Abovee: Map of World War II
In the aftermath of World War I, the United States attempted to disengage itself from European affairs. The U.S. Senate rejected American membership in the LEAGUE OF NATIONS, and in the 1920s American involvement in European diplomatic life was limited to economic affairs.
Moreover, the United States dramatically reduced the size of its military in the postwar years, a measure widely supported by a public increasingly opposed to war. Events in Europe and Asia in the 1930s and early 1940s, however, made it impossible for the United States to maintain a position of neutrality in global affairs.
Above: The Nazi Party gathering
Rise of the Nazi Party and German Aggression
After its defeat and disarmament in World War I, Germany fell into a deep economic decline that ultimately led to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party during the 1930s. The Nazis rearmed the nation, reentered the Rhineland (1936), forced a union with Austria (1938), seized Czechoslovakia under false promises (1938), made a nonaggression pact with Russia to protect its eastern frontier (1939), and then overran Poland (September 1939), bringing France and Great Britain into the war as a consequence of their pledge to maintain Polish independence. In May 1940 a power thrust swept German troops forward through France, drove British forces back across the English Channel, and compelled France to surrender. An attack on England, aimed to deny use of Britain as a springboard for reconquest of the Continent, failed in the air and did not materialize on land. Open breach of the nonaggression treaty was followed by a German invasion of Russia in June 1941.
Above: Naval war between US and Japan During WWII (1941-1945)
Prior to America’s formal entry into war, the United States assisted France and Britain by shipping tanks and weapons. The United States turned over naval destroyers to Britain to hold down the submarine menace and itself patrolled large areas of the Atlantic Ocean against the German U-boats, with which U.S. ships were involved in prewar shooting incidents. The United States also took over rights and responsibilities at defense bases on British possessions bordering the Atlantic.
Above: German Army invading Poland in the year 1939 0f world war II
In 1940 the U.S. course was mapped by rapidly passing events. The German invasions of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France triggered American actions. In his Chicago speech of 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised to quarantine aggressors. In his Charlottesville, Virginia, speech on 10 June 1940, he went further. He not only indicted Germany’s new partner, Italy, but also issued a public promise of help to “the opponents of force.” In June also he assured himself of bipartisan political support by appointing the Republicans Frank Knox and Henry L. Stimson to head the Navy and War Departments, respectively.
Above: President Franklin Roosevelt signing the Selective Service and Training Act on September 16, 1940
The Selective Service and Training Act of 1940 instituted peacetime conscription for the first time in U.S. history, registering sixteen million men in a month. In August 1941 Roosevelt and the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, met at Argentia, Newfoundland, to formulate war aims; with their staffs they delved into overall strategy and war planning. For the first time in U.S. history the country was militarily allied before a formal declaration of war. At this meeting the ATLANTIC CHARTER was established. In September 1941 the draft act was extended beyond its previous limit of one year-even though by the slim margin of a single vote in Congress-and the full training, reorganization, and augmentation of U.S. forces began.
Above: Map showing Japanese sneak attack against Pearl Harbor
Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor
During the Nazi buildup in Germany, Japan had been fortifying Pacific islands in secret violation of treaties, encroaching on China in Manchuria and Tientsin in 1931 and in Shanghai in 1932, starting open war at Peking in 1937, and thereafter, as Germany’s ally, planning further conquests.
The United States opposed this Japanese expansion diplomatically by every means short of war, and military staff planning began as early as 1938 for the possibility of a two-ocean war. American policymakers determined that the nation’s security depended on the survival of the British Commonwealth in Europe and the establishment in the Pacific of a U.S. Navy defense line that must run from Alaska through Hawaii to Panama.
On 7 December 1941, a sneak attack by Japanese carrier-based planes surprised and severely crippled the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, dooming American forces in the PHILIPPINES. Japan was now free to expand into Southeast Asia and the East Indies, toward Australia. On 8 December, Congress declared war on Japan, and on 11 December it responded to war declarations from Italy and Germany-allied to Japan by treaties-by similar declarations put through in a single day of legislative action in committees and on the floor of both houses of Congress.
