United States of America
They came late to the ballgame by British standards, but they came to play. They were crude, crass and lacking in military finesse according to Montgomery and other Allied leaders, but they won many more times than they lost. They fought down there in the mud and the blood and the gore and got the job done.
During the first two years of World War II, the United States had maintained formal neutrality as made official in the Quarantine Speech delivered by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, while supplying Britain, the Soviet Union, and China with war material through the Lend-Lease Act which was signed into law on 11 March 1941, as well as deploying the US military to replace the British forces stationed in Iceland. Following the "Greer incident" Roosevelt publicly confirmed the "shoot on sight" order on 11 September 1941, effectively declaring naval war on Germany and Italy in the Battle of the Atlantic. In the Pacific Theater, there was unofficial early US combat activity such as the Flying Tigers.
The Lend-Lease Act, formally known as the An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, was passed 11 March 1941. Championed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the legislation provided for military aid and supplies to be offered to other nations. Passed before the United States entered World War II, the Lend-Lease Program effectively ended American neutrality and offered a means for directly supporting Britain's war against Germany and China's conflict with Japan. Following the American entry into World War II, Lend-Lease was expanded to include the Soviet Union. During the course of the conflict, approximately $50 billion worth of materials were supplied on the premise that it would be paid for or returned.
British sailors bring their bags aboard a Lend-Lease vessel, ready to sail her across the Atlantic, 1 June 1941.
During the war some 16,112,566 Americans served in the United States Armed Forces, with 405,399 killed and 671,278 wounded. There were also 130,201 American prisoners of war, of whom 116,129 returned home after the war. Key civilian advisors to President Roosevelt included Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who mobilized the nation's industries and induction centers to supply the Army, commanded by General George Marshall and the Army Air Forces under General Hap Arnold. The Navy, led by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Admiral Ernest King, proved more autonomous. Overall priorities were set by Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by William Leahy. The highest priority was the defeat of Germany in Europe, but first the war against Japan in the Pacific was more urgent after the sinking of the main battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Admiral King put Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, based in Hawaii, in charge of the Pacific War against Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy had the advantage, taking the Philippines as well as British and Dutch possessions, and threatening Australia but in June 1942, its main carriers were sunk during the Battle of Midway, and the Americans seized the initiative. The Pacific War became one of island hopping, so as to move air bases closer and closer to Japan. The Army, based in Australia under General Douglas MacArthur, steadily advanced across New Guinea to the Philippines, with plans to invade the Japanese home islands in late 1945. With its merchant fleet sunk by American submarines, Japan ran short of aviation gasoline and fuel oil, as the US Navy in June 1944 captured islands within bombing range of the Japanese home islands. Strategic bombing directed by General Curtis Lemay destroyed all the major Japanese cities, as the US captured Okinawa after heavy losses in spring 1945. With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, and an invasion of the home islands imminent, Japan surrendered.
The war in Europe involved aid to Britain, her allies, and the Soviet Union, with the US supplying munitions until it could ready an invasion force. US forces were first tested to a limited degree in the North African Campaign and then employed more significantly with British Forces in Italy in 1943–45, where US forces, representing about a third of the Allied forces deployed, bogged down after Italy surrendered and the Germans took over. Finally the main invasion of France took place in June 1944, under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Meanwhile, the US Army Air Forces and the British Royal Air Force engaged in the area bombardment of German cities and systematically targeted German transportation links and synthetic oil plants, as it knocked out what was left of the Luftwaffe post Battle of Britain in 1944. Being invaded from all sides, it became clear that Germany would lose the war. Berlin fell to the Soviets in May 1945, and with Adolf Hitler dead, the Germans surrendered.
Home Front Poster.
The military effort was strongly supported by civilians on the home front, who provided the military personnel, the munitions, the money, and the morale to fight the war to victory. World War II cost the United States an estimated $341 billion in 1945 dollars – equivalent to 74% of America's GDP and expenditures during the war.
American public opinion was hostile to the Axis, but how much aid to give the Allies was controversial. The United States returned to its typical isolationist foreign policy after the First World War and President Woodrow Wilson's failure to have the Treaty of Versailles ratified. Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally favored a more assertive foreign policy, his administration remained committed to isolationism during the 1930s to ensure congressional support for the New Deal, and allowed Congress to pass the Neutrality Acts. As a result, the United States played no role in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War. After the German invasion of Poland and the beginning of the war in September 1939, Congress allowed foreign countries to purchase war material from the United States on a "cash-and-carry" basis, but assistance to the United Kingdom was still limited by British hard currency shortages and the Johnson Act, and President Roosevelt's military advisers believed that the Allied Powers would be defeated and that US military assets should be focused on defending the Western Hemisphere.
By 1940 the US, while still neutral, was becoming the "Arsenal of Democracy" for the Allies, supplying money and war materials. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt agreed to exchange 50 US destroyers for 99-year-leases to British military bases in Newfoundland and the Caribbean. The sudden defeat of France in spring 1940 caused the nation to begin to expand its armed forces, including the first peacetime draft. In preparation for expected German aggression against the Soviet Union, negotiations for better diplomatic relations began between Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles and Soviet Ambassador to the United States Konstantin Umansky. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, America began sending Lend Lease aid to the Soviet Union as well as Britain and China. Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advisers warned that the Soviet Union would collapse from the Nazi advance within weeks, he barred Congress from blocking aid to the Soviet Union on the advice of Harry Hopkins. In August 1941, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met aboard the USS Augusta at Naval Station Argentia in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, and produced the Atlantic Charter outlining mutual aims for a postwar liberalized international system.
Casualties of the USS Panay, in flag-draped coffins, are conveyed by boat to Shanghai after the attack.
Public opinion was even more hostile to Japan, and there was little opposition to increased support for China. After the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the United States articulated the Stimson Doctrine, named for Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, stating that no territory conquered by military force would be recognized. The United States also withdrew from the Washington Naval Treaty limiting naval tonnage in response to Japan's violations of the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg–Briand Pact. Public opposition to Japanese expansionism in Asia had mounted during the Second Sino-Japanese War when the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service attacked and sank the US Yangtze Patrol gunboat USS Panay in the Yangtze River while the ship was evacuating civilians from the Nanjing Massacre. Although the US government accepted Japanese official apologies and indemnities for the incident, it resulted in increasing trade restrictions against Japan and corresponding increases US credit and aid to China. After the United States abrogated the 1911 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan, Japan ratified the Tripartite Pact and embarked on an invasion of French Indochina. The United States responded by placing a complete embargo on Japan through the Export Control Act of 1940, freezing Japanese bank accounts, halting negotiations with Japanese diplomats, and supplying China through the Burma Road.
Lend-Lease and Iceland Occupation
The year 1940 marked a change in attitude in the United States. The German victories in France, Poland and elsewhere, combined with the Battle of Britain, led many Americans to believe that some intervention would be needed. In March 1941, the Lend-Lease program began shipping money, munitions, and food to Britain, China, and (by that fall) the Soviet Union.
October 1940, onboard the escorting destroyer HMS Vanity on an east coast convoy.
By 1941 the United States was taking an active part in the war, despite its nominal neutrality. In spring U-boats began their "wolf-pack" tactics which threatened to sever the trans- Atlantic supply line; Roosevelt extended the Pan-American Security Zone east almost as far as Iceland. The US Navy's "neutrality patrols" were not actually neutral as, in practice, their function was to report Axis ship and submarine sightings to the British and Canadian navies, and from April the US Navy began escorting Allied convoys from Canada as far as the "Mid-Atlantic Meeting Point" (MOMP) south of Iceland, where they handed off to the RN.
On 16 June 1941, after negotiation with Churchill, Roosevelt ordered the United States occupation of Iceland to replace the British invasion forces. On 22 June 1941, the US Navy sent Task Force 19 (TF 19) from Charleston, South Carolina to assemble at Argentia, Newfoundland. TF 19 included 25 warships and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade of 194 officers and 3714 men from San Diego, California under the command of Brigadier General John Marston. Task Force 19 (TF 19) sailed from Argentia on 1 July. On 7 July, Britain persuaded the Althing to approve an American occupation force under a US-Icelandic defense agreement, and TF 19 anchored off Reykjavík that evening. US Marines commenced landing on 8 July, and disembarkation was completed on 12 July. On 6 August, the US Navy established an air base at Reykjavík with the arrival of Patrol Squadron VP-73 PBY Catalinas and VP-74 PBM Mariners. US Army personnel began arriving in Iceland in August, and the Marines had been transferred to the Pacific by March 1942. Up to 40,000 US military personnel were stationed on the island, outnumbering adult Icelandic men (at the time, Iceland had a population of about 120,000.) The agreement was for the US military to remain until the end of the war (although the US military presence in Iceland remained through 2006, as postwar Iceland became a member of NATO).
American warships escorting Allied convoys in the western Atlantic had several hostile encounters with U-boats. On 4 September, a German U-Boat attacked the destroyer USS Greer off Iceland. A week later Roosevelt ordered American warships to attack U-boats on sight. A U-boat shot up the USS Kearny as it escorted a British merchant convoy. The USS Reuben James was sunk by German submarine U-552 on 31 October 1941.
European and North African Theaters
On 11 December 1941, three days after the United States declared war on Japan, Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany declared war against the United States. That same day, the United States declared war on Germany and Italy.
The established grand strategy of the Allies was to defeat Germany and its allies in Europe first, and then focus could shift towards Japan in the Pacific. This was because two of the Allied capitals, London and Moscow, could be directly threatened by Germany, but none of the major Allied capitals were threatened by Japan. Germany was the United Kingdom's primary threat, especially after the Fall of France in 1940, which saw Germany overrun most of the countries of Western Europe, leaving the United Kingdom alone to combat Germany. Germany's planned invasion of the UK, Operation Sea Lion, was averted by its failure to establish air superiority in the Battle of Britain. At the same time, war with Japan in East Asia seemed increasingly likely. Although the US was not yet at war with either Germany or Japan, it met with the UK on several occasions to formulate joint strategies.
In the 29 March 1941 report of the ABC-1 conference, the Americans and British agreed that their strategic objectives were: "The early defeat of Germany as the predominant member of the Axis with the principal military effort of the United States being exerted in the Atlantic and European area; and (2) A strategic defensive in the Far East." Thus, the Americans concurred with the British in the grand strategy of "Europe first" (or "Germany first") in carrying out military operations in World War II. The UK feared that, if the United States was diverted from its main focus in Europe to the Pacific (Japan), Hitler might crush both the Soviet Union and Britain, and would then become an unconquerable fortress in Europe. The wound inflicted on the United States by Japan at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, did not result in a change in US policy. Prime Minister Winston Churchill hastened to Washington shortly after Pearl Harbor for the Arcadia Conference to ensure that the Americans didn't have second thoughts about Europe First. The two countries reaffirmed that, "notwithstanding the entry of Japan into the War, our view remains that Germany is still the prime enemy. And her defeat is the key to victory. Once Germany is defeated the collapse of Italy and the defeat of Japan must follow."
Battle of the Atlantic
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945. At its core was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, announced the day after the declaration of war, and Germany's subsequent counter-blockade. It was at its height from mid-1940 through to the end of 1943. The Battle of the Atlantic pitted U-boats and other warships of the Kriegsmarine (German navy) and aircraft of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) against the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, the United States Navy, and Allied merchant shipping. The convoys, coming mainly from North America and predominantly going to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, were protected for the most part by the British and Canadian navies and air forces. These forces were aided by ships and aircraft of the United States from 13 September 1941. The Germans were joined by submarines of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) after their Axis ally Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940.
Depth charges detonate astern of the sloop HMS Starling. She participated in the sinking of 14 U-boats throughout the war.
The Battle of the Atlantic was one of the most important fronts in World War II. In September 1939, Germany immediately sought to capitalize on Britain's dependence on imports of food and raw materials. After the Wehrmacht attacked it in June 1941, the U.S.S.R repeatedly asserted its dire need for imported equipment and supplies. Meanwhile the Allies had to wrestle control of the seas to support several "second" fronts, first in North Africa, then Italy, and finally western Europe. The U.S., British, and Canadian navies worked together to overcome terrible losses inflicted by German U-boats and Luftwaffe bombers, but the issue remained in doubt until 1943.
From the U.S. perspective, the struggle moved through three phases. When the war began in Europe, the United States maintained neutrality while also increasing the readiness of its fleet. After signing the "Two-Ocean Navy" legislation in the summer of 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt next pushed to assist Britain. In August 1940, he arranged a "loan" of older destroyers in exchange for the use of British bases in the Western Hemisphere. The following March, he secured passage of the Lend-Lease Act to enable a cash-starved Britain to receive equipment and supplies and then pay for them later. In May and July 1941, U.S. forces occupied bases in Greenland and then Iceland.
During this early period, Germany had aimed to avoid directly engaging American naval forces, but the two countries drifted closer to war in the months preceding Pearl Harbor. On 4 September, a German submarine, after being attacked by a British plane, fired torpedoes at Greer (DD-145) in waters south of Iceland. Greer responded with 19 depth charges. Neither opponent scored a hit, but the incident freed President Roosevelt to authorize Navy crews to fire at German U-boats upon sighting. Escorts began accompanying merchantmen up to a mid-ocean meeting point, where British ships took over the convoy responsibilities. On 31 October, U-552 torpedoed and sank Reuben James (DD-245) , the first U.S. Navy ship lost to enemy action in World War II.
U-Boat U-123 (foreground) and U-201, 8 June 1941, Lorient, France.
Although it had improved its readiness before formally being at war, the Navy was inadequately prepared for the ferocity of the German assault it faced in the second phase of the Battle of the Atlantic. U-boats announced their presence off the eastern coast of the United States by sinking the steamer Cyclops on 12 January 1942. The enemy's Operation Drumbeat continued for months as German submarines enjoyed a "happy time" hunting tankers and merchantmen, which frequently sailed independently and at night silhouetted themselves in front of coastal city lights. The Navy had too few destroyers and subchasers to screen the coast while also escorting merchantmen or troop ships in the Atlantic. Inadequate numbers of aircraft, whether from the Navy or the Army Air Corps, also limited patrolling. From January through April, German submarines sank over 80 merchantmen off the East Coast and 55 in the region north of Bermuda. By May, merchantmen began sailing in convoys as the Navy increased the number of ships and aircraft and improved their crews' training, which prompted U-boats to shift to easier targets moving through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
American escort forces delivered 100,000 troops and their equipment for Operation Torch in North Africa in the fall of 1942, but Germany continued to reposition its boats and hunt effectively in more weakly protected areas until the contest's third phase began in May 1943. By then, British and Canadian forces had begun to provide effective defenses for the North Atlantic convoys and Admiral Ernest J. King established himself as commander of Tenth Fleet. Charged with directing the Americans' antisubmarine efforts in the Atlantic, the new organization had no assigned ships but employed innovative scientific efforts to maximize the effectiveness of offensive and defensive techniques. Very long range scout and bomber aircraft using new radar helped close "air gaps" where submarines had enjoyed freer rein. Accompanying the convoys, increasing numbers of escort carriers and destroyers now directed a deadly combination of air and sea-delivered munitions at the submarines. Meanwhile, British interception of German message traffic provided valuable intelligence about U-boat locations. U.S. industrial production of naval vessels and "Liberty" merchantmen also began to make its weight felt.
After much blood and treasure had sunk in frigid waters since the war's beginning, the tide had turned by the middle of 1943. German U-boat crews bravely fought on, but at a distinct disadvantage that meant Allied planners could more confidently plan and execute their land campaigns in Europe. The Allies had prevailed and showed innovation and tenacity in the process. But success came after the learning of relearning of old lessons.
As in World War I, some naval leaders were slow to react to the threat posed by German submarines. Sending merchantmen in escorted convoys had proved to be vitally important in 1917–18, but in early 1942 American officials waited months before insisting on this tactic. Conflicts arose over whether to prioritize the "defensive" effort of protecting the commercial vessels or the "offensive" option of attacking submarines, although both approaches served the same strategic goal. The Battle of the Atlantic also demonstrated a key relationship between technology and training. Advances such as sonar and radar could provide the Navy's escorts an advantage over the submarines, but they did so only after crews received adequate time to train with them. Finally, the beginning of World War II also revealed that such early periods in conflict often display a level of unpreparedness that becomes palpable only after the fact.
Operation Torch & the Allied Victor in North Africa
The United States entered the war in the west with Operation Torch on 8 November 1942, after their Soviet allies had pushed for a second front against the Germans. General Dwight Eisenhower commanded the assault on North Africa, and Major General George Patton struck at Casablanca.
Northern Africa: Siezing the Initiative in the West by George F. Howe.
The Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942 was intended to draw Axis forces away from the Eastern Front, thus relieving pressure on the hard-pressed Soviet Union. The operation was a compromise between U.S. and British planners as the latter felt that the American-advocated landing in northern Europe was premature and would lead to disaster at this stage of the war.
The operation was planned as a pincer movement, with U.S. landings on Morocco’s Atlantic coast (Western Task Force—Safi, Fedala, Mehdia–Port Lyautey) and Anglo-American landings on Algeria’s Mediterranean coast (Center and Eastern task forces—Oran, Algiers). There was also a battalion-sized airborne landing near Oran with the mission to seize two airfields. The primary objective of the Allied landings was to secure bridgeheads for opening a second front to the rear of German and Italian forces battling the British in Libya and Egypt. However, resistance by the nominally neutral or potentially pro-German Vichy French forces needed to be overcome first.
American troops land on the beaches at Surcouf, twenty miles east of Algiers.
After a transatlantic crossing, the Western Task Force effected its landings on 8 November. A preliminary naval bombardment had been deemed unnecessary in the vain hope that French forces would not resist. In fact, the initially stiff French defense caused losses among the landing forces. However, by 10 November, all landing objectives had been accomplished and U.S. units were poised to assault Casablanca, whose harbor approaches were the scene of a brief, but fierce, naval engagement. The French surrendered the city before an all-out attack was launched.
The Center Task Force, composed from assets based in the United Kingdom, also encountered resistance by French shore batteries and ground forces to its 8 November landings. Vichy French warships undertook a sortie from Oran’s port, but were all either sunk or driven ashore. After an attempt to capture the port facilities failed, heavy British naval gunfire brought about Oran’s surrender on 9 November.
Operations of the Eastern Task Force (also arriving from Britain) were aided by an anti-Vichy coup that took place in Algiers on 8 November. Thus, the level of French opposition at the landing beaches was low or non-existent. The only serious fighting took part in the port, where U.S. Army Rangers were landed to prevent the French from destroying facilities and scuttling ships. Resistance had been overcome by the evening of 10 November, when the city was surrendered to the U.S. and British forces.
PzgrR. 60 of 10th PzD.
The invasion of North Africa accomplished much for the Allies. Perhaps most important, American and British forces finally had seized the offensive after three years of German and Italian forces dictating the tempo of events. Now forced to fight on both its western and eastern flank, the German-Italian Panzer-Armee Afrika faced an additional burden of having its tenuous logistical train across the Mediterranean subjected to further attack. Bases in northwest Africa, meanwhile, could contribute to the prosecution of the anti-submarine campaign in the eastern Atlantic. The movement of some 100,000 soldiers from the United States and United Kingdom through hostile waters and on to contested shores demonstrated successful, if far from perfect, collaboration between the British and American staffs. Taken in combination with the Americans’ promising campaign in the Solomon Islands and the Soviets’ apparent ability to hold in the Eastern Front, the Allies were positioned significantly better in late 1942 than they had been in the early spring. As if to drive home this point, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs met at Casablanca itself in January 1943 to determine the next steps for further rolling back the Axis.
Despite these many positives, Torch also fell short of expectations. Tunis did not fall quickly to British and American forces. Their presence in North Africa and threatened assault of southern Europe also failed to draw away large numbers of Germans from the Eastern Front, a key strategic rationale given for the operation. At the tactical level, the assault upon Moroccan beaches revealed serious problems with the logistical, communication, and command-and-control approaches the Navy and Army employed for this major amphibious operation. The sailors and soldiers were also fortunate to face Vichy French defenders who fought with limited tenacity. To their credit, however, the American leaders acknowledged these various shortcomings and their good fortune. Almost immediately, they set to using this experience in preparation for tougher tests in the near future.
Operation Torch cost the Allies around 480 killed and 720 wounded. French losses totaled around 1,346 killed and 1,997 wounded. As a result of Operation Torch, Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Anton, which saw German troops occupy Vichy France. Additionally, French sailors in Toulon scuttled many of the French Navy's ships to prevent their capture by the Germans.
American troops moving through the Kasserine Pass.
In North Africa, the French Armée d’Afrique joined with the Allies as did several French warships. Building up their strength, Allied troops advanced east into Tunisia with the goal of trapping Axis forces as General Bernard Montgomery's 8th Army advanced from their victory at Second El Alamein. Anderson nearly succeeded in taking Tunis but was pushed back by determined enemy counterattacks. American forces encountered German troops for the first time in February when they were defeated at Kasserine Pass. Fighting through the spring, the Allies finally drove the Axis from North Africa in May 1943.
Invasion of Sicily and Italy
With the conclusion of the campaign in North Africa in the late spring of 1943, the next step for the Allied liberation of Europe was invading Europe through Italy. Though American leaders such as General George C. Marshall favored moving forward with an invasion of France, his British counterparts desired a strike against southern Europe. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ardently advocated for attacking through what he termed "the soft underbelly of Europe," as he believed that Italy could be knocked out of the war and the Mediterranean opened to Allied shipping. Launched on 9 July 1943, Operation Husky was, at the time, the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken. The American seaborne assault by the US 7th Army landed on the southern coast of Sicily between the town of Licata in the west, and Scoglitti in the east and units of the 82nd airborne division parachuted ahead of landings. Despite the elements, the operation was a success and the Allies immediately began exploiting their gains. On 11 August, seeing that the battle was lost, the German and Italian commanders began evacuating their forces from Sicily to Italy. On 17 August, the Allies were in control of the island, US 7th Army lost 8,781 men (2,237 killed or missing, 5,946 wounded, and 598 captured).
American troops disembark at Salerno.
Following the Allied victory in Sicily, Italian public sentiment swung against the war and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. He was dismissed from office by the Fascist Grand Council and King Victor Emmanuel III, and the Allies struck quickly, hoping resistance would be slight. The first Allied troops landed on the Italian peninsula on 3 September 1943 and Italy surrendered on 8 September, however the Italian Social Republic was established soon afterwards. The first American troops landed at Salerno on 9 September 1943, by U.S. 5th Army, however, German troops in Italy were prepared and after the Allied troops at Salerno had consolidated their beachhead, The Germans launched fierce counterattacks. However, they failed to destroy the beachhead and retreated on 16 September and in October 1943 began preparing a series of defensive lines across central Italy. The US 5th Army and other Allied armies broke through the first two lines (Volturno and the Barbara Line) in October and November 1943. As winter approached, the Allies made slow progress due to the weather and the difficult terrain against the heavily defended German Winter Line; they did however manage to break through the Bernhardt Line in January 1944. By early 1944 the Allied attention had turned to the western front and the Allies were taking heavy losses trying to break through the Winter Line at Monte Cassino. The Allies landed at Anzio on 22 January 1944 to outflank the Gustav line and pull Axis forces out of it so other allied armies could breakthrough. After slow progress, the Germans counterattacked in February but failed to stamp out the Allies; after months of stalemate, the Allies broke out in May 1944 and Rome fell to the Allies on 4 June 1944.
Following the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944, the equivalent of seven US and French divisions were pulled out of Italy to participate in Operation Dragoon: the allied landings in southern France; despite this, the remaining US forces in Italy with other Allied forces pushed up to the Gothic line in northern Italy, the last major defensive line. From August 1944 to March 1945 the Allies managed to breach the formidable defenses but they narrowly failed to break out into the Lombardy Plains before the winter weather closed in and made further progress impossible. In April 1945 the Allies broke through the remaining Axis positions in Operation Grapeshot ending the Italian Campaign on 2 May 1945; US forces in mainland Italy suffered between 114,000 and over 119,000 casualties.
Numerous bombing runs were launched by the United States aimed at the industrial heart of Germany. Using the high altitude B-17, the raids had to be conducted in daylight for the drops to be accurate. As adequate fighter escort was rarely available, the bombers would fly in tight, box formations, allowing each bomber to provide overlapping machine-gun fire for defense. The tight formations made it impossible to evade fire from Luftwaffe fighters, however, and American bomber crew losses were high. One such example was the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission, which resulted in staggering losses of men and equipment. The introduction of the revered P-51 Mustang, which had enough fuel to make a round trip to Germany's heartland, helped to reduce losses later in the war.
Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" passing over the smoking ruins of the Focke-Wulf aircraft factory.
In mid-1942, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) arrived in the UK and carried out a few raids across the English Channel. The USAAF Eighth Air Force's B-17 bombers were called the "Flying Fortresses" because of their heavy defensive armament of ten to twelve machine guns, and armor plating in vital locations. In part because of their heavier armament and armor, they carried smaller bomb loads than British bombers. With all of this, the USAAF's commanders in Washington, DC, and in Great Britain adopted the strategy of taking on the Luftwaffe head-on, in larger and larger air raids by mutually defending bombers, flying over Germany, Austria, and France at high altitudes during the daytime. Also, both the US Government and its Army Air Forces commanders were reluctant to bomb enemy cities and towns indiscriminately. They claimed that by using the B-17 and the Norden bombsight, the USAAF should be able to carry out "precision bombing" on locations vital to the German war machine: factories, naval bases, shipyards, railroad yards, railroad junctions, power plants, steel mills, airfields, etc.
In January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference, it was agreed RAF Bomber Command operations against Germany would be reinforced by the USAAF in a Combined Operations Offensive plan called Operation Pointblank. Chief of the British Air Staff MRAF Sir Charles Portal was put in charge of the "strategic direction" of both British and American bomber operations. The text of the Casablanca directive read: "Your primary object will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.", At the beginning of the combined strategic bombing offensive on 4 March 1943 669 RAF and 303 USAAF heavy bombers were available.
P-51D Mustang 44-15101 of the 356th Fighter Group, 361 Fighter Squadron in flight during World War II.
In late 1943, 'Pointblank' attacks manifested themselves in the infamous Schweinfurt raids (first and second). Formations of unescorted bombers were no match for German fighters, which inflicted a deadly toll. In despair, the Eighth halted air operations over Germany until a long-range fighter could be found in 1944; it proved to be the P-51 Mustang, which had the range to fly to Berlin and back.
USAAF leaders firmly held to the claim of "precision bombing" of military targets for much of the war, and dismissed claims they were simply bombing cities. However, the American Eighth Air Force received the first H2X radar sets in December 1943. Within two weeks of the arrival of these first six sets, the Eighth command permitted them to area bomb a city using H2X and would continue to authorize, on average, about one such attack a week until the end of the war in Europe.
In reality, the day bombing was "precision bombing" only in the sense that most bombs fell somewhere near a specific designated target such as a railway yard. Conventionally, the air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1000 feet around the aiming point of attack. While accuracy improved during the war, Survey studies show that, overall, only about 20% of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. In the fall of 1944, only seven percent of all bombs dropped by the Eighth Air Force hit within 1,000 feet of their aim point. The only offensive ordnance possessed by the USAAF that was guidable, the VB-1 Azon, saw very limited service in Europe and in the CBI Theater late in the war.
Nevertheless, the sheer tonnage of explosives delivered by day and by night was eventually enough to cause widespread damage, and, more importantly from a military point of view, forced Germany to divert resources to counter it. This was to be the real significance of the Allied strategic bombing campaign—resource allocation.
To improve USAAF fire bombing capabilities a mock-up German village was built and repeatedly burned down. It contained full-scale replicas of German homes. Fire bombing attacks proved successful, in a single 1943 attack on Hamburg about 50,000 civilians were killed and almost the entire city destroyed.
Aftermath in the Eilbek district of Hamburg.
