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Overview of World War II 1941 to 1945

After reading this overview it becomes apparent why Tom Brokaw called the generation that was raised in the depression and experienced World War II the "Greatest Generation That Ever Lived."

World War II, global military conflict that, in terms of lives lost and material destruction, was the most devastating war in human history. It was the second most costly war for the United States, in terms of human life, with the Civil War being the most costly. It began in 1939 as a European conflict between Germany and an Anglo-French coalition but eventually widened to include most of the nations of the world. It ended in 1945, leaving a new world order dominated by the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

More than any previous war, World War II involved the commitment of nations' entire human and economic resources, the blurring of the distinction between combatant and noncombatant, and the expansion of the battlefield to include all of the enemy's territory. The most important determinants of its outcome were industrial capacity and personnel. In the last stages of the war, two radically new weapons were introduced: the long-range rocket and the atomic bomb. Essentially the war was fought with the same or improved weapons of the types used in World War I (1914-1918). The greatest advances in weaponry were in aircraft and tanks.

World War II was primarily fought between two large alliances. The Axis Powers were a group of countries led by Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan, and are considered the aggressors of the conflict. The Allies, initially led by the United Kingdom and France, were joined in the European theatre by the Soviet Union and the United States in 1941. In the Asia-Pacific theatre, the Allies were led by the Republic of China from the invasion of China by Japan in 1937, and then joined by the United States in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Axis was more of an informal alliance bound together by the Tripartite Pact. Each of the major countries went to war on its own initiative, and not necessarily to assist each other. There was little sharing of technology or resources, and also little cooperative strategic planning between the major Axis Powers. With Italy, Germany and Japan functioning as wholly separate powers, each conducting the war in its theatre. There were a number of smaller powers on the side of the Axis, though most of the war effort was directed and powered by Germany and Japan. Axis participation included Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan and Romania.

Many countries participated in World War II, some voluntarily and some against their will. Some played an active role in Allied efforts, and some took up more neutral positions. The leaders of the Allied forces included the United Kingdom (Britain), France, the Soviet Union (Russia) and the United States in the European and African theatres; and China and the United States in the Pacific theatre. The countries that fought with the Allied forces included Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Soviet Union, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States.

Many events lead up to the full participation of the United States, but the defining blow was Pearl Harbor. A few minutes before 8 am on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based airplanes struck Pearl Harbor. In a raid lasting less than two hours, they sank or seriously damaged eight battleships and 13 other naval vessels. The U.S. authorities had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and knew an attack was imminent. A warning had been sent from Washington, but, owing to delays in transmission, it arrived after the raid had begun. In one stroke, the Japanese navy scored a brilliant success-and assured the Axis defeat in World War II. The Japanese attack brought the United States into the war on December 8-and brought it in determined to fight to the finish. Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11.

The Japanese began their conquest of the Pacific and Asia. The Japanese seemed to be everywhere at once, conquering vast areas of land and ocean they had marked for conquest. Before the end of December 1941, they took British Hong Kong and the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) and Guam and Wake Island (U.S. possessions), and they had invaded British Burma, Malaya, Borneo, and the American-held Philippines. British Singapore, long regarded as one of the world's strongest fortresses, fell to them in February 1942, and in March they occupied the Netherlands East Indies and landed on New Guinea. The American and Philippine forces surrendered at Bataan on April 9th, and resistance in the Philippines ended with the surrender of Corregidor on May 6.

According to the Japanese plan, it would be time for them to take a defensive stance when they had captured northern New Guinea (an Australian possession), the Bismarck Archipelago, the Gilberts, and Wake Island, which they did by mid-March. But they had done so well that they decided to expand their defensive perimeter north into the Aleutian Islands, east to Midway Island, and south through the Solomon Islands and southern New Guinea. Their first move was by sea, to take Port Moresby on the southeastern tip of New Guinea. The Americans, using their ability to read the Japanese code, had a naval task force on the scene. In the ensuing Battle of the Coral Sea (May 7-8), fought entirely by aircraft carriers, the Japanese were forced to abandon their designs on Port Moresby.

A powerful Japanese force, nine battleships and four carriers under Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, the commander in chief of the navy, steamed toward Midway in the first week of June 1942. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who had taken command of the Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor, could only muster three carriers and seven heavy cruisers, but he was reading the Japanese radio messages. Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor raid, had planned another surprise. This time, however, it was he who was surprised. Off Midway, on the morning of June 4th, U.S. dive-bombers destroyed three of the Japanese carriers in one 5-minute strike. The fourth went down later in the day, after its planes had battered the U.S. carrier Yorktown, which sank two days later.

Yamamoto ordered a general retreat on June 5th. On June 6-7 a secondary Japanese force took Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians, but those were no recompense for the defeat at Midway, from which the Japanese navy would never recover.

Meanwhile the war in Europe was still underway. The big question in the war was whether the USSR could survive a second German summer offensive, and the Russians were urging the United States and Britain to relieve the pressure on them by starting an offensive in the west. As a practical matter, the United States could not take much action in Europe in early 1942. It had no troops there, and it was in the midst of building forces and converting industry at home.

