Mass Executions Before the war began in 1939, mental patients in Germany had been killed on Hitler’s orders by lethal injections (to save their food for war needs). Deaths by gas experiments had also been undertaken.
Katyn The world would not learn until 1942 that Russian secret police had murdered thousands of Polish officers in their part of Poland – and buried the bodies in a Polish forest. World War II would violate the “rules” repeatedly.
“Sitzkreig” Although France briefly attacked German lines in the Saar, and the British sent bombers over Germany, the war after Poland collapsed was quiet. German submarines attacked British ships but the German armies did little but defend the border with France. Soon, the was called a “sitting war” in Berlin, while the British made jokes about a “Bore War.” Hitler made overtures for peace talks but the Allies rejected them.
Stalin strikes In December 1939, Stalin demands territory in Finland and attacks when Finland refuses to comply. This “winter war” ends in a Russian victory but at great cost to Stalin’s armies. Hitler concludes that Russia would be easy to defeat.
Norway and Denmark In April 1940, the German armies struck quickly, marching into Denmark and launching a paratroop/sea invasion of Norway. British delays in responding and errors made in landing a few thousand men near Narvik led to a crisis in Parliament – Prime Minister Chamberlain was forced to resign. Winston Churchill was made Prime Minister.
German U-boats But German “untersee” boats were sinking one of every three tons of goods that Britain bought.
Isolationism • Neutrality Laws in 1935-1936 Restrict American business with nations at war and prevet American citizens from being endangered. • But U.S. journalists begin covering the war and their stories have an impact on how Americans regard the situation. • Refugees from Europe also affect how Americans think about Europe.
Cash and Carry FDR persuaded Congress to modify the Neutrality Laws so Britain could buy weapons for cash and carry them away on their own ships.
Enigma and Ultra Mathematicians and engineers fought to protect and break one another's’ codes in war that produced the first steps to modern computers.
Defeat in France In May-June, 1940, the German armies defeated France in 6 weeks and forced the British to evacuate their troops from Belgium. The U.S. feared Britain would quickly sign a treaty that would give Hitler control of Europe.
US Aid As France collapsed, Roosevelt offered Britain a chance to shelter its navy in American ports. The defeat of France shocked Congress into vastly increasing spending on defense.
Britain Alone France, having promised to make no separate peace, not only signed a separate peace but also returned to Germany 400 captured German airmen, who could now be used to attack Great Britain.
Air Assault on Britain German air attacks in British air bases in August-September 1940 did heavy damage but failed to open the English Channel for a German landing.
British Determination Churchill’s willingness to destroy French ships at Oran convinced Roosevelt that Britain meant to continue the war.
Siege Although the threat of invasion was passing by October 1940, Britain’s had to endure nightly bombings and rationing, and take part in the National Service Act.
Shortages British rationing was among the strictest in the war – with cloth, food, gasoline, fuel oil, shoes, paper, rubber (tires), and even soap and metals for dental fillings tightly controlled. Middle- and working-class Britons complained that their wealthier neighbors continued to find ways to get “more and better” commodities.
Action at Dakar In September 1940, the “Free French” forces of Charles de Gaulle, with aid from the British navy, tried to seize the French colony of Dakar in west Africa. The attempt failed.
Destroyer Deal Despite British failures, Roosevelt in September 1940 ‘traded’ 50 older destroyers to Britain in return for 99-year leases of bases in the Caribbean and Canada.
North Africa Imperial War Museum photograph Italy tried to seize additional lands in North Africa but lost over 100,000 men to the more mobile British forces
Barbarossa Hitler’s plan for defeating Russia In May-June 1941 was based on the expectation that Stalin’s armies would collapse in 8-10 weeks. His best generals were skeptical, but he insisted the Soviet Union would fall like a “rotten house.”
Genocide The Nazi plan was to occupy the western part of Russia as far as the Ural mountains, allow much of the Russian population to starve and use the remainder as slave labor. “We shoot villagers on the slightest excuse. Just stick them up against a wall. We order the whole village out to watch. It’s a vicious circle. We hate them and they hate us, and on and on it goes, everyone getting more inhuman.” From a German soldier’s diary
Greece Italy’s failures in North Africa and Greece forced the Germans to intervene, seizing Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete in another “lightning” campaign. This action threatened the British hold on Egypt and Suez (its link to India). But Hitler had to postpone the attack on Russia until late June.
The Draft In 1940, Congress approved the first peace-time draft in American experience. The draftees (21 or older) were chosen by lottery and were to serve for one year.
