Modern World History, World War 2

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Modern World History, World War 2

Postby Colin » Thu Jun 10, 2004 12:20 pm

The Second World War 1939-1945

Following some build-up aggression by the newly Nazi Italy and Germany, the Second World War proper started in 1939 when in September the Germans invaded Poland and then Britain declared war on Germany.

Germany's 1940 spring offensive began in April when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Then in May the German army swept through Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg towards France. This Blitzkrieg forced French and British forces to retreat until they were trapped at Dunkirk. During May and June over 200,000 British and 140,000 French soldiers were rescued from the beaches. A fleet of ships including civilian pleasure boats crossed the English Channel for the rescue. But over 68,000 allied soldiers were killed and most of the Army's equipment was abandoned on the beaches.

France surrendered and a German-controlled Europe was ready to invade Britain. Neville Chamberlain had already resigned as Britain's Prime Minister. Failed military action in Norway meant MPs had decided he was too weak to lead the country and Winston Churchill was made leader. He insisted Britain would '' never surrender''.

Hitler's plan to invade Britain was called operation Sealion. The most important part of the plan was that the German Luftwaffe would first destroy the Royal Air Force. But during August and September 1940 the RAF won the Battle of Britain in the air. Defeat in the air changed Germany's war tactics. The Luftwaffe failing to destroy the RAF in the Battle of Britain meant German soldiers couldn't land safely in Britain. Operation Sealion was abandoned and instead the Germans began the Blitz - heavy bombing of British cities.

The Germans hoped to break British morale and force Britain's government to make peace. Hitler also decided to attack the USSR hoping to win a quick victory. But US President Roosevelt began sending more help to Britain. He was opposed to the fascism of the axis countries, and US credit called lend-lease allowed Britian to buy arms and supplies.

Many children were evacuated from British cities. People feared the bombing power of the Germans - some of them remembered the First World War and the government knew that German bombers were now very advanced. Over 1.5 million people were evacuted between 1st-3rd September 1939 because the government was worried about immediate bombing of industrial and built-up areas. Most evacues were children from poorer homes in the larger cities. Their lives changed completely because they moved to a new world in the countryside.

Food shortages led to rationing in Britain in January 1940. The Government set up a ministry of food to control the supplies and advise the public. Scientists advised on healthy diets - using more non-rationed foods, and suggesting that people should eat more vegetables and brown bread. Typical eh!. Most people felt rationing was fair, with extra allowances for pregnant women, nursing mothers and babies. But the Black Market (* food supplies) flourished in many places. There were also shortages of many other goods, needing control of raw materials in manufacturing.

In Septmber 1940 Italy, began to invade British Egypt to expand Italy's African Empire, and to cut off British oil supplies using the Suez Canal. Italian troops advanced into Egypt but the British army, led by General Wavell, pushed them back into Libya. In February 1941 German reinforcements led by Rommel were send by Hitler to support the Italians and by June Rommel's forces were on the attack and 200 miles inside Egypt. Victory would have given them control of the Suez Canal and all of the Middle East.

On the Russian front Stalin had made a pact with Hitler in 1939 to avoid war, but Hitler attacked the USSR in 1941 planning to take land in the East for Lebensraum - living space for the 'natural development' of the German people. He wanted to destroy the communist system which he saw as a threat and steal the resources such as oil and grain from rich republics like the Ukraine as well as from Russia itself. He also wanted to use the Slav people as slave labour - believing they were inferior.
Operation Barbarossa began in June 1941 with Hitler launching 3 attacks on the major cities of the USSR, while Stalin not believing that the Nazis would break their pact meant the USSR wasn't ready for war.

The Soviets fought the Germans and began to push them back at Stalingrad in 1943. The Red Army could keep up its fight because factories and machine production had been moved east, out of range of the German invasion. Their fight against the Germans was at great cost, with twenty million soviets dead including civilians. But 75% of the German army was occupied fighting them, allowing time for Britian and other allies to build up forces and to prepare an attack from the west.

The war in Asia involved long-term Japanese expansion, with Japan becoming a major and growing industrial power. Japan had taken control of Korea in 1905 and Manchuria in 1931, and the Japanese admired the stength and power of dictators like Hitler and Mussolini in Europe. The Japanese army grew stronger, bulding up large and modern Naval and Land Forces. They signed a treaty with Hitler in 1936 and by 1941 Japan had taken control of large parts of Eastern China.

The USA, worried by Japanese expansion, had banned trade with Japan which stopped 90% of its oil supplies by summer 1941. Japan decided that attacking the USA would stop that and allow their conquest of South East Asia and the Pacific. This was the reason for their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the big USA Naval Base in Hawaii on 7th December 1941.

Over 2,400 men were killed in the surprise Pearl Harbour bombing raid with many more injured. While 8 US battleships were sunk or badly damaged, luckily the aircraft carriers were at sea and the attack missed the main fuel supplies of the base. Public opinion in the USA was outraged and the US congress voted to declare war on Japan. Germany then declared war on the USA in support of Japan, and the US fully entered the war.

The Japanese then conquered much of Asia. Within months Japan had taken the Pacific Islands, the Phillippines, Malaya, Singapore and parts of Burma. But the June 1942 battle of Midway turned the war against Japan. This was the key Pacific ocean battle where the US fleet managed to sink four Japanese aircraft carriers which were a vital part of the Japanese navy. This broke the Japanese hold on the Pacific, and was one of the major turning points of the whole war.

Allied forces slowly retook Asia and moved for Japan, though Japanese forces defended strongly as the Allies used a tactic of island-hopping in the Pacific. In 1943 on Iwo Jima 23,000 Japanese fought 'to the last man' and 20,000 Americans died in order to capture eight square miles.
The US used two Atomic Bombs in August 1945 - the first on Hiroshima killing 70,000 people and the second 3 days later on Nagasaki killing 36,000 people - and on 14th August Japanese forces surrendered. Radiation sickness continued to kill Japanese people for years later, and numbers of countries hurried to try to make atomic bombs.

Nazi hatred of Jews was based on believing that Aryans (whites) were the master race and other races like Jews were inferior and subhuman. As the German army gained control of more and more of Europe, more Jews came under Nazi control and were persecuted. Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of Jewish 'resettlement', in 1940 moved many into ghettos like the largest in Warsaw where starvation and disease killed half a million people. When Russia was invaded, Special Action Corps followed with orders to kill every Jew they came across in the occupied towns and villages. And millions died in concentration camps.

The Nazis invented a final solution in 1942, building death camps with gas chambers for mass murder. Mainly Jewish people were killed, but there were others as well - Slavs (Russians and Poles), Gypsies, black people, homosexuals, disabled people, communists and other political enemies. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, was in overall charge of this 'final solution'. German extermination camps included: Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno and Belzec.

After the war people around the world found it hard to believe that this inhuman, cold-blooded extermination had taken place, and that so many soldiers were involved. Some said that he Nazi guards were simply doing a job and obeying orders as they feared their leaders. The Jews were not regarded as human by the Nazis so killing them didn't matter to them. Those involved hid the truth of what they were doing and the world only discovered the horror of the Death Camps as the Allies advanced in 1945.

Jewish people faced death for any resistance, but some fled into the forests and formed resistance groups to blow up railway lines and attack German soldiers. In some ghettos Jewish authorities thought the best way to save lives was to cooperate with the Nazi and produce goods for them. A rebellion in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 was ruthlessly put down. There was some resistance in the camps, and escapes from Sobibor and Auschwitz. Reports of what was happening in the camps were smuggled out. Before the war ended, Nazi orders went out to destroy the camps and evidence - but there wasn't time.

Some historians claim there's evidence leaders like Churchill knew about the camps - and didn't believe the facts. By April 1945 over 5 million Jewish people had been murdered.

In Europe after 1942 German forces were retreating on the Russians front. Italy was defeated completely and by spring 1944 the Allies were ready to attempt the battle to regain France. D-Day landings were made on 6th June 1944. Preparations included portable harbours (mulberries) and a fuel pipeline line across the Channel sea bed (pluto) to support landings by troops on 5 Normany beaches - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Paris was liberated on 25th August 1944. The Germans counter-attacked in December in Belgium with 'the battle of the Bulge' which pushed the Allies back a few miles but failed to halt them. The Allied advance continued and in April the Russians attacked Berlin from the East. On 30th April 1945 Adolf Hitler committed suicide rather than be captured.

The main reasons for Germany losing the war were :- their failure to defeat Britain in 1940, their poor war strategy - especially on the 'Russian front', resistance to the Nazis in the Occupied Countries and the US impact on the war in supplies and troops. The turning point year was 1942 with three key battles :- Midway in the Pacific, El Alamein in North Africa and Stalingrad in the USSR.

The allies began pushing the Italians and Germans out of North Africa in 1942 and in 1943 the allies invaded Italy which surrendered. Then in 1944 the allies invaded France and advanced on Germany from the west while the Russians advanced from the east. By May 1945 the war in Europe was over, and in August the Japanese surrender meant that the whole Second World War was finally over.

As a result of the Second World War, Germany was divided into East and West - as was the capital Berlin. Europe was divided into communist Eastern Bloc and the Western Nations, with an 'Iron Curtain' dividing them. The League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, and the USA organised massive aid for Western Europe and Japan to rebuild - their Marshall Plan.

In 1949 the Western Nations formed NATO (North Atlantic Treatry Organisation), which the USSR considered a threat and formed the Warsaw pact. Britain had massive debts, its industry was out of date and overseas makets had been lost. A new Labour government in Britain set up the Welfare State, but rationing continued until 1954 !
Last edited by Colin on Thu Jul 29, 2004 10:28 pm, edited 23 times in total.
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Postby Adam » Sat Jun 12, 2004 9:44 am

Very good stuff Colin. A nice summary that will help me with a piece of homework I have just been given. And I do like the main website advising that schools should not set too much homework !!
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Postby Clare » Tue Sep 07, 2004 12:38 pm

Good stuff Colin about a bad war.
Has having nuclear weapons maybe made big wars now less likely ?
Is being in the EU making wars in Europe less likely ?
We certainly don't need wars !
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Re: Modern World History, World War 2

Postby longtian006 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 4:47 am

Hi Col. Your educational posts are great, and this WW1 one I really like - reminds me of my Grandads stories and why not to join an army !!

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