General George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army chief of staff, believed the best way to help the Russians and bring an early end to the war was to stage a buildup in England and attack across the English Channel into northwestern Europe. He wanted to act in the spring of 1943, or even in 1942 if the USSR appeared about to collapse. The British did not want involvement elsewhere until North Africa was settled and did not believe a force strong enough for a cross-channel attack could be assembled in England by 1943. Rommel settled the issue. In June he captured Tobruk and drove 380 km (235 mi) into Egypt, to Al ‘Alamayn (El ‘Alamein). After that, the Americans agreed to shelve the cross-channel attack and ready the troops en route to England for an invasion of French North Africa.

Meanwhile, despite the Germany-first strategy, the Americans were moving toward an active pursuit of the war against Japan. The U.S. Navy saw the Pacific as an arena in which it could perform more effectively than in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean. The Battle of Midway had stopped the Japanese in the central Pacific, but they continued to advance in the southwest Pacific along the Solomons chain and overland on New Guinea. On July 2, 1942, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) directed the naval and ground forces in the south and southwest Pacific to halt the Japanese, drive them out of the Solomons and northeastern New Guinea, and eliminate the great base the Japanese had established at Rabaul, on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago (now in Papua New Guinea).

Still in Europe, the most immediately critical area of the war, the USSR, the initiative had passed to the Germans again by summer 1942. The Soviet successes in the winter had been followed by disasters in the spring. Setbacks south of Leningrad, near Kharkiv, and in Crimea had cost well more than a half-million men in prisoners alone. The Germans had not sustained such massive losses, but the fighting had been expensive for them too, especially since the Soviets had three times the human resources at their disposal. Moreover, Hitler's overconfidence had led him into a colossal error. He had been so sure of victory in 1941 that he had stopped most kinds of weapons and ammunition production for the army and shifted the industries to work for the air force and navy, with which he proposed to finish off the British. He had resumed production for the army in January 1942, but the flow would not reach the front until late summer. Soviet weapons output, on the other hand, after having dropped low in November and December 1941, had increased steadily since the turn of the year, and the Soviet industrial base also was larger than the German.

Looking ahead to the summer, Hitler knew he could not again mount an all-out, three-pronged offensive. Some of the generals talked about waiting a year until the army could be rebuilt, but Hitler was determined to have the victory in 1942. He had sufficient troops and weapons to bring the southern flank of the eastern front nearly to full strength, and he believed he could compel the Soviet command to sacrifice its main forces trying to defend the coal mines of the Donets Basin and the oil fields of the Caucasus.

The German offensive began east of Kharkiv on June 28th, and in less than four weeks the armies had taken the Donets Basin and advanced east to the Don River. The distances covered were spectacular, but the numbers of enemy killed or captured were relatively small. Stalin and his generals had made the luckiest mistake of the war. Believing the Germans were going to aim a second, more powerful, attack on Moscow, they had held their reserves back and allowed the armies in the south to retreat.

Hitler, emboldened by the ease and speed of the advance, altered his plan in the last week of July. He had originally proposed to drive due east to Stalingrad, seize a firm hold on the Volga River there, and only then send a force south into the Caucasus. On July 23rd he ordered two armies to continue the advance toward Stalingrad and two to strike south across the lower Don and take the oil fields at Maikop, Groznyy, and Baku.

The Russians appeared to be heading toward disaster, as the German thrust into the Caucasus covered 300 km (185 mi) to Maikop by August 9. Hitler's strategy, however, presented a problem: Two forces moving away from each other could not be sustained equally over the badly damaged railroads of the occupied territory. In the second half of August, he diverted more supplies to the attack toward Stalingrad, and the march into the Caucasus slowed. Nevertheless, success seemed to be in sight when the Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army (formerly group) closed near the Stalingrad suburbs on September 3rd.

The USSR reached its low point in the war at the end of July 1942. The retreat was almost out of hand, and the Germans were getting into position to strike north along the Volga behind Moscow as well as into the Caucasus. On July 28 Stalin issued his most famous order of the war, "Not a step back!" While threatening Draconian punishments for slackers and defeatists, he relegated communism to the background and called on the troops to fight a "patriotic" war for Russia. Like Hitler, he had thus far conducted the war as he saw fit. In late August he called on his two best military professionals, Zhukov, who had organized the Moscow counteroffensive in December 1941, and the army chief of the General Staff, General Aleksandr M. Vasilyevsky, to deal with the situation at Stalingrad. They proposed to wear the enemy down by locking its troops in a bloody fight for the city while they assembled the means for a counterattack.

The Axis was riding a high tide in midsummer 1942. Stalingrad and the Caucasus oil were seemingly within Hitler's grasp, and Rommel was within striking distance of the Suez Canal. The Japanese had occupied Guadalcanal at the southern end of the Solomons chain and were marching on Port Moresby. Within the next six months, however, the Axis had been stopped and turned back in the Soviet Union, North Africa, and the southwest Pacific.

