Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.
For the first three years of WWII, the Axis powers prevailed. Japan advanced throughout the Pacific, Germany blazed across Europe, and Italy fought for North Africa with Germany's help. But by 1942, the tide was beginning to turn. Adolf Hitler, Germany's leader, focused his attention on an invasion of the Soviet Union. Despite a rapid initial advance, the invasion slowed to a crawl in '42, and by that winter (after the Battle of Stalingrad), the Nazis were in retreat. Meanwhile, American forces in the Pacific had Japan on the run after the Battle of Midway in 1942, and British forces defended Egypt in the Battle of El Alamein.
American troops' first action in the west was Operation Torch, helping to reclaim French colonies in North Africa. Next, the joint forces invaded Sicily in the summer of 1943. They crept up the Italian peninsula, building airfields from which they launched bombing raids throughout Nazi territory. Italy overthrew its fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, and declared war on Germany (its former ally) in 1943. This forced Hitler to divert troops and resources from the Soviet front to defend the Italian peninsula. Yet, in the face of stiff Nazi resistance, the Allied leaders agreed: it was time to retake Europe. While most American forces withdrew from Italy in preparation, the remaining troops liberated Rome on June 4, 1944.
Two days later, the Allies launched Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi-occupied Western Europe. In the weeks prior, the French resistance had sabotaged communication and transportation networks supporting the region. Then, shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, as many as 24,000 Allied paratroopers dropped behind German lines in northern France with the goal of weakening their defenses. For a variety of reasons, including scattered landings and fatal mishaps, the paratroopers were not as effective as planned. Before dawn, thousands of ships unloaded amphibious landing craft, which spent up to an hour in the storm-tossed sea, headed for five different beaches. Just after 6:00 a.m., heavy air support dropped 13,000 bombs, but their caution to avoid the Allied landing craft meant that almost none of the beach defenses were hit. A naval bombardment likewise did minimal damage. But promptly at 6:30 am, the landing craft rallied and stormed the beaches of Normandy in an action known as D-Day.
Most of the American troops were headed for the beaches code-named Omaha and Utah. As soon as the ramps dropped, German machine guns opened fire. Some men who made it off the boats alive were shot in the water; others drowned, weighed down by equipment. The landing craft crushed some men who slipped under the ramp while disembarking. Those who made it to shore faced heavy fire on the open beach, some of them having lost their guns or ammunition to the waves. Many of their weapons didn't fire after being drenched in sand and salt water, nor did their radios work. Officers had been among the first off the boats - the first to die. There were 3,000 American casualties on Omaha Beach that morning. But despite the chaos, disorder, terror and death, later-arriving officers ordered the men to clean their weapons and attack German positions. And by the end of the day, June 6, 1944, the Allies controlled the coast of France about a mile deep.
Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious invasion on record, although precise numbers are difficult to pinpoint because so many nations were involved. On D-Day, 11,000 or more Allied aircraft dropped bombs and paratroopers, targeted Nazi troops moving to the front line, kept every German airplane away from the beaches until dark and stopped every enemy U-boat that approached the English Channel. By D-Day+5, up to 7000 vessels had participated, and before it was over, nearly 2 million men had taken part in the invasion effort.
The fact that such a massive operation was pulled off in secret is practically a miracle in itself. Hitler did expect an invasion, but counter-intelligence, decoy operations, and false radio traffic ensured that he did not know the date or location. Notorious General George Patton was the commander of an enormous 'ghost' army, completely fabricated by artists, threatening a different location. The bad weather on June 6 also played a part in convincing Nazi leaders for hours that D-Day was not the real thing.
Coordination among the Allies remained paramount in the weeks to come. From his headquarters in Normandy, General Eisenhower (commander of Allied forces) linked American ground troops with scattered paratroopers, and directed British movements, as well. The Germans were defeated in one bloody battle after another until Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944 by General Patton, leading a very real army this time. The general sent a famous telegram to his commander reading, 'Dear Ike: Today I spat in the Seine' (that's the river that runs through Paris). By the end of 1944, the Allies were approaching the Rhine River, the border between Germany and France. But the engagements had taken their toll, and many experienced troops were lost, to be replaced by fresh recruits.
Keeping all of these forward units supplied was also a logistical challenge, and a special transport group nicknamed the 'Red Ball Express' was organized. Comprised mostly of African Americans, they drove continuously in tag-team fashion to bring the combat troops as much fuel, food and ammunition as possible to advance as fast as the Nazis could retreat. But as the supply line grew, it slowed down, and soon, a shortage of fuel was seriously hindering the invasion.
Hitler took advantage of the opportunity to mount one last-ditch, surprise offensive against the American and British line. On December 16, 1944, the Nazis smashed against a 60-mile front, making significant headway especially against the inexperienced reinforcements. It has been called the Battle of the Bulge because of the 'bulge' in the Allied front where Nazis had taken ground. Although the Allied line never completely broke, many small units were surrounded, prompting General Eisenhower to drop in airborne troops in critical locations. The Americans suffered approximately 77,000 casualties, and the commanders realized that Hitler was going to fight this war out to the very end.
By late January 1945, all of the ground lost in the Battle of the Bulge was recaptured, and the Allies approached Germany from both sides. As the Soviets closed in from the east, civilian refugees fled the border region and moved into the city of Dresden. On February 13, British and American bombers began attacking, starting fires, leaving the city in ruins, and killing tens of thousands of people. It is one of the most controversial Allied actions of the war, but such air raids helped contribute to Germany's defeat.
In March, the western Allies found an intact bridge across the Rhine River and within a week, ground troops were invading Germany itself. A month later, they had met up with the Soviet Army. On April 30, 1945, Hitler shot and killed himself; Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. This is commonly called VE Day, for Victory in Europe, and it happened to be President Harry Truman's birthday. The war in the western theater was over, but it would drag on for several more months in the Pacific.
The Allies began to turn the tide of WWII in 1942. American troops first saw action in the western theater in Operation Torch, the liberation of French colonies in North Africa. Next, a joint force invaded Italy, and the Allied leaders began planning the liberation of Europe, code-named Operation Overlord. It involved 2 million men from many different countries, thousands of ships and airplanes. The first wave of invaders landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, D-Day. The Allied assault was bloody but successful, and by August, they had liberated Paris. As they approached the Rhine River in December 1944, they were surprised by a Nazi counter-attack, known as the Battle of the Bulge. By January 1945, the Allies had reclaimed the territory lost; in February, Allied airstrikes, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden, helped to weaken German resistance. In March, Britain and the United States were invading from the west while the Soviets invaded from the east. Hitler committed suicide, and Germany surrendered. VE Day was May 8, 1945.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets