British. Through innovative operations the German succeeded in rolling through Yugoslavia within a week and by the end of April all of the Balkan Peninsula was under Axis control. While these actions did not account for a great loss of German personnel or equipment it did impact the German timetable for Barbarossa.
The day of the summer equinox began with the early morning bombardment of Russian airfields and fortresses that were behind the borders of German occupied Poland. On a front that extended for nearly 1,500 miles over four million soldiers began for many what would be their last glimpse of Western Europe. The war in Russia can be characterized like no other in regards to the brutality of the combat and the harshness of the climate. The operational goal of the German forces was to capture Moscow and with that the campaign would close. After a series of quick victories the German Wehrmacht was on the outskirts of the Russian capital by October. It was here that they would stay and never advance. In the early fighting in the summer of 1941, nearly two million Russians became prisoners of war and an equal number were thought to have been killed. With so many soldiers defeated the German high command felt that Russia could not continue the war. What they failed to recognize was the vastness of Russia and the one apparently inexhaustible commodity they possessed, manpower.
By late October 1941 the German forces had advanced so rapidly that it was necessary to halt for resupply and a reassessment of their initial strategy. To the north Leningrad, the renamed St. Petersburg, would prove a throne in the side of the Germans for nearly three years. While in the south the Black Sea cities of the Crimea would cause the Wehrmacht great dismay. With the situation static for the moment, the age old enemy of invaders struck, the Russian winter. Since the German forces had expected a quick victory they were ill equipped for the onslaught of bitter weather and the ill-equipped soldiers would now feel a greater suffering than from combat. That first year of the war in Russia, the winter weather caused more German causalities than enemy bullets. The German losses in this first year in Russia approached nearly 800,000 men, not counting the equipment, weapons and supplies. Under these circumstances, the Russians launched their first major counteroffensive on the German forces outside of Moscow. While the Germans could not recognize where these Russians had come from, their origin had been the Far East, since Russia now recognized that it was safe to move their forces away from the now non-existent Japanese threat. By early 1942 the Germans had halted the Russian attack and both sides were content to wait until the spring in order to begin their next series of activities.
With the majority of Russian industrial areas either captured by the Germans or forced to withdrawn and is reconstituted beyond the Ural Mountains, both England and America realized that it would be imperative to provide Russia with equipment and supplies that would help to keep them engaged in the war against Germany. This aid would be in the form of the Lend-Lease program which would initially send help to Russia via the convey routes to Murmansk and Archangel. Later efforts to supply their Russian Ally would go through the “Persian Gulf Command” (modern Iran) and into Southern Russia.
German Defeat in the East
With spring came a renewed German offensive to the east and southeast. This campaign would now become the epic struggle that would characterize the entire Russian theater and that style of war. As the Germans moved Hitler became fixated on the city on the Volga River that bore Stalin’s name. Arriving on the outskirts in August 1942, these opponents began a battle that would last through February 1943. The struggle of this city became symbolic as well as practical. Hitler felt that if he could take this city of a resurgent Russia they would loose the war, while Stalin felt that if he could hold and defeat the Germans, Russia would then have the initiative to push Germany back to the border of Poland. In the end Germany would loose nearly 300,000 men while Russia would finally admit losses that totaled over two million military and civilians causalities.
The German forces would comprise the 6th Army under General (later Field Marshall) Friedrich von Paulus while the Russians would ultimately be lead by Marshall Zhukov. The fighting for Stalingrad took on a whole new meaning as each city block and industrial complex was fought over in results that were measured by meters and feet. The underground sewer network provided for surprise raids and snipers would dual against any unsuspecting soldier caught unprotected. By late October the German offensive had stalled and within the month the Germans would become surrounded by the Russian pincer movement in Operation “Uranus” to create what would become known as the “cauldron” of Stalingrad. The only relief would now be a Luftwaffe air bridge that would prove to be totally inadequate. As the fighting intensified and the supplies and men dwindled the struggle became more desperate. In the end the Russians simply overwhelmed what was left of the German forces. In Germany the bells began to toll as the general public started to recognize the magnitude of this disaster. The German surrender saw 95,000 soldiers enter Russian captivity. Of this number it was not until 1955 when the final Stalingrad prisoners returned to Germany, their number being reduced to approximately 5,000 who had survived the Russian captivity. This was in addition to the German allies of Romania, Italy and Hungary who had lost over 400,000 at Stalingrad. There was even a small contingent of Spaniards known as the “Blue Division” who fought in Russia as volunteers.