U.S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. Against a small Japanese garrison, the landing was easy. Afterward nothing was easy. The Japanese responded swiftly and violently by sea and by air. The outcome hinged on the Japanese navy's ability to bring in reinforcements, which was substantial, and the U.S. Navy's ability to keep the marines supplied, which was at times in some doubt. While the marines battled a determined foe in a debilitating tropical climate, between August 24th and November 30th the navy fought six major engagements in the waters surrounding the island. The losses in ships and aircraft were heavy on both sides, but the Japanese were more seriously hurt because they could not afford to accept a war of attrition with the Americans. Their warships did not come out again after the end of November, and the Americans declared the island secure on February 9, 1943.

The turnabout in North Africa began on August 31, 1942, when Rommel attacked through the southern flank of the British line west of Al ‘Alamayn, was stopped at the ‘Alam al Ḩalfā' Ridge, and was thrown back by September 7th. The newly appointed British commander, General Bernard Law Montgomery, hit the north flank on October 23rd with a methodically prepared offensive and, by November 5th, forced Rommel into a retreat. American and British Troops fighting together under General Dwight D. Eisenhower began landing in Morocco and Algeria on November 8th, the Americans at Casablanca and Oran, the British at Algiers.

The Germans sent reinforcements into Tunis and occupied all of France. They managed to get the Fifth Panzer Army under General Jürgen von Arnim on the scene in time to stop Eisenhower in western Tunisia by mid-December. Rommel went into the Mareth Line in southeastern Tunisia in early February 1943 and launched an attack against the Americans on February 14 that drove them back 80 km (50 mi) and out of the vital Kasserine Pass. It was his last success and one he could not exploit. Hitler recalled him in March, as the Americans and British closed in from the west and south. After being cut off from their bases at Bizerte and Tunis and driven back into pockets on the Cape Bon Peninsula, 275,000 Germans and Italians surrendered by May 13, 1943.

On the eastern front the Germans' advances to Stalingrad and into the Caucasus had added about 1,100 km (about 680 mi) to their line. No German troops were available to hold that extra distance, so Hitler had to use troops contributed by his allies. Consequently, while Sixth and Fourth Panzer armies were tied down at Stalingrad in September and October 1942, they were flanked on the left and right by Romanian armies. An Italian and a Hungarian army were deployed farther upstream on the Don River. Trial maneuvers had exposed serious weaknesses in some of the Axis's armies.

On the morning of November 19th, in snow and fog, Soviet armored spearheads hit the Romanians west and south of Stalingrad. Their points met three days later at Kalach on the Don River, encircling the Sixth Army, about half of the Fourth Panzer Army, and a number of Romanian units. Hitler ordered the Sixth Army commander, General Friedrich Paulus, to hold the pocket, promised him air supply, and sent Manstein, by then a field marshal, to organize a relief. The airlift failed to provide the 300 tons of supplies that Paulus needed each day, and Manstein's relief operation was halted 55 km (34 mi) short of the pocket in late December. The Sixth Panzer Army was doomed if it did not attempt a breakout, which Hitler refused to permit. The Russians pushed in on the pocket from three sides in January 1943, and Paulus surrendered on January 31, 1943. The battle cost Germany about 200,000 troops. In the aftermath of Stalingrad, in part owing to the collapse of the Italian and Hungarian armies, the Germans were forced to retreat from the Caucasus and back approximately to the line from which they had started the 1942 summer offensive.

In January 1943 it was decided by the British and Americans to open a strategic air (bombing) offensive against Germany. It was decided that each nation conduct its own offensive in its own way (British night bombing and American day bombing) and calling the result round-the-clock bombing. The British method was exemplified by four firebomb raids on Hamburg in late July 1943, in which much of the city was burned out and 50,000 people died. American losses of planes and crews increased sharply as the bombers penetrated deeper into Germany. After early October 1943, when strikes at ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt incurred nearly 25 percent losses, the daylight offensive had to be curtailed until long-range fighters became available.

Before the winter fighting on the eastern front ended in March 1943, Hitler knew he could not manage another summer offensive, and he talked about setting up an east wall comparable to the fortified Atlantic wall he was building along the western European coast. The long winter's retreat, however, had shortened the front enough to give him a surplus of almost two armies. It also left a large westward bulge in the front around the city of Kursk. To Hitler, the opportunity for one more grand encirclement was too good to let pass.

After waiting three months for more new tanks to come off the assembly lines, Hitler opened the battle at Kursk on July 5th with attacks north and south across the open eastern end of the bulge. Zhukov and Vasilyevsky had also had their eyes on Kursk, and they had heavily reinforced the front around it. In the war's greatest tank battle, the Russians fought the Germans nearly to a standstill by July 12th. Hitler then called off the operation because the Americans and British had landed on Sicily, and he needed to transfer divisions to Italy.

The invasion of Italy was defined by three American, one Canadian, and three British divisions landing in Sicily on July 10, 1943. They pushed across the island from beachheads on the south coast in five weeks, against four Italian and two German divisions, and overcame the last Axis resistance on August 17th. In the meantime, Mussolini had been stripped of power on July 25th, and the Italian government had entered into negotiations that resulted in an armistice signed in secret on September 3rd and made public on September 8, 1943.