With the arrival of the brand-new Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, command of the US Air Forces in Europe was consolidated into the United States Strategic Air Forces (USSAF). With the addition of the Mustang to its strength, the Combined Bomber Offensive was resumed. Planners targeted the Luftwaffe in an operation known as 'Big Week' (20–25 February 1944) and succeeded brilliantly – losses were so heavy German planners were forced into a hasty dispersal of industry and the day fighter arm never fully recovered.
The dismissal of General Ira Eaker at the end of 1943 as commander of the Eighth Air Force and his replacement by an American aviation legend, Maj. Gen Jimmy Doolittle signaled a change in how the American bombing effort went forward over Europe. Doolittle's major influence on the European air war occurred early in the year when he changed the policy requiring escorting fighters to remain with the bombers at all times. With his permission, initially performed with P-38s and P-47s with both previous types being steadily replaced with the long-ranged P-51s as the spring of 1944 wore on, American fighter pilots on bomber defense missions would primarily be flying far ahead of the bombers' combat box formations in air supremacy mode, literally "clearing the skies" of any Luftwaffe fighter opposition heading towards the target. This strategy fatally disabled the twin-engined Zerstörergeschwader heavy fighter wings and their replacement, single-engined Sturmgruppen of heavily armed Fw 190As, clearing each force of bomber destroyers in their turn from Germany's skies throughout most of 1944. As part of this game-changing strategy, especially after the bombers had hit their targets, the USAAF's fighters were then free to strafe German airfields and transport while returning to base, contributing significantly to the achievement of air superiority by Allied air forces over Europe.
On 27 March 1944, the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued orders granting control of all the Allied air forces in Europe, including strategic bombers, to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, who delegated command to his deputy in SHAEF Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder. There was resistance to this order from some senior figures, including Winston Churchill, Harris, and Carl Spaatz, but after some debate, control passed to SHAEF on 1 April 1944. When the Combined Bomber Offensive officially ended on 1 April, Allied airmen were well on the way to achieving air superiority over all of Europe. While they continued some strategic bombing, the USAAF along with the RAF turned their attention to the tactical air battle in support of the Normandy Invasion. It was not until the middle of September that the strategic bombing campaign of Germany again became the priority for the USAAF.
B-17 formation under attack during a bombing raid on an industrial target in Germany, probably sometime in 1943.
The twin campaigns—the USAAF by day, the RAF by night—built up into massive bombing of German industrial areas, notably the Ruhr, followed by attacks directly on cities such as Hamburg, Kassel, Pforzheim, Mainz and the often-criticized bombing of Dresden.
In the early morning hours of 6 June 1944, the Allies launched an attack by sea, landing on the beaches of Normandy on the northern coast of Nazi-occupied France. The first day of this major undertaking was known as D-Day; it was the first day of the Battle of Normandy (code-named Operation Overlord) in World War II.
Troops wade ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
By 1944, World War II had already been raging for five years and most of Europe was under Nazi control. The Soviet Union was having some success on the Eastern Front but the other Allies, specifically the United States and the United Kingdom, had not yet made a full-fledged attack on the European mainland. It was time to create a second front.
The questions of where and when to start this second front were difficult ones. The northern coast of Europe was an obvious choice, since the invasion force would be coming from Great Britain. A location that already had a port would be ideal in order to unload the millions of tons of supplies and soldiers needed. Also required was a location that would be within range of Allied fighter planes taking off from Great Britain. Unfortunately, the Nazis knew all this as well. To add an element of surprise and to avoid the bloodbath of trying to take a well-defended port, the Allied High Command decided on a location that met the other criteria but that did not have a port -- the beaches of Normandy in northern France.
The Nazis knew the Allies were planning an invasion. In preparation, they had fortified all northern ports, especially the one at Pas de Calais, which was the shortest distance from southern Britain. But that was not all. As early as 1942, Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of an Atlantic Wall to protect the northern coast of Europe from an Allied invasion. This was not literally a wall; instead, it was a collection of defenses, such as barbed wire and minefields, that stretched across 3,000 miles of coastline.
Propaganda photograph of Rommel on inspection tour of the Atlantic Wall.
In December 1943, when highly-regarded Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (known as the "Desert Fox") was put in charge of these defenses, he found them completely inadequate. Rommel immediately ordered the creation of additional "pillboxes" (concrete bunkers fitted with machine guns and artillery), millions of additional mines, and a half million metal obstacles and stakes placed on the beaches that could rip open the bottom of landing craft. To hinder paratroopers and gliders, Rommel ordered many of the fields behind the beaches to be flooded and covered with protruding wooden poles (known as "Rommel's asparagus"). Many of these had mines fitted on top. Rommel knew that these defenses would not be enough to stop an invading army, but he hoped it would slow them down long enough for him to bring reinforcements. He needed to stop the Allied invasion on the beach, before they gained a foothold.
D-day was set to launch on 5 June with the equipment and soldiers loaded onto ships. Then, the weather changed. A large storm hit, with 45-mile-an-hour wind gusts and lots of rain. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, postponed D-Day just one day. Any longer of a postponement and the low tides and full moon wouldn't be right and they'd have to wait another month. Also, it was uncertain they could keep the invasion secret for that much longer. The invasion would begin on 6 June 1944. Rommel also paid notice to the massive storm and believed that the Allies would never invade in such inclement weather. Thus, he made the fateful decision to go out of town on June 5 to celebrate his wife's 50th birthday. By the time he was informed of the invasion, it was too late.
While D-Day is famous for being an amphibious operation, it actually started with thousands of brave paratroopers. Under the cover of darkness, the first wave of 180 paratroopers arrived in Normandy. They rode in six gliders that had been pulled and then released by British bombers. Upon landing, the paratroopers grabbed their equipment, left their gliders, and worked as a team to take control of two, very important bridges: The one over the Orne River and the other over the Caen Canal. Control of these would both hinder German reinforcements along these paths as well as enable the Allies access to inland France once they were off the beaches.
Headquarters 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division heading out to C-47 that will take them to Normandy on D-Day on the airfield at Exeter in Devonshire on Monday, 5 June 1944.
The second wave of 13,000 paratroopers had a very difficult arrival in Normandy. Flying in approximately 900 C-47 airplanes, the Nazis spotted the planes and started shooting. The planes drifted apart; thus, when the paratroopers jumped, they were scattered far and wide. Many of these paratroopers were killed before they even hit the ground; others got caught in trees and were shot by German snipers. Still others drowned in Rommel's flooded plains, weighed down by their heavy packs and tangled in weeds. Only 3,000 were able to join together; however, they did manage to capture the village of St. Mére Eglise, an essential target.
As the paratroops fought their way through the hedgerows, the main amphibious landings began. The Allied landing boats were headed to five beaches spread out over 50 miles of coastline. These beaches had been code-named, from west to east, as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The Americans were to attack at Utah and Omaha, while the British struck at Gold and Sword. The Canadians headed toward Juno. The landing craft bound for Utah, as with so many other units, went off course, coming ashore two kilometers off target. The 4th Infantry Division faced weak resistance during the landings and by the afternoon were linked up with paratroopers fighting their way towards the coast.
At Omaha the Germans had prepared the beaches with land mines, Czech hedgehogs and Belgian Gates in anticipation of the invasion. Intelligence before the landings had placed the less experienced German 714th Division in charge of the defense of the beach. However, the highly trained and experienced 352nd moved in days before the invasion. As a result, the soldiers from the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions became pinned down by superior enemy fire immediately after leaving their landing craft. In some instances, entire landing craft full of men were mowed down by the well-positioned German defenses. As the casualties mounted, the soldiers formed impromptu units and advanced inland.
The small units then fought their way through the minefields that were in between the Nazi machine-gun bunkers. After squeezing through, they then attacked the bunkers from the rear, allowing more men to come safely ashore.
Dead US soldier on D-day beach.
Very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha Beach. Navigation difficulties caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses were unexpectedly strong, and inflicted heavy casualties on landing US troops. Under heavy fire, the engineers struggled to clear the beach obstacles; later landings bunched up around the few channels that were cleared. Weakened by the casualties taken just in landing, the surviving assault troops could not clear the heavily defended exits off the beach. This caused further problems and consequent delays for later landings. Small penetrations were eventually achieved by groups of survivors making improvised assaults, scaling the bluffs between the most heavily defended points. By the end of the day, two small isolated footholds had been won, which were subsequently exploited against weaker defenses further inland, thus achieving the original D-Day objectives over the following days．
By the end of the day, the Americans suffered over 6,000 casualties. Omaha Beach is the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during World War II. The beach is on the coast of Normandy, France, facing the English Channel, and is 5 miles (8 km) long, from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer on the right bank of the Douve River estuary. Landings here were necessary to link up the British landings to the east at Gold Beach with the American landing to the west at Utah Beach, thus providing a continuous lodgement on the Normandy coast of the Bay of the Seine. Taking Omaha was to be the responsibility of United States Army troops, with sea transport and naval artillery support provided by the US Navy and elements of the British Royal Navy.
With the Beaches secured, the Allies needed to secure a deep-water port to allow reinforcements to be brought in, with American forces at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula the target was Cherbourg, at the end of the Cotentin. The US VII Corps immediately began making their push after the beaches were secured on 6 June, facing a mix of weak regiments and battlegroups from several divisions who used the bocage terrain, flooded fields and narrow roads to their advantage which slowed the American advance. After being reinforced, VII corps took control of the peninsula in fierce fighting on 19 June and launched their assault on Cherbourg on 22 June. The German garrison surrendered on 29 June, but by this time they had destroyed the port facilities, which were not made fully operational until September.
Battle of Saint-Lô
With the D-day landings in the rearview mirror, American, British, and Canadian forces were slogging their way inland through Normandy's hedgerows, in some places losing a man for every yard gained. Crucial to the success of the campaign was the capture of Saint-Lô, a tiny French town 20 miles in from the coast. A strategically vital crossroads for the whole of Normandy and beyond, its capture on 19 July after nearly two-weeks of intense fighting was pivotal to the long-awaited Allied break-out across Europe. A number of major roads in Normandy intersect at Saint-Lô. Taking it would allow the Allies access to the entire region and provide an avenue of advance towards Paris. Germans knew its importance of the town and realized if they could hold onto it, the Allies would be trapped. The fight for Saint-Lô would be some of the bitterest in the Normandy campaign.
Allied bombers pounded German positions outside of Saint-Lô in the days following the town's liberation. Many of the planes unloaded their payloads onto U.S. troops.
British and American strategists knew that once the landings on the Normandy coast began, German reinforcements from the interior of France would be rushed forward to attack the Allied beachheads and that those enemy tanks and troops have to move through Saint–Lô. The evening before Operation Overlord, leaflets were dropped to warn civilians in the area to flee before Allied bombers were slated to level the town on June 6. Unfortunately, high winds scattered the papers. As a result, the bombing took many residents by surprise. Civilian casualties were heavy. The city would be bombed twice more as Allied troops approached in the weeks after the landings. Germans planes would later pound what was left of it (up to 95% of the city was destroyed), which resulted in the martyr city being called "The Capital of Ruins", popularized in a report by Samuel Beckett.
The countryside approaching the town was divided by a deadly maze of earthen embankments known as hedgerows. Fighting through this bocage country was famously bloody as combatants engaged each other at distances sometimes of just a few yards. Ground had to be won step-by-bloody-step in close-fought infantry battles from one field to the next. Soldiers could often not see much farther than the next hedgerow and frequently scurried over one only to come face to face with the enemy.
Not large by most standards, hills 192 and 122 (named for their elevation in meters above sea level) were two of just a handful of vital elevated positions throughout the relatively flat Normandy countryside. Both overlooked the area around Saint–Lô; both represented crucial high-ground that had to be captured in order to secure the city. The lasted from June into July with most of the action concentrated between 7 and 22 July. In that interval alone, the 29th lost 3,706 soldiers; the 30th Division suffered 3,934 casualties and the 35th Division, 2,437.
U.S. troops roll into what's left of Saint-Lô.
The battle for the city turned each block into a miniature battlefield. Positioned in two- and three-story buildings, German snipers fired from the windows, while others tried to make last stands behind piles of rubble. On July 18, General Meindl began to see the writing on the wall and requested permission to evacuate the city. Mindful that his defenses were too weak to hold the city, theater commander Paul Hausser permitted Meindl to withdraw his men southward, save for a delaying force to hold off the Americans as long as possible. The next morning, after 18 days of hedgerow fighting, St. Lô finally fell. The battle for Saint-Lô was at that time the hardest of the Normandy campaign. It lasted six days. An American war correspondent was able to write: "Gains can only be measured by counting fields and groves of trees ... The damage around the city testifies of the violence of the battle ... Corpses litter the fields and fill the ditches ... ".
The Battle of Carentan
The Battle of Carentan was an engagement between airborne forces of the United States Army and the German Wehrmacht during the Battle of Normandy. The battle took place between 10 and 15 June 1944, on the approaches to and within the city of Carentan, France.
American tank in Carentan.
General Maxwell Taylor and his more than 6,000 paratroopers of the 101st "Screaming Eagles" Airborne Division landed on French soil beginning in the early morning hours of 6 June 1944, D-Day, after jumping from C-47 Transports. Another 6,000 paratroopers under command of General Matthew Ridgway's 82nd Airborne Division jumped into Normandy slightly after the 101st. Glider missions supporting both divisions followed later that morning and evening. Both airborne divisions spearheaded Operation Neptune, the assault phase of Overlord with the task of blocking approaches to Utah Beach and capturing causeway exits off the beach to allow amphibious landings by 4th US Infantry Division.
Many of the Screaming Eagles, among them Taylor, landed far from their drop zones and were scattered onto cow pastures, orchards, and rivers. Slowly that day they managed to regroup and conquer their initial objectives. Now the prize of capturing Carentan awaited them. Taylor's forces needed to take the town in order to consolidate the beachheads at Omaha and Utah. Although only a small city of 4,100 civilians, Carentan was larger than any other community in the lower Cotentin Peninsula. Straddling the main highway from Cherbourg to Caen and St. Lô, the double-tracked railroad from Paris to Cherbourg cut through the center of town, making it strategically important for German communications.