Below: US battleship sinks in the sudden air-attack of Japanese in Pearl Harbor
Before the month of December was out, Churchill was again in Washington, bringing with him military and naval experts for what has been called the Arcadia conference. Within weeks Washington had created the Combined Chiefs of Staff, an international military, naval, and air body that was used throughout the war to settle strategy, establish unified command in the separate theaters of war, and issue strategic instructions to theater commanders.
Above: Allied Aircraft dropping bombs in Germany
Organization, Preparation, and Strategy
Almost immediately after the declaration of war, under the first WAR POWERS ACT, the United States began a reorganization and expansion of the army and the navy, including the National Guard already in federal service. Increasing numbers of reservists were called to active duty, not as units but as individuals, to fill gaps in existing units, to staff the training centers, and to serve as officers in new units being formed. Additional divisions were created and put into training, bearing the numbers of World War I divisions in most cases, but with scarcely any relation to them in locality or in personnel of previously existing reserve divisions. New activities were created for psychological warfare and for civil affairs and military government in territories to be liberated or captured. The air force also underwent a great expansion, in personnel, in units, and in planes. Notable was the creation and shipment to England of high-level, precision daylight bombing units, which worked with the British to rain tons of bombs on enemy centers. Later they assisted the invasions and major attacks. Disrupting German factories and rail lines and weakening the entire German economy, the bombing campaign was extremely important in Hitler’s downfall. The armed forces of the United States, in general, expanded their strength and put to use a host of details in tactics and in equipment that had been merely experimental in the preceding years. From new planes to new rifles, from motorization to emergency rations, from field radio telephones to long-range radar, progress was widespread.
In addition to new concepts of operation and new and improved mechanized matériel, there was an all-out popular war effort, a greater national unity, a greater systematization of production, and, especially, a more intense emphasis on technology, far surpassing the efforts of World War I. The U.S. effort would truly be, as Churchill predicted after the fall of France in 1940, “the new world with all its power and might” stepping forth to “the rescue and liberation of the old.”
Above: President Sewell Avery of Montgomery Ward 1944 removed from his office due to disobedience of National War Labor Board rules.
In an unprecedented burst of wartime legislative activity, Congress passed the Emergency Price Control Act and established the War Production Board, the NATIONAL WAR LABOR BOARD, the Office of War Information, and the Office of Economic Stabilization. Critical items such as food, coffee, sugar, meat, butter, and canned goods were rationed for civilians, as were heating fuels and gasoline. Rent control was established. Two-thirds of the planes of civilian airlines were taken over by the air force. Travel was subject to priorities for war purposes. There was also voluntary censorship of newspapers, under general guidance from Washington.
Above: Picture of a plane on aircraft-carrier vessel
There was special development and production of escort vessels for the navy and of landing craft-small and large-for beach invasions. There was a program of plane construction for the air force on a huge scale and programs for the development of high-octane gasoline and synthetic rubber. Local draft boards had been given great leeway in drawing up their own standards of exemption and deferment from service and at first had favored agriculture over industry; soon controls were established according to national needs. By 1945 the United States had engaged more than sixteen million men under arms and improved its economy.
Above: Picture of Gen. George C. Marshall
The grand strategy, from the beginning, was to defeat Germany while containing Japan, a strategy maintained and followed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The strategy was closely coordinated by Roosevelt and Churchill-except on one occasion when, in the early summer of 1942, Admiral Ernest J. King (chief of naval operations) and General George C. Marshall (army chief of staff) responded to the news that there would be no attempt to create a beachhead in Europe that year by suggesting a shift of U.S. power to the Pacific. Roosevelt promptly overruled them.
Above: World War II Pacific Campaign Map (Philippines)
Campaign in the Pacific
Almost immediately after the strike at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and overran American garrisons on Guam and Wake Island in late December. They soon captured Manila and then conquered the U.S. forces on the Bataan peninsula by April 1942, along with the last U.S. stronghold on Corregidor on 6 May. Japan then feinted into the North Pacific, easily seizing Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, which it held until March 1943.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been pulled out of the Philippines before the fall of Corregidor and sent to Australia to assume responsibility for protecting that continent against Japanese invasion, increasingly imminent since Singapore and Java had been taken. With great skill, MacArthur used American and Australian forces to check Japanese inroads in New Guinea at Port Moresby. He also used land and sea forces to push back the Japanese and take the villages of Buna and Sanananda, although not until January 1943. To block a hostile thrust against MacArthur’s communications through New Zealand, marine and infantry divisions landed in the Solomon Islands, where they took Guadalcanal by February 1943 after bitter, touch-and-go land, sea, and air fighting.