Prior to the Battle of Stalingrad, the German military had enjoyed a string of successes that had expanded the horizons of the Greater German Reich. This defeat brought the final reality of war to the German people. They recognized that there was the possibility that they could loose the war. The victory at Stalingrad gave a new energy to the Russian military. Their sacrifice was monumental, but their triumph demonstrated that the Germans were not the invincible supermen that they had originally feared. The German advance had been at its greatest extent at Stalingrad and as at Midway, the tide had turned in Eastern European campaign in Russia. Hitler’s bold gamble of the Russian invasion would now prove to be disastrous and at the same time become a bottomless pit that would devour resources as never before. With the exception of the Kursk offensive of July 1943 and the December 1944 counteroffensive in the Ardennes, Germany would now be on the defensive for the remainder of the war. The borders of their empire would begin shrink while life on the German home front would become bitter with the mounting shortages in the basic necessities of life.
First Allied Victory – North Africa
By the summer of 1941 Germany had displaced the Italians as the Allied greatest threat in the Mediterranean area, particularly in North Africa. In May 1941, portions of the Italian army had capitulated with the surrender of 110,000 men to the British Western Desert Force. While this victory was significant a new German threat erupted to the west of the British in the form of General (later Field Marshall) Erwin Rommel and his under strength force of two divisions and a handful of associated units. They would become known as the “Afrika Korps”. Rommel would demonstrate a daring and élan that had not been seen in many years. By use of improvisation and cunning he would develop a begrudging admiration from even Winston Churchill for all of his exploits. The Allies would give him the nickname of the “Desert Fox”. The war in North Africa would be one of mechanized movement with tank warfare at the forefront of the combat.
Within a year Rommel’s forces were within 100 miles of Cairo finally being halted at a town named El Alamein. The British had taken significant losses and all of their earlier gains against the Italians had been negated, even to the point of the capture of a senior British general and his staff. With the exception of the British garrison at Tobruk, the Germans seemed unstoppable. With these problems facing the Allied coalition the Western Task Force had earlier been redesigned as the 8th Army and was now placed under the command of the eccentric General (later Field Marshall) Bernard Montgomery. Content to bide his time Montgomery began to build up his forces to such a level they would have a nearly four to one edge over Rommel in men and equipment. The German’s began to suffer from a tightening blockade that had significantly begun to reduce their supply levels and limit their ability to sustain any future operations. From this point onward, Germany would find themselves on the defensive in North Africa.
The final Battle of El Alamein began in late October 1942 and lasted into early November. The British began with a massive artillery bombardment of German positions followed by an onslaught of armored forces. Within days a breakthrough of the German lines was accomplished and shortly thereafter Montgomery was able to exploit the gap. With losses mounting on each side in equal proportions, the Germans found that they could not sustain their operations and that their fuel supplies were nearly gone. The British on the other hand were able to keep going. Despite Hitler’s order to the contrary, Rommel disengaged his forces and began a strategic retreat, closely pursued by the 8th Army. Within days, an Anglo-American task force under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower had landed in Morocco at Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca under the codename of “Operation Torch”. The Germans were now faced with an adversary to their east and west that would now be pushing them out of North Africa.
The significance of the Battle of El Alamein as with Stalingrad and Midway was that it began a steady reduction of the expansive boundaries of the Axis Empire. The Allied morale grew while the Axis morale correspondingly declined. In Egypt the Suez Canal was saved from German capture and the British lifeline to India and the Asian sub-continent was intact. A secondary threat to the oil rich Arabian Peninsula was also averted. This fighting would rage on in North Africa until the spring of 1943, but the message became clear. Germany was overextended in both Russia and Africa and now the Allies would begin pushing back to the borders of Germany.
Mobilization of the American Arsenal of Democracy
Beginning in November 1939, the American Arms Embargo was lifted in order to allow the British and the French to purchase weapons and equipment from the United States. This became known as the “Cash and Carry” program. Prior to the onset of World War II the United States been selling various types of armaments and equipment to China and France and others as course of business. Because of the Neutrality Act these sales were suspended. Finally with the approval of Congress the embargo was lifted. Sales to England and France were resumed with the stipulation that all materials would be paid for in advance and would be transported on the vessels of these respective nations. One particularly good aspect of America adopting this program is that it allowed American Industry to develop the necessary means of industrial plant and production design. This created the infrastructure that would be called on when America entered the war and would need vast amounts of resources.