The only sound approach to Carentan was down the slope from the village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont, three miles away, along an exposed causeway supporting the main road. Carentan was mostly defended by two battalions of the German 6th Parachute Regiment. After two days of ferocious fighting along the causeway, Taylor's men were in position to launch an attack against Carentan in the early morning hours of 10 June from two directions. The 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment advanced from the south along the Cherbourg Road, while the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment crossed the Taute River to strike from the northeast. At 1:45 a.m., a brief artillery and mortar bombardment preceded the advance of the 1st Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, across the Taute.
At 6 p.m., German bombers struck one American company of the 502nd, killing and wounding scores of Taylor’s men. The regiment’s third battalion, led by Lt. Colonel Robert Cole, suffered so many casualties that the Americans later called the contested ground Purple Heart Lane. By nightfall, two more glider battalions were across the Taute River. The next morning, the glider soldiers renewed their attack southwestward but were stopped cold on the northern outskirts of Carentan. Early the next morning, June 11, a battalion of the 502nd renewed its attack under cover of a smokescreen. Reinforced by another of the regiment’s battalions, hand-to-hand fighting ensued for almost six hours.
Paratroopers from the 101st Airborne after the capture of Carentan.
By late afternoon on the next day, June 12, the Germans had run out of ammunition, so von der Heydte ordered his troops to abandon Carentan under the cover of darkness and under fire. 101st Airborne artillery commander Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe's men pelted the enemy with big guns. Supported by air strikes, six hours later McAuliffe's firepower had cleared the town of Germans. Snipers continued firing, but the jubilant French citizens came out of hiding to greet the American liberators. The French skillfully uncorked the bottles of wine that hadn't fallen into enemy hands.
Six weeks after the Allied invasion of Normandy, Operation OVERLORD showed distressing signs of stalemate. More than a million American, British, and Canadian troops had come ashore in France by mid-July 1944, but they remained wedged within a narrow bridgehead roughly fifty miles wide and twenty miles deep. Both German defenders and Allied attackers had suffered more than 100,000 casualties. Fighting was intense, grim, and unspeakably violent, with daily advances often limited to a few yards. Morale hardly improved when British efforts to expand the bridgehead south of Caen gained little ground in Operation GOODWOOD, an attack led on 18 July by three armored divisions which together lost more than 400 tanks. Beyond gaining a few dozen square miles, GOODWOOD did succeed in further fixing German attention on the eastern half of the Allied bridgehead, allowing the Americans in the west to position themselves for the blow that would finally break the deadlock, transforming a war of attrition into a war of movement.
That decisive blow, known as COBRA, was largely planned by the U.S. First Army commander. Operation Cobra was the name given to the American attempt to break out of the Normandy bridgehead established after D-Day in June 1944. Operation Cobra supported British, Polish and Canadians assaults to do the same in operations codenamed Atlantic, Spring, Totalise, Goodwood and Tractable.
The landings at D-Day had by and large been a huge success. The American losses at Omaha Beach had been the exception rather than the norm and despite these losses the US had captured their primary objectives by the end of June 6th. The D-Day landings had taken the Germans by surprise. Hitler had been convinced that the expected Allied landings would be in the Pays de Calais region. Therefore, a great deal of German military hardware was stationed there and not in Normandy. After D-Day, the Germans moved a great deal of equipment and men to Normandy. Therefore breaking out of the Normandy beachhead proved to be far more difficult that the actual landings at D-Day. By mid-June the Germans had reinforced many of their positions in Normandy and any advance inland was going to be difficult for the Allies.
Tanks in the center of Caen.
For the British, Polish and Canadians, the city of Caen was a priority. The Allies viewed the control of the city as vital before they launched any projected sweep to Paris. However, the Germans also viewed the city as a linchpin to their defences in Normandy and were willing to fight to defend it. The Americans wanted to use the attack on Caen as a smokescreen for their breakout from Normandy – Operation Cobra – and from Normandy into Brittany. The great prize in Brittany was the deep-water port of Cherbourg. While the Mulberry Harbour had done its job, it had only been a temporary solution to the Allies problem of supplying its huge force in France. The capture of Cherbourg, completed on June 27th, solved this at a stroke.
The general commanding US forces in Normandy was Omar Bradley. He had wanted Cobra to start in mid-July but poor weather meant that the start was delayed until July 25th 1944. Because the Germans had committed so many men and machines to maintaining control of Caen, the Americans faced a weakened German military.
As with Operation Goodwood, the actual advance of American ground forces on July 18th was preceded by a large aerial and artillery bombardment. It was expected that the shock value alone of such a bombardment would be enough to massively dishearten German forces. US artillery units in 7th and 8th Corps were given around 170,000 shells for the bombardment. Bradley also had 2,251 tanks at his disposal. 60% of these tanks were fitted with a saw-toothed scoop that allowed them to cut their way through the hedges (bocage) that had so hindered armoured advance to date in Normandy. German tanks invariably had to stick to the roads to allow for full mobility but many of Bradley’s tanks were now able to utilise the countryside to their advantage. The Germans had also used the majority of their tanks in an effort to repulse the British and Canadians attacking Caen, and these included the feared Tiger and King Tiger tanks. As a result, Bradley’s First Army faced just 190 German tanks.
The aerial offensive against German positions started on July 24th. However, as a result of poor weather, their own aircraft bombed a number of American positions and killed 25 soldiers and wounded 130. It was not the start to the attack that Bradley had hoped for. Some reports claimed that US soldiers on the ground fired on their own aircraft such was their anger.
The ground assault started on July 25th – sometime after Goodwood and Atlantic, much to the concern of the overall commander of land forces in Normandy, Bernard Montgomery. He had hoped for a co-ordinated attack on three fronts – two on Caen (east and west) with the Americans pushing west along the coastline to Brittany.
Once again the attack on the ground was preceded by an aerial attack. The US 8th Air Force had been tasked with carpet-bombing German positions to neutralise them before the US ground forces got to them. As with July 24th, some bombs were dropped on US positions with the result that 111 soldiers were killed and 490 wounded.
Despite the aerial and artillery bombardment, the Americans did not advance as far on Day One as they had hoped. 7th Corps gained just 2000 meters. The cause of this became clear. The bombing had caused a huge number of bomb craters. These alone hindered a forward advance. However, the Germans also managed to hide feared 88 mm guns in the rubble created by the aerial bombing. 88 mm guns had proved to be major ‘tank busters’ in the Normandy campaign and the First Army found that it had to tackle these one-by-one before it could advance – hence the slow advance. Also the damage caused by the bombing created a perfect terrain for German soldiers to engage in ‘hit-and-run’ tactics. The Germans were not in a position to stop the US advance but they could delay it using these tactics.
However, intelligence gained from the battlefield clearly indicated that the Germans did not have any strength in depth nor did they have a consolidated battle line facing the Americans. It became clear to US commanders on the ground that they could easily bypass ‘hot spots’, leave them in the rear to be dealt with later, and continue with their move forward. By July 27th, 9th Division of 7th Corps found that they could advance free from German attacks.
On July 28th, the Germans attempted a counter-attack but it was a failure. By the end of the day the Panzer Lehr Division was, according to German records, “finally annihilated”. German troops abandoned their vehicles and attempted to get out of the US stranglehold by foot. Crossing the countryside on foot and at night was considered to be a far safer way to safety than travelling by a vehicle of any description that would almost certainly attract the attention of either USAAF or RAF fighter aircraft.
The Americans certainly encountered German units willing to fight after this date but Bradley viewed these as irritants and concluded that they were more concerned with getting back to their own lines rather than defeating the US advance throughout Normandy and Brittany. The Americans were further helped by the British who launched Operation Bluecoat that was intended to tie down German units in the areas where the British were fighting.
Tanks entering Avranches.
The US entered Avranches on July 30th. Avranches was seen as the gateway to Normandy and Brittany, so its liberation was vital to Operation Cobra. The Germans launched their final counter-attack on July 31st but this was doomed to fail. The taking of Avranches saw the end of bocage countryside and freed up US mechanised units to use their speed and manoeuvrability, which had been so compromised by the terrain found in Normandy.
Even now, Hitler showed that he had no understanding of what had occurred in Normandy. He ordered the German officer in command of forces in Normandy – Marshal Kluge – to attack the Allies with a devastating counter-attack made up of eight Panzer divisions. At least four of these divisions had taken such a battering during Cobra that they probably were not capable of sustaining anything like a campaign against the Allies. Senior German officers protested to Hitler but were overruled. Operation Lüttich started on August 7th but ended as any form of real threat on August 8th. The Germans could only find 177 useable tanks and self-propelled guns.
American troops liberated Le Mans on August 8th and it became clear to Kluge that the entire German military in France was under threat. Even Bradley recognised that the Allies had the opportunity of destroying Germany’s military power in Nazi-occupied France, an opportunity that only came around for a military commander “every hundred years”.
By August 19th, US, Polish, British and Canadian troops had nearly fully encircled soldiers from the German 5th and 7th Panzer armies at Falaise in the so-called Falaise Pocket. Between August 19th and 22nd, a gap in the east was used by German troops to escape and as many as 100,000 did. But by August 22nd, the gap had been closed and 50,000 German prisoners were taken along with nearly 350 tanks and 2500 other military vehicles. German resistance in Normandy had been broken and the drive to Paris could start.
American troops begin to dig out men buried after friendly fire shelling on 25 July 1944.
Bradley was furious but concluded that he had no choice but authorize another, full-throated attempt a day later, on 25 July. Some 1,500 B-17s and B-24s dropped more than 3,000 tons of bombs when COBRA resumed shortly before noon with almost another 1,000 tons of bombs and napalm dropped by medium bombers and napalm in one of World War II's most devastating air attacks. Again, many bombs fell short, killing 111 American soldiers including Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, commander of Army Ground Forces who had imprudently joined front-line troops as an observer and wounding nearly 500 others.
"And before the next two hours had passed, I would have given every penny, every desire, every hope I've ever had to have been just another 800 yards further back," Pyle wrote. "From then on for an hour and a half that had in it the agony of centuries, the bombs came down. A wall of smoke and dust erected by them grew high in the sky. ... Then we were horrified by the suspicion that those machines, high in the sky and completely detached from us, were aiming their bombs at the smokeline on the ground ... and a gentle breeze was drifting the smokeline back over us!"
~ Ernie Pyle, observing the operation from a farmhouse 800 yards behind the front line.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander, had crossed the English Channel to Normandy for the day, only to return to his headquarters in England that evening, dejected and uncertain about COBRA's success, but determined never to use heavy bombers in support of ground troops again.
Nevertheless, the bombing had unhinged German defenses almost precisely as planned. In addition to killing perhaps a thousand German soldiers and demolishing numerous command posts, the bombardment overturned tanks, demolished enemy communications, and terrified those who survived the onslaught only to face several attacking U.S. Army infantry divisions. Late on the afternoon of 25 July, the VII Corps commander, Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, shrewdly decided to send his armor exploitation force into the breach. The next day, the German Seventh Army reported seven ruptures in the line from east to west. By the night of 27 July, the 30th Infantry Division, which had suffered most of the fratricidal casualties earlier in the week, reported, "This thing has busted wide open." Bradley wrote Eisenhower the following day, "Things on our front really look good."
Things got even better. More than 100,000 combat troops poured south through a gap not five miles wide, soon turning the German left flank and capturing several key bridges near Avranches, the gateway from Normandy to Brittany. At noon on 1 August, the U.S. Third Army was committed to the fight under Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, and the stalemate anxieties of mid-July would soon vanish in a hell-for-leather pursuit of a beaten enemy across France.
Operation Lüttich was a code name given to a German counter-attack during the Battle of Normandy, which took place around the American positions near Mortain from 7–13 August 1944. (Lüttich is the German name for the city of Liège in Belgium, where the Germans had won a victory in the early days of August 1914 during World War I.) The offensive is also referred to in American and British histories of the Battle of Normandy as the Mortain counter-offensive.
The assault was ordered by Adolf Hitler, to eliminate the gains made by the First United States Army during Operation Cobra and the subsequent weeks, and by reaching the coast in the region of Avranches at the base of the Cotentin peninsula, cut off the units of the Third United States Army which had advanced into Brittany.
US Soldiers in Mortain.
The main German striking force was the XLVII Panzer Corps, with one and a half SS Panzer Divisions and two Wehrmacht Panzer Divisions. Although they made initial gains against the defending US VII Corps, they were soon halted and Allied aircraft inflicted severe losses on the attacking troops, eventually destroying nearly half of the German tanks involved in the attack. Although fighting continued around Mortain for six days, the American forces had regained the initiative within a day of the opening of the German attack.
As the German commanders on the spot had warned Hitler in vain, there was little chance of the attack succeeding, and the concentration of their armored reserves at the western end of the front in Normandy soon led to disaster, as they were outflanked to their south and the front to their east collapsed, resulting in many of the German troops in Normandy being trapped in the Falaise Pocket.
The battle for the Falaise Pocket brought the battle for Normandy to a dramatic and destructive close. On 7 August 1944 the Germans had launched a desperate counterattack against the flank of the Americans pushing out of Normandy. The Germans had assembled as many of their panzertruppen (armored troops) as they could and pushed west in Operation Lüttich. The attack ground to halt at Mortain, Allied air attacks and stubborn resistance from US ground troops proving too much for the depleted panzertruppen. The net result was the German Seventh Army ended the offensive dangerously overextended with very little to show for the operation.
The Allied ground commanders, US General Omar Bradley and British General Bernard Montgomery, soon saw the predicament the Germans had placed themselves in and acted to take advantage. Patton's newly formed US Third army was sent east towards Argentan to cut off the German escape south. The British Second Army (Dempsey) and the Canadian First Army (Crerar) pushed southeast, and Bradley's US First Army pushed east. The combined pressure of the four Allied armies squeezed and funnelled the withdrawing Germans towards the east and Falaise.
Montgomery's initial plan called for the First Canadian Army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, to move through Falaise and link up with the US Third Army moving north from Argentan. The plan was revised when it was seen that the Germans had some chance of escaping the trap, so the cut off point was moved 11 miles east to the gap between Trun and Chambois.
90th Infantry Division soldiers pose with a Nazi flag at an abandoned German tank on the street in the French town of Chambois, August 20, 1944.
From the south the French 2nd Armoured Division, who had taken Le Mans on 9 August, led the US Third Army's thrust. The French division, under General Leclerc, led the US XV Corps north on 10 August, taking Alençon on 12 August and finally Argentan on 14 August. The thrust was brought to a halt for a day while the army boundary lines were modified northwards. On 19 August the 90th Infantry Division took Chambois meeting with Canadian troops.
In the north the First Canadian Army launched Operation Totalize on 9 August. The initial assault was successful, but progress slowed as stiff resistance was put up by the likes of the 12. SS-Panzerdivision. The Canadian 2nd Infantry Division met strong resistance in the woods to the north of Falaise and, after much hard fighting, was finally able to take Falaise on 17 August.
The Canadian 4th Armoured Division pushed further west and took Trun on 18 August. On the following day they pushed the Germans out of Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives and meet up with the Americans at Chambois. The Canadian quickly established a defensive line between Falaise and Chambois, fighting against fleeing Germans attempting to breakout of the encirclement. In one encounter a few hundred men of the South Alberta Regiment, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, and the Lincoln and Welland Regiment killed, captured and wounded over 3000 Germans during their attack on Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives on 18 August.
Canadian and Polish troops, supported by a British tank brigade, complete Operation Tractable, capturing the town of #Falaise, linking up with US forces and closing the Falaise Pocket trapping German 7th Army.
The 1st Polish Armored Division of General Stanislaw Maczek was also involved in the heavy fighting of 18 August. They fought to the east of the Canadian to take 'The Mace' or Hill 262 to prevent German counterattacks from that direction. 'The Mace' also overlooked the Chambois-Vimoutiers road, the last route out of the pocket, giving the Poles a great opportunity to attack the fleeing Germans. The Germans sent repeated counterattacks to dislodge the Poles, but they held. In the largest attack on 20 August, elements of the II SS-Panzerkorps inflicted heavy casualties on the Poles, but reinforcements from the Canadian 22nd Armoured Regiment on the early morning of 21 August drove back the Germans.
Inside the pocket the German had realized as early as 10 August that time was short and they must withdraw east to avoid encirclement. However, Hitler was still insisting on further counterattacks towards Avranches in the west of Normandy. On 15 August Hitler replaced Generalfeldmarshall Günther von Kluge with Generalfeldmarshall Walter Model, and then only a few day later finally allowing the German forces to withdraw east. By then 150,000 troops from the German Seventh and Fifth Panzer Armies were surrounded, though the retreat had been actually underway since 14 August starting with the panzer divisions. German infantry forces remained fighting off increasing Allied attacks, but without support were forced to withdraw towards the Falaise gap. With more and more troops converging on the narrow escape route out of the Falaise Pocket, Allied aircraft and artillery were able to cause great destruction. The air attacks were finally halted when the smoke from the attacks made it impossible to locate new targets.
Despite the Allied pressure, the Germans were still able to extract 100,000 troops from the pocket. The last entrapped Germans surrendered on 21 August and approximately 40,000 German were taken prisoner. The hard fighting had left another 10,000 Germans dead. The majority of the vehicles and tanks the Germans had inside the pocket had been destroyed, with very few escaping with the soldiers. The divisions with the most panzers still operating, 9. SS-Panzerdivision and 130. Panzerlehr Panzerdivision, still had barely over a company of fighting vehicles each left.
Though victorious, the Allies had not escaped lightly. The Canadians and Poles, who had borne the brunt of the counterattacks, had also taken heavy casualties, almost 1500 for the Polish division, and 5500 for the Canadians.
Operation Dragoon was conducted from 15 August to 14 September, 1944.
Initially conceived as Operation Anvil, Operation Dragoon called for the invasion of southern France. First proposed by General George Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army, and intended to coincide with Operation Overlord, the landings in Normandy, the attack was put off due to slower than expected progress in Italy as well as a lack of landing craft. Further delays ensued after the difficult amphibious landings at Anzio in January 1944. As a result, its execution was pushed back to August 1944. Though highly supported by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the operation was bitterly opposed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Seeing it as a waste of resources, he favored renewing the offensive in Italy or landing in the Balkans.
The Big Three From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European Theatre in 1943.
Looking ahead to the postwar world, Churchill wished to conduct offensives that would slow the progress of the Soviet Red Army while also hurting the German war effort. These views were also shared by some in the American high command, such as Lieutenant General Mark Clark, who advocated for striking across the Adriatic Sea into the Balkans. For the opposite reasons, Russian leader Joseph Stalin supported Operation Dragoon and endorsed it at the 1943 Tehran Conference. Standing firm, Eisenhower argued that Operation Dragoon would draw German forces away from Allied advance in the north as well as would provide two badly needed ports, Marseille and Toulon, for landing supplies.
Pushing forward, the final plan for Operation Dragoon was approved on 14 July 1944. Overseen by Lieutenant General Jacob Devers' 6th Army Group, the invasion was to be spearheaded by Major General Alexander Patch's US Seventh Army which would be followed ashore by General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny's French Army B. Learning from experiences in Normandy, planners selected landing areas that were devoid of enemy-controlled high ground. Choosing the Var coast east of Toulon, they designated three primary landing beaches: Alpha (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), Delta (Saint-Tropez), and Camel (Saint-Raphaël). To further aid the troops coming ashore, plans called for a large airborne force to land inland to secure the high ground behind the beaches. While these operations moved forward, commando teams were tasked with liberating several islands along the coast.
Allied planes lay a carpet of paratroops across southern France during Operation Dragoon.
The main landings were assigned respectively to the 3rd, 45th, and 36th Infantry Divisions from Major General Lucian Truscott's VI Corps with assistance from the 1st French Armoured Division. A veteran and skilled combat commander, Truscott had played a key role in rescuing Allied fortunes at Anzio earlier in the year. To support the landings, Major General Robert T. Frederick's 1st Airborne Task Force was to drop around Le Muy, approximately halfway between Draguignan and Saint-Raphaël. After securing the town, the airborne was tasked with preventing German counterattacks against the beaches. Landing to the west, French commandos were ordered to eliminate the German batteries on Cap Nègre, while the 1st Special Service Force (Devil's Brigade) captured islands offshore. At sea, Task Force 88, led by Rear Admiral T.H. Troubridge would provide air and naval gunfire support.
Long a rear area, the defense of southern France was tasked to Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz's Army Group G. Largely stripped of its frontline forces and better equipment over the previous years, Army Group G possessed eleven divisions, four of which were dubbed "static" and lacked transportation to respond to an emergency. Of its units, only Lieutenant General Wend von Wietersheim's 11th Panzer Division remained as an effective mobile force, though all but one of its tank battalions had been transferred north. Short on troops, Blaskowitz's command found itself stretched thin with each division along the coast responsible for 56 miles of shoreline. Lacking the manpower to reinforce Army Group G, the German high command openly discussed ordering it to pull back to a new line near Dijon. This was put on hold following the 20 July plot against Hitler.
US Troops coming ashore during Operation Dragoon in Southern France, 1944.
Initial operations commenced on August 14 with the 1st Special Service Force landing in the Îles d'Hyères. Overwhelming the garrisons on Port-Cros and Levant, they secured both islands. Early on August 15, Allied forces began moving towards the invasion beaches. Their efforts were aided by the work of the French Resistance which had damaged communications and transportation networks in the interior. To the west, French commandos succeeded in eliminating the batteries on Cap Nègre. Later in the morning little opposition was encountered as troops came ashore on Alpha and Delta Beaches. Many of the German forces in the area were Osttruppen, drawn from German-occupied territories, who quickly surrendered. The landings on Camel Beach proved more difficult with severe fighting on Camel Red near Saint-Raphaël. Though air support aided the effort, later landings were shifted to other parts of the beach.
Unable to fully oppose the invasion, Blaskowitz began making preparations for the planned withdrawal north. To delay the Allies, he pulled together a mobile battle group. Numbering four regiments, this force attacked from Les Arcs towards Le Muy on the morning of 16 August. Already badly outnumbered as Allied troops had been streaming ashore since the previous day, this force was nearly cut off and fell back that night. Near Saint-Raphaël, elements of the 148th Infantry Division also attacked but were beaten back. Advancing inland, Allied troops relieved the airborne at Le Muy the next day.
With Army Group B in Normandy facing a crisis as a result of Operation Cobra which saw the Allied forces break out of the beachhead, Hitler had no choice but to approve the full withdrawal of Army Group G on the night of 16/17 August. Alerted to the German intentions through Ultra radio intercepts, Devers began pushing mobile formations forward in an effort to cut off Blaskowitz's retreat. On 18 August, Allied troops reached Digne while three days later the German 157th Infantry Division abandoned Grenoble, opening a gap on the German left flank. Continuing his retreat, Blaskowitz attempted to use the Rhone River to screen his movements.
As American forces drove north, French troops moved along the coast and opened battles to retake Toulon and Marseille. After protracted fights, both cities were liberated on 27 August. Seeking to slow the Allied advance, the 11th Panzer Division attacked toward Aix-en-Provence. This was halted and Devers and Patch soon learned of the gap on the German left. Assembling a mobile force dubbed Task Force Butler, they pushed it and the 36th Infantry Division through the opening with the goal of cutting off Blaskowitz at Montélimar. Stunned by this move, the German commander rushed the 11th Panzer Division to the area. Arriving, they stopped the American advance on 24 August.
The road north of Montélimar was littered with destroyed vehicles, dead infantry and horses.
Mounting a large-scale assault the next day, the Germans were unable to dislodge the Americans from the area. Conversely, the American forces lacked the manpower and supplies to regain the initiative. This led to a stalemate which allowed the bulk of Army Group G to escape north by 28 August. Capturing Montélimar on 29 August, Devers pushed forward VI Corps and the French II Corps in pursuit of Blaskowitz. Over the ensuing days, a series of running battles occurred as both sides moved north. Lyon was liberated on 3 September and a week later, the lead elements from Operation Dragoon united with Lieutenant General George S. Patton's US Third Army. The pursuit of Blaskowitz ended shortly thereafter when the remnants of Army Group G assumed a position in the Vosges Mountains.
In conducting Operation Dragoon, the Allies sustained around 17,000 killed and wounded while inflicting losses numbering approximately 7,000 killed, 10,000 wounded, and 130,000 captured on the Germans. Shortly after their capture, work began to repair the port facilities at Toulon and Marseille. Both were open to shipping by 20 September. As the railroads running north were restored, the two ports became vital supply hubs for Allied forces in France. Though its value was debated, Operation Dragoon saw Devers and Patch clear southern France in faster than expected time while effectively gutting Army Group G.
Operation Market Garden
The next major Allied operation came on 17 September. Devised by British General Bernard Montgomery, its primary objective was the capture of several bridges in the Netherlands. Fresh off of their successes in Normandy, the Allies were optimistic that an attack on the Nazi-occupied Netherlands would force open a route across the Rhine and onto the North German Plain. Such an opening would allow Allied forces to break out northward and advance toward Denmark and, ultimately, Berlin.
Paratroopers landing in the Netherlands.
The plan involved a daylight drop of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The 101st was to capture the bridges at Eindhoven, with the 82nd taking the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen. After the bridges had been captured, the ground force, also known as XXX Corps or "Garden", would drive up a single road and link up with the paratroops.
The operation failed because the Allies were unable to capture the bridge furthest to the north at Arnhem. There, the British 1st Airborne had been dropped to secure the bridges, but upon landing they discovered that a highly experienced German SS Panzer unit was garrisoning the town. The paratroopers had only light anti-tank weaponry and quickly lost ground. Failure to quickly relieve those members of the 1st who had managed to seize the bridge at Arnhem on the part of the armored XXX Corps, meant that the Germans were able to stymie the entire operation. In the end, the operation's ambitious nature, the fickle state of war, and failures on the part of Allied intelligence (as well as tenacious German defense) can be blamed for Market-Garden's ultimate failure. This operation was also the last time that either the 82nd or 101st made a combat jump during the war.
Battle of Hürtgen Forest and Operation Queen
Located at the border of Germany and Belgium, the Hürtgen Forest was a wooded area 50 square miles wide that provided another possible corridor for the Allies to thrust into Germany. Eight U.S. infantry and two U.S. armored divisions fought the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. The 1st Infantry Division, the 4th Infantry Division, the 8th Infantry Division, the 47th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division, the 2d Ranger Battalion, the 5th Armored Division's 46th Armored Infantry Battalion and Combat Command Reserve, and numerous supporting units all spent time in the "green hell of Hürtgen" or the "Death Factory" as it was variously called. More than thirty thousand American GI's became casualties in the longest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army.
A farmhouse on the main route through Hürtgen served as shelter for HQ Company, 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, XIX Corps, 9th US Army, nicknamed the Hürtgen Hotel.
The Allied breakout from the Normandy landing area in France was followed by a series of rapid victories against the Wehrmacht, which seemed to be collapsing in the summer of 1944. Initial optimism became tempered by increasing Allied logistics problems and a stiffening of German resistance as they fell back toward Germany itself. By late September 1944, the Allies had reached the West Wall defenses of the Fatherland taking Aachen on 21 October, the first German city to fall.
Following the successful Aachen offensive, the Allied plan called for a drive to the Roer River, then to cross the Rhine River plain to reach the Rhine itself at Cologne. General Courtney H. Hodges' First Army was in the center of the drive, in the territory between Aachen on the left and the Hürtgen Forest on the right flank. To secure that flank for the Rhine operation, Hodges ordered the 28th Division into the Hürtgen Forest to relieve the 9th Division that had been operating there since 19 September 1944 with little success. The 9th suffered 4,500 casualties, up to 80% in some units, trying to secure Lammersdorf and Hill 554, an attempt to dominate the Monschau Corridor (one of the few routes through the Hürtgen Forest), to cross the Kall River and seize the small town of Schmidt.