Above: US Army led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur(Center) inspecting beachhead on Leyte, Philippines.
Almost concurrently, the navy, with marine and army troops, was attacking selected Japanese bases in the Pacific, moving steadily westward and successfully hitting the Marshall Islands at Eniwetok and Kwajalein, the Gilberts at Makin and Tarawa, and-turning north-the Marianas at Guam and Saipan in June and July 1944. To assist the army’s move on the Philippines, the navy and the marines also struck westward at the Palau Islands in September 1944 and had them in hand within a month. American control of the approaches to the Philippines was now assured. Two years earlier, in the Coral Sea and also in the open spaces near Midway, in May and June 1942, respectively, the U.S. Navy had severely crippled the Japanese fleet. MacArthur’s forces returned in October 1944 to the Philippines on the island of Leyte. Their initial success was endangered by a final, major Japanese naval effort near Leyte, which was countered by a U.S. naval thrust that wiped much of the Japanese fleet. U.S. forces seized Manila and Corregidor in February 1945, thus bringing to a successful conclusion the BATAAN-CORREGIDOR CAMPAIGN.
Above: Marines landed in and captured Iwo Jima Island from the Japanese
American land and sea forces were now in position to drive north directly toward Japan itself. Marines had landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February and invaded Okinawa on 1 April, both within good flying distance of the main enemy islands. The Japanese navy and air force were so depleted that in July 1945 the U.S. fleet was steaming off the coast of Japan and bombarding almost with impunity. Between 10 July and 15 August 1945, forces under Adm. William F. Halsey destroyed or damaged 2,084 enemy planes, sank or damaged 148 Japanese combat ships, and sank or damaged 1,598 merchant vessels, in addition to administering heavy blows at industrial targets and war industries.
Above: Fighter Planes at the Air Base of China
Until the island hopping brought swift successes in 1944, it had been expected that the United States would need the China mainland as a base for an attack on Japan. The sea and land successes in the central and western Pacific, however, allowed the United States, by the spring of 1945, to prepare for an attack on Japan without using China as a base.
Above: Picture of General Douglas MacArthur
This situation was the result of three major factors: (1) the new naval technique of employing the fleet as a set of floating air bases, as well as for holding the sea lanes open; (2) the augmentation and improvement of U.S. submarine service to a point where they were fatal to Japanese shipping, sinking more than two hundred enemy combat vessels and more than eleven hundred merchant ships, thus seriously disrupting the desperately needed supply of Japanese troops on the many islands; and (3) MacArthur’s leapfrogging tactics, letting many advanced Japanese bases simply die on the vine. Not to be overlooked was MacArthur’s personal energy and persuasive skill.
Above: Map of Italy Invasion in World War II
Campaigns in Africa and Italy
Pressures, notably from Russian leaders, began building early in the war for an invasion of the European mainland on a second front. Because of insufficient buildup in England for a major attack across the English Channel in 1942-even for a small preliminary beachhead-U.S. troops were moved, some from Britain with the British and some directly from the United States, to invade northwest Africa from Casablanca to Oran and Algiers in November 1942. After the long coastal strip had been seized and the temporarily resisting French brought to the side of the Allies, British and American forces under the command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed east. The Germans were reinforced and concentrated. Sharp and costly fighting by air, army, and armor attacks and counterattacks, notably in February 1943 at the Kasserine Pass, ended with the Allied conquest of Tunisia and a great German surrender at Tunis, Bizerte, and Cape Bon. Meanwhile, at the CASABLANCA CONFERENCE in late January, Roosevelt and Churchill called for the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers. It would be a war to the finish, not a negotiated, temporary peace.