On September 3, 1943 elements of Montgomery's British Eighth Army crossed the Strait of Messina from Sicily to the toe of the Italian boot. The U.S. Fifth Army, under General Mark W. Clark, staged a landing near Salerno on September 9th, and by October 12th, the British and Americans had a fairly solid line across the peninsula from the Volturno River, north of Naples, to Termoli on the Adriatic coast. The Italian surrender brought little military benefit to the Allies, and by the end of the year, the Germans stopped them on the Gustav line about 100 km (about 60 mi) south of Rome. A landing at Anzio on January 22, 1944, failed to shake the Gustav line, which was solidly anchored on the Liri River and Monte Cassino.

The Allied strategy in the war with Japan evolved by stages during 1943. In the first, the goal was to secure bases on the coast of China (from which Japan could be bombed and later invaded) by British and Chinese drives through Burma and eastern China and by American thrusts through the islands of the central and southwestern Pacific to Taiwan and China. By midyear, it was apparent that neither the British nor the Chinese drive was likely to materialize. Thereafter, only the two American thrusts remained. Their objectives were still Formosa and the Chinese coast.

In the Pacific, U.S. troops retook Attu, in the Aleutians, in a hard-fought, 3-week battle beginning on May 23rd. The Japanese evacuated Kiska before Americans and Canadians landed there in August. The main action was in the southwest Pacific. There U.S. and New Zealand troops, under Admiral William Halsey, advanced through the Solomons, taking New Georgia in August and a large beachhead on Bougainville in November 1943. Australians and Americans under MacArthur drove the Japanese back along the East Coast of New Guinea and took Lae and Salamaua in September. MacArthur's and Halsey's mission, as set by the JCS in 1942, had been to take Rabaul, but they discovered in the Solomons that having command of the air and sea around them was enough to neutralize the Japanese Island garrisons and render them useless. Landings on Cape Gloucester, New Britain, in December, in the Admiralty Islands in February 1944, and At Emirau Island in March 1944 effectively sealed off Rabaul. Its 100,000-man garrison could not thereafter be either adequately supplied or evacuated.

The central Pacific thrust was slower in getting started. The southwest Pacific islands were relatively close together; airfields on one could furnish support for the move to the next; and the Japanese navy was wary of risking its ships within range of land-based aircraft. In the central Pacific, however, the islands were scattered over vast stretches of ocean, and powerful naval forces were needed to support the landings, particularly aircraft carriers, which were not available in sufficient numbers until late 1943.

The first central Pacific landings were in the Gilbert Islands, at Makin and Tarawa in November 1943. Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll, 117.8 hectares (291 acres) of coral sand and concrete and coconut log bunkers, cost the 2nd Marine Division 3000 casualties in three days. More intensive preliminary bombardments and larger numbers of amphibian tractors capable of crossing the surrounding reefs made the taking of Kwajalein and Enewetak in the Marshall Islands in February 1944 somewhat less expensive.

Meanwhile back in Europe, after the Battle of Kursk, the last lingering doubt about the Soviet forces was whether they could conduct a successful summer offensive. It was dispelled in the first week of August 1943, when slashing attacks hit the German line north and west of Kharkiv. On August 12th Hitler ordered work started on an east wall to be built along the Narva River and Lakes Pskov and Peipus, behind Army Group North, and the Desna and Dnieper rivers, behind Army Groups Center and South. In the second half of the month, the Soviet offensive expanded south along the Donets River and north into the Army Group Center sector.

On September 15th Hitler permitted Army Group South to retreat to the Dnieper River; otherwise it was likely to be destroyed. He also ordered everything in the area east of the Dnieper that could be of any use to the enemy to be hauled away, burned, or blown up. This scorched-earth policy, as it was called, could only be partially carried out before the army group crossed the river at the end of the month. Henceforth, that policy would be applied in all territory surrendered to the Russians.

Behind the river, the German troops found no trace of an east wall, and they had to contend from the first with five Soviet bridgeheads. The high west bank of the river was the best defensive line left in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet armies, under Zhukov and Vasilyevsky, fought furiously to prevent the Germans from gaining a foothold there. They expanded the bridgeheads, isolated a German army in Crimea in October, took Kyiv on November 6th, and stayed on the offensive into the winter with hardly a pause.

Hitler expected an invasion of northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944, and he welcomed it as a chance to win the war. If he could throw the Americans and British off the beaches, he reasoned, they would not soon try again. He could then throw all of his forces, nearly half of which were in the west, against the USSR. In November 1943 he told the commanders on the eastern front that they would get no more reinforcements until after the invasion had been defeated.

In January 1944 a Soviet offensive raised the siege of Leningrad and drove Army Group North back to the Narva River-Lake Peipus line. There the Germans found a tenuous refuge in the one segment of the east wall that had been to some extent fortified. On the south flank, successive offensives, the last in March and April, pushed the Germans in the broad stretch between the Poles'ye Marshes (Pripet Marshes) and the Black Sea off of all but a few shreds of Soviet territory. The greater part of 150,000 Germans and Romanians in Crimea died or passed into Soviet captivity in May after a belated sealift failed to get them out of Sevastopol.