The Hürtgen Forest battle area was about 50 square miles that became a chamber of horrors in the late fall of 1944. The forest lies on a plateau adjacent to the Ardennes, cut through in the center by fast running Kall River and Weisser Weh Creek, with the Roer River as its southern and eastern boundary. It begins a few miles southeast of Aachen, Germany lying in a triangle defined by Aachen, Düren and Monschau. Its 100 foot high, closely spaced fir trees created the equivalent of a twilight jungle in Europe where the enemy could not be seen or attacked until far too late. Large units could not operate cohesively among the deep gorges, high ridges, and narrow trails. Small unit patrols were routinely cut to pieces by machine guns and mortars firing from well-hidden German bunkers or were ambushed by mines, booby traps, and trip wires. The well-built and dug in defenses included elements of the Siegfried Line that ran through the forest. The winter of 1944 was cold and wet keeping the rugged terrain covered with snow or mired in mud while sleet, snow and fog obscured the scene.
US soldiers occupy a formerly German position, Hurtgen Forest 1944.
The initial objective of the 28th was the towns of Germeter, Vossenack, and Schmidt, the latter a road junction on a ridge of high ground in the eastern half of the Hürtgen Forest and close to the most important Roer River dams. If Schmidt could be secured, the roads would be available to support the First Army drive to the Rhine. On 2 November, after preparation by heavy artillery and air bombardment, the 28th Division moved into the region. They soon found that the bombardment had been ineffective in suppressing the German defenders as they came under intense attack from prepared positions where machine guns, mine fields, preregistered artillery and mortars, and small arms fire combined to make any progress extremely costly in the dense forest.
New habits were required as soldiers discovered that a wounded comrade might be rigged to a bomb, that a sheltering trench or foxhole could be wired to explode, or that incoming airburst artillery was survivable only by standing upright hugging a tree to keep your whole body under your steel helmet, protecting you from a deadly rain of sharp metal and wood fragments.
Although the 28th Division had some initial success, actually capturing Schmidt briefly by the evening of 3 November, powerful German armored counterattacks overran their positions and forced them back to Kommerscheidt where they were again overrun on 7 November. A 5 November operation on the Kall Trail found only mud, roadblocks and burned out tanks blocking the advance which stalled with heavy losses. By 13 November, virtually every officer in the rifle companies of the 28th had been killed or wounded and there were so many casualties among the enlisted men that the 28th only existed on paper. They were relieved and the remnants sent to the Ardennes for R&R, replaced by the 8th Division. Ironically, this move meant that the 28th took the initial brunt of the unexpected German attacks in the Battle of the Bulge.
The 4th ID fared no better. From 7 November to 3 December, the 4th Infantry Division lost over 7,000 men in the Hürtgen Forest and followed the 28th to the Ardennes to recover.
In the Hurtgen forest, German troops timed artillery shells to detonate in the tree canopy, exploiting softwood anatomy to weaponize conifers into lethal shards. Tree bursts were a major factor in the Allied defeat and 33,000 casualties in the Hurtgen Forest in late 1944, considered by historians the longest battle ever fought by the US military.
Operation Queen, a combined offensive by ten divisions of the First and Ninth U.S. Armies to seize the Rhine River crossings, launched on 16 November 1944 to the north, while inconclusive fighting went on and on in the Hürtgen Forest. The 8th Infantry Division came into the Hürtgen Forest battle on 16-20 November and resumed attacks on strong points. On 21 November, the 121st Infantry Regiment (8th Division) was sent in to gain control of both sides of the Germeter-Huertgen Highway, but bogged down in the familiar pattern of failure. After replacing its commander and adding armored support, the 8th Division finally captured the town of Hürtgen on 28 November. Kleinau and the Brandenburg Ridge were then captured, significant progress at last.
The forest itself, the cold and wet weather, and the ineffectiveness of artillery, tanks and air support in such tight quarters with limited visibility, all made the Hürtgen Forest a perfect environment for the defending Germans who showed a stubborn dedication to their task. As the months wore on the forest was devastated by artillery and bombing from both sides and the ground was covered with twisted and broken foliage, fragments of smashed fortifications, wrecked military equipment, and other debris of the battle in addition to the bodies and parts of bodies found everywhere soldiers had been.
The emotional toll on the soldiers was very high. A large percentage of ordinary soldiers and officers broke down under the stress and became "battle fatigue" casualties, in addition to the thousands of wounded and killed. In forward areas, isolated groups of soldiers spent as much as two weeks under continuous enemy fire, in muddy foxholes, without hot food or drink. Frost bite, trench foot and other diseases took a heavy toll. One officer after another had to be relieved for failure to make progress or for mental collapse from the continuing horror.
The 2nd Ranger Battalion was brought in to take Castle Hill (aka Hill 400) at the eastern edge of the Hürtgen Forest, a high point that the Germans used to dominate the surroundings that had not fallen to multiple attempts by First Army. On 7 December, the Rangers (who fought on Omaha Beach on D-Day) charged the hill and dislodged the surprised Germans in vicious hand to hand fighting that lasted all day through wave after wave of German counterattacks. The amazing Rangers held until reinforced on 8 December, although there were nearly 100% casualties by then. Nine days later the Germans retook Hill 400 and held it until February 1945 at the end of the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest.
US soldiers liberate a small town in the Hurtgen Forest 1944.
On 13 December, the newly committed 83d Infantry and 5th Armored Divisions emerged from the Hürtgen Forest near the towns of Gey and Strass. Although the eastern section of the forest including Schmidt were still held by the Germans, First Army forces had finally reached the west bank of the Roer. Early in the morning of 5 February 1945, American soldiers attacked into the Hürtgen Forest for the final time. The ruins of Schmidt and Kommerscheidt fell on 7 February, opening the way for the advance that finally secured the Roer dams on 10 February. The First Army's ordeal in the Hürtgen Forest ended.
More than 120,000 Allied troops fought in the Hürtgen Forest, in organized units plus thousands of replacements, opposed by 80,000 Germans in six full divisions and parts of others. More than 24,000 American soldiers were battle casualties with another 9,000 victims of disease or emotional collapse, a staggering casualty rate of more than 25%.
The net result was only that the Germans bought a little time as the fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, combined with the larger Battle of the Bulge to the south, delayed the Allied march on Germany. The Allies captured the Hürtgen Forest real estate, of little value in itself, and had neutralized additional German military units, little to show for the horrific price. The capture of the Roer River dams might have been possible without the Hürtgen Forest battle, a point still in debate.
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge, also called the Battle of the Ardennes, (16 December 1944 - 16 January 1945), was the last major German offensive on the Western Front during World War II - an unsuccessful attempt to push the Allies back from German home territory. Its name was appropriated from Winston Churchill's optimistic description in May 1940 of the resistance that he mistakenly supposed was being offered to the Germans' breakthrough in that area just before the Anglo-French collapse; the Germans were in fact overwhelmingly successful. The "bulge" refers to the wedge that the Germans drove into the Allied lines.
After their invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the Allies moved across northern France into Belgium during the summer but lost momentum in the autumn. Apart from an abortive thrust to Arnhem, Netherlands, the efforts of the Allied armies in western Europe during September and October 1944 amounted to little more than a process of nibbling. Meanwhile, the German defense was being continuously strengthened with such reserves as could be relocated from elsewhere and with the freshly raised forces of the Volkssturm ("home guard"). German numbers were also bolstered by those troops who had managed to withdraw from France. A general offensive launched in mid-November by all six Allied armies on the Western Front brought disappointingly small results at heavy cost; continued efforts merely exhausted the attacking troops.
US soldiers marching through the Hurtgen Forest in the Battle of the Bulge.
In mid-December, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, had at his disposal 48 divisions distributed along a 600-mile (nearly 600 miles, 1,000 km) front between the North Sea and Switzerland. For the site of their counteroffensive, the Germans chose the hilly and wooded country of the Ardennes. Because it was generally regarded as difficult country, a large-scale offensive there was likely to be unexpected. At the same time, the thick woods provided concealment for the massing of forces, whereas the high ground offered a drier surface for the maneuvers of tanks. An awkward feature from an offensive point of view, however, was the fact that the high ground was intersected with deep valleys where the through roads became bottlenecks where a tank advance was liable to be blocked. The aims of the German counteroffensive were far-reaching: To break through to Antwerp, Belgium, by an indirect move, to cut off the British army group from American forces as well as from its supplies, and then to crush the isolated British. Overall command of the offensive was given to Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.
The Fifth Panzer Army, led by Hasso, Freiherr (baron) von Manteuffel, was to break through the U.S. front in the Ardennes, swerve westward, and then wheel northward across the Meuse, past Namur to Antwerp. As it advanced, it was to build up a defensive flank barricade to shut off interference from the U.S. armies farther south. The Sixth Panzer Army, under SS commander Sepp Dietrich, was to thrust northwestward on an oblique line past Liège to Antwerp, creating a strategic barrier astride the rear of the British and of the more northerly American armies. To those two panzer armies the Germans gave the bulk of the tanks that they could scrape together. To minimize the danger from a speedy intervention of Anglo-American air power, which was vastly greater than their own, the Germans launched their stroke when the meteorological forecast promised them a natural cloak; indeed, for the first three days, mist and rain kept the Allied air forces on the ground.
US soldiers in Bastogne.
Aided by its surprise, the German counteroffensive, which started before dawn on 16 December 1944, made menacing progress in the opening days, creating alarm and confusion on the Allied side. The Fifth Panzer Army bypassed Bastogne (which was held throughout the offensive by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division under the tenacious leadership of General Anthony McAuliffe) and by 24 December had advanced to within 4 miles (6 km) of the Meuse River. Time and opportunities were lost, however, through gasoline shortages resulting from winter weather and from growing Allied air attacks, and the German drive faltered. This frustration of the German advance was largely due to the way in which outflanked U.S. detachments held Bastogne and several other important bottlenecks in the Ardennes as well as to the speed with which British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who had taken charge of the situation on the northern flank, swung his reserves southward to forestall the Germans at the crossings of the Meuse.
General George S. Patton's Third Army relieved Bastogne on the 26th, and on 3 January 1945, the U.S. First Army began a counteroffensive. Between 8 January and 16 January the Allied armies concentrated their strength and were attempting to pinch off the great German wedge driven into their front, but the Germans carried out a skillful withdrawal that took them out of the potential trap. Judged on its own account, the Battle of the Bulge had been a profitable operation for Germany, for, even though it fell short of its objectives, it upset the Allies' preparations and inflicted much damage at a cost that was not excessive for the effect. Viewed in relation to the whole situation, however, the counteroffensive had been a fatal operation. While the Allies suffered some 75,000 casualties, Germany lost 120,000 men and stores of matériel that it could ill afford to replace. Germany had thus forfeited the chance of maintaining any prolonged resistance to a resumed Allied offensive. It brought home to the German troops their incapacity to turn the scales and thereby undermined such hopes as they had retained.
The American and French offensive in mid-November 1944 was a success, resulting in the liberation of most of Alsace. However, the Germans retained a large bridgehead on the western bank of the Rhine around the city of Colmar, a thorn the side of Allied 6th Army Group. Having broken German resistance in the Vosges and the Belfort Gap, the Allies reached the Rhine at Strasbourg and near Mulhouse. Between these points German forces managed to hold onto a 65-kilometer stretch of the western bank of the Rhine, centred around the city of Colmar. Early attempts at reducing this pocket failed due to logistical problems and the inexperience of the rapid expansion of the French army. Personal factors also contributed to the situation as General Leclerc initially refused to serve under General de Lattre due to his past service for the Vichy regime. Thus the attempt at reducing the pocket in late December failed.
Troops take village in Colmar Pocket.
Adolf Hitler, claiming Alsace to be a part of the Greater German Reich, stressed the necessity of holding on to the pocket as a springboard for an offensive to retake the region. In order to ensure that, he entrusted the command in the area to the notorious Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer of the SS.
On 8 January 1945 the southern element of Operation Nordwind began. German units attacked from the pocket, aiming to retake Strasbourg. French 2nd Corps managed to stop them after few days of heavy fighting. On 20 January, in heavy snowfall, the French 1st Army, reinforced with U.S. units and Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division, began the assault on the Pocket. Despite the surprise, the Germans put up determined resistance. The French and Americans launched another attack on the northern flank of the pocket on 22 January. The aim was to bypass Colmar itself and cut off railway lines supplying the Germans. Again, the fighting proved difficult. The bridge at Maison Rouge collapsed under the weight of a tank, preventing armor from advancing with the infantry there. Icy conditions made it impossible for troops to dig foxholes, leaving them exposed in the face of German counterattacks. Those counterattacks came thick and fast, but the Allied forces were able to stop each one, keeping up a steady advance. Resistance in the north began to weaken, and on 1 February French forces in the north reached the Rhine.
Graves Registration recovering frozen bodies KIA in Colmar Pocket.
Following reports of heavy casualties, the Allies sent reinforcements to bolster their attacks. General Milburn's XXI Corps, which now incorporated French as well as American troops, was given the task of taking Colmar itself. Meanwhile, the Germans were in chaos. They had not been able to work out the Allied objectives, believing this was just an opportunistic advance. Withdrawing units became mixed up and confused. Hitler would not order a retreat across the natural defensive barrier of the Rhine. An advance now began near the center of the Pocket. One by one, key towns were taken. Biesheim fell on 3 February after an entire day of fighting. Fortified Neuf-Brisach, a key position, was taken on 6 February after French children showed the Americans an undefended route in.
French units advance into Colmar.
The town of Colmar was attacked by the Allies on 2 February, and the Germans driven out the following day. The French 152nd Infantry Regiment, which had been garrisoned in Colmar before the war, finally returned to a home which had been in enemy hands for nearly five years. On 5 February, the separate advances met up at Rouffach, splitting the Pocket in two. Four more days of fighting followed as the Allies covered German routes of retreat and assaulted positions still held by Axis forces. Artillery and aircraft bombarded significant clusters of German troops, driving them back. On 9 February, the German rearguard was destroyed at Chalampé, and the Germans demolished the bridge over the Rhine there. With no significant German forces left in Alsace, the Colmar Pocket had fallen.
