History of WWII European Theater

Tanya Baldwin, Alexandra Lutz
  • Author
    Tanya Baldwin

    Tanya graduated from Concord University with a Bachelor's degree in Education and a certification in Social Studies 5-12. She holds a Master's degree in Secondary Education from Marshall University. Tanya has over 16 years of experience teaching various social studies subjects.

  • Instructor
    Alexandra Lutz

    Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Learn about the European Theater during World War II. Explore the Western Front timeline and significance and what the other battlefronts in Europe were called. Updated: 04/03/2022

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The History of the European Theater

Adolf Hitler became the leader of Germany in 1933. He had a vision for the expansion of Germany. Hitler wanted to reclaim land that had been lost as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI. Hitler had been secretly rebuilding the German military to accomplish his vision. The European Theater of WWII saw heavy fighting and spanned the European continent. It also included sections of the Middle East and North Africa. There was also a Pacific Theater of war that was largely between the Allies and Japan. WWII began in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. The German Luftwaffe, or German air force, utilized a blitzkrieg or blitz method. This called for extensive bombing that targeted railways, communication lines, and other strategic areas. The next step of the blitzkrieg included a land invasion with an enormous number of troops and weapons.

WWII was fought by two sides: the Axis powers and the Allied powers. Part of the Allied forces included mainly the United States (under Roosevelt), Britain (Churchill), and the Soviet Union (Stalin). The Axis powers initially included mainly Germany (under Hitler), Italy (Mussolini), and Japan (Emperor Hirohito). However, the Italian leader Mussolini was deposed from power and in October 1943, Italy switched sides. Italy joined the Allies and declared war on Germany. In addition to this, the Soviet Union initially sided with Germany. However, the Soviet Union quickly switched sides after Germany invaded the country. This prompted the Soviet Union to join with the Allied forces.

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  • 0:05 The Outbreak of WWII
  • 1:52 The Scope of WWII
  • 2:43 The Fall of Europe
  • 4:13 The Battle of Britain
  • 5:58 Opening the Eastern Front
  • 7:47 Taking Back Europe
  • 8:50 Lesson Summary
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What were the Two Battlefronts in Europe Called?

The European Theater had two major battlefronts. The two battlefronts in Europe were called the Western Front and the Eastern Front. The Eastern Front was the largest and deadliest military operation in history. The Western Front of WWII included Britain, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany, and France. The Eastern Front included Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union, and other areas. There was also an African theater of WWII that was fought in North Africa.

The Start of the Western Front in WWII

By 1942, the Allies were fighting back against Nazi Germany in the Western Front. They began bombing Germany and gaining control in North Africa. They also carried out a successful attack on Italy.

Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, against the Soviet Union. Initially the Soviet Union suffered heavy casualties and setbacks as Germany invaded them with an enormous invasion force. It was the deadliest operation of the war. Exhausted and worn down, the German army retreated on December 5, 1941.

During the war, the Soviet soldiers intentionally killed some of their own men. In July 1942, Stalin issued Order No. 227, which was also referred to as ''Not One Step Back!'' This order called for any troops that attempted retreat to be gunned down.

In August of 1942, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in the Battle of Stalingrad. The German army was not used to the extreme cold of Stalingrad, and many suffered frostbite. They also had supply issues with food and ammunition. The battle ended in February 1943. After Germany had suffered casualties and lost an enormous number of troops as prisoners of war, Germany surrendered to the Soviet Union.

On April 16, 1945, Stalin's Soviet troops initiated the Battle of Berlin. The Soviet forces deployed over 6,000 tanks and 8,000 aircraft in an effort to capture the German capital, Berlin. As Berlin was about to fall to Soviet control, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

Europe Falls to Nazi Germany

On April 9, 1940, Germany deployed thousands of troops that led to an occupation of Norway and Denmark. By May 10, Germany occupied the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. In June 1940, France agreed to an armistice with Germany. The armistice allowed for Germany to occupy northern France. It also called for a puppet regime to be put in control of northern France.

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain began on July 10, 1940, and lasted until October 31, 1940. Hitler believed his Luftwaffe would be able to intimidate Britain into surrender. The Luftwaffe carried out a blitz on Britain. The name of the battle comes from a speech delivered by the British prime minister, Winston Churchill. In the speech, Churchill stated that the Battle of France had ended and he believed the Battle of Britain was about to begin. London and surrounding areas underwent extensive bombing by the German Luftwaffe. The bombing campaign was meant to be the beginning phase of a larger goal, which was named ''Operation Sealion.'' In order to achieve the objective of invading Britain, Germany needed to gain control of the English Channel. Hitler believed the bombings would weaken British forces.

In 1939, the U.S. Congress adopted a policy of "cash and carry" to help supply Britain and other Allied nations with war materials. Under this program, Britain, France, and other Allied nations would pay cash for the supplies and then carry or transport them to their military bases. This was a way to allow the U.S. to remain neutral and not enter the war, yet help the Allies. However, this would not be enough and a different approach had to be taken.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was the bloodiest front in WWII?

The Eastern Front was the largest and deadliest military operation in history. It is estimated that about 30 million of the WWII deaths occurred on the Eastern Front.

What were the two battlefronts in Europe called?

The two battlefronts in Europe were the Eastern Front and the Western Front. The Eastern Front included Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union, and other areas. The Western front included Britain, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, and others.

What were the major events of the European Theater?

One of the first major events of the European Theater was in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. D-Day occurred in June 1944. In May 1945, Germany surrendered.

When did the European Theater start?

The European Theater of WWII began on September 1, 1939. This is when Germany launched an invasion of Poland. The war lasted about six years.

What is the difference between European Theater and Pacific Theater?

The Pacific Theater largely involved fighting between the Allies and Japan. The European Theater largely involved fighting between the Allies and Germany.

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