On June 6, 1944, D-Day, the day of invasion for Overlord, the U.S. First Army, under General Omar N. Bradley, and the British Second Army, under General Miles C. Dempsey, established beachheads in Normandy (Normandie), on the French channel coast. The German resistance was strong, and the footholds for Allied armies were not nearly as good as they had expected. Nevertheless, the powerful counterattack with which Hitler had proposed to throw the Allies off the beaches did not materialize, neither on D-Day nor later.

Enormous Allied air superiority over northern France made it difficult for Rommel, who was in command on the scene, to move his limited reserves. Moreover, Hitler became convinced that the Normandy landings were a feint and the main assault would come north of the Seine River. Consequently, he refused to release the divisions he had there and insisted on drawing in reinforcements from more distant areas. By the end of June, Eisenhower had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles ashore in Normandy.

A group of German officers and civilians concluded in July 1944 that getting rid of Hitler offered the last remaining chance to end the war before it swept onto German soil from two directions. On July 20th they tried to kill him by placing a bomb in his headquarters in East Prussia. The bomb exploded, wounding a number of officers-several fatally-but inflicting only minor injuries on Hitler. Afterward, the Gestapo hunted down everyone suspected of complicity in the plot. One of the suspects was Rommel, who committed suicide. Hitler emerged from the assassination attempt more secure in his power than ever before.

As of July 24, 1944 the Americans and British were still confined in the Normandy beachhead, which they had expanded somewhat to take in Saint-Lô and Caen. Bradley began the breakout the next day with an attack south from Saint-Lô. Thereafter, the front expanded rapidly, and Eisenhower regrouped his forces. Montgomery took over the British Second Army and the Canadian First Army. Bradley assumed command of a newly activated Twelfth Army Group consisting of U.S. First and Third armies under General Courtney H. Hodges and General George S. Patton.

After the Americans had turned east from Avranches in the first week of August, a pocket developed around the German Fifth Panzer and Seventh armies west of Falaise. The Germans held out until August 20th but then retreated across the Seine. On August 25 the Americans, in conjunction with General Charles de Gaulle's Free French and Resistance forces, liberated Paris.

Meanwhile, on August 15th, American and French forces had landed on the southern coast of France east of Marseille and were pushing north along the valley of the Rhône River. They made contact with Bradley's forces near Dijon in the second week of September 1944.

Bradley and Montgomery sent their army groups north and east across the Seine on August 25th, the British going along the coast toward Belgium, the Americans toward the Franco-German border. Montgomery's troops seized Antwerp on September 3rd, and the first American patrols crossed the German border on September 11th. But the pursuit was ending. The German armies shattered in the breakout were being rebuilt, and Hitler sent as commander Field Marshal Walter Model, who had earned a reputation as the so-called lion of the defense on the eastern front. Montgomery had reached formidable water barriers-the Meuse and lower Rhine rivers-and the Americans were coming up against the west wall, which had been built in the 1930s as the German counterpart to the Maginot line. Although most of its big guns had been removed, the west wall's concrete bunkers and antitank barriers would make it tough to crack.

The Allies' most serious problem was that they had outrun their supplies. Gasoline and ammunition in particular were scarce and were being brought from French ports on the channel coast over as much as 800 km (500 mi) of war-damaged roads and railroads. Until the port of Antwerp could be cleared and put into operation, major advances like those in August and early September were out of the question.

The Soviet offensive had spread to the flanks of Army Group Center in July 1944. On July 29th a spearhead reached the Baltic coast near Rīga and severed Army Group North's land contact with the German main front. Powerful thrusts past Army Group Center's south flank reached the line of the Wisła (Vistula) River upstream from Warsaw by the end of the month. In Warsaw on July 31st the Polish underground Home Army commanded by General Tadeusz Komorowski (known as General Bor) staged an uprising. The insurgents, who were loyal to the anti-Communist exile government in London, disrupted the Germans for several days. The Soviet forces held fast on the east side of the Wisła, however, and Stalin refused to let U.S. planes use Soviet airfields for making supply flights for the insurgents. He did, finally, allow one flight by 110 B-17s, which was made on September 18, 1944. By then it was too late; the Germans had the upper hand; and Komorowski surrendered on October 2nd. Stalin insisted that his forces could not have crossed into Warsaw because they were too weak, which was probably not true. On the other hand, the line of the Wisła was as far as the Soviet armies could go on a broad front without pausing to replenish their supplies.

While the Soviet Union was letting the Warsaw uprising run its tragic course, it was gathering in a plentiful harvest of successes elsewhere. An offensive between the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea, opened on August 20, resulted in Romania's asking for an armistice three days later. Bulgaria, which had never declared war on the Soviet Union, surrendered on September 9th, Finland on September 19th. Soviet troops took Belgrade on October 20th and installed a Communist government under Tito in Yugoslavia. In Hungary, the Russians were at the gates of Budapest by late November 1944.