Above: Map of Italy (Inland) in World War II
The next step was an invasion of Sicily, using large-scale parachute drops and perfected beach-landing skills, as a step toward eliminating Italy from the war. In September, Italy proper was invaded, the British crossing the Strait of Messina and the Americans landing at Salerno near Naples. Five days later, Italy surrendered, but the Germans occupied Rome and took control of the Italian government. After a long check midway up the “boot” of Italy on a line through Cassino, a dangerous landing was made at Anzio. Fierce German counterattacks there were stopped, and a following breakthrough carried U.S. forces past Rome, which fell on 4 June 1944. In July the Allied forces pushed through to the line of Florence and the Arno River, the British on the east and the Americans on the west. Thereafter, although some British and American advances were made and a final offensive in April 1945 sent American troops to the Po Valley, Italy ceased to be the scene of major strategic efforts; the theater was drained to support the Normandy invasion, in southern France.
Above: Seaborne reached the shoreline of Normandy
Invasion At Normandy and the Liberation of France
For the principal invasion of France, an inter-Allied planning staff had been created in March 1943 in London. In May the first tentative attack date was set, for early May of the following year, in what was called Operation Over-lord. The buildup of units and supplies proceeded steadily for nearly a year, aided by improved successes against German submarines targeting seagoing convoys. Finally, after several weeks of delays, on 6 June 1944-popularly known as D DAY-the greatest amphibious invasion in history was launched across the English Channel, involving more than 5,300 ships and landing craft. It was a huge, carefully and intricately coordinated land, sea, and air action, with a precisely scheduled flow of reinforcements and supplies. The Germans anticipated that the Allies would land at Calais, so the landings along the Normandy coast caught the Germans completely by surprise.
Above: Soldier killed in combat at Omaha Beach
The battle on the Normandy beaches on 6 June was vicious, particularly at Omaha Beach, where U.S. troops encountered stubborn German resistance. By nightfall the Allies had established a beachhead on the French coast, and within weeks they drove from the Normandy coast deep into the French countryside. Thick hedgerows provided the Germans with excellent defensive terrain, but relentless Allied aerial bombardment and a flank attack by U.S. infantry and tanks, under the command of Gen. George Patton, split the German lines.
Above: Picture of General Omar Nelson Bradley
The Germans reacted to this penetration by finally drawing their reserve Fifteenth Army out of the Calais area, where it had been held by an Allied ruse and the threat of a second beach landing there. They struck directly west across the American front to try to cut off the leading U.S. troops who had already begun entering Brittany. This German effort was blocked by General Omar Bradley’s forces. Relentless Allied attacks shattered German resistance in northern France and on 25 August Paris fell to American divisions with scarcely a battle.
Above: Allied Forces occupying Southern France
The Germans retreated rapidly and skillfully for the distant frontier and their defense lines, except where they at points resisted the British in order to try and hold the seaports along the northern coast. While these events were taking place, a landing had been made in southern France on 15 August 1944, by a Franco-American force under U.S. command. It swept from the Riviera up the Rhone Valley and joined U.S. forces that had come east across northern France from Normandy. By September Brest fell into U.S. hands, and a German army in southwest France had surrendered, completely cut off. France was almost completely liberated from German occupation.
Above: American troops in Ardennes Forest in the region of Belgium and Luxembourg.
Battle of the Bulge and German Surrender
In the fall of 1944, Allied forces began the invasion of Germany, which many observers believed tottered on the brink of collapse. On 16 December, however, the Germans launched a sweeping counterattack that caught American and British forces completely by surprise. In several days of intense fighting, the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge hung in the balance. On Christmas Eve, however, an American counterattack sent German forces reeling. American air bombardments turned the German retreat into a crushing rout. The Battle of the Bulge was the Germans’ final major effort of the war. They had used up their last major resources and had failed.
Above: Allied air forces on strike
Through large-scale production and mass transportation, the U.S. air forces in Europe had been built to high strength so that they could take severe losses and still defeat the enemy. From bases in Britain and from bases successively in North Africa and Italy, American bombers had struck at the heart of the German economy. Through large-scale air raids, like those on Ploesti, Romania, a decisive proportion of German oil refinery production was disabled. German planes and tanks faced severe fuel shortages. German fighter planes, beaten back by the British in 1940, were later cut down by the Americans’ heavily armed bombers and their long-range fighter escorts. Except for a short, sharp, and costly new campaign in the final month of 1944, German planes had ceased to be a serious threat. At the same time, to aid the ground troops, the U.S. fighter-bombers were taking to the air under perilous conditions over the Ardennes. German flying bombs (V-1s) and rocket bombs (V-2s) had continued to blast Britain until their installations were overrun in late March 1945, but they had no effect on ground operations or on air superiority as a whole.
Above: Rhine River Bridge Collapsed
In February 1945 the American armies struck out into the Palatinate and swept the German forces across the Rhine. The enemy forces destroyed bridges as they crossed-all but one. On 7 March an advanced armored unit of the U.S. First Army approached the great railway bridge at Remagen, downstream from Koblenz, found it intact, dashed over it, tore the fuses from demolition charges, and drove local Germans back. Troops were hustled over the bridge for several days before it collapsed from damage, but by then pontoon bridges were in place.
Above: German soldiers captured in Ruhr pocket near Gummersbach, Germany
Avoiding the heavily wooded Ruhr region in the center, the previously planned northern crossing of the Rhine was effected with navy, air, and parachute help on 2 March 1945; all arms drove directly eastward into Germany while the First and Third Armies drove eastward below the Ruhr, the First Army soon swinging north through Giessen and Marburg to make contact at Paderborn and Lippstadt with the northern force. More than 300,000 Germans were thus enclosed in the Ruhr pocket.
Above: Portrait of victory celebration for the downfall of Germany’s Military Potency
Germany’s military strength had now all but collapsed. The British on the American left raced toward Hamburg and the Baltic. The U.S. First Army pressed through to Leipzig and met the Russians on 25 April 1945 at Torgau on the Elbe River, which had been established at the YALTA CONFERENCE as part of the post hostilities boundary with Russia. The U.S. Third Army dashed toward
Above: Gen. Alfred Jodl of Germany signing the unconditional surrender document
Bavaria to prevent possible German retreat to a last stand in the south. The southernmost flank of the American forces swung southward toward Austria at Linz and toward Italy at the Brenner Pass. The U.S. Seventh Army, on 4 May, met the Fifth Army at Brenner Pass, coming from Italy, where German resistance had likewise collapsed. Germany asked for peace and signed its unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters at Reims on 7 May 1945.
Above: Atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima, Japan (August 6, 1945)
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Japanese Surrender
Progress in the Pacific theater by this time had been substantial. U.S. ships and planes dominated sea and air close to Japan. Troops were soon to be redeployed from the European theater. Protracted cleanup operations against now-isolated Japanese island garrisons were coming to a close. American planes were bombing Tokyo regularly. A single raid on that city on 9 March 1945 had devastated sixteen square miles, killed eighty thousand persons, and left 1.5 million people homeless, but the Japanese were still unwilling to surrender. Approved by Roosevelt, scientists working under military direction had devised a devastating bomb based on atomic fission. A demand was made on Japan on 26 July for surrender, threatening the consecutive destruction of eleven Japanese cities if it did not. The Japanese rulers scorned the threats. President Harry S. Truman gave his consent for the use of the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, killing 75,000. There were more warnings, but still no surrender. On 9 August, Nagasaki was bombed. Two square miles were devastated, and 39,000 people were killed. Five days later, on 14 August, the Japanese agreed to surrender. The official instrument of surrender was signed on 2 September 1945, on board the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Below: Picture of damage caused by the atomic bomb explosion
State of Hiroshima, Japan after impact & boy suffers from a radiation burn
The defeat of the Axis powers did not resolve all of the geopolitical issues arising from World War II. The spirit of amity among the Allied powers collapsed shortly after the war, as the United States and the Soviet Union rapidly assumed a position of mutual hostility and distrust. Germany was divided in half by the Allied victors, with West Germany aligned with the United States and East Germany with the Soviet Union. The United States also established security pacts with Japan and Italy, bringing them within the American defense shield against the Soviets. Ironically, therefore, during the Cold War the United States found itself allied with the former Axis nations and found itself at odds with its former ally, the USSR. Not until 1990, when the COLD WAR finally came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, was Germany reunited as one nation.