Guardsmen Called Up In the fall of 1941, the draft was extended, keeping those from 1940 in the service. National Guard units were also called up for training with the U.S. Army. This included Minnesota and North Dakota guard units. People were expecting war.
Russia Invaded When the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, the surprised Russian soldiers were mauled, losing over 4 million men in six months. But they held on until winter stopped the German forces west of Moscow About 8 of every 10 German soldiers who were killed in the war died in battle against the Russians.
Full Mobilization Russia employed more women in the military and war industry than any other European nation, and managed to move many machine tools to eastern communities beyond German air range – but food shortages were acute and there was starvation in parts of the nation.
City of Death Leningrad (formerly St Petersburg) was under siege for 872 days, during which time 1.5 million died and over forty percent of the city was destroyed,
Russian losses Russian losses in the war exceeded 25 million, with young Russians dying at such a high rate that population in the Soviet Union declined into the 1960s.
Einsatzgruppen Einsatzgruppen (“special action squads) murdered over 1 million Jews, communist party members and other “undesirables” in Russia from the summer of 1941 until early 1942. Britain and the U.S., having broken German radio codes, knew about these activities, which remained unknown in the press.
Death Camps In 1942, the Nazis employed their knowledge of poison gas to speed up the murder of some 5 million Jews in special death camps, like Auschwitz (entrance to the Auschwitz camp still exists at the memorial site in Poland). U.S. and British code breakers also knew about the activities in these camps.
Global War Where should the U.S. use its military power?
Purpose of the War? In a mid-ocean meeting, Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed that Germany should be the major focus of US and British military effort (which angered Americans who wanted revenge for Pearl Harbor). Roosevelt also persuaded Churchill to agree to the Atlantic Charter – a vague commitment to a better postwar world. Churchill feared this meant the end of the British empire, but could only finish the war with US aid.
Different Agendas for Victory • To Roosevelt the Atlantic Charter meant a reduction of the British Empire. • To Churchill, victory in the war meant preservation of the British empire. • Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill completely trusted Stalin. But Roosevelt thought Stalin could be persuaded to co-operate. Churchill doubted this. • Could Roosevelt succeed where Woodrow Wilson had failed?
Different Strategies Direct invasion (U.S.) vs. peripheral attacks (British)
The Second Front Russia began demanding a “second front” from Britain in 1942. But France was not invaded until 1944. Stalin accused Churchill and Roosevelt of waiting until Russia and Germany had “bled one another white.” “What news from the second front” – In British newspaper, July 1942.
“Unconditional Surrender” After the U.S. Army fought German troops in North Africa, Roosevelt surprised everyone when he said that only the “unconditional surrender” of Germany, Italy and Japan would end the war. He may have said this to reassure Stalin. Britain, receiving enormous aid from America, had to go along with the idea of not accepting a negotiated peace. Churchill suspected the US could use a long war to seize British markets.
Battle for Mediterranean bases Despite Stalin’s complaints, Britain won over the U.S. to again postpone the invasion of France and fight in Italy in 1943. It was later charged that Britain was trying to prevent Russian advances into eastern Europe (Greece and Yugoslavia). The Allies allowed Italy to surrender with conditions- and join their side.
Mountain combat Italy’s conditions for combat were more like those of the Great War in 1917. Here only mules could haul supplies into the mountains – or carry the wounded out.
Twilight War Anti-German partisans, supported by British weapons, carried out numerous raids – one, in Norway, helped derail German nuclear research. But the Germans struck back brutally.
Lidice When Czech partisans – trained in Britain, assassinated Reinhardt Heydrich, SS troops destroyed the Czech village of Lidice, killing all males over age 10, deporting all the women to concentration camps.
Poison Gas Both sides in Europe had maintained large dumps of poison gas, with neither side using them for fear of retaliation. After the German surrender in May 1945, a large part of the Allies stockpile was dumped in the North Sea.
Stalingrad 1943 -- The loss of over 200,000 veteran troops in a failed attempt to seize Stalingrad crippled the German army. Germany will attack only rarely after this disaster.
British War in the Air Unable to sustain losses in daytime bombing, the British relied on night attacks against German cities. This resulted in about 800,000 civilian deaths in Germany
Bombing Germany At Dresden, March 1945, 35,000 died in one raid by British bombers. American bombers struck the same city a day later, in a raid that author Kurt Vonnegut later described as “a storm of fire.”
US War in the Air The American air force believed Germany could be forced to surrender by bombing German industry.Of the 78,000 American “M.I.A.s” of WWII, 85% are air force fliers.
The U-boat menace Until German submarine damage could be reduced, an invasion of Europe was not possible. In 1943, Britain was in danger of starvation.