Meanwhile the Italian campaign passed into the shadow of Overlord in the summer of 1944. Clark's Fifth Army, comprising French and Poles as well as Americans, took Monte Cassino on May 18th. A breakout from the Anzio beachhead five days later forced the Germans to abandon the whole Gustav line, and the Fifth Army entered Rome, an open city since June 4th. The advance went well for some distance north of Rome, but it was bound to lose momentum because U.S. and French divisions would soon be withdrawn for the invasion of southern France. After taking Ancona on the east and Florence on the west coast in the second week of August, the Allies were at the German Gothic line. An offensive late in the month demolished the Gothic line but failed in three months to carry through to the Po River valley and was stopped for the winter in the mountains.

Operations against Japan in the Pacific picked up speed in 1944. In the spring, the JCS projected advances by MacArthur through northwestern New Guinea and into the Philippines and by Nimitz across the central Pacific to the Marianas and Caroline Islands. The Japanese, on their part, were getting ready for a decisive naval battle east of the Philippines.

After making leaps along the New Guinea coast to Aitape, Hollandia, and Wakde Island in April and May, MacArthur's troops landed on Biak Island on May 27th. Airfields on Biak would enable U.S. planes to harass the Japanese fleet in the Philippines. A striking force built around the world's two largest battleships, Yamato and Musashi, was steaming toward Biak on June 13th when the U.S. Navy began bombing and shelling Saipan in the Marianas. The Japanese ships were then ordered to turn north and join the First Mobile Fleet of Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo, which was heading out of the Philippines toward the Marianas.

On June 19th and 20th, Ozawa met U.S. Task Force 58, under Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The outcome was decided in the air and under the sea. Ozawa had five heavy and four light carriers; Mitscher had nine heavy and six light carriers. On the first day, in what was called the Marianas Turkey Shoot, U.S. fighters downed 219 of 326 Japanese planes sent against them. While the air battle was going on, U.S. submarines sank Ozawa's two largest carriers, one of them his flagship; and on the second day, dive-bombers sank a third big carrier. After that, Ozawa steered north toward Okinawa with just 35 planes left. It was the end for Japanese carrier aviation. Mitscher lost 26 planes, and 3 of his ships suffered minor damage.

U.S. forces landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944. The Americans had possession of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam by August 10th, giving them the key to a strategy for ending the war. The islands could accommodate bases for the new American long-range bombers, the B-29 Superfortresses, which could reach Tokyo and the other main Japanese cities at least as well from the islands as they would have been able to from bases in China. Moreover, U.S. naval superiority in the Pacific was rapidly becoming sufficient to sustain an invasion of Japan itself across the open ocean. That invasion, however, would have to wait for the defeat of Germany and the subsequent release of ground troops from Europe for use in the Pacific. The regular bombing of Japan began in November 1944.

Although the shift in strategy raised some doubts about the need for the operations in the Carolines and Philippines, they went ahead as planned, with landings in the western Carolines at Peleliu (September 15th), Ulithi (September 23rd), and Ngulu (October 16th) and in the central Philippines on Leyte (October 20th). The invasion of the Philippines brought the Japanese navy out in force for the last time in the war. In the 3-day Battle for Leyte Gulf (October 23rd-25th), the outcome of which was at times more in doubt than the final result would seem to indicate, the Japanese lost 26 ships, including the giant battleship Musashi, and the Americans lost 7 ships.

In Europe the main action against Germany during the fall of 1944 was in the air. Escorted by long-range fighters, particularly P-51 Mustangs, U.S. bombers hit industrial targets by day, while the German cities crumbled under British bombing by night. Hitler had responded by bombarding England, beginning in June, with V-1 flying bombs and in September with V-2 rockets; but the best launching sites, those in northwestern France and in Belgium, were lost in October. The effects of the Allied strategic bombing were less clear-cut than had been expected. The bombing did not destroy civilian morale, and German fighter plane and armored vehicle production reached their wartime peaks in the second half of 1944. On the other hand, iron and steel output dropped by half between September and December, and continued bombing of the synthetic oil plants, coupled with loss of the Ploieşti oil fields in Romania, severely limited the fuel that would be available for the tanks and planes coming off the assembly lines.

The shortening of the fronts on the east and the west and the late year lull in the ground fighting gave Hitler one more chance to create a reserve of about 25 divisions. He resolved to use them offensively against the British and Americans by cutting across Belgium to Antwerp in an action similar to the sweep through the Ardennes that had brought the British and French to disaster at Dunkerque in May 1940.

The German Ardennes offensive, soon to be known to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge, began on December 16, 1944. The Americans were taken completely by surprise. They put up a strong resistance, however, and were able to hold the critical road centers of Saint-Vith and Bastogne. The German effort was doomed after December 23rd, when good flying weather allowed the overwhelming Allied air superiority to make itself felt. Nevertheless, it was not until the end of January that the last of the 80-km (50-mi) deep "bulge" in the Allied lines was eliminated. The Allied advance into Germany was not resumed until February 1945.