The fighting in the Colmar Pocket wiped out most of the experienced troops in the German 19th Army, and when it reformed it was made up in large part of inexperienced recruits. The Pocket's fall freed up Allied troops to join Operation Undertone, the advance into Germany through the Siegfried Line, without worrying about German troops advancing into a bridgehead west of the Rhine. And Alsace was back in French hands - a moment of huge symbolic importance and national pride.
Invasion of Germany
By early 1945, events favored the Allied forces in Europe. On the Western Front the Allies had been fighting in Germany since the Battle of Aachen in October 1944 and by January had turned back the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. The failure of this last major German offensive exhausted much of Germany's remaining combat strength, leaving it ill-prepared to resist the final Allied campaigns in Europe. Additional losses in the Rhineland further weakened the German Army, leaving shattered remnants of units to defend the east bank of the Rhine. On 7 March, the Allies seized the last remaining intact bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, and had established a large bridgehead on the river's east bank. During Operation Lumberjack and Operation Plunder in February–March 1945, German casualties are estimated at 400,000 men, including 280,000 men captured as prisoners of war.
South German Offensive
The South German Offensive is the general name of one of the final offensives of World War II in Europe. The offensive was led by the Seventh and Third armies of the United States along with the First Army of France. Soviet troops linked up with American forces in Czechoslovakia notably in the Battle of Slivice. The offensive was made by the US 6th Army Group to protect the 12th Army Group's right flank and to prevent a German last stand in the Alps. However German resistance was much more fierce than in the north, which slowed the 6th Army Group's progress. However, by the end of April, many German divisions surrendered without a fight to the advancing American forces to avoid the inevitable destruction. The VI Corps of the Seventh Army linked up with the US Fifth Army, which fought through Italy, in the Alps as the Third Army advanced into Austria and Czechoslovakia, where it linked up with Soviet forces advancing from the east. Fighting continued a few days after the Surrender of Germany on 8 May, due to German forces fighting west to surrender to the Americans instead of the Soviets.
Race to Berlin
Following the defeat of the German army in the Ardennes, the Allies pushed back towards the Rhine and the heart of Germany. With the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the Allies crossed the Rhine in March 1945. The Americans then executed a pincer movement, setting up the Ninth Army north, and the First Army south. When the Allies closed the pincer, 300,000 Germans were captured in the Ruhr Pocket. The Americans then turned east, first meeting up with the Red Army at Torgau on the Elbe River in April. However, the Allies' uneasy partnership was growing increasingly strained: This was not just a race for the city, so much as for the upper hand in the coming postwar world order.
Meeting at the Elbe. Soviet and American soldiers greet each other and inspect one another's equipment.
A year before, in early 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, had been all in on the idea of capturing the German capital: "Berlin is the main prize," he wrote to his British counterpart, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. "There is no doubt whatsoever, in my mind, that we should concentrate all our energies and resources on a rapid thrust to Berlin." But by the end of 1944, rapid Soviet advancement began to throw this objective into question. By early 1945, the Red Army was barely 40 miles out of Berlin. British-American forces, set back by the Battle of the Bulge in Ardennes, had yet to cross the Rhine.
In late March, even as British and American forces got closer, Eisenhower telegrammed Soviet Premiere Joseph Stalin to say Berlin was no longer the objective, and that the Americans would stand back at the Elbe River. Stalin seemed to agree but ordered a massive Soviet offensive to capture the city by 16 April, just three days later. But by contacting Stalin directly, without first consulting the other two "Big Three" Allied political leaders, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eisenhower had angered the British leader. In a series of telegrams at the end of March, Churchill fervently objected to Eisenhower's decision - and urged him to press on.
There was a good argument to keep the Soviet army from reaching Berlin first. Given Stalin's interest in extending his Communist sphere of influence in Europe, there was concern his armies would secure Vienna, and from there, all of Austria. Churchill also worried about political ramifications - in particular, how Russia would perceive its role in the war effort if it captured Berlin, and what that could mean for their future dealings. Additionally, Churchill was irritated that the British Army had been relegated "to an unexpectedly restricted sphere." Churchill reiterated this point to Roosevelt, writing: "If [the Soviets] also take Berlin, will not the impression that they have been the overwhelming contributor to our common victory be unduly imprinted on their minds?"
Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than two weeks later. Eisenhower, who had been keeping his options open, even after the telegram to Stalin, ultimately decided that beating Russia to the finish line was simply too costly. General Omar Bradley had warned that it might cost the U.S. military upward of 100,000 American lives to make its way to Berlin - a price Eisenhower wasn't willing to pay for territory he would ultimately have to cede to the Soviets, per the terms of postwar occupation already drawn up by the Big Three at the Yalta Conference months earlier. Berlin was looking to him like less of a strategic goal and more of one simply of prestige.
When the Russian and American forces met at the Elbe on 25th of April, they found that there were no Germans facing them. Wenck had been pulled back to help defend Berlin. Propaganda minister Goebbels labeled the city "Fortress Berlin", but it was not much of a fortress. Its defenders were 90,000 children of the Hitler Youth and old men of the Volkssturm, Germany's equivalent of the Home Guard. Top Nazis such as Göring, Himmler, and Speer fled the city. Himmler was later sacked for reaching out to the British and Americans about making peace, and he too fled. Hitler even sacked Göring, his designated successor, for trying to take over command.
Red Army soldiers raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin, on May 2, 1945.
The Soviets had won the race, but the competition between Stalin's two field marshalls, Koniev and Zhukov, was still on. With victory clearly theirs to take, Koniev was ordered to halt so Zhukov’s men would have the honor of taking the Reichstag and raising the Red Flag over it. That order must have stung for Koniev, who had come from behind to become a frontrunner in the race. But, in the end, it would be Zhukov's undoing. The boost to his reputation made him so popular that Stalin saw him as a threat, and banished him the following year.
Seeing his fortress collapsing around him, Hitler committed suicide on the 30th of April.
The war in Europe came to an official end on V-E Day, 8 May 1945.
The Pacific Ocean theater of World War II was a major theater of the Pacific War, the war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan. It was defined by the Allied powers' Pacific Ocean Area command, which included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, while mainland Asia was excluded, as were the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia, most of the Territory of New Guinea, and the western part of the Solomon Islands.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Because of Japanese advances in French Indochina and China, the United States, in coordination with the British and Dutch, cut off all oil supplies to Japan, which had imported 90% of its oil. The oil embargo threatened to grind the Japanese military machine to a halt. Japan refused American demands to leave China and decided that war with the United States was inevitable; its only hope was to strike first. President Roosevelt had months earlier transferred the American fleet to Hawaii from California to deter the Japanese. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto argued the only way to win the war was to knock out the powerful main American fleet immediately. His fleet approached within 200 miles of Hawaii without being detected. Admiral Chūichi Nagumo held tactical command. Over a five-hour period his six carriers sent two waves of 360 dive-bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters. They destroyed or severely damaged eight battleships, ten smaller warships, and 230 aircraft; 2,403 American servicemen and civilians were killed. Japanese losses were negligible—29 planes shot down (several American planes were also shot down by anti-aircraft fire). Japan's declaration of war was published after the attacks began.
Commander Minoru Genda, the chief planner of the raid, begged Nagumo to strike again at the shore facilities, oil storage tanks, and submarines, and to hunt down the American carriers that were supposedly nearby. But Nagumo decided not to risk further action. To reach Pearl Harbor, they had to learn how to refuel at sea (a technique the US Navy already had worked out); to sink all those ships they used their electric torpedoes and shallow-water bombing tactics. Despite later rumors, there was no advance knowledge of the Japanese plan. The commanders had been complacent about routine defensive measures. In broader perspective, the attack was a failure. The lost battleships reflected obsolete doctrine and were not needed; the lost planes were soon replaced; the casualty list was short by World War II standards. Tokyo's calculation that the Americans would lose heart and seek a compromise peace proved wildly wrong—the "sneak attack" electrified public opinion, committing America with near unanimity to a war to the death against the Japanese Empire.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addresses a joint session of United States Congress on 8 December 1941, asking Congress for a declaration of war.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt officially pronounced 7 December 1941, as "a date which will live in infamy" and asked for a declaration of war on Japan before a joint session of Congress on 8 December 1941. The motion passed with only one vote against it, in both chambers. Just three days later, on 11 December 1941 Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, and had already remarked on the evening of the date of the Japanese attack that "We can't lose the war at all. We now have an ally which has never been conquered in 3,000 years".
Fall of the Philippines and Dutch East Indies
Within hours of Pearl Harbor, Japanese air forces from Formosa destroyed much of the US Far East Air Force, based near Manila. The Japanese army invaded and trapped the American and Filipino forces on the Bataan peninsula. Roosevelt evacuated General Douglas MacArthur and the nurses, but there was no way to save the trapped men against overwhelming Japanese naval power. MacArthur flew to Australia, vowing "I came out of Bataan and I shall return." Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright surrendered on 8 May; the prisoners died by the thousands in the Bataan Death March and in disease-ridden Japanese prison camps where food and medicine were in very short supply.
The Japanese Navy seemed unstoppable as they seized the Dutch East Indies to gain its rich oil resources. The American, British, Dutch, and Australian forces were combined under the ABDA command but its fleet was quickly sunk in several naval battles around Java.
Solomon Islands and New Guinea Campaign
Following their rapid advance, the Japanese started the Solomon Islands Campaign from their newly conquered main base at Rabaul in January 1942. The Japanese seized several islands, including Tulagi and Guadalcanal, before they were halted by further events leading to the Guadalcanal Campaign. This campaign also converged with the New Guinea campaign.
Battle of the Coral Sea
In May 1942, the United States fleet engaged the Japanese fleet during the first battle in history in which neither fleet fired directly on the other, nor did the ships of both fleets actually see each other. It was also the first time that aircraft carriers were used in battle. While indecisive, it was nevertheless a starting point because American commanders learned the tactics that would serve them later in the war. These tactics proved immediately helpful at the battle of Midway only one month later. An excerpt from the Naval War College Review says that "although the Coral Sea fight was a marginal tactical victory for the IJN [Imperial Japanese Navy], in terms of ships and tonnage sunk, it amounted to a small strategic triumph for the U.S. Navy."
Battle of the Aleutian Islands
The Battle of the Aleutian Islands was the last fighting between sovereign nations to take place on American soil. As part of a diversionary plan for the Battle of Midway, the Japanese took control of two of the Aleutian Islands (Attu and Kiska Island). They hoped that strong American naval forces would be drawn away from Midway, enabling a Japanese victory. Because their ciphers were broken, the American forces only drove the Japanese out after Midway. On 11 May 1943, American forces, spearheaded by the US 7th Infantry Division, landed on Attu, beginning the operation to take back the islands, by the end of May 1943 and after a series of battles, Allied forces retook Attu. On 15 August 1943, Allied forces landed on Kiska to retake it, only to find the Island abandoned by the Japanese.
Battle of Midway
Having learned important lessons at Coral Sea, the United States Navy was prepared when the Japanese navy under Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto launched an offensive aimed at destroying the American Pacific Fleet at Midway Island. The Japanese hoped to embarrass the Americans after the humiliation of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. Midway was a strategic island that both sides wished to use as an air base. Yamamoto hoped to achieve complete surprise and a quick capture of the island, followed by a decisive carrier battle with which he could destroy the American carrier fleet. Before the battle began, however, American intelligence intercepted his plan, allowing Admiral Chester Nimitz to formulate an effective defensive ambush of the Japanese fleet. The battle began on 4 June 1942. By the time it was over, the Japanese had lost four carriers, as opposed to one American carrier lost. The Battle of Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific because the United States had seized the initiative and was on the offensive for the remaining duration of the war.
Following the resounding victory at Midway, the United States began a major land offensive. The Allies came up with a strategy known as Island hopping, or the bypassing of islands that either served little or no strategic importance or were heavily defended but could be bypassed, such as Rabaul. Because air power was crucial to any operation, only islands that could support airstrips were targeted by the Allies. The fighting for each island in the Pacific Theater would be savage, as the Americans faced a determined and battle-hardened enemy who had known little defeat on the ground.
Guadalcanal, fought from August 1942 to February 1943, was the first major Allied offensive of the war in the Pacific Theater. This campaign pitted American air, naval and ground forces (later augmented by Australians and New Zealanders) against determined Japanese resistance. Guadalcanal was the key to control the Solomon Islands, which both sides saw as strategically essential. Both sides won some battles but both sides were overextended in terms of supply lines. Logistical failures in a hostile physical environment hampered everyone. As happened time and again in the Pacific, the Japanese logistical support system failed, as only 20% of the supplies dispatched from Rabaul to Guadalcanal ever reached there. Consequently, the 30,000 Japanese troops lacked heavy equipment, enough ammunition and even enough food; 10,000 were killed, 10,000 starved to death, and the remaining 10,000 were evacuated in February 1943. In the end Guadalcanal was a major American victory as the Japanese inability to keep pace with the rate of American reinforcements proved decisive. Guadalcanal is an iconic episode in the annals of American military history, underscoring the heroic bravery of underequipped individuals in fierce combat with a determined foe.
Marines from the 1st Marine Division landed on 7 August 1942, soldiers from the Army XIV Corps reinforced and eventually replaced in late-November 1942. They quickly captured Henderson Field, and prepared defenses. In the Battle of Bloody Ridge, the Americans held off wave after wave of Japanese counterattacks before charging what was left of the Japanese. After more than six months of combat the island was firmly under Allied control on 8 February 1943.