In September 1940 the American navy turned over to the British 50 World War I era destroyers in what became known as the Lend-Lease program. These vessels were provided to England in return for the rights to control British bases that would be vital for the protection of the United States interests in the Atlantic. In subsequent Congressional legislation the Lend-Lease program was expanded to provide aid to nations who would provide mutual facilities that would protect American interests. This aid would be called necessary as it was provided to nations on who it was thought the security of the United States might depend. Thus prior to the actual entry of the United States as an active combatant in World War II, the United States was already providing aid to its future allies.
Staffing the Armed Forces
With the war clouds drifting to the United States it became apparent to many that inevitably American would eventually become a part of this global conflict. One of the military proponents for preparedness was Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. Through his dogged determination he was able to convince both Roosevelt and Congress of the need to improve the readiness of the armed forces. This measure that was subsequently passed by one vote became known as the National Defense Act of 1940. As reported in a Life magazine poll in 1940, nearly 70% of Americans were in favor of the National Defense Act which they felt was necessary in order to prepare America should they be drawn into the war.
The National Defense Act was the measure that began the United States preparation for eventual entry into World War II. During the period of the interwar years the size of the American military establishment had shrunk to less than 200,000 in the Army and Navy which at the time ranked the US 17th in world behind Romania. Prior to 1940, the United States had functioned without a system of military conscription. This system was used in World War I, but had been abandoned in favor of a volunteer force by the 1920’s. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 became the first one implemented while America was still at peace. (See included Selective Service registration card) Over the period of the next year and a half nearly 1.5 million men would become through the draft or volunteerism (See included Notice of Selection / Order to Report for Induction Notices, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) a part of the U. S. Army. More importantly, the base had been laid for the efficient mobilization of the mass of personnel that would be soon to come. By the end of the war the Army and Air Forces would increase to nearly 11 million, while the Navy would expand to four million and the Marines to 500,000. The Chief architects of this and who would run America’s war effort were General George Marshall, Admiral Ernest King, and Admiral William Leahy.
Building the War Machine
The industrial development for America took on an entirely new approach to the idea of mass production of war materials. The Great Depression had caused a significant impact on the structure of American industry that caused many businesses and organizations to fail. With Roosevelt’s election in 1932 the government began a massive campaign to put America to work, through innovative public works programs that began to modernize the country. Over time private industry began to also develop and toward the end of the 1930’s America was again becoming a prosperous society.
The conversion of American industry to a war time footing rapidly took place. Some industries had already become suppliers of material to England and France before the American entry to the war. The huge new Ford plant at Willow Run was created in 1941 for the mass production of aircraft. When it finally hit its manufacturing peak it was turning out a B-24 Liberator at the rate of one per hour with the final production total eclipsing 8,000. The great industrialist Henry Kaiser became a master in the production of ships. His new vessels were christened as “Liberty Ships” for the movement of the supplies to the fighting fronts. These freighters would be built with the goal of producing more than could be destroyed in transatlantic and transpacific crossings. The traditional workweek would expand from 40 hours to 48 hours in order to get more productivity. Nearly every industry would change in some form from commercial production to military production. This of course would result in a looming shortage of goods and products that would be available to the American consumer.
As the men entered the military forces women began to replace them. By the end of the war there would be nearly six million women working in the war related industries. The most popular icon that would emerge at this time was “Rosie the Riveter” who even was made into a movie in 1944. Over 200,000 women also entered the military to free the men for the combat assignments. These women, in addition to the traditional medical roles, were now found in clerical, technical and mechanical occupations. New organizations and opportunities would emerge for women both in and out of the government and military service. Notable among this was the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP’s) who had as their mission to ferry newly completed aircraft of all types to locations throughout the United States and even overseas. Tragically over 40 of the 1,200 pilots were to die in various aircraft accidents over the period of their service.
Home Front America
The memory of many Americans in early 1940 stretched back to participation in World War I. To these people being involved in another war in Europe was not their concern. They had felt that the Second World War was a European issue and that the First World War had cost America too much. These people were known as the “Isolationists”. Their position was strengthened by a number of foreign groups that had been active in the United States for a number of years and were determined to keep the United States neutral. These groups were often called the “shirts of many colors” which referred to the visible uniforms that they wore. The McCormack-Dickstein Committee on un-American activities in 1935 identified them as shirts in the shades of Black, Brown, Khaki, White, Blue, and Silver which represented the Nazi, Communist, and Fascists organizations that had sprung up in the 1930’s in America. Each of these groups had strong identities among the various immigrant communities in the larger cities and would stage rallies to push for American neutrality with regards to the events of Europe.
One of the more public figures of the period was “Colonel” Charles Lindbergh who had gained fame in his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. In the 1930’s Lindbergh would travel to and reside in Europe. At the invitation of the German government he was on many occasions shown the latest Luftwaffe aircraft and even allowed to test fly the planes. Lindbergh would later trumpet to America that Germany was growing in airpower and it that was a threat to the United States aviation industries. In this regard he did provide valuable air intelligence to the War Department on German capabilities. By the summer of 1940 Charles Lindbergh was an active proponent of keeping America neutral and out of Europe. In his address at a Chicago “keep out of the war” rally Lindbergh would be criticized for being an advocate of Nazi appeasement. Lindbergh’s advocacy of isolationism would earn him the enmity of Roosevelt and many Americans.
Alien Internment in America
When America’s involvement in the war began in December 1941, a widespread panic erupted with concerns about spies, saboteurs and disloyal Americans throughout the United States. So great was this fear of internal collaboration with America’s enemies that steps were taken that in the mind of the government officials of the time were both necessary and practical. The greatest of these programs was the internment and relocation of the people who would come to be known as enemy aliens. The greatest threat identified was the potential Japanese invasion of the west coast. Thus began the relocation of approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent to camps in the central heartland of America. Sadly, many of these people were native born Americans who felt themselves more American that Japanese. Some of these young men would later serve in the American military forces in various capacities, particularly the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that would serve in Italy and become one of the most decorated units of the war. Often overlooked was the fact that nearly 15,000 German and Italians who were living in the United States were also arrested and interned for various periods of time. Many of these people had been living in the United States for decades and were suddenly the targets of relocation to camps in the American south and southwest. As with the Japanese, the majority of these two ethnic groups were located on the east coast where the threat was considered to exist from invasion. Also, like the Japanese internees who were either born in Japan or the United States, many of these people had been born in Germany and Italy or the United States.
Supporting the War Effort
As the American industrial production increased a new concept entered the daily life of American’s. Before the war America had been seen as a land of plenty, but with industries now focusing of war related materials the goods and products that people had come to expect were longer available in significant quantities. This resulted in the idea of rationing. The products and goods that were to be rationed were those that would be needed by the Armed Forces and the Allies. This included various food products such as meat, sugar, chocolate, and coffee. As America had become more industrialized in the 1930’s people began to purchase automobiles for a new found sense of freedom. Now with rationing it became very hard to own one. People had to have a reason to drive and were faced with the rationing of gasoline, rubber tires and spare parts. (See included Gasoline Purchase Permit and Ration Coupons) A special organization was created that was known as the Office of Price Administration (OPA) that would organize and run the rationing program. All Americans now had to have ration books, and even children as young as six months old would have their own books. There were a series of four War Ration Books that were created that would enable people to purchase the necessary consumable commodities. (See included Ration Books) Each ration book contained varying numbers of ration stamps that had to be turned over to the supplier when the products were purchased. Misuse or indulging in “black market” activities with rationed goods were considered to be criminal offenses. Sadly this problem would always exist.
In addition to rationing the idea of recycling became a way for the youth of American to participate in the war effort. Most communities and cities would organize recycling centers for paper products, metal cans, old tires and other products that could be converted into useful products. On a near daily basis children would scour neighborhoods for anything they could turn in, often taking things from their homes that were not always ready for the recycling bin. In the educational systems school would encourage students to be active in recycling drives and in the purchase of war bonds. The U.S. Government introduced the Defense Savings Bonds that could be purchased at a lower rate and held to maturity for the face value of the bond. By the end of the war a staggering $135 Billion worth of bonds had been purchased by Americans. This money would be used to finance the war effort. In schools children were encouraged to buy savings stamps in small denominations each week that would be pasted into a book that could eventually redeemed for a savings bond. (See included US Savings Bond Postal Savings Plan Booklet) people all over America, even those who had looked on as isolationists were now fully behind the war effort. Many business organizations recognized the need to help people understand the rapid mobilization of American manpower in the military and new bases erupted all throughout the United States. Companies like American Express would publish small leaflets that would list the various military units as well as a listing of the associated ranks for each of the military services. These brochures would often be provided to local stores who would sell the American Express money orders to the servicemen stationed at these installations. (See included American Express Brochures on Military Units, Insignia’s and Training Camps)
With the fervent rise of American patriotism there were still some exceptions to participation in the war effort. These people became known as Conscientious Objectors (C.O.). Some were like the World War I Medal of Honor winner Sgt. Alvin York who held strong religious views. Of the 42,000 who were thus classified as C.O.’s, some 25,000 ended up serving in non-combatant roles as Medics, Chaplains Aides or other skills that would not require the bearing of arms. One of these would serve as a Navy Corpsman and win the Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima, while many others equally served heroically. Another group of C.O.’s served in alternative nonmilitary service in Civilian Public Service Camps. Finally there were approximately 6,000 who would refuse any type of service, mostly on religious grounds, and would be incarcerated in the Federal Prison system.