The Soviet armies had smashed the German line on the Wisła River and reached the Baltic coast east of Danzig (Gdańsk) in January 1945 and had a tight hold on the Odra by February 3rd. Stalin would meet Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta in Crimea (February 4th-11th) with all of Poland in his pocket and with Berlin and, for all anybody then knew, most of Germany as well within his grasp. At Yalta, Stalin agreed to enter the war against Japan within three months after the German surrender in return for territorial concessions in the Far East.

The Americans and British, as was their custom, disagreed on how to proceed against Germany. In a meeting at Malta shortly before the Yalta conference, Montgomery and the British members of the CCS argued for a fast single thrust by Montgomery's army group across the north German plain to Berlin. To sustain such a thrust, they wanted the bulk of Allied supplies to go to Montgomery, which meant the American armies would have to stay on the defensive. Eisenhower's plan, which prevailed, was to give Montgomery first priority but also keep the American armies on the move.

The first stage for all of the Allied armies was to reach the Rhine River. To accomplish that, they had to break through the west wall in the south and cross the Ruhr (Dutch Roer) River on the north. The Germans had flooded the Ruhr Valley by opening dams. After waiting nearly two weeks for the water to subside, the U.S. Ninth and First armies crossed the Ruhr on February 23, 1945.

In early March, the armies closed up to the Rhine. The bridges were down everywhere-everywhere, that is, except at the small city of Remagen, where units of the U.S. First Army captured the Ludendorff railroad bridge on March 7th. By March 24th, when Montgomery sent elements of the British Second Army and the U.S. Ninth Army across the river, the U.S. First Army was occupying a sprawling bridgehead between Bonn and Koblenz. On March 22, 1945 the U.S. Third Army had seized a bridgehead south of Mainz. Thus, the whole barrier of the river was broken, and Eisenhower ordered the armies to strike east on a broad front.

Advancing at times over 80 km (over 50 mi) a day, the U.S. First and Ninth armies closed an encirclement around the industrial heart of Germany, the Ruhr, on April 1m 1945. They trapped 325,000 German troops in the pocket. The British Second Army crossed the Weser River, halfway between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers, on April 5th. On April 11th the Ninth Army reached the Elbe near Magdeburg and the next day took a bridgehead on the east side, thereby putting itself within striking distance (120 km/75 mi) of Berlin.

The Ninth Army's arrival on the Elbe raised a question of a "race for Berlin." The British, especially Churchill and Montgomery, and some Americans contended that Berlin was the most important objective in Germany because the world, and the German people especially, would regard the forces that took Berlin as the real victors in the war. Eisenhower, supported by the JCS, insisted that, militarily, Berlin was not worth the possible cost of taking it, and a junction with the Russians could be made just as well farther south in the vicinity of Leipzig and Dresden. Moreover, he believed Nazi diehards were going to take refuge in a redoubt in the Bavarian mountains, and he wanted, therefore, to direct the main weight of his American forces into south Germany.

The Soviet front, meanwhile, had remained stationary on the Odra River since February, which raised another question. The postwar Soviet explanation was that their flanks on the north and south were threatened and had to be cleared. The sequence of events after February 1945 indicates that Stalin did not believe the British and Americans could cross Germany as fast as they did and, consequently, assumed he would have ample time to complete his conquest of eastern Europe before heading into central Germany. Although he told Eisenhower differently, he obviously did not regard Berlin as unimportant. In the first week of April, his armies went into a whirlwind redeployment for a Berlin offensive.

Hitler's last, faint hope, strengthened briefly by Roosevelt's death on April 12th, was for a falling out between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. The East-West alliance was, in fact, strained, but the break would not come in time to benefit Nazi Germany. On April 14th and 16th the U.S. Fifth and British Eighth armies launched attacks that brought them to the Po River in a week. The Soviet advance toward Berlin began on April 16, 1945. The U.S. Seventh Army captured Nürnberg, the site of Nazi Party rallies in the 1930s, on April 20th. Four days later Soviet armies closed a ring around Berlin. The next day the Soviet Fifth Guards Army and the U.S. First Army made contact at Torgau on the Elbe River northeast of Leipzig, and Germany was split into two parts. In the last week of the month, organized resistance against the Americans and British practically ceased, but the German troops facing east battled desperately to avoid falling into Soviet captivity.

Hitler decided to await the end in Berlin, where he could still manipulate what was left of the command apparatus. Most of his political and military associates chose to leave the capital for places in north and south Germany likely to be out of the Soviet reach. On the afternoon of April 30, 1945 Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. As his last significant official act, he named Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz to succeed him as chief of state.

Doenitz, who had been loyal to Hitler, had no course open to him other than surrender. His representative, General Alfred Jodl, signed an unconditional surrender of all German armed forces at Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims early on May 7th. By then the German forces in Italy had already surrendered (on May 2, 1945), as had those in Holland, north Germany, and Denmark (May 4, 1945). The U.S. and British governments declared May 8th V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. The full unconditional surrender took effect at one minute past midnight after a second signing in Berlin with Soviet participation.