Meanwhile, the rival navies fought seven battles, with the two sides diving the victories. Following the Japanese victory at the Battle of Savo Island on 8–9 August, Admiral Fletcher withdrew his ships from around Guadalcanal. A second Japanese naval force sailed south and engaged the American fleet in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24–25 August, ending in a draw but forced the Japanese naval force to retreat. On 11–12 October 1942, to disrupt Japanese attempts to reinforce and resupply their troops on Guadalcanal (nicknamed the "Tokyo Express"), a small US naval force attacked this supply line at the Battle of Cape Esperance and succeeded. In support of the Japanese ground offensive in October, Japanese naval forces engaged and hoped to decisively defeat any US naval forces in the area of operation at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 25–27 October 1942, however the Japanese failed to decisively defeat US Navy. From 12 to 15 November 1942, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal took place: Learning that the Japanese were trying to reinforce their troops for an attack on Henderson Field, US forces launched aircraft and warship to prevent the Japanese ground troops from reaching Guadalcanal, the US succeeded thus turning back Japan's last major attempt to dislodge Allied forces from Guadalcanal. A small US naval force attempted to surprise and destroy the Japanese Navy were attempting to deliver supplies to their forces on Guadalcanal at Battle of Tassafaronga however it wasn't successful. The final naval battle took place between 29 and 30 January 1943, known as the Battle of Rennell Island, US naval forces attempted to stop the Japanese Navy from evacuating its ground forces from Guadalcanal. However, the Japanese successfully forced the US Navy to withdraw, protecting the Japanese evacuation.
Guadalcanal made it clear to the Americans that the Japanese would fight to the bitter end. After brutal fighting in which few prisoners were taken on either side, the United States and the Allies pressed on the offensive. The American landings at Tarawa on 20 November 1943, became bogged down as armor attempting to break through the Japanese lines of defense either sank, were disabled or took on too much water to be of use. The Americans were eventually able to land a limited number of tanks and drive inland. After days of fighting they took control of Tarawa on 23 November. Of the original 2,600 Japanese soldiers on the island, only 17 were still alive.
Operations in the Central Pacific
In preparation for the recapture of the Philippines, the Allies started the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign to retake the Gilbert and Marshall Islands from the Japanese in summer 1943. Moving closer to Japan, the US Navy decisively won the Battle of the Philippine Sea and landing forces captured the Mariana and Palau Islands in summer 1944. The goal was building airbases within range of the new B-29 bomber aimed at Japan's industrial cities.
Battle of Leyte Gulf and Philippines Campaign (1944–45)
The Battle of Leyte Gulf in 23–26 October 1944, was a decisive American victory that sank virtually the entire remaining Japanese fleet in arguably the largest naval battle in history. Although the Japanese came surprisingly close to inflicting a major defeat on the Americans, at the last minute the Japanese panicked and lost. The battle was a complex overlapping series of engagements fought off the Philippine island of Leyte, which the US Army had just invaded. The army forces were highly vulnerable to naval attack, and the Japanese goal was to inflict massive destruction. Two American fleets were involved, the Seventh and Third, but they were independent and did not communicate well so the Japanese with a trick maneuver slipped between the two American fleets and almost reached the beaches. However the Japanese communication system was even worse, and the Japanese army and navy did not cooperate, and the three Japanese fleets were each destroyed.
General MacArthur fulfilled his promise to return to the Philippines by landing at Leyte on 20 October 1944. The grueling re-capture of the Philippines took place from 1944 to 1945 and included the battles of Leyte, Luzon, and Mindanao.
Battle of Iwo Jima
The Americans did not bypass the small island of Iwo Jima because it wanted bases for fighter escorts; it was actually used as an emergency landing base for B-29s. The Japanese knew they could not win, but they devised a strategy to maximize American casualties. Learning from the Battle of Saipan they prepared many fortified positions on the island, including pillboxes and tunnels. The Marines attack began on 19 February 1945. Initially the Japanese put up no resistance, letting the Americans mass, creating more targets before the Americans took intense fire from Mount Suribachi and fought throughout the night until the hill was surrounded. Over the next 36 days, the Japanese were pressed into an ever-shrinking pocket, but they chose to fight on to the end, leaving only 1,000 of the original 21,000 defenders alive. The Marines suffered as well, suffering 25,000 casualties. The battle became iconic in America as the epitome of heroism in desperate hand-to-hand combat.
Battle of Okinawa
Okinawa became the last major battle of the Pacific Theater and the Second World War. The island was to become a staging area for the eventual invasion of Japan since it was just 350 miles (560 km) south of Mainland Japan. Marines and soldiers landed unopposed on 1 April 1945, to begin an 82-day campaign which became the largest land-sea-air battle in history and was noted for the ferocity of the fighting and the high civilian casualties with over 150,000 Okinawans losing their lives. Japanese kamikaze pilots caused the largest loss of ships in US naval history with the sinking of 38 and the damaging of another 368. Total US casualties were over 12,500 dead and 38,000 wounded, while the Japanese lost over 110,000 soldiers and 150,000 civilians. The fierce combat and high American losses led the Army and the Navy to oppose an invasion of the main islands. An alternative strategy was chosen: using the atomic bomb to induce surrender.
Strategic Bombing of Japan
The flammability of Japan's large cities, and the concentration of munitions production there, made strategic bombing the favorite strategy of the Americans from 1941 onward. The first efforts were made from bases in China, where massive efforts to establish B-29 bases there and supply them over the Hump (the Himalayas) failed in 1944; the Japanese Army simply moved overland and captured the bases. Saipan and Tinian, captured by the US in June 1944, gave secure bases for the very-long-range B-29. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress boasted four 2,200 horsepower Wright R-3350 supercharged engines that could lift four tons of bombs 33,000 feet (high above Japanese flak or fighters), and make 3,500-mile round trips. However, the systematic raids that began in June 1944, were unsatisfactory, because the AAF had learned too much in Europe; it overemphasized self-defense. Arnold, in personal charge of the campaign (bypassing the theater commanders), brought in a new leader, brilliant, indefatigable, hard-charging General Curtis LeMay. In early 1945, LeMay ordered a radical change in tactics: remove the machine guns and gunners, fly in low at night. (Much fuel was used to get to 30,000 feet; it could now be replaced with more bombs.) The Japanese radar, fighter, and anti-aircraft systems were so ineffective that they could not hit the bombers. Fires raged through the cities, and millions of civilians fled to the mountains.
Tokyo was hit repeatedly, and during the first massive fire raid of 9–10 March 1945 suffered a conflagration of about 16 square miles (41 km2) in area, that killed at least 83,000. On 5 June, 51,000 buildings in four miles of Kobe were burned out by 473 B-29s; the Japanese were learning to fight back, as 11 B-29s went down and 176 were damaged. Osaka, where one-sixth of the Empire's munitions were made, was hit by 1,733 tons of incendiaries dropped by 247 B-29s. A firestorm burned out 8.1 square miles, including 135,000 houses; 4,000 died. The Japanese local officials reported:
Although damage to big factories was slight, approximately one-fourth of some 4,000 lesser factories, which operated hand-in-hand with the big factories, were destroyed by fire... Moreover, owing to the rising fear of air attacks, workers in general were reluctant to work in the factories, and the attendance fluctuated as much as 50 percent.
The Japanese army, which was not based in the cities, was largely undamaged by the raids. The Army was short of food and gasoline, but, as Iwo Jima and Okinawa proved, it was capable of ferocious resistance. The Japanese also had a new tactic that it hoped would provide the bargaining power to get a satisfactory peace, the Kamikaze.
In late 1944 the Japanese invented an unexpected and highly effective new tactic, the Kamikaze suicide plane aimed like a guided missile at American ships. The attacks began in October 1944 and continued to the end of the war. Experienced pilots were used to lead a mission because they could navigate; they were not Kamikazes, and they returned to base for another mission. The Kamikaze pilots were inexperienced and had minimal training; but most were well-educated and intensely committed to the Emperor.
Kamikaze attacks were highly effective at the Battle of Okinawa as 4000 kamikaze sorties sank 38 US ships and damaged 368 more, killing 4,900 sailors. Task Force 58 analyzed the Japanese technique at Okinawa in April 1945:
"Rarely have the enemy attacks been so cleverly executed and made with such reckless determination. These attacks were generally by single or few aircraft making their approaches with radical changes in course and altitude, dispersing when intercepted and using cloud cover to every advantage. They tailed our friendlies home, used decoy planes, and came in at any altitude or on the water."
The Americans decided the best defense against Kamikazes was to knock them out on the ground, or else in the air long before they approached the fleet. The Navy called for more fighters, and more warning, which meant combat air patrols circling the big ships, more radar picket ships (which themselves became prime targets), and more attacks on airbases and gasoline supplies. Japan suspended Kamikaze attacks in May 1945, because it was now hoarding gasoline and hiding planes in preparation for new suicide attacks if the Allies dared to invade their home islands. The Kamikaze strategy allowed the use of untrained pilots and obsolete planes, and since evasive maneuvering was dropped and there was no return trip, the scarce gasoline reserves could be stretched further. Since pilots guided their airplane like a guided missile all the way to the target, the proportion of hits was much higher than in ordinary bombing. Japan's industry was manufacturing 1,500 new planes a month in 1945. However, the quality of construction was very poor, and many new planes crashed during training or before reaching targets.
Expecting increased resistance, including far more Kamikaze attacks once the main islands of Japan were invaded, the US high command rethought its strategy and used atomic bombs to end the war, hoping it would make a costly invasion unnecessary.
Allied Submarines in the Pacific
US submarines took part in the majority of naval battles in the Pacific theater, but the submarines were most decisive in their blockade of Japan, for which Japan was dependent on its sea transport to provide resources for its war effort.
On the afternoon of 7 December 1941, six hours after the Japanese attack, US naval commanders in the Pacific were ordered by the US Navy Chief of Staff to "execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japan". This order authorized all US submarines in the Pacific to attack and sink any warship, commercial vessel, or civilian passenger ship flying the Japanese flag, without warning. The Pacific Fleet and the Asiatic Fleet Submarine Force immediately went into action to counter the Japanese offensive across the Pacific, such as in the Philippines, Indochina, Dutch East Indies and Malaya. The US Navy submarine force was small; less than 2%. On 7 December 1941, the US Navy had 55 fleet and 18-medium-sized submarines (S-boats) in the Pacific, 38 submarines elsewhere, and 73 under construction. By the war's end the US had completed 228 submarines.
US Navy submarines were often used for surveillance. This included reconnaissance US submarines landed and supplied guerillas in Japanese occupied territory and carrying in commandos for missions such as the Makin Island raid, they also rescued crews of aircraft which had been forced down over the ocean.
As a result of several key improvements in strategy and tactics, from 1943, Allied submarines waged a more effective campaign against Japanese merchant shipping and the IJN, in effect strangling the Japanese Empire of resources. By the end of the war in August 1945, US Navy submarines sank around 1300 Japanese merchant ships, as well as roughly 200 warships. Only 42 US submarines were sunk in the Pacific, but 3,500 (22%) submariners were killed, the highest casualty rate of any American force in World War II. The force destroyed over half of all Japanese merchant ships, totaling well over five million tons of shipping.
Allied Submarines in the Pacific
As victory for the United States slowly approached, casualties mounted. A fear in the American high command was that an invasion of mainland Japan would lead to enormous losses on the part of the Allies, as casualty estimates for the planned Operation Downfall demonstrate. As Japan was able to withstand the devastating incendiary raids and naval blockade despite hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, President Harry Truman gave the order to drop the only two available atomic bombs, hoping that such sheer force of destruction on a city would break Japanese resolve and end the war. The first bomb was dropped on an industrial city, Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945, killing approximately 70,000 people. A second bomb was dropped on another industrial city, Nagasaki, on 9 August after it appeared that the Japanese high command was not planning to surrender, killing approximately 35,000 people. Fearing additional atomic attacks, Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945.
V-J Day which occurred on 15 August 1945 marked the end of the United States' war with the Empire of Japan. Since Japan was the last remaining Axis Power, V-J Day also marked the end of World War II.
China Burma India Theater
China Burma India Theater (CBI) was the United States military designation during World War II for the China and Southeast Asian or India–Burma (IBT) theaters. Operational command of Allied forces (including U.S. forces) in the CBI was officially the responsibility of the Supreme Commanders for South East Asia or China. However, US forces in practice were usually overseen by General Joseph Stilwell, the Deputy Allied Commander in China; the term "CBI" was significant in logistical, material and personnel matters; it was and is commonly used within the US for these theaters.
U.S. and Chinese fighting forces in the CBI included the Chinese Expeditionary Force, the Flying Tigers, transport and bomber units flying the Hump (Himalayas), including the Tenth Air Force, the 1st Air Commando Group, the engineers who built the Ledo Road, the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), popularly known as "Merrill's Marauders", and the 5332d Brigade, Provisional or 'Mars Task Force', which assumed the Marauders' mission.
The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) but nicknamed "Merrill's Marauders" after its commander; Frank Merrill, was a United States Army long range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit organized as light infantry assault units. In slightly more than five months of combat in 1944, the Marauders advanced 750 miles through some of the harshest jungle terrain in the world, fought in five major engagements, mostly behind enemy lines, with or in support of British Empire and Chinese forces in Burma and suffered many casualties. On 10 August 1944 the Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry. The US also had an adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and Joseph Stillwell. Units of the Tenth Air Force, Fourteenth Air Force, and Twentieth Air Force of the USAAF also served in the theatre, including the previously mentioned "Flying Tigers".
References and Resources
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Retrieved 15 May 2021, from Military History of the United States During World War II.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Retrieved 15 May 2021, China Burma India Theater.
From Naval History and Heritage Command
Written January 2017, Battle of the Atlantic: An Overview, by Jon Middaugh, NHHC Histories and Archives Division
From Naval History and Heritage Command
Pubished 10 May 2019, Operation Torch: Invasion of North Africa, 8–16 November 1942
Updated 29 January 2020, World War II: Operation Torch by Kennedy Hickman.
Updated 6 March 2017, D-Day - The Allied Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 by Jennifer Rosenberg.
From The National WWII Museum
29 June 2020, Forgotten Fights: The 101st Airborne at Carentan, June 1944 by Author Mitch Yockelson, PhD.
Citation: C N Trueman "Operation Cobra"
historylearningsite.co.uk. The History Learning Site, 21 Apr 2015. 19 May 2021.
Updated 9 July 2019, World War II: Operation Dragoon by Kennedy Hickman.
From Encyclopaedia Britannica
Updated 9 July 2019, Battle of the Bulge by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.