Keeping the Enemy off Guard
The Boer War of 1899-1902 gave rise to the term that Winston Churchill would coin to refer to various methods of unconventional warfare. Seeing how well the groups of Boers, known as “Commandos”, could move quickly and strike without warning he determined that the Allies would have forces that could respond in a like fashion. These units began to develop quickly once the war began in Europe. Churchill would see them as a means to take the war back to the enemy, even when it was all they could do. These types of operations were seen as a chance to tell the public that the government was still attempting to do something. More often they were intended to be morale builders that were intended to keep the Germans and Italian off guard.
Getting the commando operations was difficult at first with several raids on the German occupied Channel Islands that produced nothing but a comedy of errors and lessons learned. By March 1941, the British launched a wildly successful raid on the German occupation forces at the Lofotens Islands in Norway. In a quick and well timed operation they were able to destroy nearly a million gallons of fuel oil, destroy fish oil factories that were used to create explosives and capture over 200 German prisoners all with out a loss. This action helped to buoy the British military planners with thoughts of a larger scale assault on German occupied Norway. In December 1941, the British raid on Vagsoy, Norway again produced similar results of destroyed industries and captured German soldiers, although this time the British paid with nearly 100 causalities.
With the Germans now recognizing the threat of possible British assaults on their portions of occupied Europe they began to strengthen their defenses and prepare for what they knew would be the eventual Allied assault on Fortress Europe. To evaluate the lessons that would need to be learned in a cross channel invasion operations were organized to test German defenses, their responses, and gain experience. One of these operations would be considered a success while the other would be looked at as a very expensive failure in the terms of men and morale.
The German occupied port of Saint Nazaire on the west coast of France had been integrated into the resources of the German navy shortly after the invasion of France. It was here that the dreaded German U-boats would call home after their Atlantic war patrols. These facilities would later prove impervious to Allied air attacks. Additionally, the port facilities contained one of the worlds largest dry-docks that would be used to support the German navy. In March 1942, the British rammed an aging World War I Lend-Lease destroyer, HMS Campbeltown, into the locks of the dry-dock with a subsequent explosion that put the facility out of use for the duration of the war. In addition to the damage and destruction of a significant amount of the port facilities the commando’s were not really able to inflict any damage to the U-Boat areas. At the end of the raid, the commando’s had lost two-third of their force that had been either killed or captured while the majority of their vessels had been destroyed. The raid was considered a success as it served to keep the Germans on guard for further assaults.
Only a very short distance from England across the Channel sat the small French coastal town of Dieppe. At the start of 1942, the Russians were placing pressure on the British to demonstrate a “good faith” gesture to open a second front against the Germans. Senior British leadership to include Churchill were not sure this was the appropriate time to initiate an invasion on France. While America and Roosevelt were also encouraging an attack on France, they were more reserved in their plans. To counter these claims a reconnaissance in force was conducted against Dieppe in August 1942. The raid proved to be a disaster as seemed that the Germans were waiting for the invaders to storm ashore. Of the 6,000 men participating in the attack, over 4,000 were either killed or captured. Criticism was directed against Churchill and his planners for their poorly coordinated effort. These claims were countered with the comments that the raid had demonstrated the need for a great deal of planning, equipment and strategic goals before the actual invasion of the continent could take place. The disaster also did serve to provide some very valuable lessons learned that would be put to good use at Normandy in two years time.
Behind the Lines
With the invasion of Western Europe by Germany in 1940 and Russia in 1941, the general population of these countries were determined to resist this unjust tyranny of the occupation by Germany. This attitude was to spawn an entire network in all the occupied countries that would come to be known as the “Resistance” or the “Underground”. Unfortunately, each nation would also have a small number of people who would be known as “collaborators” or those who would work with or help the Germans in order to gain various favors. In Russia the populace would even go so far as to actually organize an underground army that became known as the “Partisans” who would harass and destroy roads, bridges and installations. These operations against the German military would cause so much disruption that they would find themselves devoting large numbers of resources to deal with the problem.