Although Japan's position was hopeless by early 1945, an early end to the war was not in sight. The Japanese navy would not be able to come out in force again, but the bulk of the army was intact and was deployed in the home islands and China. The Japanese gave a foretaste of what was yet in store by resorting to kamikaze (Japanese, "divine wind") attacks, or suicide air attacks, during the fighting for Luzon in the Philippines. On January 4th-13th, 1945, quickly trained kamikaze pilots flying obsolete planes had sunk 17 U.S. ships and damaged 50.

While the final assault on Japan awaited reinforcements from Europe, the island-hopping approach march continued, first, with a landing on Iwo Jima (now Iwo To) on February 19, 1945. That small, barren island cost the lives of about 6,800 U.S. personnel (including about 6,000 Marines) before it was secured on March 16th. Situated almost halfway between the Marianas and Tokyo, the island played an important part in the air war. Its two airfields provided landing sites for damaged B-29s and enabled fighters to give the bombers cover during their raids on Japanese cities.

On April 1, 1945 the U.S. Tenth Army, composed of four army and four marine divisions under General Simon B. Buckner, Jr., landed on Okinawa, 500 km (310 mi) south of the southernmost Japanese island, Kyūshū. The Japanese did not defend the beaches. They proposed to make their stand on the southern tip of the island, across which they had constructed three strong lines. The northern three-fifths of the island were secured in less than two weeks, the third line in the south could not be breached until June 14th, and the fighting continued to June 21, 1945.

The next attack was scheduled for Kyūshū in November 1945. An easy success seemed unlikely. The Japanese had fought practically to the last man on Iwo Jima, and hundreds of soldiers and civilians had jumped off cliffs at the southern end of Okinawa rather than surrender. Kamikaze planes had sunk 15 naval vessels and damaged 200 off Okinawa.

The Kyūshū landing was never made. Throughout the war, the U.S. government and the British, believing Germany was doing the same, had maintained a massive scientific and industrial project to develop an atomic bomb. The chief ingredients, fissionable uranium and plutonium, had not been available in sufficient quantity before the war in Europe ended. The first bomb was exploded in a test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945 (the Manhattan Project).

Two more bombs had been built, and the possibility arose of using them to convince the Japanese to surrender. President Harry S. Truman decided to allow the bombs to be dropped. For maximum psychological impact, they were used in quick succession, one over Hiroshima on August 6th, the other over Nagasaki on August 9th. These cities had not previously been bombed, and thus the bombs' damage could be accurately assessed. U.S. estimates put the number killed or missing as a result of the bomb in Hiroshima at 60,000 to 70,000 and in Nagasaki at 40,000. Japanese estimates gave a combined total of 240,000. The USSR declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945 and invaded Manchuria the next day.

On August 14, 1945 Japan announced its surrender, which was not quite unconditional because the Allies had agreed to allow the country to keep its emperor. The formal signing took place on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship Missouri. The Allied delegation was headed by General MacArthur, who became the military governor of occupied Japan.

World War II's basic statistics qualify it as by far the most costly war in history in terms of human casualties and material resources expended. In all, 61 countries with 1.7 billion people, three-fourths of the world's population, took part. A total of 110 million people were mobilized for military service, more than half of those by three countries: the USSR (22 million to 30 million), Germany (17 million), and the United States (16 million). For the major participants the largest numbers on duty at any one time were as follows: USSR (12,500,000); United States (12,245,000); Germany (10,938,000); British Empire and Commonwealth (8,720,000); Japan (7,193,000); and China (5,000,000).

Most statistics on the war are only estimates. The war's vast and chaotic sweep made uniform record keeping impossible. Some governments lost control of the data, and some resorted to manipulating it for political reasons.

A rough consensus has been reached on the total cost of the war. The human cost is estimated at 55 million dead-25 million in the military and 30 million civilians. The amount of money spent has been estimated at more than $1 trillion, which makes World War II more expensive than all other wars combined.

The United States spent the most money on the war, an estimated $341 billion, including $50 billion for lend-lease supplies, of which $31 billion went to Britain, $11 billion to the Soviet Union, $5 billion to China, and $3 billion to 35 other countries. Germany was next, with $272 billion; followed by the Soviet Union, $192 billion; and then Britain, $120 billion; Italy, $94 billion; and Japan, $56 billion. Except for the United States, however, and some of the less militarily active Allies, the money spent does not come close to being the war's true cost. The Soviet government has calculated that the USSR lost 30 percent of its national wealth, while Nazi exactions and looting were of incalculable amounts in the occupied countries. The full cost to Japan has been estimated at $562 billion. In Germany, bombing and shelling had produced 4 billion cu m (5 billion cu yd) of rubble.

Although the human cost of the war was tremendous, casualty figures cannot always be obtained and often vary widely. Most experts estimate the military and civilian losses of Allied forces at 44 million and those of the Axis at 11 million. The total number of civilian losses includes the 5.6 million to 5.9 million Jews who were

 killed in the Holocaust. Of all the nations that participated in World War II, the human cost of the war fell heaviest on the USSR, for which the official total, military and civilian, is given as more than 20 million killed. The United States, which had no significant civilian losses, sustained more than 400,000 deaths.

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