In Western Europe escape networks were organized that would spirit downed Allied aircrew through neutral Spain and back to England. These organizations would also focus on serving to gather intelligence for the Allies on the activities of the Germans. This would later be used to great effect when planning for the Allied landings at Normandy in June 1944. Since France was the closest occupied country to England it became the central focus of the allied attempts to disrupt the German forces. Two noteworthy organizations were formed at the onset of the war. In England it was the Special Operation Executive (S.O.E.) and in the United States it was the Organization of Special Services (O.S.S.). Each was charged with doing what ever was necessary to gather knowledge about the situations in the countries under Axis occupation. Both of these organizations would conduct a clandestine struggle against the Germans until the end of the war.
Prior to the D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944, the French resistance would provide a large amount of intelligence regarding the German military installations and troop strengths that would prove invaluable. Once the Allied landings began the French underground disrupted the resupply and reinforcement of the German troops by destroying railway bridges and road and waterway networks. Prior to the invasion, the SOE and OSS had infiltrated agents into France with instructions to organize an organization that would be used to tie down German forces when the actual invasion came. Numerous stories exist of brave men and women who fought in this fashion, many at the expense of their lives.
Espionage and Switzerland
With the onset of World War II the Swiss government made it abundantly clear that Switzerland would not be involved in the war and would if necessary defend itself against Nazi aggression. Even though German did in fact prepare invasion plans for Switzerland in 1940, they were never carried out because of the actual costs in manpower and resources that would be required. Instead Switzerland became a haven for the espionage networks of all the belligerents of the war. Each nation would have either a diplomatic or commercial front that would mask their true intentions in the world of espionage. In addition to neutral Sweden, Switzerland would serve as a conduit for various Anti-Nazi groups to communicate with the Allies in their efforts to get support. More than one attempt by these groups on the life of Adolf Hitler came from explosives and materials that had been provided by the Allied intelligence services.
One of the most notable individuals to take up residence in Switzerland was Allen Dulles. Dulles would later become one of the key personalities in the development of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Beginning in 1942, Dulles had the mission of creating and running an espionage network that would end up going for nearly three years. During World War I Dulles had also been working in the US Embassy in Bern. Facilitating Dulles’ activities was a very large German expatriate community that had fled to Switzerland in the 1930’s to avoid the Nazi’s in Germany. His target was to gain as much credible information about life in Germany and keep the American government informed how the war was going on the German home front. In his entire tenure n Bern, perhaps the most notable contact that Dulles was able to develop and maintain was an employee of the German Foreign Service in Berlin. This German who was given the code name “George Wood” would for the next two years provide Dulles with over 1,000 highly secret documents that would measurably assist the Allied cause. Only when George Wood escape to Switzerland in early 1945 was his identity revealed as Fritz Kolbe, who had been a career diplomat prior to the advent of the Nazi controlled German state. Later in the war Dulles would receive assistance from several of the 1,200+ American Army Air Force personnel that had been interned in Switzerland when they were unable to return to their bases and found themselves in the refuge that was provided by a neutral country.
Prior to the start of World War II there had been “Anti-Nazi” resistance groups in Germany. Some had even begun to plot the assassination of Hitler before the war began. Once Germany was embroiled in the struggle of war, these groups seemed to proliferate and develop a variety of attempts to eliminate Hitler. The opposition to the Nazi’s and Hitler was widespread within the Army leadership, disbanded political parties, universities, religious groups and labor organizations. When comparing the total population of Germany during the war, these groups were representing less than one percent of the population at large. It seems that most well known of these groups was the “Kreisau Circle” who was organized from among a group of aristocrats who served both in the military and in the political government. The German response to these groups ranged from arrest and confinement in a concentration camp to immediate trial and execution. Finally, on the 20th of July 1944 a bomb was detonated in Hitler’s East Prussia headquarters by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg that nearly succeeded in killing Hitler. The results were to only make Hitler more paranoid and unstable in his ability to
lead the German military. For the conspirators and those even remotely connected was sheer terror. Over 5,000 people were killed and many relatives of the plotters would be imprisoned until the end of the war. It was in this attempt on Hitler’s life that Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was implicated. By October 1944 Rommel, who was one of the most popular war figures in Germany, had taken his own life rather than be tried in a People’s court and then executed.